Memories from a life well lived.
It started prosaically enough. Frances, at our dinner table here at Berwick in Comox, commented that she had been using her newly acquired “zester.” I had never heard the word, but it’s never too late to learn (I have just had my hundredth birthday). I went in search of its meaning.
It is “a kitchen utensil used to scrape fine shreds of peel from citrus fruits.” These shreds are used to give “piquancy, a stimulating flavour or quality, enjoyment or interest” to dishes which otherwise might seem humdrum. In short, they give zest.
Back in my room later, alone and pensive as I prepared for bed, I found that my mind was churning away, remembering and savouring particular things which have given my happy life an extra boost of zest—precious things which have made my heart sing!
Some are trivial, like the kick of getting Wordle in three lines one day and two the next. (Mostly luck, but even little things like this can have a lasting impact.)
Some are serious. Have you ever listened … intently, I mean … to Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto, especially the slow movement? Here is a 35-year-old man, wracked with pain and near death, setting down sublime music, simple yet profound. Deeply sad, yet tinged with joy and hope. He touches my soul.
Some zestful experiences are physical. Golfing with a good friend on a sunny spring day. The tempo of my swing just right; wonderful feel of impact; watching the ball split the fairway and land two hundred yards away. The delight of a crisp iron shot; the ball arching high, then shuddering to a stop by the flag. Confident putt rattling into the hole!
Salmon fishing. After a long time of trolling without even a nibble on the line, a fish strikes! The line screams out; reel whirring, handles knocking my fingers. Tip of the rod shaking violently, bent low. Hold it up, man, or you will lose the fish!
A few memorable meals. I can still taste the lamb shank at a little out-of-the-way restaurant in Pasadena, thirty years ago. It was roasted to perfection in a red wine sauce, the delicious, tender meat literally falling off the bone!
Some zestful moments are visual. The thrill of my first-ever glimpse of Europe as we let down into Schiphol airport in our Canadian Pacific Airlines DC 6B one idyllic evening in 1955. The wonderfully ordered countryside; the myriad colours of fields of tulips stretching to the horizon. All this mixed with thoughts of my father in the trenches here in World War I, and of other brave Canadians liberating Amsterdam in the second war, some thirty years later.
My career as a chartered accountant gave me many zestful experiences, too. As just one example, I remember passionately testifying for the defence in a court case where a fellow practitioner was facing wrongful allegations of professional misconduct. And then the joy of reading the judge’s words acquitting him.
Zestful above all, though, are countless memories of my life with Sheila, my dear wife, and of my children Ann and Chris and their families. Sadly, Sheila has advanced dementia and is now in full-time care elsewhere. She is not suffering, and I take comfort and inspiration … and zest … from the words of the poet David Whyte in “The Poet as Husband”:
The race is run and shall be run again
joyfully, and you shall run with me,
the territory open to us like returned laughter
or remembered childhood.
I was here, and you were here,
and together we made a world.