Ken Watt 1943 – 2018

When I was a kid, all the best stories started with “Once upon a time” and ended with “happily ever after.”  Most people call such stories fairy tales and say the real world doesn’t work that way.  Most people say the dragons are too dangerous, the fairy princesses all get old, and the armour, no matter how shiny, always turns to rust.  That’s what most people say.  But there are some people who, quite frankly, aren’t convinced that most people know what they’re talkin’ about.  I knew a man like that.  His name was Ken, and he married my sister.


Ken was nobody’s saint.  In fact, given some of the stories I could tell, he wasn’t even a choirboy.  He was just an average guy.  He got up in the morning and went to work every day.  He did the best he could with what he had, and sometimes that wasn’t good enough.  He worried too much.  He raised his children without an Instruction Manual and loved his grandchildren just because.  On occasion, he was a round peg, trying desperately to fit into one of life’s unforgiving square holes — and on occasion, he didn’t try.  In short, Ken was remarkably ordinary — except he wasn’t.

Here’s the real story:

Once upon a time, my sister lived in a basement apartment.  It was cold and it was dark, and when it rained, it was as damp as a dungeon,  One day, a handsome knight drove up in a shiny blue pickup truck, and when he saw my sister, he held out his hand and said, “I have something I want you to see.”  And my sister came out of the basement and went with the handsome knight.  And sometime later, on a night so beautiful even the moon blushed behind the clouds, the handsome knight pointed to the sky and said, “I’m going there: the second star to the right and straight on ’til morning.  Will you come with me?”  And my sister said yes.  And for so many years, they travelled together, laughed and cried and played in the sunshine.  And when there were dragons, they slayed them, and when there were rainbows, they chased them, and when it was cold, they clung to each other against the wind.  And time on, later they had children who grew up and flourished and had children of their own.  And for my sister and her handsome knight summers and winters came and went.  And when there were dragons, they slayed them, and when there were rainbows, they chased them, and when it was cold, they clung to each other against the wind.  And for all their years, they lived happily ever after.

Bonnie Vandale 1946 – 2017

When I was a kid, my sister taught me how to play baseball.  She loved the game.  Then, when I got older, I got to play.  I wasn’t very good but my sister was, and the neighbourhood knew we came as a package.  (FYI, in our ‘hood, we had tons of gender equality before it was fashionable.)  The result was my sister played second base and I was stuck in left field.  Anybody who’s familiar with baseball knows that there’s not a whole hell of a lot to do in left field.  So I’ve had more than my share of time to think about the game and how my sister taught me how to play.


Lesson One — You have to try.  You have to step up to the plate and you have to try.  You can’t say “I don’t wanna” ’cause nobody else is going to do it for you.

Lesson Two — Swing for the fences!  Always give it your best shot — every time.  Every time!

Lesson Three — Play to win.  No matter what the score, no matter how difficult it is, no matter if it’s the bottom of the 9th and you’re down 5 runs — never give up.  Never!  Always remember, “It ain’t over, ’til it’s over.”

Lesson Four — Winning is fun, but winning doesn’t mean anything if it isn’t fair.  If you’re not going to play by the rules, don’t play.

Lesson Five — No sore losers.  Sometimes you strike out, sometimes you fumble a grounder and sometimes you lose.  We have to accept that.  We don’t have to like it — but we have to accept it.

And finally and most importantly:

Lesson Six — It’s a game.  It’s supposed to be fun.  Have fun!

It’s been a lot of years since I played sandlot baseball with my sister.  But to this day, whenever I step up to the plate, I swing for the fences.  That’s what my sister did her whole life — right up until the very end.  And that’s what she taught me to do.  Thanks, Bon. I love you.

My Sisters Were Wizards

When I was a kid, my sisters were wizards.  They had magic words that could turn a pillow-high, cozy warm brass bed into the March family living room.  They had incantations that produced beautiful horses, stinking French sewers and one sad little dog named Greyfriars Bobby.  They could conjure people and places at will, and on one occasion, they harnessed the wind from a stay-home-from-school bitter Saskatchewan storm to propel our ships out of danger.  They cast spells that bewitched me so completely that, long before I was allowed to cross the street by myself, I could travel through the puny barriers of time and space with ease.  And it was there that my sisters abracadabra-ed their friends for me — Black Beauty, Travis and his dog Yeller, Hans Brinker and the queen of long, lazy summer afternoons, Nancy Drew.


The source of my sisters’ sorcery was the Mayfair Public Library.  It was a cavernous basement with high little citadel windows and dim, humming electric light.  It was a place of holy quiet, brown with wisdom and heavy with wooden shelves.  It was guarded by ferocious matrons in sensible shoes.  They kept their eyes on little boys who might be loud — or sticky — but, by then, I knew how powerful and precious books were, so I sat quietly and kept my eye on them.  I remember thinking, “I’m a little boy now, but someday… someday, I will decipher your runes and, like Lochinvar,* I’ll come and I’ll take what I want and know your magic for myself.”  I knew I would do this.  I knew it because my sisters were never jealous witches, concealing their art.  Tired of me pestering them to read to me, they were already showing me that the tiny symbols in the books made sounds and the sounds made words — and the words, taken together, made power.

Today I am a wizard.  I have spent a lifetime studying the alchemy of words — reading and writing them.  I still smile when they are used well in delightful new combinations and still cry when they are abused.  I will never tire of their wonder.  I do this because once upon a time, in a time that doesn’t exist anymore, five magical sisters loved their little brother so much they taught him how to read.

*My sisters knew Lochinvar personally and, two years in a row, two different sisters memorized his adventures — so I did, as well.   Even now, I still have a stanza or two.