Cakewalk Chronicles – Learning to be active is not like being active

Esther Darlington MacDonald's monthly views on life from the perspective of a small Interior town.

More carnage on the rail tracks

Living close to the rail lines is a new experience for me. The rattle of freight cars, the booming, crashing of cars being “adjusted”, the roar of the engines approaching, weren’t sounds I had to get used to. There are not many communities across this vast nation that do not hear the sound of the railroad traffic.

Surprisingly, I found the sounds reassuring. Ahh! It’s business as usual, commodities are going where they should go. My senses quickly adapted to the energy, incredible as it is when you are standing close to the rail track, as you do in our Heritage Park, for example. Walking or running the dog, when that monster machine pummels into view, you sometimes stop. Just to feel the energy. And you wonder at it. At least I do.

What I can’t accustom too, is the thought of the hazards of rail travel by freight cars loaded with every toxic substance known to man. How that recent eruption of explosions, uncontrollable fires and loss of life in Quebec and Alberta, should give us all to ponder how such violent episodes can be avoided. Investigations are underway and have been on-going for years. But the most conspicuous of possible consequences seems to be the length of the freights. I watch them from my car as does everyone else. They are now miles long. They wind around our mountains, canyons, snake through every twist and turn at speeds that seem formidable. The railroads did away with the cabooses. We have a souvenir that graces our park on Railway Street (so aptly named). Whatever the function they played on our rail lines for generations, that function must surely have included some element of safety. Of course, there is no predictability when it comes to human error. Human thoughtlessness. That is a hazard that is always with us. One which we will never get used to.

Getting kids to play again

Somewhere in Washington, there’s a program designed to get kids to play again. Giant Steps.  Hopscotch. double rope skipping, bouncing the ball on the sidewalk. “I am a girl guide dressed in blue, these are the actions I must do,” complete with genuflections. Singing our way through exercises that kept us healthy and strong. With the evolution of digital toys, and the ubiquitous escape of television, games requiring the only action of the digitals as we sit there hour after hour, the result has been a generation of obese kids. I realize that kids play at recesses while they are at school. I also realize there are soccer tournaments and hockey tournaments that provide that kind of exercise the young bodies need. I wonder, is it enough?

We didn’t have organized sports when I was growing up. We were pretty much left to our own devices for entertainment. Hide and Go Seek was played for a couple of hours after supper. Girls skipped in the school yard or on the sidewalks near our homes. We explored the empty vacant lots, imagined all kinds of things. If we lived by a river, or a creek, we swam in it. Most of the time, without a bathing suit. We fished for crayfish. We plucked what we called wild spinach, took it home, cooked and ate it. (Usually without bothering to wash it.) We raided vegetable gardens. Sitting in the dark with our pals, chewing on a carrot, saying, “You have to eat a pound of dirt before you die.” We walked to school, sometimes for 10 blocks. And we walked home from school. Ate a fast lunch, and walked back. All in the space of an hour. If we found a dead bird, we took it to a vacant lot, said some prayers over it. Buried it. In a word, we were always busy.

Sports weren’t competitive in those days. We simply watched a hockey game for the sheer joy of it. In my Fort Rouge neighbourhood, we’d bundle up and stand in a snow drift at the edge of the rink, watching our favourite players play that game that was much less violent than it is today. We’d skate on second hand skates, trundle around the rink a few times, then go to the shack for hot chocolate. Stand around the oil drum stove to warm up. And go back out to play or stand in the snow. We’d go to River Park and climb the high slides set up, be bundled into toboggans, and slide halfway down the park, stopped by the snow drifts. Then we’d drag the toboggans through the snow back to the slide. Start all over again.

The point is, the only time we kids weren’t active through the week, was when we were in the classroom learning how to solve math problems, learning how to read and to write. Then, it was our minds that were active. And when recess came, we were let loose to run, shout and scream as much and as loud as we liked. We lived in Cache Creek just across the river from the elementary school. We loved to hear the kids shouting and screaming, their voices carrying across the Bonaparte River. One visitor asked, “Don’t you get sick of the noise?” On the contrary. They were joyous reminders of childhood. Of life. Just like the freight cars that run through Ashcroft and so many other communities.  Reminders of industry. An industry fraught with hazards. We have to live with it all.

The dismantling

Harry Moore’s old shanty in our mobile park is being dismantled. It provided a home not only for Harry when he had to leave his gerry-built squat by the Thompson just off the road to the slough.

Squatting by the Thompson at that particular spot back in the 1970s was eventually halted by the railroad. They were torn down. Totally dismantled. And at least one of them had a second story. A sort of loft. They took their water from the river. They walked the mile and a half to town.

Harry got himself a tricycle with a carrier, and he was given a dog, a Keyshound I think it was. The dog went everywhere with Harry. And when the Rodeo Parade came around in June, Harry, dressed in a fringed leather jacket and a coon skin hat with a tail, cycled in front of the Parade. The town mascot.

Many residents will not know who Harry Moore was. But many of you will remember Harry. Why? Because he was a memorable character. And English orphan, brought to Canada when Britain was finding it had too many orphans after the First World War. When the bread winners had been killed in the trenches and fields of France. And the mothers couldn’t feed their children. Took them to an orphanage.

Well, the shanty in our park was one of those really delightful throwbacks to another time. When people lived in shanties, because there was no other place they could afford. A shanty with a warped roof and a tall chimney stack. There was one on Boston Flats a few years ago. It reminded me of the 1930s, when times were rough and tough for just about everyone. That one’s gone too.

These fall days

September and October’s rain of falling leaves on our parks and avenues, the air,  that particular cool draft that smells like earth, leaves and sodden grass, the shadows on the buttes, and the general overwhelming beauty of creation, makes for a heart full of gratitude.

It is just such days that you are glad to be alive. They take the sting out of life’s perpetual woes. Renews the will to accept and cope with the challenges.

My daughter Nadine, who lives in what many consider Paradise, – Maui, is keeping in closer touch these days. She sends pictures of family gatherings, all outdoors among the palm trees and exotic gardens in people’s yards. She recently celebrated her 64th birthday. Husband Jon gave her 18 long stemmed red roses because her birthday is on the 18th. She also received a day at the spa. Sends me a pic of her reclining and enjoying being pampered, but she mentions (in passing) there is stress. “That’s life,” I tell her. There is always stress of one king or another. And you deal with it the best way you can. I see my daughter’s beautiful aging face. It fills the screen. And I look into her eyes, and I know, that, despite the stress, she is happy.

A success story

Some of my readers might remember a certain handsome native Indian kid named George Petel. He is from the Bonaparte community north of Cache Creek. George delivered the Province, the Sun and the Pioneer newspapers in Ashcroft for a couple of years or more. George graduated from Kamloops high school with Honours. He went on to attend universities in Calgary. Eventually decided to become a lawyer. Had the choice of three universities. Chose U.B.C. Graduated and returned to Calgary.  Articled. And finally practiced civil law there. I recently contacted him, and he forwarded that he has become the Vice President of Corporate Development with Global Dynamics Inc.

This lad came from a background that defied every standard of possible success in life. When he received his investiture in Law in Calgary, Sherman and I flew there to attend this event. “You are not allowed to cry,” George’s wife Stacey told us. Okay. We didn’t cry. But my eyes filled up anyway. The presiding judge reminded us all, family, colleagues of George’s, that George’s character and will had forged his life, despite the unfortunate circumstances of his early childhood.

To those here who taught George at school, who knew him as a “lippy kid”, organized his activity as a cub and boy scout, who knew him as a lover of hockey who spent a lot of time in our Drylands Arena, watching, I only learned years later, because we had purchased some skates for George that were green and black, instead of all black, I felt you should know this success story. An on-going saga from the days of graduation.

George has travelled widely as a lawyer with oil companies, dealing with mergers and such. He has a beautiful wife and two lovely little daughters. He is 43.

On this note

I leave you all for this month. Living without Sherman is a particular challenge. He filled my days for so many years. Needed a lot of attention over the past two and a half years.

It is sometimes difficult for me to find life again without him. But I do. But Sherman is happy, and he is doing very well. I am told he is loving being with his children again and his grandchildren. He has a new lease on life. That makes me happy.

Esther Darlington MacDonald