Of course I had a life before I met Denis. But things didn't really start to pop until then. We've been together since 1996 - over twenty years - and unlike many couples we have spent most of our time together since that date. Certainly work initially interrupted our congress during the day but because Denis retired at age 51 and we sold our condominium in the By Ward Market, Ottawa and began cohabiting in our house in Almonte (and he's now over 62 years of age), our time apart has been minimal comparatively speaking. The thing is, we enjoy being together, we're like the inseparable Mutt and Jeff, two peas in a pod, that sort of thing. We've even been likened to twins! And more than once! I can only conclude we exude a commonality of spirit. I guess it's generally true to say that we like the same things, furniture, cars, booze, food, hotels and places of travel. Naturally there are differences between us but rather than alienating us we have learned to thrive upon our distinctions, an important mark of our individuality and singularity. We view it as an imperative to preserve our uniqueness, not just because the differences are real but because we wouldn't want to compromise our separate characters by becoming a blur. Although Denis is perfectly bilingual (French/English) we comically share our private Esperanto of bastardized "Frenglish", an artificial language which even has its rules of pronunciation!
As a preamble to this narrative I feel compelled to distinguish my life PD (pre-Denis). Mine life PD was then a record of commitment and moderate adventure. I recollect that I worked hard at everything I did, mostly school, university and my first years of the practice of law. There was an inescapable obligation to do my best, to hone my skills and to tweak the evolution of my career. It was as a result a focussed and largely selfish preoccupation. What happened along the way during that period was diversion, a midway of entertainment, a collage of indulgences and inquiries. But it was never anything destined to be forever.
From the moment Denis and I hooked up, our relationship fit like a glove. Neither of us has ever felt the need to explain one another to anyone; the arrangement is both obvious and suitable. It would be too tiresome to go on about the magic of our relationship, the fluidity of our communications, the mind-reading, the understanding and whatever else one might say about a strong personal arrangement. I thought however that a pictorial summary might elicit some more tangible facts and references which would colour the relationship. I confess too that I was inspired in this enterprise by lately reconnecting with Karen, the long-time favoured sister of my former boarding school friend Nicholas. I believe these photographs serve as stepping stones to the elemental features of my life.
My partnership with Denis is one of equals. Our living arrangements were always characterized by joint ownership. Important as such capital arrangements are however the money has always been eclipsed by other matters. The first such element was Monroe, our little French bulldog. The photograph below is important not only because it is one of the few remaining photographs I have of Monroe but also because it captures the foot of Jill who subsequently painted a whimsical image of Monroe which to this day I count among my favourite possessions.
In the late summer of 1993, Mrs. Marilyn Harris called me unexpectedly to tell me that she and her husband, Gordon, had “discovered” the very dog for me. The call was unexpected first because Marilyn and I, although sympathetic to one another, were not in the habit of calling one another, except perhaps to arrange a social engagement or consult upon some legal matter; and second, to my mind I was not even in the market to buy a dog. As it turned out, however, Marilyn's call was more than fortuitous, and to a degree she initiated a considerable change in my life.
Naturally, I inquired of Marilyn about the breed she had in mind, to which she replied “French Bulldog”, to which I replied, “What is a French Bulldog?” Following, I suppose, some description of the dog's general characteristics, Marilyn proceeded to invite me to visit the local breeder (Dr. Dorit Fischler) for a closer examination. While I advised that I would in fact do that, I had no intention of looking into the matter immediately, since I was about to head for Cape Cod for my (then) annual pilgrimage, and I hardly needed to be strapped with a puppy.
On my return from the Cape, I recalled my previous conversation with Marilyn, and I called her again to get the particulars of the breeder's location. I then made contact with the breeder, and set up an appointment. The first time I visited Dorit at her house on Hwy. 16 three kilometres outside Almonte, I believe it was a noon-hour during the week. Upon arriving at her secluded country residence, I was greeted by numerous very odd looking small dogs of equally many different colours. In addition to their most unusual appearance, they also made odd sounds, some of which could pass as an attempt at barking, but the majority of which noises parallelled the grunts and snorts of a pig. While Dorit had a goodly number of dogs, only a few were for sale (the rest were for breeding). My choice, I recall, was pretty much limited to two, unless I was prepared to take a pet which was no longer a puppy. Of the two from which I could choose, there was clearly only one that I preferred. In any event, that was only my first visit, and I really had not even determined that I wanted any dog at all, much less that one. So I left, promising to “think about it” and return later for another look. Apart from the dog, I might add, one of the other things to “think about” was the price, a wholopping $1,500, which to date I considered to be out of my league, at least in the dog department.
Today, I went to look at French Bulldog puppies. They've very expensive ($1,500), and the breeder (Dr. Dorit Fischler) says the vet bills can also be high. Nonetheless, it was good to see the little creatures. But I highly doubt that I would succumb to dog ownership. September 27, 1993.
The next time I returned, I focussed in on the little puppy which had interested me the first visit. Dorit, the puppy and I sat on the edge of her porch, letting the puppy run about, playing with him, discussing more details about the care of this breed, etc. Whether I decided then and there, or whether I called Dorit later to advise her of my decision, I do not recall. But I do remember returning one wet Saturday morning (October 2, 1996) to pick up my new little pet, "Belboulecan Chanson de ma Vie", whose call name I gave as “Monroe” after Marilyn (it was really her idea, I confess).
I was totally unprepared for this acquisition. There I was expecting to greet an old and learned friend, who would charmingly accompany me upon my customary Saturday morning errands; and I had not a thing to deal with what I actually had, namely a small, shivering but very enthusiastic and licking ball of flesh and fluff, who would no sooner sit still beside me for more than thirty seconds, than he would think of not attempting to climb onto my lap and over my arms while I attempted to drive us home. Then, I realized, I had to go on something which amounted to a madman's shopping spree to obtain the stuff he needed: a bed (we would need a wicker basket and proper pillow - and we'd need three of them - one for the house, one for the office, and one for the condo); bones, toys, food and water dishes (three of everything!); and some nice cages to keep him in until he was “trained” (I hadn't even begun to think about that one!); and of course food and cookies; and lastly a carrying case for those times when he was in the car, between destinations. The first few hours together that fateful Saturday morning went by pretty quickly, and not surprisingly I had totally abandoned the idea of doing any of my other usual Saturday chores; and the idea of going to Ottawa was right out! So we spent our first evening at home together, doing what you might expect. However, the evening was not without its “moments”, as one might say. Cultivating the idea that “they never mess in their own backyard”, I decided it would be quite satisfactory for me to have the little beast sleep in my bed with me, and I would simply get up during the night from time to time to take him out for a pee. So, while I undressed myself in preparation for a cozy nap, he waited patiently at my feet, watching my every move. Then I picked up the little darling and deposited him gently on the fluffy, clean and white duvet, whereupon he trotted gingerly up to the head of the bed, onto a pillow and peed on it!
I couldn't contain myself. It was bad enough I had entirely altered my day to satisfy his needs; that I had ignored all my habitual duties and undertakings. But now, my efforts at providing clean laundry and all the time I had dedicated to that thankless task were reduced to total waste. I picked the little devil up by the neck folds (which I had observed Dorit doing when handling the puppies), stomped downstairs, and deposited him on the porch step outside the front door, not really giving a damn whether he walked off or someone else took him. Then I began the infuriating task of stripping the entire bed, right down to the mattress cover, including not only the duvet cover but the duvet itself. Having deposited that pile of textile in the washer, I then had to go about remaking the bed with what available resources I had. And then and only then did I check to see if Monroe was still at the front door. He was. And I suppose I was glad that he was.
The next three days were really more of the same, to a lesser degree. I had no idea that caring for apuppywassodemandingandinhibiting. IfeltworsethanIdidwhenIwasengagedtobemarried! I feared this situation would never improve. There were the usual “accidents” at the house and office, and I felt that I punctuated my life with constant visits to the great outdoors, not only during normal waking hours, but throughout the night. I was at my wit's end.
Fortunately, Dorit had been kind enough to include in her contract with me that I had 14 days in which to reconsider, and if I wished to return the pet, there was an administration fee of $100 only. On Wednesday, following the purchase of the dog on the previous Saturday, I called Dorit to advise her I would like to return the dog. That evening, I arrived once again at her residence, complete not only with Monroe, but also with all the other bowls, toys, cages and beds, which I told her she could keep since I would never have need for such things again. I felt bad about the affair, but I knew I was making the right decision. The drive home, down the dark and lonely laneway from the house to the highway, was not without its emotion, but I was confident in the correctness of my decision. I simply was not in a position to have a dog.
I made it through Thursday all-right. By Friday, things were a bit gloomier. I decided to visit Gord and Marilyn Harris to tell them of my decision, since of course they had a right to know. I dropped by their home after work. We had a drink together, but I was not really interested in discussing the matter too much, so I left and went home. There, in my kitchen, I poured myself another drink and stared at the rug on the floor, my mind flashing with images of that little fawn dog with the black mask. I guess I had another drink, and then things started happening. I wanted him back! I was positive! I called Dorit to tell her. She sounded more than unimpressed. In fact, she said I couldn't have him back, unless I had someone who would help me from time to time in caring for the dog. I assured her that this was no problem at all, since my sister (Lindy) would be more than willing to take care of Monroe occasionally. This bald assertion was, however, not sufficient assurance for Dorit. She would have to speak to Lindy. And soon, because Dorit was leaving for Florida tomorrow morning!
I called Lindy. The line was busy. I called my mother. The line was busy. I called the operator and told her that I had an emergency and that she had to connect me with my sister. Which she did. When Lindy came on the line, I asked, “Were you talking with mommy?”, which she said she had been. They could talk for hours! And I didn't have the time or patience tonight! When I told Lindy what was required, she said, “Well, Billy, the only reason I would take care of the dog is so I don't have to buy one for the girls!”, which I explained to Lindy was entirely legitimate since, first, the dog wouldn't know the difference; and, second, it would fulfill the requirements of St. Maj. Fischler.
Lindy then undertook to call Dorit. And within 15 minutes, Dorit called me back and I was on my way into the dark and stormy night to pick up my little friend, who has been with me to this day.
Monroe has, in fairness, gone on to become a bit of a celebrity in Almonte. He has been photographed or mentioned by name at least three times in The Almonte Gazette, and there are many people who know Monroe's name without even knowing my own. He is very popular with the young children, and he is a constant amusement for all but one of my Clients (a lady who is afraid of small dogs). Equally important to me is that my great friend, Denis, is extremely fond of Monroe; and thanks to Denis, Monroe has an entirely different weekend pattern of very early morning walks and eliminations, in addition to extremely satisfying massage and hide-'n-seek games at the condo.
Except for the last two years of my life (since my retirement from the practice of law), my law office was an integral part of my existence. Like most employment, it required assiduity, perhaps more so than most because it was I was a sole practitioner. As often as my mother dryly observed, "Don't worry, it'll get done!", I never discovered anyone other than myself to do it. My office was in that respect an overhanging obligation. But I never viewed my office as an unfavourable destination; rather it was my sanctum sanctorum. Once again Denis figured largely in my law office. The two cloth-bound comfortable chairs shown in the foreground of photograph below are ones which Denis and I bought in the Village of Merrickville on the Rideau Canal at the end of my 3-month hiatus from the practice of law following my open-heart surgery in 2007. Denis proved himself to be nothing short of saintly during my surgery and subsequent recovery. He literally supported me during the sometimes daunting recovery process, including accompanying me on my plodding walks which began as 5 minute outings and later extended to longer intervals as my strength rallied. His unselfish and uninhibited assistance to me at that time cemented our relationship. Little did I know that his contribution to my law practice would later become utterly irreplaceable following the precipitous departure of my legal assistant Marina when she was diagnosed with kidney failure. I cannot imagine having weathered these two medical emergencies which, apart from their combined impact upon my practice, were totally unrelated. This experience was the first of many insights I have subsequently had into the selflessness of Denis and his unflagging commitment to getting things done and generally preserving our mutual buoyancy against all odds.
I don't know anyone who doesn't have an opinion on what constitutes a good photograph of himself. The snap below of Denis is one of my favourites, very Bruce Willis. For the most part the photographs I have taken of Denis have not met with his favourable reception but I believe he tolerates this one. I started taking photographs regularly after I purchased my first iPhone. There was a time when I couldn't have imagined the necessity of having a so-called "Smart Phone" but now I can't imagine being without one. I am happy to report that this prejudice against modern technology was also once shared by Denis. Now we no longer have a land line and we look like typical kids at Starbucks poring over our respective iPhones.
During the summer of 2010 while lunching at Les Fougères in Chelsea, Québec my brother-in-law's sister-in-law (Esther) introduced us to the idea of Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. Esther and her husband Rick are avid golfers and they had visited Hilton Head Island for that purpose. Frankly we knew nothing about the place. Our most recent travel adventures had taken us to the Mayan Riviera, the Caribbean and Boca Raton, Florida. We had lately developed that now not uncommon dislike for air travel and embraced the thought of being able to drive to South Carolina instead. We have since returned every year since our first visit in 2010 and are scheduled to return again in November for five months.
Boxing Day on the Beach
Sunday, December 26, 2010
At last! Twenty-four hours after arriving on Hilton Head Island (South Carolina) and having completed the prerequisites to getting settled in, I was able to make my way along the grey cedar boardwalk from the hotel to the broad band of beach on the chilling Atlantic Ocean. As soon as my shoes hit the sand I was reminded of the striking softness of beach colours, taupe wet sand, blue-grey water, white and grey seagulls, all under the massive dome of an endless sky. I had forgotten how marvellous gold looks upon a beach background. Either way I looked, to the left or to the right, the beach was interminable, rounding distant corners beyond which I could no longer see. The vastness of the beach invited me to travel ever further, as far as the large American flag flapping in the distance and still more.
It gave new meaning to “off-season” to be walking along the beach on Boxing Day with my Panama Jack hat turned backwards to avoid being blown off by the high, cold wind, trudging over the hard packed sand dressed in Sperry topsiders, thick white sport socks, khakis, windbreaker and silk scarf, bent into the driving snow showers. In fact the term “snow showers”, though seemingly colloquial, is far more apt an expression than our Canadian term “snow flurries” because here what you get when the temperature is only a fraction above freezing are small particles of iced rain which melt the moment they touch anything.
I was almost alone on the boundless beach, except for an enthusiastic runner and his black Labrador dog, and a wary woman who walked haltingly from the beach resort unsure about whether to continue in the face of the irreligious snow showers and perhaps intimidated by the emptiness of the landscape. The woman’s curiosity and likely preference for some needed post-Christmas exercise finally trumped her concerns, though she walked along the rim of the beach closest to the resort for security. I headed determinedly into the wind in the opposite direction, breathing deeply as I walked, sucking in the Ocean air in an effort to burn as many calories as possible and to reawaken my body and mind after three days of concentrated driving from Canada. There were remnant tracks of a bicycle along the sand. The daily constitutional – whether on foot or on bicycle – would become our routine, the accent to our home cooked meals and evening cocktails. It naturally pleased me to have nothing other than that to consider. A year of diligence and attention to the demands of running a small business were now side-lined and temporarily behind me. In fact considering how obsessive I tend to be, it always surprises me that I am capable of extricating myself so completely from the harness during a vacation. It is as if I were simply unplugged and rendered instantly defunct though admittedly the daily routine would become my new agenda, my checklist of duties to accomplish and by which to assess myself. Nonetheless, as the saying goes, a change is as good as a rest.
The adage about being good to go home is not lost on us. Our summer sojourn in Almonte (now part of the new conglomerate of the Town of Almonte, Village of Pakenham and Ramsay Township called Mississippi Mills) is an ideal and soothing interlude for us. We invariably reignite our routine here by going to the Mississippi Golf Club for a breakfast nonpareil in the Club House. Our compass is expanded to include day trips to Gananoque, Ivy Lea Club on the Seaway, Kingston and Cedar Cove Resort on White Lake in Renfrew County. Each is distinguished by its bucolic scenery and tranquil marine environment. Of course we regularly bicycle as well.
As much as we relish the open fields of Lanark County, we can easily bear the deprivation of winter. Once we have reinstalled ourselves along the Atlantic Ocean on the barrier islands we succeed to immerse ourselves in maritime bliss. Our agenda is little more glamorous than eating, bicycling and sleeping. I simply never tire of the sea.
By design we are entrenched in Almonte. In a way our tangible connections with the area are now much diminished as we have sold our house, office building, condominium and moose pasture. Now we rent a small two-bedroom apartment belonging to a former Client and his wife. Although we considered other places to settle (including in particular Brockville and Gananoque along the St. Lawrence River) we have opted to remain in Almonte. We have just recently signed an extension of our current apartment lease until February 28, 2020. On balance Almonte meets the criteria which are important to people of our age; namely, proximity to banks, hospital, dentist, family, friends and acquaintances.