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We’re not a family with many traditions, but those we do have define us. This Canada Day, coming as it does when there’s a 10% chance of decent weather, we are at our party best. We do the usual thing — have a barbecue, go swimming (for many Canadians, after this year’s flooding, that will be with flippers in our basements), get drunk…oh, that’s not traditional? I thought it was obligatory…

And Gill will be missing the festivities. She was waxing nostalgic the other day when we talked. “Ma, It’s so sad. I have to miss Canada Day with you guys — AND I have to work!”

“We’ll miss you too, dear. But if it makes you feel better, Crazy D won’t be here either. He’s still off somewhere searching for dinosaurs.” (I must point out to our readers that this is a work-related quest, not simply one of his weird and wonderful diversions.) “So it will be just L’il Sis, Other Brother, me and The Hounds. We’re just doing ‘The Usual’. You know — a barbecue, The Pig will disgrace herself, The Coonhound will ‘Baroo’ his way through dinner, and we’ll declare we’ve had enough fun by 8 p.m. L’il Sis will return my car the next day with The Pig’s vomit-ridden sheets for me to Fluff ‘n Fold. Nothing out of the ordinary. ”

“Oh, it sounds like so much fun! I’m so homesick!”

“Not to worry…you’ll be home in a month and we can do a rerun for your benefit. I’m sure The Pig has enough vomit left in her…”

And so, I was off to make preparations for our celebration. They involved the following:

#1: Prepare the hose and bucket brigade for the Coonhound’s annual  ‘warsh’. Well, ideally it’s an annual thing. We’ve missed the last couple of years, so the stink factor is high this go round. Elvis (his name when we adopted him) is your typical over-the-hill geezer:  rheumy eyes, shakes a lot, slobbers, can’t hold his waters, talon-like toenails, a bit paunchy…in other words, much like his namesake in his waning years in Vegas. Don’t get me wrong — I remain a big Elvis fan (both hound and singer.) Canada Day seems as good a time as any for his ritual bathing.

#2: I rip the ‘Canada Quiz’ out of the paper. We always use it as party entertainment. It’s guaranteed to make everyone feel at home, all on the same intellectual plain, as it were. By that I mean stupid. Why do we Canadians do this to ourselves? And, of more importance, why do our newspapers think it’s nice to add to our inferiority complex by devising the test? It isn’t improving my life to know the name of the fifth P.M.’s cat or who won the Stanley Cup in 1995. That IS the basketball playoff, no?  What we need to know as good Canadians is: where the nearest open Tim’s is on Canada Day, how to avoid stepping in the goose poop when we go to watch fireworks in the park, and what time the liquor store closes on Sunday.

#4: I always attempt to set a nice table, using our red and white  Canada Day colour scheme, if possible. (Sorry, Mrs. Beeton, that rules you out as a guest of honour. Your pink plumage clashes with red. And the canaries — yellow and orange. We let them come for Easter, since they add a spring-like air to the table. Plus, they often come with their own eggs! The perfect guests, in my estimation.) But what to do for Canada Day? Flags are the obvious decorations. L’il Sis had something in the way of a ‘retail therapy’ accident at The Bulk Barn and bought fistfuls of tiny flags to stick in things — cupcakes, ears, hummus…whatever is going and needs to look perky.

Then what? What’s typically Canadian, I wonder. Inspiration strikes! A beaver. And, as luck would have it, I know just where to get one. Our country ‘estate’ (translation: swamp forest with pond, broken down outhouse and, as of last spring, a mammoth beaver dam). I’m afraid to go and see what damages the beavers have inflicted on the property since then. The entire acreage may be under water. (If that’s the case, I wonder if I could get away with paying less in taxes.)  But I think a beaver would look fantastic as a centrepiece! N’est ce pas? Might have to sedate him…

It’s traditional to have a gooey dessert — often involving strawberries. One year Gill insisted on buying a huge brick of ‘maple leaf flag’ ice cream. The manufacturer shall remain nameless, since it was awful ice cream. I’m sorry, Ben, Jerry. She made me do it! I swear I will never forsake you again.But it did look pretty as it sat melting into a chemical puddle on our plates. Another year, since I had foolishly purchased Book Number Two in a series about making jaunty cupcakes, Gill talked L’il Sis into making some with candy on top designed to look like corn on the cob. They turned out beautifully. Gill couldn’t wait to sink her teeth into them. She loves corn AND sugar, so it met all of her requirements for a foodstuff. Alas, The Coonhound also adores corn and sugar and he got to them first. But he backed off when I threatened him with some of the leftover maple leaf ice cream.

Just to ensure that Gill doesn’t feel too left out this Canada Day, I’ve sent her funny newspaper clippings and random bits of All Things Canadian in the mail. They include a picture of a family of four — two adults, a baby and a small child plus a HUGE Malamute husky (who seems to be in charge) steering a canoe across a deserted northern lake;  cartoons of the latest political scandals (she can pick her fave — drugs, sex, money); a pic of four of the ugliest dogs alive belonging to one lucky local family; a tuft of The Pig’s fur (collected from my washing machine rim); and a stale Timbit (chocolate…her favourite). If the Timbit is a bit limp, falling apart, or a bit off-colour, she will have experienced our holiday as we did! Happy Canada Day, Gill and everyone!