Lord’s Day Sweater
By Dan LaRocque
Jan 3 1900 – Arnprior, Ontario
It was cold enough to freeze the snot in the men’s noses. Each inward breath froze the mucous within, contracting and tugging painfully at the hairs in their nostrils. Each warm exhale thawed it again, rendering it moist and ready to freeze on the next breath in.
Buddy Doyle trudged through the snow in back of the family wood lot, behind his old draft horse and his youngest brother Glenn. His wife and newborn baby were resting in the farmhouse after yet another fitful night. The boy seemed happy and healthy enough, but what a racket he made when he wanted something, be it milk, a dry nappy or a cuddle. That boy had one hell of a set of lungs.
Buddy was still in a state of terror and bliss after the birth of his second son just a few days previous. The more mouths he had to feed, the harder things became for such a distracted and half-assed farmer.
The delivery hadn’t been easy on his wife, though it could have been much worse, to be sure. Marie had lost a lot of blood, and was struggling to find the energy to keep the baby warm and fed.
Thankfully, their two year old was staying with his aunt, not far down the river in Fitzroy Harbour. Marie’s mother, in turn, was staying with the family, helping Marie keep house and home, and adding unbidden advice and tips on any subject imaginable, to any who came within earshot.
Which made it a great day for logging.
It took upwards of eight cords of wood to heat their home every winter, so woodcutting was a constant, year-round enterprise. Winter was the time for felling and hauling, for the snow made it easier to pull the trees the two miles to the woodshed, and the brittle, leafless branches would be easier to hack away.
Over the rest of the winter and through spring, they’d buck and split the wood into manageable twenty-inch lengths. The wood could then dry over the summer and be ready to burn by the following winter, just in time to get back into the bush and start cutting for the next year.
They burned the wood in the kitchen cook stove of their Arnprior farmhouse, the same cook stove that served to heat the entire house. They used all human and horsepower for the task, a task that warmed them more than once, before the wood ever had a chance to burn.
Buddy’s father Elroy built this house on a hundred acres of Ottawa Valley bushland. He felled the trees around the fields, built the fences, barns and stables, and helped raise six kids, at first with his beloved wife and then eventually by himself, until he finally, and fairly recently, died of loneliness. Or cancer. Depends on who you asked.
As eldest son, this was Buddy’s farm now. Two of his sisters, one older and one younger, were married and gone. The middle brothers had also left home, with two miscarriages and a long-dead toddler to complete his list of siblings.
The youngest, Glenn, was still living in the old room he once shared with William and Thomas, but the small house was getting more and more cramped as Buddy’s own boys grew older and more plentiful. They talked of building a small cabin for Glenn on the property so they could all have a little elbow room, but so far it was just talk.
Glenn set about building the fire, at once keeping them warm if they should happen to stop moving, as well as disposing of the slash they’d be stripping from the trees.
While Glenn built the fire and got the tea billy going, Buddy had a tromp around the wood lot and the small stand of spruce trees he had his eye on for today’s harvest. He decided it was a good place to take out a few smaller trees, so the others around them could flourish faster, providing good-sized, straight timbers in the not so distant future; timbers for building or for bartering.
The men worked slowly and deliberately in the cold, for neither wanted to end up underneath a falling tree. It was a common way to die in these parts, and there was no sense rushing to an early grave. They were on farm-time, after all, where the clock paused and sped according to the season, and a man was always behind. Always. It was pointless to hurry.
Buddy rolled and lit a cigarette as he carefully surveyed the area where he wanted to drop the first tree. With a practiced look, he calculated the angle of its trunk, the tree’s weight, the supposed natural direction of the fall, and what the tree might snag on the way down. He grunted out his plan, pointing in the air with the axe, and Glenn nodded assent.
Buddy pinched out the ember of his cigarette and tucked the rest of the butt behind his ear. He chopped out a wedge from the side of the trunk where he wanted the tree to fall. Then the two men planted their feet, set the double-handled saw between them, and began to work it back and forth, back and forth, slightly above and opposite to the wedge he had just chopped.
These were two strong men with a well-honed saw, so they worked through the trunk fairly quickly. Just as the tree was threatening to buckle, Buddy removed the saw and replaced it with the head off a broken axe. He tapped the wedge into the saw cut with a sledge, ensuring the most control over the falling tree they could possibly expect.
There were no mishaps here today. One by one, the trees trembled, then wavered, till gravity won, and the thirty and forty foot spruces tipped gracefully over and crashed to the ground.
Buddy used a broad-bladed, long-handled axe to delimb the trees, barely balancing himself along the pile of tree trunks, cleaving the branches as he traveled along their lengths. Glenn hauled the loose branches clear and heaved them onto the fire, the needles flaring up as they burned.
The day was perfectly still, and the snow on the ground absorbed the sounds from outside their sphere. Trees popped like rifle shots as the moisture in the trunks froze solid and burst the fibers in the branches. The sun was bright but held no warmth, so low in the sky at this time of year, but the air was dry and crisp and invigorating, and just its appearance helped brighten their mood. The brothers talked easily as they took a break, naturally about girls and women.
“Take your time. Find a good one. Make her happy,” Buddy advised. “You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar, if you get my meaning. Watch out for those Catholic girls though,” he cautioned. “They can be trouble. Me and Marie, we got lucky. She’s special, you know, we have a good thing going.”
He drew a flask from inside his plaid shirt, home-brewed liquor he used for warmth in the bush, to clean a wound, or to start a stubborn fire in the cook stove. He took a swig and passed it to Glenn, who wiped the mouth of the bottle with his filthy mitt before taking a fiery belt.
Buddy walked aimlessly around the fire, kicking the butts of the branches deeper into the centre of the blaze, “A lot of guys, they settle for whoever will have them. Five years later they’re stuck with a wife they can’t stand. Listen,” he said pointing his finger dramatically. “Don’t be fooled by a pretty face and a well-stuffed dress, A woman who can cook and haul water, that’s what’s important.”
Buddy waited for a reaction to his Solomon-like wisdom, but got nothing in return. “What’s your problem, kid? Pay attention, you might learn something.”
Glenn winced in pain, “My tooth,” he groaned, gently caressing his swollen cheek. “It’s killing me.”
“Goddamn tooth,” Buddy scoffed, “I told you I could fix that in three short minutes.”
Glenn waved him off, “No thanks, I’ll suffer on my own if you don’t mind.” He’d seen the results of Buddy’s barnyard dentistry before.
Glenn was just sixteen years old, and barely struggling through school. Buddy encouraged him to stay through grade ten, at least, but Glenn was more interested in helping out on the farm and loitering around town, getting up to no good with some of the other local valley lads.
Buddy wasn’t about to bother scolding him about the choices he was making. It wasn’t his responsibility to natter the boy to death. Besides, he was grateful for the extra set of hands around the farm.
They led the draft horse to the pile of trees, chokering up three of the trunks to her yoke. A soft ‘getup’ and away she pulled, tightening the choker around the trunks till the trees lurched forward behind her. Buddy Doyle hopped upon the log train for the ride, gently urging the horse onwards and allowing her to find her way home.
“Coming?” he asked his brother.
“I’ll be along.” Glenn answered, eager for his brother to get moving so he could finally have some peace, and light up one of the cigarettes he had liberated from Buddy’s stash.
It was just force of habit to sneak. More than likely Buddy wouldn’t care if he smoked or not, except he had an extra little treat for himself, some of Angus Morin’s good old Gatineau Green, the wacky tabacky he claimed would cure all his sixteen year old troubles, of which there were many.
Tina, the mongrel shepherd, nipped along, chasing the logs and the horses that pulled them, dangerously close to a kick in the head. She pricked up her ears and tore off into the bush in pursuit of a rabbit, or some light breeze that intrigued her. More than likely she’d get herself lost, and end up spending a hungry night, out in the cold.
“Tina, come. Tina!” Buddy barked, but to no avail. “Stupid dog,” he muttered, and carried on home without giving her another thought.
April 25 1900 - Arnprior, Ontario
“Jaysus! Can’t you do that somewhere else?! “ Buddy choked, and hollered at his wife. “I’m trying to read my paper!” Marie was busy changing the baby’s particularly nasty nappy. A putrid, yellow streak of shit had jettisoned its way clear up the creature’s back, and out, soiling his hair, clothes and surroundings.
“Marie! Seriously, you’re spoiling my digestion here.”
She barely missed hitting Buddy square in the nose with her shit-soaked rag. It struck the wall behind him with a dull thwack and slid, disturbingly, to the floor.
“Ostie Saint Sacrament, Buddy. If you’d fix that table in the bedroom I could do it there. Better yet, you change the diaper, and I’ll fix the table.”
“That’ll be the day,” he scoffed.
Marie muttered something under her breath. “You know the Romans had running water almost two thousand years ago. When are you going to build that indoor toilet you promised me?”
Buddy waved his hand to put her off, sniffing at the heavy smell of smoke that overpowered even the smell of young Samuel’s pants. “Old McPherson must be having a burn,” he said with neighbourly disapproval. “A little late in the season for that kind of thing.” The smoke had a different smell to it than slash or trash, however, and even forest fire smelled differently than this.
Glenn burst into the kitchen from outside, “Buddy, you have to come see this,” he said.
They both tromped out the door in their big, muddy barn boots and stood in the farmyard, looking vaguely south and east, where a huge and thick plume of smoke filled a section of horizon.
“That’s a big goddamn fire,” Buddy understated.
“What do you think it is?”
“Hard to tell. Further than Fitzroy anyway. Must be town, I’d figger.”
“That’s a big goddamn fire.”
In fact, it was Hull, Ottawa’s fraternal twin city across the river that was burning. A faulty chimney had kicked off the first fire, which spread quickly through the wooden cladding of the town. Before long it hit the massive stacks of cut timber at the riverside sawmills and became a full-fledged inferno. The fire crossed the wooden Chaudiere Bridge to attack the city of Ottawa, and still more piles of dry, cut lumber.
Though the Ontario branch of the fire was contained to the docks and the western edges of town, the city of Hull was almost completely destroyed. Over three thousand homes and a hundred million board-feet of lumber, reduced to cinders. Miraculously, only seven people died, but fifteen thousand more were rendered homeless by the disaster.
“What’s your problem?” Buddy turned his attention on his brother, who seemed out of sorts, despite the excitement of the fire.
“Good. What do you think? Should we head in to help out?”
“Not much we can do. How’s about we wait and see.”
“Yeah, I expect you’re right.” He turned his attention from the fire to Glenn himself, “Did you get that barn shoveled out yet?” he asked.
“I’m getting there,” he said, then indignantly, “How come you don’t have to shovel shit anymore?”
“Hey,” said Buddy, “Somebody has to do the thinking around here. It might not look like I’m that busy, but in here,” he tapped his head with his forefinger, “I’m working all the time.”
“Yeah, working,” Glenn muttered, and walked back to the barn, shaking his head.
May 4, 1902 - Arnprior, Ontario
On this Sunday, as on every Sunday, Buddy hitched the horses for the long ride to Mass and back. “Jesus Christ,” he prayed, as he did every week, “Smite us all now so that we might save ourselves a trip, and get this whole goddamn show over with, once and for all. Amen.” But, like on all other Sundays, his prayers went unanswered, and he had to carry on hitching till his bride Marie made it out the door.
Today, she was no less a picture of beauty than on any other Sunday, more so even, with her freshly unpacked spring duds visible, Her prim white hat and gloves never failed to stir a longing in his heart and loins, but fat chance, for there would be no loving for Buddy on the Lord’s day. Certainly not before Mass.
“Are you coming to church today pops?” his boy George asked him, dressed uncomfortably in his Sunday best. His thick, unruly hair was spit-slicked freakishly across his brow. Why, St. Peter himself wouldn’t recognize the little squirt if he should end up at the Pearly Gates that very afternoon.
Buddy answered, in no uncertain terms. “The next time you see me in that goddamn house of gloom I’ll be flat on my back in a box of the finest Valley pine,”
“Buddy!” Marie scolded, “Language,” She jutted her chin towards the curious young boys who hung on every word their father spoke.
He played to his audience, “With any luck I’ll be eaten by a grizzly, and they’ll never find the goddamn body.” The boys’ eyes widened with horror and delight. “Cor,” they breathed.
“No son,” Marie rubbed the oldest boy’s shoulder, warning darts flashing from her eyes, “Your father won’t be coming into Church with us today. He chooses to consign his sorry soul to the fiery pits of hell, where he’ll do nothing but shovel coal all day into Satan’s own furnace. Tant pis pour lui.”
“Can I skip Church too mom?” the boy asked hopefully. “I’m a good shoveler.”
“You ARE a good shoveler,” she allowed. “But the answer is no, of course. Little boys don’t skip church.” The boy wheedled and kicked at the dirt in dismay.
“Alright,” shouted Buddy, “Let’s get this show on the road. The man in the dress won’t wait forever, you know.” The family filed off the veranda and into the beautiful springtime sun.
Buddy cursed his fate. He should be out puttering on a day like today, wasting time in his garden or the brew-shed. The boys should be playing at the river, or in the yard. Marie should be cleaning something, or cooking. They shouldn’t be cooped up in a stuffy old Church for hours on end, while the priest prattled on about the glory of God.
They drove the four miles to Corkery, the closest Catholic Parish to their home in the ‘Prior. Buddy pulled the horses up to the front door of the church as the last few parishioners filed in, a practice that Marie despised. While gallant of him to drive her directly to the door, the fact that he dropped and bolted truly burned her up.
“I’ll pray for you,” she said, as she did every Sunday.
“Don’t do me any favours,” he replied. “See you, gents,” he taunted the boys, who whimpered like kittens as they watched their daddy ride off into the warming sun, free and easy, and bound for hell. A curt nod to the pastor was returned in kind.
Buddy sat, bored, on his wagon, staring wistfully at the closed Public House across the road from the church. He almost never brought a bottle with him on a Sunday, not out of fear of sacrilege, but of a type of retribution more fearsome than divine. Simply put, Marie would kill him if she caught him boozing outside the rectory. It was a ten o’clock Mass, after all, so he did his best to wait as patiently as he could on the wagon.
There were other heathen husbands and sons waiting on their own for Mass to finish. They all nodded politely if their eyes should meet, but kept mostly to themselves and their own. Some of the men had gotten friendly one Sunday morning, friendly enough to start up a game of poker, and not a one of them had heard the end of it since. Best to stay put and suffer, as the good Lord intended.
As bad as it was for Buddy out in the fresh air, it was worse for the Doyles inside. George was uncomfortable in his wet boots, thanks to a soaker he got on the way in. He was a full beat behind the penitent dance of the Mass, out of step with the cues everyone else seemed to be able to perform so effortlessly. Stand up, kneel down, stand up, sit, kneel, pound your breast, sit, stand, sit, kneel. It was enough to give a boy the vapours.
It was growing nearest to Easter, and the songs and stories were at their most dour; tales of blood and suffering, betrayal, doubt and despair. The gruesome statue of Christ on the Cross stared mournfully down at George from on high.
His brother Samuel writhed and wiggled, unable to contain the dynamo within. Marie tried to restrain him, which only made him angry. Anger made him noisy, and soon his hollers were interrupting the flow of the service. Father Gavin flashed Marie a menacing look, and she finally had to drag the lad, still screaming, to the back of the nave.
“Stay put,” she warned George, as she picked up the whinging toddler and whisked him down the aisle past the disapproving congregation.
Marie felt guilty and self-conscious of her small brood in the presence of all these large Catholic families. ‘Only two and she still can’t control them?’ she imagined they all sniffed. It was only here, in the belly of the beast, where Marie felt any such inadequacy as a woman and mother.
The priest thundered down on his flock as she fled, preparing them to rejoice at the rebirth they all knew was just around the corner. He was determined they would know damn well how deep was the Lord’s sacrifice for such a woefully undeserving people.
Outside, things were looking up.
Buddy, in his impatience, had been rummaging through the bench seat of the wagon, ostensibly to tidy it up, but mostly just to pass the time. He found a handful of nails, a dead mouse, a mug with petrified coffee still lining the bottom, and the planer he’d been hunting all over Gods green acres for. He also found his old dog-eared copy of the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
He pulled the horses around till he was directly in a ray of warming spring sunshine, near the crabapple he loved best, just barely starting to green up and hint at colour. It was too early for blackflies, and mosquitos were a full month away. The air was fresh and pleasant, with a distinct hint of snow from up on the hills. He tossed the rest of the junk back into the seat bottom and leaned back against it, flipping to the first page of the book.
“Thank you, Jesus,” he whistled to the wind, “You are one hell of a good egg.”
May 24th, 1902 – Arnprior Ontario
George Doyle snuck back to the house from the barn where he was sent to check on the new piglets. He’d already seen the litter just this morning, and there was no good reason why he was whisked out of the kitchen so deliberately. He knew something was up, and that something was probably juicy.
He was just about to open the porch door when his uncle burst forth, spewing blood from his mouth and gurgling in pain. Glenn grabbed the pump handle and jacked it madly to rinse his foaming mouth out with water, sputtering and bellowing in anguish. It took a moment till he calmed down a little and could kneel, gasping on the earthen wellhead, still spitting and bleeding heavily.
At four years old, George could only stand aghast at the bloody spectacle. Buddy soon sauntered out of the kitchen, chuckling and holding his fencing pliers triumphantly aloft. Gripped between their jaws was a bloody, and quite rotten-looking molar, Glenn’s he supposed.
“There,” Buddy asked, “Doesn’t that feel better? Didn’t I tell you?”
Glenn just hung his head, moaning in pain and gurgling blood. He ran his tongue along the row of teeth, tenderly probing the bleeding, mangled hole where his rotten molar had been.
“I’ll take that as a yes.” Buddy needled. “Well, when you’re done your bellyaching we’ve got some work to do. Trust me, you’ll thank me in the morning. Or maybe a couple mornings. Anyway, you’ll thank me.” He left his brother to his misery, but not before addressing his oldest boy, “What about you, young Georgie. How are your clackers doing in there?” he asked, holding up the rusty pliers and clicking the jaws together. “Would you like me to rinse these off for you?”
The boy had never before run so fast, or so far.
Sept 1902 – Arnprior Ontario.
Marie took advantage of a rare day home alone, devoid of her three helpless waifs, groping at her skirts and filling her kitchen with dirty dishes and foul smells. Buddy had taken the boys to the lake for an Indian Summer paddle in the canoe.
She stoked up the fire to heat the bath water and lugged the galvanized tub to her bedroom. Then, pail by pail, she filled the tub as high as she dared. She went as far as to mix in a drop of the perfume Buddy had bought her, plus some baking soda for her bunions.
She strode defiantly through the house, thrilled by this rarest of commodities; solitude. She was starkers because she COULD be starkers. She sunk into the deep and steaming bath, let loose a groan of unbridled contentment, and surrendered herself to reverie.
Things were good, she smiled to herself. She was happy. The kids were getting older and didn’t need her to do every little thing for them, including - especially including - changing their shitty diapers.
Buddy was making a little extra money with his book-keeping operation. Plus, she knew, he was still madly in love with her. Pretty, pretty good she thought. There was her father though, that weighed heavily on her as he passed through her thoughts. Oh well, he had lived a good life. There were worse things than dying.
She shook with a sudden violent cringe as the image of a young Paul Duplessis crossed, unbidden into her daydream. “Aargh,” she groaned, hiding her face in her hands and sliding deeper down into the tub, still embarrassed, a dozen years later. “Maudit Saint Sacrament! How could I say such a thing!” she shouted out loud, laughing at the very absurdity of it. Old mistakes and humiliations never did tarry far from home.
She soaked as long as she could, till the water grew tepid and her toes wrinkled and squeaked in her pruny fingers.
She took a vain and sinful moment to gaze at her body in the mirror in her bedroom. Still beautiful, she decided, though her breasts sagged a little, and there was an extra pouch on her tummy that had refused to disappear since her second child’s birth. She turned to the side and physically held her belly in, covering her flab with her hands and admiring the rest of her curvy, desirable self.
She turned away from the mirror and craned her head around to admire her hind end. As she spun, she glanced out the window to see her husband’s younger brother standing, jaws agape at the well-head, staring directly into her window. As far as Marie knew, he was supposed to be over at the Clarkes, helping them with their new roof.
Marie dropped like a stone to the floor beneath the window sill, then crawled on her belly to grasp her flannel nightdress to her nakedness. She cursed herself for her vanity, her pride and lascivious thoughts.
She guessed that Glenn had never seen a naked woman before. He might have snatched some hurried glimpses of the slutty locals girls, (more than likely, that little tramp Sandra Beautemps had lifted her skirt for him), but never a woman. A full-bodied woman with curves, and scars and hard-won flaws.
She dropped her nightgown, and returned to stand in front of the window, naked in her body and spirit. Glenn stood stock still, staring with only adoration in his eyes. She turned around, slowly and completely, so he might gaze on every perfect, imperfect inch of her. Finally, she raised her eyes to meet his, and swiftly drew the curtains
March 10, 1903 - Arnprior, Ontario
Buddy and his son George were waiting for Uncle Glenn. “Come on, Glenda,” his new nickname for his brother, after the good witch in the boys’ recent storybook. “Let’s get a move on.” It was an unnaturally warm day in March, and Buddy, Glenn and young George were heading into the city for the big hockey game between the Silver Seven and the Montreal Victorias.
Finally, Glenn pulled up in the team-drawn farm sleigh. He might have been already slightly in his cups for the big game, for he waved a grand hello as George opened the front door.
Marie buttoned up George’s coat and tightened his scarf one more time. “Keep him warm,” she ordered her husband, “And not too much cider. It gives him the trots. And keep a sharp eye on him, I don’t want him getting lost in the crowd. Or in the bush. And no smoking, it’ll stunt his growth. And keep him dry, it’s damp out today. And for the love of God, don’t lose his mitts.”
“Of course dear,” Buddy said for the dozenth time, before he realized she’d finally run out of breath and castigations, and it was time to go. Marie gave the stubby, overdressed child one last rib-crushing hug. “Allright,” said Buddy, “Let’s make tracks. The game starts at 7:00 and it would be nice to get some daylight in.”
It took both men to load the baskets of food Marie had prepared for the forty-mile journey to town. She packed a big slab of maple-smoked ham and a crock of baked beans, triple crusted meat pies with fresh sugar doughnuts, and jars of tea and cider.
The three-year old, Samuel, chased her skirts and hollered, spreading the suffering around, since he wasn’t allowed to go along with the rest of the men.
“Goodbye my poor little cabbage,” Marie said, kissing her firstborn on the nose. “Have fun, be careful, listen to your father.” Her voice took on a threatening tone. “Don’t lose your mitts,” she warned.
“I will, I will, I will, I won’t. Bye maman,” George replied, wiping her kiss off, embarrassed to be so coddled in front of the men into whose company he’d been entrusted. They hoisted him onto the bench seat up front to sit between his papa and uncle, keeping warm between their two, heavily-clad backs.
Glenn mushed the team of horses up the long driveway to the March Road, then over to Highway 17 to head south and east along the river.
They trotted along at a hearty pace through a little scotch mist that noon. The sleigh coasted almost without friction over the ice that passed for road at this season. Snowfall upon snowfall had been packed beneath sleigh runners and horses’ hooves over the winter. With the recent cold nights and warmer days, it was like a long, bumpy, and treacherous skating rink of snow and shit covered ice.
It was a long way to go to Ottawa, at least a half a day’s travel, but to see the Stanley Cup championship game would be well worth the ride. Both men had a little extra business to take care of in town, so the timing worked out quite well. Glenn had a half load of hand-hewn lumber on the sleigh to sell in town, which would help him kill his two birds, while Buddy had a meeting with a friend in the civil service who might have a line on a job for him. Besides, they had a sister living nearby to the rink where they could spend the night. It was win all around.
The Doyle men enjoyed a cheerful ride to the city. The road was mostly level and straight through the wide river valley, dotted with farms on either side, cattle and horses lowing or nicking at them as they passed. Between the farms, they traveled past stands of dense bush, old birch and maple trees that had escaped the axe so far. Without their summer leaves, the skeletons of the hardwoods contrasted eerily with the stark white forest floor.
White-furred hares darted through the bush, chased by white-furred foxes. White-tailed deer scuffed at the snow to dig out a frozen meal of last years’ grasses. The bears were still hibernating, they all hoped, for they’d only brought a small .22 with them in case of critter.
Buddy and his brother passed a wineskin of his rich red wine back and forth, chatting about chores and weather and nothing in particular. After an uneventful hour or two, Glenn called for a piss break. He reined the horses to a halt and the three riders hopped off the sleigh to stretch their legs and make some water. They each lined up along the edge of the road, two brothers and a son, six feet between them, as they stood to write their names in the snow.
Each farted once, in ascending pitch, breaking ice with their wind. They all chuckled, while Buddy mimicked the three notes in song, and freestyled a quick ballad inspired by nature’s original trumpet. “Doy-le men. Count to ten. I’ll be loving you tonight Eileen.” he crooned, a little off-key.
“Hey Glenn,” he called over, “I noticed your name in the snow near the barn. It didn’t look like your handwriting though.” He waited a moment for his laugh, then further explained, “Has someone else been handling your pen?” Still nothing. It was no secret, Glenn wasn’t the brightest star in the sky. “Your pen. What you’re writing with right now.”
George didn’t get the joke either, but laughed anyway, because it was about pee, and that was enough for any six year old. “Yeah, pee,” he giggled, “He peed and the pee got peed on.” He fell into spasms of laughter, soaking the scarf that fell from his coat.
“Your cock, man!” Buddy shouted, then lowered his voice to an exasperated whisper. “Doris Monroe. Writing your name in the snow with your peter. I’ve seen her tracks to the barn. I’m no fool man. I see everything.”
Glenn blushed, embarrassed, then boastful as he finally understood the inference, and struggled for a payback line “Yeah, well at least my pen still has some ink,” he jibed, “Grandad.” The only weapon a young man has over an older one is his youth. On every other point he will always lose.
“Well, be careful where you dip that pen,” his brother cautioned, suddenly sage, as he shook himself and buttoned his fly. “There’s no quicker or surer way to get yourself in a heap of trouble.” He pointed a cautionary finger at his brother to help drive home his point.
“Yeah yeah.” Glenn walked to the head of the team to give them a quick rubdown, and half an apple each. “What would you know about trouble?” he asked, secretly rueful of his brother’s true and enviable love.
Buddy chortled on, missing the envy in his brother’s voice. “Trouble? Hoo boy, do I know trouble. Have you SEEN the list of chores that woman’s got for me?” He strode towards his brother and bumped him amiably, “Seriously, what’s going on with the Monroe girl. I’ve seen you kids together quite a lot lately. Is she Catholic?” Glenn shook him off, grinning, and checked the harnesses haphazardly.
Now was as good a time as any to open up Marie’s picnic baskets. “One thing about french girls,” Buddy said, as they set eyes on the bounty she had blessed them with, “They can cook. And they can....” he made a universal sign known to men to indicate screwing.
“What’s that mean pops?” asked George.
“Nothing. Eat your sandwich.”
Glenn just shook his head at his brother’s lack of couth.
They all had one last stretch before climbing back onto the sleigh. Glenn nicked the horses forward, while Buddy started up the ribald song of the voyageurs who met with the devil on Christmas Eve, and tricked him into guiding them home to their families. The verses of the Legend of the Flying Canoe were many, but the chorus was raucous and bawdy, and they were all too busy laughing to notice a small pair of mittens left by the side of the road.
The horses strained at their harnesses and the sleigh picked up speed. It glided down the icy road, two mittens waving a lonesome goodbye in the breeze. Someone would be getting an earful on their return.
There was a fair amount of other traffic on the road; plenty of ice and logging crews and farm vehicles transporting their goods into town while the road was still decent.
Once spring thaw came, it would be back to river transport for logs, assuming they were close enough to the river already, with a good few weeks of absolute impassibility by road or water. Ice collectors would, of course, stop working for the summer, and farm traffic would be back to using steel-wheeled carts on these notoriously dusty roads.
They drove on until they finally crested the hill outside town, and George had his first view of the big city below him. He’d never seen so many buildings in his life, literally thousands of chimneys smoking happily in the distance. Many of the buildings were giant, as high as six or eight stories or more. It was just becoming twilight and they could pick out electric lights twinkling on, in and upon the buildings and streets.
They stopped for a moment at the lookout, picking out some of the landmarks of their capital, barely forty miles away from their doorstep. The copper-roofed buildings were easiest to spot. They were the Parliament buildings, and the setting sun flashed off their shiny surfaces in a spectacular show of light and colour. The tall spires of the many churches in the city competed with them for sky and awe. George couldn’t fathom how populous a city had to be to hold that many buildings.
The sight of the lights and the city urged the men and the horses onward, and they all enjoyed a boost of excitement as they drove down the hill and towards Bells Corners and the Richmond Road.
The traffic grew heavier as they got closer to population, with fewer farm and logging wagons on the streets, and more sulky and buggy traffic instead, some of them quite well appointed. Parliamentarians and financiers liked to travel in style.
Normally Glenn was proud of his all-purpose winter wagon, with its heavy maple planks and thick iron runners. It was a coveted ride in the backwoods of the ‘Prior’. Near indestructible it was, and infinitely versatile for hauling people, livestock or damn near anything else needed hauling. Pretty it wasn’t, and here in the city, Glenn felt a little like a bumpkin, even in his best town plaids.
They traveled deeper into town, through the thriving farms and homes of Bells Corners, then on through the westernmost reaches of Ottawa itself, to Somerset Street and the Mechanicsville district of the city. The houses here were practically cheek by jowl, and dozens of citizens bustled in the streets. There were puddles of slush everywhere, puddles that lay in ruts on the road and especially at the corners, where pedestrians had to leap to clear the deep, filthy and frigid soup to cross the street.
They all saw their first horseless carriage in town, an awkward looking vehicle, with spoked wheels and a cloud of smoke around it.
The horses shied from the speeding, noisy vehicle, and Glenn had to work the reins hard to calm them down and keep them from bolting. “Slow down, you maniac.” He shouted, shaking his fist at the back end of the motorcar. The driver didn’t look back.
They finally pulled up at their middle sister Libby’s’ home. Libby’s husband Clarke worked at the E.B Eddy match and paper factory close by, a huge red-brick plant plonked down below the rapids where the Ottawa river narrows. The company shipped matches to the four corners of the world, and men worked around the clock in the factory, while their dam on the rapids harnessed electricity for many of the homes and businesses around them
Libby had four children under six years old, with another on the way, and she was showing signs of fraying edges. She offered coffee but brought them tea, burnt the bacon, and had to holler three different names at the child eating paste before she got its attention.
“How’s Marie?” Libby wanted to know, as she forced a finger into the baby’s mouth to suck. The child wasn’t hungry, but would wail bloody murder if it wasn’t sucking on something, or crapping its pants.
“Same as ever,” said Buddy, hiding his deep fondness for his woman, “You know, making trouble for the Priest and the school board.”
“Good for her,” Libby admired her sister-in-law’s habit of speaking her mind, no matter who was listening. It had livened up many a Christmas dinner. She envied it too, and though she knew it caused her brother some grief from time to time, she knew he secretly loved the friction and controversy Marie caused around town with her opinions. More than once, a neighbour had admonished him about his uppity wife, and ‘shouldn’t he keep better control of his woman’. But Buddy just laughed. She simply wasn’t the kind of woman that could be controlled.
Libby’s told them Clarke was on the late shift at the plant, and wouldn’t be home till after 8:00 pm. He didn’t spend much time with the family; twelve hour shifts took most of his energy, and when he wasn’t working, he was happiest in the bar with his chums. Magically, he still found the time to sire five children in six years.
The family had a yard where the horses could rest overnight. Glenn parked the wagon on the street, unhitched the team, and brushed and fed and watered them. It had been a good journey for the animals, and they seemed to enjoy the long-distance workout as much as their passengers, but they were tired now, and happy for the end of the day. Glenn scratched their ears lovingly. He fed them sugar and barley and sing-songed their praises, “Good girl,” he crooned, “Good horsey.”
Libby served them up some stew and snatched bits of conversation as she herded her brood through the witching hours between dinner and bedtime. “Six o’clock,” she said, eventually, “Doesn’t the game start at 7:00? Are you going to ride or walk?” The men perked up at the reminder as to why they were here in the first place.
“Shanks mare I guess, hey Glenn?”
“I suppose. Those horses had a pretty full day. It’ll be too damn busy down there to find a place to park the wagon anyway. We’ll probably end up at home faster walking than if we get caught up in that crowd.”
Libby insisted that she would get Clarke to pick them up after the game. “Surely you’re not going to make that child walk home at 10:00. I won’t have it,” she said.
“Alright then, Libby. Where should we meet him?”
“I’ll tell him to wait for you at the corner of Bay and Somerset. You know the spot?”
“We’ll find it. Tell him I’ll owe him one. You ready Georgie?” he roused the boy who was drowsing by himself by the fire. “Only a mile or two, then you get to see the biggest hockey game of the year, close up and in the flesh.” His voice rose as the excitement filled him, for there was nothing like a big hockey game to stir the dander in a Valley boy, no matter his age.
They weathered up for the walk, Buddy patting down his many pockets before he left, making sure he still had his tickets, his money, his pipe, his wine, his infinite flotsam that rode with him always, and never in the same place.
The city had seen a typical period of balmy, slow-slushy March weather, following the previous week’s freezing rain, There was standing water, in some places three or four inches deep over top of the packed snow and ice on all the city’s streets. The Doyles sloshed through the puddles, their high, rubber barn boots proving useful, if a little declassé here in the Capital. Any fool in leather shoes would be well and truly sorry before this night was out.
Spring thaw was an equally hopeful and unpleasant time in the city. As the snow melted, it exposed the many piles of horse and dog shit that had been blessedly buried in the cleansing snows of October and beyond. Now that the piles were thawing, they took on a disturbing granular appearance, while collectively letting loose the stink they’d held frozen for months.
They walked south to Somerset Street, then east past Bronson Ave. towards the arena. The crush of people on the streets was more than George had ever seen. Close to thirty-five hundred hockey fans were busy crowding into Dey’s rink that night, and hundreds more loitered around the building, drinking, cursing and fighting good-naturedly. Buddy led George by the hand through the excited crowd to the gates where they punched their tickets, and on to their bleacher seats down close to the action near the Victoria’s net. Glenn followed nearby, but separate, scoping out the action and the dames, and staring hard at anyone who might mock his choice of footwear.
The excitement in the crowd was as palpable as the haze of steam and cigar smoke that hung in the arena. Senators and loggers, reporters and mechanics hoisted flasks of spirits and glasses of beer. The fans were screaming, singing and shouting, hometowners drunk on hockey and the rank sniff of spring’s promise, not to mention home-brew, rotgut and Labatt’s.
This was the most important hockey game of the year, pitting the Ottawa Silver Seven against the Montreal Victorias for the biggest sports prize in North America. The Stanley Cup, designated as a challenge cup by the Governor General, Lord Stanley who bequeathed it, had been awarded to the nation’s Club Champion since 1892. The squads from Montreal had a long history of victory, boasting a series of dynasty teams who’d defended the coveted trophy for nine of the last ten years.
The local crowd felt a change in the wind though, for Ottawa had handily beaten the Victorias already once that season. Besides, the first game of the challenge series had ended in a 1-1 tie in a hostile Montreal building. A win here tonight would bring the trophy home to its rightful mantle.
Dey’s Rink, the city’s biggest, covered, natural ice rink was packed with thousands of jacked-up fans jammed into the tight space, literally crawling in the rafters. Many of them had made the hundred and twenty-five mile train journey from Montreal for the second game of the series and they were loaded, having boozed the last few hours in a rolling car full of revelers.
The new Governor General, Lord Minto and his Lady were here, as usual, cheering on the team for whom their predecessor Lord Stanley had originally intended the cup. Some of Canada’s biggest industrialists were here too, rubbing shoulders with top bureaucrats, politicians and many hundreds of the district’s most slovenly hockey fans.
At six years old, George wouldn’t remember many details from his first ever big-ticket hockey game. He’d remember the noise of the crowd, the rising cheers and choruses of ‘ohhs’ as a play was made or missed. His father laughing, though not with him but with his brother Glenn, the two men talking fast and intimately as the play on the ice went on. His instincts told George they were talking about girls. He’d remember seeing his father poke his uncle in the ribs and slap his shoulder with one hand, just as Doug Gilmour scored his third goal of the game.
He’d remember the great speed of the hockey game, and the roars of the crowd as the Silver Seven took control from the opening puck drop. The Gilmour brothers were a fearsome trio up front, and with the home crowd against them, the visiting Victorias didn’t stand a chance. Even with an inch or more of water on the ice, the brothers passed the puck to each other with dazzling accuracy, as if they knew intuitively where the other would be.
The Silver Seven dominated the game from start to finish, and by the end, with the score 8-0 and as the crowd mocked the Vics with a rousing rendition of ‘Nearer My God To Thee’, George knew that hockey was to be something worth living for.
The fans stood and cheered as the home team was awarded the short silver fruit bowl by the Governor General. The captain held it high, saluting the crowd till the team took it away, deep under the stands to their own dressing rooms to debauch over it, far from the madding crowd. The game was over.
The party kept on going, however, alcohol and good cheer flowing freely around them. Strangers laughed and clapped each other on the back in jubilation. They sang songs and raised toasts before spilling out into the street to carry the party from the rink to the street and the taverns.
George eventually fell asleep where he sat, curled up beside his father amidst strange and familiar voices and laughter ringing in his ears. He felt himself be lifted up and carried out to his uncle’s sulky and tucked in under the sheepskin on the seat. The last thing he’d remember was his Uncle Glenn, heading out into the sea of people, turning back to look at them, waving, laughing, elated. And who was that girl with her arm around his waist?
September 1903 – Arnprior, Ontario
Glenn was just about ready to start laying logs for his cabin, due south of the main house in a little copse of maple trees directly across from the farm’s nuisance grounds.
He’d been collecting logs for the project for two years, long, straight lodgepole pines, all between eight and ten inches around. He had stored them in the lake the previous winter so they’d give up their bark more freely. Then, after peeling them with his drawknife, he let them dry the rest of the summer. Now that autumn was here, and the mosquitos all but gone, he was ready to build.
His foundations were all dug, with thick posts set into the ground in a simple square, twenty feet on all sides.
He’d done most of the work by himself to this point, taking every available moment to work on his project. He was twenty now, and living in his brother’s family home was giving him a pain in the tit. He needed space for himself, a place for uninterrupted self-abuse. He could even bring home the odd girl.
The weather was changing, and Glenn desperately wanted to get some ranks of logs up before the snow started falling. He felt good about his progress so far. Buddy would have done things differently, he knew; his brother would have started laying his logs much earlier, racing ahead for results before he was truly ready for them. Half-assed, if truth be told.
But this was Glenn’s project, and he was calling the shots. He had all the logs he needed at the ready, and each step was well considered and fully completed before he moved on to the next task.
He used the horse and choker to move his first two parallel logs into place around his foundations, then hoisted the first, one end at a time, on top of his posts. He used a homemade scribe to mark out the notches he had to cut to have the logs sit tight and flat and level against the posts.
Glenn rolled the first log up onto his sawhorses and secured it there with the eighteen inch heavy steel staples with pencil sharp ends known as log-dogs. He used a wide-bladed axe to chop a notch along the scribe mark, a snowstorm of chips wafting the smell of well-seasoned pine into the air around him. It was a lot of work, this chopping, but it went quickly in the pleasant autumn weather. He roughed out the notch with the axe, then used a fat-bladed chisel to square off the bottom and smooth the sides.
He rolled the log off the sawhorse and back onto his foundation, jockeying it gently into position. A perfect fit, he decided, the notches lining up tight and nearly snug against the posts. The level was good, or ‘good enough for the girls I go out with,’ as his neighbours might say, and Glenn moved for his auger, slowly drilling one inch holes through the log and into each post beneath it. He pounded a hand-carved dowel into each hole, securing his base log into its foundation. He wanted this cabin to last a hundred years.
Glenn completed the same process for the log parallel to the first, then lifted the next two logs on top and perpendicular to those first two. He scribed again, this time drawing the arc of the classic saddle notch. He rolled the top logs into the middle to give him room to work, and bent to chop some more.
He finished his first four notches and rolled the second pair of logs into place. Not a bad fit, he decided, but they needed some extra chiseling, which he finished before rolling them back into place. Once all the corners were set with dowels, he stepped back, admiring the strong, solid foundation he’d built.
Buddy arrived at that moment, carrying with him a jug of coffee and some sandwiches Marie had provided. “Looking good,” he teased. “Get your roof up and you’ll have yourself a nice dry place to sleep. Not much headroom though.” He kicked the logs as hard as he could, hoping to knock them awry, but they didn’t budge. He clenched his teeth to stifle the yelp wrought by the pain in his newly busted toes.
Glenn tried not to chuckle, and failed. “Pretty solid, hey?”
“Not too bad,” Buddy allowed. “Looks fairly square, I guess. Are you gonna frame your doors in now or later.”
“Later, I guess. I’m not exactly sure where they’re going to go yet, and I’m still hunting down windows.”
“Well, the door’s gotta face the main house. Where’s your shitter?”
“It’ll go back there,” he pointed, “So far I’m still using yours.”
“What’s your plan for inside?”
The men stepped over the sill and into the square of logs and the space that would soon become Glenn’s kitchen. “One room,” he explained, “Stove over here, bed back there, junk everywhere else.”
“Yeah? We’ll see what Doris has to say about that. Where’s the baby’s room?” Buddy teased.
Glenn grew dark, and moved away to tackle some meaningless chore.
“What’s the problem?” Buddy pursued him. “ You and Doris fallen out?”
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
“What, did she dump you?”
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Writing some other fella’s name in the snow, was it?”
Glenn’s fury erupted, “I said I don’t want to talk about it. Now if you’re here to help, let’s have at ‘er. If not, then haul ass and leave me to my work.”
“Ok, ok, don’t get your knickers in a knot. I was just making conversation.”
“Yeah, well. Quit it.”
You didn’t have to tell Buddy more than once when to shut his trap.
“You lucky dog, you,” he said, changing the subject. “You know I never had a place to myself. Went straight from the bunkhouse to the wedding bed. Your own place. Boy, that’s going to be swell.”
Glenn began to brighten as he imagined the freedom he’d been looking forward to from the start of this project. Robby McDougall was welcome to her, he decided, there would be lots of girls banging down the door to his cabin once he got it finished. “Doris Monroe can kiss my ass,” he tried to convince himself, as Buddy bent to help him with the dumb end of the next log.
June 15, 1904 – Arnprior Ontario
“Get him,” The shouts were shrill and gleeful. George and Samuel Doyle, aged seven and four, were helping round up some chickens that had broken through the fence into the garden. Chickens can be wily critters, and the boys weren’t working together very convincingly.
At last, the oldest boy got his hand wrapped around the leg of one of the escapees and hoisted it barely off the ground. “Good work,” Buddy said, ruffling the boy’s hair as he took the bird and dropped it back over the fence from whence it had come. He bent to replace the old plank he kept propped over the hole in the fence, and this time, for good measure, rested a large rock against it to help hold it in place. Any fool could tell him the fix wouldn’t last the afternoon.
“Uh oh,” the old man rumbled. He could see one last bird huddling under some beans, obviously hurt in the melee. “Looks like chicken dinner tonight,” he said, “go get me that gimpy one, will you?”
An injured chicken wouldn’t last the night with the rest of the flock. They would slowly and surely peck it to death, so there was no other solution but an unexpected harvest. He pointed out the injured bird to the younger boy, who crept up and lifted the crippled, beaten animal without a fuss.
The old man thought briefly before he offered the axe to the seven year old. “Do you want to do the deed?”
This was an auspicious occasion for a boy, his first ever animal for slaughter. Living on a small farm all his young life, George had seen his share of killing. It was simply a part of staying fed, and he’d taken an active part in most of his meals somewhere along the way. But this would be the first life he would take with his bare hands
“I’ll do it.” Sam offered, and grabbed at the sharp end of the hatchet.
Buddy shook his head and snorted, “Don’t be daft. You’re far too dangerous with that axe yet. Ask me when you’re seven.”
“No fair,” Sam complained, but the old man didn’t bother to waste a single word arguing. He just glared and puffed the air out his cheeks, leaving the boy to pout quietly to himself.
George considered carefully, the axe in his hand, the bird placid and waiting on the stump they used for the purpose. George had raised this chicken, had been there watching the day it broke out of its shell. Well, this one or one much like it, it was pretty hard to tell. But he had fed and cared for them all, and that’s enough to matter.
The bird had no name. For a time, when the youngest was much younger, he named one bird in the flock Whitey, for his white feathers and another Calm-o due to his calm, sickly nature. The rest, in comparison, were all named Crazy. After a time Whitey found his way to the table and Calm-o became simply Dead-o, and the rest became known collectively as Chicken. And all was good in the heavens.
“Come on,” the old man coaxed, “Yes or no? Either way, it’s chicken for dinner. This bird is hurt and we need meat.” He clapped the boy on the shoulder. “It’s what she was born for,” he ended.
George held the axe as high as he dared, aiming carefully at the scrawny neck resting on the sticky, blood-stained stump. With a silent gulp, the seven-year-old boy brought the axe down hard.
His aim was true but the stroke not powerful enough. The hatchet’s blade cut deeply into the chicken’s neck, severing the spine and the jugular, but leaving a strand of skin and sinew intact. The chicken’s head flopped over sideways, eyes wide with surprise as the tiny brain finally noticed something was up.
Buddy held the bird’s feet tightly as it convulsed, it’s life pumping thickly from the neck. The wings flapped and sprayed blood far and wide until he could grab and contain them. Then, for effect, he let the dead bird flap around the yard, electrical impulses carrying it around while the head flopped, still attached by a thread, and hanging unnaturally upside down. Samuel watched wide-eyed, both boys hollering in horror and excitement, streams of loud and riotous nonsense spewing forth, mostly vowels.
Marie came out of the stone farmhouse to see what the commotion was all about. She burst through the screen door and stood imposingly, apron askew and potato peeler in hand. “Saint Sulpice Sacrament” she cursed in high Gatineau French, “What’s all that damn racket out here.”
The boys looked up, blood-flecked and laughing.
“Every cloud has a silver lining,” Buddy called, holding out the messy, finally headless bird to his wife. She cursed again, this time under her breath.
George held the axe high, a fine spray of chicken blood smeared in patches across his face. “I killed it mama, I killed it,” he said in his proudest of voices, while his brother squealed and giggled at the thrill of it.
“When are you going to fix that damn fence?’ Marie scolded, mostly because the plucking and gutting part of the job was hers, part of the negotiated settlement of nine years of marriage.
“I’ll put it on my list.” Buddy allowed. “But first, us men are going to wash up and have some refreshment.”
The brave hunters strode towards the back porch, Buddy stopping to pull a bottle from his brew shed just off the back of the house. He grabbed a bottle of special sarsaparilla for the boys while he was at it, then dropped the bird at the pump for Marie, and flashed her a wink. “One of these days we’ll get Mom to teach you how to gut the bastard,” he promised his sons. “Another day though, that’s enough gore for one morning.”
“Tina. Here.” Buddy tossed the severed head and feet to the dog, and she rushed to gobble up her share, earned fair and square by keeping the raccoons and weasels out of the yard.
Marie sighed goodheartedly, proud and disturbed that her baby boy had become so big and capable. She set upon the distasteful job of cold-plucking a warm chicken. Under a snowstorm of feathers whipped up by her skilled, strong fingers, Marie fell into a contented daydream that revolved around her boys.
Buddy also had a look of warm contentment drawn on his face, a particular look best known as a shit-eating grin. Chicken dinner on a Tuesday, a life’s lesson well-learned, a little theatre to boot. ‘What a day’, he congratulated himself.
There was no way he was ever going to fix that fence.
July 1904 – Arnprior, Ontario
“Mom, Mama, Pop’s hurt.” George burst into the kitchen where Marie stood, rolling out the crust for a pie. She could tell by his tone that it was serious, and quickly wiped her hands on her apron before rushing out the porch door.
Down the lane she could see Buddy hobbling his way home, dragging his right leg behind him. She ran to him and caught his elbow. “Sacre Fils, what happened?” she asked.
“Nothing. It’s fine. I just caught my leg on a piece of iron behind the barn.”
“Nothing! Buddy, look at your leg. Oh, mon dieu. Just look.” His trousers were torn wide open below the dirty tourniquet he’d tied around the upper part of his thigh. His pant leg was soaked in his blood, and she could see a deep puckered gash running a good three inches, right across the front of his thigh.
“George. Go fetch the doctor,” Marie quickly ordered her eldest son.
“No! No doctor!” Buddy roared, uncharacteristically for him. Both Marie and George stopped in their tracks and stared expectantly. “That goddamn quack kills everything he touches. Remember Mark Taylor? Went in with a cough, came out feet first. He isn’t getting within a hundred feet of me. I’m fine. It’ll be fine. It’s nothing.”
“What happened?” Marie asked as she examined the gash more closely. He’d managed to stop most of the bleeding with his tourniquet, but the wound was jagged and swollen.
“Oh, that goddamn old wire fence I pulled down last year and stored behind the barn. A piece of it jumped out and bit my leg when I walked by.”
“Jumped out hein? Well, you’ve made a mess of yourself, Buddy. You need the doctor. You have to get this sewn up.”
“To hell with the doctor. I’ll be fine. You can sew it Marie,” he urged. “I’d do it myself, but you know me,” he lowered his voice, embarrassed. “I don’t know how.”
Marie discreetly nodded to George to be on his way, and off he went to fetch the doctor. Meanwhile, both Marie and Buddy knew she had to clean and close this wound.
“We’re going to need some liquor, some strong stuff,” Marie demanded.
Buddy groaned, “I keep some pure liquor in my shed. You’ll have to go get it. It’s in a crate under my bench. You have to look under the tray full of tools.”
He cringed as he sent Marie off to visit his secret stash, for besides moonshine, he also kept some racy postcards there that he’d picked up in the city. He doubted his wife would appreciate their content, innocent though they may seem. Art, really. Topless art, that he kept, hidden in a chest in the shed, under a tray full of tools. What’s not to love?
Marie made no overt signs of discovery or disapproval when she returned with the clear bottle of clear liquid. “Give me a belt. I need a belt first,” he begged. She passed him the bottle and he gulped back a stiff mouthful of fiery liquor. Then he gulped another.
“Damn it,” he muttered, cursing his fortune. Twenty minutes ago he was happily messing around in the yard, looking forward to mutton for dinner. Now he was looking forward to having his thigh sewn back together by an irritated wife.
He handed the bottle back to Marie, and nodded for her to proceed. “We should start keeping ether in the house,” was the last thing he said, as he bit down on the stick she offered him. She didn’t hesitate, and splashed his wound with a healthy stream of strong grain alcohol. Buddy screamed, of course, but only until he passed out. Marie poured more alcohol on the wound, gently tugging out some of the trouser fibers that were caught in the rended flesh. Buddy twitched and moaned despite his unconciousness, but Marie carried on pouring till the wound ran clear. If that didn’t kill the germs, she figured, then nothing would.
Marie took a quick swig off the bottle herself, before she threaded her needle with her stiffest black thread and began sewing. The wound was clean, but deep and crooked. Slowly she stitched it up while Buddy dozed fitfully. It closed quite nicely, taking twenty-odd of her practiced seamstress stitches in all. She topped it off with a last dose of moonshine for the leg, and one for herself.
She looked at her husband, passed-out as he was, buck-naked from the waist down. His shriveled pecker lay in its unruly nest of hair, as meek and pathetic as could be. She giggled mischievously, threading her needle one more time. Carefully, she embroidered a tiny letter ‘M’ next to the wound, a little something to remind him where his bread was buttered, and in whose hands his life would always lay.
October 12 1904 – Arnprior, Ontario
Buddy’s eyes opened with a flash before the first starlings began singing. “Beer day, beer day. Brewing and bottling beer day,” he sang to himself, as though he needed a reminder. He looked forward to this day all week, the one day he allowed himself free license to immerse himself, quite literally, in alcohol.
He had two batches of freshly fermented beer to rack into barrels for aging. He had another batch ready to bottle, and he had a new batch of his special Christmas ale to brew up from scratch. It was going to be a busy day in the brewhouse.
Since before he turned sixteen, Buddy had been making his own brew, beers and ales and wines of every flavour. His first ever batch of wine was brewed in his mother’s cleanest mop bucket, brewed, according to the advice of a classmate, with some pilfered raisins soaked for two days, a bag of sugar and some bread yeast. He hid the bucket under the basement stairs in the space with the Christmas ornaments and winter coats.
Luckily for him, the symptoms of the initial fermentation frightened him severely enough, and in perfect time. He checked on the bucket to find it bubbling and boiling away under a three-inch layer of foam, topped with a dirty brown crust. And the smell of it, covered though it was with a relatively clean towel tied over top to keep the mice out, was starting to travel upstairs to the family area. He ditched the batch just days before his mother went down to the basement, a rare occurrence, to haul out the winter clothes.
Thankfully his skills had grown quite a bit since those days.
He made wine out of wheat, out of rhubarb, from dandelions, plums and crabapples. Nothing in season ever went to waste around Buddy, it all ended up in one of his heady concoctions.
Buddy had a reputation as a reasonable vintner and a master backyard brewer, and while he wasn’t a major bootlegger, he was not above selling the odd flagon to a neighbour caught short on a Sunday, bereft of a bottle for his table. While wines of all kinds were his chore, Buddy’s true love was for beer.
He roasted and malted his own grains for the process, and took an alchemist’s pride in his work, gently stirring the grain over the rickety cookstove he kept in the shed for the purpose. He even grew his own hops, with varieties he’d ordered from a company in England. He brewed stout, porter, ales pale and dark, lagers, honey lagers, wheat beers and thick Christmas ales.
On this brewing Saturday, Buddy’s first task was to rack the freshly fermented ale into a clean barrel he’d liberated from the back of a tavern some weeks previous. The beer had already been through its initial fermentation that turned the sugar into alcohol, but it needed time to settle and mellow before bottling. It was at that point that he would add a little sugar to carbonate the beer, finally allowing it to age a few more weeks before drinking.
He hoisted the incredibly heavy vat of beer onto the bench and opened the lid. His nose was met with the fruity tang of fresh brewed ale. He inhaled deeply, appraising the aroma, then stabbed his siphon into the bottom of the vat, crouched low, and sucked.
With a mouthful of bottom for his troubles, the siphon caught and the first rushes of ale splashed into the empty barrel below. Buddy waited a moment before he placed his glass into the stream to catch a mouthful or two for the purposes of quality control. He held the glass up to the light, admiring the beer’s cloudy amber colour. He sniffed and swigged a small taste from the glass. “Hhmph. A little tangy,” he decided, “But it should settle down nicely in the bottle.” He gulped back the rest of the beer and looked around for his next task as the first batch slowly siphoned its way into the barrel.
Buddy and Glenn had built this little brewhouse out back, a sizable shed that held Buddy’s bottles and barrels and crocks that served as fermenters. The shelves were lined with bottles of wine, some aging respectfully, some undrinkable and forsaken, yet still too precious to throw out. Who knew? There might yet come a day when they reached their peak of flavour. At worst they could be distilled into liquor, or used as vinegar for Marie’s pickled beets.
He’d dug himself a cold cellar under a trap door in the floor where he kept his beer and finer wines, and he headed down the ladder now to check on his store. There was a batch he’d bottled two weeks ago that was just coming into its prime, as well as last week’s efforts, still too young yet, but begging a tasting regardless. He grabbed a bottle of each, and an older, well-aged sample for comparison.
Buddy chose the middle-aged lager as his first tester. He cracked the cap and poured the suds, gently tipping them across the length of the glass till it was full. He admired the clarity against the light, the roll of the carbonation as it escaped through the well-formed blonde head. The aroma was exquisite, not too fruity, not too sharp. He took a gentle sip, rolling the beer around on his tongue. It was not quite perfect, but while another couple weeks would do it proudly, it was certainly a drinkable brew.
“Not bad,” he allowed, then threw his head back and guzzled most of the glass in one go. He belched loudly, excused himself to no one, and prepared to evaluate the unspoken, yet most prized quality of his beers: the high.
The flavours swirled in Buddy’s mouth as he savoured the aftertaste on his tongue, then the after-after-taste on his mood. “Ahhh,” he sighed as it hit, a soft warm glow settling over his disposition like a blanket. Though he preferred the three-beer high to all others, he knew he had to start somewhere, and this first pint of the day packed a potent kick. His breathing slowed, his anxiety mellowed, his hectic, scattered thoughts stopped jabbering and flashing in his brain and took on a more laconic, muddy gait. “God bless alcohol,” he toasted, and finished off the last few sips.
He was ready and eager to return to his work now, a smooth and easy grin painted across his face. First he poured the last of the quart bottle into his glass, careful not to disturb the sediment on the bottom, then sat on his stool in the corner and lit a cigarette, one of his indisputably favourite smokes of the week. Once that was done, he checked the progress on the barrel and prepared to brew up his next batch.
Today it was a Christmas ale he was putting up, rich, sweet and very boozy, it should be at its best by mid December, just in time for the busy, winter drinking season.
Buddy heated his water on the woodstove and added the required amount of viscous malted barley. He followed that up with corn syrup, some molasses and a touch of honey as an afterthought. He got some honey on his thumb, not too problematic, and some molasses on his pant leg, which would cause an awkward stain. Whatever it was he’d dripped on the floor clung to the bottom of his shoe with each step he took, adding a sticky sound to the bubbling rhythm in the room. His mashed grains were steeping gently in a separate pot and he strained them into the main vat before he stepped in to start stirring.
Buddy stirred the heavy wort, counting in his head and on his lips, 5-6-7....31-32-33, calling on the rhythm of the monks who first perfected the techniques of beer-making. He had to keep this sucker at a slow boil for a good hour or more, which gave him time to move on to his next chore. But first, another tester.
The second bottle, a week old pilsner, was quite sharp, nowhere near aged enough, with big tangy bubbles and a fizzy, watery head. Almost undrinkable - but not quite. Buddy didn’t approve of waste, especially that of precious beer, so he grimaced his way through half the bottle as he cleaned his equipment for the next round of racking. There was nothing wrong with the alcohol in the unripe beer, and his drunk progressed to a slightly more clumsy, yet undeniably pleasant stage.
Another vat to be hoisted and barrel prepared, then the awkward moment of priming the siphon. It finally caught on the third pull, filling his mouth with sludgy spent yeasts off the bottom. He had to spit it out in the sink and rinse his mouth with the young pilsner.
As the beer racked its way into the barrel he returned to his boiling wort and gave it another round of stirring. It was getting hectic and steamy here in the beer room.
Just then a shadow crossed his doorway, while a short knock and a voice called his name. “G’day lad,” Buddy called amiably as Roy Davies walked in. Roy was a neighbour and a friend, often found in the yard on a brewing day, for that was when Buddy was at his most accommodating to lovers, like Roy, of free liquor. “Just in time,” Buddy called out, “I’m just about to bottle a batch of Valley Pride, you can give me a hand.”
“Sounds grand,” Roy answered, “I’ve got a couple hours to kill.”
“You look dry.”
“Indeed I am.”
“Well, we can’t have that. Grab that bottle right there on the bench. You got lucky, you bastard. That one’s at it’s best right now, and not a moment too soon.”
Roy cracked the cap on the bottle and poured the rich caramel coloured ale into his glass while Buddy watched, proudly, apprehensively, like a nervous parent at a shotgun wedding.
Perfect head. Perfect carbonation. Perfect flavour? Time would tell.
Roy took a deep pull on his glass, then smacked his lips in delight, wiping the foam off his moustache with the sleeve of his shirt.
“Buddy,” he said raising his glass in reverence, “You are a king amongst men, I wish all my neighbours were like you, instead of that busybody Evans. What can I do?”
“Well, you can start by giving that wort a stir. I’m just about ready to bottle now. You can run the capper. But first we have to get these bottles washed.”
Cleanliness was next to Godliness here in the brewshack. Contaminated vats and bottles were the bane of the beermaker’s existence, for beer could easily be spoiled by the smallest of impurities.
Heat was an enemy too, and seemed to accentuate any spore or bacteria that floated in on the breeze. One recent spring saw the temperature shoot abnormally high, spoiling three different batches of beer at various stages of their lives. Buddy actually cried a little tear as he mournfully poured his vats onto the garden. On the plus side, his peas were especially sweet and bountiful that summer.
They were getting drunker as they worked, which Buddy understood to be part of the complicated brewing process. He knew the yeasts were alive, and believed they sensed their brewer’s state of mind, and would react accordingly. “Eat, ya bastards,” he always prayed when pitching the yeast into the cooled wort.
Buddy sat on his chair with close on a hundred bottles of various sizes and shapes arranged within grabbing distance around him. The siphon caught and the beer began flowing out in a steady stream into the bottle he held between his knees. “Here we go,” he announced.
Once the first bottle filled to the neck he deftly shifted the siphon into the next empty bottle. He had his favourites, bottles that he’d used again and again from one batch to another. Some held special significance, like the bottle his younger brother had brought back from South Africa after a tour of duty in the Boer conflict, or the bottle secreted back from Boston by his sister June. But most were just brown bottles, carried home from the tavern for the purpose.
He passed the full bottle to Roy who handled the dumb end of the job, capping the bottles and packing them in crates. Roy’s clumsy fingers fumbled for the crown cap that fit into the capper in a very certain way, lest it should be bent and discarded.
The beer was flowing faster than Roy could cap them, and the bottles were starting to back up. Buddy spilled a bunch while shifting bottles around with one hand, the other hand holding the hose that was overfilling the bottle between his legs.
“Stir that goddamn wort,” Buddy hollered. The cauldron of beer was boiling over onto the wood stove beneath it. The steam was making it hard to see, and the amount of alcohol they’d ingested wasn’t making things any easier. Roy hustled over to the boiling pot to give it a good stir, but it was too late, and the concentrated beer that overflowed onto the hot stove hissed and steamed, promising a burnt and sticky mess in the very near future.
The rest of the bottling went according to plan, with a just a few more spills, broken bottle necks and bent caps. All in all a successful venture. The men stacked the crates of beer in the upper floor of the brew shack.
Lastly, Buddy carried the heavy pot filled with the steaming wort of his Christmas Ale over to his fermenter, and carefully sloshed it in. He topped it up with fresh cold water, then dipped his finger into the wort to check its temperature. Still too hot, he realized, jerking his hand away in pain. He had no ice to cool the wort and would have to wait till the following day to pitch the yeast. It had to be warm enough to give them a good start, but not so hot as to kill them before they had a chance to kill themselves.
They both had another round while they got the shack straightened away, with last week’s batch of bottles arranged in cold storage, and most of the surfaces cleaned, or at least wiped halfheartedly.
“Well, I’d best be off. The wife’ll be wondering where I am,” slurred Roy.
“Here, take a couple for the road. That one there’s a dark lager and this is an India pale ale. Pretty hoppy, if you like that kind of thing.”
Roy jumped back up onto his running around wagon. He tipped his hat and called, “God bless sloth and drunkenness.” The horses lurched forward, and Roy jerked back against the seat.
“Amen, brother. Amen.”
Buddy staggered into the house where Marie waited, having managed the children and their incessant demands and bickering the entire Saturday, “Oh good,” she began, “You’re finally done. I need you to help me with … “
“Not right now dear,” Buddy declined. “I’m exhausted. I’ve been killing myself out there in that shack. If you don’t mind I’m going to go for a little lay-down.” He turned at the stairs to remind her, “Don’t let me sleep too long, darling. You know I don’t like to be groggy at dinnertime,” and up he clomped, to their room with his boots on.
“Saint Sacrament,” she muttered, returning to her chores.