Thursday, July 29, 2010

EL Bevy Chevy

I bought my first car in Houston, Texas in 1978. It was a 1974 Chevy Malibu full size station wagon…very sexy. My roommate and I were two Canadian nurses working in Galveston at the time and we went halves on the car, hence the name EL Bevy Chevy. The EL stood for our last names, Edwards and Landry, and the Bevy Chevy was just because we liked the sound of it. My Dad, who was visiting at the time, gave us a little help in picking it out. Actually we had pictured buying one of those VW vans so we could travel in it but we were willing to settle for the station wagon. In a pinch you could camp out in the back of it and it did look easier to drive.

We got it home and Dad was careful to make sure we had the trunk loaded with emergency gear like booster cables, cans of oil and a funnel, electrical tape, and a few basic tools. Before he and Mom left to return to Canada, he also gave us quick instructions on how to check the various fluid levels, boost the battery and change a tire. It all looked simple enough. I can’t tell you how exciting it was to have the kind of independence and freedom that owning that car gave us.

Of course it had its little quirks. A couple of months after we took ownership it started to belch blue smoke out the tailpipe. We thought we might be on fire but the mechanic said the rings were worn so that oil was leaking out. Replacing the rings would cost a fair chunk of change and we didn’t have that kind of money. Instead we opted to ignore the blue smoke and just keep adding oil every time we filled the gas tank. I confess we weren’t thinking much about the environment at the time.

At the end of the year our work visas ran out and we decided to load everything up and drive back to Canada. It would be our one big road trip. We packed all our worldly goods into the back of the car, armed ourselves with a good road map and set out heading north.

We hadn’t even driven a full day when poor old EL Bevy Chevy just seemed to run out of steam and die. We coasted to a stop at the side of the road and I got out for a look under the hood. Perhaps it would be something really obvious. In point of fact the engine was covered in frothy pink foam and I couldn’t even begin to imagine what that was all about. It looked like prayer was our best option. We weren’t there long before a Good Samaritan came along and we learned the value of the items my Dad had stocked us with. It turned out that we’d blown a hole in a hose and the pink foam was our transmission fluid. The electrical tape temporarily fixed the hole and the can of oil would do as a temporary substitute for transmission fluid. It would at least get us to the next town and a garage where we could get everything properly repaired.

You’d think that was enough excitement for one trip but two days later we came out of the motel we’d stayed in to find one of the tires completely flat. No problem this time. We pulled out the jack and the spare tire and went to work. We wouldn’t win any prizes for speed but between the two of us we managed to jack the car up, remove the flat tire and get the spare put on. We were feeling very competent as we tightened the last of the little nut thingy’s and stood back to admire our handiwork. Oh foolish pride! Imagine our humiliation when we realized neither one of us had any idea of how to lower the jack and we were going to have to ask for help after all. The gentleman who came to our assistance was having difficulty keeping a straight face as he flipped the little lever on the jack to enable him to crank it down again.

We did make it back to Canada safely and I bought out the other half of the car so EL Bevy Chevy became my own as my roommate and I went our separate ways. By then I’d become quite attached to the old girl. We had history together. In the end she played a big part in the early days of my relationship with Bev, the man I would eventually marry. He had a pickup truck and whenever my car broke down or refused to start in some parking lot, he would come to my rescue and use his truck to tow us to the nearest garage. He was my hero and EL Bevy Chevy gave him lots of opportunities to shine. I loved that car.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

A Surprise For Dad

My parents lived on a farm on the highway between Alban and Noelville in Northern Ontario when they were in their twenties. Dad would go out to work for the Department of Highways during the day and attend to all the farm work in the evenings and on the weekends. When Friday night rolled around Mom was always hopeful that they might be able to go out for some fun but Dad was often just too tired. House parties were the favorite form of social gathering back then. People would take turns hosting. Furniture would be pushed aside to make room for dancing with fiddles, harmonicas, and guitars providing the music. A late night lunch made up of a washtub full of sandwiches was all that was needed to round off the evening.

One day Mom decided that if she could do some of Dad’s farm work while he was away he might be willing to take her out on Friday night. She knew there were some cut logs back in the bush that he had been meaning to haul to the house so they could be cut and split for firewood. The horse would be doing all the hauling so she was confident she could handle the job. She kept silent about her plans as Dad headed off to work in the morning. This was going to be her gift to him, a total surprise, and she could hardly wait to get started. The moment he pulled out of the driveway she was scrambling into some old work clothes and slipping into her rubber boots.

She had never actually harnessed the horse before but figured she had a basic idea of what to do. It took a while but eventually she got the collar fitted and all the straps and buckles securely fastened. Her step was confident as she led the horse to the back of the farm and onto the rutted track that led into the bush. She worked hard that day. It wasn’t easy getting the chain around the logs so they wouldn’t slip. One at a time seemed the best course of action. Each one was a struggle though, and she had to resort to what amounted to an undignified wrestling match with the bigger logs that left her sweating and covered in mud.

It was much harder than she’d dreamed and even the horse seemed determined to thwart her. Every now and then he would set his feet stubbornly and refuse to move unless she gave him a good smack. The hours dragged by and the unlikely duo made trip after trip with dogged determination until they were finally on the last load and Mom was beginning to feel a sense of smug self satisfaction. They emerged from the trees to see Dad standing in the yard staring at the pile of logs no doubt wondering what on earth was going on. Mom’s weariness seemed to evaporate and she strode forward proudly, struggling unsuccessfully to suppress her triumphant grin as he turned and spotted her coming. Seeing his incredulous stare when he met them at the edge of the yard made it all worth while.

“You did all this?” he asked, his forehead furrowed in concern as his gaze wavered between her and the horse. “You’ve been pulling logs all day?”

“Of course,” Mom responded with pride. “I’m stronger than you think.”

Her bubble burst with a bang when he shook his head and explained that she had the horse collar on upside down. He thought it should have been obvious that the narrow part of the teardrop shaped horse collar was meant for the back of the horse’s neck. That was the only way he could pull without choking. It wasn’t obvious to Mom though. She had taken one look at the collar and put it on the way she would have worn it herself…with the narrow part in front.

“Good thing you were only pulling one log at a time or you might have strangled him,” Dad pronounced as he set about releasing the poor beast.

It was a pretty flat ending to Mom’s ambitious plan to surprise and impress her hard-working husband. Dad was surprised all right but he wasn’t nearly as happy about the whole thing as she’d hoped. Still, the job got done and the horse survived with no lasting ill effects.
Mom wasn’t likely to let one little failure discourage her love of surprises for long. A good surprise was always one of her chief delights. Next time she’d just have to be better prepared.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010


I am often lost in a world of daydreams and when that is the case it can be fairly easy to startle me. When Bev and I were dating and then on into the first year of our marriage he thought it highly amusing to jump out at me from darkened doorways or creep up on me from behind. He could always count on a pretty dramatic reaction and the more I bristled with righteous indignation, the more hilarious he found it.

We’d been married nearly a year when we were living in Prospect Heights, Illinois in order to study Missions with the aim of going overseas. We shared a large house with a number of other students and teammates. Our upstairs bedroom had an ensuite bathroom and Bev had gone up to get a shower when I decided it was time for some payback at last.

I crept up the stairs, stealthy footsteps muffled by the thick carpet in the hall. If I leaned to my right I could just see into the room without exposing my position. The bathroom door was closed and I could hear the reassuring sound of water running. There was a wall to wall closet with sliding doors just inside the doorway on the right so I carefully began to ease the slider open, checking over my shoulder every few seconds to make sure he was still in the bathroom. Oh, revenge was going to be so sweet. I backed into the closet doing my best not to disturb the hangers or make the slightest noise that would give me away. Bev had notoriously good hearing. I could hardly restrain my gleeful anticipation as I slid the door across inch by careful inch to conceal my hiding place. With only the last couple of inches to go the gloom in the tight confines of the closet was almost complete. I turned my head and nearly jumped out of my skin. He was supposed to be in the shower but there he was in the dimness only inches from me, his grinning face barely discernable as he peered at me from where he’d been struggling to hold his breath as he waited concealed among the coats.

I can’t imagine what the people downstairs thought when they heard the piercing shriek followed by a scuffle and a tremendous crash coming from our bedroom. In my frantic efforts to get out of that closet I knocked the sliding door completely off its track and it went down like a felled tree with me on top of it. By the time our housemates thundered up the stairs and burst in to see what happened we were both sitting on the floor laughing so hard that tears were rolling unrestrained down our cheeks and we were gasping for air. Bev had to confess that he’d been pretty startled himself when the closet door started to slide open seemingly of its own accord. It took everything in him to keep silent when he realized what I was doing. It was the last prank of its kind for either one of us. We could try for our whole lives and never top that.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Up The Creek

My Mom and Dad loved fishing. They kept it up long after my Dad gave up hunting. Eventually, they reached an age where putting a boat or canoe in the water was too much for them so they had to content themselves with fishing from the shore. That wasn’t particularly satisfying though, especially as most of the lakes with easy access were pretty much fished out.

Dad remembered a lake in the French River area that was quite a ways off the beaten track. He knew they were much more likely to succeed in catching something there so one morning they set out to find it. The car was loaded with lawn chairs, lunch, fishing gear and high expectations as they trusted to Dad’s memory and sense of direction to get them where they were going.

It all started out well. Dad easily located the narrow back road that would ultimately take them to the vicinity of the lake. It was a bit rough but he was an excellent driver and he had no trouble negotiating the ruts and potholes they encountered. It wasn’t the first time he’d taken their Chrysler Dynasty over roads that looked more like cow paths. The trouble started when they came to a creek where the bridge had washed out. Actually it was more like a river. It didn’t look to be very deep but it was more than three car lengths across.

They were faced with a choice. There was no room to turn around so if they decided to abandon their plan they would have to back all the way out to the main road which was only given that distinction because it allowed for two way traffic. The prospect didn’t appeal to either of them especially with no fish to show for their efforts. Dad got out for a closer inspection of the bank. There he could plainly discern the tire tracks of another vehicle leading straight into the water. When he looked to the other side, the tracks leading up the far bank and onto the road were easily visible. That settled it. If some other driver had made it across there was no reason he couldn’t do it too.

Mom was a nervous passenger at the best of times so I can well imagine her white knuckled grip on the dashboard as Dad put the car in first gear and drove into the water. What he didn’t know of course was that whoever had driven across ahead of him was most certainly not doing it in a Chrysler. Even so, they made it right out to the centre before the wheels sank deep in the loose gravel of the riverbed and they came to a shuddering halt. They were well and truly stuck and no amount of skill was going to get them out of this one. There they sat, neither one willing to look at the other, water seeping in around the doors until it covered the floorboards and sloshed around their ankles.

Who knows how long they might have sat there if not for the return of the vehicle whose tracks they had been following. It turned out to be two men in a 4x4 Jeep with a convenient winch on the front. The men could scarcely hide their stunned reactions at the unexpected sight of two very senior citizens sitting in tight-lipped silence in the front seat of their car while the river flowed around them. I’m quite sure they’d never before seen two unlikelier off-road enthusiasts. Fortunately for my Dad’s injured pride, they managed not to laugh once as they set about rescuing the stranded couple.

I can’t say the same for the rest of us when we heard the story. Of course by then even my Dad was ready to see the humor in it. The trip may not have netted them any fish but it was an adventure all right. Even senior citizens need one of those from time to time.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Flap That Dress

I’ve always prided myself on being a quick learner so when my husband, Bev, asked me if I thought I could handle being a farm wife I rose to the challenge. He got a job as a Dairy Herdsman and we moved to the country. I must admit I felt a little intimidated by the cows at first. In time I began to feel more confident though, especially when they were lined up neatly and safely locked into the stanchions. They were so placid and well behaved. That was before the fateful Sunday we met under very different circumstances.

We pulled into our lane after a particularly grueling church service. Being nearly eight months pregnant made almost everything grueling back then. I wanted nothing more than a nap at that moment. In fact I had already closed my eyes when I heard Bev’s explosive “Oh no!” and felt the car lurch to a sudden standstill.

There in the yard ahead of us was a group of at least a dozen escapees from the adjoining pasture. It seemed to me that there were cows everywhere. Bev reacted quickly. He maneuvered the car into a position that would block the lane and got out to confront the miscreants. In a series of fits and starts I managed to gain the house where I watched nervously from the safe haven of the porch.

Perhaps they didn’t recognize the suit and tie or perhaps their first taste of freedom had gone to their heads but those cows were being particularly uncooperative. Time and time again he would get them started in the right direction and they would scatter as they approached the gate. Finally, he called out to me that I would have to help.

“I can’t chase cows in my condition!” I shouted in instant apprehension.

“You don’t have to chase them,” he responded patiently. “Just put on some boots and come out here.”

This crisis was obviously going to require teamwork so I reluctantly made my way out to the yard feeling clumsy and awkward in oversized boots.

“What do I do?” I asked.

“I want you to go out into the field, say about a hundred yards or so and flap your dress,” Bev explained.

“Flap my dress?” I looked down at myself in bewilderment. The red dress I was wearing looked more like a tent than anything else and I couldn’t figure out what he was getting at. It sounded a lot easier than chasing cows though, so I waddled out into the empty field and took up my position.

If I had known the likely result of such a display, I probably would not have flapped that dress with such naïve abandon. One by one heads lifted and turned in my direction. The nearest cow, its curiosity peaked, took a few tentative steps toward the gate. The next thing I knew, what looked like a full scale stampede was on and it was coming straight at me.

I froze in mid flap, rooted to the spot in horrified expectation of a fatal trampling. The charge lasted only seconds but I could have sworn it was much longer. To my utter amazement, those cows came to an abrupt stop within feet of where I stood. I reminded myself to resume breathing as I looked into several pairs of huge brown eyes and searched for signs of aggression. However, not even my overactive imagination could turn milk cows into anything but milk cows.

As I stood there trying to anticipate their next move, they lost interest in me and began to wander and graze as if nothing had happened. It seemed a rather flat ending to my ‘near death experience’.
I trudged back to my grinning husband who shouted, “Well done!” as he latched the gate. He obviously knew I had never been in the slightest danger.

“All in a day’s work,” I responded with a shaky smile.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Bears in the Berry Patch

The raspberries are ripe and it’s time to pick. These days I only have to step around to the back of our garage to get our fill of the luscious fruit. Where’s the adventure in that? When I was growing up in Northern Ontario, the berries we picked were growing wild. Getting in a supply for the pies and preserves my mother made was one of summer’s major undertakings. As soon as we could walk we were drafted into the family picking brigade. Off we would go with as many plastic pails and baskets as we could carry and there was no quitting until every last one was full or the berries ran out.

Strawberries were always first. Wild strawberries grow in open fields and we would end up on some abandoned farm on a dusty back road where the grass grew tall and the only sound was the buzz of cicadas in the summer heat. I never knew a strawberry could grow bigger than the size of a pea until we moved to Southern Ontario. The enormous strawberries grown on farms down here may be easier to pick but they just don’t taste the same. Maybe the hours we spent on our knees in the grass with the hot sun baking our skin and squadrons of deer flies circling our heads like winged halos lent extra flavor to the fruit. The promise of that first bowl of strawberries and whipped cream was the ultimate reward my mother would dangle in front of us to silence our complaints.

Blueberries were much easier to pick. They grew on rocky hills where you could always find a bit of shade. We would spread out and compete to find the best patch, preferably one where you could sit in the middle reaching in every direction to pick with both hands. My brother, Tom, and I would check in with each other now and then to see who was winning in the race to fill our pails. If the picking was good my mother would want to fill our hats as well. It sometimes took more than one trip to get it all to the car.

Raspberries came last in the season and they were my favorite. We would usually end up covered in scratches but at least we could pick standing up. On one momentous day we hiked through the bush to reach an abandoned gravel pit where the raspberries grew wild. It didn’t take long for us to scatter. Competition is a great motivator. My mother was completely focused on the task at hand and she didn’t pay much attention to where Tom and I went. By then we were seasoned pickers and able to fend for ourselves. Consequently, we were nowhere near her when she got the surprise of her life.

She was leaning forward using both hands to deftly pluck the fruit from the prickly branches when she heard a rustling on the far side of the bush she was working on. She assumed it was one of us and paid little attention. She straightened up to move to a new spot at the precise moment a black bear that had been gorging itself on the late summer fruit opposite her also rose. For a split second they stared at each other from a distance of only a few feet but my mother’s paralysis didn’t last long. The peaceful solitude of the clearing was shattered as she screamed and scrambled backwards, berries flying in all directions. The bear let out a great “Humph” and dropped to all fours to run for the shelter of the trees as fast as its legs could carry it. I think my mother scared it half to death. A scream from her could have that effect.

Unfortunately, it ran directly into the trees that we would have to pass through to reach the car. Picking was over for that day. We stayed only long enough to give the bear a good head start and then we began our march making as much noise as we possibly could. I’m sure the bear was long gone but even so we set a new record for the number of times we sang “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” at the top of our lungs as we stomped through the brush. I think the lyrics should have been changed to “Bear’s in the berry patch. What are we to do? Scream and shout and jump about, and he’ll be scared of you.”

Monday, July 5, 2010

Never Shop Alone

I’ve never been fond of shopping. Crowds…noise…struggling in and out of outfits that look better on a hanger than on me…prices that seem totally outrageous to my untrained eye…sore feet…frustration…discouragement. What it all boils down to is that when I do find something I like, I generally wear it for at least 10 years just to avoid going through the whole process again.

There was a time when I looked on shopping as a solo occupation, an unpleasant task to be gotten over with as quickly as possible. That all changed the day I was forced to go looking for a new summer dress a few years back. I started in a very large department store which shall remain nameless since I don’t remember its name.

I pushed through the door to the dressing room area with one hip, encumbered as I was with purse and an armload of possibilities that gave me some slight hope that I might find something in my first attempt. I was faced with a choice of cubicles, each with a door that left about 8 inches open at top and bottom. None of them were in use at the time so I made sure I chose one with a lock that actually worked. The process of trying on clothes is fraught with enough anxiety without adding the stress of worrying about whether someone might pull the door open on you standing there in your 10 year old second best underwear.

I tried on each of the five dresses I carried in with me. Four were definitely going back on the hangers but the fifth had potential. I silently weighed the chances of me finding something better and in the end decided I would take it. I was actually smiling as I reached for the door handle. The smile crumpled in on itself when the handle wouldn’t budge. I dropped everything and tried with both hands. I tried with the little lock button pushed to the left. I tried with it pushed to the right. I rattled it and shook it and banged it with the heel of my hand all to no avail. I was alone in the dressing room area or someone surely would have responded to all the noise I was making. I rested my forehead against the door, tears of frustration welling up in my eyes. This just couldn’t be happening to me. I glanced down at the opening under the door and briefly entertained the idea of trying to squeeze through it. Had I been a 12 year old it might even have worked. As it was I was just going to have to wait it out.

After what seemed like hours the outer door opened and I heard the footsteps of some other hopeful shopper approaching.

“Excuse me…Hello? Somebody? Anybody?” My voice sounded ragged even to my own ears. “Can you please go and tell someone from the store that I’m stuck in here? I can’t get the door open.”

Whoever it was didn’t respond but the rapidly retreating footsteps and the noise of the outer door swinging shut left me at least a little hopeful. That hope was beginning to evaporate as the minutes ticked by. Eventually, my straining ears were rewarded and a brisk male voice called out, “Maintenance here”. I sighed in relief as he set to work unscrewing the hinges on the door to remove it. In moments it was done. I barely glanced at his grinning face as he replaced the screwdriver in the tool belt at his waist. I couldn’t get out of there fast enough to suit me. I was all the way home before I realized I’d left the dress I meant to buy in the dressing room, totally forgotten in my haste to escape.

I learned my lesson. When I go shopping these days I like to have backup. Besides, even the most miserable tasks can be fun if you share them with a friend.