The Right Way

I wrote this post over 6 months ago, but only now felt ready to share. I hope you enjoy it.

I sit at this office desk, in this chair, for the majority of every day. There’s nothing special about it.

I use a computer similar to many other people, granted with several more screens. On my desk are a keyboard, mouse, clock, and often a notebook. On any random day itโ€™s likely a few of my daughter’s drawings litter the limited available space, gifts she delivers to me in between (or sometimes during) my endless stream of video calls.

I have two small side-by-side portrait windows to the side of my desk, from which I can see the roofs of neighbouring houses. There’s little movement from this viewpoint. I can’t see the street, I can only hear the cars driving by and the kids going for bike rides. Occasionally I’ll see my cross-street neighbours through the second-storey windows of their houses. Most of the time I see nothing.

On a warm spring or summer day (which we get far too few of in Winnipeg), occasionally a bird will land outside these windows and take a break from flying. I try to stay still, as they are easily scared from such a close distance. If I can I slowly turn my head and admire the welcome visitor. They seem so free.

My Grandparents loved watching birds. It’s one of the things they had in common, besides their love of family and watching Jeopardy. I’d often drive out to Birds Hill, a small community outside of Winnipeg, and visit them on Sunday mornings. The visits often involved me helping with chores around the yard, but they always started with a few cups of coffee in their kitchen. We’d sit at the counter, a sort of makeshift bar, while the AM radio quietly played in the background.

Birds would visit the birdhouse outside of their window while my Grandfather would comment on how beautiful they are. Occasionally a squirrel would crawl up the post and start eating the seeds. He would frantically wave his hands and yell, but the squirrel would continue eating, paying him no mind.

They only had two stools and despite my Grandmother always offering her spot up, I would grab a shorter chair from the dining room. It was an interesting perspective, sitting lower than they were. If I close my eyes, I can still visualize it.

While sipping coffee, we’d talk about many things. I’d catch them up on the various things going on in my life: my passions, my romantic endeavours, and my career. Usually, my Grandmother would get restless and start doing work around the house while my Grandfather and I continued to chat. He knew every single one of my co-workers and my feelings about them. He wanted to know everything. He asked a lot of questions and listened intently, save for the few times a beautiful Bluejay would distract him from outside the window. We’d talk like this for a solid hour or two before he would stand up, motion me outside and we’d get to work.

One summer day last year, I was working at my desk when I heard a loud thump coming from the direction of my window. Much to my surprise, a bird left me a large gift. This fecal present, sprayed across the majority of the window, left me with a significantly worse view. Not only could I see less of the scattered neighborhood roofs, but I also had to look through chunky white shit to do it.

I spent a few hours trying to figure out how to clean it off. It wasnโ€™t an easy thing to do. The windows didnโ€™t open that much and it was almost three stories off the ground. After a few different attempts, I gave up. My wife told me I could hire someone to clean it, after all my Uncle owns a window-washing company. He would certainly do it. But I just let it be. It will rain eventually and it will wash away soon enough, I figured.

Ironically what followed this day was one of the driest summers we’ve ever had in Winnipeg. Local farmers and green thumbs were practically begging for it to rain. You couldn’t walk past three houses without having to avoid the mist from sprinklers. Much to my dismay, the shit prevailed through the small amount of rain we did have and survived the summer.

In the winter, it got unbearably cold and it froze to the window. At this point, I wondered whether I’d ever fully see out of this window again.

My Grandparents managed a yard far too big for themselves in their later years and my Grandfather often asked me to come help cut the grass, fix rotten boards on the planters, or take a load of garbage to the dump in their rickety trailer. I didn’t mind helping him. Despite his short temper, he had a peaceful way about him. He always did things the “right” way, even if it involved more steps than I deemed necessary.

He’d often tell me something needed to be done at the back of the yard and by the time he managed to walk out there (something that became hard for him to do), I’d already have started the project. He’d sometimes yell at me for doing it wrong and show me the correct way. Most of the time he was right.

My Grandfather believed you should always do things the right way the first time. He frequently reminded me of how my Father didnโ€™t approach things the same way.

I was (and still am) fairly impatient. Someone once told me having a kid would help, but I feel like itโ€™s gotten worse. At that point in his life, my Grandfather had a hard time breathing. Simply standing up and sitting down took a large amount of his available energy. He’d struggle to catch a breath after moving a few metres, the result of smoking for many years. I’d anxiously bite my dirty nails, waiting for him to catch his breath and tell me what to do next. Instead, heโ€™d tell me to stop biting my nails.

As time went on, my Grandfather’s health got worse and he needed more and more help to maintain the yard. Weโ€™d still drink coffee and talk about life, but afterward, I would go out and do the work alone. He’d offer to help, and he would’ve loved to, but he knew that he would only slow me down. While he used to care about doing things the right way, now he settled for just having them done.

It was a long winter with my shit-covered window. Not only was it long and cold, with many days spent inside endlessly watching television, but I was also struggling with work. There were frequent changes at my employer and I didn’t know how I fit in long-term. I longed for a coffee chat with my Grandfather.

I often had a hard time focusing on work as I sat at my desk, the glow of the screens straining my eyes while the dark of winter loomed outside. Sunshine was infrequent. When it did push through the never-ending cloud cover, it would reflect off the undisturbed white snow blanketing the rooftops, blinding me from looking outside. Iโ€™d close my curtains and reluctantly embrace the artificial light.

My Grandparents sold their house and moved to an apartment almost eight years ago. It killed them to do it, but their house was falling apart. The roof was leaking water and their yard – once immaculately adorned with flowers and perfectly cut grass – had plenty of weeds. The back part of the yard where I helped my Grandfather build flower beds was rarely visited. The fountain we built together rarely turned on. It’s like it didn’t even exist anymore. Given his limited mobility, I’m sure it felt that way to him too.

I continued to visited them almost every week. We’d still drink way too much coffee, but no longer in the kitchen. Instead, theyโ€™d sit in front of the TV in their lazy-boy chairs while I would grab a stool from the dining room.

Over this past winter, I would often look at my window and blame myself for it being covered in shit. That spring I thought it would be a good idea to buy a bunch of feed to attract birds to our yard. I missed bird watching at my Grandparent’s house and thought it would be a fun thing to share with my six-year-old daughter. Initially, there were only a few birds, mostly small ones. I couldn’t tell you what kind, but they would chirp and hop from perch to perch, eating whatever seed we’d leave out for them.

As the weeks went on, we had more and more bird visitors. In the beginning, it was novel, but by the end of the summer, we had dozens and dozens of birds in our backyard. The cute little birds that first grazed our yard were long gone, replaced by large black crows. They would quickly gobble up any seed we’d scatter and scare away smaller birds from stopping by. On certain days it felt like a reckoning was upon us.

One neighbor grew sick of having bird shit over their yard and bought statues of foxes and owls, hoping it would prevent the birds from flying over their yards. It didn’t work. We’d snicker about the army of birds that would ascend upon our yard, leaving artillery-style blasts of poop on their swimming pool cover. When the bird shit on my office window, part of me felt it was karma for all the attacks they had to deal with.

My Grandfather passed away in January just over six years ago, after a short stint in the hospital. I visited him a few times while he was there. He wouldn’t say very much, but I’d talk to him and he would squeeze my hand to let me know he was listening. It was hard to visit. I wanted to preserve the memories we had – of our coffee chats in the kitchen – and didn’t want to remember him as the frail man lying in the hospital bed unable to get to the bathroom.

A few months earlier, my wife had become pregnant. She was due in March and it was January. I begged him to hold on as I wanted him to see my little girl. I wanted her to have met him too. It was selfish, but I pleaded anyways.

He passed away a few days later.

I still visited my Grandmother and weโ€™d drink coffee in front of the TV like usual, although I didn’t have to grab a chair from the dining room anymore. I felt uncomfortable sitting in his recliner, but I knew it would be awkward if I didn’t.

A couple of months later my daughter was born and my Grandmother had a chance to meet her. It made me proud to see her holding my little girl and commenting about how she was so much prettier than I was when I was a baby.

A few months later my Grandmother passed away as well.

After an incredibly long winter, a few large storms headed their way to Winnipeg this month. The first brought several feet of snow. People hunkered down and raided grocery stores, preparing to not leave their houses for a week. The next week there was another large storm, but this one brought heavy rain and winds. Houses flooded and my basketball hoop bent in half. Suffice it to say, there was a lot of time to sit and think. I thought about my Grandparents a lot as I usually do.

Today there was a bit of quiet in the house for the first time in a long time. My wife took our oldest, now six years old, out for a playdate. Our second child is having a nap.

With nothing to do, I came upstairs and sat down at my desk, a place I often avoid on weekends. I looked out the window at the gusting rains and treetops blowing in the wind. I didn’t realize it at first, but after a few glances I noticed the shit was now gone, washed away by the rain. It wasn’t the right way, but the job was now done.

I took a sip of my coffee, turned on the AM radio, and waited for a bird to arrive. I guess some things never change.

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