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thanks, and concern for my country

Phew! Merriment and feasting over until Xmas; back to gruel and solitude. Yeah, right. There are enough leftovers for me to gobble Thanksgiving dinner for the next week. And turkey soup too, to be made today with the giant carcass of the 23-pound turkey.

My children and I are very different in many ways, but one thing we have in common is the love of gatherings – meals, parties, any excuse for a celebratory event with food. Anna and her best friend, my other daughter Holly, spent Sunday afternoon bustling in the kitchen, cooking and listening to Beatles, while Sam made our guests welcome. His roommate Chris, whose parents are living on their boat in Italy, made his famous garlic mashed potatoes. Chanel, whose parents are in Jamaica and England, arrived with the obligatory homeless waif Dennis, a colleague of hers whose family also lives too far away for him to go home. My childhood friend Ron arrived with pumpkin pie, and of course my mother and aunt and the spectacular Wayson Choy.
We ate turkey, stuffing and gravy, squash, sweet potatoes, garlic potatoes, brussels sprouts in a leek-cream sauce, peas (Sam’s festive meals must have peas), cranberry sauce, and English bread sauce, made of bread, milk and onions, a novelty for non-Brits. We call it “library paste” and it’s a must. There was, you might say, enough to eat. Ah, that euphoric moment when the food bowls are all lined up, steaming, on the kitchen counter, and the guests start moving down the line piling food on their plates. Somehow it all got peeled, chopped, mashed, basted and sliced – cooked, hot, ready. How much organising and time it takes, not to mention the cost, to buy and prepare and serve.
Worth every moment. At table, beloved faces and new friends ranging in age from almost 25 to almost 90, eating, talking and laughing. What is more important than this? And somehow – are we that much older and wiser? – there is no longer the undercurrent of anger or disappointment that used to flare up with its sour taste, me nagging, the kids squabbling, my mother saying something innocuous that would jab me to the core. Not any more.
Monday we did it again, only a much smaller table and most of the food already cooked. This time only Sam, the two ladies and our guest Ben, who pointed out that the turkey was so tender he didn’t need to ask for help, he could cut it with his one arm.
Ben’s an engineer who founded a small engineering firm that became one of the biggest in the world; when he talks, he sometimes mentions millions, even billions of dollars, and our eyes cross. He told us a story about his engineering company getting involved in the building of a highway in Ontario. He negotiated with then-Premier Bob Rae, whom he found to be highly intelligent and sensible, thoughtful, fair, and honest. Ben, a firm capitalist with four homes including a huge estate in the Cayman Islands, is a big fan of Bob Rae’s. “He did a great job as Premier,” he said, “but because of the world economy, unfairly got stuck with a bad reputation.”
And then, he told us, Mike Harris was elected, completely reversed the deal, made some extremely poor decisions and ruined the whole thing not only for Ben’s company but for the people of Ontario. No surprise there, since he also ruined the education system, the City of Toronto and much else.
Despite the joy of our gathering, I was haunted by what is happening in our country. The horrifying spectre of Stephen Harper winning a majority because he acted like a nice man for a few minutes and crooned a Beatles song. Canadians falling for it! With daily reports in the paper of Canada’s bad behaviour on the world stage and at home – refusing to take Gitmo prisoners, to follow through on the Kyoto Accord – yesterday in the Star, a story about a walkout of other nations from the conference room because of a retrogressive Canadian proposal. Imagine, our country hurtling backwards with human rights and climate change, taking the place of the retrogressive Americans on the world stage.
And at home, the evisceration of the surplus and the creation of a giant deficit. And yet, choose the right song, a Beatles’ song O my poor beloved band, and suddenly Canada loves the man with the eyes of a timber wolf.
And on the other side, the Liberals getting what they deserve. They know better than anyone that politics is like hockey, fast, ruthless, relentless, with slapshots and offsides and bitter fights, the instinctive figuring out of where the puck is. What the puck is, today. Yet the Liberals quailed at the past of brilliant, skilful life player Rae and chose a granite-jawed intellectual with a great deal of ambition and almost no experience. We are now watching Michael Ignatieff wobbling around the rink in his beginner skates, taking swipes in the direction of the puck, while the mean-spirited, cynical Conservative machine swerves and scores and laughs out loud.
That was on my mind, as we laughed and ate – fear and pain for my country.
Enough of that; that way madness lies, moving right along. Yesterday, my son’s 25th birthday party, at his apartment above a dentist’s office on Dundas West. A collection of his best friends since Grade 9 – Dustan, the two Matts, Triz, still as close as brothers. They all spent countless teenaged hours in our home and call me Mum. Plus a group of Sam’s new friends from various workplaces. The average age before I arrived: 26. But they made me comfortable and welcome, even after I put my wine glass down on the lip of the bar where it spilled, splashing red wine all over Dustan’s new white vest and t-shirt. There was an assortment of delicious food brought for the pot luck, including oxtail soup, eggplant Parmesan and homemade macaroni with 3 exotic cheeses. A lot of these young people are in the restaurant business. Lucky hungry me.
I decided to try not to worry, for the moment, about the future of my country, or even the future of my son and his friends, many of them with no fixed course and very little money. The evening was simply the pleasure of watching a good-looking, kind, funny and generous young man in his own home, hosting his own crowd. I tried to pretend that this job, at least, was done – my son raised and out in the world, free of me. When of course, no matter how much we both pretend otherwise, he never will be.
Three things are certain for parents: death, taxes, and concern. And now, more than ever, for Canadians too. This Canadian, at least.



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