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Coal Dusters – Chapter LXIX
Once Reverend Browne left, Birk and Clancy went out to the back porch.
“Been a long couple of days.” Clancy said.
“Things changed so fast at times I don’t know what’s going on. Was what we were doing such an evil thing?”
“I don’t know, Birk. There are some who think so. Maybe t’was all my fault for coming back.”
“I wanted to be with you.” Clancy said softly. “I missed you.”
“I missed you too Clancy. It was the same as when Barky died.”
“Yeah. A mutt I’d found out back of here when I was a kid. Sure was a friendly dog. He’d wait for me at the colliery gate to go home with me. When he died I was so … heart sick.”
“You loved that dog.” Clancy said and gave a playful bark.
“I sure did. I’m not calling you a dog!”
“No more than I was calling you a monkey.”
“Though monkey’s is less hairy.” Clancy laughed, got up and walked to the end of the garden.
Birk followed him.
“What’s all this mean Clancy. We’re pals, right? Isn’t this how pals is supposed to feel. In the mines looking out for each other. That don’t end down there.”
“No, it doesn’t. But I don’t know any more than you about … could be we take to each other too much. A man takes a wife not another man.”
“I know that! I will one day cause that’s what Ma wants.”
“Is that what you want?”
“Not, if gals are like Miss McTavish. All proper and acting they know better.”
“There are some that is and plenty that are like your Ma and mine, too. You never know what you’re going to get with women.”
“Why are they such devious things?”
“That’s the way they are made. You’re asking the wrong man anyway.”
“You not looking to married?” Birk asked.
“Yes, but I agrees with you. I’m no hurry for that, I need a reliable job to plan for sort of future.”
“You don’t have family to worry about the way I do.”
“Yeah, but same as you I don’t see the need for it, yet. I want be settled as something. What would I have to offer besides the clothes on my back. Don’t even have a place to call my own.” Clancy sighed.
“You always got a home with us, you knows that.”
“Yeah but that’s not the same as having a place of my own. Takes more scratch that I’ve earned to get that.” He kicked at the ground.
They headed back to the house.
“What’s buggery, Clancy?”
“Why you asking that?” Clancy give a little laugh. “What do you think it is?”
“I hear it around the mines often enough, about the union being run by useless buggers. I thought it had something to do with the rats as we always call’em useless buggers too.”
“You got that right.” Clancy laughed again. “Let see how I can tell you.”
“It’s what that Father Patrick called us at the police station, remember?”
“Yeah I recollect that. You know how a baby gets set don’t you?”
“Pa explained that. You put yer little guy into the woman’s little slipper, between her legs.” Birk said. “Only the gals don’t encourage that sort of thing but they do as a duty. Husbands enjoy it though but a gentleman don’t bother no lady with that business less she makes it known she wants to make babies.”
“Mac told you pretty good all you need to know on that account.”
“What’s that got to with mine rats?”
“I’m getting to it. It’s when a man puts his little feller up the arse of another man.”
“What!” Birk stepped back, his stomach churning. “In the shitter?” The image made him sick to his stomach.
“You ever …”
“No.” Clancy said loudly. “When we was called abominations that was what they was talking about, though.”
“I …” Birk was looking for the words. “Where they get that notion from in the first place.”
“Something in the Catholic good book. I don’t know it well enough to tell you were they get it from. All I know is the ten commandments and that sure isn’t one of them.”
“What about what we was doing? Lettin’ our little fellas rub. That was pleasuring each other, wasn’t it?”
“So what if it was. It weren’t no one business if we were.”
“But it became their business when Miss McTavish caught us at it.”
“She done didn’t catch us at anything except being naked.”
The next morning Birk left Clancy helping the family pack up their possession for the move to Sydney. He caught the ferry to New Waterford and walked the mile or so to the millworks.
His mind kept returning to the conversation he’d had with Clancy the night before. He wondered if anyone thought of him and Clancy the way Father Patrick did. Calling them unnatural. All he wanted to do was … what? That first time on the rocks with Clancy, naked together was so natural. Something he couldn’t have done if Clancy had been a girl. Was that good feeling what the priest was going on about. Was it a sin to feel that good feeling?
His first day at the mill was simple hard work. Stripping branches off trees, keeping an eye out for boles that might trip up the saws, keeping the saw blades oiled proper.
The boilers were similar to the ones at the colliery. He showed them what he knew and they were impressed. Dan’l made it clear he’d have to get his proper papers before he could do more than check the dials with T Jean.
At the end of that day he was covered with sawdust and wood shavings.
“Nice change from the coal dust.” He said to T’Jean as he shook the dust off his overalls.
When he got back to Castleton Mines the second cart load of their possessions was packed and ready to go Sydney. His mother was leaning against the sink in the empty kitchen and crying.
“Never thought I’d leave this house alive.” she said wiping tears from her eyes.
“It’s BritCan’s problem now.” His father said.
“No more winter winds to warm us in the night Ma.” Birk said.
“No more garden for us in the summer either.” She replied. “No apples in the back orchard.”
“We can always come back for ‘em when we wants.” His dad said. “No one’s going to be buying this property up in a hurry. These half fallin’ down shacks’ll be full fallen by the time the snow flies.”
“The house’ll be so cold without us.” Maddy said.
“I’ll come back to light a fire.” Birk consoled her.
“How did things go at the mill?” His father asked.
“About as hard as the mine only more daylight. They had me hauling trees around, digging some for the new water main that’s coming through. Least I still know how to use a pick.”
“Hands okay?” His mother asked.
“No trouble.” he showed his palms and waggled fingers. “Healed up pretty well.”
“Guess all the holy moaning over where you put’em did them some good.” She gave a little laugh.
“Put’em?” he asked.
“She means all that foolishness by the good Father.” His father said lashing down the last of the furniture.
“At’s a man who needs to keep his own flock in order, if you ask me,” His mother said. “At least two unweds on Carter Street. Those nuns can’t keep their own legs closed. Then bringing his dirty minded ideas over here to plague us.”
“T’wasn’t m’fault though Ma.” Birk shrugged.
He clambered onto the back of the cart with Maddy. His mother sat in the front next to his Dad.
“Look Birk any full-grown woman who is so shocked at the site of a naked man isn’t in her right mind. It may not be something we see often but when we do it’s something we have to abide and keep our … distaste in check.”
“You see Clancy at all?” He asked.
“He’s in Sydney at the new place. Getting some things sorted out for us and then going to see about work for himself.” His father said. “May not be much for him though. The steel plant’s been cut back since the war.”
Birk lay back on the sofa cushions as comfortable as he could and watched the clouds and sky go by over head as the cart bumped onto the ferry. On the other side they reloaded their possession on the millworks truck to drive it to Sydney. His Dad took the cart and horse back to Castleton for the last of their furniture.
“A lot of changes for us, eh Ma?” Birk said.
“Good for you at your age Birk. More opportunity for you outside of Mudside. Might be time for you to meet someone. More gals in Sydney.”
“Yeah Ma.” Birk answered. “Thought you was saving me for your old age?”
“At this rate I’m probably not going to make it.” She laughed bitterly. “There will be a decent school for Maddy. More kids her age.”
“If’n I stay on at the millworks I may want to live nearer to them.” Birk said. “I have to get my boiler man papers soon.”
“You think you can handle all the reading and writing?” He dad asked.
“I can try. When I spoke with Magistrate Doucet at the courthouse he said closing the mines might be a good thing as it’ll force us out of the ground and into the world. No more hiding down there where all I have to do is figure if I got enough dug out for one day.”
They pulled up to the new house.
“A paved street!” He hopped out of cab and lifted his mother out. “No more sinking to our knees in the mud.”
He helped unload the rest of furniture into the house. It didn’t feel as large as their old place but it was cleaner and the walls had corners that met, with level floors and electricity. Maddy had to be stopped from pressing the lights on and off.
By the time Brik was ready to go to bed Clancy hadn’t returned.
One of my recent Cape Breton posts mentions the the Oxford Dictionary my family bought when I was but a child 🙂 It was grocery story lure – buy a section each week or spend so much & get the next section free. In the days before points cards this was popular along with green stamps. You’d get so many stamps with each purchase, paste them into books just for that purpose & when you had enough redeem them for stuff like dolls, kitchen gadgets.
On my books shelves I have two sets of books collected as supermarket promotions. One is ‘The Bible Story Library – Four volumes – 1956 -Educational Book Guild – New York.’ Lavishly illustrated with original vibrant color pictures, plus endless etching from the likes of Dore, plus murky photos of other religious art. I can remembering during over the etching that provided a pre-teen me with glimpses of nude men & women struggling in the Flood, or sprawled out in various battle scenes. Looking at it today I’m amazed the great six-packs so many of these guys had.
The set I have isn’t my original. I don’t remember what became of it. It didn’t turn up the boxes of my books that my Dad had stored away when I moved out. (Those boxes contained lots of Tom Swift Jr, & Hardy Brothers) I remember my second summer here in Toronto – 1979 – I had been wondering what happened to those books. Shortly after that I went in a huge sale an action house was having. endless boxes of books all over the parking lot and & found Volume 2 in one of the boxes. After about an hour of searching I found all four volumes.
The other set is ‘The Golden Book Encyclopedia – sixteen volumes – 3rd printing – 1960 – some (c)1940 – Golden Press – New York.’ Another lavishly illustrated set of books. I loved the hyper-real covers on each volume. The content was written for children & so hasn’t aged well 🙂 The illustrations are wonderful though, some in a campy way, but all well executed. I loved reading these when I was on the can.
My originals became quite tattered from use & abuse. I can’t recall very using them to research anything for school. The set I have now is not my original set but one which I ‘inherited’ from a friend who was moving & asked if I might be interested. When I was asked I had no idea what encyclopedia set it was but I said yes & I was delighted it was this particular one from my childhood.
These all come from Sobeys in Sydney. They also offered cooking sets, dishes, the same way – buy a different piece each week. There was once a set Classical Masterpieces lps, a set of geography books, but I don’t think my folks bought these.
Unswearing In Ceremony
how can I unswear allegiance
to my heart mind
to my body hormones
each time I think this is it
there’s another time
you hold your hand to my heart
you swear you’ll change
that reform is possible
my head tells me
you will never hold true to this vow
I smile & keep that to myself
knowing better and doing better
are such different things
as much as I know better
doing you is better than not doing you
there is the paradox of an oath
I never took
never swore to you
unconsciously I have taken it
to be accepting forgiving
not to make plans
when I know you will never fulfill
even the simplest promise
of texting when you say you’d text
your dedication to the job
takes priority over your personal life
in fact it is your escape from it
that job is your bottle
you can’t help yourself
it blots out everything outside of it
even when you are told not to be there
you are there to tie up loose ends
that tie you up for days on end
I’m trying to swear off you
no more of this bullshit
while a part of me rather likes
getting caught up
in this hurt slightly martyred feeling
which has a certain sweet reward all of its own
I can pine at a window
hoping the car driving down the street is yours
when I know very well it’ll never be yours
to long for
has a tang of romance
lets me feel less self contained & distant
wishing there was something I could do
but all I can alter is myself
you are an addict
the grace that’ll reach you
could work through me
but I’m not holding my breath
I may not even be holding my hand
out to you
except to wave good bye
every Tuesday 2019
17 – Shaw Festival – Sex (Mae West)
22 – Stratford Festival – Little Shop Of Horrors
15 – Stratford Festival – The Crucible
June – Capturing Fire 2020 – Washington D.C. capfireslam.org
August was my best month yet for this blog – one day getting 100 hits – severals days over 60. Canada at the top of the hit list, India 2nd place, USA 3rd, with !! Kenya 4th. The blog now has 345 followers (up from 298 at the start of the year). 216 Twitter followers;239 Tumblr followers. Steady increase is best. Managed to keep plugging away on Coal Dusters while I was in Cape Breton with 126,000 words posted so far – maybe another 15,000 to go to wrap things up.
The visit to Cape Breton was leisurely & energizing. Spent time with some old friends, got to some AA meetings, drove all over the area – the furthest was to Baddeck. Took lots of pictures, many of which I have been used here. Blogged everyday while I was gone, some days twice. Who knew I had so much o say, right. My favorite pictures have to be the big blue sky shots. But the ones of objects from my past are sweet as well, in particular the cover of the Oxford Dictionary.
Hot Damn! pulled of a bonus round 🙂 with an open stage as part of the Bricks & Glitter Festival. A Monday night show that was full to capacity. That’s right Monday night. It makes it clear the the show serves as valued opportunity for the community. The season 6 launch is September 24 at Buddies in bad Times.
Also coming up in September are a couple day-trip theatre outings. First to see Mae West’s “Sex” at Niagara-on-the-Lake. This is the play she went to prison for because it was lewd & immoral. I’ve done a bit of research & it was more because she was an amazing successful woman. The following week we’re off to Stratford to see Little Shop Of Horrors. I’ve seen different productions of the musical before, as well the original film & the movie of the musical. It all depends on the romantic chemistry between Seymour & Audrey 2.
when I was a young boy
I liked to sing
used to do it a lot
around the house
on my way to school
with my dad when we went fishing
with my sisters when they got old enough
we would sing bits of songs off the radio
sing along with records of my mother
drink drink drink
each trying to out sing the other
you with the stars in your eyes
that would become
you with sausages in your eyes
don’t fry my heart
it always broke us up
you with the bananas in your eyes
don’t monkey with my heart
you with the beans in your ears
can’t you hear I love you
the children’s choir at church
was looking for new members
my mom suggested
it would be great opportunity
I could learn to sing for real
learn how to carry a tune
instead of burying it under volume
a bunch kids at the church hall
were lined up according to height
mostly girls and some boys
mostly around my age 10 to 12
we where given a song sheet
words between dangling fangs of music
I didn’t know notes rests
we where told
just worry about the words
a woman played a few notes on the piano
we started in with a din
a few tries and we worked through it
then girls only boys only
some got a nod from her
yes you’ll do fine
my turn she played a few notes
no no no this note
finally she gave up
thank you but you really can’t …
blood rushed to my face ears
the other kids gawked at me
I ran out ran home
told my mother
I never wanted to sing
never ever ever
and really haven’t
except for the occasional
you with the fingers in your ears
Hey there, it’s a bonus – a piece that didn’t make the chapbook for space reasons 🙂 This is a mostly true incident with some poetic licence. My mother was a big Mario Lanza fan, we did sing along to his albums. Hey There was a big hit for someone – I thought it was Perry Como but maybe it was Frank Sinatra. The way we would fit our own objects into your eyes happened every time we sang it but I doubt if we were ever as inventive as I make out here.
My mother would rarely join into our vocal gymnastics but Dad always did. I can recall when he took us kids for Sunday drives we would sing ‘Yellow Submarine’ (for some reason) endlessly. The drives were probably to get us out for under our mother’s feet for a couple of hours because she rarely came with us.
I did go to Sunday school and that’s where this ‘audition’ was announced. We were to come on a night during the week. It was clear who the ‘conductor’ wanted to audition as she named off some kids she wanted to make sure would show up. But I went anyway. I told my mother about it & she said something about carrying tune.
The audition was not as organized as I make it here. The kids who had been given the nod earlier knew somethings about music already like rests & stops. They might have been her piano students already. Budding prodigies. ‘dangling fangs’ is clearly the poets image not the little boy. I just though they look scary & incomprehensible. Each of us did get a solo opportunity and that was the worse part. All I remember was being too nervous to get any volume. My departure from the audition wasn’t quite so dramatic. Several off us were given the boot.
I told my mother they had enough boys so I didn’t get picked. We didn’t continue to sing Yellow Submarine on our drives. I did not choose to become a professional singer 🙂
previous Brown Betty posts:
Man With A Past 1 https://wp.me/p1RtxU-3B3
When I Was A Young Boy https://wp.me/p1RtxU-3By
Home (not of the brave) https://wp.me/p1RtxU-3Cg
Dad’s Pockets https://wp.me/p1RtxU-3E0
The Colliery https://wp.me/p1RtxU-3HG
The Past Catches Up https://wp.me/p1RtxU-3Ip
Hey! Now you can give me $$$ to defray blog fees & buy coffee – sweet,eh? paypal.me/TOpoet
Just over fifty years ago, on May 14, 1969, bill C-150 amend the Criminal Code to decriminalized homosexuality in Canada. Before then same-sex sexual activities between consenting adults were considered crimes punishable by imprisonment. Re-read that. Not only did I grow up in the 60’s with ‘imprisonment’ looming over me but also a culture in which ordinary citizen could take the law into their own hands & assault queers & get away with it.
When I attended the Living Library during Pride Week (!) in Cape Breton I was happy to hear about high-school clubs to support lgbtq+ student. Things have certainly changed since 1969 – even then such an idea would never have happened.
Driving in from the airport with my sister I saw rainbow flags everywhere, though much the sight of them here in Toronto, the show of support is probably more commercial than anything. A rainbow decal in your store window can’t hurt business. The event has grown considerably over the decades. I recall a pride parade down Charlotte St in the early 2000’s during one of my sporadic visits home. It was over in less than half-an-hour. Local TV personality Bette MacDonald was the parade Marshal waving from her convertible. Some baton twirling, a few cars with handmade Pride posters. It ended, I think, in what is now Luisa Gardens, at the end (or is that the start?) of Amelia Street.
This year the week started with a flag raising on August in front of the City Hall followed by a week of events. The parade was the next afternoon ending at the Open Hearth Park. I caught the tail-end of it at the Park. It was too blisteringly sunny for me to stand around watching. Much like Toronto’s Pride there were tables of handcraft rainbow merchandise & a stage with a DJ & a gaggle of drag performers eager to entertain.
The thought of a drag queen in Cape Breton at one time was tantamount to a severe beating. So this was a sign of real growth in the community that goes beyond lip-service compliance with human rights issues. The one event I had an opportunity to take in was the Living Library https://wp.me/p1RtxU-3G7.
every Tuesday 2019
17 – Shaw Festival – Sex (Mae West)
22 – Stratford Festival – Little Shop Of Horrors
15 – Stratford Festival – The Crucible
June – Capturing Fire 2020 – Washington D.C. capfireslam.org
For my final day I kept it simple. I’d seen enough scenery for one visit & it was time to send some postcards. But that was not so simple. The past few days I’d kept my eyes open for those revolving racks, hoping for iconic cards of pipers over-looking the Canso Causeway. But these racks have vanished 😦 People are sending so many selfies & Instagramming that the postcard industry has about vanished. But I did find some at CB Curiosities that were too tasteful but did the job.
I realized that some of the shops on Charlotte St had closed because they were family run businesses that didn’t have family to run them once the parents had retired or passed away.
I stopped in at Rita’s Tea Room, moved from Big Pond to Sydney, where I had a coffee & a couple of freshly baked oatcakes, while I filled in my postcards. I posted those & continued on my way. Stopped at Ed’s used book store & bought some Whitman books. These were YA of the early 60’s, many were authorized novels based on TV shows. These hold lots of memory – of the ones I bough I did have, at one time, the Tarzan, & The Rustlers Fort.
I continued on my way up to my sister’s where she had lunch ready on the stove. She also had a couple of boxes so I could mail some things back to Toronto so lighten my luggage. One box was the books I just bought, which cost me more to mail than I had paid for them 🙂
After lunch we did a last hike through Rotary Park, which is now a nicely laid out set of trails. As kids, my pals & I would bike up to swim in the reservoir. Which it turns out still happens & even some of the original dam is there, complete with kids hanging out – though it didn’t look like they were there to swim.
After all the walking (nearly 10k) I did Thursday I opted not to hike about as much today & took advantage of my sister’s offer for lift up to St. Theresa’s in the morning for the recovery meeting there. Seeing familiar faces after a few meetings now. One is a man who was part of the neighbourhood gang that used to bully me.
After the meeting he took a few private moments to make an amend. I remembering the bullying I don’t remember the bullies. He told that one of things, for him, was that he was jealous of the family I had. I replied, to the affect, that it was too bad we grew up in a culture where proving our manhood was done with violence to others but we both survived.
In the afternoon my sister, my niece & I took in the Charlotte Street Fair. Charlotte was the shopping mecca of the region at one time, now it is empty shops & tourist trinket traps. Merchants with booths, some restaurants, a row of food trucks, some entertainment. My niece told me that nearly all the merchants were flea marker regulars, not Charlotte St retailers. I’m not interested in Keltic brass crosses, rings, pendants etc handmade in who know where. It was, to be kind, underwhelming.
We did have a decent lunch at Luoanne’s Cafe. Decent coffee & okay menu. We did one last tour of the street. Next stop, after dropping the niece off, was the Mayflower Mall which has a great store ‘Island Fashions’ in the midst of Foot Lockers, Pendingtons, David’s Teas & other standard mall chains. This is where I spend the most at once & got a great sweat suit, a zipped hoodie & a subtle (for me) tee-shirt.
Back to the hotel to really relax, shower off my clown-white sunscreen, get my blog work done and get to bed by 10 pm for a change. Tomorrow adventures in North Sydney 🙂
Such a busy day yesterday I didn’t have time for a recap 🙂 The morning was a nice long 45 minute walk from my hotel to St. Theresa’s Church in Ashby for a recovery meeting. I did a stop at Dillan’s for a coffee & muffin on my way. Also stopped for a few photos. Temple Sons of Israel was the synagog near where I lived on Cottage Rd. Then the United Church – now being repurposed, I hope. I went there for Sunday school as a child.
Meeting was good. Walked back to hotel – if I could have hailed a cab I would have but Sydney isn’t a hailer’s city. Got back intimate for a delivery at my room. Rested. Showered, shaved & dressed for theatre with my sister. She picked me up at 5. Great supper at the Olde Triangle – excellent seafood chowder, good lamb shank. Show was at 8 so we had time to walk off some of the meal.
The show ‘The Return of the Cape Breton Liberation Army’, in the repurposed St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, is part of the Highland Arts Theatre‘s summer season. Inspired by ‘Old Trout Funnies’ the show is full of local, topical humour full of references to South Bar, a second docking port for Sydney Harbour & immigration. I have the original ‘Old Trout’ comics & was happy to see this is an update that kept their playful, anarchical sensibility intact.
Fun songs, great performances – I particularly enjoyed Diana MacKinn-Furlong as General Dixie MacVicar. I also loved the joke about the pronunciation difference between Mac and Mc. A great use of video & slides helped move the show along. It did have the flavour of past show such as the Rise & Follies, which is a good thing. It is clearly a show for the local as I suspect anyone unfamiliar with the Capri Club would fully get the humour. A great show well worth seeing. Check the website for dates, call your travel agent for airfares if you aren’t a local:-) It’ll be worth the trip.