the true stories
My first seven years at the Post Office were spent as a Sick Relief Carrier. This meant was that I would report to my Station and be dispatched from there to where ever someone had phoned in sick for the day. The covered area was from Horseshoe bay to Deep Cove and all points in between. Because of the traveling time to the job site, my day began later than the other regular carriers. Because of human nature, the work load was enormous. That is, many people planned their sicknesses and left behind lots of undelivered flyers to clear up.
It was a lonely business and I racked up a lot of overtime. At the beginning of my third marriage, my day came. At long last, I had successfully bid on my own route! I was ecstatic. The route was a Vancouver East Side multi-ethnic lower middle class neighborhood that in response to rising costs and declining employment had rented every available square foot of basement to those in receipt of welfare.
I covered from 31st Ave. to 28th Ave., between Fraser St. and Main St. and two streets down to 25th Ave. The irony of life hit me between the eyes when I got to my first call on the first day. It was right across the street from a massive graveyard that stretches from 41st. Ave. to 31st Ave. Every morning I walked the line between the living and the dead for the first half-hour or so. That sets a man to thinking about many things.
Over the years, after many adventures I came to rent a place nearby on 41st Ave. It was such a large acreage, that it was the unofficial practice range for new car drivers. Children learned how to roller-blade there and many people used it for walks and jogging. Homeless people holed up there and a group of Wiccans started having candle-light sing-a-longs at night during October.
Once, my son and I tracked a coyote into the grounds and following its shed fur, discovered a massive burrow. It was wide enough for a man and went so far back, one couldn't see the end. I crawled inside as my son stood guard outside. When I got about twenty feet in, in pitch blackness, I felt a strong conviction to clear out. My son was small, I had only a pocket knife and we didn't know if they were home or if they had young pups in there.
On my backwards crawl out, I dropped a brand new pouch of Drum tobacco. I could have easily retrieved it but the idea of leaving it as a gift entered my mind. After all, I had come unannounced to their house. I have been seeing coyotes ever since that day, from San Diego to Lillooet. One week-end I was walking through and I was reading gravestones. A marker that was set right on a corner caught my eye.
It said “Walter Euper – Texas” and had his birth and death dates, the name of a Canadian Volunteer Regiment and his parent's names. It was a flat stone and badly covered with weeds and mud. As a fellow Texan, I cleaned it off and sort of adopted it. Just before I left Vancouver, I saw that the old stone had been replaced with a nice standing marble.
I found the graves of a couple who were relatively young and had died on the same day. I looked them up and they turned out to be famous writers and mountaineers. They had traveled the world climbing peaks and writing of their adventures. On one return voyage to Vancouver, the ship that carried them foundered in sight of land off Stanley Park and they along with many others aboard had drowned.
The place had other lessons to teach. Towards the middle of the property was a small section with a high fence within the main fence. It turned out to be the Jewish only section. If one came out of this partitioned area and looked due West over the grounds, a large Oriental structure could be seen. It was a covered table with a red-tile roof and large metal fire-bins standing by. This was the Chinese section. The table was always covered in offerings of rice, flowers and all kinds of fruit. The bins were for burning fake money for the deceased to spend in eternity. There was always incense burning and you felt as if someone had just been there moments ago, no matter when you happened by.
The soldiers were along the West fence and there were rows and rows of names who had the same death dates, particularly those killed in WWI. Amidships stood an obelisk with the usual message warning the living not to forget. After the graves of those who fell in the trenches of the Great War and those who fell in the War To End All Wars, the Korean Conflict, the Conflict In South East Asia, new ground had to be dug for the bodies arriving from Bosnia and Afghanistan. All the graves had to be reshuffled to accommodate these newcomers.
One morning at work after I delivered the last house on the street bordering the graveyard, I cut across the strip of grass on the public property side of the sidewalk near the street. I stopped to roll a smoke and after a puff or two, I scanned the cemetery for coyotes. I didn't see any and began to march down to the next street. My eyes were focused a half-block down the street because of a recent run-in with an untethered hound who had it in for me.
I came to an abrupt halt several yards from the corner. I had sensed an obstruction and when I looked directly in front of my feet I saw a most curious thing for the first time. Thrust upright in the soft soil with green and red stones glittering in the morning light was a beautiful sword. I was stunned that I hadn't noticed it before. I looked up and down the street. There were no people in sight. It stood on public property and right in my path.
I looked up at the sky. I felt that if I took up the sword, that great responsibilities would come with it. Nothing worth having is free. Like the boy in the Sword In The Stone legend, I pulled the blade out of the soil. It was very long and had a beautiful hand guard set with ornamental rubies and emeralds. The shape of the hand guard was instantly familiar but I couldn't place it. I only knew I had seen it somewhere.
There was an inscription on the blade and some fancy work. It was steel sure enough and possibly Damascus, I reckoned. I stood across from the graveyard wielding the weapon and began to feel conspicuous. I slid it into my Post Office belt and it just cleared the ground by an inch or so. I continued on my way delivering the mail.
When I reached the end of my route, I reconsidered. Something didn't feel right and I decided to walk back to my station on 10th Ave. and Quebec St. via Main St. There were a dozen or so antique stores, junk shops and pawn shops along the way. I got an inspiration to let it go for cash. I felt better somehow, knowing I would be unburdened from it.
In the first shop I walked into, the man told me no before I had opened my mouth. In the second shop, I was asked where I got it. I told the truth and that fellow examined it carefully and almost reluctantly said he couldn't buy it. In the third store, I asked the man what he thought it was worth. He said he wasn't sure but that it would certainly be in the hundreds of dollars to start.
By now I had a growing feeling pressing on my mind to be rid of it. This intensified so much as I went North down the sidewalk, I offered it to five or six shop-keepers for the price of a dinner for two. I was going to treat my wife. Everyone vehemently said no and as a last resort I tried to give it away. To a man, they all strongly declined. I was stuck with it. I took it home after work and my wife polished it up carefully and I hung it above the fireplace in our rental. I never tried to research it or sell it.
It happened that we moved to another apartment just around the corner five years later. It was an unplanned emergency move and the unpacking was done in great haste. Within a week, everything was in its place except the sword. I had no fireplace and had not decided where to mount it yet. It stood in a corner, leaned against the wall next to a bookcase.
I kept my keys, tobacco and pocket change on a shelf of this bookcase and the last thing I did each work morning was to grab those items. I was up at 5 AM and usually out the door by 6. I put my coffee mug in the sink one morning and walked over to the shelf and began to load my pockets for the day. It was semi-dark. I heard a loud, solid thump in the living room behind me.
I whirled around still holding my keys to see who had fallen. There on the beige carpet was the blade. It lay seven feet away from where it had stood upright against the wall beside me. The ornate hand guard was shattered into several pieces. I couldn't imagine how it could shatter on carpet. I had experienced telekinesis before when living in a haunted house on Vancouver Island and as a result of that I had no trouble understanding that the object had indeed flown across the room.
I knew that something was showing off. I never start fights but I will finish them. Whether the opponent is on This Side or the Other Side. I became very angry. I remembered those haunted six months in Nanaimo. I slowly bent the steel over my knee. It was incredibly strong. Using all my body weight and my feet I managed to put it into the shape of a Toledo steel pretzel. My intent as I deformed the shank was to show my invisible audience that weapons are nothing. Deeds are everything.
I grabbed my backpack hurried out to the street. I placed the sword into a garbage barrel at the Chevron Station next door and ran for my bus. That was about fifteen years ago. I first researched that strange sword online today. After a few moments, I knew where I had seen it before, its name and its original owner. Its name was Tizona. It became the object of much veneration by the deeds of a flesh and blood man, Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar, who died 915 years and 18 days ago. We know him as El Cid. I first saw him and his wife Ximena portrayed by Charlton Heston and Sophia Loren.
Wiki tells us “During his campaigns, El Cid often ordered that books by classic Roman and Greek authors on military themes be read aloud to him and his troops, for both entertainment and inspiration before battle. El Cid's army had a novel approach to planning strategy as well. They frequently used unexpected strategies, engaging in what modern generals would call psychological warfare — waiting for the enemy to be paralyzed with terror and then attacking them suddenly.”
Copyright © 2019 by Michael A. Hawes. All Rights Reserved.
Michael Hawes was born in Texas, raised in Louisiana and lives in British Columbia.