1 Jul 2011


As far as years go, 2001 was pretty much a flaming bag of dog shit and donkey balls. Of course, there's that standout reason why 2001, as a whole, has a bad rep, but I've observed that a lot of people had additional things happen in their lives - before and after September - that helped cement 2001 with the title of Worst Year Ever.

For me, I broke up with my live-in boyfriend, which wasn't a big tragedy or anything and was actually / eventually a good thing, but it was a tough change. A week or two later while we were still living together, he got jumped by some real winners and was stabbed in the neck. He survived (and we're still friends. He came to my wedding, even!) but spent a good deal of time in ICU and recovering at home under my care and it was an incredibly fucked up time, to put it lightly. Later in the year, after I had just moved into a new apartment, I got unexpectedly laid off from my job and couldn't find work in my field for months. So, yah, 2001 sucked it just fine without terrorists coming along and mind-fucking everyone.

One day in early July of said heinous year, I got a call from my dad. His voice sounded so weird - so hollow. He said, "I have some really bad news."

My stomach dropped and I felt like I had turned to stone from standing so still and waiting for what felt like an eternity for whatever horrible thing he was going to say next. It had probably only been a week earlier that he had called me with a hesitation in his voice and with a similar lead-in to the conversation: He had then let me know that he had just been diagnosed with prostate cancer.

I mentioned that 2001 was a total asshole, right?

"No, it's not that. It's not me," he quickly said, guessing that this was now two bad news calls in a row and that I probably thought they were related.

A sense of relief flickered for a second, only to be replaced with a new sense of dread. God, what else? What now?

"Um," he stammered for a moment, "Your cousin Jonathan has died," he finally croaked out.

When your brain is running around in that moment of waiting for bad news, your 18-year old cousin dying in a car accident tends not to be among the possibilities. I remember feeling all cold and nauseous and then immediately feeling waves of sadness for his family and the shock and grief they must have been in the pits of.

That was 10 years ago this weekend.

At the request of his family, this anniversary isn't to be marked with sadness, but we'll instead remember him fondly, share memories, and as you'll soon see - partake in some of his quirky passions.

My strongest memories of Jonathan are mainly from when he was younger - he was probably around nine or ten-years old or so. We lived a solid 12-hours drive from the Staniec's farm in Lanigan, Saskatchewan, so we didn't see the family all that much, but when we did, the visits were memorable. We often did "kid switches" where I would stay with the Staniecs for a week or two and their daughter, Jill, who is my sister's age, would came back with my parents and hang with my sister in Fort McMurray (and then vice-versa where my cousin Kim and I would go back together to Alberta).

I remember thinking it was oh-so clever of Jon (although, sure, totally mean) that he used to call his sister "Heather" - "Heifer". It was word play! Farm word play! And he wasn't just calling her a cow, he was calling her a virgin cow! Oh, how hilarious I thought that was. Because I, unsurprisingly, was a ho-bag and a word-geek even then.

I also recall all us kids listening to this one particular Ian Tyson song in a car ride into Saskatoon called "The Coyote and the Cowboy" by Ian Tyson. It was recorded in a bar, and there's a part where Tyson and the crowd sing about a "son of a bitch", and just like the people in the bar, we would SCREAM the word "bitch" every time. Hey! Don't blame us! Just following the lyrics! There's also a part of the song that we would get into fits of giggles over because it sounds like Animal from The Muppets is hollering in the background (from around 2:05 through to 2:20 in the song, should you be listening for it. I listened to it today and it TOTALLY SOUNDS LIKE ANIMAL. We were so right!). We'd play the song over and over and over again until my Aunt Janice justifiably yelled at us to knock it off:

I remember after one particularly grueling trip out to the farm, my family had driven over a stretch of highway that was just being paved and was in no condition for a car to go over it. My dad was seriously pissed about this, as a bunch of wet tar and asphalt had kicked up and splatted all over the hood and around the wheels. We had gone to a professional car wash before arriving in Lanigan and even these guys couldn't get the muck off.

For Jonathan, this was his Everest.

"Can I wash your car, Uncle Joe?" he said, his eyes glimmering as he looked over the tar-speckled minivan.

"Oh, you don't have to do that, Jonathan," my dad said, slightly surprised by the request.

"But can I?" Jonathan asked again.

My dad was stunned. Maybe it was because he was the father of two brats girls who would view having to clean the car as a form of punishment.

"He likes it," my cousin Kim said. "Like, he, really, really, REALLY likes cleaning cars."

"Well, if you insist," my dad said, still perplexed. "But if you can't get that tar off, don't worry about it. The guys at the car wash couldn't even get it off."

This look crossed Jon's face as if to say, "this car hasn't met me yet."

The rest of us kids went off to do the things we most liked doing on the farm: ride the ATVs, form a secret spy club with headquarters in the barn, play with the new calf, and pee our pants from laughing too hard - something someone would later blame on an animal ("I sat in cat pee ..." Sure, Jen, sure. Something you should know about me: I've never let a full bladder get in the way of a good, hard laugh. It's disgusting, really.).

Jonathan, however, went to work on the minivan with a determination worthy of an inspirational 80s power ballad. I even remember him working through lunch, something I've never let happen in my 30+ years on earth.

Hours later, my dad had summoned us all to marvel over Jonathan's work. The beige-but-blackened minivan that had tiredly rolled onto their gravel driveway earlier that day now looked like it had just come off the sale lot.

"Jesus Christ," my dad said, staring at the sparkling vehicle before him. "You really did a hell of a job on that. I mean it. You really did a phenomenal job."

Jonathan smiled with a quiet pride, simply said, "thanks" and strolled off. This, too, stunned my father, as he was generally used to kids - namely a certain daughter of his - lapping up the compliments like a pig and spending the next hour explaining exactly what she had done and how hard it was and why it was so important that it be done in the manner she had painstakingly done them.

Jon's love of cars - and cleaning them - became a hallmark of his, as was the way he mowed a lawn (alternate directions each time, no going back and forth, and whenever possible, he'd get two mowers going to pretend that he had a dual combine set up). There was the wrong way, the right way, and the Super Meticulous Jon Staniec way of doing these things. These things were so much a part of him that this weekend, his family recently asked everyone to mow their lawns or wash their cars "as Jonathan would" while thinking of him.

D-bag Condo Girl here has neither a car nor a lawn, so I improvised:

It is so not the car Jon would go for, but alas, the little gift shop I went to had no sports cars. It was this or a pink new Beatle with flowers on it. Of the two, I'm pretty sure this is the better choice to honour Jon's memory with:

Sparkling new!

And for the lawn ... the closest thing I could find was organic wheatgrass at the market:

Thank you, superfood-loving-hippies-and-yuppies of Toronto.

Even with scissors, I didn't do nearly the good job Jonathan would have done. That, I can guarantee.

If you're a friend or family member of Jon's, please share your thoughts here or on the Facebook event that Jill set up.

To live in hearts we leave behind
Is not to die.
-Thomas Campbell

We miss you, Jonathan, but you are far from forgotten.


Anonymous,  7:17 pm, July 01, 2011  

This is going to sound super morbid, but I wish you and I were friends just so you could eulogize me in "your" way. What a lovely, lovely post.

Karen 7:51 pm, July 01, 2011  

Nicely said. Really touching, Jen.

Esther,  9:25 pm, July 01, 2011  

Wow, Jen, that was really powerful.

Anonymous,  10:46 pm, July 01, 2011  

"By a departing light
We see acuter quite
Than by a wick that stays.
There’s something in the flight
That clarifies the sight
And decks the rays."
- Emily Dickinson

Mel 4:11 am, July 02, 2011  

Wow, Jen - that was a flashback and a half! Very well captured. In my efforts to mow a lawn here, i had to use a weed whacker on 4 square meters of weeds and some grass.... while wearing a dress..... I just hope John would be more amused than appalled!

R 10:06 am, July 02, 2011  

Jen, this post is not only lovely, but unbelievably timely. My family marked a very painful anniversary this week.

Thank you. (And for the record, Anonymous, I get what you mean.)

father of the monkey,  11:30 am, July 02, 2011  

Jennifer, if I were any prouder of you there would have to be two of me. This is perfect.

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Need words? I'm a Toronto-based freelance writer who injects great ones into blogs, websites, magazines, ads and more. So many services, one lovely Jen (with one 'n').

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