Piano Man

Piano

When I was a boy, with the best of intentions, my parent tried to make me musical. Fail!  Dad was a part-time entertainer.  He couldn’t play an instrument.  He only sang and told stories and jokes.  Perhaps sensing my loner tendencies, my Mother decided that I needed to learn how to play the piano, to be sociable.  Elton John had barely been born, and Billy Joel hadn’t.  Everybody played guitar.

Dad bought an upright piano, and I was sent for weekly piano lessons for three years. I learned a bit of the construction of music.  Later-in-life realizations about my lack of fine motor control and short-term memory deficiencies explained why I got nowhere with the piano.  I convinced my Mother that it was a lost cause.

Dad put it up for sale. When summer tourist season arrived, the ad caught the attention of four young men.  All musically inclined, they had pooled their money and purchased a good-sized cottage.  They wanted the piano for parties there.

They came to the house of a Saturday morning to inspect and sample the piano. It was pronounced solid and well-kept, but they wanted to try it, to hear how it sounded.  Each in turn sat and played it. They each had their specialty, but all played a wide range of music, jazz, dance, big band, pop, boogie-woogie, musical theater.

Mom and Dad were treated to more than an hour of great music. One guy even unfolded a section of newspaper and threaded it between the strings and the sounding board, producing an odd, buzzy tone.  Finally, everyone happy, the deal was done, money changed hands, and it was theirs to get to their cottage – but how??, in their car??

One of them asked if Dad had any suggestions for transporting it. Dad knew a guy….  A strange sort of duck, 40 and unmarried, with a half-ton pickup in a town full of sedans, but no social life.  He might be free, and interested in a bit of extra spending money.  After a phone call, he soon appeared.

He backed across the front lawn to our raised front veranda. A couple of stout planks were produced, and the piano was eased out the front door, and carefully down into the truck bed.  He slammed the tailgate shut, and headed for the cab.

One of the buyers asked, “Aren’t you going to tie it down??” “Nah, no need, she’s in there solid as the Rock of Gibraltar.”  He eased back across the lawn, out the driveway to the side street, paused at the stop sign and swung onto the main street….and the Rock of Gibraltar did a 270° off the side of the truck and smashed into 10,000 pieces in the middle of the intersection.

Four guys almost cried. They got back their haulage charge, and he wrote them a cheque for the price of the instrument, but they had searched for months for this piano.  They thought they would have to buy a new one in the big city, and pay to have it shipped 100 miles north.  There was no joy, or honky-tonk piano, in Mudville that night.   😳

Oktoberfest Revisited

Many years ago, the son and I developed a bit of a relationship with a young AM station DJ.  This was back when radio stations had live bodies pumping out their over-night broadcast shows.  I was doing midnight security shifts and heard a lot from this up-and-comer.  I called the station one night at 4 AM to show him where Billy Joel left in a small mistake, in a song about learning from our mistakes.

My son stayed up 24 hours one Friday night, to accompany me on my midnight shift.  He also phoned in and *won* a contest to “name the DJ’s lunch.”  We got to go to breakfast with him, on Saturday morning.  He finally got an afternoon shift, and I also got one.  His radio station sponsored a pancake breakfast in the parking lot of a local mall, the first Saturday morning of Oktoberfest.  It started small, with three to five hundred people.  The son and I went to it for years.

Like so many other things, it’s got much bigger, just not necessarily better.  The son surprised me the other day by expressing a wish to attend again.  He just turned 40.  Is this a wish to revisit his youth?  I can barely see mine any more.  He worked his usual Fri. night/ Sat. morning shift, stopped for some items at the Kitchener Market and got home around eight.  I went to bed at my usual 4:00 AM.

When he came home, I was ready for my four-hour washroom break anyway.  When he comes in, the dog rouses and wants to be let out of the bedroom.  I was up, so let’s go!  There’s nothing like sharing an intimate, chilly, outdoor breakfast with ten thousand of your closest friends total strangers.

Before the daughter ruined both knees, she was in the color guard of the Dutch Boy drum and bugle corps.  We had breakfast in the staging area of the big Oktoberfest parade that she got to march in once, long ago.  This year’s estimate puts a hundred and fifty thousand people on the sidewalks, some natives, many tourists, watching the parade live.  Several million more see it on national television

We managed to find parking only a block away, and walked down to join a block-long lineup for food.  When we finally got to the sign that said *Line Up Here*, we found that it snaked another half-block around the seating area and back into the plaza.  We were fortunate to have arrived so early.  As we left, the line had extended another block.

We each got two big pancakes with plenty of syrup, a large sausage and eight ounces of local apple juice.  Tim Hortons had sent a trailer where you could buy coffee or tea.  They had no hot chocolate.  We stood in line behind a young local couple with a baby girl.  I thought I caught her name but asked, to be sure.  She was called Ryla.  My daughter uses Rylah as an on-line name, and LadyRyl as her blog-name.

We sat down beside, and became instant best friends with, a couple even older than me.  At least that’s what the tree-ring count said.  The little old lady had a pair of beautiful knitted mitts on the table, but they were large enough to fit my son.  When I asked, she said that she had knitted them herself, and showed me that the occasional ecru stitches in the Kelly green pattern were actually tufts of un-spun fibre, filling the inside with extra insulation.  She learned this process, called thrumming, from a Newfie lady.  It is also used in hand weaving, and on boat sails.

Trainee chefs from our well-known community college cooked the food for us.  Somehow I expected that Conestoga College Culinary Arts would only provide pictures of food, but it was pretty good.  There was a little three-piece band providing live oompah Oktoberfest music.  One guy played the inevitable accordion, one had an electronic keyboard, and the third played kazoo drums.  They belted out all the old Oktoberfest staples, including The Monkees’, I’m A Believer, Johnny Cash’s, Ring Of Fire, and My Bonnie Lies Over The Ocean.  A good time was had by some.

Just north and east of the city, is Ontario’s last/only covered bridge.  It sits about a hundred yards off the arrow-straight highway.  The original road made that jag to reach the narrowest spot on the river.  The old road comes in, makes a 90 degree turn, runs down and across the bridge, makes another ninety, and back up the bank.   There is a little country general store at the first bend which many Mennonites shop at.  Last year, a buggy-horse, perhaps startled by loud traffic, broke loose, galloped across the bridge, and tried to make the sharp left turn.  She slipped on the paving, dumping the wagon and scraping her one side.

There are signs at both ends reading, “No heavy trucks. Three ton load limit.”  Someone can’t read, or doesn’t give a sh*t.  Recent inspection reveals that one of the three main timbers is cracked.  I suspect a grocery delivery truck driver too lazy to turn around.  They can’t afford to dismantle it, but may be able to put a *cast* on the cracked beam.  In the meantime, the bridge is temporarily closed.  Aside from risking truck and limb to the river, some lazy idiot has smashed a chunk of irreplaceable history.  Thanks, doofus!

The good, the bad, and the ugly, the local cultural river slowly flows on.

I Didn’t Come to New York City

Today, I’d like to take you for a trip with my Mom and Dad which I didn’t even go on.  Actually, it’s a couple of trips, but who’s counting?  Dad received a small disability pension from the government.  It wasn’t much, but it made the difference between being stuck in a small town, and affording to take the occasional road trip.

One summer, he and Mom decided that they would drive west to Yellowstone Park.  They drove out through the States, then went north and returned by the Trans-Canada Highway.  I moved a hundred miles away from home for employment.  My brother moved here for a while.  He even tried the big city of Toronto, but he was a small-town boy at heart.  He moved back to Hicksville, (not the one where Billy Joel was born and raised) got a job and a wife.  Dad asked them if they would like to come along.

My brother likes driving.  He currently has a job delivering for an auto-parts/hardware store.  He puts in about a hundred kilometers a day.  His part-time weekend gig is driving limousines.  At the time of this tale, he would volunteer to drive from the base of the Bruce Peninsula, all the way to St. Paul, Minnesota, to pick up parts needed urgently at his firm.  A day out, stay the night in a motel, and the next day back.  He made that run at least three times.  He also would drive 2 hours to Toronto, pick up freight at the airport, and drive 2 hours home.  He has probably driven every mile of I-75, from the top of Michigan, to Miami.  Not all in the same day, although I went with him twice and shared the driving.  We got on at Detroit, and 24 hours later, we were just east of Tampa.  He’s put on a lot of miles, and been a lot of places, but culturally, he’s never left home.

The two couples pulled in to some little roadside diner, somewhere near Yellowstone, for lunch.  My brother, being the culinary daredevil he is, ordered a hamburger.  He knows about fish and chips.  Our town had a “chip wagon”, which served French fries.  With his hamburger, he asked for an order of chips.  He bitched for months about the waitress, who went behind the counter and poured an opened foil bag of chips onto his plate, beside the burger.  That’s not what I f*#^in’ wanted, but I ate the *#@% things.

The next year, by themselves, Mom and Dad drove out to British Columbia.  In B.C., the province licences pulp and paper companies to cut trees.  In return, they must provide and maintain camping sites.  They do this by cutting a swath of trees down and leveling a road, in a loop.  Every hundred yards or so, they hack out a square spot, and level it.  Water and washrooms can be a mile away.  Not exactly cheek by jowl with the nearest neighbor, but, at least the college kids don’t keep you awake with rap music all night.

Dad backed the little camper-trailer into position, parked the car and got the trailer unfolded and set up.  Dad is the grasshopper to Mom’s ant, in this Aesop’s pairing.  He does no more than he absolutely has to and wants to wander and socialize.  Mom was hauling out the cooler, the camp stove, the food and drink, the dishes and the cooking utensils.  She turned around, and he was missing.  Where’s he gone to now, and when will he be back?  He returned about a half an hour later.  Apparently he had walked back to the nearest campsite, to talk to the folks there.  As they drove in, he had noticed that they had Ontario plates.  The color scheme was the same as B.C. plates, but with a different arrangement of letters and numbers.  The conversation went something like this.

Where you from?

Ontario.

Yeah.  I noticed that by the plates.  Where in Ontario?

Southern Ontario.  (This guy wasn’t giving anything away.)

There’s a lot of Southern Ontario, where exactly?

A town called Wiarton, at the bottom of the Bruce Peninsula.

Now Dad’s excited.  I’m from Wiarton.  Well, says the guy, I’m actually from a little village called Red Bay, a few miles west.  Dad says, yeah, I know the place, me too.  Well actually I was born at home, in a cabin, a couple of miles out.  Dad says, yeah, me too!  Back then, it was unusual for women to go all the way to town to have a baby at the hospital.  Everybody had relatives or neighbors or a local midwife.

It turned out that the two men had been born in glorified logging cabins, on the same, still unpaved county road, about a half a mile, and two years apart.  Dad was the older of the two.  They knew each other’s relatives and friends, but had never met.  I find the coincidence of meeting, three thousand miles from home, and almost seventy years later, just awe-inspiring, all because of Dad’s eagle eye.  Then again, we have my son’s story about seeing a flipped coin wind up on edge.  The song says, I didn’t come to New York City, to meet a guy from my home town, but Dad was always pleased to have run into a neighbor that far from home.