NOW she starts exploring on two wheels.
Helenís Last Rides - Part One
My mother, Helen Falkner, died May 28 2007. She was very old; before death, her decline was total, so death took nothing from her, but was instead the final relief from a dull and joyless existence. Please do not offer condolences, but instead share with me some voyages, Helenís Last Rides.
It was my motherís wish to be cremated. Cremated remains are a few pounds of gritty light brown ash, very dense and of course utterly sterile. Chemically, they are probably mostly impure calcium carbonate, CaCO3. My motherís remains were delivered in a tough plastic bag, closed with a one-way nylon cinch. The bag is in a cardboard box and the box is in a sombre blue nylon bag with a drawstring. The bag was made in China, and thatís a shame. For the money the mortuary made, they could at least have supplied a bag made in Canada. I will tell them about my disappointment, for all that matters.
I asked the cemetery for a price to have her ashes interred in the grave that has contained her husbandís remains for 55 years. The cemetery quoted a price, I agreed to that price, and then the cemetery raised the price by $106! If you know me, you realize that the above is not how to deal with Keith Falkner. I assure you it was never the way to deal with Helen Falkner. Falkners do not like to be conned or cheated.
I told the cemetery I would make other arrangements, and this saga is the story of those arrangements.
My parents and I lived in several places in London and St. Thomas Ontario between 1946 and 1951. Other places in southern Ontario held significance for the Falkners, such as the birthplaces of family members, the homes of friends, important landmarks, favourite picnic areas, and the like. I determined to deposit small quantities of my motherís ashes at some of those sites. On the morning of June 9 2007 I loaded my V-Strom with personal gear and Helenís remains and set out from Toronto Ontario.
My first family landmark was a home in the north of London Ontario, a major city about 120 miles or 200 kilometers west of Toronto. In the 1940s this part of London was called Bellwood Park, a cute name to encourage people to buy the schlock houses and like them. The subdivision was a sea of mud, from which a host of cheap post-war houses had sprung. Veterans, such as Dr. K. C. Falkner and family bought these homes and worked hard and for the most part flourished. Most of the cheaply built homes have survived, including the one owned by the Falkners. I quietly deposited some ashes in a hedge on the property, mounted my motorcycle, and rode away.
If, like me, you are a science fiction addict, please think of the book written by Pohl and Kornbluth, ďGladiator at LawĒ, then reread the description of Belle Reve, nicknamed Belly Rave. I think of that subdivision whenever I think of Bellwood Park.
It is proper to seek permission when putting ashes on private property, but I elected for stealth, and I never had a problem with it. The alternative was to spend a lot of time, bother people, bore them with a dull tale they did not need, and ask permission which might be denied.
At the second house in London, a large home in downtown London, I saw that a tree directly in front of the house, between the sidewalk and the curb, had evidently perished. The tree had been cut off at about 18 feet, and the remaining trunk and lower branches had been chainsawed, leaving a coarse outline of a sculpture. On a table nearby was a clay rendition of the finished sculpture. A craftsman was diligently carving the outline of a womanís face, about twelve feet up. He described her as Mother Nature. She was not young, and her face bore the lines of toil and concern. That figures. If you visit London Ontario between now and 2020, look in front of 326 Queenís Avenue, and you may see the finished sculpture. You can think of it as a modern day totem pole, as a passer-by called it. I left some ashes where Lily-of-the-Valley grew in profusion while Helen lived there; the area is littered with trash and clutter now. Either way, the ashes fit right in.
I rode to the school where I had attended grades 5, 6, and 7. It is now a French immersion school. Well, ugh; I think of French immersion as a year of indoctrination in rudeness and intolerance, but maybe that is just me. Near that school is a historical bridge, Blackfriars Bridge, which dates from about 1880. I wasnít there at the time, but the builders of that bridge hooked up eight oxen to a wagon containing forty tons of gravel and led them across the bridge to prove its strength. I like that! Blackfriars Bridge still carries vehicles, but was closed to traffic on June 9, to accommodate a charitable and athletic event. I tossed some ashes from each side of the bridge, and tried to photograph the falling ashes, together with my shadow on the north side and a family of ducks on the south.
My next stop was the large cemetery where Helenís parents and my father are interred. This is the business that was offered $390 plus tax to inter my motherís ashes and wanted an extra C-note, so wound up with dick! I arrived just after the office had closed, so I had to find the Falkner grave on my own. I can tell you, there are a lot of surnames looking back at you in that immense ďmarble orchardĒ, so I was pleased to find a stone saying FALKNER less than a minute after starting my search. It was the wrong stone. Perhaps the late Jennie and Bill Falkner were distant relatives of mine; I certainly had never heard of them. I kept looking.
I decided to search for 40 minutes, no longer. I parked the bike and walked and walked. ďCome on!Ē I thought, trying to dredge from my memory at least one of the names adjacent to my familyís grave site. After all, I had visited the very spot only 44 years before. No luck. Time expired, and I decided to ride away with my task undone.
The chance-after-the-last-chance proved successful! While riding very near the exit of the cemetery, I saw the surname BUSBY on a very wide stone. ďBINGO!Ē I thought, remembering that Doctor Busby had been a very very fat man in the 1940s, almost as wide as his enormous tombstone, and I faintly recalled having seen that stone during an interment. Within ten feet of BUSBY, I found the stone I sought, with the FALKNER almost obscured by leaves. I deposited a sample of ashes on my fatherís grave, and another on my motherís fatherís grave. I left no ashes on my motherís motherís grave, because she had been bad tempered and discourteous to me and to people I loved, and had tried earnestly during my youth to persuade me that she had been a very well-behaved and tractable child. Not her! Her despised nickname was ďSpitfireĒ!
I rode south to the small town of Lambeth, the birthplace of my motherís beloved father, the man after whom my V-Strom is named. Having no idea where in Lambeth to find his roots, I turned at random and soon found myself on a fashionable street with upscale homes. This street had all modern homes, so it had clearly not existed during my grandfatherís lifetime. The street had a classy name, Lambeth Walk. I deposited some ashes in an ornamental garden in the middle of the street, and rode south to St. Thomas, the seat of Elgin County and the place where Jumbo the elephant died after charging a freight train and coming a distinct second in the resulting collision.
I readily found the house where I had lived with my parents in the 1940s. It looked seedy and unloved, and I left some ashes near a neglected flowerpot. I recalled that I had accidentally lost a tiny but valuable gold dental appliance in the lawn there ... and by damn my father actually found it!
I also deposited ashes where some close friends had lived. This house is well maintained, and appears to be a happy place with children and swings and jungle gyms and pretty flowers.
I rode south on Highway 4 to its end at Port Stanley, on Lake Erie. I realized that my V-Strom had carried me to the west end of Lake Superior, the north end of Lake Michigan, both ends of Lake Huron, a few places on Lake Ontario, and finally the shore of Lake Erie, thereby reaching all the Great Lakes. I left ashes on the very edge of the lake, and photographed them before the waves totally dispersed them.
From Port Stanley, I rode east on secondary highways to Port Burwell. I stopped at the lighthouse and took a picture of my bike and the lighthouse. From a plaque near the lighthouse, I learned that the Port Burwell lighthouse is a very distinguished edifice indeed, and it has been well restored. I left some ashes near the lighthouse, even though neither the town nor the lighthouse held any significance for me, nor for my mother so far as I knew.
Continuing east, I reached Simcoe, the home of one of my motherís aunts in the 1950s. I left some ashes in the garden in front of that house, then headed back for Toronto.
The ride was 329 miles, and about two thirds of the ashes made the entire trip. I think my mother would have approved of my quest, and I look forward to whatever adventures lie ahead for Helenís ashes and for me.