Saturday, 23 June 2012

BLACK JACKET


One of JC's passions, in addition to old cars, airplanes, tractors, trucks and just about anything else mechanical (he even rode a mechanical bull more than once), was motorcyles. Just about anything with two wheels (one fore and one aft preferably) would qualify but his preferred ride in that category was a larger road bike. During his single years he put as many as sixteen thousand miles a year on his beloved Harley Davidson, riding to many different places like the heartland of the United States, both coasts, Sturgis, in South Dakota where the annual Black Hills Motorcycle Classic takes place, and even numerous day trips to East Glacier in Montana.

Yes, one could say that he was well-traveled and he loved his motorcycle and the circle of friends he had made while on two wheels but life sometimes has a way of diminishing some passions.

JC settled down and married and his new partner didn't share his passion for mechanical things, motorcycles included (or anything else for that he liked for that matter). Consequently that limited JC to the occasional day trip and even those became less frequent. So many times the bike simply languished in the garage, forlorn and almost forgotten.

JC's (then) wife wanted an RV, a recreational vehicle, or sometimes referred to as a travel trailer so they could see some country in style and camp every night in the warm heated comfort of that home away from home. She referred to it as roughing it although JC was a little bit cynical. 'Yeah, just turn on that electric blanket and sleep like a --teenager!

Well that term: sleeping like a baby, was an oxymoron according to JC as it was his experience that babies didn't sleep that well. However teenagers can sleep all night, throughout the next day and well into the afternoon, especially when they had work to do; they can sleep through a hurricane.

But that's a soapbox that JC will get up on in another story...

Anyways, JC and spouse looked at RVs/travel trailers and decided what they might want--more like she decided what they might want. Of course JC put up a brave argument against said trailer citing things like: they didn't need it, they had no place to store it, and the ultimate: we can't afford it. But after some choice words, coercion and outright demands, he finally softened up and said that he'd put his motorcycle up for sale. If it sold then they'd buy that trailer and go on those 'dream' vacations.

So, JC put his bike in the paper, listing it for what he thought was an outrageous price. Like, who in his right mind would pay $10,000.00 for a seventeen year old Harley Davidson Shovelhead with 72,000 miles on it? If the truth be known, he didn't want to sell it at all.

It sold practically the first night; JC was heartbroken!

Nonetheless they bought that RV then rented a site at Forty Mile Lake where, with the exception of three of those 'dream vacations' elsewhere, they parked the trailer for the summer.

Sure, it was a nice break. Take off after work on Friday night, get out to the lake in time to make supper, visit the neighbors around the campfire, then retreat into the quiet warmth of the trailer to read or watch TV...

Yeah, just turn on that electric blanket...

For three years they rented that spot at the lake, made nice, and happy, and all was well... That is until the day when the other half decided that she no longer wanted to be the other half; opting instead to add a prefix to the title to become the Ex-other half. In short she asked him for a divorce and JC, barely able to contain the thrill of hearing that, perpetrated said divorce and the two of them lived happily everafter--in their own separate worlds.

Did you know that prayers really are answered..?

Now I have to back up a bit here and say that JC didn't hold any animosity toward his ex; they had both made wrong decisions and there was only one thing they could do. And they did it. And to this day they are on speaking terms.

In short JC would joke that he sold his bike to buy an RV, then sold the RV to buy a divorce. In hindsight he'd rather have kept the bike and forgot about everything after that, especially the marriage and the RV.

They say that cannibals and sharks tend to avoid divorced people because of the bitter taste. Well, JC wasn't down on love, or even bitter over his major disaster; in fact he was optimistic that his permanent destiny was just around the corner. After all he'd just spent fifteen years in hell and thought he deserved a little bit of heaven. Of course he gave himself a year which was enough time to clear away the smoke before he put out his mugshot for all (available women) to see.

Enter Round Two and JC's best Better Half.

JC and Mattie met on the Internet and soon became quite an item. They married after less than a year of courtship but they were convinced that it was the right thing to do and they have been going strong ever since.

But even in the best of times there comes a longing for something that was lost somewhere in the past. For JC it was to be back in the wind, riding a motorcycle down a two-lane blacktop with a bunch of good people to a destination that only revealed itself when it was time to stop (hindsight reminded him that oftentimes finding a latrine was sufficient for a stop). Of course he'd settle for a brief ride just to remind himself of some happier times.

Now JC had sold his bike but he didn't sell any of his gear. He kept his saddlebags, his tool kit, his riding gloves, his helmets, even his rain suit (for all the good that would do him now). And yes, he kept his black leather riding jacket complete with all the zippers, traces of bug splatter, road grime and sweat.

While JC and Mattie were courting, Mattie invited him to a 50s dance in Calgary, an invitation that JC readily accepted despite the fact that he didn't have a clue how to dance. JC had just the right outfit to dazzle everyone else there; he had a white T-shirt that he rolled a small cardboard carton into one of the sleeves to give the impression that he had a pack of smokes (it seems to me that in reality that small carton contained Ex-lax or Imodium), blue jeans with the cuffs rolled up, heavy black riding boots, bad-ass gloves (with the finger tips missing), Joe Cool sunglasses and of course, his black leather jacket (somewhat cleaned up by now). With his hair slicked back into a duck tail, he was ready to challenge even the Fonz.

Well, he must have done something right because he received the top greaser award.

And he still couldn't dance.

I might add that JC and Mattie attended another 50s party in Taber a year later where they were crowned the Top Greaser Couple. Maybe the others attending would've had a better chance if they had actually dressed up. Like, white T-shirt, blue jeans, poodle skirt (for her), red lipstick (ditto).

One of the couples did ride out from Taber on their Harley Davidson which served to rekindle that desire to go for a bike ride. But that ache would still have to go unsatisfied for two more years. There would be light at the end of the tunnel, however, and that would be through JC's new brother in law.

Harley Davidson Motorcyle Company started a Demo-Ride program where, on a certain date, anyone with a valid motorcycle operator's license was invited to the local dealership to test ride the latest models. JC heard the news and Mattie immediately marked the date on the calendar just in case JC forgot. And when that special day rolled around JC began to gather all his necessary equipment.

Heavy riding boots, gloves, Joe Cool sunglasses, jacket, helmet... Well, his usual helmet was more than a little worse for wear. It was a Bell stock car helmet that JC purchased back in '68. Once metallic red, it was now riddled with numerous scrapes and dings from falling off the bike and bouncing on the pavement more than a few times (JC hated wearing a helmet at any time and used it only when he was traveling in a region--like Alberta--where donning it was mandatory; otherwise said helmet was tied to his back packs). JC decided not to use that one, opting instead for the Cue Ball White patrolman's helmet that still had it's DOT sticker in place.

Mattie and Kammi had a good laugh over that one.

It was a chilly day so JC donned a sweatshirt that he'd picked up at the Harley shop in Pomona, California back in '91 but had not worn it since then as it was two sizes too big. Strangely enough it now fit him perfectly.

It must have shrunk while hanging in the closet. Clothes do that, you know...

He put on his boots, jacket, gloves and bandana then decided to bundle up to ensure that everything was in good enough shape to go for a bike ride. And that was when JC noticed that something was seriously wrong.

He went to zip up his jacket only to find that it now had a gap at least three inches wide in the front. There was no way he could pull that jacket in close enough to even hope to engage the zipper; he'd have to use a come-along winch.

The jacket had shrunk; that was all there was to it. Pay no nevermind to the fact that the waist on his pants had shrunk considerably too, and once when a 32 waist was just fine, it now took a 36 to make ends meet.

They were just making pants smaller these days. And what did I sat about that sweatshirt being too big, until recently?

Well, if the girls laughed at the helmet, you should've seen them this time. I'd have to say that comedienne, Jeannie Robertson said it best when she talked about laughing so hard her water broke, and she wasn't pregnant. The same could be said for the girls.

To make a long story short, JC attended the ride and rode a couple of new motorcycles. And he had the time of his life. But he had to resort to an extra bandana and his Stormrider denim jacket to complete his ensemble.

That jacket had to have shrunk; it used to fit him like a sack. But then, being a happier state of mind and thus more relaxed tends to contribute to the shrinkage of one's wardrobe.

Doesn't it?

Saturday, 16 June 2012

TO DAD

I'd like to dedicate this entry to dads everywhere and to my dad who has been  my inspiration throughout my life. I'm so lucky to have had a dad for so many years as there are some who haven't had that privilege. My son in law was only 31 when his dad passed away and that was too early for both of them.

Dad was immortalized by Mom as Max in her Delitta Belle stories published in the Canadian Hereford Digest and later in a collection of short stories entitled The Jingle Belle. I might add that Dad is also known as Max in my own Coffee Row series as I have chosen to carry on the tradition in honor of Mom.

Dad--Mark Stringam--was born in Glenwood, Alberta in April of 1925. The youngest of eleven children, Dad learned very early in life that if he wanted to eat he had to be the first one to the trough or he'd have to go without. He was often the victim of a job being dumped on him by one of his siblings but that also taught him a myriad of skills. In my lifetime I've never met anyone who could build fence, frame a building, shingle a roof, shoe a horse, treat sick animals, dig a trench, lay out a water line, herd cattle, and teach me how to tie a necktie; not to mention teaching me some particular surgical procedures at branding time.

My wife and kids think he's the most wonderful person they ever met. "Such a dear sweet old man," to paraphrase some of the comments. Of course I'm quick to point out that the man they now know has got to be an imposter as this can't be the same man I grew up with.

He was never the most patient man throughout my childhood years; if he was ready to go, he was ready to go. And the entire household knew that--many times. He'd give a wake-up call when it was time to get up, and that was followed by a second one a few minutes later. The next thing I would be aware of was the sound of leather clearing belt loops at the door to my room; I never failed to jump right out of bed and be dressed in double quick time.

He was a disciplinarian and mostly fair but there were times when he exacted justice before all the facts became known. There was the odd time when I felt the side of one of his Number Elevens on my backside or that third finger brain-duster on top of my head before he found out that I was innocent of the crime. Of course he didn't hesitate to apologize for getting out of line but also quickly added that the unwarranted discipline was for the times I got away with something.

And he was right...

Sometimes I thought of him as a taskmaster. So many times I came home from school, full of ideas of what I was going to do in the shop but only to find a list, outlining the chores that needed to be done that evening. Those loathsome tasks often kept me busy until nearly bedtime, however they got done and I was often stupid enough to ask if there was anything more.

There was always something more to do on the ranch...

But Dad was a loving husband and father. He would go out of his way to help out one of us kids. Maybe not always smiling but he would do it because he was--Dad!

Dad started to learn patience when Mom's health started to slip. The Parkinson's began to take its toll on Mom ten years before she passed away, and Dad was able to step in and take over, learning along the way. Sure, sometimes Dad had interests of his own, like building clocks or larger projects but Mom was his priority after us kids were on our own; the other things would have to wait.

The day finally came when the Lord called Mom home and Dad was there to kiss her goodbye before she passed through the veil. Dad misses her badly but he has his pet projects, and his kids and grandkids to keep in touch.

Through the years Dad has evolved from being the dutiful parent and bread winner to becoming friend and confidante as well. I meet with Dad for lunch at least once a week and we talk about everything from life in the old home town, to life on the ranch, to Mom, to what my siblings are up to, my own family life and even throwing in politics. I look forwards to our visits and dread the day when those will come to an end.

One day Dad will pass through that same veil that Mom went through. I'm sure he'll be glad to make that journey because he knows that Mom will be waiting on the other side. Of course I and others won't be so enthusiastic as we want him to stick around. But until then I want to spend as much time as we can together.

Dad, you've been a parent, teacher, taskmaster, disciplinarian, co-worker and friend but most of all, you've been Dad. You're an example to us all and you've taught me how to be a dad, and a granddad. and a friend. So on this special weekend we all wish you the best.

Happy Father's Day, and may there be many more...

Saturday, 2 June 2012

SHOWDOWN

One could safely say that JC wasn't a troublemaker at school. I tend to use this term loosely as he was a red-blooded boy who did boy things that often got on someone's nerves. But he knew who was in charge and tended to avoid trouble as much as possible by trying to obey the rules. Of course if he crossed the line there were consequences to pay.

But the discipline had to be just...

JC got his first taste of the strap in First Grade. The hardwood floors in the classroom had been polished to a brilliance and they were super slippery. That made skating/skidding in one's sock feet at high speeds down the aisles a whole lot of fun; that also made being drug down the aisle sliding on one's back while being pulled by the feet and wildly swung around at the end of the aisle a whole lot more fun.

Trouble was: Miss Warnoski didn't share the humor.

She came back after recess to find Kevin dragging JC around by the feet and put a stop to it once and for all. She had both perpetrators come up to the front of the class for a dose of that piece of black belting; one tap on each palm for first graders.

Now the strap didn't hurt all that much but what made it a deterrent was that it was done in front of the class; the public humiliation being the ultimate disciplinarian.

Enter Second Grade and Ms. Dorothy who was considerably older than Miss Warnoski but still in the twentieth century. Ms. Dorothy didn't use the strap all that much; she tended to hurl whatever was in her hand at the time at the perp. That could be chalk or a chalkboard eraser. There was an incident when JC was talking to Gord, or Lance, or both, when the teacher had her back turned. Ms. Dorothy whirled and fired an eraser directly at JC with markmanship that would put an army sniper to shame.

JC saw the projectile and ducked at the last minute, the brush sailing harmlessly over his head but scoring a direct hit on the face of Theresa, the innocent victim who sat behind.

Yes, there were some flaws in Ms. Dorothy's disciplinary actions.

Actually JC and Ms. Dorothy got along well. She was good to him as long as he behaved himself and did everything he was told. Well--his printing was horrible after many strong suggestions to do better and hasn't improved to this day.

JC's second grade class moved from the old 1917 vintage school house to the new fangled 1961 vintage school house on top of the hill, just before hostilities ended for the summer. It was quite an adventure to make that trek to the new school and all its fresh paint and shiny new desks.

The year ended too soon but JC and his gang of merry men were looking forward to the fall when they would return in the Third Grade. But they felt some trepidation about the teacher they would have.

Ms. Alice was a miserable hag. She bellered like an old bull; she belittled a student to the point of peeing himself/herself; she was not above using physical methods to invoke discipline which included slapping, pulling hair, pulling ears, or using the strap although the yardstick was her weapon of choice.

And she was OLD!

Like, she was so old that she was the technical advisor to the movie, The Ten Commandments. There is a cutaway of a giant redwood tree, at least twenty feet in diameter down in California that shows major historical and biblical events, each one indicated on one of the rings. There's a sign in the center that says: Ms. Alice planted this tree.

Well, maybe I'm exaggerating a trifle here but Ms. Alice was an old fossil of a teacher as seen by an eight year old. The only contribution she could possibly make to society was the inspiration of a name for a new subdivision in town: Boot Hill!

But she kep order; a drill sergeant could take lessons from her...

So now we come to the main part of the story:

On most days, right after lunch, Ms. Alice made all the kids stand and sing some lame song that included actions. JC hated action songs because they were so stupid and juvenile...

It's strange that people did more 'mature' versions of action songs later in life, such as the Chicken Dance, done at numerous weddings. More suggestive songs at college frat parties, or the time in the Lion's Den in Fort McMurray when four girls dragged JC and his friend, Kevin, up on stage to join in with them and the main singer in the performance of Swing Low Sweet Chariot.

But that's another story reserved for another time...

One of the teacher's favorite--but definitely not one of JC's favorite--songs was the Pussy Willow song, the end of which required everyone to crouch down low then jump up and shout: SCAT! JC had participated in this song too many times so, being one the class clowns, he over did the actions.

Many of the kids saw him and laughed...

Did someone hear the theme from Dragnet?

Ms. Alice caught him and her discipline was to make JC do the song and actions by himself. She gave the order then hovered over him like a giant spider.

JC hesitated.

She repeated the order...

JC stood there.

Several minutes went by and she ordered him again with a tone of voice that all but cracked the windows.

JC's resolve might have started to crumble about that time and he was contemplating doing that embarrassing song just to get the whole thing over with when Ms. Alice did the unthinkable.

She swatted him across the back with the yardstick.

Now JC understood authority; he knew when he'd done wrong and that meant that he had to atone for his sins but he also knew about making the punishment suit the crime. And getting belted across the back with a yardstick denoted cruel and unusual punishment.

Of course you can't rule out the fact that JC was more than a little stubborn. His background was Swedish/American which was a mixture of Swedish, Scottish, English, Welso, Irish, Obstinacy, and Pig-headedness.

Well, Ms. Alice labeled JC with that ol' yardstick and JC simply made up his mind that he'd take dismemberment and death over doing that song solo; he was not going to sing it. The volley of orders and threats, combined with more lashes from that yardstick just strengthened his resolve. He stood there, gritted teeth and fists clenched as the minutes ticked by.

Ms. Alice was getting desparate so she switched tactics. "You sing that right now or you're going down to the principal's office!" More silence. "Sing it or start walking!"

Nothing...

The recess bell rang. It had taken from lunchtime to recess and still, the showdown continued.

A couple more swats. "You do what you're told!"

"Grrr..!"

Ms. Alice finally had enough. She dismissed the class for recess then grabbed the stubborn mule by the arm and proceeded to drag him out the door. JC simply let his legs buckle underneath him and went limp as an empty glove. Ms. Alice attempted to drag him for another ten feet or so but even something weighing only sixty-five pounds could be a tremendous load when one is forced to drag it along a tiled floor.

Totally exhausted, she finally gave up and stormed off to the staff room. JC let her disappear from sight then got to his feet, brushed himself off then sauntered back to the room where he seated himself back at his desk.

That's where they found him when recess was over. He was drawing a picture of a truck, or maybe a tractor, or even a motorcycle. Whatever the case he was completely unruffled and when the principal came to cart him off to the office for interrogation and sentencing, he closed his binder, left it on his desk and obediently followed.

A couple of taps on the palms of his hands with that piece of belting and the crime spree was over.

Final score: JC--one; Ms. Alice--zero.

Interesting enough, from that time on, Ms. Alice had to resort to more diplomatic means to get JC to do her bidding. When the school term was over, she promoted him to Fourth Grade, likely because there was no way she was going to put up with him for another term.

I understand that Ms. Alice taught for one more year then put in for retirement. No doubt that she was suddenly seized with the terrifying thought that JC would grow up some day and have kids of his own, and those kids just might be students of hers.

May God have mercy...