Victoria-Day weekend, 1972 and 2008

It is the first day of this Year’s Victoria Day weekend. It is also the first scorching Spring day we have had, so far. We have decided to stay close to home, take out the garden furniture and putter about the place. It has been a wool-gathering kind of day. i have rested my eyes as they are sore. The bright light hurts them. We are waiting for the cool of the evening to stroll around the neighbourhood with our new, seven year old Scottie, Jessica. When she goes out into the back garden she doesn’t stay out in the heat. The heat almost seems to rise from her compact black body and she tries to take refuge from the heat by digging a shallow trench to lie in. Like us, she doesn’t do well in heat.

Man of Science came to take a cup of coffee with Rumpole. I decided, that since the sun was well over the yard-arm, I could treat myself to a glass of red wine. Man of Science made a hilarious declaration which caused me to sputter and spill the damn stuff on my fresh new white cotton pants.

“I told you white is not a good colour for you. You didn’t waste time in staining those pants.” Rumpole always has to chide me for being a wee bit of a slob. He handed over the Tide stain remover, which upon application to the stains caused them to turn bright blue. I dragged out the lemon juice and salt and did the salad treatment on the stains. That did the trick, and I changed into a blue pareo and hung out the pants in the afternoon sun.

Man of Science has been a friend since 1970. He has seen me at my best and worst. He has no illusions about my feminish capacities. “Once a slob, always a slob!” he intoned. “But you are a good shit.” (Gee, thanks MoS)

I promptly withdrew to my room, wine in hand and lazed about sipping wine and half-listening to the guys chatting in the kitchen. A memory of driving away from Man of Science and Ardent Feminazi’s University housing at UBC exactly 36 years ago flashed in my mind. Then, Man of Science hoisted two year old Renaissance Man up to the open car window to kiss me goodbye. He and AF were looking after RM while a friend and I drove up North to the small community where we had both been hired as art teachers a couple of weeks previously.

Then, as today, the weather was hot and sultry. Lauren and I had done our final practicums at the same Vancouver high school, and discovered during one lunchtime that we both had been hired by the same school district. She, for the senior high, and me for the junior high. Right then we decided we would make our first trip up to meet the principals and see our schools on the upcoming Victoria Day weekend.

We dropped Renaissance Man at AF and MoS’s place, waved our goodyes and began our journey by car, of 465 miles. Lauren’s car was a small Toyota sedan. It didn’t have air conditioning. The drive was hot and long. We stopped outside Hope, and rolled all the windows down. Cranked up the radio to whatever local station it might recieve in the mountain valleys, and sang along on the road. Our hair flew freely in the wind; the windshield spattered with many dead bugs. We raced transport trucks on the passing lanes but kept our eyes peeled for the local police vehicles lurking behind tall stands of trees to nab unwary speeders. At nightfall we arrived at our destination, windswept, sweaty and dust grimed. We found a cheap motel and bedded down for the night laden with local newspapers to check out the housing situation, and the concerns of the locals.

While Lauren washed off the road grime in the bathroom, I perused the “Apartments for Rent” section in the paper, consulted the town map and tried to figure out the best places to contact the next morning. Then it was my turn to use a lot of hot water. Lauren spent her time looking for apartments nearest her school. Before we turned in we primped our hair and put in rollers to set up decent looking hair-dos.

The following morning, we phoned our respective Principals and arranged to visit our schools in the early afternoon. Then we began the earnest telphoning to set appointments to look at apartments in the evening hours. before lunch we drove around the whole town. it took only 30 minutes. The town had one main street, two stop-lights, one hardware store, two grocery stores, several small banks, a small hospital, funeral home, an RCMP detachment office that was easy to miss, post office, two hotels and several gas stations. It was a lumber and pulp town and boasted of a brand new pulp mill, several saw mills as well as novel structures neither of us had seen before – bee-hive burners attached to the saw mills. The town, situated at the confluence of two rivers sat in a valley the slopes of which were covered in mixed conifer and birch and aspen groves. It was a little jewel of a place, and we congratulated each other on having our first teaching jobs in such a lovely setting.

 In the afternoon, Lauren dropped me at my school for my appointment and drove off to meet her own principal in the west part of town. My principal was a gracious and friendly, almost fatherly man of early middle years. He walked me through the whole school and showed off the facilities for teaching Agricultural sciences which he himself had brought to fruition and manned as part of his teaching schedule. He was very proud of the Science labs, the Industrial Arts  workshops and then showed off the art-rooms and their adjoining storage areas. I was surprised at how well equipped my rooms were. There was a general studio with good tables and stools, good light, adequate cleanup and storage facilities. As a bonus, there was a fully equipped ceramic studio with four kick-wheels and two electric wheels, a large kiln and a small enamelling kiln, pug-mill and clay-recycling tables.  I felt like I had dropped into a dream art class-room. The nice principal said that although I was going to have a tiny budget to work with, he would ensure that there would be enough for me to get by with for the year, and that he was willing to help me forage for local clay bodies for the pottery program. I was thrilled.

When Lauren returned to fetch me so we could go off to look at apartments, she looked crest-fallen. She reported that her principal was a stiff and formal man, her room, in the brand new school had no equipment nor supplies and that she would have to build up her program, teaching supplies and equipment from scratch on a minimal budget. She expressed concern about the wisdom of taking on the job.

On the plus side, she managed to find a pleasant apartment across from her school, while the only apartment that would take me and a two-year old child as tenants was a basement apartment across the river from my school. We drove to a local diner and commiserated on the less stellar aspects of our upcoming adventure living and teaching in a small northern town. We determined to share teaching resources, and I assured her I’d ask my principal if she could have the two electric wheels from my school on loan to her for a year.

The following morning, the last day of the long-weekend, we drove back to Vancouver, largely silent and entertaining our own thoughts and concerns in privacy on the tedious hot drive.

So back to today; here was good old Man of Science, sitting in my kitchen 36 years later, sipping coffee, talking laughing and sounding very much like his earlier self. I like the constancy of old friendships,  shared history and knowing how life has changed us in the intervening years. Then, we were young parents; now we are grandparents. But we still are curious, vital and up for anything life throws at us.

It was pleasant to have his presence today with us as a reminder of how long a life we had in parallel with each other. I hate to see him with his white hair, but his keen blue eyes are as lovely and acute as ever, and he is his sweet, opinionated, questioning and fiercely loyal self.

This is going to be a good Victoria Day weekend, full of visits with the rest of our family, and good friends. But boy, is it ever a scorcher!

5 Responses to “Victoria-Day weekend, 1972 and 2008”

  1. canadada Says:

    Yes, old friends are irreplaceable. They see us at our best, and our worst, and keep on loving us just the same … Nothing like an old friend. Nice story.

    Saw this article in the NYTimes this am, thought it might interest you, tangentially ….

  2. guybrush57 Says:

    This is such a lovely memory … and so lovely to read.

  3. lookingforbeauty Says:

    We like to enjoy the heat of summer from the indoors or under the shade of an elegant Japanese maple, don’t we….. where the light is softer than the brittle summer sun and the lovely smell that rises from the baking grass (the lawn, not the other kind) wafts through the open windows, open on the shady side of course.
    I’m always grateful for a cool summer evening and a clear dark blue sky filled with stars.

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