Category Archives: family

“The Horse”

horseMy Uncle Leon was a mean man.  My mother and grandparents referred to him as, “The Horse.”  Later, after my aunt divorced him, she referred to him that way too. Uncle Leon didn’t believe in talking at the table and, if anyone dared break the silence, he’d snarl, “Dinner’s for eatin’, not talkin’.”  He used to beat my cousin Lonnie savagely with a belt.  My mother once interposed herself between him and Lonnie, declaring that no way she would let a man beat her children like that.  To which he replied, “Well, no way I would have married you, so get out of the way!”

Uncle Leon had polio as a child and walked with a lurch all his life.  This, according to my mother’s family, was what had made him mean – the struggle, the pain, the ensuing bitterness.  I disagree.  To be as mean as Uncle Leon, you had to be born that way. Maybe the fact that he’d grown up on an Oklahoma farm during the Dust Bowl had something to do with it.  Maybe what was good about him got stirred up by the wind and blown away with the topsoil.

Uncle Leon kept a revolver in the glove compartment of his car at all times.  He also made a practise of picking up hitchhikers.  I’ve often wondered what he thought would happen if the hitchhiker made a sudden move towards him.  Reach across and retrieve the gun from the glove compartment?   How would that work exactly? Did he fantasize about picking up a hitchhiker on a lonesome country road and then shooting him or her, just for the Hell of it?

I said he was mean.

After my aunt divorced him, he remarried and became an Evangelical Christian – in other words, double trouble – not only mean, but righteous.  My cousin Lonnie succumbed to lung cancer way too young, leaving instructions that he be cremated and his ashes divided in two – half to be scattered over the family farm and half over the Nascar Raceway – Lonnie was a mechanic who loved cars; people at the raceway had pitched in to help pay for his medical care and he was grateful.  Shortly after his widow received the ‘cremains,’ Uncle Leon paid her an unannounced visit and demanded that the ashes be divided into thirds.  He wanted to scatter a third over his new church’s graveyard so that Lonnie would end up in Heaven, where, presumably, he could beat him some more.  He came prepared.  By which I mean he brought a Pyrex measuring cup. He wanted just so much of what remained of his son.

Uncle Leon died on a treadmill during a stress test and the only thing good I have to say about “The Horse” was that he terrorized my brother and I into good dental hygiene.  Did I mention that he was a dentist?  And trust me, you didn’t dare have a cavity.

The Presidents Project

constitutionMy father, Bill Hardy, moved into a nursing home this year.   His mind continues sharp, but his body has long passed its Best Before date; he is frail and his infirmity envelops him in a sound-dampening blur that it is sometimes difficult to penetrate . . . but always worth the effort. He has things to say.

We had hoped for a private room for him, but have had to make do with a shared space. Fortunately his roommate – a shadowy figure named Pete – leaves first thing in the morning to return at lights out.  No one knows where he goes.  Well, I suppose someone knows where he goes, but we prefer to keep his peregrinations cloaked in mystery.  The only words Dad says to him are, “Goodnight, Pete!”

Pete has yet to reply.

Remembering the big house on Tenney Circle, it’s hard to imagine Dad in such a small space, but the truth is he takes up very little room these days.   When I call him, he always says, “It’s very quiet here.” We both lament the political morass in Washington and, increasingly, in Raleigh, declaring that, “It’s just not fun anymore!”  Then he goes on to tell me about the audio book  that he, a seven-time novelist, is currently listening to.  Increasingly, it’s history.  “I find myself drawn more and more to history these days,” he told me last week. “I suspect you understand that.”

I have always been a history bluff.  I was one history course short of a double major in History and English at UNC and did my graduate work in Early Church History at the University of Toronto.  What I never found very interesting, however, was American History.

The Tea Party changed all that.  I found their constant harping on the Founding Fathers and the almighty Constitution particularly noisome because I was in no position to argue with them.  Everything I knew about the beginning of our country, I learned in public school, which I can reproduce for you here:   “Bunker Hill. Paul Revere. Lexington and Concord.  At some point the Delaware gets crossed. God knows why. Fast forward to the Liberty Bell and the next thing you know, the British are burning the White House. No, wait. That was later.”      It irked me that I could not counter the doubtless specious arguments of these know-nothings and when I am irked, I take action. Book action.

Enter, The Presidents Project.  A year ago I committed myself to reading (or, to be more accurate) listening to someone else read a biography of each American President in sequence. (I retain information better if I can knit, drink and listen simultaneously.  It’s a learning style.)  Thus far, I have made it through James K. Polk, who, I have to say,  was as mind-numbingly dull as his one term presidency was momentous (the acquisition of the American Southwest and the Oregon territory – hello!).  ( In the interest of full disclosure, however, I must confess that there were some Presidents who were such clunkers that, out of  Audible.com’s over 150,000 audiobooks, they don’t rate a book — I’m talking about you, Martin Van Buren, William Henry Harrison and John Tyler.)

Nevertheless, eleven (more or less) down, thirty three to go! I’m stoked!

This is the thing about history.

When we are young, we loom large on the stage of life.  Or at least that’s how we perceive it.  Our personal dramas preoccupy us.  Everything  matters.  As we grow older, it is the stage that grows large and we who grow small. My father sits in his chair in his half of a small room in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, cocooned in frailty, and contemplates this.  I sit on my bed in Port Stanley, Ontario cocooned with dogs – his and mine — and do the same.  We are both, at our different rates, fading away, growing smaller, gazing back to where we have been —  as Hardys, as North Carolinians, as Americans  — and asking ourselves, “What was that, really?” and “Is that how that happened? I never knew.”

The Founding Fathers, though possessed of a kind of collective genius, were flawed men, motivated by self-interest to set up society in ways that would best serve them.  Nor did they consider the Constitution tantamount to the Ten Commandments, that is to say, set in stone by the power carver finger of God. Thomas Jefferson was a big fan of viewing the Constitution as a living document. Among the many statements he made to this effect was this in 1825 in a letter to Edward Livingston, “Time and changes in the condition and constitution of society may require occasional and corresponding modifications.”   Yeah, like when ‘arms’ stopped meaning ‘muskets’ and started meaning ‘assault weapons’ and when ‘people’ stopped meaning ‘white male landowners’ and started meaning ‘everybody’.

The fact is, if you are a middle class North American, now might not be so great, but then really sucked.  Do you really want to churn your own butter and die in childbirth? I’d bet you anything that George Washington would have preferred modern dentures over those made with slave teeth. And what about outhouses?  Outhouses alone would be a deal breaker for me.  So why, Tea Baggers, why do you want to go back?

Because you’ve confused the Founding Fathers with the twelve disciples of Christ, and the Constitution with the Bible, and the early days of the country with the early days of the church . . . which  is particularly ironic since Jesus’s posse was no less flawed than the Founding Fathers, the Bible was written over a millennium by multiple authors, and the early days of the Christian Church were far from halcyon.  Never mind outhouses.  Try being a human torch to light one of Nero’s games or a fresh snack for his lions.   And you believe this  because you don’t know history.  Trust me,  if you did, it would scare the Jesus out of you, much less the be-Jesus.

So, yes, Dad, it’s very quiet here.  And, yes, Mom, there are a whole lot of stupid people out there doing big things.

Clinging to the Wreckage

It’s been several years since I’ve updated this blog.  Now I am old and Clinging to the Wreckage seems a vastly more appropriate title for my increasingly doddery musings.   Alas the prospect of figuring out how to develop a new blog with a different name  — the plethora of themes and widgets, etc. — has so confounded me that, rather than retreat in complete disarray, I’m just going to just forge on.  The thing is:  I have a new novel to promote and, as my past several publications have driven home to me, the darn things don’t promote themselves.  O, for the halcyon days when publishers handled all the marketing and authors just had to show up and not be too drunk!  Those days, it would seem, are kaput. No basking in glory for me.  I must not only bake the bread and churn the butter, I must also sing for my supper.

Which is unfortunate because I am so bad at it.

I am not shy, but I have always been a bit awkward — an elbow of a person.  I am not good at schmoozing.  I can’t work a room.  I fail to network even when cornered.  I even managed to screwed up my LinkedIn account so badly that I can’t access it, forcing me to ignore myriad invitations, which, in turn, makes me look very unfriendly to all the nice people who, for some unknown reason, want to say they know me.  Or know of me.  Half the names I don’t recognize.  But don’t get me wrong.  I like people. I really do.  Just not too many and not all at once and not all the time.  And I’m nice, just in a reclusive sort of way.

And then there’s sixty one years of cultural conditioning to deal with: Don’t call attention to yourself!  Don’t put yourself forward! Don’t blow your own horn!  

Sigh.

So, here it is. My new novel, Surface Rights, published by Dundurn Press, will be available just in time for Christmas 2013!  Why not buy one for yourself and that favorite aunt of yours and anyone else you can think of?

Middle-aged Verna Macoun Woodcock returns to the family cottage for the first time in thirty-eight years to scatter the ashes of her husband, father and twin sister.  At first she is alone except for her dad’s dog, the lake, bitter memories and a barely hidden drinking problem.  But soon Verna is forced to open up her tightly shut world to others: strong-willed handywoman Winonah, the neglected children of her sister, each lost and broken in their own way, even the ghost of Winonah’s dead brother Lionel, who can’t seem to make it to the Sky World.

Just as Verna is starting to accept this newfound family, she discovers a mysterious and menacing prospector who posts a notice on the cottage door, stating his intention to dig for ore.  As it turns out, the Macouns hold the surface rights for the land, but not the mineral rights.  For the first time in her life, Verna has something to fight for and family at stake.

And it’s funny!  Really!  And kind of heart-warming too.   Plus it has ghosts.  And monsters.  And mermen.  And it’s set in Northern Ontario.  What’s not to love?

So for Surface Rights Cover Surface Rights and all the other writer-y things I’m doing, watch this space.