Legends of Myself 65

Posted on March 6, 2013

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65. Gitanmaax/Hazelton, 1959:  Town and Field

Town.  Hazelton has a miniature town centre, dressed up these days to look cute and old-timey, hopefully to lure the tourists in.  I don’t remember it being nearly so compact, but at nine or ten, one’s expectations might be more compact.  It was large enough for our purposes then.

I remember going into town with companions (not really much of a walk) and visiting the Chinese-owned bakery where we would buy a loaf of bread for about a dime, and tear it apart fresh and hot with our fingers, stuffing it in our mouths as we wandered about.  We didn’t need cake or jam or butter when we had fresh bread hot from the oven.

I hardly remember what it was that we looked at downtown since five minutes encompasses the whole of it with adult viewing (not counting the mountains and rivers.)  Occasionally there was a movie showing in a community hall that doubled for the movie theatre.  I missed the showing, but not everyone else did  (I caught up with it a few years later on television) when the featured movie was “The Blob.”  A boy among that lucky audience explained to me with relish and wickedness how very horrifying it was to have a huge gob of goo swallow you whole.  He wanted me to be jealous, having missed the fun, and I was.

The Old Man and the Sea - tracyOne movie I suppose I didn’t miss was “The Old Man and the Sea.”  The hall which doubled as movie theatre was occupied that evening almost entirely by kids, most of whom knew each other, and who, until the lights went out, continued the usual byplay, teasing, practical jokes, arguments, giggles, guffaws, pokes and hollers that characterized their interactions anywhere else.  One boy showed off his Woody Woodpecker laugh.  I don’t remember anybody being too worried about our fuss and caterwaul.  The movie was projected on a scrollable screen, and we all sat on stackable chairs which had been set out in rows.  I think there was a booth for candy and pop.

The 1958 edition of the Hemingway classic starred a grizzled Spencer Tracy as the unlucky fisherman.  Unfortunately, whoever was running the projector that night put the reels on in the wrong order.  The movie started off with a proper beginning.  Spence had gone off in his little sailboat to wrestle with the sea, had somehow gotten safely ashore again after the second reel, only to find himself equally suddenly out to sea again a few minutes later being harassed by sharks.  I can claim to have seen the whole movie, sea, sharks, fishermen, helpful boys, Hemingwayish narration and all, but I’ve never yet seen it in sequence.  I’ve read the book, however, where I presume the narration is in the right order.

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Field.  Hazelton didn’t have to be very large for the purposes of small boys, I suppose, since in the end I got most of my entertainment from the fields, woods and waters out back of our house, from hanging around home or going next door, and from the gang I played with.  We were two genders with various ages, from younger to older than me.  The older ones always knew the rules and could arbitrate, which I suppose added dimension to the games from their point of view and ensured a fairer game for the rest of us.

I recall the boy next door had a Tinkertoy construction set, the kind with spindles and sticks, with which he could do wonders and I could not.  I envied him for his skill but mostly for his practice.  What constructions I could learn to build if I had such a kit, I thought.  I built Tinkertoy castles from the Earth to the Moon, like any Junior Woodchuck.

But not having any Tinkertoy construction materials of my own to work with, I had to satisfy my playtime with our enormous back yard.

Fishing in slough Hazelton c1910The area back of and near to the house was mostly open, although not entirely even, with trees springing up as you approached the rivers’ edges.  The trees grew denser and the ground was steeper along the Bulkley arm.  They were less thick along the Skeena, and the Skeena bank had a pebbly beach where it was easy to walk along the water’s edge.  Also standing above the Skeena bank I remember a long line of tall cottonwood trees.  Bushes and hillocks filled in the scene, and, where the rivers joined, backsweeping waters had created the Slough.  Old photographs depict Aboriginal people fishing and canoeing in the Slough, but that body of water was nowhere near so extensive by 1959 and 60.  By then it was the pond where, in the summer of 1960 I learned to swim, and by 1989 it had been reduced to an indentation in the ground—which I suppose became a largish puddle in the wet season.  Perhaps someday a larger pond will cycle back again.

I suppose there were berries in our playground for us to graze on in the spring, but I most clearly remember picking hazelnuts in the fall.  They were a surprise to me, since I only knew hazelnuts before that from the Christmas nut bowl, but of course their presence is how Hazelton got its name.

When Hallowe’en came I remember us all retiring to some place away from the house where we experimented with blowing up mounds of dirt with firecrackers.  It was natural to want to blow things up with toys that so resembled little red sticks of dynamite.  Some of the older boys had got hold of some of the bigger firecrackers—finger thick—which supplied some satisfying dirt explosions.  Not one of us lost an eye.

Our playground lasted us until the snow came, but the snow came so thick the winter of 1959-60 that I don’t remember us going out in those fields much until the snow melted again in the spring.  But the snow and frost had fashioned us another kind of playground as a substitute.

Posted in: autobiography