A golden stubble field under an azure sky with wisps of clouds high above. A dirt road runs through the centre of the image and "Getting my Shit together (or not, as the case may be)" is superimposed in the centre of the image.

A Terrible Time

A golden stubble field under an azure sky with wisps of clouds high above. A dirt road runs through the centre of the image and "Getting my Shit together (or not, as the case may be)" is superimposed in the centre of the image.
The fucking new WP layout enshittifies everything about customising where you want your images to be and how you want them to show up or wrap around text. I’ve given up trying to make it look the way I want it to.

This must be a terrible time to be a bookkeeper, accountant, or tax prep person. Especially in the prairies. I’ve heard horror stories from our auditor at work of people showing up on their doorstep with a couple of ExMas orange boxes and a garbage bag full of “receipts”, handing them over and saying “have at ‘er”. Most of the farmers I have experience with are SUPER organised, because they don’t want to spend any money they don’t have to. It’s not uncommon for one spouse to do the dirt scraping and the other spouse to do the bookkeeping, and boy howdy let me tell you, some of the bookkeeping spouses will hunt expenses and revenues to the NICKEL (if not the penny). If you’ve done any bookkeeping, you know what this is like.

For years, I was the primary bookkeeper at work, and while our auditor would say things like “that’s an immaterial amount; don’t worry about it”, I’d be in the corner, rocking back and forth, chewing my hangnails and muttering about the bank reconciliations being $10.47 out of balance. (Yes, that’s an actual amount I hunted for FOR A WEEK. I found it, too, motherfuckers.)

So when my father, who lives with Dementia, started seriously fretting about how much he was struggling with his farm and personal accounts, I thought, well, I know farming is nothing like the nonprofit I work for, and the numbers are exponentially larger, and this is Da’s lifelong work and legacy, but *how much different can it be*?

Turns out, not so much.

I remember sitting at the kitchen table, going over his bank statements and bill payments with him, and offering to automate everything so he wouldn’t have to worry about them (I was talking about the utilities and property taxes). He said “I’ve got myself in a hell of a fix here,”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Well I have to file my farm taxes,” he said.

“Is there a problem with your farm taxes?”

“Yeah, there sure as hell is,” he said. “It’s a goddamned mess.”

I asked him to show me. I said I’d love to help any way I could.

“You can’t,” he said.

“Oh? Why not? Are there things in your business accounts that I shouldn’t see?”

He looked up at me, his thinning eyebrows making little tents over his worried eyes. I’ve always loved my father’s eyes; they’re a really odd kind of hazel, somewhere more brown than green, but also more green than brown. I know that makes no sense, but there it is.

“No,” he said, “but you’ve never done it and you don’t know anything about it.”

“Well,” I said, not offended at all; this was his livelihood, and he was right. I HAD never done his farm/business taxes before. “I know it’s not the same, but a long time ago, when I was still in high school, I think, you showed me double-entry bookkeeping, and the last two jobs I’ve had, I’ve done the bookkeeping, so maybe if you walk me through it and help me out, we can get it done together? Or at least make a dent in it?”

He cast me a doubtful look, shrugged, and went down to the basement to get his orange boxes full of receipts.

Now let me tell you: my father has always been a meticulous organiser. You might not know it to see the structured mess that was his farmyard or quonset, but believe you me, every tool has its place (with an outline of the tool on the pegboard), every box is labelled, and he has always been fastidious with paperwork. Going through his teaching files proved this to me years later.

When he did his taxes, he’d shut himself up in the office in the basement of the house for about two weeks in January, and he wouldn’t emerge except to “shit, shower, and shave” until he was done. He had a box of pencils, a box of paper clips, a box of elastic bands, and a box of file folders. He divided his expenses and revenues between “Farm” and “Not Farm”. His account book for the Farm was one of those big ledger books you get from the Western Producer. Each section of the ledger was for different farm expenses; categories across the top, breakdowns for vendors in rows down the side, and breakouts of GST beside each expense.

So he brought up his orange crates and set them on the floor in the living room. I had a TV tray set up, a couple of pencils at the ready, and was raring to go. He ran his hand through his already QUITE sticky-uppy hair, staring at the boxes. “Fuck,” he said. “Pardon my french.”

The orange boxes were full of file folders. One for each month. One crate was for “Farm” and one was for “Non-Farm”. I looked for (and found) a couple of old ledger books from previous years, looked through them and saw what he’d done. I asked him to walk me through it and he did his best, but it was late in the afternoon and he was getting tired and confused.

I sat him down with a box and two file folders and asked him to put the receipts in the right months’ folders. He tried. He tried very hard, but it was overwhelming for him. This was the first time I really fully understood how much he’d been struggling for the last few years, and how much he’d already lost. Dementia is a wicked thing.

He was sat in my grandmother’s chair, perched at the edge of it with a pile of receipts on one knee and another pile on the stereo stand beside him. He held more receipts in his hand, and there were folders for June and July at his feet. He’d look at a receipt, put it in one of the two piles, then grab another receipt, put it in another pile, then go back to the first receipt. Meanwhile in the ledger I saw he’d been pretty good about entering expenses up until about March or April of the previous year. That coincided with the beginning of COVID, and, most likely, worsening of his symptoms. His handwriting was changing month by month. He was unsteady. Unsure.

I went through the “Farm” files, entering expenses and revenues as they occurred, and I made my way up to September. “Would you please have a look at this and let me know if I’m on the right track?” I asked.

He came over, sat beside me, and looked at what I’d done.

“You have good handwriting,” he said.

“Tell that to Mr. Toews; he hit me across the knuckles with a ruler in grade five because he didn’t like my penmanship.”

“That guy was a prick.” Da went through my entries slowly, looking from receipt to ledger several times before he nodded. “You’re good at this,” he said. “I had no idea.”

“Well,” I said, “if I am, it’s because I had a good teacher.”

He raised a pointy eyebrow. “Who’s that? Your boss?”

“No, doofus. It’s you.”

I offered to take the rest of the files home and work through them to send them off to Da’s bookkeeper. It was getting late and I had to get back on the road, but I didn’t want to leave Da worried about his taxes.

“You’ll bring this stuff back when you’re done?”

I said, “I’ll bring it all back next weekend so we can go over it together and you can correct my mistakes.”

That was a few years ago now, and as he moved in to assisted living that fall, his farming business shrunk; he rents out the land and has a buddy do yard and house maintenance for him. I’ve been sending his stuff to his favourite bookkeeper for years. I adore her and her team. I haven’t really changed the way it’s done, except I’ve moved to a spreadsheet rather than a ledger (sorry, Western Producer). For a few years, it went great. I’d send off printouts of the spreadsheets along with receipts, deposit records, T-slips, etc.. in April, and Da’s taxes would be filed by the end of the month. Easy as rain.

Then the shit hit the fan last fall. Following some pretty severe health issues December before last, Da was recovering from a month in hospital to recovery in a personal care home, and recovered to the point he needed specialised memory care the home couldn’t provide, so we had to arrange a last-minute move (the memory care home was AMAZING through all of this). I won’t prolong this story, but to sum up, despite what three Neurologists told us, he did in fact regain consciousness, and last week I danced with him in his memory care place. He can talk, walk, feed himself, shave, and visit. He’s still superb at visiting. Suffice it to say the last year or two have been…piquant. From hospital to personal care home to memory care home, Da has moved four times in almost as many years.

The ENTIRE POINT OF THIS POST is to say I had let his bookkeeping slide. I maintained and monitored his bank accounts, made sure all the bills were paid, etc., but I kind of sucked at collecting and collating receipts, maintaining the spreadsheet, the whole nine yards. When it came time to send everything to the amazing bookkeeper, I apologised for being so disorganised. Fortunately I was able to submit everything digitally. Unfortunately I thought it was in a shambles. I did my best to label documents properly and put notes in the spreadsheet that correlated to the invoices and receipts and revenues, but it was a mess. In my opinion it was a mess.

I apologised profusely to Da’s bookkeeper for the state of his files.

Two days later she emailed and told me she wished more people were disorganised like I was. Apparently the only thing missing was one insurance policy and a statement of premiums, which I was able to send that day. I don’t say this to toot my own horn, but to express extreme gratitude for the hard work of the folks who have a kajillionty customers coming to them in February – April with garbage bags full of receipts and absolute certainty that’s an okay way to do business.

I want to express gratitude to my Da also, for teaching me skills neither of us ever thought I’d need to use the way I’m using them now. When I was eighteen, he sat me down in the University library and showed me how to file *my* taxes (at the time, it required a workbook, two instructional booklets, and a “good copy” you sent off to the government). He worked damned hard to make sure I was self-sufficient and I don’t think I can ever thank him enough for that. He is an amazing father, and I’m absolutely honoured I get to do this for him now.


6 responses to “A Terrible Time”

  1. Melissa Avatar

    Good job! It’s a tedious process but you have a good handle on it.

    1. cenobyte Avatar

      I still feel like i handed over a nightmare mess. I think I have a “system” of sorts down now. As long as ABSOLUTELY NOTHING CHANGES EVER, it should be workable.

  2. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Avatar
    Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

    My spouse stopped filing tax returns in 2016, and didn’t mention it. Since then, we selected a retirement community, sold our house in NJ, and moved five years ago to California.

    I appreciate what you’ve been doing with and for your dad. And know exactly how we get behind on things. But I’m chronically ill, and it costs me 10-100 times more energy than it would cost a normal person. And yet I feel I have no choice, because it’s MY taxes, too.

    All the while he’s doing all the bills, making the investments, going to the grocery store on the bike, keeping me in carefully ripened cantaloupe, doing his exercises classes… while I seethe. Life is funny.

    1. cenobyte Avatar

      “Keeping me in carefully ripened cantaloupe” is a wonderful mental image of you reclining in a giant melon.

      I do my and His Nibs’ taxes, and I’ve done the kids’ taxes with them to teach them how it’s done. Eldest hates it and has started taking his to a tax prep place, and I don’t blame him at all. I…don’t tell anyone, but I kind of enjoy doing taxes. It’s concrete, you instantly know when you’ve erred or fixed an error.

  3. dave Avatar

    Great post. You remind me of your Mom. (At Wesmor Mrs. Bell always insisted we learn how to fend for ourselves)


    1. cenobyte Avatar

      She certainly always taught me to be self-sufficient; she framed in terms of feminism for me while Da, who is also an only child, was always just about independence.

      Good to hear from you! Hope all is well.

i make squee noises when you tell me stuff.

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