December 12, 2001: time to resume my regular diet.
All that heavy American food would have settled on my ass had I not been so active. I started the day with my dentist, and despite not having seen one in two years (as opposed to three times a year when I lived in Canada) I had no major problems. My oral hygiene habits must be good. Afterward I packed for my flight to Calgary that evening; I was off to spend a week in the mountains at my sister's place.
The highlight of my day was meeting my nephew Devin for the first time. My sister Cindy and my brother-in-law Don picked me up at the airport. Devin took two minutes to warm up to me, offering me one of his toy dinosaurs to play with. He was just over a month away from reaching the terrible twos, but he had a good vocabulary.
This was illustrated by the Hot Chocolate Incident. We'd climbed into Don's Nissan Pathfinder and were heading toward the Trans-Canada Highway (No. 1) when we stopped to get road hot chocolate. After loading up at a service station/convenience store, we climbed back in the SUV. I noticed they'd installed dodgy-looking plastic cup holders which dangled from the side windows and rested against the inner door at a slight angle. I asked if they were safe and my sister assured me they were; they used them all the time. I threw caution to the wind and set my cup into the holder. Don did the same on his side. Cindy was in the back with Devin.
And then it happened. A small bump sent a quantity of hot chocolate jetting out of the cup onto Don's lap, scalding his leg through his jeans. He yelled out: Owwwww... F***!!! In the following moment of adult silence, a young voice from the backseat trumpeted with exuberance: F***!!!
We were dead quiet for two seconds, then burst out laughing. This only encouraged Devin, who uttered the fabled word over and over again, at which we continued to laugh; we couldn't help ourselves. Soon enough our sensibilities returned, and Cindy and Don tried to get Devin to say truck and frog, in an effort to confuse or distract him, but he'd have none of it.
My next surprise came as we hit the highway. I hadn't been at speed on winter roads for years; I was no longer used to it. It was dark, and I dislike night driving, which made things worse. I freaked out: each gust of wind through the mountain passes rocked the vehicle and made me feel as though we'd skid on the black ice, launch off the edge of the road and land upside-down in the lake. By the time we reached Canmore I was a nervous wreck. It was silly, because Don commutes an hour each way to work in the same conditions and has never crashed.
Next came the Squidgy Pickle Incident. You won't find the word squidgy in the dictionary, but it ought to be there, because it's the only word that describes the texture of that nasty thing.
I'd wanted to whip up a salad for lunch. After getting everything together, I asked Cindy if she had any pickles. She pulled a jar out of the pantry. I asked her why they weren't in the fridge. She said the jar was too big. I prefer cold pickles, but I figured these would do in a pinch, so I fished one out of the jar. You know how pickles are supposed to be nice and crisp when you take a bite? This one... wasn't. It was... squidgy. Cindy saw the disgusted look on my face and began laughing so hard she couldn't stand. She went to her knees in front the fridge, with the door wide open, laughing until tears came out and her face went red. She was useless for three minutes until she laughed herself out.
Then she started laughing again as she discovered that she did have pickles in the fridge (in a jar at the bottom rear, which is why she hadn't seen them), and what was worse, she recalled the ones in the pantry had been there since they moved in years ago. No wonder they were soft!
I intended my visit to be relaxing and stress-free, but on the second day her computer crashed ugly after Windows ME failed during a routine update. Two days later I fixed it with minimal data loss.
Later that week, as I waited with Cindy at the Hotel Canmore for the Airporter Shuttle to pick me up, I noticed it was late. I made a call and discovered their system had dropped my reservation. With only a five-minute window of opportunity, they contacted the driver and he met me as his last pick up before heading to Calgary. No apology from the company either; I won't be using them again.
Did I mention stress? When I got to the airport, I learned the flight would be delayed half an hour. When I reached the gate, the flight was delayed the again by another 30 minutes to wait for an incoming flight's connecting passengers.
Once airborne, a flight attendant with a large posterior banged into my arm no less than four times as she went up and down the narrow aisle of the 737. Four times during a 30-minute flight, and she wasn't aware she was doing it. Did regular flying numb the nerves in her ass?
The next day I picked Mabel up after her flight from Hong Kong. We hadn't seen each other in two weeks, but I couldn't go near her as she had the flu. Over the next few days, we alternated between her resting and Christmas shopping. We spent time hanging out with our families and getting into the holiday spirit.
On Christmas Day I was told a story that, depending on your beliefs, you may find spooky. One of my little step-nephews suffered a severe allergic reaction that put him in the hospital. While he was there, his heart stopped. He was revived after being dead for seven minutes, and without brain damage. He later said, out of the blue, that he saw Opa (that's Dutch for Grandfather; my father, who died in January 1999), who told him it wasn't time yet, and that he should go back. It was a trippy thing to hear.
A few days later we headed back to my sister's place for another week in the mountains. The next day we did some more shopping in Calgary. The drive was incredible: the heavy frost on the trees sparkled in the morning sun, and ice fog obscured the highway in such a way that inclines glowed with the sunlight, making the road look like it led straight to heaven. It was ghostly, ethereal and beautiful, as only a Canadian winter in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains could be.
The next day we drove to Banff (pronounced banf, not banfuhfuh) to visit the shops and drop by the famous Banff Springs Hotel, an old and superb property. It's spectacular and loaded with character. After taking photographs, we walked to the Grizzly House Restaurant for an early dinner, then cruised home to relax before it got dark.
New Year's Eve was spent at Jeff and Cathy's place (friends of Cindy's). We were greeted by a roaring fire in the hearth, subdued lighting, and wonderful food (Jeff is a chef and had prepared a ton of great-tasting food for us to nibble on). We all broke out our drinks and I my cigars, relaxing as folks arrived. Everyone talked and laughed; danced and sang. At midnight, Don popped the cork off a bottle of expensive champagne and we toasted the new year and each other. It was the best New Year's Party I'd ever attended.
Back in Edmonton, Mabel visited her sister while I spent time with my brother. Ray and I did some shopping before spending the afternoon at Red's, a combination restaurant and party place, complete with a games room, bowling alley, and cigar bar known as the Furnace Room. We played three games of 8-ball in the Furnace Room, smoked stogies and drank beer. I whupped Ray's ass two games to one, including a four-ball run to slam home the 8. He got me back in Nascar racing, edging me in both races (what can I say, I hadn't driven a car in two years, and he's a good driver).
We were about to see a movie when Ray got a call saying his wife had been in a car accident. We got a refund on the tickets and zipped to the other side of town, just as the tow trucks arrived to clear the wreckage. Her Toyota RAV-4 was a write-off, but the air bag had prevented serious injury. She was banged up but alive, which was all that mattered.The other car was a late-model POS; the driver had stolen it. When he hit her, he took off running.
A few days later, as we packed for our flights back to Hong Kong, I reflected on a few things I was amazed with or affected by that I'd forgotten about after so long away:
· 120 channels and nothing on. TV is still boring.
· Wind Chill. Nothing cuts through your clothing like an icy Siberian wind blasting down from the North at 60km/hr.
· Clothes dryers are magic! Wet clothing goes in; dry clothing comes out. It beats the Hell out of hanging clothes.
· Space, glorious space. No one bumped into me as I walked down the sidewalk or in the shopping mall.
· Hugeness. Huge cars; huge stores; huge food. Everything was so big.
· Survivor. I saw half of one episode and got bored. What was all the fuss about? I'm glad I missed it.
· Christmas lights. I missed seeing them on people's homes.
· Hockey. God help me, I love that game.
I hoped I wouldn't let another two years go by before visiting Canada and my family. It's too long, and there's so much I feel we missed. The reverse culture shock is sometimes too much to take.
That, and the squidgy pickle.
April 13, 2002
Next Tale: A Run for the Border