Part Four: Tsimshian and Gitksan Territory, 1958-1961
Continued from Legends of Myself 34
35. Prince Rupert, 1958: The House of Candy George
The kid who lived with Candy George. Memory is a movie transitioning without apology from a scene over here to another over there. Last spotted scooting like a Russian satellite out of the Strathcona school gym, I am next found sitting placidly, propped on a bed near the window in Old Pop’s rooms as he answers the door. There are no torn or expired train tickets in my pocket explaining how I got there, and the little sign suspended in the air, invisible to participants, “Prince Rupert, 1958,” is there because I put it up myself, much later, for the benefit of movie-goers.
At the door are some children. From where I sit, I can better hear than see them, except perhaps whichever child is bold enough to stand in front.
“Got any candy, George,” they ask.
“I don’t know,” Pop says. “Let’s see.”
The doorway is on the left side of my vision. Further along from it, on the wall immediately to right of the doorway, is a cupboard with glass-fronted shelves and drawers. My grandfather opens a shelf on the side of the cupboard which is most distant from the door and pretends to search.
“Let’s see if there’s any left.”
A spray of laughter and pleading voices.
“No candy here,” he says, still poking in the cupboard.
“Oh, come on, George!”
After yet a moment or two of pleading and ritual teasing, “Ah, here’s some,” he says.
As there often is.
And Candy George gives each hand a candy.
I sat on the bed not getting a jot more candy and no more often than any other kid around. But my name was now Tat, as my grandfather called me. And I was the kid who lived with Candy George.
Return to Eighth Avenue. My new address was perhaps a hundred and fifty yards away from my last address in Prince Rupert two years gone. It was located on the same long block between Lotbiniere Street and the intersection where 8th Avenue terminates under Roosevelt Hill, that intersection where I used to live.
Whoever had constructed the apartments where Pop and I now lived had eschewed interior hallways, opting for wraparound wooden walkways as architecturally simpler I suppose. They had also decided to forgo paint. The building, bleached by unknown years of rain and sun, was consequently printed in wood-grained grey from front to back.
On that part of Eighth Avenue, then and now, buildings stood high above the pavement on one side, and on the other side, either stood close and more or less level, or stood back and squatted, looking up at the street, or stood back and addressed the street straight on from the second floor. Our building followed the last plan.
The street transitioned to our yard with a drop of 90 degrees. Or, if that was too abrupt, a flight of wooden stairs descended parallel to the street. A path connected these stairs to the first floor wraparound walkway, which was a step or two up. Because the ground continued to fall, the crawlspace at the back of the building was a standing-up space for an eight year old.
Behind the building was a weedy, scrub area which continued all the way down to 9th Avenue.
I lived on the building’s second floor at the front, on the left side as viewed from the street. The window which was to my back as I watched the transaction with the children looked out onto Eighth Avenue. A wooden bridge or ramp directly connected the street to the second floor walkway.
The building had perhaps eight or ten apartments on each floor, with all the entrances at the sides. Directly beneath and outside the window of mine and Pop’s apartment was a padlocked wooden bin with a slanted lid which was ours to use. There were other such bins, but how many I paid no attention to. They were for storing coal, since the apartments in the building then cooked and heated using wood stoves.
I remember sitting at our window when the coal men periodically arrived in their truck, stopping and unloading 100 pound gunny sacks of coal. In delivering the sacks to the first floor below, the coal men didn’t bother hauling them down the stairs. They just stood in the yard by the wall and loaded them directly onto their shoulders from the road.
I recall families and kids everywhere in that building, about half and half Tsimshian and White. As a practical consequence, I wasn’t aware that the ethnic mix mattered much except for the addition of some Tsimshian words—seldom so labeled—to the vocabulary. The kids in the building were mostly—although not exclusively—the ones who came calling at Candy George’s door. With them, and a generous contribution of other children living in the houses down and around the block, I remember a lively neighbourhood.
Conjunction. I know it had much to do with my special relationship with Old Pop, and perhaps it had the feeling of a homecoming too, which was possible with him and possible with Prince Rupert. It was as likely or more to feel like home than my stays in the Downtown Eastside, despite the fact that my father was part of those stays. Whatever the particular ingredients were to make it so, my grandfather, the neighbourhood, the children who were around, the conjunction of the planets—or even a chance to rest awhile from my travels—I remember my stay on Eighth Avenue as one of the most joyful times of my childhood.
Continued @ Legends of Myself 36