Because it is not just memory, or nostalgia, but actual time travel—the real thing—I am having to ease back into Winnipegland. I’m going to start by offering again some stuff about my grandfather, the farmer and hunter Norman Hewitt, 1889-1960. If you’ve ever driven past Hewitt Lake in Saskatchewan, that was us.
My cousin Sarah once asked if I had much memory of our grandfather, and I surprised myself with what was still there. I answered her thus:
“Yes, I remember him quite well. He was a bit gruff, or maybe just taciturn, but no more intimidating than any man of that age. I spent a week with him and his third wife Hazel at their Carlyle home the summer of 1958, and these are the things he let me do:
- He let me fetch coal from the cellar, and said I probably wouldn’t enjoy eating it, and to resist the temptation.
- He let me tidy up the garage and hammer nails into various things I found there.
- He let me go with him mornings (by car!) the block and a half to Main Street, where he and his cronies, rather than go into the beer parlour or coffee shop, would just park their cars and then circulate, stopping to lean on the hood of this car or that, and chat about who knew what. There were occasional silences that went on for a while till one of them said ‘yep….’. It could’ve have been ‘yip’. Either way, the ritual was daily except Sundays.
- He let me go with him to the lake for a semi-pro baseball game, complete with hot dog and Orange Crush. And an Oh Henry!
- He let me pick peas from the garden and eat as many as I liked while doing so.
- He let me sit at the kitchen table and eat peanut butter cookies while Hazel, who clearly had stepped right out of a Norman Rockwell painting and into his life, baked another batch, plus several loaves of bread and some pies: cherry, rhubarb, pumpkin….
- He let me sleep in a sleeping bag on the floor next to a pile of empties. When I asked what Seagram’s Rye was, and why all the empties, the answer was ‘Never mind.’
So yes, I do remember him, in all his gruff and taciturn glory. I never saw him alive again, so I’m glad he let me do all that good stuff when we both had the time.
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