Tag Archives: Vancouver

Convincing Mother – Ch. 1

“I’m sorry. I just don’t like the sound of it!”

My mother at breakfast in 1953, in the kitchen of our one-bedroom home in Vancouver. We lived a few blocks east of Little Italy, a quaint area in the city. We kids loved to walk the 2nd Avenue hill and trudge up the other side to Copp’s Shoes, which offered the most wonderful toffee suckers wrapped in wax paper if you bought any small thing – even a pair of shoelaces. What a thrill to open the wrapper and taste that creamy caramel toffee inside!

At the moment, however, toffee suckers were off the table, as it were, since my father had just proposed that we pick up and move from Vancouver, lock, stock and barrel, to a remote logging camp on Vancouver Island. Hence, my mother’s reaction.

At the time, our tiny, stucco house felt cramped and old. Cold, too, as I recall, since it rained steadily in Vancouver and my parents had to economize on heat. However, Granny Davis, who lived in our basement suite, owned a pot-bellied stove. Her place always exuded a cozy warmth. Orange poppies bordered the cement stairs down to her door, and I remember smelling their pungent odour when we visited her for tea and cookies on occasion.

My folks were young then, children of the Great Depression, struggling to raise two kids and earn enough money to keep a roof over our heads. Times had to be tough for my mother to even consider such a drastic step as my father was proposing. The Post-War boom hadn’t yet reached full momentum, so many families still struggled as we did. Luckily, Mom had attended university on scholarships and now had a full-time teaching job in an elementary school.

Looking back at their discussion, I picture my father reaching for the sugar and stirring two lumps into his coffee, then sucking on a third in the Scandinavian way. He likely wore his Yellow Cab hat, one that he no doubt hoped to “deep six” for a teacher’s garb if he could convince my mother that this move was a good thing.

“It’s a principalship in the Nimpkish Valley!” he exclaimed. “And it’s a two-room school, so you and I would be the only teachers. We’d have free reign!”

He made it sound promising, even exciting.

“Why would you be the principal when it’s your first appointment?” objected my mother. “I’m the one with the teaching experience! You’ve only just earned your diploma.”

“I agree it’s not fair, but you know how the world works, sweetie,” replied Dad. “They always offer the men the best jobs. At least the money will be all in the family. And it’s an adventure! Think of it that way. Remember, Huey Grayson will be there.”

“Your forestry friend?”

“That’s the one. He’s stationed at Woss Camp, where we’d be living. So we’ll know someone going in.”

“Yes, I remember him. He has the thickest British accent I’ve ever heard,” said Mom.

“Well, knowledge of the Queen’s English is no barrier to a love of virgin forest. He knows they could log that area for decades and hardly make a dent.”

I can certainly understand my mother’s reluctance to move. There she sat, staring at one dependent child across the kitchen table, while offering strips of toast to a smaller child on the floor beside her. It was difficult enough to be a working mother in the city. What would it be like juggling work and family in a remote logging camp?

“Who’ll look after the kids during the day?”

“We’ll find somebody. We’ll hire a nanny before we go.”

That sounded reasonable, but I’m sure that even my father, who had grown up in mining camps as a child, didn’t fully grasp how rustic those Island logging camps really were.

“There aren’t any roads!” bemoaned Mother. “How will we get in and out?”

“We’ll go by steamship from Vancouver,” said my father. “Then they have company rail cars from Englewood to the logging camps. They call them speeders.”

speeder 121 at Woss Camp
Speeder 121 at Woss Camp (courtesy of the Museum at Campbell River, BC)

“Speeders!? Good grief. I’ve seen pictures of those things,” said Mom. “They look like big tin lozenges on rail wheels. Are they safe?”

“They’re safe,” said Dad. “Not exactly luxury travel, but they have bench seating around the walls and sliding doors to get in and out. Like self-propelled boxcars, really. And it’s only a two-hour ride!”

It was true. You could only get halfway to the logging camps by steamship or by sea plane. Then you took a long railway ride in those metal contraptions, not well-equipped for passengers. And CANFOR, Canadian Forest Products, owned it all. Or leased it, which amounted to the same thing. They owned the camps, the houses in the camps, the rail line, the speeders. And for a song, they held long leases on the forests, courtesy of the BC government.

“It’s a booming frontier!” said Dad. “They’re making nothing but money logging those mountains, so everyone who works for them does pretty well.”

Then he quickly changed the subject.

“Would you like to go on a big ship, kids?” he said, glossing over the rail car part. Naturally, our young eyes lit up. Then he sweetened the deal. “And sleep in a stateroom for a whole night?”

We were sold. Or at least, I was. My mother still frowned. She did not like that our ship would dock at a remote log dump, and that when we arrived there, we’d still be in transit. She knew that Englewood existed only to receive logs from down-Island, logs which were then dumped into Queen Charlotte Strait, tied into log booms, and towed to sawmills and pulp mills in Vancouver, Prince Rupert or Victoria. Our steamship port wasn’t much more than a huge pier, cut out of the wilderness. There was no guest house.

My mother had one final protest.

“What if one of us gets sick?”

“No problem! There’s a camp medic, and they can always fly us out to Alert Bay if they have to. It’s only a twenty-minute flight by emergency float plane.”

“Twenty minutes! We could bleed to death in that time!”

As it turned out, some bleeding did take place during our stay there, and one of us did fly out on that emergency float plane.

I’ll tell you more about that when we get there.

Elevated Thoughts: Writers’ Festival

book

I enter the elevator, heading for the writers’ event in an Arts District studio. More than my anticipation of hearing live authors, I’m thrilled to find a lift, since my heart – not to mention hips and legs – had quailed at the prospect of a long, slow climb up the two sets of stairs which had thrown themselves at me as I’d walked in the door. There they’d loomed, gleaming in a metallic, cobalt blue, an industrial-chic effect not totally lost on me despite my dismay (I’m a writer, after all, and ergo, a keen observer). I’d detected them in the blink of an eye, noting the droves of cultured young things scampering up and down them like springbok.

Were I to attempt the ascent, I would have to first grip the handrail like a drowning person grasping at rope around a lifeboat. Then I’d place one foot heavily on the bottom step and pull up the other one to join it. I’d move the gripping hand along and repeat the arduous process for the second step, and so on, twenty times. Stairs, for my age and weight, are no longer to be taken lightly. Indeed, the physical layout of a venue becomes a central concern, far more important than the event itself. Ben Heppner or Pavarotti would take back seats, as ’twere.

In the elevator, I stand near the door. Behind me is a gaggle of young women, laughing and shrieking. Not one or two, but six! It’s like a frat party in that cramped space. I’m just about to turn around and frown them down, old-lady-like, when one voice rises above the others.

“Yes, it’s true! They can’t start without us, even if we’re a bit late.” More squealing laughter.

I’m stunned. This is clearly the event’s welcome guide and the gaggle of gigglers are – incredibly – the writers! She-who-spoke has that welcome-guide look about her; older than the others, with a commanding presence. She may even be in her forties.

I do a reality-check.

“Are these the writers?” I ask, all my preconceptions blown.

“They are,” she replies.

“All of them??”

She cocks her head, brows furrowed.

I don’t mean to be rude; I’m just incredulous. These young women certainly hadn’t been acting like writers, or the way I imagined serious writers would act. Is this how being a thirty-something writer manifests itself? To my aging eyes, the group is barely discernible from a herd of millennials at the mall.

Seemingly, my preconceived notions about writers is entirely false. I’ve noticed before that my 68 years hamper me from distinguishing between ages 20 and 40. This group may as well have been teenagers, so young did they seem. These days, I feel the same about groups of off-duty young teachers. Or nurses. Or lawyers.

Hearing their guide’s louder voice, the young women take the hint and settle down. Most of them make eye contact as their guide speaks with me, but three avert their eyes. Am I just another overweight old lady to them, with pretensions to literature? Have I ever written anything in my life? Can I even read? Do I adore Danielle Steele at home and Hello magazine in the beauty parlour? (um….I do like that last option).

As we exit the elevator, I stand aside to let the giggling herd pass. I have excellent seats in the front row of the small theatre, but somehow it doesn’t matter. The event feels ruined for me, and I make a plan to leave early. I cannot imagine what this group of young people can have yet experienced that would be of interest to me.

Turns out I’m wrong. Their books are brilliant. I stay on and even buy one of the novels on the way out. An autographed copy.

Does this ballet make me look fat?

Is it just me, or is ballet getting boring?  ( I hear my husband snort, “getting???” )
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I’ve always loved ballet, but last night’s performance of the Miami City Ballet in Vancouver left me strangely cold and totally out-of-step with cries of “bravo” bouncing around our city’s now-aging Queen E. Theatre. Such effusive reactions gave me pause. Bored by the ballet, I must be old and “past it”.  But no…..I have thrilled as recently as last October to paintings by the masters in L.A. and still enjoy So You Think You Can Dance. So it can’t be that.
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Why then was I bored? The dancers seemed too young, for one thing. Average age arguably 23, hardly old enough to vote, let alone to transfer any kind of life experience onto the stage. I found it distressing to wonder if they’d been chosen for their looks. They had uniform age, uniform height and weight, uniform pony tails (in the women) and uniform metro-sexuality and hair colour in the males. More importantly, some of  the unison work seemed raggedy, one or two dancers struggling to keep up and others too often telegraphing their next moves. There were few smiles and little emotion….faces often seemed frozen in concentration.
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But my God, they were beautiful!  In fact, seldom have I felt so old and so fat as I did during this parade of ingenues and callow youths. These dancers seemed hollow….vacant, even. It was difficult to tell one from another. Sadly, they resembled Eloi, the vacuous post-human race in H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine (see also the 1960 movie version). They came and went with blank faces. To quote Gertrude Stein, “there was no there, there”.
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Maybe I was in a mood.
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Or maybe last night’s enthusiastic audience was also young, beguiled by the evening’s theme….a homage to the choreography of George Balanchine, famed director of the New York City Ballet and a proponent of the neo-classical style. This company prides itself on keeping Balanchine at the fore, a laudable aim, no doubt. But I think I’m just tired of classicism, neo or otherwise. I no longer want tutus and delicate feminine flutterings, unless it’s the Bolshoi (they can do anything they like).
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Give me intensity and passion, not delicate tracings.
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The Miami company is 50-strong, with 8 new members this season and 4 new graduates from the Miami City Ballet School. Could this have contributed to the greenness I sensed? I wish them well, but I fear I won’t be making a return visit anytime soon.