"When history began again, your grandfather
- dido - was nineteen and standing on a dock in Montreal
trying to believe that he'd made the right choice. Everybody
else wanted to go to Aw-meeree-caw, but he liked the sound
of this other place, the way it leapt from the back of his tobacco-scorched
throat like a wind gust. Cawnaw-dah, the village neighbours
would repeat, most of them looking perplexed, and then someone
would snicker and say esskee-mows, and dido would
have to say something clever, like yaw-bichoo-yeh-beeyoo-hoomite!"
That's the way my father always tells it,
usually when he's hooped on gin-and-tonics, and I've always been
able to melt the years away from dido's face and picture
this like clips from a black and white movie. "You've never
told me about the old country, dido."
"Ah. Dirt floors. Pigs and kasha.
Stupid, stupid neighbours."
According to my father, dido has never
let a lack of knowledge get in his way. This helps to explain
how he almost electrocuted himself twice and why the bridge of
his nose has such a noticeable bend to the left. God only knows
how he managed to hitch up with baba, who has never suffered
fools gladly unless they're wearing diapers, but she has always
insisted that their relationship is pretty simple. "He can
be a real gentleman when he wants to be and a real animal when
he has to be." She always smiles at my father when she says
this, and my father always blushes.
When I was little, going to dido's
was a grand Sunday event with dress pants, white shirts, and
shelves full of don't-touch stuff in the living room. Nowadays,
it's more of a must-do thing when I come to town. Dad doesn't
push, exactly; it's more of a polite order. "Do you need
a ride over to dido's?" I've yet to figure out a
way to answer that question without going.
He was out in the garage, "the workshop,"
taking apart laptop computers, cobbling the working pieces together
for the Karashenko Senior Centre.
He'd never actually used a computer for anything
in his life, but when someone at the centre was trying to show
him what a computer was supposed to do, he'd pointed at a pile
in the corner. "I ask the guy, do those do this? They used
to, he says, but they're broken. Maybe I can fix them, I say.
Maybe, he says, but they're complicated. I
can fix tractors, I tell him, and he says, excuse me?"
"How do you know they're working?"
"You turn them on, the screen lights
up, lots of numbers, and then you get a picture. Simple."
I looked at the confusion of parts on his
workbench. "Did they have any manuals?"
"Like I'm gonna understand one."
"Don't you want to learn?"
"Ah. I'm fixing them. That's enough."
I smiled. "Are you fixing one for baba?"
"Nah. She thinks they cause cancer. Do
you want one?"
"I already have one."
"So have another."
He shrugged and pulled at some wires. "You
still drink beer?"
"You betcha, dido."
He looked towards the house. "If baba
comes out, you say you brought it."
I nodded in the way of a fellow conspirator,
which pleased dido and perpetuated the myth that baba
was oblivious to his stash. "If you ever tell him that I
know about that," she told me a couple of visits ago, "I'll
change the will."
"You're always fixing something,"
I told him.
He handed me a can of President's Choice
Malt Liquor and heaved out a breath like he used to before
he quit smoking. "Hey boy-sick, anybody can make
something out of something. If you can make something out of
next to nothing, that's REALLY something." He waited for
a second, and then he started laughing just in case I wasn't
going to. I joined in and we filled the garage with a cacophony
that scared the cat off the back porch.
"I'm no good at fixing stuff." I
took a long haul on my can.
He shrugged. "You haven't tried enough."
"Sure I have. Everything turns to shit."
"If it was shit already, what's the difference?"
"You fix stuff and it works."
"Sometimes. Sometimes I take a big pile
of shit and make a bunch of little piles, and then I save the
I laughed again, and then I laughed about
how many times dido had made me laugh. "How are you
He pushed at a few buttons on a keyboard.
"I'm old, boy-sick. I feel lousy."
"Dad said baba took you to the
hospital last week."
He shrugged again. "Your baba
worries too much. I had a headache. Those pills they give me
aren't good with brandy."
"I worry about you, dido."
"Why?" He picked up a screwdriver,
aimed it at a part on the table, t'ched, and put it back down.
"That will stop me from dying?"
"I can worry if I want to."
"Sure. Go ahead." He pointed at
the ceiling. "After that, see if you can make it rain for
"What did the doctor say?"
"More or less, he said I was dying."
He took a swig of beer. "I told him, doctor, I am eighty-nine
years old. Should I be surprised?" Dido waited for
me to laugh, but I didn't. He shook his head. "I gotta die
"Yeah. I know." I looked toward
the house and saw baba peering through the kitchen window
at us, into us, and through us. I looked away, settling my eyes
on my beer can. "Jeez, I already drank this thing."
"I can fix that."
We laughed again.