Douglas popped in and out of my life. Like many of the adults of my childhood, he moved in an unknown and unknowable rhythm. He’d ring the doorbell, stay for coffee, stay for dinner, stay for the night, stay for a month. I would turn up at my godmother’s, and he would be there. Sometimes alone, sometimes with his daughter. It was good when Christine was there – my god mother’s house is largely a house of men.
He was my mother’s first husband. A fact that was never hidden from me. They had a largely easy relationship. They maintained a friendship, never explicitly close, but always aware they had spent a decade together; lived through some good times and some hard times. I remember the line but not the context of the discussion – my mother saying “you forget Douglas, I was married to you. . . .” I can see both care and bemusement on her face, understanding and appreciation on his.
He was a singular man. Not in the sense of being exceptional, although I suppose he was that. No, he was singular in that he moved through the world alone. Late in life, he found a third wife, the one that stuck. He lived in a city I describe as 100 kilometers from back of the beyond. He liked it out there. He was happy. He liked the photos I posted of my cats, send me strangely punctuated messages. He still called me Cheryl-Nancy.
Christine called last night – he died suddenly. This morning, early I called his sister, a favourite aunt of mine to say that I was sorry. I called my godmother to let her know.
And while I was getting ready, I played Four Strong Winds. In my mind, I have this memory of Douglas and my mum singing along to it. My mother informed me that they used to go and watch Ian and Sylvia in the coffee houses of 1960’s Toronto. It’s a long way from Toronto and a longer way still from 1960. It’s a long way from the 1980s.
He was always bound for moving on.
Four strong winds that blow lonely
Seven seas that run high
All those things that don’t change come what may
But our good times are all gone
And I’m bound for moving on
I’ll look for you if I’m ever back this way