This week I read The One and Only Ivan, a children’s book based very loosely on an event about a Silverback Gorilla that was isolated for years as a money-maker in a private dilapidated road side attraction. It was lovely and I cried. Which for me is a great compliment. If a book or movie can move me to tears, I hold it in high regard. Same as with a book that makes me pee just a little, this too is the highest compliment I can give to a humorous book. If I were to make a review system, for books and films I would use, instead of stars, the 1-5 tear drop rating. The number 5 would be the equivalent of a soaking wet pillow. Trying to recall off the top of my head, a few number 5 ratings for pillow soaker movies, I would include The Wind Walker and Wuthering Heights, oh and Steel Magnolias.
For laughter rating I would use the pee o’ meter, with 1 representing one tiny pee drop, and 5 meaning “Quick! Run to the bathroom. “ The latest book that I would rate as a 5 on the pee o’ meter is David Sedaris’s Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls and Me Talk Pretty One Day. I don’t think I have laughed so much since enjoying P J O’Rourke’s Holidays in Hell from many years back. I also read Plum Johnson’s memoir, They Left Us Everything. Although I enjoyed all the details of her sixteen month packing up of her childhood home in Ontario, perhaps I didn’t enjoy it as much if my own father didn’t recently die, alone in a barren smoky apartment in Nanaimo. He had spent years battling many addictions, isolating himself from other people.
I didn’t have the huge task of going through a family home full of mementos and plastic bags stuffed with letters, but I do have one cardboard box of papers that emit a strong scent of the cigarettes that he smoked religiously for over fifty years. The smell comforts me. Instead of having things to go through to piece together an understanding of his life, I have had the experience of people from my father’s past calling or sending letters to tell me a little bit of their memories with him. This was since I had put a small obituary in his home town paper, The Winnipeg Free Press.
Just recently a man called who said he was very close with my father in high school. I greedily asked for a story or two that I might not have already heard. He said they enjoyed long talks about poetry and how they went to Beatnik coffee houses together. I imagine the Blue Note Cafe and wonder if it was around in those days. He told me that once they drank wine, “procured from some bum on the streets” in the unfinished concrete shell of their new high school. They gazed across the open empty prairie, at the menacing Stony Mountain Penitentiary.They joked that it was the other high school.
I looked up the prison and found out that it had housed a few famous inmates, such as Chief’s Big Bear, One Arrow and Poundmaker during the 1885 North-West Rebellion. I am grateful for these glimpses into my fathers past. And although I am sad that he is no longer a presence on planet earth, stories like these make his life seem more real to me. To know he had over seventy years of experiences, good and bad. These tiny black typed letters help me to keep the memory of him anchored to the world. In a way he is imprisoned here.