Think I’ll Go Out To Alberta

 

winnipeg_ralphmaybank

 

Miss Tinkler and her very first (I think) little flock. Strange to consider in hindsight that she wasn’t really a great deal older than us kids, and even now is only in her mid-seventies. I like to think she still has the ponytail – sadly not on display here – and the ’56 Customline, but I guess it’s more likely she has a blue rinse and a mobility scooter. And maybe a sixty-something toyboy too, but he’s unlikely to be one of this bunch, what with two of the six males having died young by their own hands.

Sitting to my left is Jimmy Bradford. He’s probably looking so happy because he’s just remembered that he lives in the Donna Reed Show. My excuse is that I’ve been told that in place of final exams (yep – final exams in Grade One!) I can take a viva with Principal Smith (his real name). This will mean my family can drive to Calgary a week before school’s out and not have to leave me home alone.

I don’t remember much about Winnipeg’s wild western kid brother, which is just as well, because cousin Sarah would only correct me on anything I might say. Our dad being our dad, it goes without saying that we headed back east the day before the Calgary Stampede began. “Too commercial. Too many Americans.” And I would think and wisely keep to myself, “Yeah, and too much fun, cheapskate. Xenophobe.”

I do remember Brooks, Alberta, though. It was a dark and stormy night. So stormy, in fact, that visibility got to zero and even our dad had to admit defeat and stop trying to drive through it.  It was still a few weeks until Robert Bloch would give the world The Bates Motel, so we had to settle for second worst: The Brooks Motel. There was a bed for the parents, and we four kids had to arrange our sleeping bags on the floor, which was fair enough, but our configuration was made a tad difficult by the leaks in the roof and the needful placement of buckets, and the two little ones had to curl up under the table. So the room had puddles, the biblical torrent on the tin roof was deafening, but not so nerve-shredding as my little brother’s crying and whimpering (fear plus chronic infantile eczema). Nor was it as angry and foreboding as our dad’s low rumble threatening to become a roar, brought on by our neighbours, who were drowning all of this out, a-moanin’ and a-shriekin’ and a-thrashin’ on the other side of the de rigeur paper-thin partition.

The official version, from our mum, was that the woman was having a baby – maybe even twins or triplets. I don’t know if eleven year-old Valerie or thirteen year-old Cameron bought this. I did, of course (but who knew it HURTS?), and itchy little Ross was oblivious, distracted by his flaming skin.  Over the ensuing decades, though, I have managed to piece together a pretty fair idea of how babies are made, and I can now report that we were not witnesses to the delivery of the Brooks litter but to, er… its conception.

We decamped before daybreak, as soon as the rain and the thunderheads began to dissipate and the four strong winds were folding up into an innocent prairie zephyr. The holiday was over, and the deathly quiet drive back to Winnipeg was non-stop, save for the inevitable running out of gas near Miss Tinkler’s Starbuck.  As a very young man I came back to Alberta for the purpose of having my heart broken for the second of three times by a girl who later became a Princess of Burma, albeit in exile in Edmonton. But that was 1971, a whole year after “my” Winnipegland ended, so not for these pages. Just wanted to get in the thing about the Princess, is all.

Here’s the song, performed by Jack Nicholson in a darned good impersonation of our Neil, and here’s what I’ve “decided” became of the Brooks Motel, which stopped operating under that name shortly after our brief and unedifying stay.

p.s. If the song is being elusive, go to  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DP9UjLeLN5A and leave a comment if it’s still not there.

 


Fords Neil Young Won’t Remember

Neil’s memory’s probably fine, but mine? Maybe not so much.  For decades I’ve been labouring under the misapprehension that the car in his classic Long May You Run was a 1956 Ford Customline. Today I thought I’d better check on that, and found to my alarm that it was in fact a 1948 Buick Roadmaster, and not just any old Roadmaster, but a   Roadmaster Hearse, for heaven’s sake! Well, I don’t know from Buicks or hearses. I’ve never even known anyone who owned either, so I’m just going to stick with those lovely Customlines. They came in a variety of colours, but most of them –  and I don’t why – were blue and white, like this one, lovingly restored by John Blasko:

 

I’m pretty sure my big brother and hero Cameron bought one late in 1963, drove it to death, which took 45 minutes; parked it under a seven-foot snowdrift in the backyard for the winter, and then paid to have it taken away after the spring thaw.

My favourite ’56 Customline belonged to my bonkers high school buddy Gene Brown.  He’s still bonkers, but now it’s for this lunatic boat, what with cars these days being strictly from automotive nowheresville. as boring as all get-out. What was especially not boring about Geno’s*  Customline was that the steering didn’t work at all – well, hardly at all. The last two inches at either end of the steering wheel’s lock allowed, if you applied sufficient force, a slight coaxing rightish or leftish but, in-between, that wheel would just spin free, to zero effect – what they call “play”. He still drove the thing, of course, and once he even let me drive it a mile or two down Pembina Highway. The wheel alignment and tracking were surprisingly good, and Pembina is dead straight, so you could actually get from A to B if you were brave and stupid enough, which we were. Problem was getting back to A again. It took an acre or two of clear space and about half an hour to turn that f***ed Ford around. But hey, who wants to go north anyway? Winnipeg is plenty north enough, right?  So, south it was, and if we’d had enough gas money we could’ve stayed on that very same ribbon of road clear through to Texas, so long as we avoided the tornadoes and Wicked Witches of Kansas and Neil’s gun-totin’, foreigner-hatin’ Southern Men of eastern Oklahoma. But no, we just ditched that piece of glorious junk, walked home and washed up for lunch. Canadians to the core, and nothing if not safe.

Between those two ’56s was the one owned by my too-pretty-for-words cousin Lorna. After I bribed her with several cigarettes, she let the under-age me drive it part of the way from uncle Marvin’s farm to the village of Manor, Saskatchewan (pop. c.350). She can’t have been aware of the depth of my highly inappropriate crush, because when we got to Manor’s finest greasy spoon, she bought me a Coke and then abandoned me in favour of the only empty seat in a boothful of slicked-back, acne-ridden yokels. It was the worst Coke of my   life.

Those Manor boys probably had BO and stinkfoot too, to go with their zits and greasy hair. When I put it to my daughter a while ago that men no longer got BO or stinkfoot after their late fifties, she said, “No dad, you just can’t smell ’em any more.”

 

Mr L.A.G. Brown, ultra-hip in his golden years, now styles himself “Geno”. Well, okely dokely, Geno: we’re all doin’ what we can.