Saturday, August 5, 2017

“Time on His Hands” by Monica Catto

"First Nation Elder" Sherry Lynne Penevost

For me, a field trip with my creative writing class, meant to awaken our imagination and creativity, yielded more than just fodder for the writing mill.

First Nations Elder, a photo taken by Sherry Lynne Prenevost featured in the Living Arts Centre gallery, took me back in time. Precisely eighteen years , to my old friend Foxy.

His real name was Gordon Fox, but if you'd met him, you would have known how appropriate the name Foxy was.  He was sly and quick-witted and mostly miserable.  An old bachelor from Wiarton, Ontario, his most notable claim to fame was that he had supplied the town with the first albino groundhog, the infamous Wiarton Willie.

“I didn't get a dime for that damn rodent,” he grumbled. “Sumbitches paid out nearly a grand for Puxatawny Phil.” Phil (as anyone who's seen Groundhog Day knows) is Willie’s American counterpart.

Because he was such a character, Foxy was a natural choice for my subject matter when I entered a photography contest commemorating the International Year of the Senior.

He was a willing, yet crusty model. I knew he found the whole process ridiculous. Posing was difficult for him – he was not a natural.  But I just kept him chatting away, telling me stories while I continued to take his photograph.

He’d had a girlfriend once, he admitted, but said that the ghost who inhabited his old farmhouse scared her away.

“She would wake up screaming like a damn banshee,” he chuckled. “ I just told her, ‘ If you don’t bother him, he won't bother you.’ But I guess she didn’t fancy the idea of sharing me with a ghost.”

The stories would continue as I happily clicked away with the camera.

I never saw him wear anything but his trademark “Big B” overalls. He said they only cost him five dollars a pair back when, and he'd worn them since he was eight years old.

“Can you clasp your hands on your lap, Foxy?” I asked.

Obediently (for once) he interlocked his fingers and rested them on the lap of his Big B's. I zoomed in on his bear-paw pair of hands. I could imagine his days on the farm, mending fences, delivering calves and shoveling … well, you know. I continued to snap away, taking pictures from different angles and lighting. I was an amateur, but I was having fun.

“How many fuckin' pictures you gonna take, woman?” he barked.

“Fine,” I conceded. “ Since you’ve been so patient, this is the last one.  I’ll even let you decide how you want to pose.”

I should have seen it coming. With his sly-as-a-fox grin, his middle finger rose. He flipped me the bird. Click. Perfectly capturing this ornery, yet lovable bugger.

"Hands" by Monica Catto

A few days later, I was in my friend's darkroom developing my masterpieces. Drawing an image from the chemical solution, I knew I had my winning picture. In black and white, the wrinkles slowly emerged across his burly hands. Calloused from years of hard labour, these aged hands now rested peacefully in his lap.

Fast forward a few weeks. I raced into Foxy's room, waving an official letter.

“We did it Foxy! We won!” I exclaimed.

“What the hell are you goin' on about, girl?”

“The photo contest – your hands! We won the photo contest with the picture of your hands!”

“You shittin' me?” he asked, eyebrows raised.

Showing him the letter and the photo: “Here, see for yourself.”

A proud smile came across his face. “Well, I'll be damned.”

Foxy died years later, but with two claims to fame under his belt. Wiarton Willie has been replaced God knows how many times over the years, but for me, this picture and the time spent with this sly fox would be forever irreplaceable.
Note: The photography show, Proud to Be Canadian, featuring "First Nation Elder" and many other fabulous photos, continues at the Mississauga Living Arts Centre through until August 20, 2017. Details here.

Monica Catto is an aspiring photographer, writer and social justice activist working in the human trafficking field with the White Rose Movement of Toronto. She lives in Mississauga, Ontario. 

See Brian Henry’s schedule here, including writing workshops and creative writing courses in Algonquin Park, Bolton, Barrie, Brampton, Burlington, Caledon, Georgetown, Guelph, Hamilton, Ingersoll, Kingston, Kitchener, London, Midland, Mississauga, Oakville, Ottawa, Peterborough, St. Catharines, Saint John, NB, Sudbury, Thessalon, Toronto, Windsor, Woodstock, Halton, Kitchener-Waterloo, Muskoka, Peel, Simcoe, York Region, the GTA, Ontario and beyond.

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