March 23, 2009

This so-called "ridiculous" country IS at war

If you know me at all, you'll know I'm an old tie-dyed in the wool hippie dippy pacifist, but this makes my blood boil. Part of me says, "It's Fox News, who really gives a crap?", but the rest of me is still reeling from our latest casualties in this war Canada is supposedly not even involved in.

Tell that to the families of the 116 people killed in Afghanistan since 2002, the largest number of fatalities for any single Canadian military mission since the Korean War.

And, according to my research, we have the third-highest number of deaths in Afghanistan, behind the US with 595 (did you know it was that high?) and the UK, which has lost 152 soldiers. That's one hell of a lot of families being torn apart. I don't care how you feel about war, there's no getting away from the massive impact this has had on the world at large.

Speaking of that astounding number of US deaths, here's a good chance to clear up what may be a misconception. Is there any media coverage down there about the casualties? I'm curious as we've been told up here that it's swept under the carpet and not even mentioned on the news, unlike here:

This was the lead story on my local news (CityTV, no clips available), as every death is. And, because of this massive media coverage, you can't help but be moved (and angered) by the stories and pictures of these bright, shining faces and their grieving loved ones. You connect with them all, feel their pain, maybe even shed a tear for their loss. Every single one of those 116 lives has touched us, as it should. How sad to think nearly 600 of their own people have died with nary a mention on the US news.

The clip mentioned something that's become an unfortunate tradition around here, the crowds of people saluting the processions of dead soldiers along the Highway Of Heroes.

When the bodies of our fallen soldiers are returned to Canada, they arrive at Trenton Air Base, then the flag-draped coffins are loaded into the hearses and driven here to Toronto for the official autopsies. Along the 401 highway, crowds began to spontaneously gather on the overpasses along the route with their Canadian flags and hand-painted signs, saluting the coffins as they passed. In September, 2007, thanks in part to a massive online petition (about 20,000 signatures) and public outcry, the stretch was renamed the Highway Of Heroes.

Here's a fantastic video tribute to give you some idea of what Canada's been doing in this war and how this country feels about our brave men and women (set to the tune of AC/DC's "For Those About to Rock (We Salute You)" and "Amazing Grace"):

How's that for patriotism, eh? Check your pulse if you didn't tear up.

My stepfather, Mum's Ray, a very proud member of the Brighton Legion, dressed in his full uniform and made the trek many times to stand on one of those overpasses and salute his comrades. This latest slur on our Canadian military must have him spinning.

Canada and the US have always had a precarious friendship. Some are probably still pretty ticked at us for burning down the White House (we were part of the British Empire then and still have the Queen on our money), but it hasn't always been doom and gloom from the US media. Just this past Remembrance Day, in fact, NBC showed this tribute to the Highway Of Heroes:

Such a pity other American media pundits apparently didn't see it.

I see where one of the comedians on the show in question, Doug Benson, who quipped about not knowing Canada even had troops in Afghanistan, ("I thought that's where you go if you don't want to fight.", a ref to the Vietnam draft dodgers) has been forced to cancel some upcoming gigs in Edmonton, Alberta. The hundreds of phone calls and threatening e-mails were probably a factor, but I'm pretty sure the fine folks at CFB Edmonton had something to say about it, too. You can't trash this country and expect to make money off us at the same time, it just doesn't work like that.

I'm the last one to root for war, but you bet your sweet bippy I salute our troops and all the sacrifices they've made in the name of freedom. Make all the jokes you want about our accents, our never-ending snow, even our "funny money" if you like, we'll probably laugh just as loud as you do. But, how dare you laugh off this country's war effort and all the lives we've lost to *your* war.

March 5, 2009

Of Fathers and Daughters

I'm not going to waste time apologizing for the delay, nobody's reading this anyway. I only had one regular reader that I know of and now he's gone. My father used to read the blog, which really tickled me. That's an early version of us above, a passport photo from the '60s (too young to travel alone, I had to use his passport), still one of my faves. Wasn't he a handsome fella?

I hadn't seen him for about 10 years or so, as he moved to Australia to be with his first wife and "other" family again, but we talked on the phone and emailed now and then. The kind of long-distance relationship we'd always had, really, due to the music biz. My mother raised me, but I know my Daddy loved me, like us girls do, and I'll miss him.

Speaking of handsome, take a gander at these two! My parents on a date in 1963, just before I came along.

Which leads to the obligatory baby pics, awwww. Taken in Sydney, Australia, 1964.

Dad was a "bobby" in England (policeman) on duty New Year's Eve when he and his partner were called to investigate a loud house party full of musicians (imagine how loud they must have been, on New Year's yet!). My mother was a solo singer at the time, her gig over for the night, and probably a little tipsy when she invited the dashing young copper to stay for drinks. His shift was nearly over, one thing led to another and he soon tossed his billy club away, picked up a bass guitar, and was off on the road to fame and fortune with The Four Ways.

Alas, I no longer have the picture I used to talk to every day when I stayed with my grandparents in England as a youngster (one of the rare chances I had to go to school in the '60s, early '70s, when we were on the road so much), my father's graduation pic from the police academy. One of many treasures lost to various fires through the years.

If there's one thing you could say about my Dad, the man had style! He was notorious for wearing, say, blue pants and green shirts with a red hat. This was taken in London in the early '70s.

Chillaxin' by the pool of the Fortuna Hotel in Bangkok, Thailand, 1967. All that's missing is the Hollywood sign in the background.

You have to click to see the bigger version to truly appreciate this outfit. Outstandingly '70s. That's drummer Kenny on the right, unknown rocker chick and her mother in-between.

He must have loved being in a band, just look at these fantastic jackets (second from the top).

On a windy day in Nova Scotia in the '70s with another beloved green shirt.

And we made quite the pair at my grade 6 graduation in St. John's, Newfoundland. Stylin'.

Not long after this was taken, my parents parted ways, with Dad staying behind to manage a few successful bars (the band split just before my parents did). We'd talk on the phone now and then, wrote letters back and forth (no computers then), but I didn't see him again until the early '90s, when he stopped by on his way to Australia. Wish I'd known then I'd never see him again, so many unspoken words.

As a kid, I was told I was named after actress Rhonda Fleming, which was fine and dandy, she was a beauty. But, I always joked that my father really wanted a boy, and I only missed being Ron Jr. instead of Rhonda by a chromosome. On my 18th birthday, Mum bust the family closet wide open by filling me in on some bits and pieces they'd failed to mention, such as my three half-brothers in Australia. All along I thought I'd been a disappointment, that he'd always wanted a boy, and it turned out he had three of 'em. Mindboggling.

One of his sons contacted him in Newfoundland and, the next thing you know, he's talking to his first wife and jetting off to Oz for a "visit". I had a feeling he was going for good, but we never broached it. Whatever they had before was rekindled and I firmly believe his last years, surrounded by kids, grandkids, and love, were his happiest.

My mother certainly wasn't left alone. She had, and continues to have, many friends, but a few short years after my Dad went home, she met Ray. They soon moved into their lovely home on Lake Ontario (some pics here), and we all loved spending time with them there. He became the closest thing to a stepfather I've had, and you couldn't help but love him.

Dancing at my Mum's 70th birthday in 2007.

With George and Riel at Big Pete's.

Every now and then, life grabs you by the lapels and smacks you in the head 'til you pay attention. That happened for me back at the start of September when Ray suffered a stroke. A few weeks later, he passed on, just before my son's 21st birthday. We agreed not to attend the funeral as it was to be held on the same day as Riel's party. For new readers, my son's autistic; we just didn't think it would be fair to him to "ruin" his day. I know how that looks in print, but we all agreed it was for the best.

We had a subdued celebration at our local Gabby's, raised toasts to Riel's 21st and to Ray's indelible spirit, then just went home, where I checked my email out of habit and recognized the name of friend of my Dad's from Newfoundland.

Before I could register why he'd be writing me, I went completely numb as I read the header, "Sad News - Ron's passing". I honestly thought for a split second that he got Ray's name wrong. But, no, my Dad had had a stroke earlier in the month and died on Riel's birthday. How's that for a kick in the teeth? Turned out, both he and Ray had the strokes *and* passed away within hours of each other, on opposite sides of the world, having never met.

I was on auto-pilot for a while there, too stunned to take it all in. It was quite the double-punch to the gut and I'll miss them both so much.

As a little girl, I looked up to my Dad as the kind of guy I wanted to marry someday, what little girl didn't? He was handsome, smart, funny, musical, and seemed to know all the answers. And for a while there, we were on top of the world, or so it seemed, but it turned out he wasn't perfect and neither was that story-tale life we all thought we'd lead. I kept a special spot for him in my heart, though, he was my Dad.

There's a lot of my father in George, the guy I'm pretty sure I'll spent the rest of my life with, and there ain't nothing wrong with that. Just wish I'd had the chance to talk to my Dad one more time, maybe ask him all those questions we never covered.