Continued from Legends of Myself 26
27. New Westminster, 1957-58
Aside from a walk down by the creek or misty jugs of cream-topped milk in the refrigerator, Cloverdale runs out of images around about October. That is when Sputnik launched the Space Age and when I moved to New Westminster. I know it was still early fall because the tree behind the house in New Westminster was still heavy with pears. I loved those pears and my father reportedly grew tired of them. I never did, and I never have.
Fargo worship. The house where I went to stay was the house of Kay Wing, once husband of my Aunt Grace, father of my cousin Georgina. It was located on a street which bordered on Burnaby in a hilly part of New Westminster, which, if you know that little city, doesn’t narrow it down much geographically.
I can hardly remember Kay Wing but for a single occasion. We were on the street, I guess somewhere outside the house. He was talking to my father in praise of his Fargo van, and I was hanging by and about, a background initiate to the novel (to me) cult of machine-worship. If you wanted durable, said Kay, this was the machine for it. Children take a particular interest in the passions of adults. Where they understand them, they tend to make them their own passions. And I of course took great interest in this sturdy vehicle and with its appropriately go-far name. I memorized its globe hood ornament, with its continents, crosshatches of imaginary lines and comet-tale of chrome. If anyone had consulted with me any time in the next year about what kind of van to buy (nobody did) I would have infallibly recommended Fargo.
About a year later my faith collapsed in confusion when I encountered Wells Fargo in “The Pony Express.” While the travel motif was maintained, I couldn’t see how horses, gun battles and Buffalo Bill melded with the idea of hardy motor vehicles. But in 1957 Fargo had my loyalty strong because of Kay Wing.
The house of Georgina. Now while I hardly remember Kay from that home, I remember my cousin Georgina very well. She was in grade eight, six grades ahead of me, and about in her mid-teens by then, I guess, but for what I remember about that household, she could have been her running it. Living there, I remember a sense of being absolutely under her protection.
One time on the way back from school I had an encounter with some kid—I’m sure I had never met him before. He was standing shoulders raised, arms out from the body, fists clenched, explaining, “My big brother could beat you up. He’s in grade four.”
I had an answer for that. “My cousin Georgina could beat you up. She’s in grade eight.”
I’m fairly sure Georgina would have been horrified at the very idea of beating anybody up, even on my behalf. But I believe I understood correctly to think I was safe from anybody’s pugnacious brothers so long as she was around.
In fact there is a story there in my cousin’s life, although it’s not really mine to tell and I have heard only the barest outlines of it anyway. I can say only what has come to me. She wasn’t allowed to see or know her mother Grace. I suppose that was because Grace drank, and somehow that’s the way people think. They believe they can move parents in and out of a child’s life and thus finesse a childhood. But often they merely create lonely children. Georgina said to me so many years later when we were all gathered together in a hospital room and my Uncle Jim was dying, “They should have let me see my mother.”
Georgina went on to become a kind of super-mother herself, raising more than fifty children (and gaining a sainthood) along the way. But all of that happened out of my sight. I really only know Georgina from that period in 1957 and 1958 when I lived with her. Yet I learned enough about her to absolutely believe, based on who she already was then, that she could indeed be the mother and protector of fifty children, or of as many children as needed her. I knew because I was among the first to feel her protection.
My stay in New Westminster was a quiet one and contentment sends memory to sleep. I hardly remember school except that there was a hill on the way to it and the school might have sat on a hill itself. I had a friend there, Allan or Allen or Alan. I remember his name only because of the number of ways you can spell it, which I pointed out to him once. I have a vague recollection of visiting his basement bedroom.
I remember Christmas and a doctor’s kit. It had a headband with silver disk on it, a stethoscope where the ear tubes were not actually attached to the listening bell, and a hammer for knee-tapping. Hearts were solemnly unheard, knees jerked, monosynaptic reflex arcs tested and found well.
There was also a scooter, but I barely remember that important object from New Westminster.
Loyalty. In fact only one strong memory comes back to me from this time. It wasn’t at Kay Wing’s house. It was some evening get-together, and I was sitting on a man’s knee. He was making a fuss over me, and I was enjoying it.
“If I had a little boy like you,” the man said, “I’d buy you a bicycle.”
I liked being liked. I liked the idea of a bicycle. I was enjoying myself. But another woman in the room was apparently sour on the whole affair. Who she was, I’m not sure. I guess I knew her at the time, although this particular incident is her only intrusion into memory.
“What would your father think about this?” she asked. Meaning me sitting on a stranger’s lap listening to promises of imaginary bicycles.
If the question had been written in lightning it couldn’t have shocked me more. Instantly, I didn’t care about bicycles, about being liked, about being fussed over. I panicked, afraid, scrambled off the man’s lap and ducked into a corner of the room away from him.
Did the woman even know what she was accusing me of? It wasn’t true. It could never be true. I loved my Daddy. I loved only my Daddy.
I hid in the corner, cried, frowned and shrugged off touching or talking for the rest of the evening.
Nobody was going to say I didn’t love my Daddy. Nobody.
Continued at Legends of Myself 28