the true stories
If I include Vacation Bible School and Kindergarten, I attended thirteen schools by the end of Grade Twelve. Two different schools in Grade One, two different schools in Grade Six and two different schools in Grade Twelve. Two different cities in Texas, two different cities in Louisiana and one city and one village in British Columbia, for a total of two different states and two different countries and three distinct accents. I lunched on red beans and rice, chili con carne and fish and chips.
Spanish was a must in Texas and French was a must in Canada. Down South, the teachers were ladies and Up North the teachers were men. Down South there was a dress code and a boy's hair could not touch his shirt-collar and a girl's skirt couldn't ride above her knees. Up North in Lynn Valley, the children wore whatever they wanted and were cussing, smoking and drinking by Grade Six.
When I was fourteen in Grade Nine I announced at dinner one night that I was done cutting my hair. My parents looked askance and told me that I must continue for the sake of school. I would not be moved. I asked my mother to meet my little sister and I at the Lynn Valley Dairy Queen after school where all the children and some of teachers hung out. She complied and acquiesced to my hair growing after seeing the teachers' flowing locks and the Mackinaw jacketed sons of loggers in torn jeans. I never cut it again until I was twenty years old. Ten years later I balded on top like an Appalachian hill.
During High School in Lynn Valley I worked as a broiler man at the first Keg and Cleaver Restaurant from four PM til the wee hours. I ate free Teriyaki Baseball steaks, lobster tails, salad bar, onion soup and cheesecake. I began to drink liquor for the first time in my life. Most of the waiters were attending University and some of them showed up at my High School in the role of teachers in practicum. It was a great learning experience to work all night with a guy, sit in the bar and get drunk and stoned with him after and then have him as your English teacher a few hours later.
At the end of Grade Eleven my family split up for the second time. My mother had found a new man. I was told about it in a tearful interview and asked if I still respected her. I told her that I was happy for her. A meeting was set up for me to see him. He was to come for dinner at the Keg and wait til I was done my duties whereupon we would retire to his apartment and get acquainted.
Twenty beers and a stack of old jazz records later, I could say I had met the Dane. He was about thirty-seven at the time and a divorced father of two girls. He could speak about five languages, was a semi-pro tennis player, a pilot, a jazz piano player and earned his keep as a gas-fitter. My mother had meanwhile taken my baby sister back to an undisclosed location in Texas for fear of my father. I remained at the rented basement suite with my father. I was supposed to find out later the whereabouts of my mother through the grapevine.
This meet happened in the last week of school and when I got home from the last day of school, there was a brand new Westphalia camper van in the driveway where there used to be a Delta 98. I went to the bathroom to have a piss. I flipped on the light switch and looked over at the bath-tub. There passed out in the warm water was a girl about my age. She woke up and introduced herself as my father's new girlfriend. She looked part aboriginal and part Caucasian. She had old track marks on her dainty arms.
The next day my father and her took off for Mexico after stealing a 22 rifle a friend from Texas had given me as a gift several months before. There was no note nor discussion as to whether the basement was to be kept rented or not. I cleaned up the place, quit my job and went to track down my mother. I had two months to do this.
I pulled into Beaumont, Texas, on a Greyhound and soon learned from my Grandmother that my mother and sister had been through there but I had missed them by days. She said they had likely gone to Houston. My elder sister lived there after having recently gotten married and I decided to check her place out. I took another Hound to Houston and arrived to find out I had again missed the ladies by days. There destination had been kept secret and it was anyone's educated guess where they might have gone.
I stayed on for a few days. Next door to my sister's little house was a Navy Recruiter. I combed my long hair and walked in. I asked where I could sign up. The man at the desk started asking lots of irritating questions. How old was I? Where were my parents? Where did I live? Had I graduated high school yet?
I told him that my father was a merchant sailor from age fifteen and my grandfather was a merchant sailor from age fourteen. I reminded him that there was an unpopular, unjust war on at the moment and that I was a long-hair. That almost brought him around but he only was willing to play if I could get the signatures of both parents. My visions of three squares a day, a clean warm bunk, a structured environment and beautiful wahinis rapidly disappeared like a rabbit into a thicket.
I told him in grave tones that he had blown his chance to get one of the few good men all his TV commercials talked about and not to ever expect to see me come begging around his door again. I bid him adieu, bought a pack of Marlboros and a bus ticket to Vancouver. I had three dollars to keep me til I got there three days later.
I had a plan. I decided to sleep when everyone got off at the million little whistle-stops to eat. My only luggage was my guitar and a couple of clothes. The first second day I was awakened by the feeling of something dropping into my lap. It was a brown paper bag. An old man smiled at me as he waddled down the aisle to his seat. I opened it up and found a pound of peanuts, a can of Coke and a ham sandwich. I made them disappear.
I walked down the aisle to thank the man and he invited me to sit in an empty seat next to him and his wife. He was an Aussie and had been in a Japanese prison camp in Burma. He told his story of being starved to the brink of death and tortured on a daily basis for four years. He said he had noticed that I hadn't eaten or drank for two days and couldn't bear it. He began to cry and his wife got angry at me. He was a ham radio operator and had invented a method of bouncing signals off the moon to reach farther than was thought possible. He called it the Earth-Moon-Earth Group. We swapped addresses and he gave me his call sign, if I ever should need it.
I got to Vancouver and headed for the Keg and Cleaver to claim my shifts back. I slept on the summertime roof and in a waitress's van until she thought I was snuggling up a little too close to her during the night. Later that summer, I checked with Beaumont and was given instructions to find my mother and sister and the Dane.
I took a train from North Vancouver to Alpha Lake near Whistler. I was supposed to go to Alta Lake and had to walk the ten miles with my gear. At the end of the road was a nice apartment with rooms for all of us. The air was so clean it hurt to breath. I was given a lecture by the Dane and my mother that things were going to be tough and that I would have to pitch in and help. I said let's get to her.
Before long we moved to Squamish where there was more work for the Dane. He had an old station wagon, his tools and his records. I began Grade Twelve. I still enjoyed catching minnows in a slough that ran along our apartment complex. I had begun my poetic phase and used to cross the railroad tracks behind my building, run the gauntlet down the dike past the dump with its feasting black bears to sit beside the Squamish River and muse.
I had taken up smoking full time now and had been introduced to Old Port Cigars by my Danish mentor. I smoked them like cigarettes due to the brevity of the lunch break at school. One night at a party of the Danes friends held at our apartment a little shifty little Danish man I had been speaking to over copious ales took me aside into a corner of the packed living room. He told me a very strange story of his bush-pilot days.
He had been flying a dead man out of the wilderness and the corpse had filled with gas and after letting out a thunderous fart at 12,000 feet, it sat bolt upright in the small plane due to the interaction of the pressure drop and the temperature. He had thrown a jacket over its head so he could concentrate. We cracked another ale and were joined by his pretty wife. She was a raven-haired French lady about the age of my Mom, that is thirty-seven or so.
The bespectacled aviator introduced us and then suggested that I would find it much better to smoke cigarettes and lose the Old Ports. More debonair. I reflected on this and agreed. Next, he asked me if I would like to go upstairs and have sex with him and his wife. I nearly spewed my mouthful of beer. He looked hurt, like a puppy does after getting scolded for peeing on the carpet. He countered with an offer to watch me have sex with his wife. I declined his generosity and went for a walk in the dark down the railroad tracks to clear the ethanol out of my young head.
At school I made two acquaintances. One was a pretty Squamish Band girl who never spoke and always had a new Herman Hesse book in her hand. We sat and read together outdoors when the weather permitted and never spoke to each other but I know she enjoyed those peaceful moments before returning “home” just as I did.
The other was a effervescent Russian lad who showed me what to do on weekends. We would secure a bottle of Scotch and bring it to a small rusty green trailer. There inside was a strange old man that the Russian had befriended. After the three of us had killed the bottle he would recite Baudelaire. It was an epic oration every time but I hated that twisted poet's work. I would usually salve my soul with some Robert Service after one of these sessions. Dal, my school-mate gave me my first copy of the Communist Manifesto. I saw the truth behind that tripe faster than you could say, “Flowers of Evil.”
On weekends I took my little sister to the picture show at the tiny theater on Cleveland Avenue. It was always an old John Wayne flick. Sister loved it because the owner had a cat with a bell that roamed the theater and jumped from lap to lap during the movie. Sixty percent of the crowd were Squamish Band and every time there was a shoot-out scene where a cowboy bit the dust, this contingent rose to their feet and clapped thunderously, joined by us two Cherokees.
I was very bored in my classes and only looked forward to English and Literature. Not for the curriculum but because I had devised a way to do my own writing without getting caught during class. I had the same teacher for these two classes and the poor man tried valiantly to catch me and was never quick enough. I was building up a tome of poetry. I would catch the tubby white whiskered Hush-Puppy wearing gentleman coming up the aisle and quickly palm the papers and replace them with the pathetic mandatory reads.
One day we had a fire drill and it happened during Lit class. We had to leave all our stuff in the room and the teacher had opportunity and motive to look at my private writings. He kept his cool til Christmas season rolled around. At home there was talk of our having to move back to Lynn Valley at Christmas due to a lack of gas-fitting work for the Dane.
Just before school broke up I was summoned by loud-speaker to the office. Due to my up-bringing I automatically assumed I had done something wrong, though what it could have been surely escaped me. I was on the ultra-defensive due to the hormonal changes going on inside me with physical maturity completing itself.
I went in, straightened my shoulder length hair and glare at my tormentors like a Chiricahua brave facing a party of Comanches prior to being roasted alive. There was the principal of the Howe Sound Senior Secondary School, the English and Lit teacher and two men in black suits. These guys had briefcases and hadn't cracked a smile in years.
I demanded to know why the hell I was called into this conclave. My English teacher wore a mischievous grin all the while and nodded to the Principal, who looked distressed. The MIB sat like statues, briefcases poised on their laps and their faces expressionless as lobsters.
My English teacher took the floor and gave a little speech looking right at me.
“Michael, these men are from the MacMillan Bloedell Corporation. I have summoned them here. The purpose of their visit today is this: I have arranged for you to receive a full scholarship to attend university in Vancouver. It will be paid by MacMillan Bloedell and these gentlemen have the necessary papers for you to sign. The only condition is that you must pursue Literature in your studies.”
I choked with tears and could not speak for some tense moments. My emotions were several and inextricably entwined. I was deeply honored at my great luck and realized the great gift that had just been handed me. I was relieved to have a direction pointed out. I was also profoundly conflicted by some programming I had received via my grandparents and my father. I had been drilled since quite young that it was my job to care for my mother.
I finally managed to speak.
“I am honored for this gift you offer and thank you very much for it. Unfortunately, I will not be able to accept it.”
The businessmen looked at my teacher who demanded to know why.
“My family is going through some rough times and need me to be with them. They are also moving to North Vancouver in a short time.”
“That is ridiculous, let them move. Look, you can live in my house for the next six months and rejoin them when you start University in Vancouver. I have only one rule. You cannot smoke in my house.”
After hearing this, I asked if I may give my answer on the morrow. My teacher convinced the two men, who were clearly upset, to let me have this chance to consult with my family. We agreed to meet on the next day.
I went home from school and told my step-father-to-be and my mother of the offer. The Dane congratulated me and then kept fairly quiet and my mother burst into tears. She made it emotionally clear that she needed me to be with her and my sister and that was that. I made up my mind.
I met with the same contingent next day and gave my answer, which was thanks but no thanks. A few days later I was driving a U-Haul full of our stuff down the Squamish Highway with my baby sister riding shotgun. My mother and the Dane were in the station wagon ahead of us. We arrived at the address of the house they had rented and I set to unloading boxes straightaway.
I carried a few of my mom's boxes to an obvious master bedroom. I carried a few boxes of my sister's stuff to a smaller room. I hefted a box of my books and went down the hall to drop it in my room. I cannot describe my feelings when I discovered that there was no room for me. Disappointment, anger and a feeling of betrayal coalesced into a white-hot rage.
I spoke not a word to anyone and continued to move the boxes and furniture. I saw the owner of the house standing in the yard and went to inquire as to who lived in the basement of this house. He told me that there were three Quebecois but they had skipped the rent for two months and he hadn't removed their things yet. I asked him how much the rent was. I asked him if he'd rent to me. He said yes and I said wait a few minutes.
I ran the eight blocks to the Keg and Cleaver and demanded my broiler man job back with full forty hours of shifts per week. I got this and went by bus to a friend's house and ordered him to move out and be my room-mate. He agreed. I went to the bank and got the cash for the landlord and paid him.
I went inside and began to vent my rage by cleaning up the premises. The three people had basically left all their possessions in the suite and slipped in at night to get their mail and perhaps sleep and cook. There was a big fireplace and I began with the clothes and paperwork and stoked a big fire. The furniture was next. I rent it into pieces over my knee and burned everything that would fit.
Meanwhile the Dane's friends had begun a drinking party upstairs. I had pretty much burned all the former tenants possessions when they decided to pay a visit. I heard an angry French explicative and turned from my stance at the fireplace to see two men and a young woman peering into the living-room. The woman was hysterical and the men began to advance in a threatening manner. I calmly kept tossing their things into the fire and stirring it with the poker.
They surrounded me and began screaming and gesticulating in French and English. I ignored them but I was wondering when they were going to become physical. It would be sooner than later. Then I heard a hellacious whoop from the foot of the stairs leading to the upper floor. A woman I had seen at one of the Dane's parties had made the sound. I didn't even know her name.
She was a Squamish Band woman married to a Danish fisherman and she spoke in English. She was was drunk and her tone of voice was the most threatening thing I had ever heard down to this day. She told these people that she was going to take bites out of their livers if they touched a hair on my head. That was just for starters. My blood ran cold as did theirs. The trio muttered, ”Zut Alors!” and vacated the premises.
The warrior woman gave me her hand in greeting and introduced herself. Her voice was as sweet as cinnamon toast with honey. She said she understood what I was all about that day and to carry on. As a show of solidarity she grabbed a piece of the furniture I had smashed and chucked it into the flames before winding her way upstairs for the party in progress.
Thus began life at my first rental suite. I checked into my eleventh school in twelve years and cooked at night. I didn't bother trying to make friends and I remember being very irritated when observing carefree individuals acting their age. At work they called me the thirty-seven year old seventeen year old. I took an interest in gardening and plowed up the entire back yard.
I planted corn, marijuana, okra, pintos, tomatoes, squash, green beans, onions, green onions, lettuce, carrots, leeks, zucchini and spinach. I used a book my grandmother had given me and the crops came up perfectly. As the school year drew nearer to a close I became more and more disaffected with school. I had already completed all the required courses for graduation save one essay in history. I was filling my time with non-academic fluff courses.
I tried to complete the final essay. The topic I had been given was the Education System In Nazi Germany. As I researched this topic, I became struck by the similarities in the system then current as I was writing on the topic. This really made me angry. I found that when I spent time among my plants, I was happy as a raccoon at a duck pond.
When my elder sister had graduated two years earlier in Texas, I had been playing with our attack trained Malamute while the folks were getting ready to go. My grandparents had driven in from out of town and it was a dress-up occasion. She was graduating summa cum laude. I hated to dress up and I hated to wait so I began to wrestle on the floor with the dog which outweighed me at the time.
He had bitten a neighbor's face several months before and the attack was unprovoked. The neighbor let it slide and life went on. While I was rolling on the floor with the animal, its ear came close to my mouth and I gave it a nip just like a dog will do when it is play fighting. When I became aware of myself I was standing in the bathroom looking into the mirror.
My face was numb and had holes from the top of my skull to below my jaw. Where my natural smile lines once were I saw rips that laid the skin open down to the bone. I was a mess and looked like I'd walked into a buzz saw. My father had to miss the ceremony in order to take me to the emergency room for many, many stitches and lots of Novocaine. We arrived late but we got to see the handing of the scroll.
I wasn't aware of thinking of this first experience with graduation when mine was only weeks away but with hindsight I can say there was a good chance that it was percolating in my subconscious. As the day drew nearer, I became very agitated. Finally, I couldn't take anymore. My alarm clock rang one morning til it dropped off the shelf and spun around on the linoleum. When it ceased, I rose and wrote out a notice of my intention of withdrawing from classes. I gave a copy to each of my teachers and was walking out the hallway when one of my teachers summoned me in to see the Principal.
I went in and spoke to the man. I had heard his speech when I first arrived after Christmas and I liked his words. He had a good reputation with the students and enjoyed their respect as well. I was asked what I was up to. I explained that I was done with school and that nothing and no man was going to change my mind.
He had my records pulled and went over them. He noticed I was lacking only a single essay in completing my requirements for a B.C. Diploma. He pointed this out and said if I was having troubles at home, with family, or getting up for school due to work that I could complete the work at home and just bring it to him before the last day. I told him that would make no compromises and that I refused unequivocally to finish that cursed essay. He said that he wasn't empowered to just sign diplomas and hand them out like pop-corn. He pointed out that I would not get far in the world outside with out that document.
I told him that I didn't think many doors would fling open because of it. He was stubborn and I was adamant. We reached a crossroad. Someone had to give way. I tried out something.
“I'll make you a deal, Mr. C. In my “spare time” when I am not doing important essays such as the one in question, I write poetry. I have compiled a book of these poems. I will bring you this hand-made book to read. I will come the next day and if you think that based on my poems that I am worthy of a Grade Twelve Diploma, then give me one. If not, I am still out of here.”
He agreed and we shook on it. I went home and got the poem book. I brought it to his office and returned next day to get the verdict. He smiled and handed me a crispy Diploma signed by his own hand. He asked me what I planned to do next. I told him I would likely be a deck-hand on the tug boats in a short time. Two or three days later, I was busking with my guitar in front of a Bank of Montreal on Lonsdale Avenue in North Vancouver and Mr. C. walked past into the bank. He asked how it was coming with the tug boats. I assured him I would likely be sailing soon. I never saw him again.
Six years later, my baby sister and her best friend were summoned into Mr. C's office for some misdemeanor. As the girls sat awaiting their fate, my sister gazed up on the wall behind Mr. C's big desk. There on the wall, suitably framed was one of my poems. Here is what it said:
Shoe of the soul
Always too small
So we cut out
The painful parts
Copyright © 2019 by Michael A. Hawes. All Rights Reserved.
Michael Hawes was born in Texas, raised in Louisiana and lives in British Columbia.