February 2, 2021It's All About the Olives

When I was in high school I read Kafka’s novella “The Metamorphosis’’. It’s a tragic tale of a young man who woke up one morning only to discover he’d changed into a giant insect. At the time, I’m pretty sure I didn’t have a clue what the metaphorical transformation was all about. Now, after years of reflection, I think I have a better understanding of what the story means to me. Olives.

My metamorphosis did not involve “monstrous vermin.” It was olives that transformed me.

Let me explain. My father was a businessman, and my family moved around a bit when I was young. We hopped from Montreal to London, then to Ottawa and finally Toronto. For a while it felt like I was always saying goodbye to friends, and hello to strangers. I was the new kid a lot.

When we moved to Toronto, it was already the summer. Most of the kids on my street were gone, visiting their cottages or working summer jobs. It was a bit lonely. So I gravitated a bit to books and video games.

I think my father saw this. Now, he was a busy guy, travelling around the country all the time, so he wasn’t always home. But when he was, he spent his spare time puttering in the garage. Inevitably, he would holler into the house, “Scruff”, (that’s what he called me) “Scruff, can you help me in the garage for an hour?”

So, with a grunt of disapproval I would step away from my Apple II computer games and head out into the garage. Sawdust hung in the air like a curtain, and the smell of power tools and grease assaulted my nostrils. And there, I would hold lumber, sweep dust and search for Phillips screwdrivers for what felt like an eternity until my mother called us for dinner.

Eventually summer turned to fall, and I headed off to high school. I made some friends, and life moved on. Soon my free time was devoted to street hockey, football and the occasional Dungeons and Dragons game. For me, the garage time dwindled. But my father still came into the house every Saturday night with sawdust in his hair. The days stretched to months, and years passed by. One day, near the end of my Grade 12 year, Dad came into the kitchen. “Throw on some shoes Scruff, I need your help” I groaned, because that’s what teenagers are supposed to do, and shuffled mournfully down the driveway. We drove 3 hours north that day, leaving the concrete and car exhaust of the city and entering the lakes and forests of cottage country. On the way, Dad told me that we were checking out some lakefront property that he and my mother were considering building a cottage on.

Now, it is important to note that I was pretty close to the end of high school, and university was beckoning me on the horizon. Building a cottage at this point was not very high on my list of priorities. Nonetheless, we spent that afternoon trudging through the overgrown forest by a bug infested lake in the Muskokas. I remember the ominous clouds of black flies that swarmed us relentlessly, I recall horseflies the size of Volkswagens, and I can still feel the slapping sting of pine branches scraping my face as we scrambled through the brush.

Eventually we found the lake, and we took a seat on a large outcropping of rock that jutted into the water. The air was still. And I sat for a while with my father looking at the sunlight as it glimmered on the surface of the lake, warming my face. Somewhere in the distance a loon wailed, and the call echoed eerily around the water’s edge. We sat in solitude.

My dad reached into the bag he had squirreled away someplace, and pulled out a jar of olives. They weren’t fancy, and I had never really developed a taste for them. Nonetheless, we sat together, in the quiet, enjoying each other’s company, staring at the lake and eating olives. After a while, my father turned and asked “What do you think Scruff, should we buy it?"

That’s when it hit me. He valued my opinion. I was just a kid, but my ideas mattered to him. It was like a wave of pride swelled within me as I told him, “Sure, I think this place would work great, dad” and I popped the last olive into my mouth.

Soon I headed off to university, and the cottage slowly took shape. Dad spent less time in the garage, and more time up north building decks, and installing floors. I didn’t spend a lot of time up there. I was busy with the intricacies of my own life. Days stretched into months, and years passed by.

My father passed away about 5 years ago. At the funeral his friends shared their stories, they discussed his sense of humour, they told stories about how helpful he could be. They discussed his legacy, his successful business, and the cottage he built with my mother.

However, the most powerful memory for me was the afternoon, sitting on that rock, with those olives. The day my father taught me that I was important, that my opinions mattered, and that he believed in me.

Today, when I have doubts, when I worry about what decisions I have to make, I’ll crack a jar of olives. That same old wave of pride washes through me, and the world feels a little bit less scary. 

I guess what this taught me is that people don’t always remember what you teach, what you look like, or how popular you are. They remember how you made them feel. All those days in the garage, and that afternoon by the lake, my dad made me feel valuable. Somebody believed in me, and that mattered. Knowing this helped me make the transformation from an insecure boy, to a more confident young man.

That’s a lesson I will never forget.

As we navigate what has been a challenging 2020, this message has never been more important. Making the transformation from child, to teenager, and into an adult can be tricky for all of us. Fortunately, our school has been founded on the premise that students learn best when they feel valued, when they trust their teacher, and when they know that someone believes in them. I hope that all our students understand that their teachers care for them, that they are special, and that they are part of a supportive community as they make their own transitions in life. I also hope that there’ll be lots of olives in their lives… and no giant insects!

Thanks Dad. 

By: Grant Ozechowsky, High School Principal and Deputy Head

AdmissionsApplications to Aberdeen Hall are accepted year round and are increasingly competitive.

At Aberdeen Hall, we seek to admit well-rounded students who choose to be at our school. We are looking for students who demonstrate leadership through academic performance, involvement in co-curricular activities and civic engagement. We care about our students and seek those who value education and are prepared to enrich our incredible school community.