the true stories
An Irishman I once worked with used to entertain me every Monday morning as we sorted mail side by side. The source of mirth was his descriptions of all the socializing he and his family had done that week-end. He invariably referred to the other parties as “our friends.” After too many Mondays, I could endure no more.
“I've been married three times. Let me point out something. Your friends are those friends of yours that your wife approves of and the sum total of all her friends since birth.”
He looked at me hard while he processed this information and then his face softened like a boy who had just succeeded in catching an elusive frog. Then he grinned.
“You're absolutely right.”
“Now, that's according to nature and in my opinion it is wisdom. Who better to protect the nest from all perils but the intuitive mother of the offspring.”
Next Monday, I was again regaled with tales from the ski slopes but this time the protagonists were referred to as my wife's friends. It got me thinking that it had taken me until West of the halfway mark of my life to fill up one hand's worth of friends and then they had had begun to pass away. It's different with women and some could fill up both hands and feet. Wives are not infallible and once in a while it is the husband who must quarantine those who don't cast a shadow.
There have been three occasions in my married life where I disregarded the intuitive censoring of friends. In two instances, I ignored loud internal alarms and deferred to what I thought at the time was a noble over-riding of my own innate common sense for the sake of my spouse.
The first instance led to complete disaster but that is a tale for another day. The second instance is very recent by comparison and less intense. They say, “better late than never” and I have found that to be the usual case.
The situation I speak of occurred in the early days of my current marriage. As I was being introduced to my wife's friends, there was one lady I did not take to. It was just an inchoate feeling at the time, so I did the manly thing and ignored it for the sake of not having to have a pow-wow with my new wife about one of her friends.
In a short while the woman married a man with many problems. I privately predicted what the next twenty-odd years would bring that marriage. During those two decades I had the awful discomfort of watching my prediction unfurl in real time. She had two children and I had a child with my new wife in addition to a child from a previous marriage.
I attended a cycle of reciprocal birthdays, various feasts and celebrations. Between these planned events, I can recall only one single outing of the two families and it went badly. I had nothing in common with the husband and hated to watch him spiraling downwards. I felt sorry for his children and annoyed at his wife for creating an unhappy family by choosing this type of man.
In daily speech these people would be referred to as friends. There were two decades of phone calls to my wife for either of two purposes. One was to brag about any financial gains enjoyed by the woman and the other was to complain about her miserable marriage. All those hours took away my wife's ear and it is fortunate for us that I am a writer and a reader.
The husband eventually died from substance abuse and the children grew up. There wasn't much contact except for phone calls to brag about various money-making schemes and invitations to newer bigger houses as she traded up. About a year ago, I saw her at a party. It was the first time in quite a while.
My wife and I were introduced to the new boyfriend of the widow. They had been seeing each other for several years. The guy raced across the floor before we were in the door and started pumping my hand. Though I had never laid eyes on him, I had my third intuitive warning. There are always crazy people at parties, which is why I rarely attend them.
Evidently, the widow had been talking about us to the man for a few years. It turned out that they were both following the Seventh Day Adventist sect. It was at an SDA church that they had met. This was new information. Over all the years of our acquaintance I had never asked the woman which church she attended.
The party was over in a few hours. All the attendees were past fifty years old. The woman increased the frequency of her phone calls to my house and talked a lot about her boyfriend. One night it was all good and future plans and the next day it was a laundry list of wrongs he had done to her.
One day, about half a year ago, my wife and I were entertaining some new neighbors at our retirement residence in a small town two hundred miles upriver from Vancouver. As we sat at the kitchen table chatting a truck pulled up. It was the widow and her beau. What came next was bizarre.
It was told to us assembled that God had spoken to the woman and had guided the pair to our little town where the fellow had just attempted to purchased a house with money from the sale of his ailing mother's house.
I was too shocked to react and went out on my porch to have a smoke where I was joined by the SDA man. He was a tall pale-eyed Métis. He couldn't string three words together without using the ligatures Lord and Jesus. His voice had been ravaged by drug and alcohol abuse and had the timbre of a rusty hinge on an outhouse door.
Still processing the facts that a total stranger and a person I did not care for had followed me to a place that I had picked at random four years prior and had attempted to purchase a house; I tried to make conversation.
The fellow, by way of acknowledging my surprise, assured me that he had nothing to do with these happenings. He claimed that they had not known the day before that the Lord would lead them thither and he further assured me that his gal was the one who had had the divine inspirations.
“The Lord is always working, Michael. There's a reason for everything.”
“The Devil is too,” I replied, “Rust never sleeps.”
I rolled a smoke and mentioned a place nearby where St'at'imx peoples had fished consistently since before the pyramids of Egypt were constructed. It was an attempt to guide the conversation toward things mundane.
“The earth is only 6000 years old, my Pastor told me.”
My initial thought was to grab him by the belt-buckle and throat to toss him off the porch. I looked through the door, saw all the ladies talking and quelled that impulse. I continued to talk and disagreed with his Pastor's time line. The man's voice went up as did mine. The widow came to the door of the porch when our voices had reached a sustained shout. Her face had a horrible worried look and the lines it created on her countenance were already well worn paths.
I toned down my voice and went inside. The Frenchman followed. At the table in the kitchen, my new neighbors had just offered any kind of help that the couple might need while they continued to house hunt. This was done out of respect for my wife and I and was based on our four years of being good neighbors. I managed to get my neighbor outside and warn her to be wary of those two. I predicted no good would come from their recent machinations.
Soon the couple were successful in buying a house in the town. My wife and I were invited to the blessing of this house which coincided with our next trip up from Vancouver. The day arrived and we were on time. When we got inside there was one other couple we had never met and a Hungarian Pastor who did a circuit of SDA churches in the B.C. Cattle country.
The man of the house was in bed. Laid low from something he had eaten. I sat in the kitchen and had a wonderful conversation with the Hungarian, who had read many of the same books as I had and was very conscious of how the world really works. He seemed refreshed by my own knowledge and he refrained from giving me any sermon.
The Métis arose and we all held hands while the Hungarian mumbled a bored blessing by rote. Just before the Pastor left for his long drive home, he admonished the host to use his Métis credentials to bring as many St'at'imx into his sheep-pen as possible.
I wondered at the chances of success of this. The St'at'imx people were well aware of the work of archaeologists on their own local sites. These sites predated the SDA beginning of the world. When I mentioned this glitch later, I was politely told that had Satan cleverly scattered old bones and pots to mislead the scientists.
The widow had learned that I intended to pursue hunting and fishing in my retirement. Since these were two things her Métis knew, she used this as a bridge between the two of us men. I was able to focus on recognition of those skills instead of his annoying raspy voice. His knowledge on these two topics earned him a degree of respect. I decided try to make the best of Kamikaze neighbors. Perhaps we could fish and hunt together in peace and otherwise live separate lives.
Later I learned that the woman had decided to live nearby so she would have a safe place to go and sympathetic ears to listen to her latest self induced problems. She was willing to continue as a “helpless victim” as long as other people heard the complaints. These type of people usually pray aloud eloquently at the drop of a hat and never miss a day of church.
After the Métis moved in, I went fishing with him. He talked of hunting and Jesus and fishing and Jesus and substance abuse and Jesus and his fiancee and Jesus. I tried to learn something about river fishing. He gave me the fishing vest of his recently deceased father and taught me a knot for attaching hooks on a salmon rod.
I gave him the DVD of a movie we had watched at my place. It was a true story about a Cherokee boy who learns the hard way about Christian charity. He gave me the salmon rod that had belonged to his dead father. I gave him an antique Belgian wardrobe. He gave me an old coat rack from a church. I gave him a copy of my Chicory CD.
I got a three hour phone call from this man complaining about the woman. She was a suicidal, fickle Jezebel according to him. My wife received multiple calls from the woman complaining about the man. He was a selfish, manipulative control freak according to her.
We decided to not take sides. They had The Lord to guide their affair. Hunting season was looming and I was busy. I decided that a sober hunting partner would be good to start out with. I didn't consider the difference between a non-drinker and a reformed drinker.
I took the C.O.R.E. Program, passed and purchased a beautiful Finnish rifle. I took a First Aid course. My partner in this course was a boy who happened to be named Nimrod. After successfully treating the staged collapse of the mighty Mesopotamian Hunter, I passed the LifeSaver qualification.
When I had time, I went to my new little town and joined the firing range. The Métis and I went together to sight in my new rifle. He was gifted in this and within three shots we had my gun zeroed in at 100 yards. I tried standing, crouching, sandbagging, left handed, right handed, with one eye open and with two.
At the end of these experiments, I learned that I shot best standing with both eyes open using my left shoulder. In this way I was able to place 50% of my shots into the vital area of a deer at 100 yards on the first day. A Chinese salesman at the gun shop had taught me about two eyes and had encouraged me to shoot left. When using one eye, a person lost the big picture and could not follow a moving target.
I shot forty rounds that week. Three days with the Métis spotting for me and on the last day I went alone. Each day the border of the range was visited by big fat mule deers that appeared immune to the racket. Each morning one or two eagles cruised back and forth several thousand feet above and screamed repeatedly.
On the last day at the range I wore a medium size K-Bar knife in an old leather sheath. While I unlocked the gate and got set up, an eagle screamed overhead and several deer came up to the fence to watch. After I had shot three rounds a truck pulled up and parked next to my vehicle.
A pretty woman hopped out and the first thing I noticed was that she wore a knife. The second thing I noticed was that she seemed vaguely familiar. She produced a twenty-two and a deer rifle. I stopped for a drink of soda while she set up some balloon targets at twenty-five and fifty yards. Soon, she was blasting away. When she stopped to reload, we spoke.
I mentioned that I was a mailman from Vancouver and had bought a place nearby. She grinned and said her Dad had been a Vancouver letter carrier. I asked his name, expecting to draw a blank. She told me the name and we both smiled. I had known the man thirty years prior when she was probably still in early elementary school. He was a great guy and mentored me at my first postal station.
The young lady had bagged her first deer a few days prior and had started to have recurring visions of a big buck when she fell asleep. I had one vision of a doe, which I later saw about fifty kilometers from where we were shooting. I had learned that it is not polite to ask where a person had taken their game. I mentioned this to the lady.
She grinned and told me she had bagged hers up on Secret Mountain. The Métis explained to me later that the woods were a big larder for some people and hence they were reluctant to tell you where their own personal meat-locker was. I understood this and quit asking people.
I also learned not to listen to this type of information when it is freely offered. The Métis was canny in this regards and by using the free information we two had gleaned that week, he sent me off one day to scout in the opposite direction. We planned to go hunting in a few weeks time.
I went the way he directed and found a plethora of tracks. Big tracks! Lots of them of all sizes. Then I saw all the droppings. Massive and fresh as a daisy. It was right near a Forestry campsite and I hurried back to give the news and congratulate my teacher on being so wise. I was asked about the size shape and color of the scat. He determined that it had to be moose sign.
When I got back to Vancouver I learned that a plan had been previously set by the Métis to have my wife cook a turkey which he would provide. His woman had called while I was away and had given all the instructions. We two couples were to eat it at my place on the eve of the upcoming hunt.
He hadn't asked anyone but had planned it down to the last detail. I was to drive his woman North as well. She stil lived in her own place in the Lower Mainland while he pined away alone in the little town. She visited up there and he visited down to her. I was to give her a ride up for this meal and was even told an alternate route to use to save a bridge toll. I used the alternate route and got a speeding ticket. During the drive she complained of the man for five hours.
My irritation was offset by my anticipation of filling the freezer with fresh game. After the feast when I was washing up the dishes, my sink clogged. The previous time the Métis had been in my house, my hot water tank had stopped working. Now I was stuck with a prodigious pile of greasy dishes in bear country. My wife and his woman were going back to Vancouver. We men were leaving to occupy a camping site we had previously scouted.
I poured various products down the ABS pipes and nothing happened. I gathered all the gear I had acquired over the previous year and got my Suzuki ready to roll. I met my teacher at his house and we convoyed out. The route we took was along the Lost River, three quarters of the way to Secret Mountain over by Lake St. Nowhere.
We gathered some wood left by other hunters who had gone home and after a few last minute changes, we settled on a campsite. My education in sawing logs, splitting logs and quartering split logs was begun. I helped my maestro to set up his canvas tent. I learned which types of wood were good and which were not.
I split logs till I broke the head off the old maul which had belonged to my friend's dead father. It turned out that my new friend had a very restricted diet due to a debilitating bowel disease. He hadn't worked for years.
We hadn't conferred with each other as to provisions. I prepared on the basis of feeding myself for the short duration and had assumed that a man with a special diet would do the same. I was quickly lectured by a man my junior on the importance of the Sharing Way.
Everything my mentor shared was busted, rusted or not to be trusted. Everything I shared was new or in good repair. My food he would not touch save the turkey and my oatmeal. He had a case of no-name vegetable soup which he freely shared. We were at five thousand feet and the ambient temperature was minus three Celsius.
We ate turkey sandwiches for dinner with vegetable soup. In the mornings we had coffee and oatmeal. I found myself devouring my Landjaegers on the sly after the second day. On the third day I was nibbling the stick of butter I'd brought. The deceased father of my mentor was always with us.
The woodsman measured everything with the precision of an aircraft technician. He had a grip-bag of medications and plenty of toilet paper. I assumed we would sleep in the tent and I was told that we would take turns. One in the tent and one in my car. I refused to ask for what should be offered so I decided to sleep on the ground outside.
I put down my air mattress and mummy bag right next to the fire. I was instructed to keep my rifle nearby with the clip in and the bolt open. After a scare with “pit-lampers” in his past, my teacher refused to camp without a weapon within easy reach. I placed my Tikka beside me in its frosty case as the fire glowed out and the stars blazed.
Things went well until a little vole decided to chew a buckskin lace I had tied around my wrist. It was to use when gutting the deer I was intending to shoot. The voracious little creature went through the leather in a few nibbles and decided it would like a little salt off of my arm as well. I slapped it over toward the picnic table.
The next morning all my packaged noodles had been ruined by the spurned rodent. I was off scouting deer beds when the Government officers came to visit. I could see the Métis showing his license to a young man and woman in uniform. As I approached I could also see that he was very upset by their intrusion.
I walked up and shook hands with the male officer.
“I wanted to meet the man who slept out here," he said. "How'd it go?”
“Good until the voles started chewing on me. Also I discovered why they call them mummy bags. Warm, but you cannot move if you have to without taking the whole shebang with you. I think I'll be swapping that bag next year.”
“I hear you. I hate 'em too. Can I see your rifle?”
I took the weapon from its frosty case and handed it over after doing the procedure I had learned in school to PROVE it safe. The man hefted the weapon and admired it.
“That's a beautiful rifle. I wish I had one like that. Did you put that eagle feather on it?”
“Yes Sir. That is not a decoration. If it's pointing at me my quarry cannot smell me. If it's pointing at my quarry, I'm going hungry. If it swings out right or left, I need to adjust for windage. I chose that rifle because I waited fifty-six years and this is the one that I will be handing down to my son. I am part Swedish and I know that the next best metallurgists in the world after the Swedes are the Finns. That's a Finnish cold-rolled stainless barrel and that's why I bought it.”
“Have you ever hunted deer before?”
“No Sir. It's my first time. This fellow is a long time hunter of deer and moose and is showing me the ropes a bit.”
“Well, I wish you lots of luck. A deer is an amazingly smart animal. Don't get discouraged. It'll come. When you're walking the roads and looking into the brush, look twice or three times, even if you have already scanned that area. All you might get is a tiny flicker of an ear before your brain can furnish up the rest of the picture, so well do they hide.”
We walked the roads dawn and dusk for a week. We saw tracks, beds, scat and chewed vegetation. The only deer I had seen recently was in town at the range and on the way to the campsite in an area off limits to hunting. That one turned out to be the doe in my dream. It stood a few feet away from my vehicle and stared at me for four minutes before very slowly walking into the pines.
On the second night I slept fitfully in my car due to lack of leg-room. On the third night I was invited into the tent. There was just enough room for the two of us and my rifle. My mate murmured, snored and gibbered most of the night. He did get up first and cook the oatmeal, however. Camp chores and incessant talk of God took the place of deer hunting education.
Soon I was ready to pull three nails from the meat pole, drive up the highway, give the Korean lady at the motel a hammer and ask her if she would put me up for the night. I informed the Métis that if he had any ideas of me or my wife joining his church, he could forget it. This clearly angered him but he fought it down.
On the last day I saw a fresh moose track broken through the surface ice of a puddle. We followed along this track to a swamp. We had located the wintering grounds. Not far away was a creek which spilled down from a lake a few hundred feet above and I was told that this was probably the summering place. We both got excited and decided to return the next season.
During all these dawn and dusk patrols, I had been cautioned to not smoke until back at camp. It was the scent, you know. On the last of these slow walks I was fifty yards in front. I heard a horrible retching sound. It was semi-human and I spun around. There silhouetted against the old growth firs was my mentor bent over with his pants to his ankles. A stream of waste arced out into the moose habitat on the down slope side of the road.
I turned around and stood guard for my stricken friend. When the noises ceased I began to slowly walk until I heard the sound again. I felt sorry for the man but laughed at the ridiculousness of the situation. I lit a smoke. Hopefully it would help the sensitive nose of the moose from being overwhelmed by the human stench. Might bring in a grizzly though, thinking something big had died there.
We packed up and I was instructed to meet at a gas station in town so I could pay my half of his gas although we each had brought a vehicle and had also used mine for two scouting trips. I was further instructed to help him set his trailer hitch onto a new pine stump back at his house. As we packed up I commented on our fireside chats and expressed my hope that I hadn't verbalized overly much.
“I tell you Michael, I only take in 25% of what you say. It's from all the drinking and drugs.”
I drove behind him to help if he got stuck until we got on safe road. On the return journey we stopped at the tracks I had scouted a week prior. I now learned that they were cow tracks! There were free-ranging bovines in the canyon. I had driven over the cattle guard on my way up, dreaming of a buck. I was embarrassed but it had been forty years since I'd seen a cow track.
After we were on asphalt I pulled over for a smoke. After having walked a mile in his moccasins, I knew I would have to tell him and his fiancee adios. I went to his house and helped with his trailer and paid him the gas money. I went home and worked on the clogged sink for the balance of the afternoon. A bottle of hydrochloric acid gel, a funnel, a turkey baster, some safety goggles and a flashlight were the only tools required to clear the blockage. I returned to Vancouver and my busy life.
He said something to his fiancee during a quarrel within a week of my return. She repeated it to my wife in the post-quarrel phone call. It was untrue and had my name on it. That night I wrote letters to this pair of misfits which informed them that they were both no longer welcome at my house or on my phone. I would return the things given me. I would not associate with either of them. I was already gone. I had a chore to do.
I researched the founders of his sect. A young woman who had been struck in the face by a rock as a child had begun to have visions. She married a man who followed one of the various new sects spewing out of rural New York State in the mid eighteen hundreds. It was distinguished by the precise prediction of the end of the world, the keeping of the Sabbath, setting the creation date at 6000 ago and a belief in something called “soul sleep.” The date for the predicted end came and went and new adherents left in droves.
The man and his teenage wife broke away and decided to start their own branch of the sect. They changed the date based on a different approach to interpreting the Scripture. That date came and went. These complications always arise when men try to decode Scripture. Only the author knows the code.
Amazingly, with time and much technique the pool of believers increased instead of decreased and today it has millions of members worldwide. The woman wrote many a book and lived for a while in Australia. I deduced that these people may not easily be dissuaded.
A few weeks after I sent the letters I was up country unloading some furniture. The Métis appeared in the drive and came up the steps to the porch. He had his letter in his hand. I came out on the porch and did not invite him in. He handed back the letter and informed me that he did not accept it. I opened it and read it aloud to him and asked him which part he did not understand. I pointed out that there was nothing optional in the letter.
He said that he thought I was just scared of Jesus. I was scared of changing. I told him that I and my wife would no longer associate with him nor his fiancee. He began to talk of the latest thing God had told him (God usually spoke to him in his kitchen) concerning his affair with the unhappy woman and I cut him off and reminded him that I no longer cared to be kept advised.
He shook my hand for too long to be comfortable and gave me a religious tract. I asked him if he wished to have back his deceased father's fishing pole. He said no. He was certain I'd come around to being his friend again. I said goodbye. He said his door was always open. I said goodbye. He said that it wasn't just him praying for me, that there was a whole lot of people praying for me. I said goodbye.
He waddled off to his truck and sat awhile praying hard before driving off. I gathered the religious tract, the fishing pole, the vest and the coat rack by the door. I swore like a stevedore on the Lisbon docks. I smudged the whole place with sage. Things seemed to break or malfunction whenever he or his woman were around. The next morning I dropped off all the gear to his front porch with a clearly written note saying not to return them.
Copyright © 2019 by Michael A. Hawes. All Rights Reserved.
Michael Hawes was born in Texas, raised in Louisiana and lives in British Columbia.