Death as a Dinner Guest

Happy Birthday Bruce, Lorrie, Isabel, Doady

Happy Birthday Bruce, Lorrie, Isabel, Doady

Today was a good day. A long, tiring day that started far too early for someone who usually falls asleep between 4 and 6 in the morning, but it was still a good day.

And a bad day.

A bittersweet day.

Today was the family birthday party for all the people whose birthday is this month.

One of them is dead. Well, that’s how it starts.

He wasn’t, I don’t think, when they ordered the cake. Dead. And when we picked up the cake, there were no musical notes on it, which WOULD NOT STAND for VARIOUS REASONS and my aunt Dinny immediately called over the chief baker and had some musical notes piped on it as had been the plan all along because my aunt Dinny always goes to the top and gets results fast. The musical notes will be important later; this is foreshadowing.

But yes, my awesome, kind, funny, warm Uncle Bruce had been very unwell for a very long time, and had been in and out of the hospital recently. On his last day he was at home, and his wife was booked to help at a dance, and he wouldn’t hear of her staying home with him. He was good. Go.

So she went.

When she got back, they chatted about the night, she made some tea for them both, and before she could give it to him, he collapsed. It was all over.

In the same spirit, she wouldn’t hear of keeping his name off the cake. Bruce wouldn’t miss a party, particularly not a party where he’s the guest of honour! My family is one that takes party obligations very seriously; people practice for things like being the guest of honour, and making their initial “what I’ve been up to in the last six months” remarks.

Partying is serious business.

Partying is, in fact, the family business at Uncle Bruce and Aunt Donnie’s house, as well as their preferred activity: always an enthusiastic and talented musician, once he retired from his job as a genetic technician at the Experimental Farm, Bruce made music his full time gig. How good was he? Well, lots of Canadian people go to Ireland. How many get paid to go to Ireland to teach Celtic fiddling to the people who invented it?

That good.

And Donnie was always by his side, with a pot of tea and a sheaf of papers and often with a phone at her ear, running their road show with an efficiency that would be the envy of any nation’s chief executive even if it often looked like an octopus in a hurricane and felt like that to those suddenly caught up in it unprepared. And when they decorated the house for Christmas, you’d never seen more holly on more gilded fiddle ornaments. Joy and music and family with their four boys were where they lived, and South March was only the place where this glorious galaxy happened to intersect with Planet Earth.

So, in many ways including being named on the cake, Bruce was indeed at the party.

Cal was also at the party.

Cal liked my tee shirt: the one that says “Ain’t no party like a Gatsby party cuz a Gatsby party don’t stop until two people are dead and everyone is disenchanted with the Jazz Age as a whole.” In retrospect, I should not have worn that tee shirt.

Today is the first day Cal and I ever met; he’s married to a second cousin from a side of the family that my mother never spoke to, so we didn’t speak to them either. But Cal was charming and sat across from me at lunch, and he and his wife Gail gave me a birthday card with actual cash money in it (that’s how you know you’re still Kid Generation, even if you’re middle-aged) for my birthday, even though they’d never laid eyes on me before either, which was very nice of them. Cal had high cheekbones and bright blue eyes and excellent posture, and he was a sweet, low-key gentleman with a good sense of humour and was not in the least phased by the presence of my pinko politicking, purple-haired self as many gentlemen of A Certain Age are. We joked across the table about my shirt and all the hippies in BC and many other things besides, and listened to all the family stories, and stood up and sat down over and over for many, many family photos, and then it was time to go, so we all went.

Cal died on the way home from the party.

I expect that, wherever they are, Bruce is showing him around and introducing him to people, because that’s what Bruce would do, and since Martin Landau and George Romero died on the same day as Bruce, and Kenneth J. Lane died on the same day as Cal, they are probably having an amazing (and well-dressed) party right now.

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