Legends of Myself 39

Posted on February 26, 2012

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Continued from Legends of Myself 38

39. Prince Rupert, 1958:  Tea with Candy George

“Would you like long tea or short tea?” Old Pop asked.

And why would I want short tea when long tea was available?  “Long tea,” I replied.

My grandfather then lifted the teapot a few extra inches from the table and poured a long, thin stream of tea into my cup.

“Tea, granny,” he would say, referencing something I have never quite made out.

That was my long tea.

If the tin of milk reached its end while we were still adding milk to our tea, it would be held above the cup until the last drop had fallen.  Then my grandfather, with a wringing motion, would squeeze the can.

It was always necessary to squeeze the can to get the last little bit, you know.

I suspect I began to cultivate my taste for the absurd and the facetious at teatime, chez Candy George.

There were two rooms to Candy George’s apartment, but I remember mostly inhabiting one, the one with the bed and table and wood stove in it.  The other room, the one with the outer entrance to it where my grandfather greeted the children who called him Candy George, I hardly remember at all, and I picture it almost exclusively through the doorway of the bedroom.

The bed where both my grandfather and I slept was located near, almost under the window.  The stove, a wood stove adapted for coal, was positioned in the interior corner of the room, with table, kindling pile and coal bucket arranged somehow along the wall between it and the bed.  Along the wall opposite, I recall a basin, a round two-sided shaving mirror positioned behind it and a soap cup and shaving brush nearby.  Hot water from the kettle, mixed in that basin with cold water from a jug, provided a means for me to wash my face and hands before breakfast, and the mirror, a plain mirror on one side, a magnifying mirror on the other, provided me with something to look at while doing so.

Other objects in the room suggest themselves without positioning themselves in any particular place.  The Pacific milk cans—although logically they should be lurking near the windowsill when they were not being wringed out for tea—are among these, with pictures of cows on the cover and two little paper wedges poking out of the holes to keep the milk fresh.  In those days, refrigeration in apartments was far from commonplace.

Aside from newspapers, which I recall as being in the tinder pile, I remember two specific pieces of reading material.  One was a copy of Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol, which didn’t—as I recall looking in it—seem to be a Christmas carol at all and which I failed to become acquainted with during my residence with Old Pop.  My first discovery of Dickens was to happen in my school reader some months later.

Per Disney: My neighborhood and neighbors not quite as I remember them.

The other piece of reading was a Donald Duck comic which I must have read over and over since the plot still stays with me.  It was a bit of commonplace Disney racism, set, so far as I can reconstruct, in some trans-Andean plateau among people intended to represent South American Indigenous people.  Like most non-Euro folk encountered in the Disney universe, who are always trapped in a tall tale from another century, the people in the comic chose their leaders irrationally, and Donald, Huey, Dewey and Louie were all in danger of death from the irrational native tribe if their crown didn’t fit any of them.  (All tribes have kings and absolute rulers in Disney country.)  Fortunately, Donald had already suffered from a lump on the head from earlier in the adventure and the crown fit him.  –Western rationality survives for another day.  Whew!

I recall other reading materials, presumably copies of the Prince Rupert Daily News, mainly as something to be crumpled up to launch a fire in the stove.  Old newspapers were always stored near the kindling pile, which consisted of finger-thick sticks of yellow cedar about a foot long.  My father would take a few sticks of these kindling, carving shavings from them with a pocket knife, and forming little puff-ended flowers of shavings which were then detached and used as the next stage of tinder for fire-lighting, after the crumpled newspapers and before the sticks of kindling themselves.  Once the fire was well-launched, the coal was added.

These stoves worked well for heating a room, but were less efficient for concentrating heat.  To heat a kettle, you needed to take a stove lid off and put the kettle directly over the flame.  It still took a little while to heat water in this way.

I remember my grandfather one time heating water for tea.  He patiently heated and boiled the water, then poured it into the tea pot and waited for it to steep.  Only after he went to pour the tea did he realize that he had forgotten to put in the tea leaves.  Rather than go back and repeat the process, my grandfather merely set his face, added milk and sugar to the hot water in his cup, and drank that.

I had no tea, whether long or short, on that occasion.

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Continued @ Legends of Myself 40

Posted in: autobiography