Papa Dan’s Beans

My grandfather Dane Rukavina, who we called Papa Dan, had his 15 minutes of fame sometime in the 1970s, via the cover of the Brantford Expositor. My father must have requested a print of the photo, as I have this copy.

Somehow the word got out that he had the best beans in town in his garden, and he’s proudly holding them up.

The man I see in the photo is evocative of the grandfather I knew: his scruffy face, his hat, his eyeglasses, his jacket.

But I don’t recognize his smile: was this the only time he smiled? I also see my father’s face—he smiled a lot more though—and a little bit of mine too.

Ways of Not Breaking

I was looking up a reference to the Frankfurt Protocols1 in my book this morning—I knew I’d written something there—and I came across this passage, written October 14, 2014, just after Catherine was diagnosed with incurable cancer:

I had a good talk with the psychotherapist yesterday, which was really helpful. Not because she was able to give me any answers, but simply to give me a chance to talk about how I’m feeling, which felt like a luxury. I asked her, as we were finishing up, what I should be watching out for in my own mental health – when am I danger of breaking? She said that as long as I kept myself open to what I’m feeling, and keep talking – to Catherine, to Oliver2, to others – that I won’t break. I might wither, but that’s only natural, and she stressed that being able to wither in front of Oliver is a good thing, as he2 needs to know it’s okay for him2 to feel things too.

I’ve recalled that guidance many times in the last 10 years. I have, however, focused more on the “I won’t break” part, and less on the “as long as I kept myself open to what I’m feeling, and keep talking” part, at my peril.

If I’d done a better job at that, the journey from there to here may have been healthier.

I didn’t break, in the end; but I managed that more by girding myself against the possibility than by being open to my feelings.

1. As explained in the book, if you’ve just flown a transatlantic red eye flight to Frankfurt, ”once you land, and while you’re waiting for the next flight, all normal protocols are suspended: if you feel like having a Starbucks Frappuccino, you have a Starbucks Frappuccino. Or two breakfasts. Or you buy that copy of People magazine.”

2. “Oliver” now identifies as Olivia (she/her). We’ve discussed the best way to handle references to her in the time before her transition, and her request was that I leave them as-is, but footnote them like this.

Cowboy, cowboy marry me I’ll bake you a cherry pie”

Sitting on the deck having breakfast one morning last week, I remarked, looking from afar at our small urban orchard in the back yard, ”wow, that apple tree suddenly has lots of apples!”

Closer inspection revealed these “apples” to not be apples at all, but rather cherries.

As far as I know, in the many years this tree has been growing in our back yard—Catherine and her father planted it more than a decade ago—it has never produced cherries. I’d simply resigned myself to thinking of it as a non-productive apple tree.

But, wow, is it ever producing cherries this year. Scads of them. Sweet, juicy, red cherries.

There will be cherry pies. Perhaps tarts. Muffins. Jam.

There are two possible explanations for the sudden influx of cherries.

First, I may simply have forgotten that we have had cherries in the past. It’s been a heady decade; maybe I simply didn’t have the CPU cycles to notice cherries on the tree (or maybe the birds got them first).

Second, perhaps some ecological happenstance has caused the dormant cherry tree to suddenly produce cherries. We lost many trees — perhaps half the forest cover — in the back yard from Hurricane Fiona. The plum tree that is the cherry tree’s neighbour was felled (though it’s still producing plums, with one toppled foot in the grave). Perhaps pollination is involved?

Are there arborists (or psychologists) in the readership who might shed light on this?

Cherry tree in our back yard

A bowl of cherries.

A really big bowl of more cherries.

(The line “Cowboy, cowboy marry me I’ll bake you a cherry pie” is from the Elvis Presley song A Cane And A High Starched Collar, from the movie Flaming Star. I could have just as well titled this blog post “Life is not a bowl of cherries,” which is what my mother told me as a child every time I showed any hint of privilege or entitlement.)