Cinnamon Hearts by the Vedder
As a kid I often wondered what life would be like. Well Granddad hasn't any holes barred.
Cinnamon Hearts by the Vedder
I sat with granddad on the edge of the Vedder River in Chilliwack, our fishing rods dangled in water moving by with a slow measured pace on a hot summer day. We hadn’t a bite on our lines yet, but one of the first things I learned about fishing from Gramps was that it didn’t matter if you never caught anything. "That wasn't the point," he’d say.
An old bandit-looking raccoon come strolling along the riverbank giving us trespassers a dirty look. “There’s not much better for supper than the taste of a fresh salmon fry-up over a camp stove,” he said.
Gramps was prone to bouts of rambling talk that seemed to have no set purpose. Dad called him touched. "Just nod and wink every few seconds," he told me. Actually, Dad said, Granddad and Uncle Al were getting to be best friends as he got older. I liked the old codger even if his memory seemed to be going.
“You said Euphoria son, here have a couple of these. They’ll perk you up, while I tell you about the Euphoria Tea Company.”
He told me some of the wildest stories and always shared those little cinnamon heart candies he had on him. At ten it seemed there wasn’t much more to life than crunching cinnamon hearts and fishing the river with granddad on a hot summer’s day.
The rest of the family was sitting around the camp stove waiting for Dad to fry up some of his world famous charcoal black, hard-as-a-rock hamburgers or his even more famous charcoal black hard-as-a-rock hot-dogs. "I don’t know why everything that came off Dad’s barbecue managed to come out black and buggered," Granddad would say. I figured it was that barbeque sauce Dad used in such humongous quantities. Granddad would nudge me and say he was just a piss-poor cook.
“It was back during the opening stages of the Second World War. A mite before your time son.”
Everything he told me about was ‘a mite before my time’. I wondered how Grandpa found the energy to do all these crazy things he’d tell me about. All I’ve ever known him to do was bellyache about his lack of regularity, chew on cinnamon hearts and complain about the crap weather. “Actually, I said, oh look Gloria’s over by that tree Granddad, not Euphoria.” Gloria was my next door neighbor and here having a picnic with her family. So far she hadn’t seen me or I knew she’d been sitting here talking with us, wanting to do gross things like hold hands and kiss.
Kissing girls, yuck I'd rather kiss a baboon.
Gramps said that would change when I got older.
"Like eighty-four," I told him.
“I’d been driving through the states in my old Rambler, now there was a car, did I ever tell you about my old Rambler son?”
He told me so many stories about his travels across Canada with that old Rambler I could rebuild it in my sleep.
“So I just hit Euphoria, Saskatchewan, Population 2840, the sign said and if you’d ever been through Saskatchewan you’d know they counted every dog, cat, gopher and budgie. One of those towns where the grain elevators were the only building over two stories high.”
I had never been to the prairies, lived my whole life in BC. “Our teacher said the prairies are flat, no mountains.” The only thing Granddad said he liked about the prairies was the big open sky and the incredible thunder storms that would roll in with the fury of two tomcats fighting over a female in heat. Something I’d never heard yet, but figured it'd raise quite the ruckus.
“And lightning so strong you could read a book sitting on your balcony on a moonless night. You’ve never seen sky that opens up like you’re standing on half the world, have you son?”
I shook my head ‘no’, thinking I'd probably be found huddled underneath my bed sheets and wondered now I knew why the fish weren't biting. He talked their ears off.
“I darn near missed the place, which isn’t good when you’re running on fumes. Then again, that old car could run on the sniff of an oil rag. So I asked the gas station man where a guy could get a cold beer. He gawked at me like my butt was on fire. ‘This here’s a dry county I can assure you sir.’ He dismissed me like one of those bugs he was scraping off my windshield.
Well, I said to him, "I’ll be making a bee-line outa here in a darn hurry." Another fellow in the old truck next to me said, "Can’t says I didn’t hear yea all talking out there. Now if yea want a potent brew to settle your nerves try the café up the street and ask the waitress for a cup of their Euphoria tea."
"Tea? I said to him, what, I look like I got a decal of the Queen hanging off my underwear or something?"
"Like the gentleman said, this hear’s a dry county. But try a cup of that tea, Euphoria. It leaves yea in better shape than it finds yea, if you know what I mean."
Then he winked at me like I knew what the joke was about and I just wondered what the hell kind of crazy town I’d found myself in.
However being a fellow of curiosity I drove up the road, figuring on grabbing a bite of chow. The streets were empty, but the café was full. I think the whole town was in there and they all stared at me like I was some cop coming in to bust them.
I remember the chairs in that place all seemed to have somebody’s ass-shape set in them, like they had been sat in all day, every day for the last forty years by the same people. I recon, they just sat there all day talking about farmer things.”
“Farmer things?” I asked.
“Yeah, like how’s your bull doing, oh he’s okay, chased three heifers yesterday, darn coyotes been around my hen house again, I see your hay crop’s coming along just fine. Hope, it don’t rain. You know farmer things.
I remember looking at the menu and noting that there was no alcohol on the list. The tea or coffee was ten cents, pretty steep in those days. So I ordered a cheeseburger and fries. I remembered what the man said about the Euphoria tea only I didn’t see it on the menu. I did notice some of the folks sitting there with these huge mugs and glazed looks on their faces staring off into space real goofy like.
When the waitress came by I asked for a cup of their Euphoria tea. She returned a minute later toting one of those large mugs everyone else had.
Told me the price was twenty-five cents and she’d add it to my bill. Two bits? I said to her, all indignant like, ‘cause I never heard of a cup of tea that cost a quarter in my whole life. She just smiled a weird smile. "You ain’t never had a cup of Euphoria then, sir."
Well I figured if anyone that had the courage to ask that kinda money must have a good product there, so I paid her. It had a bitter taste, bit like old socks that clung in back of your throat, clawing its way down. My lips went numb and after that, well, time sorta became irrelevant as weird things began happening. I watched this fly for what seemed like hours walking across my table. At one point I laughed, I coulda sworn he was tap dancing. Ever see a fly tap dance, son?”
“I can’t say as I ever had.” Where he got these ideas for his stories I was never quite sure. But as long as he had a good supply of candies, I knew I could wade through this story.
“I understood why the other folks were sitting there all goofy like, because I’m sure that’s how I musta looked staring at that fly. I don’t recall leaving the restaurant or getting into my car. In fact I don’t remember if I even ate my burger. Although I suspect I didn’t ‘cause I was so hungry the next morning. I coulda ate the arsehole out of a skunk and come back for the smell. To be honest son, I don’t remember a hell of a lot about the rest of the day. The sky was the most vibrant blue I'd ever seen. I remember passing a cop and thought he was out to get me. So I pulled into a rest stop and fell asleep. The strangest thing, when I woke up I realized I’d driven nearly a hundred miles. Which was too bad ‘cause I was tempted to drive back for a refill.”
Grandpa sat there with this quiet look on his face. Kooky old guy, he’d tell me some of the craziest stories. Most of which I never believed especially when I Googled Euphoria, Saskatchewan, and couldn’t find it.
I wondered when I get to be his age if I’d ever have as many wild stories as he did. I grabbed another cinnamon heart candy and thought; nope, probably not. Not as long as I keep sitting here on this riverbank doing nothing.
So I pushed Granddad into the river.