Our 25th Wedding Anniversary (For What It’s Worth)

Having suffered the slings and arrows of 25 years of marriage, Nat and I decided to celebrate by taking four days off with a mini-trip to Stratford. Having been there several years ago, we had a pretty nice time despite my choice of plays to see – Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet. Being the first Shakespearean play Nat has ever seen he was at a loss. Having booked the play myself, at the time I felt it was one of Shakespeare’s easier plays to understand. I was wrong.

This trip I booked a Noel Coward play, Private Lives which I knew was a good comedy. So we packed our bag and decided to leave Monday morning for that 4 hour drive via the back roads and farmland, which Nat loves.

Monday morning arrived. Nat packed the car, along with my Walker for safety and convenience, as I finished off with that “last minute” stuff. The tone for our little trip was soon to be set as I lost a bottom tooth. One of two teeth that my bottom dentures attach to. My tongue was now being scratched by steal hooks and could get caught in the gaping hole where that little tooth once sat. There was nothing I could do. I would have to endure the next four days trying to eat meals I was so looking forward to.

Once on the road, we took our first stop in Caledonia at Tim Horton’s for a quick bite to eat. We were back on the road and endured numerous road works as we arrived in Shakespeare (just east of Stratford) early afternoon. The Shakespeare Inn has seen better days, but was clean, friendly and in a convenient and less expensive area than Stratford. Our room was smaller than we were use to and apparently stuck in the past. At first we were unable to connect to the internet with my iPad, had no bedside clock, no set-up for coffee or tea and wondered about the Satellite.

After unpacking we took a small drive into Stratford to refamiliarize ourselves with this quaint and theatrical city. We stopped and walked around the downtown core, stepped into one of our favourite stores, The Scottish Shop, where I had to buy a Scottish Thistle pendant and a Highland Cow pillow. As usual, it was difficult to restrain myself from buying more, as I knew I wanted to save what I had for my other favourite store.

As we needed a small cheap clock for the room, we took a quick look at the WalMart store on our way home. Not exactly the same set-up as our store in Ridgeway, we were taken aback when we were told they don’t sell clocks!!! I explained I could find all kinds of them at our store at home, but the clerk explained the store was down-sizing or re-organizing. We left disappointed.

After great research we were dumb-struck where to have our evening meal. As it happens, the owner of the Inn told us about an extremely popular restaurant in Millbank and showed us on the map exactly where it was. We decided this may be our best bet for the evening and plugged the info into the GPS. While on the road, we began to wonder if we were headed to No Man’s Land” It was further north than anticipated. We soon arrived at Anna Maes, a restaurant and bakery where home cooked meals and homemade breads and goodies were prepared by the Amish and the aroma was wonderful. We were escorted to a table and ordered a couple of sandwiches that came with French fries and enjoyed a small but tasty meal. It was obvious this place was well known for miles around by its size. We were tempted to buy something from the bakery, but knew it would be hard to enjoy during our trip or even save for home. We paid our bill and headed back to our little room. The joke was on us, however, as Nat took a piece of homemade pie back to the Inn to have for his evening snack, but arrived home and discovered we had no fork!!

Arriving back at the Inn, we approached the Owner again having told him of our dilemma. He soon went to fetch us a fork, and also informed us that we did have the internet for free and where Nat could get a cup of tea or coffee when wanted. A little nook hidden around a corner in the lobby! With that, we soon settled in and began to watch the Federal Election results.

Tuesday arrived after a half decent sleep. With a little more research, we drove down to a restaurant in Stratford, Demetre’s, a family restaurant with lovely atmosphere, for what turned out to be a great breakfast/brunch. Two eggs, bacon/sausage, etc., home fries and homemade toasted bread. Delicious, especially the toast!! Nat and I were impressed and would return for our evening meal before the play later that night.

Not having found a clock, we drove across the street to see if the Dollarama in the Festival Mall had one. We had wandered through this nice Mall previously and checked out a couple of stores. Winners was a much cleaner store than the WalMart, so we walked around while Nat, this time, found something he could use. Dollarama also had the perfect little bedside clock which we purchased and then headed over to the Avon Theatre in the downtown area where we could case the joint to find available parking, so Nat could get his bearings without any surprises. We then took a walk along the Avon River, but the wind had picked up and the weather was starting to turn, with rain in the forecast for later, we drove back to the Inn for some thinking time.

Once we arrived back at the Inn and while unpacking our clock, I realized we didn’t buy any batteries. The old brain was playing its tricks again. Nat decided he could pop back into Dollarama on our way to the theatre later and all would be right with the world.

We were dressed and ready for our evening at the theatre. Dressy casual, we felt good as we left for our night out. We drove back to Demetre’s where we both ordered a simple Chicken dinner. Simple but home cooked – Chicken, Baked Potato, Carrots. It was delicious and not over whelming like so many restaurants now – too much on the plate that Nat and I can’t finish. We enjoyed this meal with great abandon. Again, homemade bread for a starter. Bonus!!

We finished our meal exactly at the right time, as we drove across the street where Nat picked up a package of batteries, and then downtown to find a parking spot. Luck was on our side as we were able to park right around the corner from the Theatre and were only steps away. Our seats were in the balcony and as this old broad is still struggling with her balance, we took the elevator up, but had to finish by walking up some stairs to our front row seats. The view was perfect. The play was enjoyable and Nat had a great time watching the Set Decorators do their thing during intermission. He had done that exact job earlier in his life at Brock University Theatre. He was fascinated at the extra features the Decorators were able to make use of nowadays. Aww, memories!!

We arrived back at the Inn by 11:00 PM, and went straight to bed. Our 25th Anniversary evening had, at least, been enjoyable. Despite the extremely crappy mood I was in during that day, the play had seemed to lighten my spirits. I made so many screw-ups during the day with my memory, I knew I was driving Nat crazy, but he endured, as always, trying his damndest to help out as much as he could.

It was a “no brainer” that we would return to Demetre’s for our breakfast/brunch on Wednesday morning. Our plan would be to have our morning meal and return to the downtown core in the afternoon for some walking about. It was a given that I wanted to visit my other favourite Stratford store Indigena, with its Native art, sculptures, jewellery, clothing and blankets.

Maxine Noel is a former workmate of mine while living in Edmonton. It was apparent from our first meeting of her desire to return to her Native routes. This woman opened my world. She taught me to downhill ski, and we both loved our adventures while skiing in Jasper and Banff. She has a great sense of humanity, humour and love. She (and her first husband) returned to Cochrane, Ontario. She then headed south and within time soon began to draw attention to her beautiful paintings while living in Stratford. She has become such a success she’s been awarded the Order of Canada in recognition of her paintings and her support of the missing and murdered indigenous women in Canada. I purchased a painting of her’s while in Stratford the last time, and I had to see what else she has done. She’s now expanded to doing T-shirts, wallets and small prints, so I purchased a T-shirt “Not Forgotten” in memory of those missing and murdered indigenous women. I’ll cherish it forever and I’ll carry my memories of Maxine with me whenever I wear the shirt.

The rest of our afternoon was spent quietly walking around the shops while rehashing our mini-getaway and discussing the trip home tomorrow.

With the balance of Wednesday ahead of us, we returned to the Inn, packed away the purchases I made, and decided to go for supper. Where else, might you ask??? Well, Demetre’s would be my reply. Another nice meal – Nat the Perch and me the 6 oz. steak. Not my best choice with one bottom tooth missing, but I endured. Guess what I have to do when we get home??

Thursday morning arrived. We had mainly packed the evening prior, so we drove back down to Demetre’s for breakfast, returned to the Inn, finished the last minute packing and started our journey home.

As with all trips Nat and I take, we had our little foibles regarding the GPS and managed to take a couple of wrong turns, but were soon put back on track and arrived home by early afternoon and to a dire message we did not expect.

The message was from our friend, Floris. Her husband, Cecil, had taken a fall before we went on our trip, and after going through some rough times, medically, had passed away while we were gone. We could hardly understand her words through the tears that were swelling up, but managed to understand her words he’s gone”. I called her back as soon as I could and it was obvious she was still too upset to talk. Having been married for 67 years, this couple were devoted to each other, and had only been apart for one night during that entire time. After calming down for a second, I told her to email me when she was ready and let me know if there was going to be any memorial.

Nat and I attended Cecil’s memorial service this morning. Standing with her son, Floris was still struggling to go through the gestures of greeting their friends and family and it broke my heart to watch. This was a time when you still want to be alone and suffer in silence with your memories. A necessary evil to go through the motions of thanking friends for their thoughts and prayers, Floris stayed as strong as she could and when everyone gathered together in the Church’s dining room, we gave Floris a big hug and sadly had to say our goodbyes. Other life events had reared their heads that we had to attend to. I asked Floris to give me a call whenever she felt she could talk. We haven’t seen each other in quite some time and both wanted to get caught up with the news.

With such a loving 67 years of life together, it will take Floris a long time to recover from her loss. Nat and I think about her all of the time and am at least thankful that she lives with her youngest daughter who will give her the support and help she may want and need. Our friendship will always be there for Floris along with any support we can give, too.

The Plays The Thing

Not having been away for quite a long time, Nat and I decided to take a trip to Stratford, Ontario, see a play and check out all of the quaint shops downtown. We booked a bed and breakfast – The Blue Spruce B&B on Erie Street for 3 nights and purchased matinee tickets for a Shakespearan play – Romeo & Juliet. Nat’s never been to a Shakespearan play and I thought Romeo & Juliet would be a fairly easy one to understand.

We left home Friday mid-morning for our 2-1/2 hour journey. Believe it or not, we also came to the conclusion to completely rely on Garmin GPS. Her way or no way!! As we approached Hamilton, traffic was starting to get heavy and what to our surprise the GPS also recognized that fact as it re-routed us around the Burlington Bay Skyway telling us traffic was at a standstill. We were directed up Red Hill Valley Expressway to Highway 403 and beyond. The trip was pleasurable and what to our surprise, we arrived almost an hour earlier than check-in.

The Blue Spruce B&B is a quaint red brick house filled with Victorian furnishing and collectibles. You can stay in The Writer’s Room, The Music Room, Violet Penny – with appropriate decor. We chose The Writer’s Room filled with autographed books by authors from around the world, and a couple of framed pictures with attached hand-written notes.  Nat and I both enjoyed great nights sleeping in the mile-high queen-sized bed. We were also able to lounge on the day-bed whenever our hearts’ desired. It was wonderful.

Michael and Helen were fabulous hosts. At Saturday morning breakfast we were surprised by an exquisite breakfast of garlic toast, arugula leaves, goat’s cheese, gorgeous fried egg and 2 pieces of crispy bacon. Naturally, the whole thing (except eggs and bacon) were wasted on little miss fuss pot (moi) but Nat enjoyed the whole thing. Apparently, Michael is a great cook and will even host a pre-theatre dinner if booked in advance. His imagination is full of fabulous surprises and ideas.

We enjoyed our meal with another group of couples, one of which had done repetoire theatre and we had to tear ourselves away to get on with our day. The whole group, including Michael, amazed us at who they knew, where they lived in Stratford and the places they’ve been to. Naturally, they all sounded like regular Stratford Theatre goers (if not members).

Saturday afternoon Nat and I drove down to the theatre for the 2:00 PM showing. We thankfully found a parking spot down along the Avon River and made our slow ascent up the grounds to the top of the Stratford Theatre. I struggled with my weak legs, but managed to make it in time and upon entering the theatre were glad to be hit with a huge gust of air-conditioning. We picked an extremely hot weekend to go away, and Stratford was feeling the heat, exactly like Ridgeway. The theatre was  much bigger than I remembered almost 32 years ago when two sisters, a family member from Britain and I went to see The Merchant of Venince. Nat and I had first row centre balcony seats which were fabulous as we could see the entire stage.

At long last, the play began. Having seen a Shakespearean play before and studied the Bard in high school, my heart was pounding. I was ready to be lifted to another era, another time and place so long ago the English language wasn’t butchered as it is now. Nat was a good sport and tried as best he could to listen to what was being said. I had previously explained the story line and whispered a few scenarios in his ear, but it was obvious he wasn’t catching anything and lost in a fog. The sword fights were about as exciting as it got, along with the tragic ending, but he endured as best he could. At least now he can say he’s seen a play by Shakespeare.

To be brutally honest, I was a tad disappointed. The Artistic Director and others had somewhat “modernized” parts of the play. Certain words were updated – eg. days of the week, some use of modern day slang, and certain “asides” as the actors departed the stage. The actor playing Mercutio (a close friend of Romeo’s) a character with imagination, wit, biting satire, loves wordplay and a lot of sexual double entendres, emphasized a few sexual motions a little bit over the top for me. I understood the reasoning as the audience consisted of a lot of younger people and the actors did manage to garner quite a few laughs. I suppose I’m just a purist at heart, but it was still great to see a proper well-written play.

We were surprised upon arrival that if you did NOT book reservations at ANY of the restaurants in town, you were out of luck and the local McDonald‘s would be the only place to get something to eat. Finding out we had no idea when we checked in, our host, Michael, was extremely nice in booking us a table for Saturday at 7:00 PM at Rene’s with the promise that they had the best Beef Tenderloin he has ever eaten. He was so right. Nat and I both ordered the Beef Tenderloin with garlic mashed potatoes and fresh vegetables.  We returned to our room with smiles on our faces. Our evening was complete, and Nat was still able to catch his beloved Toronto Maple Leafs play a pre-season game.

Nat had been sick during the night, so Sunday morning, Michael had fixed the two of us (after letting him know) a smaller breakfast of tea and toast. Nat was still a little wonky and I’m just bloody picky. We had another great morning talking to Michael and hearing his stories. Apparently he was a journalist at one time and while running his business he’s writing a biography of one of Janis Joplin’s guitarists. He regailed us with stories of certain celebrities he’s met along the way and how he’s seen Gordon Lightfoot at least 20 times during his life. I was jealous – I’ve only seen him twice. His jokes were brilliant and we soon discovered we were kindred spirits in our love of all things British TV. We had seen the same mysteries, loved the same actors and felt that any American Imitation was just crappy. We all felt the Americans cannot do comedy or mystery like the Brits.

We soon tore ourselves away and decided to go to the Stratford Festival Shoppe which we had missed after the play on Saturday. Upon arrival, the shop was quiet and we both enjoyed browsing through the book section, the souvenir section and even the t-shirts. I was lucky and came upon a great t-shirt I think would befit my neice for her birthday in November. I bought a little Shakespeare figurine for myself and we were off to the grocery store to pick up a few sandwich-making items for lunch back at the B&B. We were in no mood for another restaurant meal.

While browsing downtown Stratford Saturday morning we wandered into the Indigena Art Shop. I couldn’t believe my eyes. All around me were paintings, prints and other small items done by a former co-worker I worked with in Edmonton, Alberta. She eventually left to pursue other things in life, including her artwork and has since become a very accomplished Sioux Artist – Maxine Noel (Ioyan Mani – her native name). I recall great times working with Maxine in a large law firm, including baseball games, skiing, double dating and even trying to teach me to play tennis. I’ve followed Maxine’s career from the last time we ran into each other coincidentally in Stratford a long time back when Nat and I had taken a two-day trip to check the little town out. I spotted her in a bar and grill having a drink while Nat and I were being seated for a meal. She’s accomplished such amazing things since then and her career has skyrocketed. If I had enough money I’d buy one of everything she does. I adore her work and now realize being a legal secretary once-upon-a-time was so lost on her.

Nat knows how I feel about Maxine and knew it was a done deal that I had to buy something of hers. I came upon a limited edition print on canvas that I loved. The price was within our range so the print “Lover’s” and a couple of her Note Cards was being wrapped and paid for. I had a smile on my face all the way home. It now hangs in our hallway where I see it everyday.

With our long weekend now at a close, Nat and I went downstairs for our final breakfast. Michael fixed Nat some tea and me a gorgeous fried egg. We talked some more with just the three of us at the table. Michael was gracious in joining us and more jokes and stories were told. I could talk to this man all day.

With breakfast done, we returned to our luggage now at the front door and said our goodbyes. I complimented Michael on his hosting and he replied we’d have a great time sitting around with a bottle of wine and talking about anything and everything. I couldn’t have agreed more. He’s only 2-1/2 hours away and nothing is stopping us from returning again one day.

We arrived home after hitting some horrendous traffic around Burlington. The police were just cleaning up after a tragic accident at the base of the Burlington Skyway Bridge where a motorcyclist was killed. The body covered with tarp still lay on the road with shards of glass spread everywhere. My heart sank – having only seen dead bodies on T.V. We eventually arrived home and were glad to be there. At least we both felt we had been away from our mundane lives and had a great experience at least for 4 days.

Avon River, Stratford, On
Swans along the Avon – Stratford, On
Swan on Avon River - Stratford, On
Swan on Avon River, Stratford, On
Lovers by Ioyan Mani (Maxine Noel)
“Lovers” by Maxine Noel (Ioyan Mani)