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Archive for the 'Family Life' Category

Wait, it’s my kids

Posted: Wednesday, January 5, 2011 (8:36 pm), by John W Gillis


A few days before Christmas, I was coming home late after being out attending to some delicate family matters, and I stopped at my favorite local Chinese restaurant for some food to bring home for supper. After placing my order with the manager, I decided to sit at the bar and wait for my order.

There were two young professional women, perhaps into their early thirties, sitting in conversation near the south end of the small bar, so I walked to the north end, sat down on the corner where I’d have a view of the door leading to the kitchen, and ordered myself a beer.

After several minutes, a cell phone began to go off raucously, and one of the women turned, reached into her bag, and eyeballed the noisy phone. She glanced at her friend, and said: “Wait, it’s my kids…”

“Hi buddy… uh-huh… I’ll be home at like 9:40. I know… I know… Is Dad home? Probably not, huh… OK…Listen, it’s only 40 minutes… it’s really only 37 minutes… Is Sarah in bed yet? Good. You be in bed by 9:30, OK? I know… I know… look, it’s only 36 minutes now. You be a good boy now; I gotta go. See you soon.”

As they refreshed their cocktails, the women rekindled their conversation, now loudly enough that I couldn’t but hear them in the otherwise quiet room. The second woman, who had had her back to me, turned toward the bar to stir her drink, so I could now see her in profile. She was heavily made-up, wearing silly and ostentatious jewelry, and an expensive-looking blouse that fit like a nice driving glove should. She held her drink between both hands on the bar, and delved back into a saga already half-told:

“He was telling me about all the things I used to do to piss him off, like ‘All those things I  did in my room’… and I’m like ‘What things?’ He goes, ‘Like how it was all black, and how I was doing that witchcraft and stuff’…”

The first woman – the one with the attention-seeking cell phone and interrupting children – snorted, and quipped:

“So, did you like tell him that this is the 2010s? Get real…”

“Can I brag for a minute? That was my son Toby, you know? The big fella brought home his first real report card yesterday. He had two A’s, 4 or 5 B’s, and 2 C’s. And the C’s were, like, not even fair. I was so proud of him. He works unbelievably hard, especially for a little guy. And his father is, like, No. Help. At. All!”

I spotted the manager coming out of the kitchen holding my dinner, so I quickly drained what was left of my beer, pushed a tip toward the bartender and thanked him, and intercepted the manager as he came around the corner of the front desk.

As I took the food and turned toward the door, I glanced back at the women at the bar, shook my head slightly in sorrow, and counted my blessings. And then I said a prayer for Toby and Sarah. I suppose I also should have said a prayer for those two young women, and the one’s husband, and the other’s father. But at the time, I just couldn’t see past the kids. Thank God for his grace in my life…

Mary, My Sister

Posted: Tuesday, December 28, 2010 (12:18 am), by John W Gillis


My sister Mary passed away about 48 hours ago, succumbing to the ravages of bodily dissolution after 18 months of battling illness. She had steadfastly insisted that her tribulations remain private and discreet during her sickness, but since there will be obituaries published within the next couple days, I hardly see the point now in maintaining a public silence.

Still, the details are nobody’s business, as strange as that sentiment may sound in the age of Facebook and Twitter. It seems that everything is supposed to be everyone else’s business these days, and in real-time, no less. I think Mary taught those who love her a few important things during the last months and days of her life, and the enduring importance of – and necessary place for – privacy is surely one of them.

Another one of them is the clear demarcation between despair and charitableness. Mary could perhaps have been accused of living in denial at times, but I suspect she always had a pretty realistic view of what lay ahead. Rather than denial, I suspect her insistence on living as large as possible through it all was a refusal to fall into despair, or to seek pity. She preferred that everyone enjoy themselves, and this was itself a choice to reject the self-centeredness of despair for a charitableness toward everyone within her orbit. It becomes ever clearer to me why the Eastern Fathers speak of despondency as sin.

Finally, I think we all learned a thing or two about determination, and about the futility of trying to predict where and when the spirit blows. Mary was someone who generally got her way; it is amazing to consider that she found a way to continue to do that, even when she was too weak to whisper.

My little sister, may God give your soul peaceful rest, and call you forth to the resurrection of the just, on the day of the great and final judgment.

Love,

John

Living Spaces

Posted: Monday, June 29, 2009 (11:31 pm), by John W Gillis


Having a small family in an eight-room colonial tends to leave quite a bit of flexibility in terms of space – and this has certainly become quite a small family again since Kelly, and then Leigh, moved out. I’ve wanted for years to be able to offer a guest room, and it took quite a while to work through all the machinations necessary to reach that point. But six months worth of shifting, consolidating, lifting, and remodeling have finally borne fruit in a finished bedroom available to friends, family, and other passers-through.

Nastia and Yulia will occupy the room through most of July, and the space is earmarked during the coming school year for a Korean exchange student – a school-mate of Abby’s from the Montrose School, named Zoey. We will likely continue to host exchange students for most of the next decade as our girls complete their schooling, but sooner or later I would also like to be able to offer safe room and board on a transitory basis to some of the needy young mothers who come to the Church’s Pro-Life office seeking help.

office_empty That’s down the road, however, as the day-to-day lives of my two youngest children will dictate the pace of domestic living for several years to come. To that end, a major part of the reconfiguration I did in the house over the first half of the year was to prepare a room on the upper floor into which I consolidated the “office” space in the house – moving myself and most of my collection of about a thousand books out of a basement area I’d refinished when we bought the house at the beginning of the decade, as well as the remnants of Joyce’s former home office from a different room on the second floor. I liked the basement (especially the inherent coolness during the summer months, which I particularly miss on days like today), but I seem much less isolated up here from the rest of the family when I retreat to read, study, or work on something at my desk.

office Getting that desk up here was a bit more of an adventure than I’d bargained for. I shouldn’t complain – it went well, after all. My friend Rich came over to help me with it, and we got it and all the bulky stuff moved in under an hour, but I ended up leaving work with chest pains a few days later, and it’s hard for me not to draw causal conclusions from that, given the overall lack of discomfort I’ve had since my second stent procedure last September. The desk is an old, post-WWII, green linoleum-topped steel office desk, a clunker I made a little less unpresentable some years back by painting the steel black and adding sleek drawer pulls. I’ve been lugging this thing around since I bought it for $10 in 1980, and it almost got me this time. Someone around here would like to see it gone, but it would cost me over $1,000 to replace functionally – and frankly, I’ve grown rather fond of it.

The third key driver for this project, apart from opening up a guest room and getting my work space out of the basement, was to move Abby and Rebecca out of the only bedroom in the house lacking a safe fire exit to an adjacent porch or garage roof. That was done by repainting Leigh’s old room, and moving them in there. I then remodeled their old room with enough shelf space to accommodate all my non-fiction. The finishing work included what I took at the time to be the supremely silly effort of sanding the hardwood floor with hand tools (and not very well, I should add). When I moved on to the final (guest) room, I discovered that I could do even sillier things, as I went out and rented a drum sander to handle that floor.

Whatever possessed me to think I would be able to get one of those things up to the second floor, two years (to the weekend!) after having a heart attack, I surely do not understand – I was afraid I’d trip the ticker just lifting the thing into the van to bring it home! I improvised a ramp to handle the bulk of the distance on the larger set of stairs, and otherwise just prayed it wouldn’t be my last act on earth – who, then, would apply the varnish, after all? Man, am I glad to finally have this job behind me.

But as I settle into this latest phase of my life – what with my new digs, my return to school, and the prospect of hosting lodgers – I need to think seriously about understanding my quickly changing limitations. I need to lean more on other people, so that I can do things I’ve never done before – or at least be around to try. Times change, indeed. Some doors open while others shut, as we all march relentlessly toward life’s final curtain.

From Russia, With Zest

Posted: Tuesday, June 23, 2009 (11:59 pm), by John W Gillis


ccp1 Well, here we go. A few months ago, Joyce proposed that we should pick up on an old idea, and host a couple children from the Chernobyl Children’s Project this summer. Nasta and Yulia arrived this evening (pictured here along with Zoya, a very nice local woman with Russian roots who was serving as a volunteer translator for the evening). We managed to get them home, acclimate them somewhat to the house (including Mungus, our frisky young cockapoo), feed them a little something, settle them down, and get them into bed, but it sure is going to be an adventure dealing with the challenges of the language barrier between us.

Abby told me later in the evening that her life had changed today. Never lacking for melodrama, that one, but she’s right in a way. You don’t bring anyone – especially a child – into your life without being changed in some way. It is going to be very interesting to see how our family is changed over the next four weeks by these zesty little girls whom fate has consigned to grow up in an area poisoned by radiation – and who deal daily with the inevitable medical consequences of that misfortune.

Summertime Already?

Posted: Monday, June 23, 2008 (10:18 pm), by John W Gillis


Rebecca & Abby in dance recital costume, 6/14/08Time to shift gears into summer, all of a sudden. Within the past week, the girls have danced their year-ending recital, and finished school for the year. Rebecca has also played her last Little League game of the year. This week, it’s off to camp every morning for the kids, while I try to catch up with my shadow – which continues to elude me.

Rebecca's Little League baseball card for 2008I must admit, summer caught me off-guard this year. I don’t know where the time goes. I need to figure out what I’m going to do between now and September, as well as what I’m going to do once September gets here. I need to be ready to start school by then, so I’d better get busy getting my application in order.

In the mean time, I guess I can work on Rebecca’s glove work with her, as she seems determined, at this point at least, to keep playing baseball with the boys next year, rather than joining the girls’ softball league. She’s just a half-pint, but she never seems to be lacking for spunk – or a fan club.

Gerry Gillis: Rest in Peace

Posted: Monday, March 17, 2008 (8:22 pm), by John W Gillis


My uncle Gerry Gillis passed away Saturday, Joyce with Uncle Gerry on Hawthorne St. 1997 at the age of 80, in Antigonish, Nova Scotia. Gerry was quite a guy. When Joyce and I took Kelly & Leigh to visit Nova Scotia during the summer of 1997, we stayed with Gerry at the family home on Hawthorne Street, where he and his wife Bubby had raised their nine children – the same home where my grandfather had settled with his clan, after leaving Sydney for Antigonish. Gerry and Bubby were the most gracious hosts.

The Gillis Homestead at 60 Hawthorne Street, AntigonishWhile walking downtown from the house after our first night there, Joyce told me that she had had a dream in the night that a baby appeared to her and said “Hi Mom.” Nine months later, Abby was born. Must be something about that house…

The obituary in the Halifax Chronicle Herald listed just an amazing amount of volunteer work that Gerry had done over the years. But the one thing that will stick in my mind is the last sentence – five simple words: “He was a good man.” Amen to that. I’m not sure how many obituaries can rightfully end that way, but I pray that mine can.