Peter Michael Johnston Burn: July 10, 1929 — February 22, 2008

20 02 2011

My father died three years ago, and I was blessed to be at his side, holding his hand, while he passed away. There is never a day when I do not think about him, and I miss him very much. During the summer before he left us, I made a special trip with Dad down to the river flats near Cawston, B.C. I am thankful to have some photos of that day. Dad seemed to somehow know he was nearing the end of his life because he showed me where he wanted his ashes spread. It was a great honour for me, and it was a spiritual father-son experience. On each of this walks to the river flats, Dad would pick up a stone and carry it to some piles he had created. He wanted to show me the piles of stones he built. That was just like him, he collected everything, even stones!

   At his house, I had to laugh when I found that Dad had saved a neat pile of meat pie tins, drink can tops and hoards of other things. He rarely threw anything away, unless it was truly beaten to shreds. Once, he solemnly dug a hole and buried a watch that had finally worn out after many years of service. When Dad was 11 years old, when it looked like Britain was going to be invaded, he put his toy cars into a metal box and buried them in his family’s back yard in Longtown, Cumbria. He was determined that the Nazis would not get his toys. Some time after the war, he showed up at the house and got permission to dig them up. He dug and dug, and never found them. Up to the day he passed away, he still wanted those toys back! He was a sentimental man, whose memories were dear to him.

   And, he had some very vivid memories that made for fantastic stories. Some of the best tales he had came from when he was a boy, especially during WW II. One of my favourites was one where he and some friends found out that a cargo airplane had been shot down. They went tearing out on their bicycles to the wreck and grabbed whatever they could find. One boy found a pistol. He said, “Look lads!” and aimed it at a nearby sheep. The firearm went off, and the unfortunate sheep keeled over wailing “Baaaaaaa. . . .” The boy did not appear to have known that the pistol was actually loaded, and he instantly dropped it. Everyone was shocked, and they tore off with their booty. Dad said they buried some sten guns and ammunition behind a stone on a remote hillside, all swore to secrecy, and then raced off in all directions. When they returned to the hillside, they noticed that there were many, many stones and they all looked quite similar. He and his friends looked and looked for the hiding spot behind lots of the stones. They never found the guns, and Dad always wondered if they were still buried there or if someone had dug them up.

   Not only was our Dad a great story teller, he was also an extremely talented man. With his boarding school education firmly entrenched, he was able to teach himself many things. He learned how to be a builder by studying a book on carpentry. He was very innovative and exacting, able to single-handedly build an entire annex onto one of his houses in Calgary. He learned to be a photographer while working at Redivo’s photo shop in Penticton, and then moved on to work for the Penticton Herald. Next, he moved to the Calgary Herald to become a photographer, and then an editor. He was very versatile — something of a Leonardo DiVinci — somebody who had both a lot of common sense and learning. Dad was a self-made man. He had an incredible memory for some things, such as Shakespeare tracts that he studied in his bilious Grandpa Johnston’s attic as a boy. Dad knew a very great deal about the English language and would froth with rage at errors. He even bought a pile of slippers from a dollar store to hurl at his television, when he heard newscasters making grammatical mistakes. He must have had a good arm. He was a good shot with a rifle, attaining Marksman status while serving with The Queen’s Own Royal Scots. One time, while serving in Trieste, he used his skills to give a want-to-be Croatian border crasher a fright, firing off rounds from a Lee Enfield rifle that made the fellow frantically zigzag his way all the way home!

   Dad was typical of the old school British in his conduct and manners. He was a very gracious host, and a good man to have by your side in times of need. Dad would never hesitate to help others if he could because he had a big heart. He was a good and kind man. He could laugh at his own follies and quirks. For example, he did not object to being nicknamed ‘Grump’. He knew he was a grumpy fellow and didn’t care what others thought of him. He was gutsy that way.

   Dad lived and died like a man. He lived fully for almost eight decades, and travelled to many places. When he had his accident, falling and hitting his head on a stone, he was living his life as he chose to live it, doing what he wanted to do. My father was taking his beloved dogs out for their evening walk when he fell down and he was enjoying his life. He maintained his independence and dignity until the end, and died peacefully. He would not have wanted to end his days in any other way, and said that “the only way they’ll get me out of my house will be in a pine box!” Well, Dad, your wish came true. You never had to endure an old folks’ home. It was a really a great honour to be by his side when he passed away. I was so grateful to be able to say goodbye to him. On the river walk we shared in the summer of 2008, he told me that he had had a great life and was grateful for that. Dad then broke into the song Don’t Cry for Me Argentina, and told me that the song’s title captured his feelings about his life. He told me that he did not care when he passed away, because he had had a good, fulfilling, life. I deeply appreciated how he shared those things with me. The day he died, February 22nd, 2008, was the worst day of my life but I was very glad that I was beside him at his hospital bed when he passed on. My father died in the same hospital in Penticton, B.C., where he had held me for the first time on June 22, 1962. I saw him leave this world there, in the same place where he saw me come to life.


Interrupters be Damned!

14 02 2011


I am sick to the teeth of people, usually colleagues and some relatives, who relentlessly interrupt! With the worst ones, sometimes when I have had enough, I tell them that they are interrupting, and that it is becoming insufferable. After that, the eye rolling and hurt or angry looks come from these persistent interrupters. I have one colleague who does not seem to have ears attached to his head! He does not pick up on body language, nor cues, such as loudly spoken lines like, “AS I WAS SAYING. . . .” Have you ever had to deal with someone who interrupts so much that you cannot actually get an important point across? And, in some cases, you face emphatic exasperation due to not being able to make an important truth known, because the other party obstinately will not let you finish a sentence? Or, like in the case of a relative I endure, do you find that some people’s gobs are bloody well voice activated? As soon as you reach the fourth to sixth word in a sentence he or she starts spewing more one-way communication from his/her upper orifice! Beyond not emulating this emphatically detestable practice, what can one do about it? In the case of the above-mentioned colleague I think there are only three options: 1. Leave the situation 2. Go insane 3. Somehow accept it. When one is having nightmares about being interrupted by a colleague, perhaps the insanity option is already manifesting itself? AAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHH! How can these people be so unbelievably obtuse? That’s my rambling ranting for this weekend. I promise I will not interrupt you. Bye.

Snake Man!

7 02 2011

This amusing photo was taken about 40 years ago. Below the house I grew up in, in Alberta’s foothills, there was (is) a spring and around it lived hoards of garter snakes. A farmer named Charlie King tossed a big sheet of plywood into the spring, and we would go down to lift it to witness heaps of snakes seething about. My brothers and I loved to dive our hands into piles of writhing creatures, and pull out handfuls. It did not matter that they coiled themselves around our arms, or crapped foul-smelling offal all over us. Other activities around the pristine spring was making clay figures and leaving them to dry in the sun, and building damns along the spring’s stream. The water had a fair amount of calcium carbonate in it, but it made for a good, refreshing drink. When I see how children entertain themselves in the digital age, there is no comparison to what I grew up with.