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another gone

George Atcheson died this morning. It’s December 29, 2012. He was 96 years, one month and 18 days old. He had been ready to die for a long time, but it was only recently, within the past three or four years, I suppose, that he was increasingly disabled. In 2005, the year he turned 90, he came to my dad’s last birthday party. I remember that day, because I was home. It was April 20. Dad turned 77. He had fallen some weeks earlier, Dad did, and had broken his knee. So he was in the hospital. We got him a pass for the day, hired a handi-dart, or whatever it’s called here, and brought him home. As I wheeled Dad into the front lobby of their building, I saw a woman watching for us. She scurried away to the big common dining room when she saw us coming, and as we wheeled into the dining area, one woman struck up “Happy Birthday” on the piano. A quaver of elderly women sang the song to Dad, all off key and out of synch, but it was the most beautiful song. there were some men there, too. Fred, Dennis (I think), Merv, and a few others, and George. The men all sat together at a long table, and I sat with them, next to Dad. Mom brought a carrot cake she had made (Dad’s favourite), and all the women came around, fluttering like birds around the men seated like logs washed onto the shore of a river. Dad blew out the candles (I helped I think). And I took a seat beside him. We cut the cake and passed it around, one of the other women poured coffee or tea. The men ate in silence. Each of them took turns looking at Dad. “Happy Birthday, John” one would say, and another, “yep, Happy Birthday”, and Dad would say, “thanks”. Other than that…not much.
Later they stood around in the courtyard as Dennis and one or two others smoked. They talked about how much harder it is to quit now than it was years ago. “I quit forty years ago,” said George, “started on roll-your-owns, not so much junk in them then as there is now”. And Dennis grunted in agreement. George didn’t much like Dennis. Mostly because Dennis swore a lot.
Every year another one dies. Fred died last year sometime, I think. Dennis was two years ago. Last year Sheila, George’s daughter, died. This year it was George’s turn.
At the party, six and a half years ago, he said, “my next birthday, i’ll be 90. That’s long enough.”
Yesterday, Mom and I visited June. She was Auntie Jean’s sister, and Jean was George’s wife. She died at 80 some 16 years or so ago. June said to Mom, “George has been ready to die since Jean’s been gone.”
I think she’s right. Jean was one of my favourite grown-ups. She was elegant, graceful and kind. She painted beautiful pictures of fields and mountains. I liked her prairie scenes the best. She also did ceramics, she poured ceramic into molds and fired them in a clay oven she had in their basement. Then she glazed and painted them. I don’t know the whole process, but she let me make some things with her sometimes. She always took me seriously and was affectionate and attentive with me. With everyone. She made George human, i’m sure she did. without her he was not quite whole. Always politically conservative, he took a dim view of people on welfare, anyone who broke the law, cursing and rudeness in general. He was kind of stiff and detached. But he was a loyal and generous friend to my dad, and he was in love with Jean from the moment they met until the day he died. Which was today.
Mom and I went to see him earlier this week. Boxing day, maybe? Maybe the day after. We brought him Welsh cakes, because Mom always does that, and he loves them. He loves us, too, i know he does, though he did not recognize us at first. He didn’t know who Mom was at first. He put it together when we gave him a Welsh cake from the bag we brought him. When we sat beside him, as he was at the table of the care facility where he lives, he looked at me with his blue eyes, all watery and tired now, he said, “are you Shawn Graham?” I said, “no, i’m his big sister, Erin.” He said, “you look like Shawn Graham.”
I guess my moustache must be a little thicker than I thought. Shawn has worn a moustache since he could grow one.
I told Uncle George that we look alike, my brother and me. We swam in the same gene pool after all and have the same devastatingly handsome parents. He smiled, and Mom laughed a little.
The 25-word story I wrote a while ago, last year, I think, the one that begins, “The tenderness of old men.” That was about George and Dad.
One of the Atcheson kids always calls Mom when something happens. They invite her to the annual family reunion, too, it’s not always about bad news. This morning Colin called. he is one of the twins. Colin and Curtis. They are both older than me, and i think they’re both cops. Retired now. Colin called to say that his father was gone. He called about an hour after Uncle George drew his final breath. “We wanted to make sure you were among the first we called, Edith,” he said to my mom.
Last year, when his big sister Sheila died, he called and I answered, as I did this morning. I passed the phone to Mom, as I did last year.
We should all be so lucky to die as George did. He was surrounded by people who loved him until his dying breath.
He was one of my dad’s best friends. Another gone, another link to my dad gone. That’s how it goes.

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About easilyriled

My mom was Edith, my dad was John. I have a brother, who is Shawn. I have many friends and allies and mentors in my life. I'm white, over-educated, under-employed, messy, funny, smart, lesbian, feminist "Not the fun kind", as Andrea Dworkin said. But I, like the feminists I hang with, ARE fun. I play accordion better than I did, and i'm learning the concertina. Slowly.

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