60. Prince Rupert, 1959: Rest Is a Weapon
My stay in Prince Rupert in the summer of 1959 was mostly free of incident, more an establishing shot of a story to be continued later than a story in itself.
In relation to my previous stays in town, I was exploring a more downtown view of things, perhaps. There was a little park underneath where Fulton Street climbed the ridge back of downtown—two blocks up from the Grand Café rooms and off of Fraser Street—where I sometimes went. I recall crest poles in that park which were hollow behind.
Near the corner of Sixth Street and Fraser (the actual corner is a sunken lot, a fence wrapped around it at street level, which, so far as I know, has never been occupied) I have a vague recollection of hanging out with a group of local kids, and an outdoor soft drink dispenser in front of our loitering place. I remember that dispenser only because I drank a bottle of Coca Cola out of it.
I have never been able to decide whether it was because the soft drink formula was different then, or because I was more sensitive to it at that age, or even a combination of the two, but I was of the opinion that Coke was too “strong” for me. I remember that among my peers I wasn’t the only one to think so. It took me at least twice as long to consume a bottle of Coca Cola as compared to other soft drinks like Orange Crush or cream soda.
It might have been 1959 or it could have been the summer before—it’s the sort of thing that is hard to give a date to—that I met the boy with his wagon on the corner of 6th Avenue and Dunsmuir. I can pinpoint it geographically only because it is the only corner in that Prince Rupert neighbourhood where what happened could have happened.
I was walking north on 6th, going I know not where, and met the boy. I wasn’t someone he knew, but he felt enthusiastic enough to fill me in anyways on his plans to ride his wagon down Dunsmuir Street. The hill was steep and long there, and I can’t remember what I thought of the project, whether I envied him or thought he might start hurtling down the hill too fast. I remember watching him to his launch, after which I continued on my way along 6th.
It couldn’t have been more than a few seconds later, although I was already out of sight around the corner, when I heard the screech of a car braking suddenly, cross traffic on 7th Avenue which neither I nor the boy had thought of. You may be sure that I have thought of it since.
I don’t know whether there was an actual accident. There was no punctuation to those screeching tires, leastwise, not in my hearing. And I never did go back around the corner to find out. Why go and look? What could I have done if there had been an accident? Then as now, mayhem and distress, if there were such to see, didn’t attract me for its own sake.
But to return to where I began, my stay in Prince Rupert with my father in 1959 was more about setting than story, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t important. I remember Robert Ludlum’s catchphrase from his Jason Bourne novels, “Sleep is a weapon.” My stay was like that. It was like the rest at the end of a journey, like the refreshment you take before resuming the journey again.
Put another way, it was like the comfortable place at the beginning and the ending of journeys which made all journeys tolerable. Some would call such a place home. Dickens understood it in the way that I felt it. To echo the orphan Smike to his rescuer Nicholas Nickleby, rather than anyplace we happened to be, my father was my home.
But my childhood travels were a long way from over. And after a short summer in Prince Rupert, I was leaving home again, leaving my father again, to live with a family in Hazelton, inland and up the Skeena to where that river joined forces with the Bulkley, in the heart of Gitxsan territory. That was where I was to spend Grade Four, the next school year.