DAY 1: DEPART TORONTO 6 PM
Syd looked up from the itinerary for A Garden Tour of Europe on his loaded clipboard to the clothes neatly hung and piled on shelves in the wall-to-closet of his bedroom. He slid the list of fellow travellers between some tattered paint smeared sheets and pages of calculations.
All of this was new to him. It had been a long journey to this point and he knew deep inside the changes he had made were for his survival. It had occurred to him many times over the past thirty years when he felt he had begun to come to his senses that the physical struggle for survival was over and the psychological struggle was on. It was still the survival of the fittest.
Sixty-two years old, he laughed to himself, and I'm back to square one, albeit with more moves up my sleeve than before. Iíve learned a few things that have lasted, and unpacked a lot of emotional baggage. That had taken some doing, because real men don't have emotions. Oh yeah? Says who? Emotions over Marjorie's death that he had examined, packed up, and laid to rest along with her. So that's the end of emotions.
He heard the back door open and close.
"Dad?" It was Hughie, Syd's older son.
"Upstairs," Syd called back.
Syd heard the back door open again, and he moved to the newly installed floor-to-ceiling windows.
"Boys!" Hughie's voice rang out. "Play in the garden or the lane, but don't go as far as the street." Three preadolescent boys waved in acknowledgement. They saw their Grandad and waved.
A narrow old-fashioned lane ran between the backs of the houses in some of the blocks in this neighbourhood. A throwback to the horse-drawn services for genteel households. Syd watched the boys creeping carefully and hiding about the paths of the garden over-spilling with velvety-grey leaves of lamb's ears, small coral bells swaying over dark green foliage, creeping red flowering sedum: its leaves of deep red as well. All backed by a mass planting of showy Sweet William, variegated and mixed in pink, and red, and white, and wine, interspersed with stately spikes of mauve and true blue delphinium. Feathery cosmos was just beginning to bloom.
"I really like the different shades of yellow and natural stuff you've used throughout the house," Hughie commented as he walked over to Syd and gave him a friendly elbow in the ribs.
"I just finished the painting yesterday," Syd said as he gave Hughie a mock body-check that Hughie faked into a tumble onto the king-size bed into the down duvet and pile of pillows, kicking off his Birkenstocks as he sprawled, and in the same motion grabbing the big suitcase at the foot of the bed before it landed on the floor.
"All this yellow to neutral ... is ... is ..."
"Monochromatic," said Syd.
"Is that the old housepainter I knew, talking, or the new unknown watercolourist?" There was a note of teasing in Hughie's voice. Then, "Holy wick! Look at the size of that closet!" Hughie whistled in approval. "And what's in it. Jeans, denim shirts, and khakis. Eddie Bauer. You've got Birkenstocks, too! Taking your old blue blazer, I see. Very formal!"
"The closet was the last of the renovations, all the changes, including me." Syd's voice drifted afar.
"Stevie's timing was perfect." Hughie's voice brought Syd back to reality. "And he's really happy he took that job at the TV station in Barrie."
Syd nodded in agreement.
"We were both pretty worried about you, cooped up in that apartment, and we didn't know whether we should suggest you move, or if you could move and disturb your belongings as you had them with Mom. Sort of really leaving your life with Mom." Hughie was sounding a bit hesitant.
Syd reached past the suitcase and grabbed Hughie's foot and wiggled it back and forth. "I knew I had to do it. Leave my life with your Mother. We had talked about it. She was very brave and insisted I make a life for myself and she even said to marry again. Can't imagine even considering it. But I did appreciate your help ... your blessing ... you and Steve and your girls, women, wives, I mean."
"And you've no regrets dispensing with all the household stuff?"
"No," Syd said reassuringly. "I had to do it. It's part of moving on. I admit I have a box of special things, but I've put it in the attic. It's there if I need it."
"The house looks empty," commented Hugh.
"I want it that way ... minimalism. Funny, in my day we would have said Spartan." Syd made a little grunting sound as he remembered. "Now Japanese influence. Modern. Less is more."
"But not in your garden."
"Not in my garden," Syd readily agreed. "There I'm definitely old-fashioned. Victorian. Would you believe, fussy. I feel as if I've become a Jekyll and Hyde persona. But that's partly what this trip is about."
Syd picked three denim coloured chambray shirts from a pile in the closet and set them beside the suitcase.
"Victoria Sackville-West. Vita. She and her husband Harold Nicolson had enormous influence on gardening in England. I've read everything I can get my hands on about what they did. Their life-style too. I'm going to see their place. Called Sissinghurst Castle. And to look at the structure of some others. Then Monet's garden in France. Gardening and painting. That's what I do. My avocations!"
"A word from what you call my old-fashioned vocabulary. From my high-school Guidance teacher! Right out of the ark!"
"God, this bed is comfortable." Hughie wiggled like the small boy he used to be. "Not like the one you and Mom used to have." He gave Syd a sly glance, "Ever think of having someone share it?"
"That's part of my life which is not an open topic of conversation." Syd sounded firm.
"That's true about you and Mom, but you're in a new league." Then teasingly, "As sons, we're old enough and with it, to be giving Dad advice. Like you did when we were growing up and new at it. An interesting switch!" And he winked at his dad.
"Well, you and Stevie persuaded me to take this trip. That advice I'll take. But I don't think anybody will be sharing this bed." Syd shook his head sceptically. "Steve talk to you?"
"No! About what?"
"'Nothing' the man says in the most defensive tone I've heard since I cross-examined Two-bit Charlie, the thief, at the Old City Hall Court."
"Forget about it." Syd tried to sound indifferent. He didn't pull it off.
"Yo! I'm not dropping this one," Hugh teased. "I'll be sure to ask Stevie on the way to the airport."
A car stopped in the back lane.
"That's Stevie now," said Hugh. "Christine and Samantha are dropping him off and picking up my boys. The three of us will go to the airport in my wagon. I'll carry your case down. Your easel bag's in the hall? I'll take it, too."
"I'll close up," said Syd, "and be there in a jiffy, or is that an old-fashioned word I should eradicate from my vocabulary?"
"Just trying to help you be with it," said Hugh, heading for the stairs.
Steve was waiting at the garden gate that led into the alley to Hugh's car.
"You've bought a knapsack! Cool," said Steve admiringly. "Hey, Hughie, I always said the old boy would look better in jeans than we do." He gave Syd a light punch at the beltline. "No pot? Where'd it go?"
"Cowboy's breakfast. Baked beans, instead of bacon and eggs. Pizza and pasta are fast foods when you're labouring at home and have to cook for yourself. I've learned something of the new ways from your girls. Excuse me. Wives. Heather and Christine."
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