There is a restaurant in North Vancouver called the Tomahawk Barbecue. I think it has been around since the 1940's and one may still find it there today. It was one of the first places my father took me to after we moved to Canada. The other one was The Only Seafood House on Hastings Street in downtown Vancouver. He remembered them from his old merchant sailor days and likely frequented them when on shore leave from the ship terminals. The Tomahawk was the last place I ever had a meal with my father and that occasion was the last time I ever heard him laugh or saw him smile.
It was a smallish place with a quaint stone front and a warm cozy interior. There was lots of cedar and log-cabin style architecture on the inside, a fireplace and a little fish pond. The ceiling and walls were festooned with a prodigious collection of First Nations artifacts. Carvings, totems, war bonnets, pipes, pots and many other items held your attention while you sipped one of the best cups of coffee to be had on that side of Burrard Inlet.
There was a bar with stools and a few snug booths as well as several small tables. The paper place mats depicted a comical map of Canada. It was from these mats I first got the physical lay of my new land and the psychological programming of the still popular stereotyping of the different provinces and cities.
The hamburgers were all named for authentic Indian Chiefs that had befriended or traded with the founder of the restaurant. The piece de la resistance was an item called the Yukon Breakfast. This plate would have inspired either a poem by Robert Service or a novel by Jack London had either of these men chanced upon it in their day. I had read both of these authors as a lad and my imagination was running wild when I first spied the menu back in 1969.
Just below the description of the meal, a bit of small print caught my eagle-eye. It was a challenge and to a boy like myself it was a challenge that I intended to meet. This plate was the most expensive and the most expansive on the menu and thus, the proprietor promised that any man who could finish it, could waive the fee. I smiled inwardly. I had been accused of having worms and a hollow leg by my grandfather for years. I figured this was going to be my lucky day. I asked my Dad if I could give it a go and he answered in the affirmative.
The waitress returned a few minutes later with everyone's meals and ten minutes later with mine. I sat regarding a platter the size of a hub-cap before me. I wore the same look I would wear many years later when negotiating the last few hundred feet of the ascent of the West Lion. First, I just admired the beauty of the mountain. Then I looked at the rock I had to climb.
On an oven-warmed ceramic platter had been placed four big squares of Texas toast dripping with real butter. On top of this base and completely covering it was a matrix of perfectly pan-fried hash-browns. The next ply was one of thick sliced Canadian back bacon and again, rather than following some food manager's rules of portioning, the number of pieces was dictated by how many it happened to take to completely cover the potatoes.
Lying on top of this platform of delectable pork protein was a roof of eggs, done over easy and four of which hid the bacon entirely. I had my coffee re-filled, doused the eggs with Tabasco and put a moat of Worcestershire around the rim, crossed it with maple syrup and put several strategic dabs of marmalade in case the going got rough. After dusting her down with salt and pepper, I attacked.
The toast was what thwarted me that day. I absolutely couldn't put that last piece down and have never been too fond of breads in the first place. It was the protein I was insatiable for. My father was a gentleman about it and kept his remarks in the realm of respect for my having done my best. I vowed to try again and again, until I could accomplish this Great White North rite of passage. I remember this as being the first time that I realized that perhaps not everything is bigger in Texas.
Years went by and my folks split up. I kept in touch with my estranged father. He had a girlfriend whom he claimed was the daughter of an old shipmate. She was my age and he had found her on the downtown east-side streets where she turned tricks for drug money. He was working hard to get her clean and eventually found her employment as a waitress on Lonsdale across from the Burrard Drydock and Shipyards at The Mayflower Cafe. They lived together in a succession of basement suites and I used to visit once in a while and play my guitar for them.
One Sunday morning my father phoned and asked me to accompany them to the Tomahawk for breakfast. I was seventeen and hadn't eaten there since I was twelve. I remembered my failed attempt at the Yukon and I knew that this time I could pull it off. I walked to his place and we drove over to the restaurant. It was a lovely sunny day and the house was packed.
Tourists, families and old North Shore hands filled every available seat. All the way over in the car we had been talking up the place to the gal and she was excited to see what a real lumberjack's breakfast looked like. I assured my Dad that he had definitely just saved some money this time because I was bigger and hungrier than ever before. He grinned and said, “We'll see.”
After joking around outside while waiting for our turn we were seated at a table right square in the middle of the dining area. We were all in our best jeans and shirts and I had never seen that girl looking better than on that day. She had gained enough weight to look nourished and the color was coming back into her skin with the returning strength of her youth. Her hair was nice and clean and she smelled good. She laughed a lot but it was a ladylike laugh now and the sarcastic edges were dissipating.
I immediately checked the menu to see if the deal was still in effect for the free Yukon Breakfast to anyone who could put one down. It was and I ordered and got ready to put on a show for my father and his girl. It had been about six years since I'd tangled with the Yukonator. This time, yours truly was going to win. I even contemplated having some apple pie after since the meal was going to be free. I set to eating like a bitch wolf after feeding ninety-nine pups.
We were having the best time any of the three of us had had in a long while and our happiness spread throughout the joint. Soon other people were offering jokes and encouragement to me to get the job done. In good time, I was rounding third and headed for home. Learning from past mistakes, I had cleverly eaten the toast first and rendered it down with several cups of coffee. The hash-browns were as easy to eat as air is to breathe. The back bacon and the eggs were taken alternately. In this way, each served as a reward for the other to the overwhelmed palate.
About an egg and one half plus the corresponding bacon away from a clean plate, two feet shot into my lap nearly knocking the stuffing out of me. The coffee mugs flew onto the floor and the water glasses tipped over, emptied and rolled to join them in pieces. My plate levitated but came down again intact with a solid thud. Directly across from me I could see that the girl was perfectly horizontal and stiff as a two by six. Her neck rested on her own chair which listed at a crazy angle.
My father told me in a clear soft voice to grab her ankles. As I gathered her shoes and gripped her legs, he dropped some cash on the table, pocketed a bottle of Tabasco Sauce and got a hold under her slim shoulders. We wove our way through a sea of wide-eyed, horrified Sunday morning diners. Like a crack first response team we trudged out to the small parking lot. As I was trying to form the words to ask what the precious hell had just happened, my Dad told me to put her feet down and lean her against the car.
He reached inside the car and pulled out a bottle of water and a small bottle of Valium. He poured a bunch of the pills into his hand and worked open her mouth. The gal swallowed them like a goldfish gulping cornmeal and as I stood watching she went from brick-hard to butter-soft right before my eyes. She apologized and with perfect lucid control of her faculties got into the car and explained to me what it's like coming down off that kind of addiction.
When my mother re-married, her and her new husband happened to rent a house directly across the street from the Tomahawk. My father had moved to another town and I never saw him again. When I was twenty I got married to a gal from the States and we occupied a spare bedroom in that rental. My young wife got her first Canadian job as a waitress at the Tomahawk. After a few months my wife got another waitress job at the Mayflower Cafe on Lonsdale. She never met my father and I never told her the story of those two establishments. Four months after the wedding, my father was dead.
Many decades later I found myself waiting for my Suzuki to be serviced a few blocks away from the old Tomahawk. I was in my fifties now and hadn't been in the place for over thirty years. Something drew me over that direction. I had a smoke in the parking lot and regarded the old house I'd lived in when I'd gotten married the first time. I went on in the restaurant and noticed how much smaller everything seemed. I smiled when I saw that the place mats were the same and that the Yukon was still on the menu.
Only two things were different. The prices would have raised the eyebrows of an attorney and the free deal challenge was gone. I decided to do what had to be done, irregardless. When my plate came, I saw that a third thing had changed. The dimensions of the legendary meal had dwindled to a point whereupon it no longer deserved to carry the name it bore. I scarfed up that Yukonette with only two cups of coffee as solvent. Most female letter-carriers I know would have needed two of those plates just to make it through to lunch in a good mood. It didn't really bother me though and as I paid the bill I remembered that bottle of Tabasco my father had scooped and I figured we were all square now.
The first time I came to Canada, it hit me like a rogue wave. The circumstances were unusual as was our route. Within a day or so of first learning of the impending relocation and giving away all my stuff I was looking at Baton Rouge in the rear-view mirror of a four-door sedan as we crossed the Mississippi River. My two sisters and a chow-chow accompanied me in the back seat. We proceeded West to Texas and when we backed out of my Grandma's driveway, I left a piece of me behind in the pines. I took my wife and two sons down in 2007 and got it back.
My Mom phoned my Grandma from a gas-station around Oklahoma later that day and was told that the law had been asking around and that she had told them she didn't know where we were headed. I knew my Dad was running but I was never told what from. Up in Oregon, my baby sister and I met a talking crow at a gas station and that lightened my mood a little bit temporarily.
We rented an apartment in Lynn Valley and the snow was about a foot and a half deep. In a few months we moved to an upper-floor rental suite off Marine Drive near Mosquito Creek. I remember two songs in particular from those six months. One was Galveston and the other was Alone Again Naturally. The former was like a cruel joke and made me awful lonesome for my Grandpa's beach cabin on the Gulf of Mexico only a few miles away from Galveston. I remember that a local North Vancouver AM radio station set up a booth at a strip-mall that first Spring and played the second song till the platter melted.
Gilbert O'Sullivan's song was like a balm to me because misery loves company. I enjoyed it no matter how many times they plugged it per day. In our suite, I found human company for my blues. Our landlord, I had heard was an Indian. I had glanced him once or twice through the window and I was mighty curious as to what tribe he was from. I hoped it was Cherokee but that was a long-shot even to an eleven year old boy.
I decided to find out one Saturday. His door was open to the garage and I knocked at the open frame. There was no answer so I tip-toed inside a few steps to where I could see him. He was slumped in a broken chair at a small scratched-up round wooden table. There was a bottle, nearly empty, of Seagram's Whiskey, a small portable red and tan leather bound record player just like the one I had left in Baton Rouge, an ashtray, a deck of Player's and an empty glass. On the wall was a calendar with a likeness of Guru Gobindsingh and a picture of Ganesh.
He roused slightly as I approached the table and offered me a chair. He asked if I'd come to visit and I replied in the affirmative. He smiled like people do when a waiter plonks down their favorite dish after a long wait. Then he winced and began to rub his forehead. He smoothed his oiled hair back into place with a comb produced from the front his white linen shirt. He banged the back of his head with a mahogany-colored fist and began to adjust his trousers, his socks, his shirt, his belt and even re-rolled his sleeves until the folds were perfect, just like my Dad always did.
He regarded the bottle, clucked his tongue and polished it off in one quaff. Then he spoke.
“Mikalala, do you bant tea?”
I stared, not understanding his dialect.
He smiled broadly and tried again, “Mikalala, do you like drink chai? British tea? Red Rose?
He mimed taking a sip of tea with his little finger protruding. Although we only drank iced-tea down South, I instantly knew what he meant and I answered yes.
“Mikalala. Du bil hav to gut it for us two. Go to cubbort for cups and for tea. Kettle is on stove. Sugar is by sink and also spoons. Milik is in fridge. I bil take four. OK?”
I stared again. I asked if he really wanted four cups.
“Mikalala, no,no,no. Not four cups. Du bil put four baks tea in my cup. OK. Du understan bat I mean?”
“Yes Sir. Four tea bags.”
“Good boy. Berry good boy. I bil put sugar and I bil put milik. Bring to table, OK?”
I did so and soon as the water had boiled we were busy fixing up our respective mugs. He took milk and more sugar than I would have believed possible and I had mine with sugar only. After he had squeezed out the last drop of caffeine out of the four bags and set them in the ashtray, we began to chat.
I told him about Louisiana and Texas and he told me about India. It was then I realized that he was a different kind of Indian. I had a good grasp of geography but had never encountered an East Indian person in my whole life and when my Dad had told me our landlord was an Indian man, I figured he looked a bit like an Apache.
He told me he was from the Northern part of his country and his language was called Punjabi. The province bore the same name and it meant “Five Rivers”. It was those five rivers that made that place such a good agricultural land. He told me his last name was Singh which meant “lion” and that he was of the Sikh Faith. He said he was supposed to wear an iron bracelet, never cut his hair, carry a knife and comb and wrap his head in a turban. He smiled and said that did none of those things however.
He said he had a son, a daughter, a wife and a mother in North Vancouver. They all lived in another house he had bought for them from money he had earned working at a nearby lumber mill on the Fraser River. He added that he had also bought them yet another house which was rented out and the money from the rents helped to feed and educate his brood.
I asked him why he stayed alone in the small basement. He smiled and pointed to the empty bottle.
”My bife beri angry obry time before. I am bad boy. Abry day I go Abalon Hotel and drink beri much busky. My son and my dotter beri angry. My mum beri angry. My bife hut me wit bottle ban I sleep table. Bloody no good. I am safe here but Mikalala I am bloody bad boy. Du understan bat I mean? Abry day abry day I go Abalon Hotel drink bloody bad boy busky until I can sleep.”
He lit a smoke and turned on the record player. It was the first time I had heard Lata Mangeshkar and something magical happened. I closed my eyes within a few seconds and did not open them until the record had played through one whole side. Mr. Singh had done the same. The look on his face when I opened my eyes was the same as the look on my face. We both noticed it. A sixth-grade bayou boy and a forty-something alcoholic from the foothills of the Hindu Kush.
I discovered the real reason and power behind the universal human need for music and the ability of certain of us to fill this noblest of tasks for our stricken fellows. I understood not a word of what I'd heard but I did understand with perfect clarity every note and the pictures they described. I saw the landscape, the animals, the costumes of the people, felt the weather and tasted the food. That was in the instruments.
The really important thing I learned that day was that the universal spirit can heal, encourage, soothe, challenge, tease, educate and entertain. It is the pure yielding nature which draws what ever potential there be inherent in a person to the fore. I believe this power to be feminine in aspect whether it is radiating from a male or a female. She calls a boy into the adventure of unknown woods like the Xtabay and when he is older she sings that he may forget his wounds and rest without vigilance like the bird song which tells the sleeper in the forest that no harm approaches. They both know he'll never get out of the woods.
I visited Mr. Singh every chance I got and he just left the door open most days. We drank tea and listened to Lata records until I could practically sing some of them myself. I learned how to count to ten and some common phrases. I learned how to make a drink from tamarinds that tasted like a bottle of Coca Cola married a glass of iced tea and they both got drunk on lemonade. It was so good it made your teeth hurt. He talked about growing okra which he called bindi and I told him about how we turned that bindi into gumbo.
One rainy night there was a big commotion downstairs. My father called me to accompany him and we went down to Mr. Singh's suite.
“Mr. Mike! Mr. Mike! Mikalala! God dammut helup me please, Sir! My bloody bife bil kull me bun hunded pertant!”
We rushed into the room. A big young man in a turquoise turban, a young woman in a saree and and an elderly woman in a saree were huddled together by the kitchen counter watching a middle-aged woman repeatedly striking Mr. Singh about the head and neck with a quarter-full fifth of whiskey. There was a massive goose-egg above his left temple. I believe it was the hair oil that saved him from a torn scalp. As the woman yelled and screamed in Punjabi she neglected to aim her blows properly and they all glanced off the slick surface.
My father walked between the victim and the attacker and raised his arms to the sides with palms out. The woman dropped the bottle and like a broken steam hose, the bitter venom of her personal anguish poured forth in an ever weakening stream and she staggered back to her family group after spitting in her husband's direction. They left the scene and my father checked Mr. Singh's noggin and then went upstairs. I stayed and got an ice-bag going and brewed some tea.
Mr. Singh asked for the bottle his wife had dropped on the floor and I gave it to him. He unscrewed the cap and poured it down in one luxurious draught. He wiped his mouth with a hankie and adjusted all his clothes. As I brought the tea, he put on a Lata record and lit a cigarette. Within minutes we were on a jungle road walking behind some bullocks carrying the harvest to a market town. Water drums and flutes put purpose in our gait and a lovely girl riding on one of the carts began to sing. We both knew we were going to a wonderful place and that we wouldn't be coming back down the hazardous road we had traveled. To have the distilled starlight of a maiden's voice like audible incense along the way although we might not posses her, was enough. To a reasoning man, it was even fair.
Within six months, life jerked me away from North Vancouver suddenly and unforeseen. I found myself in Beaumont, Texas and then in Houston. I remember a song called Doctor My Eyes from that time in my life that really matched how I felt. I was likely singing it when I moved with my family back to North Vancouver about two years after arriving in Texas. I hunted up some friends I had started to make from the time before and although we attended the same high school, it was never the same and the bonds were weak.
Mr. Singh had sold his house and moved away. I found his son and he told me that the old man said I could come to stay in India on his farm any time I wanted. I never made that trip. I had made a cassette recording from Mr. Singh's record albums of Lata's songs and many was the night she helped me to sleep. I eventually played the tape until it wore out and stretched beyond repair. I stayed in Canada, lived as I thought best and took my medicine.
When I was in my forties, I made friends with a janitor at one of the Post Office Depots I worked as a letter-carrier at. He traded me two Lata cassettes in return for an astrological birth-chart which I computed and drew up for his newest daughter. Some time later, I met another man, a supervisor, who had a small music store in Vancouver's little India as a sideline. He sold me two cassettes of Lata Mangeshkar singing duets of ancient ghazzals with Jagjit Singh, who well may be her male equal. Now, approximately the same age as the man who introduced me to this music, I once again listened to the maiden sing me a bit further down my road. And like an old Irish song says, I still haven't found what I'm looking for.
People who go to sleep with empty stomachs rarely have nightmares. There have been times in my life when I was able to sleep quite comfortably on the floor or the bare ground without my flat stomach hurting me a bit. A ditch on Highway 99, a rocky beach on Honshu, a cliff in Spain, a Greyhound seat and a mat of pine needles up Jackass Mountain have all been beds to me.
Much is made of dreams and I have had some very important ones in my own estimation. I have learned to categorize them, however and there are many which are just dandelion fluff. Like a computer needs to flush its buffers, so does the human brain. I have noticed that the common anxiety dream is often triggered by nothing more than one too many slices of pizza.
I have never followed the logic of mankind, wherein people eat to excess in order to give thanks for having enough food. Feast is the handmaid of famine in my storybook. I also don't believe in hoarding vast quantities of anything, other than patience. To me it is like demonstrating that in spite of one's professed beliefs, that they just don't trust that their mother will see that they have enough to eat or to wear.
In ancient Egypt some of the first research was done into human nutrition. It was worked out over time exactly how much calorie intake of precisely which foods would yield a days work building pyramids, preserve basic health and not leave enough energy at the end of the day to cause any trouble to the boss but just enough to make more baby slaves. While the Pharaoh ate and drank copious quantities of imported delicacies and lay down to dreams so contorted that they would cross a Rabbi's eyes, the workers munched bread, salt, onions, a bit of fish and a beer or two before settling in to a dreamless sleep.
This history was not lost on me as I watched products in the grocery boast less and less of all nutrients and charge double for the lack. I look for salt, sugar and fat when I go hunting among the shelves. Don't mix any of those three with flour and you will have a shiny coat, lots of energy and a proper blood chemistry.
I was sleeping just now and in the clutches of a Kafkaesque dream. I had shown up at a new postal station for work in a strange part of town and when I got there I was informed that I would have to do some pipe-fitting instead. This was made difficult as I hadn't brought any of my tools and furthermore I was clad only in my bedroom slippers. I tried to make the best of it and William Shatner and I set off for the job in an old truck. The truck died and we walked the last few blocks.
Bill had never done sheet-metal before but was a quick wit and able to imagine the sort of tools one would need to actually conclude the assignment. I was intent on connecting the pipes to the appliance before us although it was anyone's guess what the contraption was. It had some pipes from prior to my birth and some that were of a technology beyond my ken. To further complicate the issue, my ex-wife showed up and began the most annoying and distracting behavior. As I tried to get Captain Kirk organized putting on the transition to the plenum, she began to lick me! It was nice at first when she confined herself to my arms but when she moved up to my face, I simply couldn't work any longer. Her tongue was like a belt sander.
In a stark instant, I snapped my eyes open and was confronted by Dusty Bones' deep eyes where he loomed over my chest playing with my necklace. A look to my right showed that the correct wife was breathing softly beside me and I was in the proper dream I have chosen to dream on this side of life. In an instant I knew it was the bionic chicken breast and mound of ampalaya she had fed me hours before and the half box of Windmill cookies I had polished off while watching Star Trek VI on the DVD that were the real authors of my discomfort. After a hot cup of chicory and a plug of halfzware shag, I was good to go.
The kitten's object of interest started me musing. It is a gold stylized rendition of kokopillau, aka kokopelli which I wear on my neck as a wedding token. I took the design from an illustration in a book about the Hopi I had read. A German anthropologist had taken rubbings from rocks he had found scattered from the Arctic to Tierra Del Fuego and from the Eastern seaboard to the coast of California. I have since seen many stylized versions of kokopillau but I prefer the most ancient.
The creature is actually a magical katydid and thus is supposed to look insectoid, not the humanistic version usually seen in “Real Indian” gift shops. I have drawn the little design for over forty years on all my correspondence and as a mark on many of my possessions. In Hopi myth, there was three worlds prior to this present one. Each was destroyed and in each case a remnant of mankind was saved from destruction and told to try a little harder to get along properly. A friend of mine said yesterday that if mankind was created yesterday at 9 AM, all the same color and language and culture, that they would be warring by noon.
In the last instance, the remnant emerged from underground shelters into what is now British Columbia. They were instructed by the Creator to travel to the North, West, East and South extremes of the continent and then to meet back in the middle of this cross. That rendezvous point is the Hopiland of today. Indeed, petroglyphs of kokopillau have been found all along this route. The journey was to take many, many generations and was only completed in fairly recent times.
The little being, it is told, felt sorry for humans and decided to go along as a helper. He had a magic flute and each night as the people camped, if seeds were put in a pot they carried, he would cause them to grow, flower and fruit in a matter of hours by playing music. The first mountain range they had to cross was guarded by an eagle. The eagle made the people agree to a challenge of their bravery before allowing them to pass. Kokopillau stepped up to take the challenge. The task was to stand without blinking as the eagle thrust an arrow point at his eyes. As his insect eyes were unblinking by nature, he passed the test.
From my understanding he was never worshiped as a deity, rather he embodied a connection to things magical or beyond our normal range of perception. This perception has waned in most humans with the passage of time and to their detriment. I am fortunate in this regards. It is in this spirit of understanding that I adopted kokopillau as a personal talisman of sorts. You could call him a helpful wanderer with a touch of mojo. How did he get to be around my neck? Therein, dear listener, hangs a tale.
When I was a young buck, I worked at a truck stop in the Fraser Canyon. On my time off I used to climb Jackass Mountain to sleep in the rocks and pines and watch the summer lightning, the trains and the moon. Once, I was sheltered in a rock overhang and saw a bolt strike a pine nearby. It shot down the trunk in a black streak and some smoldering pieces flew off in my direction. I went in the daylight to inspect and saw that it had a most curious shaped branch.
It was actually two branches grown together, then separated, then rejoined, then separated yet again. The shape spoke to something very deep inside me and I took the design as my own. It has formed part of my legal signature ever since that summer night so many decades ago. I revisited the tree throughout its life only to discover that it had been repeatedly struck and finally toppled. I still have a piece of the pitch-soaked wood blasted away from one of the strikes. In Cherokee medicine as well as in Chinese lore, this is very powerful stuff and to date I have never had a reason big enough to utilize its properties. The tree eventually went to earth but I was able to get a picture the second to last time I ever stood over it.
I had a relative in East Texas before I was born who was a wanderer. Felix G. Landers traveled on foot to points unknown and was always accompanied by two dogs. He was born in 1859 in Harrison County, Texas. He had three brothers and seven sisters. They grew up on a farm in Hallsville, Texas. He never married. No one knew where he went or what he did. From time to time he would show up at different relatives' farms to have a feed and carry on. He would eat and sleep on the porch with the dogs. He had a long gray beard and carried everything he owned in a backpack, save for a trunk which he left at one relative's house near Farmersville in Collin County. That trunk was never opened by anyone except him and no one knew what it contained.
It happened that he passed through one winter that was a particularly harsh one for this part of the world. He took up shelter in a cotton warehouse in a rare blizzard and his frozen body was discovered several days later by local farmers. The story made the local Texas papers and once I found a copy that a relative had sent to my mother which she had used as a bookmark in a book I had lent her.
Here are the two newspaper articles:
“Tuesday, 21 Jan 1930
DOG REFUSES TO LEAVE HIS DEAD MASTER
Loyalty of a dog to his master was described by Lansing citizens who reported to Longview, (Texas) officers today that they had found a dead man in a cotton house in their community Saturday morning. The man, Felix Landers, a wanderer, was frozen to death Friday night during the severe blizzard. He had started to Marshall, (Texas) from Longview, (Texas) and took refuge in the cotton house when the blizzard struck. Friday morning some farmers heard a dog barking in the cotton house, they investigated but the dog, a large collie, would not let them enter the shack. The men had to kill the collie before they could remove the man's body. Those who have known Landers said the collie was his best friend. They were inseparable at all times. Landers would not accept a ride from a motorist unless the dog was given the same privilege.”
“Friday, 14 March 1930
LANDERS APPEARS IN MARSHALL TO DENY HE IS DEAD
Felix Landers, like Rip Van Winkle, has returned to deny that he is dead. But unlike Rip, he found that nothing had changed, only the weather being a little warmer. The following article appeared in today's edition of the Dallas News under an Associated Press credit line. Furnishing a belated and unexpected denouncement to one of the many pathetic stories of Texas' extraordinary blizzard of January, Felix Landers, aged wanderer, came to Marshall, (Texas) Thursday expressly to deny he was frozen to death near Hallsville, (Texas) on 18 January. Since announcement of Mr. Landers' death, a number of relatives have tried to ascertain definitely how the rumor originated. They could not find their kin, but were told hundreds of times that he was dead. A report from Marshall, (Texas) this morning said Landers appeared at the sheriff's office yesterday, shook hands with Mr. Sanders and other officers, and told them “I am not dead.” A few minutes later he and his dog resumed their journey and were last seen on the Jefferson Road.”
The day I received the returned book from my mother by mail, I was busy researching the symbol I had taken from the pine tree so many tears ago. I had wanted to see if the form existed outside of nature, such was its resonance which never waned over the passing of many of my years of its use. I was using Google and after many hours of shooting in the dark, I came across an exact match! It was a bas-relief on the front of an ancient cotton warehouse in Northwest Cairo on the Nile Delta at a place called Sais. The building was thousands of years old and still standing in my lifetime.
Further hours of research showed the symbol to be one of the emblems of a female deity named Neith. A huntress and warrior woman much revered at the time and in that place. I had just re-filled my mug to ponder this when the mailman dropped the book through my door-slot containing the story of the cotton warehouse in East Texas thousands of years and an ocean away. I have had many days like this and though I am accustomed to it, I draw much inspiration and energy from contact with the numinous.
When I married the first time I made rings from hex nuts. When I could afford it, I had a sister-in-law make two rings with the motif from the pine tree on Jackass Mountain. Mine was lost in an attic while working as a gas-fitter in North Vancouver. The marriage didn't last long and I never found the ring in the blown-in insulation. My second set of wedding rings were custom-made and mine suffered a similar fate as did my second marriage. I lost that one in a crawl space doing gas-fitting. It had been made from a piece of my grandfather's ring. His fingers were of such a huge circumference that two rings and a further piece of jewelry were gotten from the one portion of gold.
My third set of wedding rings were store bought. I have big knuckles and slim joints close to my palms. Alas, to get a ring big enough to clear my knotty knuckles, means a loose fit on the other side. This ring was lost in another attic, that of my landlord at the time and I could not find it in the morass of fiberglass and vermiculite. My wife also worked with her hands all day and preferred to keep her ring in her pocket for fear of losing it down a drain. Thus we went about our daily affairs with no rings on.
I have never liked rings, watches and jewelry. I do not like the connotations to the ring in the bulls nose that is placed upon the married man's band by the unhappy husbands of the world. I don't like the ancient connections to Saturn, symbolized by the ring and the black square hats used by university graduates. Saturn was an asshole who ate his children. As Nisa and I are bonded like newly welded valve-flanges on a submarine, we do not feel the need to bother to wear physical reminders.
It has been clear to me for some time that one of the secrets of life is that of satisfaction. This simple principal escapes most of us for the best years of our lives and many of us do not comprehend it ever. What I mean is, if a person can accept their own reality of the time, place and circumstances they live in and hold this picture up against the totality of the world and all time at large, then and only then is one able to discern which times, events and places are the sweet times of their life. Thus, they are able to recognize a good situation and actually revel in it as it is happening, rather than look backwards with bitter tears of regret at the memory of what they now recognize as the good times.
When I was a letter-carrier, I had a lot of terrible routes and horrible assignments. One day at a Station called Mountainview, I bid on a new route. After the first day of sorting and walking it, I realized that it was the best I was ever going to get in my career. It had an AM portion that began across the street from the station at an outdoor gear outfitters store and did all the businesses for three blocks of a half-dozen streets. After a home-cooked lunch, which was taken in the station, I had six blocks of two streets far away next to the apartment where I lived. This portion took about an hour to complete and I would simply walk home.
At the time I had created a web-site of my writings called Follow The Lynx (pun intended) and was in the process of translating it into French, German and Spanish. This took many, many hours and several years to complete. I soon discovered that I could do my morning portion, go home for lunch, work for six hours of translating and then burst through he PM portion near my abode as a break from sitting. It was the cat's pajamas and I knew it! I enjoyed every mile of it and used the precious free time to further my own endeavors.
Over the years I had routes that took me progressively South on Cambie Street from the bridge downtown to 49th Avenue. The worst route I ever had was along this Avenue. One of my calls on Cambie Street was a jeweler's shop. The proprietors were a charming couple. The man was a German and his wife was a Swiss woman. She did the business and he made the jewelry. I got to know them well.
They had met as teenagers in Malaysia or Thailand as young travelers. After meeting, they decided to travel together and subsequently fell deep in love. Along their way, it happened one day that they were riding a motorcycle in very heavy chaotic traffic. An oncoming vehicle passed at high speed and part of its bumper swiped off the German boy's leg at the knee. The girl stuck with him in the sweltering filth and got him to treatment and eventually back to Switzerland where he received the very best care available at the time.
Her father, a jeweler, took the young man under his wing and told him that he had to get up off the bed, learn to walk on his plastic leg and learn a trade if he wanted to marry his daughter, which he very much wanted to do. The man taught the boy and he became an accomplished designer and maker of very fine jewelry. They were married and have been together everyday since that time.
One day as Christmas was approaching, I got the idea to forgo ever having a wedding ring to replace the one I had lost for the third time. I would have a piece made for my wife and one for me that we could wear around our necks. I talked to the German and gave him a drawing I had made of kokopillau. A few weeks later, he proudly placed the two pendants in my hand while his wife beamed goodwill from her eyes. I have never taken it off since and plan to be wearing it on the day I die. The design and the hands that made it carry a lot of power.
Michael Hawes was born in Texas, raised in Louisiana and lives in British Columbia.