the true stories
Many people run to doctors for everything. Animals usually crawl under a bush and let God figure it out. People used to remember that they are beloved creatures and I am here to tell you that some still do. I am one. I had the good fortune to meet another, Mr. Rodriges, on the Trail one late September day.
He lived with his pretty dark-eyed plump wife, Maria on my very first route. It was a snug, well-kept little house with a large garage. I first saw Rodriges out in the driveway sawing logs. He was about 150 lbs., slim, handsome as a movie star and his eyes sparkled like sunlight on the ocean.
He always wore the same blue checkered thick flannel work shirt and green suspenders. He looked to be a healthy fifty years old and turned out to be eighty. His movements didn't betray his age because he was a relaxed, methodical man by nature. Here's how we met.
I couldn't help but admire his woodpile. I was awestruck. There in his side yard was the most immaculate Catholic cord of fragrant wood I have ever seen up to this writing. It was raised off the damp ground, perfectly square and level and had a snug-fitting blue tarp tailor-made to roof the top. Each piece was exactly the same dimensions and you couldn't have inserted a cigarette paper between pieces, so precisely were they cut and stacked.
I asked him if I could adore this marvel for a moment and he stopped cutting and joined me for a smoke at the woodpile. He told me the story of how he learned to work with wood as a boy in Portugal, how he met his wife at the town well when he was fourteen and he answered all my questions about cork trees, oak trees, pine trees and the river Tagus.
His favourite things were women, trees, little children, good tobacco and wine. After all, what else is there, really? When I told him I had read Camoens, he slapped his knee and said, “Miguel, come-it, I eshow-it you esomting.”
He took me by the shoulder like a father would and led me into the shade of his garage. He motioned me to sit on a small chair. He walked over to a table and got a glass. Like the kind you keep in the bathroom for washing out your mouth. He walked slowly over to a large concrete tank. He lifted a wooden hatch and showed me his fermentation tank.
Pausing for effect, he waved his arm along the length and breadth of this hand-made polished fine grade cement, perfectly square fifty-odd gallon cistern. Above the tank were three oaken barrels fitted with old fashioned brass taps. He put the little glass under a brass tap, turned to me, raised one eyebrow and turned the spigot. A beautiful red liquid flowed out. It was the same shade of red as the jerseys of the national soccer team of Portugal.
“Dis barrels come-it from old country. Use-it before for ship-it cherries.”
He handed me the glass and told me to look through it at the light outside. If it had been a crayon, the label would have read, “Sangue Translúcido de Campeões.” He next told me to smell it. I closed my eyes and breathed it in. The spirit whisked me away to pine-clad hills, down along a river to where cherry trees grew and onto a beach where men were building ships with oak and gypsy girls danced barefooted around smoky cork fires.
“OK, OK! Miguel, now you drink-it.”
We had three small glasses of his Portagee Red and we shared my tobacco. While we drank, Rodriges asked me if I wanted to hear a story. I said I sure would.
“A man, he's walking home-it one-a day after work-it. He esees a gypsy woman. The woman asks to him would he like-it she gonna tell-it him his-a futura. The man esays, OK. The gypsy tell-it the man everyting and man give-it her money and keep-it walking. Later, the man's friend esees him coming-a down the road. But the man is weeping like a baby. The friend, he ask-it what's the matter. The man tell-it to him about the gypsy. His friend esay, Eso what? The man tell-it his friend. Esonamabitch-it, gypsy tell-it me I'm gonna have-it three esons. That's great, esay the other man. No my friend, gypsy told-it me one eson will be-it a liar, one eson will be-it a thief and one eson will be-it a murderer! I feel-it like I'm a gonna die. Esonamabitch-it! Wait, it's OK, esay the man's friend. Look-it, here is what to do-it. Send-it the forst eson to be-it lawyer. OK. Send-it the esecond eson to be-it priest. OK. Send-it the toord eson to be-it doctor. OK?”
I laughed til I had trouble getting my breath. Rodriges merely lifted his right eyebrow and held it there til my fit was over. From that day we were fast friends. Fall came and turned into winter. On bad days, Rodriges would come out to the driveway to get the mail and pull me into his house.
“Hey, Miguel, why no come-it innaside. Sit by da fire. Warm-it up da luigi? Mama made-it something to eat. Want to hear-it a story about a donkey, an under-taker an a nun?”
One visit, after looking at pictures of the Rodriges' grandson, the old man told me a very interesting story. He had worked in the lumber industry in Portugal as a young man and had injured his back. He sustained a misaligned disk as a result of a fall. The injury had plagued him all through his “best” years and followed him to Canada where he engaged in furniture making at a small factory.
One day, he said he had been gluing some pieces together for a large table while another man was ripping long planks on the electric table saw. The man's pusher stick had slipped and this caused the inboard piece to jam against the powerful blade. The four foot length of oak had shot across the workshop floor and as if hurled by Zeus. The butt-end had connected with Rodriges flannel shirt one inch to the right of his misaligned disk, immediately snapping the wayward bone back to its rightful place.
The chronic pain and loss of range of motion he had suffered for thirty years was gone and it never returned. His wife swore he spoke truth. Rodriges rose up to demonstrate his flexibility and raised one eyebrow. His wife brought more snacks.
“About da donkey an da priest an da nun, I don't know-it. I was not there. Sound-it about right though, eh?”
I told them the story of how I'd hurt my own neck vertebrae when I was a teen.
When I was seventeen I was in a car accident. I was living in Squamish and had offered to drive to Vancouver to buy Led Zeppelin tickets for all my friends. I borrowed my Mom's bright orange Toyota Corolla and as I was returning from a friend's place in Lynn Valley on the way back north, a woman in a Buick land-yacht blew a stop sign.
She tee-boned me directly on my driver's side. My neck bent like a Japanese farmer's waist when he meets the Emperor. My head went through the glass of the rolled up window. I remembered playing in an automobile junkyard in Louisiana when I was small and it was there I learned how hard safety glass is. It took several throws of a chunk of concrete to get through the plastic laminated tempered glass. I remembered throwing bricks into the air with a friend around the same age. It was a pissing contest to see who could throw higher. My second brick toss came down perfectly square onto my noggin and the projectile split neatly in two. I had not a scratch and no head-ache.
“Dang!” said my friend.
It was December and the ground was snow-covered. The force of the collision had pushed the Corolla all the way off the road onto the sidewalk and it came to rest after displacing a bus bench. The driver's side was caved in so bad I had to crawl out the glassless window like James Bond. There was a little girl in the mammoth back seat and a nervous woman in a red coat in the front seat of the maroon Buick.
The little girl said, “It was all your fault Mommy. You ran a red light. You were wrong. It's all your fault.”
God bless little girls. The two ladies and their chariot had almost no damage. This was in the days of chrome bumpers. I spoke to the woman and asked if we could swap phone numbers and deal with all the paperwork at a later date. She was adamant that we file a police report immediately. I was wondering how I was going to get my Mom's car out of the remains of the bus bench and find a police station and still make it home in time for supper.
“The police is right there,” said the little girl, pointing behind me.
Sure, enough. It turned out we were yards away from the North Vancouver RCMP main office. Some pieces of the Corolla were on their property. I said I'd go first as I was in a hurry to get back to Squamish and I assured the woman that I was OK. Really.
I walked across the lawn and into the station to report. A policeman handed me a paper to draw the accident map and to write all the details. I borrowed his pen and began to fill out the paper. I lit a smoke and took a big drag. At the same time I exhaled, I saw that the cigarette was straw coloured and way too big. Such are the effects of shock.
In my addled state I had accidentally reached for a number that a friend had given me for buying his ticket. I put it out immediately and rolled a cigarette. The policeman never looked up. Soon, I was on my way up the familiar highway. It began to snow again and by the time I got home, there was about four inches on the left side of my body.
My Mom fainted in the parking lot when she saw the mangled car. I started to get a headache that night. I took a Bufferin. The ache went away soon and the only reminder of the incident was that I had tension in the muscles on one side of my neck ever after that. I had to crack it several times a day, like you do your knuckles. Especially now that I was packing mail.
“I'm used to it,” I told them.
That next fall when the broad-leaf trees were going to sleep, I got confirmation on Rodriges' story. I was cutting across a yard at full clip with pouches both fully loaded. There was a plum tree in that yard and I heard a dog bark over my left shoulder. I cranked my head around to sight the animal and before I knew it, I had gooned myself on a low-slung branch.
The force halfway knocked my wool toque off and sat me down unceremoniously on the frosty grass.
My forehead was smarting on the right side but no skin was broken. The direction of the blow was opposite that of the car crash. Something in my neck that had been crooked for the past seventeen years was now straight. Muscles that had been wired tight now had room to relax.
“Esonamabitch-it!” I said.
I looked up through the branches at the October sky. I raised my left eyebrow and slowly got up on my feet. You could say, methodically. Boy, did I have a good one for Rodriges.
Copyright © 2019 by Michael A. Hawes. All Rights Reserved.
Michael Hawes was born in Texas, raised in Louisiana and lives in British Columbia.