Before and After the Lizard Got Loose

hope I spelled Torgunn’s name right. Excuse typos…my machine does weird things to words.


alan skeoch
oct. 22, 2017

(You may be surprised where the thread of this story leads you.)

“Alan, could you and Marjorie come for dinner at Chad’s house on Sunday.  Dirk and his kids are coming as well?”

“That depends…what are we eating. If it’s a lizard then forget about me.”

“I think Chad and Torgunn have a big ham….where did you get the lizard idea?”

“Just popped in my head.”

“Bet you don’t get many dinner invitations.”

And so Marjorie and I packed up the car and headed for Parkdale, an urban village in the heart of Toronto where space…elbow room…is sometimes difficult.

Owen’s mother, my aunt Elizabeth had always made my brother and I welcome at their farm where the tractor trails led from field to field and space
was almost infinite.

“Not what you expected, Alan. The house has been renovated and all the interior walls removed. Lots of space”

This is my cousin Owen Townsend…a person who has achieved much…and continues to do so.

The dinner was fabulous. Kids and adults kept the conversation at a high pitch. Everything seemed normal until the lizard arrived.

What is this thing?”

“Seems to like you Alan…perched on your dessert fork.”

“Is he here to eat or be eaten?”

“Just a guest. What makes you think the creature is a male?”

Must gender equity be shoved into every conversation these days. OK, could be a female lizard. No matter why is it here?”

“Kids have pets….”

“Is anyone interested in the big Marathon?”

“Sorry, Owen, should have asked. How did you do in the race?”

“I came in fourth among those who were over 75 years old.”

“How old are you?”

“Turned 80…and still running.”

“How many runners?”

“25,000. The streets of Toronto were closed down. It was wonderful.”

“You flew all the way from Vancouver just for the race?”

“Yes…and see the kids…my sister Eleanor…you and Marjorie…cousin John…more.”

Owen Townsend is my cousin. His mother, my aunt Elizabeth, was my Dad’s big sister. She sort of ran the whole clan of Skeochs. We were expected to leave
the confines of the City of Toronto to stay with aunt Elizabeth each summer. She kept a close eye on things. Too close thought her boys Owen and Jim so they designed a trip wire in Sans Souci.

“Sans Souci?”

“That means ‘without suspicion’, Alan. Our summer home was that room built above the drive shed. Jim snd I lived there all summer long. You did also
on your summer visits.”

“I forgot about the trip wire though…”

“We loosened one of the steps on the stairs so that anyone coming up would step on the stair snd immediately press a switch that turned
on the light. A warning system. If Mom was coming up, we knew it.”

“Why did you need that?”

“Lots of reasons. Your cousin John, for instance slipped us a bottle of Teachers Highland Cream into Sans Souci.  Scotch Whisky.  If mom found
that there would be hell to pay. She was WCTU…temperance…’lips that touch liquor would never touch hers’. Hence the warning switch.”

“You know what I remember about Sans Souci?”


“I remember asking you where I was supposed to take a leak if needed.”

“Out the window, right?”

“Right! Long drop to the ground. Race to get back in bed before the end to the stream reached ground level.”

“You know what Mom said about you Alan?”

“Something good I hope.”

“She thought you were funny. When you were small and came here for the first time, you refused to drink the milk when you noticed it came
from the cows…warm right from the udder.”

“Then you made a comforting discovery…the big milk truck arrived every morning with the milk cans and you announced, ‘I can drink the milk,
it comes every morning from the’s safe snd cold.’

“Makes me look stupid. I did not realize that the cans were empty…delivered to be filled each day from the cows. As God is my witness, I thought
the city dairy was delivering milk to the farm.”

“Did you not know where milk came from?”

“Never gave that much thought.”

“What do you remember?”

“I remember that your sister, cousin Elenor, always worked hard on the farm. She seemed to do everything. Milking the cows, cleaning the stable, driving the tractors,
Stuking the sheaves, forking them into the thresher, toting those huge big of wheat.”

“Selective memory. I worked there as well.”

“I know…did not mean to hurt your feelings…you were one of the boys. Eleanor was a girl. Never expected a girl to do all those things ”

“Any other thoughts?”

“Too many.

– Like swimming in the quarry with cousin Roy snd his inner tube, rope snd spill full of beer bottles.

-Like riding to your Belwood farm as a 12 year old kid jammed in the back of cousin Ernest’s half ton truck with all their furniture. I remember the stares that night
sparkling in the cloudless summer sky Ernest stopped on a gravel road to stretch his legs. “You boys want to stretch?” And when we got
off the tail gate, Ernest drove away. We were all alone. He came back laughing with Aylene… all smiles.

-Like being awakened by your dad in the middle of the night when s local barn bought fire snd they were shooting the
animals trapped in the blaze. The sky was lit up snd cars came from miles sway but noting could be done.

-Like carving secret tunnels in the sand hill until your Mom discovered us and collapsed the tunnels before wee
could be killed.

-Like smelling new mown hay.
Then working up a sweat pitching hay onto the hay wagon pulled by horses and later by a tractor.

-Like being told to get in the gqsnsry and push the grain back as the thresher fired the loose grain st my brother and I. The heap
got higher and higher. We thought we weld die in there snd pushed that grain like there ewes no tomorrow.

-Like coming up here and finding John Calder, Elenor’s husband, shooting his mangled sheep after an attack by local dogs.
He may have shot the dog as well but never said. I think he was crying.

-Like going the farm after the house fire. John’s handed were burned as he tried to serve what he could by reaching through the shattered windows.
I remember him trying to clean the dishes his family brought from Scotland…They were black and broken.

-I remember him building a saw mill out of a hug pile of neglected machinery. It worked snd we sawed lumber together fro s fee winters. He could
built anything.

-I remember visiting him in the hospital after the dust from pigeons in the barn gave him a serious, nearly fatal lung diseases.

-I remember playing house with cousin Mary in her playhouse under the big sprucer treed. She served me tea in empty cups snd cookies that did not exist.
We were the same age snd she must have thought we had the same interests. Playing house was not my favourite thing but I played along

-I remember your dad, Uncle Frank, yelling “Turn him…turn him” as a wild steer thundered towards me in the barn. I was expected to turn
the creature into hid pen. Instread I ran like hell. Your dad was not impressed.

-I remember counting 34 cats in the stable. Some got a shot of milk in their mouths from Elenor as she worked the milking machines onto the udders

-I remember that huge tosd that lived in the silo with all that sweet and foul smelling silage.

“Stop, Alan…stop.”

“I remember lots, Owen…you have triggered those thoughts….

Above: Owen and Eleanor Townsend, Oct. 22, 2017

alan skeoch
Oct. 22, 2017

Post Script: Notice the lizard on the wall just to the right of Elenor’s head.
That lizard is made of tin. A folk art decoration The lizard on Chad and Torgat’s dinner table on this day, Oct. 22, 2017,
was real. I think we ate ham…BUT I AM NOT SURE.

Did you know that less than 4% of the Canadian population are farmers in 2017?

In 1921, fifty percent were farmers.

In 1900, most Canadians farmed.

We are lucky to live both lives…urban snd rural.

“Cousin Owen could run from our farm in Erin to our base home
in Port Credit…he could do it. He came fourth in the Toronto
Marathon. Picture Owen on the road below , heading somewhere…”


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