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Allen Clarke Allen Clarke
Recommendations: 18

Memories


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She had a friend.

I just thought i would attempt a short walk back to Memory Lane. I`m sure how much I can recall, but here goes, anyway. I approach this particular piece of story-telling as more of an excercise than anything of enduring value.


Chapter One


I remember days without end in the seasons of my youth. Time, itself, seemed to hold still for us, or so it seemed, way back when life had two faces. The one was sad, and the other kept smiling despite circumstances that made me what I am today. I remember the sights, sounds and the exhilirating freshness of being alive and the dread of uncertain times. Back when respect for time got mislaid, somewhere along the way, I viewed the hands on the clock with little or no regard. It seemed, at times, as though Life was one big, extended vacation. And, yet,on some of those long days, we felt the hard crunch of reality, in so many different respects. As a young boy,trauma became my constant visitor, and, yet I never viewed it as such. In due time, I accepted it as just another part of life. Some might call it denial, and others would deem it as a small part of the dysfunctional family and subsequent lifestyle. There was no one to run to when things became unbearable. Each of us brothers had to find his own way to hold his own. In that sense, we had to grow up fast.


Canim Lake, British Columbia will always live in my memory as bittersweet. What a hellish existence we lived, and, yet,as children often do, we took each twisted moment with a grain of salt, and tried to make some sense of our imbalanced lifesyle. And, yet, there were moments of almost surreal happiness, though, it was on those occassions when our stepfather stepped out of our lives to attend to something in his adult life. And, because we were not our step-father`s sons, we always felt that we were not quite at home. Because he was resentful and often hostile toward us, times could be relatively tense at the best of times. Our stepfather would often ridicule us in front of our mother, calling us bastards. I guess those were the times when we wished him dead. It seemed that we always dreaded his homecoming.


In my child`s world view, I tried to understand why he was the way he was. And it wasn`t until years later, when I was a young man that, finally the truth was revealed to me. My stepfather was, himself, treated with unusual cruelty and harshness as a young lad. I guess it always goes back to that old argument about nature versus nurture. A man becomes as he is led to believe about himself. Ralph Edgar Peekeekoot died a most miserable death at a senior`s home in Shellbrook, Saskatchewan about a year ago. Prior to his death, he slipped into periods of dementia, complicated by Parkinsons. They tell me he withered away in a long, drawn out semi-vegetable existence right up to the very bitter end. We bear the unseens wounds of his sadistic legacy.


In my stepfather`s case,he behaved like an animal, at times, because he was beaten for the scarcest of reasons. He was whipped by his mother once for failing to fill up the woodbox. Eliza took after him with an iron poker and,quite literally, thrashed him, as he cowered into the corner, by their hotly-burning cookstove. Ralph was raised by Eliza, in the same manner in which Eliza was raised by the Catholic nuns at St. Michael`s Student Residence at Duck Lake, Saskatchewan. Apparently, these women of the Catholic faith, could be unspeakably cruel in their treatment of the native children committed to their care.


I always felt that Eliza hated us boys. One could clearly see it in her eyes. When I became more of an understanding soul, I committed her memory to the past since she, too, I felt was a victim of a religious system which sought to re-define our existence as natives. They desired to assimilate us to their culture and to their design for our future. If nothing else, some of us walked away with somewhat of a work ethic ingrained into us and well intact. They made sure that none of us were slothful while we lived at the Residence. Which, I suppose, was a good thing. To this day, I can`t help but, sweep and wash the floor when it needs to be done. I can`t stand to see a sink full of dirty dishes. I have to get up and do them.

Otherwise, it was beautiful living in the mountains. We lived in a small house by the lakefront. There was a boat dock not even fifty feet away from our little shanty. A dip in the cool, clear waters was just a hop, skip, and a jump away from our front porch. I remember how the mist from the tops of the mountains would seep off of the high places, only to descend onto the lake in the mornings. It was just beautiful. It was as if God was telling me that he wanted to bring me here to this wondrous place in nature to enjoy what He had made. It was a very special place. And I`ve often thought, since then, that there must be a spot just like this in Heaven.


We lived by an old abandoned saw-mill. We, my two brothers and I, loved to play amongst the aged timbers of the greying structure. My mind would wander back to how it might have looked in its`heyday. Some of the big blades were still sitting in their long abandoned positions. Even some of the conveyer belts were still in place, as the company had left them. About three miles in the distance, one could see the curve of the road which led to the Noranda Mines. At the site of the old sawmill,there were still piles and piles of sawdust which we romped over, imagining them to be desert dunes. We would play Cowboys and Indians in and amongst the wood chips, falling headlong onto the piles after taking an imaginary bullet to the shoulder.


We lived the life of Riley. Sometimes, we would venture up to the hills above our home. We would climb as high as our imaginings would permit. I now, shudder to think of what disaster we might have encountered way back then. Of course, grizzly bears , wolves and cougars roamed those same hillsides as well.It`s little wonder that those days were care-free. We apparently were oblivious that we were living in the wilds. It is true that kids will be kids, and we were quite daredevil in those lazy hazy days.


We climbed up into the hills as high as time would permit. The odd time we would come across a long abandoned, gold-panning trough which would run a fair distance up the mountain. We were impervious to the wild animals. This was perhaps as a result of travelling in a small group. Although, sometimes we would lose sight of each other, we would invariably regroup.As siblings, we often fought like cats and dogs. I, being the smallest and youngest of us three, would often take a thrashing.


As always, our ears were keen for the supper bell. We would all come tumbling off of the mountainside when we heard our mother calling for us to come and eat. God, those were the days! And, sometimes, I sit and think about how those days are long gone with only the wisp of memory to bring all those feelings( good and bad) back to the present. Oh, how I often long to see the places of my youth once more. By now, everything, would have changed. I heard some time ago that we would not recognize the place if we went back there. My past was, indeed, as a mixed cup of blessing and sorrow.



Chapter Two


He was truly a son of a.. you know what. That`s what Ralph was. As to why, my mother took up with him, I`ll never really know. They were as different as the day is to night. She was a gentle soul and, it seemed that she would never hurt a fly. Caroline was her name. My mother was widowed when I was one. My father drowned in Carrot River, Saskatchewan. He was a binge drinker and, thusly; suffered the tortures of alcoholism. And, I share this with a modicum of humility that Ernest Clarke was a handsome man. But the demon alcohol finally got the best of him. They tell me that he was good with his fists.


As the story goes, there was a point by the river where the men of James Smith Reserve would cross over by raft.He was on his way home from town one night when he slipped off the raft and was pulled in by the powerful current.He was drunk and never had a chance. They found his body a few days later downriver. By then, he was bloated and starting to decompose.


Sometime later, my mother returned with us to Montreal Lake Reserve, where she met Ralph Edgar Peekeekoot. They married when I was four. Ralph, my new step-father was from Ahtahkakoop I.R. situated near Canwood, Saskatchewan. So, in my early childhood we were uprooted and went to live, in a foreign place,(as it were). We lived in a one room log cabin in Polwarth, Sask.for a number of years. Thus, started my life`s long and often emotionally arduous trek from then until the present.


At around 6 years of age, I and my two brothers were sent off, by government order to attend Prince Albert Indian Residential School; adjacent to where the Victoria Union Hospital now stands. We attended there for approximately four years. We were housed in dormitories which were previously used as the R.C.M.P. barracks. The daily regimen was not entirely strict, though we were disciplined as the need arose. I remember well the echoing, dreaded sound of the rubber hose.


After we were dismissed from the Residence, our family moved to B.C. where my story is largely based. There were a few other memorable places which I may take compunction to share about. Indeed, this may turn out to be the longest short story that I have ever shared. Welcome to my inner sanctum.


Chapter Three


     Our neighbours were a funny bunch. I mean that in the comical sense of the word. There was one middle-aged Japanese gentleman by the name of Sam Makahara who loved to ice-skate. We had an uproarious time watching Sam, lacing up his skates to try his legs out on the frozen face of Canim.Try as he might, he just did not have the knack to conquer the ice.He tried his very best and in that sense inspired us to do the same.He would laugh himself to near tears as he would slip and slide and finally to thunk himself on the glassy hard surface of our beloved lake.


     Then, there was the Bunberrys. They were Shushswap. And, man, did they love their wine and good times. They especially savoured the Loganberry vino. In my personal experience, I found wine to be especially wicked in the damage it can do to men`s souls. When they got to partying, they loved to target practice with 22 calibre rifles. It is certainly a wonder that they didn`t accidentally shoot each other dead in the process. The Bunberrys were special friends of my uncle, Melvin Hicks. Hicks was a white man, and I never knew where he orignated from. Melvin Hicks married my aunt Florence. Unfortunately, Florence died of cirrhosis of the liver some years ago in 100 Mile House. As far as I know, Uncle Melvin stayed on in B.C.after her death.


     I remember that the days of my youth at Canim Lake were not always sad. There were days of endless wiener roasts and swimming. We didn`t have to go to the lake for the weekend, because we were always there. I recall the simple joy of enjoying a bottomless glass of ice cold Kool-Aid. Strangely enough, we rarely went fishing in a time when the waters of Canim were considered relatively pristine. I still marvel at how many empty cabins and bungalows dotted the lakefront at that time. I suppose back then, our place was considered a ghost resort at the time.


     There were many resorts around the lake. But, we were only familiar with the ones on our side of the waters. This would have been the east side. The names of the resorts were fascinating to us as children. Names like Shangri-La, for one. And, the rest have long since escaped my memory. Even then, thoughts of Saskatchewan would come to visit us in the stillness of night. It would be a few years before we returned to the Prairies. My cousins, the Peekeekoots were there too. My uncle, Melvin Peekeekoot met with a near tragic accident while falling trees in Clearwater,B.C. A tree fell on him, nearly crushing his back. He had the will to work, but unfortunately, he lost a kidney in the mishap.


      We were bussed to Forest Grove Elementary. Our bus route was quite simple as we stopped all along the way to pick up schoolkids on the west side of Canim lake.The bus route took about forty five minutes. I don`t remember half the names or the faces of the children I went to school with. They are lost somewhere in the mists of time. However, I do recall a certain place along the way. It was called Hood`s Hollow. It was a small group of houses which sheltered working families of the different logging companies. This little town was indeed somewhat hidden in a hollow. The kids we picked up there were a rag-tag bunch so we natives didn`t feel so inferior to them. It seems to me they were quite of the impoverished sort. I sort of had a crush on one of the schoolgirls that we picked up at Hood`s Hollow. Can you believe it? Her name was Shirley Hood.


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