Thursday, April 15, 2010

Landmarks and Geography – Part Two.

Besides the landmark of my home and the two or three houses of our nearest neighbors, I now had the complex of buildings called the School to add to my world map. As to familiar sounds and smells that also characterized my expanding world, my introduction to Joe Krizan came about the time that I first smelled goose berry bushes: Dad was transplanting some when he and Mom had the beet worker conversation. It was the characteristic smell of the bushes not the fruit that I was taken with at the time: the harvest smell of the fruit of course was a duplicate of it, but that came later. When I walked the half mile to school holding the tugging, squeezing hand of my sister Nadine, I was in no reflective mood. It was a long scary unfamiliar trek, but when I got there and was seated right in the middle back alphabetical cluster of names I was happy to see Joe Krizan behind me and his catholic friend Ella Tiechner beside me in the next row. Friendly, loquacious Ella! The excitedly whispered chatter gave little time to attend to the smell of new Eaton’s catalogue school beginning clothes that barely dominated the smell of oiled hardwood floors and chalk-dusty blackboard ledges,

Ella could never quite get everything said and I was cooperatively attendant while she never finished. It wasn’t long until Miss Cogland took time away from teaching a spelling lesson to call me to the front blackboard to demonstrate the rule she had been explaining; under those circumstances I was bound to fail, even if I had been listening, which she frankly doubted, and felt ethically compelled to point out to the whole class before allowing me to return to the now lost privacy of my desk. I became more clandestine in my weakness, but Ella didn’t get the moral to the story; furthermore she was way ahead of me in appearing innocent. We remained friends all through school, but never broke the Mormon/Catholic barrier to romance, even though I sometimes went to sing with her and Joe in the Catholic Church choir. Some of my readers might wonder if I ever sang with the choir in Sunday Mass services. I wish I had; I have become so interested in Renaissance music and have attended Christmas Midnight Mass in hopes of hearing some of the great musical compositions written for it over the ages, but even on these annual celebrations, it is hard to find a local Catholic choir that does these famous pieces. Just before retiring from teaching, I was invited to go hear a catholic mass that was being sung under the direction of the music teacher at Western Canada High School. I was thrilled to hear his group of music graduates sing mass: he had been paid by the Church to sing for the parishioners even though none of the performers were Catholic. The director even professed to be an atheist!

I may not have memories of the smells of the prairie grass and plant life on the way to my first day of school, but on the trips home after school I certainly became fascinated with the marvelous variety of the wild grasses growing under my feet. When the endless sky is infinite blue and cloudless, the eyes are drawn to the steps that a child takes, to the plants and insects in their surprising variety. In the warm September I was intrigued by the gopher berries, which looked so delicious to a hungry schoolboy even though they were identified by Grant or Nadine as poisonous. They grew along the train tracks, especially. They were plump and grape-tight, sometimes red striped and sometimes gooseberry green stripped, and they tasted guiltily bitter. In the springtime what intrigued me were the buffalo beans, so beautifully daffodil yellow and growing along the railway right of way and the uncultivated massive road allowances. In the wind troubled dust of the prairies it was only with concentration and care that you came to recognize their fragrance.

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