Monday, December 21, 2015

Summer Swimming With Grandad

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Summer Swimming With Grandad

 In Canada’s election this year we elected a government that promised to legalize marijuana. This reminded me of my Grandad, Walter, the summer’s spent swimming and picnicking, as a child, along the Vedder River in Chilliwack, British Columbia. I’m sure your thinking, what… So I’ll tell you the story especially at this time of year when getting together with friends and family is so important. 
 I always remember sitting with granddad on the edge of the Vedder River under the shade of an old cedar tree with our fishing rods dangling in the water moving by with a slow measured pace, much like everything else on a hot summer day. The city was just a few minutes behind us, but the view in front was of ice cream capped mountains, towering trees and gurgling water. We hadn’t a bite on our lines yet, but one of the first things I learned about fishing from gramps was that it didn’t matter if you never caught anything. 
 "That wasn't the point," he'd smile to me.
 I liked coming here with my family on picnics as well, although granddad said this won’t last long as the developers were moving in soon. At ten years old I wasn’t quite sure what developers were, but I figured I’d find out someday. I didn’t know how anyone could develop anything more gorgeous than the scenery before us. He was prone to bouts of rambling talk that seemed to have no set purpose, on occasion I'd fall asleep in my head. I hesitated to consider him crazy, dad called him touched and said he'd zone out as well.
"Just nod and wink every few seconds," Dad told me. Actually, dad said, granddad and Uncle Al were getting to be best friends as he got older. I kinda liked the old codger even if his memory seemed to be going. He’d stare at me sometimes when I’d not seen him for awhile and say “oh yeah, Jim’s oldest boy.”
 “You said euphoria son, here have a couple of these, they’ll perk you up, while I tell you about the Euphoria Tea Company.” He told me some of the wildest stories and always shared those little cinnamon heart candies he had on him. At ten it seemed there wasn’t much more to life then crunching cinnamon hearts and fishing with granddad on a hot summer’s day.
 “I remember back during the opening stages of the second world war. A mite before your time son.” Everything he told me about was a mite before my time. I wondered how grandpa found the energy to do all these crazy things he’d tell me about. All I’ve ever known him to do was bellyache about his lack of regularity (whatever that was), chew on cinnamon hearts and complain about the crap weather. I wondered when I get old if I’d be just like him someday. NAH.
 “Actually I said, oh look Gloria’s over by that tree Granddad, not euphoria.” Gloria was my next door neighbor, a year older and here having a picnic with her family. So far she hadn’t seen me or I knew she’d been sitting here talking with us, wanting to do gross things like kiss and smooch. Grown up things people do when they’re older, like eighty-four.
 “I’d been driving through the states in my old Rambler, now there was a car, did I ever tell you about my old Rambler son?” He told me so many stories about his travels across Canada with that old Rambler I could rebuild it in my sleep. Actually, from all the stories he’d told me I calculated he’d been behind the wheel of that car most of his natural life, including driving it to the washroom every time he went for a pee.
 “So I just hit Euphoria, Saskatchewan, Population 2840, the sign said and if you’d ever been through Saskatchewan you’d know they counted every dog, cat, gopher and next of kin that lived there or at the other end of the telephone line. One of those towns where the grain elevators were the only building over two stories high.”
 “Our teacher said the prairies are flat, no mountains, not like here.” I had never been to the prairies, lived my whole life in BC. The only thing granddad said he liked about the prairies was the big open sky and the incredible thunder storms that would roll in with the fury of a two tomcats fighting over a female in heat. Something I’d never heard yet, but figured it raise quite the ruckus.
 “And lightning, lightning so strong you could read a book sitting on your balcony on a moonless night.” Although I personally would probably be found huddled underneath my bed sheets, granddad said he used to sit outside and watch the lightning. Small wonder, as my mom would say, he didn’t go blind.
 “Yup Saskatchewan, the only place in the world where you can sit on your back porch and watch your dog run away from home for four days,” he snickered.
 "In fact it took me a week of driving across the province before I realized I broke a tie rod end in the old Rambler." He stopped for a second, "did I ever tell you about my Rambler..." I nodded and winked, "Yup, sure have."
 “I blinked and darn near missed the place, which isn’t good when you’re running on fumes. Then again, that old car could run on the sniff of an oil rag. So I asked the gas station man where a guy could get a cold beer, when I pulled in for gas. He gawked at me like my butt was on fire.”
 “This here’s a dry county I can assure you sir.” He said and dismissed me like one of those bugs he was scraping off my windshield. “Well,” I muttered,
“I’ll be making a bee line outa here in a darn hurry.” Another fella who was sitting on the porch whittling away on a piece of wood, straw hanging out of his mouth piped up.
“Can’t says I didn’t hear yea all talking out there. Now if yea want a potent brew to settle your nerves try the café up the street and ask the waitress for a cup of their Euphoria tea.”
 “Tea, what I look like I got a decal of the Queen hanging off my underwear or something.”
 “Like the gentleman said, this hears a dry county. But try a cup of that tea, euphoria. It leaves yea in better shape then it finds yea, if you know what I mean.” He winked at me like I knew what the joke was about. I wondered what the hell kind of crazy town was this? However being a lad of curiosity I drove up the road, figuring on grabbing a bite of chow. The café seemed unusually full. As with most small towns everyone stopped and stared, some openly gawking like they never saw anyone who they never recognized before, as I walked in.
 “Care for a menu?” The grain fed waitress asked. I sat on a chair that seemed to be already pre-fitted to someone else’s body. A seat some local been sitting everyday for the last forty years after he came in from doing chores, just to shoot the bull with the rest of the boys over a cup of coffee and talk about farmer things.”
 “Farmer things?” I asked.
 “Yeah, like how’s your bull doing, oh he’s okay, chased three heifers yesterday, darn coyotes been around my hen house again, I see your hay crop’s coming up, looking fine. Yup, I’ve been watching everyday, as long as it don’t rain I’ll be okay. Hope it don’t rain. You know farmer things.” So I smiled at the waitress, pretty girl, we were on the prairies and she was one of them grain fed types, udderly challenged, if you know what I mean, son.” Granddad snorted. I didn’t but nodded in agreement as if I knew what he was talking about.
 “I remember looking at the menu and noting that there was no alcohol on the list. The tea or coffee was ten cents, pretty steep in those days. So I ordered a cheeseburger and fries. As I waited for the waitress to come back I remembered the Euphoria tea only I didn’t recall seeing anything like that on the menu. I did notice some of the folks sitting there with these huge mugs and glazed looks on their faces staring off into space real goofy like. When the waitress came by I asked for a cup of their euphoria tea. She returned a minute later toting one of those large mugs everyone else had. They must have a large brew pot of the stuff out back, I thought at the time. “That’ll be twenty-five cents.” She said as she set the mug down.
 “Two bits?” I replied, “I ain’t never paid a quarter for a cup of tea in my whole life.” She smiled, “you ain’t never had a cup of Euphoria then.” Well I figured if anyone that had the courage to ask that kinda money must have a good product there, so I paid her. I remember that it had a bitter taste, kinda like old socks that clung in back of your throat, clawing their way down. The first thing I remember was my lips going numb and after that, well, time sorta became irrelevant as I sipped away and weird things began happening. I watched this fly for what seemed like hours walking across my table, then he began to tap dance. At one point I laughed. Ever see a fly tap dance, son.”
 “I can’t say as I ever had.” Where he got these ideas for his stories I was never quite sure. Granddad handed me another cinnamon heart candy, I knew as long as he had a good supply of candies, I knew I could wade through his story.
 “I understood why the other folks were sitting there all goofy like, because I’m sure that’s how I musta looked staring at that fly. I don’t recall leaving the restaurant or getting into my car, but I did. In fact I don’t remember if I even ate my burger. Although I suspect I didn’t cause I was sure hungry the next morning. I coulda ate the arsehole out of a skunk and come back for the smell. To be honest son, I don’t remember a hell of a lot about the rest of the day. The blue sky seemed awfully blue and marshmallow clouds took on all kinds of white fluffy shapes. I remember passing a cop and thinking he was out to get me. Before long I pulled into a rest stop and fell asleep. The strangest thing, when I woke up I realized I’d driven nearly a hundred miles. Which was too bad cause I was tempted to drive back for a refill. Never did though.”
 Grandpa sat there with this quiet look on his face. Crazy old guy, he’d tell me some of the craziest stories. Most of which I never believed especially when I Goggled Euphoria, Saskatchewan and couldn’t find it. Then again my teacher said that most of those small towns weren’t on the map let alone on the internet. I wondered when I get his age if I’d ever have as many wild stories as he did. I grabbed another cinnamon heart candy and thought; nope, probably not. Not as long as I keep sitting here on this riverbank doing nothing.

 So I pushed Granddad into the river.

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 Have A Merry Christmas And A Dry Happy New Year
From Frank Talaber