A salesman is driving down a country lane, when all of a sudden he hears a 'THWUMP.' He stops his car, and lying in the road is a bunny.
The salesman rushes to it, but the rabbit is dead. The man is heart-broken. Just then, a car coming the opposite way stops. The driver takes one look at the dead rabbit, turns off his engine and opens his trunk. He rummages about and pulls out a spray can. He walks over to the salesman and bunny, shakes the can and gives the rabbit a long spray from the can.
The bunny's nose wiggles once, then the bunny twitches its tail, then it gives a slight wave of its paw. Suddenly, the bunny sits up on its hind feet and waves to the men. It hops to the shoulder of the road, turns and waves again. It jumps across the ditch and up to the bushes that line the woods, where it truns once more and gives a final wave before disappearing into the undergrowth.
The salesman stares at the other man in awe.
"What is in that can?" he asks.
"Permanent wave and hair restorer."
A poor pun to be sure, but one that always spreads a grin across my face. Not for the joke itself, but because of the person who tells it:
The truth is I will never know my granddad, at least, never know him when he wasn't 'grand.' Hell, he had been 'grand' for five years before I was born. This lack of knowledge saddens me, for when I look inside myself and take stock of the people who have influenced the paths and rivers I've navigated, I see I've followed his directions many, many times.
I will never know him as the 16-year old boy who fled Manitoba for the promised land of the West Coast. Or how he arrived in Vancouver with less than $25 to his name, no job and a minimal education. For him Vancouver must have seemed a decadent paradise compared to rural Manitoba. The street cars, electric lights, the sky scrapers. The bars. He found himself drawn to the waterfront, a place that would captivate him for the rest of his working life.
"Happiness is being from Manitoba."
I will never know the young boy who felt the pain of abandonment. One night, his mother just left, taking his baby sister with her. He believes they settled in Ontario. His father and older brother had already left the farm. He was raised on this farm in Manitoba by his grandparents. The long bone-wearying hours spent alongside his hard-faced grandfather, the seasons of toil for mere pennies per week, when he was paid at all, until, at 16 he 'went West.'
I'll never know my granddad on the day he learned of his father's suicide, his brother's death or his mother's abandonment. His father decided to take his own life one day. To drink himself to death, so his father bought four mickeys of vodka and chased them down with a bottle of beer. Then he laid down to sleep, he never woke up. Grandad's brother rode the rails across Canada during the Depression, until he mistimed a jump onto a freight car and was decapitated.
I will never know the young man who thrived as a longshoreman on the Vancouver Waterfront. Who muscled his way up into an office job with Canadian Stevedoring. A man who spent "9 weeks on the #2 hatch with the best damn gang on the waterfront heaving 50 pound sacks of flour week after week into the wartime freighters. After nine weeks of the gruelling work, their reward was to be another six weeks lugging more flour. The gang threatened to quit.
I will never know the look on my grandad's face when hours after his shift ended, on the #2 hatch naturally, the ship he had been loading exploded in Vancouver Harbour under 'mysterious circumstances.' Or the office based man who so infuriated the founder of Canadian Stevedoring that the boss resolutely avoided my grandad's office for two weeks. When the boss finally did stick his head into my grandad's office, he grinned up at the boss and said, "Oh, you do still love me chief."
"Fuck you, Dunbar!" was the reply, and the boss ignored him for another week.
I will never know the vigourous man who met, courted and wed Alice Buck, my grandma. Or his reaction the first time he had to change a baby's diaper.
I will never know the visionary who decided to cast his lot in with a beloved crackpot named Howard Dorward in a place called Rockcrest. I do know that over 50 years later; his children, grandchildren and great grandchildren praise him for buying into Dorward's Dream. Rockcrest, the Dunbar's slice of heaven.
So, what do I know about my granddad?
First off is his love of storytelling, something he passed on to me. The pun that starts the story I must have heard 100 times.
His speech has slowed and slurred in recent years, but I hear the joke as I heard it when I was seven. The pauses and inflections are the same.
It takes a unique man to don a pink bunny suit, complete with floppy ears, oversized nose and black sunglasses and hide in the bushes at his brother-in-law's place, just so he could lead the assorted grandchildren on an Easter Egg Hunt.
He has always loved people. Loved a social setting. Loved holding court with his ribald tales, only slightly toned down when the grandkids were present.
And gin. He loves gin, straight gin in an orange striped glass. He went from lifting 50 pound sacks of flour to lifting 5 ounces of gin.
My granddad just turned 87. He didn't expect to reach 60, and he witnessed the dawn of the new millennium. At one point, he was his whole family tree, at his birthday party he was surrounded by children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews and a great grandson. Over twenty people spanning three generations who look upon him as their patriarch.
Life ground my grandfather against the millstone of time. But he has never complained. His voice has lost some of its pitch and timbre, some words are slurred, but the stories are still spun. His circulations fails him and his blood thins, to compensate for it his apartment is now a veritable sauna. He shuffles with the aid of a walker, rather than with his old stride.
He works through all his hardships, all the while refusing to accept them. Doctors recently amputated a toe, then removed a 'nerf-football-sized' hernia from his upper leg. Never once did he complain about the pain the hernia must have caused him. The surgery was a success and the spark of life glows brighter within him. He won't mention the hernia again, for there are far better stories to tell his great grandsons.
"A salesman is driving down a country lane…"