jamesq: (An actual picture of me.)
My uncle Tim is a scrounger. One of those guys who can sniff out deals from here and there. The whole family got together a few weeks ago after my brother died, and we ended up chatting about that.

Tim told me the tale of Vince and Vince's stuff. Vince (I never learned his last name, despite an interesting hour reading obituaries) never had a social insurance number, but over his life went from basically poor, to being the salvage king of Calgary. When he died, he left his widow a bunch of property, several million dollars, and a warehouse full of personal crap. You see, in addition to being a self-trained salvage expert, Vince was also a hoarder. A very rich, very well-organised hoarder. Which is to say, there was a ton of random stuff, but it was fairly well-labeled and properly stored.

The widow, being set for life, not having any children to worry about, and not wanting to deal with a warehouse full of constant reminders, decided to simply get rid of it. So she contacted a bunch of people who had worked for her husband and told them to come help themselves. These guys were all contractors (like Tim), so they weren't afraid of hard work. They also were the people most likely to appreciate Vince's stuff, and most importantly, had big pickup trucks.

Tim came and got a bunch of stuff. Amongst his haul:
  • Over a thousand dollars worth of scrap copper. Tim, feeling a little guilty, offered to split the cash with her, but she wouldn't have any of it. She was already rich.
  • Tons of well-maintained vintage hand tools.
  • An electron microscope. He ended up selling it to a high-school science teacher, who spent several hours in Tim's garage confirming that it worked.
  • A barrel of liquor.
Which bring us to the crux of this story.

Tim and another fellow figured the barrels would be worth something, so they started to empty them into the toilet. Tim realized right away, from the colour and the smell, that this wasn't something that should be poured away, and they ended up scrounging every empty bottle they could find in the warehouse, to decant what turns out to be really good port. Well, technically fortified wine, since you can't call it port, unless it was made in Portugal. That said, I'm just going to call it port. Fuck the EU.

Subsequent investigations revealed that Vince had made the port himself, and it had been sitting in that barrel since somewhere between 1955 and 1960. Most likely 1959. Tim and the other contractor decanted it in 2011. At a minimum, it was in that barrel for at least 51 years, and possibly 56. Because I like round numbers, I'm going to call it 50-year old.

He also thinks it's somewhere in the vicinity of 30% alcohol. Tim has long since hit the age where drinking is often more trouble than it's worth, so has more than he can personally use.

Unrelated, I'm thinking about having a bathroom renovation done (depending on whether my laneway house project proceeds or not), so I invite Tim over later in the week to have a look.

"When you come over, I'll trade you some peanut butter squares for a bottle of that port."
Having divvied up the existing peanut butter squares, I figure, I'll make a fresh batch. I figured, if he gave me a wee bottle, he'd get a quarter or a half of the batch. He brought me a gallon; 160 fluid ounces; Over four litres! I just gave him the whole damn batch, and if he asks for more, it's his. I priced out 50-year old port that's available commercially. That stuff is dear.

Since I didn't want to keep all my port on one huge-ass bottle, I've split it up. All told, I filled 2x750ml, 1x650ml, 2x500ml, 2x375ml and (unshown) 1x200ml bottle. [livejournal.com profile] nosarious and I were getting high off the fumes.

Left: the big-ass jug. Right: seven bottles of awesomeness!

So how is it? It's easily the best port I've ever tasted. Hell, you can get drunk off the fumes, and it's smooth. As friends describe something this easy-drinking, "it tastes like waking up in a field." I think I'm going to be very popular when I bring some to a cocktail party.
jamesq: (An actual picture of me.)
My brother killed himself yesterday. I'm still processing this. Mostly I'm sad for his family, who over the last twenty years got to know him far better than I ever did.

LJ - BillInThe70s.jpg
(The earliest picture of Bill that I have. Taken in the 70's I imagine)

We were never close, as I was seven years younger than him. We were never together at any age where we could really relate to each other. When I was old enough to want to hang around with my brother, he was of an age where it was deeply uncool to have your kid brother hanging around. I was an over-serious nerd, he was one of the kids who hung out with the bad crowd. That got so bad that my parents ended up sending him to live with family in Vancouver, where he straightened himself out. That sounds like some sort of weird military-school-exile-thing, but I'm pretty sure Bill was in on it, recognizing that he needed a clean break from the crowd. I remember shouting matches in the house, but not over that.

LJ - cadets.jpg
(Cadets. Bill is the one standing farthest to the right in the second row)

Due to his moving when I was a kid, we never got to know each other as young adults. He was living his life in Vancouver when I was in high school. He eventually moved back when I was in University.

We had different educations, life experiences, political views. He helped raise a family, and I'm a bachelor. But for all that I say we have nothing in common, it's not actually true.

We had similar senses of humour. Bill got most of my jokes and vice-versa. Mom and Dad certainly raised us in similar ways. We had a similar legacy from that. The values that were instilled on both of us were very strong.

LJ - Bill in Cadets.jpg
(This picture of Bill reacting to a sour note was taken by a Calgary Herald photographer. They were kind enough to send us a print, since I doubt we still have the actual newspaper anymore)

Later in life we bonded to a small extent over our shared burden - my sister. I grew to simply write-off her antics, but Bill took them more and more personally as time went on. Partly that was simply because he had a lot more contact with her growing up as well as when they were adults, but mostly it was because he was often the target of her BS.

LJ - BillMomDadAtExpo86.jpg
(Bill, Maxine, and Gordon Cyr. This was taken in Vancouver's Gastown during Expo86)

It wasn't until yesterday morning when my Aunt broke the news to me that I realized we shared one more thing: Depression. I'm guessing here, but if my brother felt he had to kill himself, then odds are he was depressed, and probably had been for a long time. I've been there, and I've felt the urge to kill myself. It got bad enough that I sought help for it. If only Bill had done that.

Depression lies. The worst lie that depression tells you is that there is no hope. Don't believe it. I'm living proof that you can, if not beat depression, at least negotiate a truce with it. I haven't thought seriously about suicide in years. My depressive incidents have become fewer and of shorter duration due to the mental tools I learned in therapy. And I know that there is help if I need it. My friends will support me and there are professionals out there who can help me.

If you are feeling suicidal, you can walk into any emergency room in this city and get help. "I'm thinking about killing myself" is what I told the triage nurse. It was the first step, and I'm glad I took it. I wish my brother had taken that step.

LJ - BillAndBeckyWedding.jpg
(Bill and his new bride Becky, at the Justice of the Peace office in the Palliser Hotel)

The last time I spoke to my brother was a year ago at the family Boxing day party. He left me a voice mail on my birthday, and I wish I'd done at least that much for him on his. Would it have mattered? Probably not, but who knows?

Right now, My brother's widow Becky is devastated. His children, Thor, Ruth, Russel, and Bill have had the carpet yanked out from under them. I am so very sad for them. I wish I had the words to help them through their grief, but that is beyond my ability.

jamesq: (Me in grade one)
This picture was taken in late 1934.

Clockwise from lower-left:
  • My father, Gordon Cyr, born September 3rd, 1934.
  • Grandma McGillis, age 15.
  • Great-grandma, whose age and name I regretfully don't know.
  • Great-great-grandma, ditto.
My brother has the original, I scanned this at a Christmas gathering several years ago. Still haven't gotten around to printing it up.
jamesq: (Me in grade one)
...Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Anyway, I was chatting with one of my Aunts today and I asked her why some of my Uncle and Aunts (on the same side of the family) had different last names. The older ones have the surname Cyr and the younger ones have McGillis. I mentioned that a guy I used to know had McGillis as a last name and his family was also from Winnipeg, so maybe we were distantly related. At that point I also asked if McGillis was the name of a second husband, or if it was Grandma's maiden name.

Turns out that Grandma liked men - really really liked men (which elicited the comment from me "She was ahead of her time") - She was pregnant with my father when she was 14 or 15. Grandpa Cyr was her first husband. She then married a man who claimed to be named McGillis, but he was apparently a bigamist! So the guy I thought I might be distantly related to? Not so much, or at least no more distantly related than anyone else.

Anyway, Bigamist!McGillis could apparently keep a secret for a long time since my five youngest aunts and uncles shared that name. His real name was something like Valiquette or Valignat. Not sure of the spelling since I only just learned this today.

Grandma's maiden name? Durand. Meaning [livejournal.com profile] bungle_lord takes [livejournal.com profile] _thwap_'s place as a potential relative.

Just another reminder that complicated relationships are not a recent phenomenon. I always liked Grandma McGillis - she was the fun grandparent.
jamesq: (Me in grade one)
A story my folks told was that my mother broke the Glenmore dam. At the time, it had a very narrow road atop of it connecting the neighbourhoods of Altadore and Belaire. This was when the Glenmore interchange was being constructed back in the late 70's.

Anyway the folks got into a car accident on top of the dam and about a week later they closed the dam to vehicular traffic. Not, I hesitate to add because of structural damage caused by my parents crash, but because the city finished the Glenmore causeway and opened it up to traffic. However, my mother was teased about closing the dam anyway.

Mom took the teasing because, so the story goes, she and my father had gone out drinking, and on the way back she decided (in her inebriated state) that dad should teach her how to drive. She ended up hospitalised for a couple days while they fixed her broken foot.

I mentioned this story while reminiscing about my folks with my siblings.
"Wait, you actually believed that story?"
"Well sure, why wouldn't I?"
"That's the story they told the cops so that dad wouldn't get nailed for drunk driving. Mom had nothing to do with that accident."
In my defence I was very young, and when I was older it didn't come up much.

The approach to the dam from the Altadore side. The building in the middle was what my mom dad ran into.

The road is gone, replaced by a giant pipe and a bikepath. It's probably safer this way, especially since the pipe effectively keeps teens from diving off the dam into the river below.

Dad drove drunk occasionally, though he did it less and less as he got older and it became less socially acceptable. I think he simply learned wisdom over the years rather then just changing his outward appearance. I know he would call others out on it (house guests attempting to leave a party drunk for example).

Here's the thing though, the attitude in the 70's was, sure drunk driving is bad, but you can't really stand in someone's way if it's their choice and besides, they can just be extra careful. You couldn't get away with that now - if people have an inkling that you're impaired, they flat out won't let you do it. You might get pissed now, but you'll thank us when you're sober. I've seen that in action.

So the point I'm trying to get to is that attitudes really do change for the better. Nobody says, drunk driving is politically correct talk, or that MADD is just a bunch of hippy do-gooders (well, almost nobody - there is no position so universally acknowledged as good that you can't find someone advocating against it).

Another example involving my folks. My mom's best friend was in an abusive marriage - like, "he punches me in the face because he cares" abusive. My dad told him that real men don't hit women. Asshole decided in his alcoholic state to teach my father a lesson and took a swing at him. Imagine Don Knotts taking a swing at Victor McLaglen and you would have a pretty clear idea of how that turned out. Dad only hit him once, but that was enough.

It didn't stop him beating his wife, nor did it stop my folks from socializing with them (though that was more so that mom's BFF wasn't abandoned). And I think that's another big difference between then and now. Even then everyone knew that abuse was wrong, but it was wrong in a way that was excused as "what happens in private is nobody's business - it would be great if she left him, but we can't interfere". Nowadays that attitude is largely gone. Your spouse shows up with bruises they can't explain and they'll have everyone giving them advice and you'll be getting the stink eye at best - ostracism and beatings at worst.

Things get better, children learn a better way.

While I don't think we should be complacent about the strides we still need to make, I think it's important to occasionally look back and see how far we've come.
jamesq: (An actual picture of me.)
Dad died last night. It's a horrible thing to do, watching a loved one slowly stop breathing when you're powerless to stop it.

If there is any consolation, it's that, for the first time in a long while, he's not suffering anymore.

I'm going to miss you old man.
jamesq: (An actual picture of me.)
I got the phone call at 1:40 AM this morning. My Mom had passed away.

She had been admitted to the Agapé hospice on Saturday and everyone assumed that she would be there for several weeks. As it turns out, it was actually really quick. Monday night we got a call from the hospice staff telling the family that Mom was fading fast. We all rushed to see her.

Needless to say, she was not at her best. My Mother was never particularly healthy, but to see her in the hospice bed, nearly skeletal from the wasting of cancer, and largely incoherent from pain killers was easily the worst thing I've ever had to do. But I'm glad I did it because it gave me the opportunity to say good-bye.

There were times when Mom regained consciousness. It was during one of these spells that I managed to say what I needed to.
"Mom, it's James - We're taking good care of Dad. Don't ever doubt that I love you and I'm going to miss you."
Her eyes turned towards me and for just a moment she focused on me. I knew then that she heard me and understood.

I have a lot of regrets and wishes. I wish my Mom had seen the condo she helped me to buy. I wish that she could meet my future wife and children. I wish I could remember what her laugh sounded like.

Tuesday night we visited again and this time she was out of it the entire visit (though according to my sister Trish, she was coherent in the afternoon when some her siblings - my Uncles and Aunts - came to visit). All she was getting at this point was painkillers. No saline, no water - she was now quite literally at the end of the line.

I wasn't there when my Mom died. I had to take care of my Dad. My sister was there, and bless her for that - As terrible as it was for me to hear that my mom had died, I can't imagine what it must have been like to be holding her hand as it happened. But I'm glad Trish was there and Mom wasn't alone during her last moments.

It fell to me to tell my Dad the bad news. But he had hear the phone and my end of the conversation (My Father may have an excess of ailments, but his hearing is not among them - he can hear a spider crawl up the wall) and knew what it meant. Of all of us, my Dad is taking it the hardest.

Well I cried long and hard - eventually I cried myself to sleep. Sleeping helps - today I'm still sad, but I'm keeping it together - it's like the sleep has turned this into grieving day two, instead of grieving day one. Tomorrow we're going to make all the arrangements for the memorial service and cremation. Today was a day for being together as a family. In addition to my siblings and in-laws, my Uncle Rick and Auntie Sharon also came by to lend their support. I'm glad they did.

Writing helps too. I've felt a little numb today, and writing this entry has helped me to get some of my feelings out in the open. This means frequent breaks as I reach for the tissue. It's hard, but it's something I promised myself I'd do. This page, and the hardcopy/album I'm making from it, will be a sort of remembrance of my Mom. Not the best start though because I want to remember my mother they way she was when she was before the cancer, rather than the shell of a woman I saw last night. Naturally the first thing I did was described how she was last night. Time to start describing her, rather than what she had become.

For me, the perfect year for my mom was 1995. It was my last year at home. They were growing old, but weren't yet unhealthy. My Dad had not yet had the stroke that brought the great man down and forced my Mom into a life of servitude. They were both enjoying the first year of their early retirement, with flush cash, no debts, and a moterhome capable of spending three months in Arizona (which they did!). In short, they were enjoying the rewards of a lifetime of hard work.

It would have been beautiful if it had lasted.

There were so many things about my Mom that I just didn't know until recently. I intend to find out more as time goes on.

Mom was the youngest child in her family. The other kids called her "buttons" growing up - I only found out about this from my Auntie Ev two nights ago.

She saw Bambi when she was a child and the forest fire scene scarred the daylights out of her. She cried when Bambi's mom was shot.

Until only a year ago, I though my Mom had had scoliosis growing up, which resulted in her having a hump on her back that I never really noticed. It wasn't scoliosis - it was polio. I found this out when we were discussing chiropractors, and my assertion that they're quacks. Turns out that my Grandfather had sent her to a chiropractor when she was young because they claimed they could cure the curvature of her spine that was brought on by the polio. What she really needed was a back brace and physiotherapy. Physiotherapy being largely nonexistent in the 40's she didn't get the proper treatment. She did come away the experience with the same opinion that I have: Chiropractors prey on the gullible and their treatments are as effective as doing nothing, with the added bonus that they may actually make you worse.

She went to St. Mary's High School right here in Cowtown where she was taught by the nuns. Being shy, she had a lot of the same experiences growing up that I had - namely being picked on. Ironically, in many of the same places as I was.

I inherited my sense of humour from my mother - though being Generation X, my sarcasm is much more acute. There was a time (when I was a teen) that My Dad was, very tongue in cheek, trying to illustrate the difference between Cyrs (my Dad's side of the family) and Agnews (my Mom's side of the family).
"We should have a coat of arms describing showing how much better we are. On each side there would be a clenched fist showing how strong we are"
Here my Dad demonstrated with the standard Hulk pose, clenching his fists towards each other.
"But we're also smart, so between the fists there would be a brain. Brains and brawn, what do you think of that?" he said.

"Squish!" replied my Mom as she giggled to herself.
There is so much more I want to write, but I think it's time to sleep again. I hope I dream of my mother in happier times.

Maxine Lorraine Cyr (nee Agnew) May 8, 1935 - May 21, 2003.

I will miss you until the end of my days.


jamesq: (Default)

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