AN ‘ANNOYANCE’ OF NIGGLES, THREE REMARKABLE WOMEN, AND A DASH OF COLD, HARD REALITY

AN ‘ANNOYANCE’ OF NIGGLES, THREE REMARKABLE WOMEN, AND A DASH OF COLD, HARD REALITY

hat Thepdgardener IMG_0608

Author’s Foreword: Some readers will be relieved to learn that today’s blog does not involve any fiction. The Devil, having been vanquished one more time, has left the building.   Today I explore some ‘niggles’ that go back a very long way, reveal some of my memories of three remarkable women, leave me thirsty for more knowledge and finally, force me to face facts about the life expectancy of Persons with Parkinson’s (PwP.)

Niggles

Have you ever had a little ‘niggle’ in your brain – a thought or thoughts so persistent that you end up spending far too much time and attention to seemingly inconsequential details?  Well, I have. In fact, I have several niggles at the moment. I am not sure what the collective noun for a niggle is, or ought to be. Perhaps it is an ‘annoyance’ or a ‘persistence.’ (See Note 1)  Anne, the person who knows me best (too well I would argue) undoubtedly would affirm that I need no encouragement to pursue the most inconsequential of niggles.

Today, I reveal a few niggles that seem to form a straight line – a rare thing sometimes. I consider none of them to be totally inconsequential but they are hardly breaking news either. This ‘annoyance’ of niggles have been sitting in my mind in various forms for a long time and now, finally, it is time to examine them in the cold hard light of day, as they say.

Regular readers of this blog know that I frequently write about a small community called Altamont in southern Manitoba – a place that I often call home even though in many respects “there is no there, there” anymore as a former colleague is fond of saying. It is probably more accurate to say that it is really a “time and place” that I call “home.” In any case, I carry a few niggles from that time and place and the ones that carry the greatest weight reference one or all of three remarkable individuals. I guess there is no better way to begin than to introduce the first of these three people – a woman who influenced at least three generations of students in Altamont’s school – Miss Mary Armitage.

Mary Isabel Armitage

  • Born: March 12, 1902   New Haven District, Manitoba
  • Died: February 21, 2005, Manitou, Manitoba
  • Taught in Altamont: 1924 to 1962. Lived there most of her life
  • Awards: 1970 Manitoba Centennial Medal for her many years in the teaching profession and her activity in community affairs.

In my last blog on The “Stuff” of Curling I incorporated a highly fictionalized role for Miss Mary Armitage as the neutral arbiter in resolving a matter with the Devil. You will be relieved, I am sure, to know that this piece contains no fiction and no reference to the Devil beyond the fact that the Devil has left the building. However, since I wrote the curling series some particular memories involving Miss Armitage, the erstwhile long time teacher in the Altamont School and my teacher for three years, have re-surfaced.

Where to start? Well, Miss Armitage was my teacher for Grades 1 – 3 and she was the teacher for everyone who attended Grades 1 – 3 at Altamont School for 37 of her 41 years of teaching. There was no kindergarten (junior or senior) so Grade 1 was a very big deal. Come to think about it, there was a very long six-year waiting list to get into the program. Once I got there, I remember liking school well enough in those early grades but there were two or three situations that still niggle.

Mary Armitage

Mary Armitage  Photo: Unknown

Our desks were double desks, intended for two students. The gray painted wooden desktops opened to reveal an unfinished interior cavity into which we thrust our textbooks, foolscap paper, pencils and sometimes lunches and snacks. We were not allowed to write with fountain pens or ballpoint pens until much later. The interior cavity always smelled like… well … like an interior cavity – a mix of wholesome natural fibre goodness and musty, stale fibre badness with just a hint of carrion. Interior cavities seem destined to be the spaces where a process of transformation from goodness to badness happens. In any case, the desktops and seats held together by designer metal desk frameworks would be prized items today.

Gender stuff

I am not certain how many children rested their bums on those seats before I arrived but the evidence indicates that the number was much higher than I could count in Grade 1. While the desk tops and seats had been sanded and painted regularly the evidence of earlier children persisted in the vague outlines of their initials and other personalized scratching.

I was in Grade 2 when Bill and I were assigned to sit together in one of those double desks. By the way, being able to sit with Bill was a huge relief to me because the previous year, on my first day of school in Grade 1, I lined up outside the main entrance to the school with the other Grade 1 pupils and we were ushered into the classroom to sit in our “new” desks. It was a bit scary for a shy young lad and I remember not remembering anything I was supposed to remember and getting into some trouble. It was either just too exciting and I freaked out over the pressure of not knowing what the expectations were, or alternatively, I was just another dumb kid who couldn’t retain anything in his distracted mind. I still haven’t figured out which one is the most apt description of my mind on that day. Okay, maybe some of that state of mind continues today, as I seem to have rambled a bit.

The classroom was large enough (or the class sizes were small enough) that Grades 1 – 3 were all taught in the one room. On that first day of Grade 1, Miss Armitage was careful to segregate us by gender, two boys to a desk and two girls to a desk, as she made seat assignments. I know that many of you are gasping at this arrangement and I fully recognize that in the present day world the class would have been divided into gender equal desks with one boy and one girl per desk promoting a new comfort level and equality between genders. But this was not the case in my early schooling – hey, I didn’t even know the meaning of “gender!”   As it turned out that there were an odd number of boys and girls in the class. Oh no! A boy and a girl would have to share a double desk and (foretelling much of my life, if there was any chance that something would happen to embarrass me, it would happen,) I was one of the chosen. My desk mate was Shirley May.

I hasten to add at this point that Shirley May must have been totally horrified at the prospect – no, reality – of spending the year next to a shy, stinky fellow such as me. In any case I recall her as being a pretty little girl, delightful in every respect. I don’t recall being mean to her in any way but I might have suppressed those memories and if I was mean, I make my apologies now. Equally, I am certain that any embarrassment to me in any other interaction(s) with women over the years is purely coincidental and unrelated to the seat assignations. [And I am not going to pay high figures to a shrink to figure this one out, both literally and figuratively speaking!]

My engraving career

Now, back to Grade 2 where my desk mate was Bill. Not nearly as cute as Shirley May but more my type if you know what I mean. Bill was always Bill and never Billy or William or Willie. Bill was Bill … until he became “Skull” that is. Bill and I sat in that double desk and proceeded to contribute our own pungency to the interior cavity. It’s “nose” might have been described as aged oak with a dark undercurrent of fountain pen ink tinged with fuzzy salami sandwiches capped with blackened bananas. In any case, it was a cavity worthy of commemoration.

Bill and I (mostly me though, I am afraid) proceeded to use some implement – I am not sure what we used but we were as creative as the most hardened lifer in prison when it came to handcrafting shives and other necessities away from the prying eyes of the guard (Miss Armitage) – to carve our initials into the painted desk top. Gasp! Even though Miss Armitage did indeed have eyes in the back of her head, she found it hard to keep those eyes on 35 or so children at once. Or perhaps, she just prioritized. Nevertheless, we were found out of course. Not only was the artistry in plain view but we had signed our work. We were roundly chastised and punishment was meted out. It is funny but I don’t remember exactly what the punishment was. Nonetheless, a lesson learned and this effectively marked the end of my engraving and graffiti career – that and the fact that I never developed an attractive stylized tag line.

The Plasticine Age

But there are more niggles when it comes to Miss Armitage and my own shortcomings. There was an occasion in Grade 1 when Miss Armitage had to step out of the room for a brief moment. It happens, I guess. Is it even a question that the class would take advantage of this unforeseen moment to engage in some tomfoolery?  She was not out of the room more than 10 seconds when erasers and pencils were flying, punches were delivered to the shoulders of our desk mates (but not to my desk mate Shirley May.) I had a long rope of Plasticine rolled out at our desk.  I took the opportunity to twirl it like a lariat and it was then that I learned that Plasticine does not have the physical proprieties of good sisal. In fact, it is a very poor substitute. A chunk of Plastiscine broke loose and flew with great precision into the crockery vessel of the water fountain at the back of the room.

[Note: Plasticine is the trademark name for a type of modelling clay invented over 100 years ago by William Harbutt in England. Artists, engineers, architect, model builders, children and many others use it for various purposes. To my knowledge, lariat making is not one of them. Play dough was not yet in widespread use in schools and Plasticine was often the only option.]

Plasticine

Plasticine, ours was mostly gray. It all ended up gray anyway.

I am not sure who snitched but in a room of 30 or so pupils in Grades 1, 2 and 3 there is a least one snitch, and that one snitch snitched. Well … s/he half – snitched and told Miss Armitage that there was a piece of Plastiscine in the water fountain. Somehow Miss Armitage knew it came from the Grade 1 class and she marched us all back to water fountain and demanded to know who put it in there. It was the most pressure I have ever been under! It haunts me to this very day – maybe this is not just a niggle after all? Maybe I should be on the psychiatrist’s couch trying to interpret my action… well… inaction really. You see, I never owned up to the fact that I tossed my lasso into the water fountain. She repeated the question several times and each time I retreated farther away from the truth. Maybe I was incorrigible. Maybe I couldn’t accept responsibility. Maybe I was embarrassed. No matter, I never let on and no one openly named me. Miss Armitage, probably sensing that there was no useful outcome from this standoff, retreated. Those of you who know me (and for that matter those who don’t know me) will undoubtedly pass some judgment on this showdown at the water fountain. As for me, I have come to terms with the fact that while it is a niggle, it does reveal that I was not as honest as George Washington was about cutting down the cherry tree. But who among us is that honest?

[Note: Now I learn that the cherry tree story about George Washington is a myth invented by Mason Locke Weems, one of Washington’s first biographers. Hmmmm… I think that just means that George Washington and I are equally honest – he (if he were alive) would now deny cutting down the cherry tree just as I did not own up to the Plasticine incident.]

I would like to say that this ancient history from the Plasticine Age is the last niggle about Miss Armitage, but it is not. Somehow, I passed through the lower grades with little further difficulty. I must have kept my nose clean as they say and Miss Armitage must have seen fit to cast a blind eye toward my indiscretions. (I don’t recall that there were any, but let’s be realistic; there likely were a few.) Everything was uneventful until sometime in Grade 4, I believe. In 1958 the Sylvan School merged into the Altamont school and students from Sylvan began attending school in Altamont. The Sylvan schoolhouse was moved and positioned behind our two-story four-room school to create a new ”portable” although it wasn’t called a “portable” in those days. Miss Armitage’s Grades 1 – 3 classes were moved into Sylvan.

Knock a Door Ginger

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Sylvan School before it was moved to Altamont as a “portable.” Photo: Memories of Lorne, 1880 – 1980

I am not sure what got into us but a few of us guys (no girls were involved) decided it would be fun to run up to the side door of Sylvan, knock on the door and then run away, repeatedly. This was a game we often played in Altamont under the cover of darkness. We called it “Knock a Door Ginger.” Why we called it that I am not sure but in retrospect it was appropriate given my red hair. [I have heard it called ”Knicky Knicky Door Bell” in other places.] In any case, the key words here are “under cover of darkness.” We seldom got caught in town because we knew every little nook and cranny within which to hide and every little interstitial space to run through even in the pitch dark. But at school, we hadn’t figured out that the bright, sunny sky and wide-open spaces of the schoolyard did not provide much protection from detection. Indeed, we were detected and apprehended without much difficulty and marched unceremoniously (or maybe it was with great ceremony) up the large wooden staircase of the main school, our shoes making a conspicuously loud “thump, thump, thump,” to the Principal’s desk in his home classroom on the second floor.

I really don’t remember who the other culprits were but I could guess if I had to name them … but I won’t. I am certain that facing the Principal was daunting but I don’t recall much except that time seemed to pass quickly from the reading of the charges, to the pleas from the alleged perpetrators, to the verdict and subsequent sentencing. At the plea stage there was a brief opportunity to offer explanation or other pertinent information. As I recall there was no explanation or information of any pertinence and certainly none with any impertinence. It was a two-part sentence: three whacks of the strap across the palm of the hand administered individually (not so bad, I thought) and an apology to Miss Armitage, delivered individually (Whoo boy! Mortification!) The strap was of no consequence and no further mention of that event need be made here.

On the other hand, the apology to Miss Armitage was one of the more difficult moments of my life – right there with the earlier Plasticine incident. But I knew I wouldn’t be able to duck this one. I am quite sure Miss Armitage was not in favour of corporal punishment so I don’t think she smiled over the meting out of that part of the sentence by the Principal. She was not in attendance at its execution. However, I am quite certain she allowed herself a wry little smile as I exited later after my clumsy, yet sincere, apology about the Knock a Door Ginger incident, in the confines of the Sylvan schoolhouse.

Is that the last niggle involving Miss Armitage? Almost. I can hear you saying, “What?” Please be patient. A little more water has to flow under a few other bridges before we can close out the last niggle about Miss Armitage.

We need to meet a second remarkable individual, Mary Anne (Straube) Scoles – a person who survived and lived to tell of a good life. Aside from gambling she had few vices but she loved Las Vegas and made many trips there over the years. Her son reports that in the wee hours of the morning on a such a trip when she was in her nineties, she was heard to mutter, “I didn’t come to Vegas to sleep!”

MARY ANNE SCOLES (née  STRAUBE)

  • Born: December 25, 1896 at home in Treherne, Manitoba
  • Married: Mike Scoles
  • Died: July 23, 2007 at the Treherne Personal care Home
  • Mother Bridget Straube died from tuberculosis 10 days after Mary Anne’s birth.
  • Father: Joseph Straube

When I was quite young, we would often visit the Scoles’ homestead (1902) farm a few miles north of Altamont just before you made the turn to St. Lupicin. I notice on some maps that this road north from Altamont is named Scoles Road. We never referred to it as such but it makes sense that it would be. Mike Scoles and his wife, Mary Anne, lived there with their four sons (Joe, Jack, Pat and Ted.) I also have this vague recollection that the reason dad would go to the Scoles’ farm was to give someone a haircut and possibly a shave. Perhaps, there was an elder Scoles in residence as well or maybe it was that Mike was a wee bit older than Mary Anne.

I must have been under ten years old as Mike and Mary Anne Scoles retired off the farm in 1960. While I have only snippets of memory about the Scoles’ farm, some things stand out clearly such as the almost secret nature of their farmyard. You had to watch carefully as you searched for the left hand turn into their lane. The brush and trees seemed to be perpetually overgrown, forming a canopy through which you pushed your way to gain admittance to a clearing. It took another second before you noticed the house tucked discreetly into the brush on the right hand side, forcing you to relinquish the idea that this was an abandoned farmyard. Mrs. Scoles always seemed to be there and greeted us openly and kindly – and the oatmeal cookies always met with my approval.

In those days, my father and mother often took Sunday drives weaving their way across the back roads. My mother was seeking some respite from one overly energetic son and one newly arrived daughter. My father, true to the central character traits of the Marshall family, loved to look at the crops, wildflowers and other vegetation, and the natural land forms of the area. A stop at the Scoles’ farm was often on the route. Even after they retired to Treherne, we would sometimes stop at their little house on a Sunday afternoon.

It was apparent that dad and mom were fond of the Scoles’ family. I believe that dad and Joe Scoles were friends of a sort. Joe would arrive on the bus from Winnipeg and Dad often drove him home. I recall dad loved to have discussions with Joe that were more “in depth” than most discussions he had with others.

But the real story in the Scoles’ family is the story of Mary Anne Scoles herself. She weighed a mere 2.5 pounds when she was born on Christmas Day 1896 to Joseph and Bridget Straube. Bridget had tuberculosis and died 10 days later. Remarkably for the time, Mary Anne survived both her small birth weight and the possible complications of the tuberculosis. Perhaps, this survival was facilitated by her parents who were devote in mind and spirit. Bridget and Joseph Straube, after learning of the pregnancy and the risk to their child, travelled by train to the miracle shrine at the Basilica of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré near Quebec City (established in 1658) to pray that their child would have a long and healthy life. The Straube’s prayers were answered.

Mary Anne Scoles passages WPG FP

Mary Anne Scoles  Photo: Winnipeg Free Press Passages

Mary Anne was educated in Treherne and Winnipeg but moved to the Scoles’ farm north of Altamont when she married Mike Scoles. I am not certain of the date of their marriage but it was likely around 1918.  They farmed the Scoles’ original homestead at SE 5-6-8 established in 1902 until 1960 when they retired to Treherne. Mike died in 1981.

So, what is niggling me about Mary Anne Scoles? Is it that she lived to be 110 years, 6 months and 28 days old? When she died she was the oldest Canadian living in Canada. This was quite an achievement – especially given her less than weighty entrance into the world! No, that is not what is niggling me although it is related.

I must make one last introduction, meet Jemima (Holliston) Wilson, the third remarkable woman in this story.   She was known to everyone outside of her family as “Aunt ‘Mime.” Within her family circles, she was addressed by her proper title.

Jemima (née Holliston) Wilson aka “Aunt ‘Mime”

  • Born: May 16, 1862 Merrickville, Ontario
  • Died: January 9, 1965 Manitou, Manitoba
  • Married: 1886 in Merrickville to Robert Wilson
  • Robert Wilson died: 1896
  • Father: George Holliston
  • Mother: Catherine (Katie Mussell]

Aunt ‘Mime was an old woman from the time that I first remember her. I know that when we are young we think everyone between 30 and 90 is in the same category of “old.”   But Aunt ‘Mime really was old. My first memories of her are from when I was about five years old and she was nearly 91 years young. In her nineties, she lived independently in a small house at the northwest corner of town almost beside my friends, Kelly and Terry. Often, we would find ourselves over at Aunt ‘Mime’s scrounging a biscuit, or better yet, a slice of fresh baked bread liberally spread with margarine (uncoloured white margarine as its producers and distributors were not permitted, by law, to colour the margarine to protect the dairy industry) and with any kind of luck, some jam. Funny how I didn’t like uncoloured margarine when we had it at home or when local bachelor and retired farmer Ed Bulmer served it up in his little house, but there was just something about Aunt ‘Mime’s bread and margarine that appealed. Maybe it was the ambiance of her kitchen and the smells emanating from her old wood cook stove.

To be clear though, any niggle I have about Aunt ‘Mime has nothing to do with my inherent nature as a child terror or brat. We would never play “Knock a Door Ginger” on Aunt ‘Mime. We just knew that not only was she old, she was ‘special old’ and that particular status of old was enhanced with each passing year. Living independently until one is almost 100 years old is a remarkable achievement indeed. I recall that she was always spry of mind as well as body.

Aunt ‘Mime passed away January 9, 1965 just short of her 103rd birthday. In the course of her lifetime she witnessed major societal changes e.g., the advancement in transportation from horses to stagecoach to horse and buggy to locomotives and trains to trucks and automobiles to airplanes to space travel. Technology in communications grew from pony express and stagecoach to telegraph to radio to television to the beginnings of a wireless Internet age.

Remarkable as the magnitude of these changes may seem, there were other social and political developments that are just as remarkable, not for speed of implementation or for the magnitude of change achieved during a short span of time, but for the tortoise-like speed with which they were introduced and accepted.   Here, I am referring specifically to the introduction of rights of democratic citizenship for women, and racial and ethnic groups. Political and social change involving Canadian women’s suffrage, economic equality and human rights over the 100-year period coinciding with Aunt ‘Mime’s life, and indeed for fifty years after her death, plodded along at a snail’s pace.

Recall that Aunt ‘Mime was born in 1862, five years prior to Canadian Confederation. One niggle I have is really a questioning niggle: What were things like for women in this pioneering time? The answer is not straightforward obviously but I have constructed a timeline set against the milestone markers of the lives of Jemima Wilson, Mary Anne Scoles and Mary Armitage to assist in telling and visualizing  part of the story. (See Appendix I for the detailed timeline.)

Jemima and Robert Wilson IMG_5738

Robert Wilson (1895) a year before his death. Jemima Wilson as a bride in 1886. Photos: Memories of Lorne 1880 – 1980

Jemima Holliston was 24 years old when she married Robert John Wilson (age 28) in 1886 in Merrickville, Ontario. In 1889 they ventured west to join some of the Wilson clan at Plumas, Manitoba before purchasing (See Note 3) a quarter section of land (NW 21-5-8) about one half mile north of what was then called Musselboro.   On November 1, 1891 Mussellboro would become Alta. Station before being renamed officially as Altamont on July 1, 1894.

Homesteading

Unfortunately, Jemima’s husband died in 1896 from causes of which I am not entirely clear. When working from secondary sources it is best not to ascribe accuracy to data or to jump to conclusions too quickly. I prefer to have two or three unrelated sources to corroborate the data before proceeding tentatively. Consequently, I have not been able to verify the cause of Robert Wilson’s death but I am certain that it was tragic as he was only 38 years old at the time. Nevertheless, Jemima at age 34 had to carry on and she applied to homestead the NE quarter of 21-5-8 in 1898. The question is: how was she able to do manage this?

At the time, there was very little legal protection for women under British common law and married women could not own property. Indeed, in 1885 the Manitoba government actually eliminated the need for the wife’s permission before a husband could sell or give away farmland. Even so, the Dominion Land Act (1872) had created a Homestead Act where for a fee of $10.00 a person could claim a quarter section (160 acres) of land provided that the homesteader would establish a permanent residence and reside on the land for at least six months of the year, breaking 40 acres over three years. A second adjacent quarter costing $2.00 or $2.50 per acre, could be reserved for a total of a half section or 320 acres.

Fortunately for the widowed Jemima (if one can be fortunate in such a situation) the Act allowed widows, divorced women and separated wives with children under 18 to homestead land although married women were prohibited from doing so. As I review the facts, she was one of the few women pioneers who had her name on title of a homestead quarter section near Altamont.  Martha Castle (of whom I know nothing) is also listed as homesteading NE 22-5-8 (1893) about a mile to the east of Jemima Wilson. They are the only two women owning property (both homesteaders) in that particular Range of the Township. They may have benefited from this little bit of ”good” fortune, but these women, with no husbands, must have found it challenging to say the least in a world designed in general to favour men and to discriminate against women. And homesteading was no easy challenge for anyone, man or woman.

At the time of her husband’s death in 1896 Jemima was 34 years old and raising five children who were twelve years of age and under, (her husband’s niece Sarah Evelina Rathwell b. 1884 in Merrickville; Howard Franklin b. 1888 in Merrickville; Mabel Winifred b. 1890 in Altamont; Mary Edith b. 1893 in Altamont; John Robert b. 1895 in Altamont.) I wager this must have presented a daunting future and undoubtedly speaks to the resourcefulness and tenacity of her personality and the strength of her spirit.

Her grandson Gordon credits the support of her kin and neighbours as being critical to survival for Jemima and her children. In addition, the entire area was being settled and immigrants from France, Brittany and Normandy arrived to farm near St. Lupicin, a few miles to the north. She made friends with many of these families and they exchanged goods as need be. Jemima and her children benefited from bread baked in the French tradition and in return she provided an indoor haven from the elements when the St. Lupicin families walked past her farm in all weather conditions on their way to St. Leon for church services.

Aunt ‘Mime farmed the original homestead until 1925 when her son, John (“Jack”) Robert, returned with his wife, Eva Lyle and family to work the farm. Aunt ‘Mime moved into a small house in Altamont soon after. The farm served as a base from where Jack worked at different jobs in mining and construction in Northern Ontario, and trucking and grain handling around Altamont. In 1964 at age 69 and just before Aunt ‘Mime passed away, Jack retired and his son Glen took over the farm. Jack and Eva raised seven sons and one daughter on the original homestead

I have only just scratched the surface of Jemima’s life. I have written this piece very much as a personal retrospective reliant upon my own memories and secondary source material. As such, I do not have (nor have I asked for) access to papers or documents or other original communications that provide insight on social, political or economic life from Jemima Wilson’s perspective. This blog piece was not conceived originally to be a research piece. But I am getting ahead of myself as usual.

Final niggles about three women

I have some final niggles, about Aunt ‘Mime, Mary Anne Scoles and Mary Armitage – ones that stem from my curiosity being piqued as to what the three of them would say (individually and collectively) if they were asked to participate in a discussion (the three of them) about their lives, their experiences and their views regarding  technological, social and political changes over their collective lifetimes. Mary Anne Scoles and Mary Armitage were more closely contemporaries and Aunt ‘Mime was the elder pioneer, so to speak. It almost makes me shiver to think of the richness of such discourse.

The first niggle is that it would be amazing to have the opportunity to interview Jemima Wilson, Mary Anne Scoles, and Mary Armitage – individually or ensemble. I have so many questions I would like to ask. Impossible I know. Aunt ‘Mime died in 1965; Mary Armitage in 2005; Mary Anne Scoles in 2007.

The second niggle is to be able to have access to original documentation from these three remarkable women such that we could understand their perspectives on surviving as women in those times, and their thoughts on the social, economic and political directions that were unfolding around them. Who knows? Perhaps in the future I will be fortunate enough to access such documents or accounts. Or perhaps someone else will have the good fortune to do so. I hope so.

The third and biggest niggle

Map Altamont red dots 2 IMG_0184

Mary Armitage lived in Altamont; Jemima Wilson farmed 1/2 mile north; Mary Anne Scoles farmed about 4 miles north. Red dots indicate the locations.

But the biggest niggle I have is that these three Manitoba centenarians resided for a large portion their lives on a 4-mile straight line of each other. And I knew each of them – not as a close family member would have, or even as a close friend would have, but well enough to have personal memories. I find this astounding. I asked earlier: How many of us can say we have ever known someone who lived to be 100 years old? Not that many, I wager. How many can say that they have very personal memories and ‘niggles’ about three such remarkable individuals? Not that many I wager, but I am one.

Three roses for three prairie women

As we come marching, marching, we bring the greater days.
The rising of the women means the rising of the race.
No more the drudge and idler—ten that toil where one reposes,
But a sharing of life’s glories: Bread and roses! Bread and roses!  – 4th  verse Bread and Roses, lyrics by James Oppenheim, circa 1911.

I have no reason to believe that Jemima Wilson, Mary Anne Scoles or Mary Armitage would have supported trade unions as the political vehicle for achieving women’s democratic rights, economic security and equality. After all, Jemima was born in and grew up in Merrickville in the heart of conservative Ontario. Mary Anne Scoles and Mary Armitage were born in and grew up in the heart of conservative Manitoba. Still, I believe that they would agree that the goals of the women’s movement were worthy of the struggle and would have counted themselves as part of the wave of women who fought not only for bread but for roses in the 19th and 20th Centuries.

Just for fun, I have chosen three roses that I think are appropriate to accompany these three remarkable Manitoba women in this story.

1) Adelaide Hoodless

Adelaide Hoodless (February 27, 1857 – February 26, 1910) worked, after the death of her young son, to reform education for new mothers to include hygiene, cleanliness and frugality. Hoodless is credited with being the co-founder of the Women’s Institute, the National Council of Women, the Victorian Order of Nurses, and the YWCA in Canada. Her educational reforms led to the formation of faculties of Household Science (later called Home Economics and then Human Ecology or Family Studies.) The proof of the magnitude of her legacy is in the fact that these organizations still exist today.

hoodless1

Adelaide Hoodless (Dr. Henry Heard Marshall, 1972)  Photo: unknown

The rose, Adelaide Hoodless, is a very vigorous shrub introduced in 1973 by Dr. Henry Heard Marshall as a tribute to the founder of the Women’s Institute on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the Institute.

2) Morden Centennial was introduced by Dr. Henry Heard Marshall in 1980 to commemorate the centennial anniversary of the Town of Morden, Manitoba. It seems appropriate to include it here as each of the three women in this story lived to be more than 100 years old and Morden is a near neighbour to Altamont in modern day terms. Morden Centennial is one of my personal favourites and we have it as a mainstay in our garden. It flowers repeatedly throughout the summer with amazing, almost florescent flowers.

Centennial IMG_0426

Morden Centennial (Dr. Henry Heard Marshall 1980) Photo: The PD Gardener 2013

3) The Manitoba countryside is dotted with patches of wild roses (Rosa woodsii, Rosa acicularis or Rosa arkansana) with their prickly branches catching your clothes as you scramble through the fence line on your way through a “shortcut” from one place to another. The three heroines in this story would be attracted to the mass of flowers on display and the simplicity in the structure of each blossom. The complexity of hybridized roses we know today was not only far into the future but would have been out of budget range and practicality for someone like Jemima Wilson and Mary Anne Scoles for certain and likely for Mary Armitage as well.

Wild roses though live on in unlikely spots around the prairies and the three women I have highlighted today exemplify their beauty and tenacity.

Wild rose cwf -300px

Wild Rose  Photo: Canadian Wildlife Federation

 Life Expectancy: The dash of cold, hard reality

As I said, I have had the privilege of having personal memories of three quite remarkable women who each lived to be more than 100 years old. Of course, this inevitably leads to the question: can I expect to live to be 100 years old?

It seems that the average age of the population is on a slow but steady increase. Each generation can expect to live longer than the previous one. Technological advances in medical diagnostic equipment; improved and more efficacious drug therapies; improved medical devices enabling us to have a better quality of life; a better understanding that ‘quality of life’ really means attention to the wholeness of body, mind and spirit;  mutually supportive relationships with family and friends; and social participation in community life along with respect for Nature, have all contributed to positive outcomes. Still, the challenge will be to continue the trend to increased longevity.

But, can I expect to live to be 100 years old? The short answer (also called the realistic answer and the pessimistic answer) is “no.” The equivocating answer is “not likely.” The cheer leading, supportive, optimistic and the ‘you are a fighter’ answer is “of course we can live even longer.” My answer is that we need all of these answers to support us, as the occasion demands.

In Canada only 0.8% of the population is over 90 years of age (0.4 % for males and 1.1% for women.) So, how many of us will ever get to say, “I am 100 years old?” Becoming a centenarian is really quite an exclusive club. In 2011, there were only 5,825 people in Canada who were 100 years of age old or older and for this year (2016) it is estimated that 7,900 people, more women than men, will be in that illustrious group. As I write this post, the oldest Canadian living in Canada is Ellen “Dolly” Gibb of North Bay, born Ellen Box in Winnipeg on April 26, 1905. She is 110 years 351 days.

So, I ask the question again, slightly differently this time: What is the probability that I will live to be 100 years old and would I bet on the outcome?  Silly me, when it comes to my own life, I am betting on the outcome every minute of every day. I am betting I will live. I know there is a way to calculate that probability but in the end that is a matter for actuaries and gamblers. I am sure that this is a gross oversimplification of what actuaries do but they make estimates of probable outcomes using available relevant data, extrapolating from past patterns. In order to do that, they have to make assumptions. Believe it or not, I have participated in some extremely interesting debates and arguments on these assumptions in real life collective bargaining situations. I guess it wouldn’t surprise you that actuaries are mostly quite conservative in their assumptions and their estimates. On life expectancy they know, quite correctly, that you will die, and they will assume that you will die sooner rather than later but later than others died previously, if you know what I mean. They are pessimistic in an optimistic kind of way – you might say they see the glass as being half full except for the fact that they know that for any given individual, the glass will be bone dry empty at some point.

Gamblers, the good ones at least, employ much the same fundamental process. They look at the available information and make some informed choice (educated guess) as to the outcome of an event e.g., Smarty Jones to win the Kentucky Derby in 2004 (he did) or the North Carolina Tar Heels (2.5 point betting favourites) to win the 2016 NCAA Championship – they didn’t as they were upset by the Villanova Wildcats. You can gamble on anything e.g., lottery tickets (the odds are very high against winning the big prize) or whether the next child born to the Royal family is a boy or a girl, or whether it will rain in Birmingham, Alabama on October 21, 2016. I haven’t actually checked this last one out but I am sure you can find a bookie somewhere who will take that bet, one way or the other. For the record, it did not rain in Birmingham on October 21, 2015 and that day was the 11th day of a long dry spell.

Okay then. So both actuaries and gamblers will agree that I will die. But if they are betting on when I will die (the actuary because she works for a life insurance company and the gambler because he has a gambling addiction and will bet on anything if someone will take the bet and give him odds,) they will want more information. Life expectancy is one such piece of information. And because I have Parkinson’s disease they will want to know if the life expectancy for someone who has Parkinson’s is different from someone who does not have Parkinson’s.

Life expectancy with Parkinson’s disease

Put most bluntly, if I have Parkinson’s disease, is my life expectancy shortened? Well, theoretically a Person with Parkinson’s (PwP) can live a good long life after diagnosis. As Parkinson Canada says

Depending upon your age of onset, how you manage the symptoms, and your general health, you can live an active life with Parkinson’s. In most cases, one’s life is not shortened. However, as you age and as the disease progresses, there will be increased risks. For example, impaired balance can lead to falls; swallowing problems, if not managed, can lead to pneumonia. Parkinson’s is known as a chronic (long term) condition that will require ongoing monitoring and management to maintain one’s quality of life.

It seems that the best that can be said is that whether you have Parkinson’s or not, there are always risks in life, aren’t there? In other words, there are many variables and while having Parkinson’s is just one such variable, it is a variable that brings more associated risks with it. Doesn’t that mean that your life expectancy is decreased, or put another way, the probability of dying increases? It seems to me that it does. I wish it didn’t, but it does. So, let’s not beat around the bush.

cards stacked against IMG_5773

How badly are the cards stacked against me? Photo: The PD Gardener

But don’t misunderstand; it is not defeatist to say that I am in a higher risk group. It would be defeatist though if I were to say that I am no longer going to strive to live as healthy and as long a life as I possibly can, just because I am in a higher risk group. I do not mean to say that anyone living with Parkinson’s should not try to achieve the best quality of life possible. It is at this point that we need the cheerleader to jump in (Zis, Boom, Bah – Two, four, six, eight; who do we REALLY hate? Parkinson’s, Parkinson’s, Go PwP!)

I am not going to get hung up on semantics or matters of definition here. I believe that because I have Parkinson’s, my life expectancy is lower. Empirical research seems to support my position.

The calculations showed that LE (Life Expectancy) and AAD (anticipated age at time of death) in PD are reduced for all onset ages but this reduction is greatest in individuals with a young onset. (See Note 3)

Similarly,

Our findings confirm that PD is associated with increased mortality in both men and women. Unlike the majority of other mortality studies, we found that women have a greater reduction in lifespan compared to men. We also found that patients with early onset PD (onset at the age of 50 or before) have reduced survival relative to PD patients with later ages of onset. A final important finding is that survival is equal in PD patients treated with levodopa early (within 2 years or less of PD onset) versus later. (See Note 4)

However, the good news is that if you have Parkinson’s and do not have dementia and are not in the young onset group, life expectancy and age at time of death are more likely to approach that of the normal population.

The survival, LE and AAD in patients with PD are much lower compared with the general population, apart from those patients who do not develop dementia, who appear to have near normal population mortalities. However, dementia and younger onset of PD appear to be important determinants of survival, LE and AAD. (See Note 5)

So, there is a bit of good with the bad … but not that much.  Is there anything to be done except be depressed? Of course there is!  We have to get on with the task of living.

We need to be careful not to assume that each of us will follow precisely the same pattern. Probabilities are probabilities because they are not certainties. A tautological argument sure but no one can accurately predict when any given individual will die under normal circumstances or even under circumstances where the individual has Parkinson’s. The wonderful thing about statistics is that there will always be a mean or an average (it keeps shifting as the population changes and there will always be people who are far away from the mean.) Yes, I know this means both to the negative and to the positive sides. Some people will live longer than expected and some people will not live as long as expected. These facts will never change. Our challenge is to do everything we possibly can to shift the statistical result to the positive for our own individual selves.

Think of Mary Anne Scoles who, in 1896 in a home birth, survived her low birth weight (2.5 pounds) and the fact that her mother had tuberculosis. How high would the odds have to be for you (assuming you could live long enough to collect) to bet that she would live to be 110 years, 6 months and 28 days old?  But she did. I can’t help but wonder how successful she was in her Las Vegas trips, and if she would have lived longer if she slept more in Las Vegas? I doubt it. Fun is a key criterion for longevity – at least I am betting that it is!

In some ways we must be selfish. Treat each day as a personal best and do whatever is necessary to reach the new personal best tomorrow.

When I die, no matter how or how soon, I fervently want my family and friends and those who knew me in any capacity to understand that my passing will not be a personal failure but merely the end of a long stretch of personal bests. On the statistical side, when I die I hope that my string of personal bests will have pushed (however slightly) the overall average or mean upward and that I have left some mark on the world to assist others to reach and surpass my goals, setting their own high watermarks. At the macro economic, social and political levels, the capacity of all systems, (economy, heath care, social security, social policy, political advocacy, etc.) must be strengthened and expanded to support an enhanced quality of life for Persons with Parkinson’s, their families and caregivers.

And, finally: No, I am not depressed.

APPENDIX I

Timeline of Women’s Rights in Canada referencing the Lives of Three Remarkable Women: Jemima (née Holliston) Wilson aka Aunt ‘Mime , Mary Anne (née Straube) Scoles, and Mary Armitage

1862 Jemima Holliston is born

1867 Jemima Holliston is 5

  • Canadian Confederation

1871 Jemima Holliston is 9

  • Manitoba’s Act Respecting Married Women allows a married woman to keep ownership of her property, but any wages she makes goes to her spouse.

1872 Jemima Holliston is 10

  • Dominion Land Act and Homestead Act is passed entitling a person to claim, for a $10.00 fee, a quarter section (160 acres) on even numbered sections provided that the homesteader reside on the land for at least six months of the year, establish a permanent residence and break 40 acres over three years. A second adjacent quarter costing $2.00 or $2.50 per acre, could be reserved for a total of a half section or 320 acres.

1884 Jemima Holliston is 22

  • The Married Women’s Property Act gives married women in Ontario the right to make legal agreements and buy property, the same as for men.
  • Women in Manitoba gain the right to vote in municipal elections but are not eligible to run for municipal office until 1917. This is one small step forward with a more than offsetting large step backward.

1886 Jemima Holliston is 26 and marries Robert John Wilson in Merrickville, Ontario

1890 – 1920 Jemima Wilson is 28 – 58

  • This is a period of intense activity by the Suffrage movement. Women such as Emily Murphy, Nellie McClung, Irene Parlby, Henrietta Muir Edwards and Louise Crummy McKinney (the “Famous Five”) as well as Agnes MacPhail, Erland Lee, Adelaide Hunter Hoodless among others were active advocates for women’s Suffrage and other rights.

1890 Jemima Wilson is 28

  • Women ratepayers in Manitoba can vote and hold office at the school board level.

1896 Jemima Wilson is 34. Mary Anne Straube is born in Treherne, Manitoba

  • Jemima Wilson’s husband, Robert John Wilson, dies.

1898 Jemima Wilson is 36. Mary Anne Straube is 2.

  •  Jemima Wilson applies for a homestead on NW 21-5-8 north of Altamont.

1900 Jemima Wilson is 38; Mary Anne Straube is 4.

  • Manitoba passes its own Married Women’s Property Act giving married women in Manitoba the same legal capacity as men. [See Note 6]

1902 Mary Armitage is born

  • The Scoles’ homestead was established at SE 5-6-8.

1908 Mary Armitage’s family moves to Altamont from New Haven. Mary (6) is the second oldest of 4 children. Five other children are born after moving to Altamont.

1914 – 1918 Jemima Wilson was 52 – 56; Mary Anne Straube was 18 – 22; Mary Armitage was 12 – 16

  • World War I

1917 Jemima Wilson is 55; Mary Anne Straube is 21; Mary Armitage is 15;

  • The Military Voters Act allowed nurses and women in the armed services to vote.
  • The Wartime Election Act extended the vote to women who had husbands, sons or fathers serving overseas.
  • Women in Manitoba are the first in Canada to gain the right to vote and run for office in provincial elections.

~ 1918 Mary Anne Straube marries Mike Scoles

1920 Jemima Wilson is 58; Mary Anne Scoles is 24; Mary Armitage is 18

  • Dominion Elections Act is amended permitting every eligible Canadian over 21, male or female, to vote in federal elections, excluding Aboriginal peoples, Inuit or anyone barred from a provincial voters’ list, including Asians and Hindus.

1924 Mary Armitage age 22 begins teaching in Altamont, Manitoba

1929 Jemima Wilson is 67; Mary Anne Scoles is 33; Mary Armitage is 27;

  • The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in England overturns a decision of the Canadian Supreme Court’s “Persons” case and recognizes Canadian women as persons under the law.

1930 Jemima Wilson is 68; Mary Anne Scoles is 34; Mary Armitage is 28

  • Montreal’s Cairine Reay Wilson becomes the first woman appointed to the Senate.

1939 – 1945 Jemima Wilson is 77 – 83; Mary Anne Scoles is 43 – 49; Mary Armitage is 37 – 43

  • World War II

1940 Jemima Wilson is 78; Mary Anne Scoles is 44; Mary Armitage is 38.

  • Women in Quebec gain the right to vote through The Act Granting to Women the Right to Vote and to be Eligible as Candidates – the last existing province to make it legal for women to vote and run for office. However, women from a racial minority already banned from voting in other provinces are still disenfranchised.

1948 Jemima Wilson is 86; Mary Anne Scoles is 52; Mary Armitage is 46;

  • A parliamentary committee recommends that Aboriginal people receive the vote, and Inuit are enfranchised. First Nations refused the right to vote as it was conditional on their relinquishing both status under the Indian Act and tax exemption rights accorded by treaty.

1950 – 1960 Jemima Wilson is 88 – 98; Mary Anne Scoles is 54 – 64;   Mary Armitage is 48 – 58

  • Fair wages, equal pay and fair employment practices legislation begins to be implemented in various provinces

1960 Jemima Wilson is 98; Mary Anne Scoles is 64; Mary Armitage is 58.

 

  • Mary Anne Scoles and husband Mike retire off the farm to live in Treherne
  • Canada’s Aboriginal Peoples, including Aboriginal women, are finally granted a ‘no-strings-attached’ right to vote.
  • The Canadian Bill of Rights receives Royal Assent

1962 Mary Armitage age 60 retires from her teaching career in Altamont

1965 Jemima Wilson dies a few months short of her 103rd birthday

1969 Jemima Wilson died 4 years earlier; Mary Anne Scoles is 73; Mary Armitage is 67

  • Québec became the final province to grant its Aboriginal residents the vote, Canada was no longer denying voting rights to anyone on the basis of racial or ethnic criteria.

1970 Jemima Wilson died 5 years earlier; Mary Anne Scoles is 74

  • Mary Armitage age 68 awarded the Manitoba Centennial Medal for her many years in the teaching profession and her activity in community affairs.

 

 

 

1982 Jemima Wilson died 17 years earlier; Mary Anne Scoles is 86; Mary Armitage is 80

  • The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is enacted as part of the Constitution Act.

1984 Jemima Wilson died 19 years earlier; Mary Anne Scoles is 88; Mary Armitage is 82.

  • 100th Anniversary of the founding of the Mussellboro Post Office, the predecessor of Altamont.

1986 Jemima Wilson died 21 years earlier; Mary Anne Scoles is 90; Mary Armitage is 84

  • The Federal Employment Equity Act is passed.

1992 Jemima Wilson died 27 years earlier; Mary Anne Scoles is 96; Mary Armitage is 90

  • Canadian Roberta Bondar flew in the Space Shuttle Discovery

1993

  • Conservative Kim Campbell becomes the first Canadian female prime minister, for about four months

2000 Jemima Wilson died 35 years earlier; Mary Anne Scoles is 104; Mary Armitage is 98

  • Beverley McLachlin appointed Chief Justice of the Supreme Court

2004 Jemima Wilson died 39 years earlier; Mary Anne Scoles is 108; Mary Armitage is 102

  • Rosalie Abella appointed as the first Jewish woman to sit on the Supreme Court.

2005 Jemima Wilson died 40 years earlier; Mary Anne Scoles is 109; Mary Armitage dies at age 102 years, 344 days

  • Canada became the fourth country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide with the enactment of the Civil Marriage Act

2007 Mary Anne (Straube) Scoles dies at age 110 years, 245 days – the oldest documented Canadian living in Canada at that time.

2010 Jemima Wilson died 50 years earlier; Mary Anne Scoles died 3 years earlier; Mary Armitage died 5 years earlier

  • Women in Canada still earn only 75% of what men earn in full and part time employment.

2016 April 2016

  • Jemima Wilson died 51 years ago. She would be 151 years old this year
  • Mary Anne Scoles died 9 years ago. She would be 119 years old this year.
  • Mary Armitage died 11 years ago. She would be 114 years old this year
  • 100-year anniversary of Manitoba granting women the right to vote in provincial elections
  • Employment equity, pay equity and fundamental human rights for women remain as major issues in Canadian and world affairs.

NOTES

  1. The word “niggle” has several different connotations. My preferred meaning is  “a small minor concern usually over a long period of time, or a slight feeling of misgiving.” However, it can also mean
  • Spend too much time on inconsequential details (Dictionary.com)
  • Spend too much effort on minor details (Miriam Webster)
  • Give too much attention to details usually over a long period of time (Cambridge)
  • Find fault continually or to be preoccupied with details (Collins English)
  • Cause slight but persistent annoyance (Oxford)
  • Screw someone or weasel your way into something (slang – Urban Dictionary

2. In the context of this blog, I would rule out this last definition. I do not have sufficient corroborating evidence to confirm that Robert and Jemima Wilson purchased the NW quarter of 21-5-8 in 1889. One map of Township 5 Range 8 shows James A. Fraser as the owner of NE 21-5-8 (1880.) It may be the case that the sale of this land to Robert and Jemima Wilson was just not noted on this map as there are some oddities in the manner in which names were recorded e.g., they only note the name of the first person to purchase the land from the Crown or Hudson Bay Company, or CPR, etc. Henry Mussell is listed as the owner of SE 21-5-8 (homestead 1879) and SW 21-5-8 (purchased in 1884.)

3. Lianna S Ishihara, Anne Cheesbrough, Carol Brayne, and Anette Schrag, “ Estimated life expectancy of Parkinson’s patients compared with the UK population,” J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 2007 Dec; 78(12): 1304–1309. Published online 2007 Mar 3 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2095626/

4. John C. Morgan, Lillian J. Currie, Madaline B. Harrison, James P. Bennett Jr., Joel M. Trugman, and G. Frederick Wooten “Mortality in Levodopa-Treated Parkinson’s Disease,” Parkinson’s Disease, Volume 2014 (2014), Article ID 426976, 8 pages http://dx.doi.org/10.1155/2014/426976

5. Hobson P1, Meara J, Ishihara-Paul L. J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 2010 Oct;81(10):1093-8. doi: 10.1136/jnnp.2009.198689. Epub 2010 Jun 22. “The estimated life expectancy in a community cohort of Parkinson’s disease patients with and without dementia, compared with the UK population.” http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20571039

6. The Married Women’s Property Act [1900] gives married women in Manitoba the same legal capacity as men. Previously, a woman living in Manitoba lost most of her legal rights respecting property when she married. All her property, for example, became legally vested in her husband. The Married Women’s Property Act allows a wife to own her own property separately from her husband and to control her own wages and profits. She is also jointly responsible for the support of their children. (Nellie McClung Foundation)

SOURCES:

Adelaide Hunter Hoodless Homestead http://www.adelaidehoodless.ca/

Agriculture Canada, Winter-Hardy Roses from Agriculture Canada, publication 1891/E

Canada: A Country by Consent http://www.canadahistoryproject.ca/index.html

Catalyst http://www.catalyst.org/knowledge/womens-earnings-and-income

Morris Deveson, The History of Agriculture in Manitoba (1812-2007) October 2007 http://www.manitobaaghalloffame.com/history2.php

The Dominion Land Act, http://manitobia.ca/content/en/themes/ias/6

Folk Archive  http://www.folkarchive.de/breadrose.html

Friesen, “Expansion of Settlement in Manitoba, 1870 – 1900” Manitoba Historical Society, Series 3, 1963 – 1964 season. http://www.mhs.mb.ca/docs/transactions/3/settlementexpansion.shtml

Histori.ca Voices, http://www.histori.ca/voices/page.do?pageID=316

Hobson P1, Meara J, Ishihara-Paul L. J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 2010 Oct;81(10):1093-8. doi: 10.1136/jnnp.2009.198689. Epub 2010 Jun 22. “The estimated life expectancy in a community cohort of Parkinson’s disease patients with and without dementia, compared with the UK population.” http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20571039

Lianna S Ishihara, Anne Cheesbrough, Carol Brayne, and Anette Schrag, “ Estimated life expectancy of Parkinson’s patients compared with the UK population,” J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 2007 Dec; 78(12): 1304–1309. Published online 2007 Mar 30. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2095626/

Manitoba Digital Resources on Manitoba History “Immigration and Settlement 1879 – 1919” and “Women in the West.” http://manitobia.ca/content/en/themes/ias/6

John C. Morgan, Lillian J. Currie, Madaline B. Harrison, James P. Bennett Jr., Joel M. Trugman, and G. Frederick Wooten “Mortality in Levodopa-Treated Parkinson’s Disease,” Parkinson’s Disease Volume 2014 (2014), Article ID 426976, 8 pages http://dx.doi.org/10.1155/2014/426976

The Nellie McClung Foundation, “Canadian History of Women’s Rights” http://www.ournellie.com/womens-suffrage/canadian-history-of-womens-rights/

Parkinson Canada http://www.parkinson.ca/site/c.kgLNIWODKpF/b.5000693/k.812F/Progression_of_Parkinsons.htm

Kirsten Smith, Women in history: A timeline, Postmedia News March 3, 2011 http://www.canada.com/technology/Women+history+timeline/4367539/story.html

George Washington’s Mount Vernon, Digital Encyclopaedia http://www.mountvernon.org/digital-encyclopedia/article/cherry-tree-myth/

Wikipedia, List of Canadian Supercentenarians  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Canadian_supercentenarians#Living_Canadian_supercentenarians

Winnipeg Free Press http://passages.winnipegfreepress.com/passage-details/id-122676/name-Mary_Scoles/

© Stan Marshall (The PD Gardener) 2016

 

 

 

 

 

IN SEARCH OF THE “STUFF” OF CURLING Part III: Down to Last Rocks; The Devil made them do it

Author’s note: This story employs a mix of fiction, fantasy and fact with references to real persons. It is not difficult to recognize the differences. I hope you enjoy it ~ The PD Gardener  hat Thepdgardener IMG_0608

IN SEARCH OF THE “STUFF” OF CURLING

Part III: Down to Last Rocks; The Devil made them do it

Last time: The Devil burst through the doors to the Altamont Rink and issued a most serious challenge to the Altamont Curling Club who had no choice but to accept the challenge. The many machinations of negotiating the details and fine print are now over. The selection process is complete. The curlers representing the Altamont Curling Club and the Idle Rocks are the Devil’s Curling Club are now in place and the game of “Dunbars” has commenced. The first two stones from each team have been thrown and the Devil is in a slight lead.

The last rocks are about to be thrown in the thrilling conclusion to one of the greatest curling confrontations ever!

Can the Altamont Curling Club keep the Devil from capturing the Soul of the draw master of the Altamont Bonspiel?

Will the Altamont Curling Club know to keep the “stuff of Curling” safe from contamination by the Devil, and how will we know what “stuff” is, even if they can keep it safe?

Can the Devil avoid eternal embarrassment by not losing to this team of hicks curling out of a tin shack?

Does Bert Marshall sell out to the Devil and does it make any difference anyway?

What is a double Gordon?

Can Neuro de Generative throw a “Dunbar” worthy of the name?

With answers to these questions and more, let’s get back to

IN SEARCH OF THE “STUFF” OF CURLING

Part III: Down to Last Rocks; The Devil made them do it

Let’s pick up the action where we left off in Part II with the DEVL 666 Radio play-by-play as might have been provided by Cactus Jack Wells and Bob Picken.

The broadcast leads with a verse of “Devil or Angel,” The Clovers 1956 original pop hit playing in the background. Note: Bobby Vee covered this tune in 1960 taking it to the top of the charts once again and it was fresh on all minds, even curlers’ minds, in 1961.

Network Announcer: DEVL 666 Radio now takes you to Cactus Jack Wells and Bob Picken at the Altamont Rink for a real treat – Idle Rocks are the Devil’s Curling Club vs Altamont Curling Club in a winner take all, no holds barred, Devil may care, hotter than Hades, curling shoot off….

Cactus Jack: Well, it turned out nice again, didn’t it?

Bob Picken: It sure did Jack and it is such a privilege to be invited to the historic Altamont Rink to witness this unusual curling challenge. As you know, space is limited and people are having a devil of a time finding tickets even though it was put together very quickly.

Cactus Jack: Right you are, Bob. I am often high in the Winnipeg Arena and Blue Bomber Stadium… hmmm… perhaps I should phrase that differently, but we are really up in the rafters here at the Altamont Rink!

Bob Picken: Yes we are, and we have ice level seats!

Cactus Jack: Those people who have found a way to squeeze in here are witnessing one Hell of a battle. Hope I don’t get fired for saying that, Bob.

Bob Picken: I don’t think anyone is going to be fired today Jack. The Devil Himself is here with his team and they make everyone else look very innocent.

Cactus Jack: The score is Devil 3 Altamont 4 with last rocks from each side still to come. We want to remind listeners that under the rules of this event the lowest aggregate score is the winner.

Bob Picken: That’s right Jack. Think of it in the same way you think about your golf score.

Cactus Jack: It’s a lot easier to throw my Goddamn sand wedge into the pond than it is to throw a curling stone…. Hope I don’t get fired for that, Bob.

(Bob Picken remains silent)

Cactus Jack continues: The unpredictable Nero de Generate [real name is Neuro de Generative – remember Cactus Jack often mispronounces names] is to throw for the Altamont Curling Club and the Devil has the hammer so I guess that He who is all sin shall cast the last stone, to misquote the Bible. Hope I don’t get fired for that, Bob.

Bob Picken: I don’t think you can get fired for telling the truth, Jack.

Cactus Jack: Look, I am just going to call Neuro, “Neuro” or “de G,” to save me from further mispronunciation and confusion. Is that OK with you, Bob? The book on de G is not good, is it?

Bob Picken: Yes, it is, and no, it isn’t, to answer both your questions. But sometimes people should just take a pill and get over it. Neuro has been anxious about this appearance today but he looks as calm as a cucumber out there, doesn’t he? Cucumbers do freeze very easily though so he might not dare to move if he has found a warm spot. I don’t think that he will freeze in any case, as he is a veteran and knows his capabilities better than anyone.

Cactus Jack: It is a surprise that Neuro was even selected for the Altamont team but that is how it unfolded and we now await his shot.

Bob Picken: Just a reminder Jack, Neuro must throw a “Dunbar” defined as throwing the rock as fast and as hard as he can.

Cactus Jack: Has anyone ever clocked de G’s takeout weight?

Bob Picken: Well Jack, you know that the norm is to use hog line to hog line or tee line to tee line times in seconds. The word is that de Generative’s times have been clocked using an hourglass (chuckle) on a good day…and a calendar on a bad day. (Several low chuckles)

Cactus Jack (laughs:) Then the question is: Can Neuro “turn back the sands of time?” to misquote another great line from somewhere.

Bob Picken: Let’s not get all caught up here, Jack, because throwing a “Dunbar” is not like winning the Nobel Prize for Literature… and misquoting an ‘idiom’ is… well … idiotic (more chuckles.)

[It is not clear what happened here but there is brief 12 – 15 seconds of dead air – a play-by-play broadcaster’s nightmare – and then Cactus Jack breaks the silence.]

Cactus Jack: I hope I don’t get fired for that, Bob.

 [There is no response from Bob Picken]

Cactus Jack continues: You can hear the murmurs from the crowd as the gentle giant Lynwood Graham has gone to the home end of the sheet to hold the broom for Neuro de G. after that huddle with the Altamont curlers at the far end. You know, it is very hard to see or hear what is going on in those huddles. Perhaps the Blue Bombers could learn a few things on that score.

Bob Picken (breathless): Sorry Jack, I missed some of that as I was tending to some… uh… personal business. It is awfully close quarters here and somehow your elbow hit me on the nose.

[2-second pause]

Bob Picken (determined to continue a battle of idioms): You never miss a trick, do you Jack? Maybe the Devil was at play?

Cactus Jack: Well, this certainly is a surprise Bob. Do you see where Lynwood Graham has placed that broom? It is about a foot, a mere 12 inches, from the right wall looking out from the house. And it literally is the wall of the building folks.

Bob Picken: I don’t think that I have ever seen such a dramatic placement of the broom – at least not since the Wicked Witch of the West in the Wizard of Oz, or perhaps Cinderella.

[Remember, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer produced The Wizard of Oz in 1939. Disney produced the animated version of Cinderella in 1950 but did not make Mary Poppins until 1964 and Bedknobs and Broomsticks until 1971.]

Cactus Jack: And Altamont would certainly be a Cinderella team if they can pull this off. The excitement is building and the building is dead quiet. Neuro de G. is in the hack and he begins his back swing very deliberately, his corn broom out in his left hand providing him some semblance of balance.

Bob Picken: Jumpin’ Jehoshaphat Jack! They are calling for the out turn, which under normal circumstances would curl the rock right into the wall! They expect this rock to back up against the turn!

Cactus Jack: Holy Hannah! They must know something we don’t, Bob.

Bob Picken: That was a pretty amazing back swing for de Generative – about 8 inches off the ice surface. [Probably less than a 1/10 Watson, not named after the legendary Ken Watson who perfected the long slide, but after Ken’s brother Grant who had a very high back swing.]

Cactus Jack (his voice sounding as if he was jumping in his seat – a jumping Jack): Yes! And his rock came crashing to the ice! The shot stayed on course only by his amazing ability to prop up his left side with his corn broom during his slide! He must have practiced that maneuver!

[It is true that de Generative came out of the hack in a crazily precarious position but he did so with a devilishly, determined grin as he mustered up every ounce of strength to overcome Bradykinesia and rigidity. There was no question that all of Neuro’s neuropathways were focussed on powering that stone down the ice, dead on target. It wobbled, trembled and shook, not from speed but from an uncertain centre of gravity transferred to it by its propellant.]

Cactus Jack again picks up the play by play: Holy Hell, that shot is a long way out there on that untested, frosty ice. I hope I don’t get fired for that Bob. I don’t see anything good from this shot. Bert Marshall is the sole sweeper, tickling the ice with his old corn broom. No slap, slap slap of raw power there.

Bob Picken (in a deliberate understatement): Bert is known for playing the quiet game.

Cactus Jack: Lynwood Graham is coming out from the house to lend a hand sweeping. The other Altamont sweeper, Charlie Taylor, is on the sidelines barking out instructions on sweeping technique. That stone is still very close to the wall, a long way from the centre line and from that first stone it must strike, … and still with the wrong turn.

Bob Picken (incredulously): You know Jack, I think that rock is starting to bend. … Against the turn! … Yes it is, and Bert Marshall is really starting to put his back into the broom. His tickle has become a massage and he is kneading the ice with renewed fervour. Lynwood Graham’s forearms are bulging and literally popping!  His broom seems close to snapping! That rock is speeding up and moving across the ice as if going downhill!    

[In the background, de Generative’s voice can be heard yelling as he follows the rock down the ice, focussed and following but not falling]

Neuro de Generative: HURRY HARD HAAAARRRRD! SWEEP YOU CRAZY BASTARDS! HAAAAARRRRRRDDDDDERRR!

Cactus Jack: I hope he doesn’t get fired for that, Bob.

Bob Picken: Maybe he knows their ancestry better than we do, Jack. (pause … then raising his voice) That rock, as improbable as it seems is now on a line and has the right weight to hit that front rock and start a domino sequence that may well clear the house!

Cactus Jack: Let’s listen….

[Sounds are heard: Crack!crack/crack, crack, … bonk, bonk, bonk … tap.]

[silence… and… “ecnelis” which is silence played backwards specifically for the Devil … then pandemonium breaks out!]

Cactus Jack (now yelling to be heard above the din): All Hell has just broken loose! I know, I know… but I don’t think I will get fired for that.

[Sounds are often deceptive and may outright lie if the sound effects staff are good at their jobs. Be it known though, that there was no need to augment or embellish the sounds of Neuro’s stone reaching its target.  Smoothly and more quickly than most human eyes could comprehend, Neuro de Generative’s stone seemed to have cleared the house with the possible exception of one rock at the back of the rings. It appears to be out but the Devil’s third Darth Vader disagrees and in his usual breathy, ominous, sonorous voice calls for a measurement.]

Cactus Jack: Who would have thought that Neuro de G’s rock would have such an impact, so to speak? The Devil’s team has called for a measure. If Neuro’s rock is in, then Darth Vader will have a two shot cushion and Vader can afford to leave one stone in the rings to win and two for a tie sending the game into an extra end. Under that scenario Altamont can win only if Darth Vader leaves at least three stones in the rings. If de Generative’s rock is out, then Darth Vader must clear the house to win.  One stone left and its a tie.

Bob Picken: It is still an enviable position for the Devil, Jack, as they have control of their own destiny…. Come to think of it though, no one has ever seen Darth Vader throw a curling stone. What do you think he will do?

Cactus Jack: We’ll have to wait and see, as we’ll be back with the result of the measurement and Darth Vader’s throw after these messages.

Network Announcer: This special broadcast of Devil Challenge Curling on DEVL 666 is brought to you by Devil’s Food cake, equally perfect for birthdays and midnight snacks; and by the Dirt Devil “Broom Broom” Vac, great for cleaning up cake crumbs. Both items are now on sale at all DevilMart locations. Now back to Cactus Jack Wells.

Cactus Jack (not knowing he is back on air): I hope there is seven – minute frosting on that Devil’s Food cake, Bob.

Bob Picken (also not knowing they are on air): I prefer dark chocolate ganache myself.

Cactus Jack (still oblivious): But neither of them is as good as a cold Blue.

Cactus Jack: We’re back! Holy cow Bob! The measurement showed that the rock was indeed counting so another point is added to the Altamont score. Darth Vader needs to clear seven rocks with his last stone to win outright. If he leaves two rocks, it will be a tie.

Bob Picken: Yes, that rock counted against the Altamont team as it was a biter after all.

Cactus Jack: A real nail biter, you say? The crowd didn’t like that much but they are going crazy here supporting the Altamont squad! 

Bob Picken: Yes, it is a bit brighter for the Devil’s team. It just shows you how important it is to measure those rocks when it is not clear if they are counting. In this case, there seemed to be white space between the hitting surface of the rock and the edge of the ring. However, trying to ascertain the exact position is difficult because the rock is beveled and round, and the ring is round.  

Cactus Jack: Don’t be bedeviled by the bevel, eh Bob?

Bob Picken: You know Jack; so much depends on the accuracy of those who paint the rings. If the ring painter is having a bad day or is a little “under the weather” from too much cake or too much Blue, if you know what I mean, then the rings themselves may be a little off centre or not perfectly round.

Cactus Jack: I don’t think that would ever happen here in Altamont, Bob.

Bob Picken: chuckles

Cactus Jack: The Altamont team and supporters have now realized that they are so very close to upsetting the most feared team in Curling. Only a very few know just what is at stake but they know the Devil doesn’t fuck around. I hope I don’t get fired for that Bob, but it does describe the seriousness of this situation.

Bob Picken: You might get fired for that Jack, but you can hope that the brass in Toronto are sleeping.

[Remember, (this begs the question of whether you can remember something that you can’t remember but we will leave that for now) neither Cactus Jack nor Bob Picken know that they will not remember anything because the Devil wipes all cerebral hard drives clean after the event… except for Dick Mussell’s that is… and Dick really doesn’t care about the language, having heard it all before. Anyway, Dick wouldn’t fire anyone even if he could.]

Cactus Jack: (…static…) So, what the Hell is going on here? Darth Vader was to throw last stone for the Devil’s rink but he now seems to be holding the broom…er…light sabre… (static)… for the Dev… (breaking up static) … not much… (static)… ice… (….bbbbbbbbzzzzzzzzz… silence.)

[Voices fade and strangely modulating static is the only sound]

Network Announcer (breaking in): We apologize as we are having problems with the transmission from the Altamont Rink. Our trouble shooters tell us that relay transmitters near Somerset and Homewood, Manitoba are temporarily out of commission. We will return to the broadcast as soon as possible. In the meantime, we take you to Stewart McPherson and the Political Pundit Panel (P3) discussing why the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) will never form the government in Manitoba.

Stewart McPherson: Hell will freeze over if the CCF ever….

[Note: the CCF would become the New Democratic Party (NDP) 6 months later and form the government in Manitoba for 32 of the next 55 years. There is no word on whether Stewart McPherson is in a warm or a cold place.]

At this point the broadcast breaks off. For those who care, Stewart McPherson did not get fired.

We learn later that a mysterious gravitational wave of unprecedented proportion and unknown origin caused the radio signal “to skip” into the upper atmosphere where it bounced off an asteroid and was picked up by a transmitter in Tasmania on its return to earth. Apparently, the broadcast caused much concern that Tasmanian Devils were at risk of being stoned by “Dunbars.”

Does the ‘evil’ in Devil mean anything?

It has taken over 40 years of research and study but I have finally been able to piece together from a variety of sources the following account that, I believe, presents the facts fairly.

You may recall that Darth Vader was to deliver the last rock for Idle Rocks are the Devil’s Curling Club. So, why was the Devil heading toward the hack and Darth Vader was standing in the house with the rocks? Something was afoot…. or ahoof.

Bart IMG_4822

Bartholomew knows more about the Devil than he cares to admit.  Photo: The PD Gardener  2015

The Devil pulled a fast one, as they say. Deep in the Good vs Evil Rule Book is a little known provision, “The Devil you say? Rule” that permits the Devil to change His mind and insert Himself into the line up at any time in a Devil’s challenge game. This is precisely what he did. The Altamont team protested at length (Lynwood Graham’s ears turned red, Murray Stockford uttered a strong Gaaarrrrsssshhhh! Charlie Taylor almost swallowed his lit cigarette, ash and all) but the Devil’s argument that there is no point being a Devil if you can’t do things that are devilishly sinister and outright bad, won the day. How would you know the Devil was evil if He had to follow the rules all the time?

“That makes no sense,” argued the Devil. “And rules are for sissies,”He added for good measure.

Besides, the Devil threatened not to fulfill His end of the bargain if they didn’t agree. This threat is really a variant of the old school yard threat: “If I don’t get my way, I will take my bat and ball and go home.” Put that way, everyone understood and the Devil was allowed to throw the last stone – a result no different than the result from the schoolyard threat where ownership of the tools of the game are key to the continuation of the game. Everyone had too much invested in the game at this point to let it end at this point, if you get my point.

I doubt if there was anyone in the Altamont Rink at that moment who didn’t think this move ended any chance for the Altamont team to win. The Devil could muster furious speed and stupidly outrageous power to his throw – “sick” as my daughter would say. The chances that any rock would remain in the rings after the Devil threw were “slim and none, and Slim left town” as I always say to irritate my children.

The Devil looked down at the hack, a hole in the ice with a short piece of wood frozen into it at the back.  Instinctively He tried to settle into the right side hack with His left foot (His strong side) but it was not designed for His cloven hoof. He rooted around the hack until enough ice had been chipped away too accommodate His hoof and then grasped the stone’s handle with His left hand. For thousands of years left-handed movements have been attributed to the Devil and I am not saying that His comfort level with left handed throwing of a “Dunbar” is proof of anything.  I am merely describing the scene.

The Devil stared down the ice at Darth Vader who was using his light sabre as a broom indicating the ice necessary to make this shot. It was laughable. At the speed the Devil was planning, the rock would be unlikely to move more than 0.000001 mm between the hack and impact. Nevertheless Vader waved his light sabre (zzzmmuuubzuhzzzzzzzuhzzzzzuhzzzz) over all the rocks in the house to emphasize the obvious: he wanted all the rocks removed. Vader then carefully placed the light sabre just off the centre of the target rock. It would be a slight in turn for the left-handed Devil.

The Devil took the rock back slowly as if His back swing would be a short one, but it gained momentum as it approached vertical over the Devil’s head in what appeared to be an exaggerated Pee Wee Pickering delivery. Just as the rock reached the optimum point at the apex such that its weight, combined with the Devil’s stupendous Satanic strength, pulled it back down through the same arc in reverse, the force and speed caused the air in the rink to rush ahead towards the spectator end with a loud “BOOM” (perhaps, the sound barrier had been broken?) rattling the windows and breaking a few panes in the viewing area.  The spectators ducked and gasped, “WHAT THE ….? “

The Devil still managed to hold the rock handle lightly with what looked like two bony fingers. Smoke trailed off as an intense heat spread through the stone exposing and melting impurities and threatening to turn the 44 lbs of granite into lava. The Devil’s cloven right hoof scraped out across the ice in an awkward yet strangely powerful slide causing spectators’ teeth to curl, and more than one set of false teeth hit the floor beneath the bleachers. The Devil’s fingers were still lightly touching the rock handle and His eyes were lasers fixed on Darth Vader’s light sabre. His aim was deadly accurate as His fingers left the handle just before the hog line. (He wouldn’t want to break any rules now, would He?) The rock sailed down the ice with a wobble and a tilt every few feet, the ice not just melting under it but catching fire even though the rock never touched its surface. Its velocity was fearsome and it was still accelerating as it crossed the far hog line towards its target. In spite of the forces of physics being applied to it, the rock stayed on its precision course and struck the intended rock with a blinding flash, an ear splitting release of energy as fragments of rock flew like shrapnel through the walls, roof and windows. The Devil’s eyes shone red illuminating the rink with a queer, pinkish glow as icy crystals in the frosty night air melted into watery strawberry Kool-Aid.

The viewing area benches were vacant… but the bathrooms (primitive as they were) were full. Both teams remained on the ice although they had retreated a respectful distance away from the anticipated impact. Darth Vader breathed several deep electronic breaths before diving way down for those basal tones (not as good as James Earl Jones but acceptable) to intone, “Take that, Willie MacCrimmon.”

Smoke and stone dust slowly drifted away. All eyes turned to the house to assess the damage, to witness first hand the carnage, to determine the number of stones (if any) that remained in play. The vice-skips of both teams gathered at the button, their curling shoes sloshing through melted puddles marking the trail of the Devil’s rock. One stone remained in the rings – a biter barely touching the twelve-foot ring at eleven o’clock. No one had to count on his or her fingers. The Devil had won by that count!

The Altamont squad sat in stunned silence.

There was no cheering, no shouts of congratulations, and no pats on the back by the Devil’s team, but they stood together in cocky silence and in awe, themselves, of the sheer magnitude of the phenomenon they had just experienced. Neither Mother Nature, nor any other Supreme Being worthy of the name, could have delivered such sound and fury.

It is too bad for the Devil that He did not read up on “sound and fury.” If He had He would have known that

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing – Macbeth Act 5, Scene 5.

The erudite Altamont curlers and fans still held out hope that the “signifying nothing” part meant that the Devil was s— out of luck. [I think the quotation is accurate although the interpretation may be not be as intended.]

In the meantime, the Devil took a moment to reflect on the accomplishment. He was so proud of Himself. The Devil had been plagued (normally He liked plagues) by a very long losing streak and He was thrilled to get that monkey off His back. The Devil’s defeat to Willie MacCrimmon was avenged and His defeat at the hands of Johnny the Fiddler documented in Charlie Daniels’ The Devil went down to Georgia would not hurt quite so much now.

The list of defeats the Devil has suffered is just too long to chronicle; many have been clouded by the passage of time; some have been invented and misrepresented by those with a vested interest to promote themselves as vanquishers of evil; many have been embellished beyond belief; and some are pure fiction, plain and simple. But the Devil’s victory in Altamont – a match of skill, ability, intelligence, and strength in a game played extensively by the good God-fearing citizens of this fair-minded community where few denizens of evil dared to tread – was as close as the Devil had ever come to defeating a contingent approved by the Heavenly Spirit Himself/Herself (or Heavenly Father if you must.) No small victory in the Devil’s eyes.

In that moment, the moment where no one had jumped for joy and come down upon a rock still in question, a move that could be called a “LaBonte” after Bob LaBonte of the United States who burned a rock while jumping for joy in an apparent victory over Orest Meleschuk of Canada before the total count in the end had been agreed by both teams. It was the final game of the 1972 Air Canada Silver Broom (World Championships) in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany and the LaBonte miscue left the game tied after the 10th end. Canada would go on to win the Championship in an extra end. Labonte, it is said, placed a curse on the Canadian team and Canada would not win another world championship until 1980, eight years later. I relay this happening to provide descriptive context only, as neither team would have been aware of this event during their 1961 tussle because the Altamont team was human and the LaBonte event was just outside of the Devil’s 10-year prescience factor.

The Devil wins?

But, where was I? Oh yes, in that moment, a quiet somewhat squeaky voice piped up on the boardwalk separating the curling ice from the skating ice. It was none other than Gordon Holliston, that long time resident of Altamont, a member of one of the pioneering families of the district, a member of the first Altamont team to win the O’Grady Challenge Trophy, and the first person to address the Devil when He burst into the Rink earlier that evening. Gordon, afflicted by osteoarthritis in his hip, had walked quietly with his characteristic limp, to a spot just beside the curling rings. He looked straight at the Devil and said,

“By jjjjove, I don’t… I don’t think… I don’t think you have… c.. c.. c.. ccounted… counted all the stones… No Siree.”

Upon seeing Gordon Holliston beside the rings, that old feeling of unease and creepiness the Devil always felt when He was in the Altamont Rink (except in the restrooms)  returned. His blood was beginning to run cold again. The good citizens of this community were just too wholesome and not vain enough to be enticed into corruption.

Devil enraged IMG_0003

The Devil’s blood pressure was spiking! Photo: unknown

Like all brats, the Devil held His breath and strained until His face turned red (not blue but redder than red) and His blood pressure began to rise to a reading that would have blown the cuff of the arm of any mere mortal.  Steam slowly seeped up from the scales on the Devil’s neck.

 

 

Darth Vader’s light sabre cut threateningly through the air as he breathed in his most irritatingly breathy voice, “What do you mean, old man?” (vvvrrroooommbzuhzzzzzzzuhzzzzzuhzzzz)

“M… M… Mr. Holliston … to… to… to… to you,” Gordon replied and pointed out two quite small but noticeable chunks of granite still remaining in the house. These chunks were in addition to the biter previously counted. The Devil’s shot had wreaked havoc as it collided with its intended target and careened off other rocks in the ring. ‘Smithereens’ may be the operative word here. The question was: Are those chunks counting stones?

Gordon Lowry, a contemporary of Gordon Holliston’s, pulled out a well thumbed copy of the Rules of Curling for General Play and went immediately to Rule 4 (2) [later to be Rule 4 (4)] which states

If a stone is broken in play, a replacement stone shall be placed where the largest fragment comes to rest. The inside edge of the replacement stone shall be placed in the same position as the inside edge of the largest fragment with the assistance of a measuring stick.

That seemed to answer the question but was it the whole answer?

If chunks count, how many chunks count?

As is often the case, one answer just leads to another question: Were the chunks from the same stone or from two different stones? The implication is obvious. Different stones meant two additional rocks in the rings and the Devil loses. If it were only one stone the game would be tied and an extra end (or ends) would be played.

Darth Vader and Lynwood Graham surveyed the chunks and it became apparent that it would be time consuming and finicky work to reconstruct the stones to a state where they could determine the origin of both chunks. As curling is often left to the fair play of the competitors (even if one team is the Devil’s), the teams huddled and agreed to appoint one person each to resolve the matter. They also agreed to appoint an independent fair-minded arbiter as a third person. By the way, this approach is consistent with the general rules of curling.

Although he seemed to be a bit of a know it all, the Altamont team nominated Bert Marshall as they perceived (rightly or wrongly) that he did know more than the rest of them on this matter.

The Devil wanted to be nominated but His team rejected Him as being a hot head and a wild card in such situations. The Devil didn’t object too strenuously as the Altamont team had already nominated Bert Marshall and the Devil was sure that Bert was on His side so it would not be necessary for Himself to be there as well. With that, the Devil’s team nominated Magnus Djävulsson as he had both Icelandic and Swedish ancestry that made it seem that he was closer to the granite of Ailsa Craig than the other players were.

Now, all that was left was to agree upon the third, independent party. But time was matching on and “time stops for no man” to misquote another proverb [Time and tide wait for no man.] It was rapidly approaching morning and first light would burn away the “stuff” that was happening and a resolution would be held in abeyance. Both teams abhorred abeyance and jointly agreed to invoke curling’s virtually unheard of Unusual Measures Rule No. 0.666. In this case, they appealed to the Devil to implement Central Suspended Time (see Part II Appendix A.)   Believe it or not, that is what happened that … longer than usual… night in Altamont.

Who is not afraid of the big, bad Devil?

Both teams looked over the individuals who were present at the rink and there was no agreement on a third party who met the “independent” criterion and was deemed honest enough to be trusted. It is not clear how her name came up but someone mentioned “Miss Armitage” and heads all around nodded agreement. No one, not even the Devil could disagree. Miss Mary Armitage was beyond reproach. Thirty-seven of her 41 years of teaching were in Altamont and she had taught two or maybe even three generations of some families.  A few “little devils” might have even passed through her classes. She lived to be just shy of 103 years old but was a very youthful and spry 59 at this time.

Altamont School

Altamont School enlarged in 1924. Photo: G. H. Robertson. Source: Archives of Manitoba, School Inspectors Photographs

Bessie McDonald was dispatched to awaken Miss Armitage from a deep sleep and summon her to the Altamont Rink. Interestingly, I have no image of Miss Armitage attending many functions at the Rink previously, or since, but no matter, she knew immediately and instinctively that her responsibility was to ensure fairness in determining the final outcome of this curling competition. And make no mistake, Miss Armitage had no fear of the Devil! A card table was pulled out into the waiting room nearest the kitchen. Miss Armitage pulled up a chair and joined Magnus Djävulsson and Bert Marshall to begin what turned out to be a tedious process.

To make a long story somewhat shorter (I am certain you are relieved to hear this) the question that needed to be answered was quite clear: Did the two fragments of curling stone left in the rings come from the same rock or from two different rocks?

Bert Marshall took out his handkerchief, blew his nose, and then folded it back into his pocket and started to explain the geological origins of Ailsa Craig granite and why some types are better than others, how the granite was harvested, how it was honed and made into curling stones and… (yawn, yawn)… it wasn’t long before Miss Armitage suggested that they better get doing what people in Altamont are very good at doing … and that is putting together jigsaw puzzles. As there were no smart phones to take photos, she instructed the carpenter Jim Sharp (the Devil bristled at the mention of his occupation) to use his carpenter’s pencil and drafting paper to make a sketch of the rings, the stones, and shards of stones left in the rings after the Devil’s shot.

Neuro de Generative and Severus Snape were dispatched to gather up every splinter and shard of granite they could find on the ice, in the spectators’ area and even outside where some shards lay, still steaming, in the snow after they were blown clean through the wooden walls and tin roof. Severus reluctantly agreed to go outside to look in every nook and cranny, under every rock, and to leave no stone unturned in his effort to find any fragment(s) of stone. Snape must be commended as the Slitherin part of his Soul was not enamoured with sliding through snow and ice. He found that it induced rigidity and Bradykinesia or slowness.

Neuro shuffled off to navigate precariously the ice surfaces of the single sheet of curling ice and the skating rink. Clearly, neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s, and the limitations that those conditions placed on individuals, were not well understood in the early 1960s. It was comical, heartbreaking, and heart warming all at once to watch Neuro on the ice but he did it. Neuro invoked “mind over matter” concentration and did not fall once, but undoubtedly his application to the Flying Wallenda’s troupe would be rejected out of hand.

Remarkably, Severus and Neuro found every last shard.

Every crack and crevice IMG_0652

Snape searched every crack and crevice Photo: unknown

The verdict

As the pieces came in, Miss Armitage, Magnus and Bert worked systematically to piece the stones back together. Bert is convincing in his argument that the stones were made from two different types of granite, one was Keanie granite and the other was Common Green granite. Both stones had been reconditioned (badly) at some point in their existence. This was not unusual as it was expensive to transport heavy curling stones to the prairies from Scotland in the early 20th Century. There was little money to purchase new stones so reconditioning, while not recommended, was a less expensive option to keep the stones in play given normal club playing conditions. But, as we know this match was far from normal.

The Keanie granite and the Common Green granite each had major flaws weakening the stone at the outset but to make matters worse, the stones had been sent for reconditioning to a knock down wholesaler, a new untried and now bankrupt Toronto firm, Devil in Disguise Rock Reconditioning (D2 R2 Ltd) of which, not surprisingly, “Broom Broom” GeoFreeZone was the principal shareholder. It all added up to the two stones not having a ghost of a chance to remain intact upon impact from the Devil’s stone.

More importantly though, the two different types of granite meant that shards of each rock were easily identified and the reconstruction went quickly. It actually wasn’t necessary to piece the stones together as it was already determined that each chunk was from a different type of granite ergo there were two stones. But Darth Vader, like most losers, insisted well past the point where he should have conceded. As expected, the reconstructions told the story. The two shards in the ring were from different rocks and two points were added to the Devil’s score making the Altamont team the winner with the lowest aggregate score.

What if there is a winner and no one celebrates?

I apologize if this news seems a bit anticlimactic but the fact is that it is quite consistent with the way the winning team and their fans felt at that moment… enervated… spent… sapped… weary… exhausted… drained… fatigued… well, you get the picture.  The Altamont Rink was stone dead quiet. The Altamont team did not move as they let it sink in. They had defeated the Devil!

But the Devil was furious! [There are no words to describe the Devil’s state of mind at this point.] His losing streak continued and He would have to suffer this blow forever in order to make good on His side of the bet.

The sssssspoilssssss of the Devil’s wager

Remember the Devil’s challenge specifically stated that to the victor would go the spoils. The Devil promised some hitherto unknown specifics in His side of the wager (Lynwood Graham negotiated the fine print sensing the Devil was outrageously overconfident of the outcome) including:

1) Curling would forever have a Gravitational Force Field drawing and holding communities together for common purpose and for the betterment of all within the community;

2) The “Stuff of Curling” would, in perpetuity, be located within the walls of the Altamont Rink and may be accessed only in the presence of a member of the Altamont Curling Club, should it be necessary;

3) Good Gravitational Force Fields will always

a) Be greater than Evil Gravitational Force Fields;

b) Include soup;

c) Have a place for trading curling pins

d) Include appropriate libations, dispensed in discrete moderation, in appropriate venues, contributing to the convivial atmosphere of Curling

e) Ensure the Beneficial Innovation always outweighs Disruptive innovation

4) Mathematical, scientific and theoretical proofs of the “Stuff of Curling” shall be elevated to the status of Natural Law.

It is not clear that the Devil had the authority to carry through with #4 but He was so cocksure that He would win, He promised it anyway. I personally think that He has that power but that He doesn’t have the obligation to divulge the specifics of that proof. So, there is more thinking to be done on the mathematical equation for “The Stuff of Curling”and it is left to us mere mortals to complete that work.

In any case, the Altamont team was exhausted and sat quietly with their fans on the benches and bleachers of the viewing area and let the magnitude of what happened slowly massage their muscles and brains into a supersaturated state of satisfaction. Debris and detritus left from the explosive end to the match slowly returned to normal on its own accord. Central Suspended Time returned to Central Standard Time. The good citizens and children of Altamont began to stir as a new day dawned.

As happens with all such encounters with the Devil, everyone would leave the Rink with their cerebral hard drives wiped clean of all knowledge of the events of the night – everyone that is except for Dick Mussell who had escaped a complete hard drive wiping in a previous encounter, and having an exceedingly plastic brain was able to harness neuroplasticity to develop new neuropathways allowing him to avoid the Devil’s neurological tricks. Dick rode Queenie back to his shanty, wondering who would ever believe this story. He continued to curl but with a new respect for the game.

Dick never told anyone about the Devil’s Challenge for many years until one night on the anniversary of the Challenge, the Altamont Hotel was empty except for him, and three guys named Scotty, Buster and Phil. They believed Dick. And they told me. And I believe them. Indeed, I stake my personal reputation on the fact that they are unassailable as characters

AFTERMATH, AFTERWORD, AFTERTHOUGHTS AND ANALYSIS (4A)

As always, after a hard fought competition between two combatants steadfast in their determination to vanquish the other, there is a need to analyze what transpired and tidy up a few loose ends. Have you ever noticed that after any sporting event whether it is hockey, baseball, curling, football, soccer (football,) cricket, track and field, swimming or any other Olympic sport, the broadcasters always schedule time for highlights and analysis?

With that in mind, let’s join Cactus Jack Wells and Bob Picken who will be joined by Winnie (farmer, sportsman and old time fiddler, Winston ”Winnie” Simpson of Deerwood, Manitoba) and Windy (farmer and sportsman, Lloyd “Windy” Orchard of Miami, Manitoba) for a foray into 4A. Now, you need to know that Winnie was a jovial kind of guy, a decent athlete, and he would become a moving force in old time fiddle music in Manitoba. Windy, equally talented and respected as an athlete and umpire/referee, came by his nickname honestly as he loved to talk, and he particularly loved to talk to Winnie. I don’t know who put them both on the same panel but it had to be someone who did not want any dead air.  In the interests of brevity, what follows is a somewhat abridge version of what the post mortem on the Devil’s defeat might have sounded like with Cactus Jack, Bob, Winnie and Windy.

Cactus Jack: Welcome to the Foray into 4A Panel with Bob, Winnie, Windy and your host, yours truly, Cactus Jack.

[Rustling sounds in the background – no, not cattle rustling!]

Cactus Jack: Well, it turned out nice again didn’t it?

Bob Picken: It turned out nice for the Altamont squad anyway, Jack. The citizens of Altamont are certainly ecstatic. Ooops, I didn’t mean to say “static.” Hope we don’t lose any listeners because of radio transmission problems.

Cactus Jack: I don’t think you will get fired for that, Bob.

Cactus Jack (continuing): let’s get the views of our local experts, Winnie and Windy. Winnie, what are your thoughts?

[It was a mistake to ask Winnie for his thoughts as he proceeded to outline his plans for an old time fiddlers’ festival, a new weekly music program on CFAM Altona and his views on the Chicago Blackhawks’ chances to win the Stanley Cup before Cactus Jack could get a word in edgewise.]

[There are some scuffling sounds.]

Cactus Jack: Wow Winnie! You sure can talk fast and you have a strong grip on that microphone, don’t you?  I don’t usually have to say this but let me be a little clearer, what would you say is the one thing that appeared to tip the balance in this match?

Winnie: Well, I arrived a little late because I had to load some pigs to be shipped to Winnipeg in the morning. I had to find some of my young hockey players to help me out. Slippery little devils they are – the pigs that is, not the hockey players.

[A few chuckles from Bob and Windy]

Winnie: The turning point – you know, that would make a good ballet movie – was when the Devil thought that Bert Marshall had agreed to sell his Soul. The Devil seemed to be overconfident after that conversation.

Bob Picken:  I agree with you Winnie, there should be a venue for old time fiddlers to fiddle their old times away in Manitoba. Glad to see you are working on that – the Devil is a wicked fiddler, you know.

Cactus Jack: Well, we won’t fiddle with the facts.  Windy what’s your point of view on the turning point?

Windy: I never excelled in ballet, Jack – unless you count the time I did a grand jeter across a large of pile of bullshit spread by my friend Winnie here! [Outright laughter from several individuals.]

Windy continuing: Seriously though folks, the turning point was when Neuro de Generative threw his Dunbar with the out turn and it fell away from the turn into the house. That shot, was one of the most remarkable shots I have ever seen. I think there is a story to be told around that one – and I hope that I get to hear it because I have already thought of a dozen ways to make it a better story.

Winnie: You know, I heard that Neuro is taking ballet lessons – he is able to avoid tremor and is better coordinated and flexible because of it. This is a real breakthrough in the treatment of neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s. [How Winnie knew this is anyone’s guess, but he never ceased to amaze as to the vastness of his knowledge and opinions.]

Windy (jumping in): I heard the Soviets are teaching ballet to their elite hockey players.

From left, Russian forwards Pavel Datsyuk, Sergei Gonchar and Evgeni Malkin, seen here at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, are expected to attend the team's Aug. 23-24 camp in Sochi, Russia, site of the 2014 Winter Games. Three little maids from school (Mikado)? or Four swans minus one (Swan Lake)? Photo: cbc.ca

 

Cactus Jack (somewhat naïvely it turns out): The Ruskies will never be dancing around our professional players and you can take that to the bank.

Bob Picken: Winnie might be on to something here. I thought that Neuro performed a marvellous allegro at the end of his delivery – it was assemble, changement, entrechat, sauté, sissone, soubresaut, if I am not mistaken.

Cactus Jack: Let’s not get carried away here. The glissade is what it’s all about in curling. Unless of course, I can get some of that Devil’s food cake with glaçage fouetté.

[Oh oh, Jack, Bob, Winnie and Windy have gone massively off script into some world I would never have dreamed they ever visited. I would ask them to do an about face but About Face is a ballet documentary of a woman who has forgotten who she is, originally commissioned by the Sydney Opera House. I am also afraid that continuing on might spark a discussion of tours en l’air and they would just keep facing the same direction irrespective of how many they performed. I doubt if they could do more than Vaslav Nijjinsky who was known to perform triple tours en l’air. I think it is best to put a halt to this pas de quatre and return to regular programing. I wonder if they got fired for this? Or maybe they were just demoted to the corps de ballet.]

Before they adopted an attitude not well understood by curling aficionados, Winnie and Windy did identify the two key elements of any post mortem of the clash of the Dunbars, Idle Rocks are the Devil’s Curling Club vs Altamont Curling Club. Did Bert Marshall sell out? And why was Neuro de Generative’s stone so effective? Let’s address each of these in turn.

What was Bert thinking?

Probably the biggest question I have and this is a question I was not able to ask our father before he passed, is whether he sold his Soul to the Devil for an elusive 8 – Ender?

It is clear that there was a conversation between the Devil and father and an 8 – Ender was part of that discussion. 8 – Enders are that difficult to achieve. If you recall, my father was in conversation with the Devil at the conclusion of the second end. I secretly hoped that it was just dad giving a long-winded answer to some question the Devil had asked. Dad was notorious for giving the complete encyclopedic version rather than Readers’ Digest version on any topic of interest. His Saskatchewan grandchildren, when directed to ask him for assistance with homework would say impatiently, “We don’t want the grandpa answer, we just want the answer. [Some say I have inherited this trait myself, but I don’t see it.]

With the benefit of hindsight and the fact that any written documentation on the Devil’s Challenge and other happenings that night have been unsealed and released to the public, we are able to piece some things together. Law stipulates that all such documents are sealed for 50 years at which time they are made available to the public. The Devil has never really worried about the release of the documents as He wipes the cerebral hard drive of all participants (except other worldly ones) so they never remember that the event even took place, much less look for incriminating information against the Devil. But recall that the Devil was not successful in fully wiping the memory of Dick Mussel in a previous heated encounter, such that Dick’s brain developed alternate neuropathways as a defense mechanism, accommodating and enhancing this new modus operandi. For example, Dick began to think the same thoughts as the Devil but trained his neuropathways not to act as the Devil acted, nor was he subject to the Devil’s will to command such action. Still, Dick remembered this vaguely and only when the Fahrenheit and Celsius scales converged at minus 40 degrees which is an interesting phenomenon in and of itself – very cold, but interesting.

 

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Is this where Fahrenheit and Celsius converge? Photo: The PD Gardener 2016

So, what was the conversation between dad and the Devil after the second end? It is a bit complicated but I will try to simplify it. The rocks at the Altamont Curing Club were a matched set and I believe were owned by the Club. There were a few other sets of stones around and they were owned by some of the early settlers e.g., Fraser, Holliston, Madill, Lowry, who came predominantly from the Ottawa Valley in Ontario. These stones were not always as well matched or as well made but they served when extra stones were required at bonspiels.

It appears that the Devil’s Challenge curlers had to agree on the stones used for the set arrangement in the house but each curler could choose his own shooting rock. Bert noticed that two of the stones in the set array in the house had flaws – actually several quite serious flaws as it turns out. Someone, we are not sure who, had chosen two rocks – one made of Ailsa Craig common green granite and the other was made by the Keanie Company of so-called Keanie Granite. The strike bands of both rocks had several nick’s, potholes, and some deep, large, flat spots and big chips, some in the middle of the flat spots. These rocks had only a stem handle and not the full cap cover that you see today so they were much less sturdy and were prone to split. How these rocks were selected is not clear. Perhaps someone (or more than one someone) on either side hid them deliberately; perhaps they were entered into play surreptitiously after the match started; perhaps they were simply oversights or the result of carelessness. No matter, they were there after the second end and Bert spotted them.

Bert always had an interest in plants and vegetation but he also was very interested in geology – rocks and land forms. Don’t forget he was also the former proprietor of a pool hall with a keen sense of the angles necessary to ricochet and bank balls into the appropriate pockets, or to play billiards, that game of angles and deft shot making mastered by the old timers such as Gordon Lowry and Gordon Madill in Altamont. [In billiards, these two Gordons plus Gordon Holliston constituted a “triple Gordon!”]

The Devil had last shot in the third and last, barring a tie, end. He had been observing keenly the success or lack of success of all previous shots re: first rock struck and the resulting outcomes. He was seeking a new path as no one was perfect in the first two ends. Of course, Bert couldn’t help himself and he was analyzing it six ways from Sunday as well, voicing his opinion out loud from time to time.

So, the Devil situated himself quite close to Bert and whispered, “if you give me an idea I use, I will make it worth your while.”

Bert took out his handkerchief and blew his nose because … well because that is what he always does. Bert just looked a bit off to the side and whispered, “I always wanted to score an 8 – Ender.”

The Devil looked incredulous – and snorted a warm little snort ending with, “That seems like a chance I can’t afford to pass up because I can reject your idea at no cost if I disagree.”

Bert laughed a similar low laugh but without the Devil’s snort and said, quietly but firmly, “the angle on that there rock in the front 12 foot is best if you” (and here Bert screwed up his mouth a little bit and sort of forced the words through his lips) ” just tick it with your very best Dunbar weight – but you have to throw it like I have never seen you throw it before!” At these last words, Bert’s nostrils expanded outward like little bulbs, his lips pursed tensely and his cheeks were all puffed out as he pushed the words out emphasizing the extreme weight the Devil would have to throw. [How my father knew how hard the Devil had ever thrown before is a mystery to me.]

The Devil was pensive for a moment. His tail swished slowly back and forth and it seemed like he was in another world … or maybe in the nether world. I am certain that He was reviewing my father’s penchant for being detailed in his analysis; his knowledge of angles and deflections from his days as a proprietor of a pool hall; his strong desire to be known for an accomplishment in sports where he had not excelled historically; and his apparent knowledge of scientific formula re: effect of speed and force on impact with stationary objects.

The Devil breathed a smoky response, “The shot you propose makes a lot of sense and is worth the risk. You have a deal. You shall score an 8 – Ender, regardless of whether my shot is successful.” The Devil was also feeling a certain degree of confidence because Bert had just reminded Him of the enormous magnitude of speed and force with which He actually could propel a rock – and He had not yet thrown at his maximum. This potential would surely clear the House He reasoned and He had no reason to let the Altamont team think anything other than Bert had sold them out, sold his Soul to the Devil and defeated them. The Devil was content for the moment because the expenses (location fees, de-commissioning and de-consecration fees, administrative costs, storage fees, applicable Soul transfer taxes, and re-stocking charges) of collecting Souls from those who had sold them was often more than the price the Soul would fetch at market. The market for Manitoba Souls was soft at that moment, so the Devil did not make the deal conditional on Bert selling his Soul.

Bert blew his nose again, folded his handkerchief and put it in his pocket and barely audible through his little chuckle laugh told the Devil, “Dash it all, I just knew you would be up for just this type a thing.”

Interestingly, Bert knew that the market in Souls had been depressed for some time and if I asked him now, he would say something like this, “the dash darned capitalists” (as he was fond of saying) “like that fool guy who was a Canadian and became a Brit and now wants to be a Canadian again, are up to their gosh darned necks in flooding the danged market with cheap Souls, just to keep the Devil from driving the price of Souls through the roof, and to let the Devil know that He isn’t the only game in town when it comes to buying Souls.” [At this point Bert would blow his nose into his handkerchief.] He would then add, “And the gov’nmint is up to its neck in covering this type a thing up, you know.” [As an aside, I am fairly sure of what Bert would say about Donald Trump and cheap Souls.]

To make a long story short, it seems that the Devil and father did indeed make a deal in which father would score an 8-Ender within his lifetime if father could convince the Devil to take the shot he recommended – if the Devil had not thought of it first.   Just like that – there was no Soul on the line and Bert would score his prized 8 – Ender.

Not so fast you say? What was the Devil getting in the deal? The Devil got the recommended best shot from my father who had been studying all the angles and physics of the situation. But what Bert didn’t tell the Devil and what the Devil didn’t know and was too overconfident to waste time exploring, was that two flawed stones were now in the set array in the house. Bert was certain they would self-destruct upon impact from the Devil’s stone. This made it a very low risk play from Bert’s perspective.  Shards of stone would undoubtedly remain in the rings causing the Devil to count at least two more than He wanted.

Our father was not a risk taker although he had taken some calculated risks in his lifetime. He had also faced up to some frightening experiences. In WW II he was Stoker First Class in the HMCS Uganda which saw action in the South Pacific. A farm boy from the prairies working out of sight of the sun and away from the fresh air of the outside world in the bowels of a steamy engine room (temperatures could reach 130ºF or 54.44ºC ) of a massive ship with 6-inch guns, loaded with munitions and torpedoes, must have been a surreal experience indeed. In some ways he must have felt as if he was close to the Devil’s quarters in those engine rooms. Maybe that is why he never “sweated it” when in close contact with the Devil. [Our father always wore a sweater even before he became an “old man.”]

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Stokers in HMCS Uganda forward engine room. No flames but Hell in other ways. Photo: B. Marshall circa 1945

Is it coincidence that the HMCS Uganda (renamed HMCS Quebec) was on her way to Osaka, Japan on the very night (January 28, 1961) of the Devil’s Challenge? The Uganda would arrive in Osaka on February 6, 1961 to be scrapped. Ironic, isn’t it that it was only a little over 15 years earlier that the Uganda was shelling Okinawa? Perhaps, that is why Bert was able to recognize an opportunity to play the Devil’s own game and entice Him into taking a shot that would target the weaknesses and flaws in the stones, ending with the Devil defeating Himself.

In the decades to come our father made a gutsy decision to return to community college in his mid-forties to retrain as a stationery engineer. He found employment in the power plants of the pulp mill in The Pas, Manitoba and at CFS Dana radar base in Saskatchewan. He was always respectful of the sheer power harnessed within those boilers and I have to believe this made him a prime candidate to understand the fiery Hell where the Devil made His home.

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Fiery entrance to Hell  Photo: unknown

The deal with the Devil was a low risk play and I guess Bert figured if he was only going to get one chance at achieving such a low probability event as an 8 – Ender, this was likely it. So he grasped it.

Of course, I have no definitive proof that my father ever made such a deal with the Devil but the raconteur in me says that this makes for a better story than simply saying, “my father once scored an 8-ender in curling.” That seems a bit anticlimactic to me.

The inside story on Neuro de Generative’s last rock

Lloyd “Windy” Orchard correctly identified a second mysterious area for analysis. The rock thrown by Neuro de Generative defied all logic. It is not too hard to figure out though. Natural ice always has its quirks and there always was a little rise (a “hill” or “hump”) about 10 feet in front of the house and to the right on the home end. I seem to recall it always being there. Perhaps, it was a drainage issue from the roof or a small underground stream that ran when the water table got a little higher. Who knows? We just played around it so to speak. Sometimes, if the rocks in the house were situated just right you could use it to your advantage by having your stone slide right off that hump into the rings under cover. I was in Grade 5, I believe, and I was on a rink skipped by Doug Warsaba. We were playing for third place in the school bonspiel and rather than this being cleverness on our part, our opponent caught this slope on a takeout shot and slid by our stone giving us the victory and my first ever curling prize – a funky photo album with a rock and roll theme cover. Funny what you remember over the years, eh?

In fact, the take away (not the take out) from this event is that the “stuff of curling” is as much about losing as winning. For every winner there is a loser and vice-versa. It is not for one to gloat, as it may well be just good or bad fortune as to why you sit in one place or another, rather than skill, knowledge and ability.

But, know this, in the case of the last rock thrown by Neuro de Generative, every last member of the Altamont Curling Club knew about this “hump” and they knew Neuro would throw that stone, with the wrong turn, “banking” so to speak on it sliding down that sloping “hump” at the optimum angle and speed to effect the maximum damage on the rocks in the rings.   No Altamont player threw it earlier because they did not want to reveal the strategy to the Devil who would instruct Magnus and Johnson to follow suit. In addition, Altamont was certain that the Devil would find a way to throw last rock and they knew that he would not play such a conservative shot if de Generative played immediately ahead. The Devil was just itching to unleash His supercharged, nuclear warhead, curling “Dunbar” – a shot that would give rise to the words “shock and awe” years ahead of their time.

So it was that a wrong turn rock sliding off the “hump” made Neuro de Generative and all members of the Altamont Curling Club team unlikely heros that night, preserving Curling’s integrity.

It is here that you discover that curling is equal parts craft, art, science, sport, and other “stuff” ranging from the ephemeral beauty of a well played shot or game to the quality of soup in the bonspiel kitchen.

Last words (best words?) from some of our characters

The Gravitational Force of Curling is the greatest Force on earth. May the Force be with you – Darth Vader (gracious in defeat)

What will you do when you don’t have Me to kick around any longer? – The Devil (not so gracious in defeat)

“I am not a crook” – Bert Marshall (a bit defensive in victory)

It was…It was…  nnnever, never in … in … in ddddoubt – Gordon Holliston (half of the double Gordon)

What, me worry? – Charlie Taylor (half of the two Charlies)

I still think it is all about the soup! – The PD Gardener (with apologies to my mother)

My memory isn’t what it used to be though… – Dick Mussell (but still remembering what others can’t)

Dick would never lie to us about something this important … and we would never lie to you. – Three guys named Scotty, Buster and Phil (taken at face value)

SWEEP YOU CRAZY BASTARDS! – Neuro de Generative (best sweeping yell ever)

I hope someone writes a fiddle tune about the Devil. – Winston “Winnie” Simpson. (The Devil went down to Georgia was written by Charlie Daniels in 1979.)

Well, it turned out nice again, didn’t it? – Cactus Jack Wells (a familiar signature line)

You can say that again, Jack. – Bob Picken (always a team player on the broadcast)

Well, it turned out nice again, didn’t it? – Cactus Jack Wells (I don’t think he will get fired for this)

Afterword

I had a great deal of fun writing this three part series. From its earliest moments as a foggy idea, it has both entertained me (if no one else) and challenged me to meld fact, fiction and fantasy in a way that, I hope, provides insight into life at a very particular time, in a very particular place, in the context of a very particular activity. I am usually not so particular about things.

Have I defined “The stuff of Curling?”  Sort of, and sort of not. That is not the point. The point is that anyone who has thrown more than a tonne of rocks knows that there is such a concept; it is tangible and palpable in any curling setting. You can’t fully comprehend what it entails unless you have put in your time on the ice or in the viewing areas. Try it. You’ll see.

Normally, I would never compare curling and Parkinson’s disease in this manner but you can also never know Parkinson’s unless you are a Person with Parkinson’s (PwP) or you have put in your time in a direct way with PwP e.g., spouse, lover, family member, partner, caregiver, health professional (neurologist, research scientist, physiotherapist, speech pathologist, pharmacist, psychologist, psychiatrist, dietician, etc.) home care services, health policy analysts and advocates, personal and group exercise trainers, fundraisers, and volunteers – and many more.

I have four wishes (is that too many?):

  1.  That each of you has an opportunity to curl in your lifetime.
  2.  That no one (but especially you and anyone you know) becomes a PwP.
  3.  That you (as many as it takes)  contribute to finding a cure for Parkinson’s.
  4. That you contribute (however you are able) to enhancing the quality of life for PwP, their families and their caregivers.

SOURCES

Archives of Manitoba, School Inspectors Photographs, GR8461, A0233, C131-1, page 37.

Bonspiel! The History of Curling in Canada

http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/curling/

http://www.cbc.ca/archives/entry/a-curling-community

http://www.CBC.ca/sports

The Clovers, Devil or Angel, 1956

Curl Canada, Rules of Curling for General Play, 2014 – 2018.

Charlie Daniels, The Devil went down to Georgia, 1979.

W. O. Mitchell, The Black Bonspiel of Willie MacCrimmon, McClelland and Stewart, 1993

William Shakespeare, Macbeth.

http://www.worldcurling.org/history-of-curling

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Tim Horton’s Brier, Ottawa Canada Photo: The PD Gardener 2016

© Stan Marshall (The PD Gardener)

IN SEARCH OF THE “STUFF” OF CURLING Part II: The Devil’s Challenge Trophy (“The Old Goat”)

Author’s note: this story has a mix of fiction, fantasy and fact with references to real persons. It is not difficult to recognize the differences. I hope you enjoy it.

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The PD Gardener

In this three-part series we take an excursion back to the mid-20th century small town of Altamont, Manitoba; we search for that illusive “stuff” of curling; we renew acquaintances with Altamont residents from past posts and meet new ones who quickly become fast friends; we meet a new Parkinson’s hero; we learn something about the human capacity to overcome adversity, and the price some may pay to avoid it. Learn the difference between “the Old Buffalo” and “the Old Goat.”

We have a rare insider’s perspective into an epic confrontation at the Altamont Curling Club as told to me by three guys named Scotty, Buster and Phil, who heard it from another guy named Dick. Prepare to read the play-by-play account of this fierce battle on the curling ice, a curling skills match that shapes destiny.  How much is an 8 – Ender (a perfect end) really worth?   And find out what a “Dunbar” and a “double Gordon” are anyway.

In Part I: “Is it all about the soup?” we explored the many and varied aspects of curling in an attempt to develop a theory about curling and to isolate the “stuff” of curling. No easy task. We reviewed Altamont’s successes in both women’s and men’s curling as well as the historical leadership provided by Manitoba generally on matters related to curling. On January 28, 1961 the Altamont curling Club had just won its first O’Grady Challenge Trophy (“The Old Buffalo”) and were celebrating at the Altamont Rink when the Devil made His presence known just before midnight.

Let’s continue” with

IN SEARCH OF THE “STUFF” OF CURLING

Part II: The Devil’s Challenge Trophy (“The Old Goat”)

Okay, some of you are saying, “Come on, PD Gardener! Not another story about the Devil and curling!  Surely, you can do better than that!

Yeah, yeah.  I know that not everyone is W. O. Mitchell and I should be the last one to pretend to be.  Nevertheless, I am pursuing this story line because both the muse and the other voice in my head are adamant that this narrative must be told. In the Altamont Hotel, three guys named Scotty, Buster and Phil told me the story of this strange encounter, and they heard it from Dick Mussell… and Dick was there!  I don’t believe that any of these honourable gentlemen have spoken about the details of this sporting challenge to anyone else. It turns out that I may be the sole Soul on earth who has an accurate account, as all four of these men are now deceased (and I trust, not residing with the Devil.)

I am not quite sure who introduced the Devil to curling but I don’t think that it has been a good thing.  Over the years uncorroborated sightings of the Devil at curling events and venues around the world have been logged at the “Speak of the Devil Hotline” operated out of a diner in Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen. Reports include sightings at bonspiels in what are believed to be His vacation homes in Devil’s Lake, North Dakota and Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina. He is rumoured to hold season tickets to the New Jersey Devils in the NHL and the Manchester United Football Club commonly known as the Red Devils but His boxes rarely show any signs of use. He doesn’t show much interest in the Duke Blue Devils or the Arizona State University Sun Devils either and sends a stand in if some presence is required. He seems to have parted ways with major league baseball’s Tampa Bay team who have unceremoniously dropped the Devil from “Devil Rays” to become simply, “Rays.” There are Tasmanian Devils of course but they are largely unrelated to matters of curling on ice.

In Part I of this series I noted that the clearest, documented report of the Devil’s association with curling comes from the small town of Shelby, Alberta, Canada in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. W.O. Mitchell’s The Black Bonspiel of Willie MacCrimmon captures what has been described as “one Hell of a match” and an “epic confrontation” between the Devil and Willie MacCrimmon in the 1930s. The match featured a Faustian deal between Willie and the Devil – the Devil would help Willie win The Brier (the Canadian Men’s Curling Championship) if Willie agrees to play third forever on the Devil’s rink in Hell. Willie makes a counter proposal – a challenge match for all the marbles. For the record, the Devil’s rink was suitably Devilish with Guy Fawkes shooting lead stones, Judas Iscariot at second and Macbeth as vice-skip.

Since that defeat, the Devil had been keeping a close watch on the curling scene around the country and Altamont, Manitoba caught His eye.  A week long Altamont Bonspiel was held every year in the third week in January. For such a small curling club the bonspiel was well known in southern Manitoba as a ‘spiel where you would have a good time, win or lose, and where some excellent rinks entered to hone their games away from prying eyes. The “A” draw always produced some close matches with stellar shot making on ice that could often be quite tricky. The “B” draw was equally competitive bringing out the best among the second best, so to speak. The “C” and “D” draws, while each was competitive in its own right, featured recreational curlers with a lower quality of skill no matter how you measure it. Still, to win one of these events was a thrill, capping off a great week of curling on the ice and camaraderie off the ice where you made every shot – you even made some you never tried on the ice. I am not saying that curlers tell tall tales but most curlers also fish, if you catch my drift.

Is there really a Devil?

I am not a religious person but I recall many years ago when I was playing hockey in Selkirk, Manitoba, I was invited to attend a meeting of a church council considering the ordination of one of our team’s close community supporters into the Baptist ministry. The candidate presented his desire to be called to the ministry along with his views on various matters of religious and church doctrine. A panel of ministers from other Baptist churches in the area and elders of his own church then grilled him on his knowledge of relevant scriptures and his stated positions on each doctrine.   It was very much like a defending an academic thesis.

One of the questions was “Do you believe there is a Devil?” My friend answered in words to this effect,

Yes, the Devil is real and is at work among us in ways that lead us astray. We must never be so confident as to deny the power of the Devil. For if we underestimate and ignore the Devil we will be defeated. Our challenge is to thwart the Devil’s work and to adhere to and implement the word of God through Jesus.

I recognize that neither the question nor the answer is particularly original or radical in religious and philosophic circles but allow me to expand on these ideas. My friend answered that if you believe in God you must also believe in the Devil. But it doesn’t end there; just as your belief in God is part of your identity, your belief in the Devil must also be part of that same identity. As I said, I am not a religious person and I leave it to you decide whether these ideas are consistent with your own religious beliefs, but for me, the entire concept took on new meaning after I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. I am not going to expound on those ideas here because there are other matters that I wish to explore but I do seem driven to write about Parkinson’s, self-identification and the ability to have quality of life while living with Parkinson’s. Look for a personal view in a future blog post about Parkinson’s and identity.

Where the devil was the Devil?

Truth be known, the Devil had been lurking around the Altamont Rink during the week long bonspiel and the following week in January 1961. It seems there were some “almost sightings” in odd (but not so odd for the Devil) places e.g., at the far back of the Rink there was an unlit “lean to” that passed as a men’s toilet; a place where only men whose streams were still strong and boys with bravado dared to piss. Frozen yellow icefalls reinforced the rotting studs of the thin plywood walls – solid enough in winter but rather spongy in summer – the only protection from the minus 35 degree Fahrenheit temperature and the wind that howled through the passageway from the old lumberyard and Bob Lang’s house (formerly Scott’s) past the end of the Rink, across the creek and out into the Fraser farmland, and every inch of that path was cold as Hell (feeling like minus 45F or lower with the wind.)

“Cold as Hell” – funny phrase that, as I always thought Hell was HOT!  Artificial ice is common place these days and if you don’t care about the energy costs I guess you can curl in Hell, Las Vegas…. anywhere really. However, we know that the Altamont Rink is a natural ice surface with its own peculiarities and curling is restricted to about 3 months maximum. Just time to get your game in shape and then its back to shuffleboard or travel to larger curling clubs in search of higher calibre competition.

It seems the Devil (or someone else?) did frighten some of the local women working the canteen at the bonspiel. You see, there were no real bathrooms for men at the rink at that time and in addition to the back “lean to,” they sought relief by going through the pump shed where the water well was located.  and then through another door into an unlit shed behind the kitchen.  My recollection is that there was no bucket or container to hold human waste and the floor or ground took the effluent. I highly doubt that any woman who unwittingly passed through that area just uttered, “That cheeky devil….”; It was more likely “What the Hell!!!”

There was a small women’s “restroom” between the kitchen and the pump house. I was forbidden to enter this room, ever, so I do not know much about it and I am uncertain if there was an actual place for women to go to the bathroom. In the only glimpse of the inside of the women’s restroom I recall, I saw a wall mirror mounted such that women, teenage girls, and girls too young to wear lipstick and make up, applied their lipstick and makeup.

I was too young at the time to be aware of, or concerned about, sanitation. My recollection is that the men’s so-called toilet areas were totally inadequate and in the one case was far too close to the well. The water from this well was used primarily to flood the ice surface but it was also used to refill a large bucket sitting near the pump with impossibly cold water that quenched our thirst as we skated or played hockey. I recall my lips almost freezing to the edges of the metal ladle, which, if we consider the latent heat held by the water, was perhaps, even below the freezing point. Each runny-nosed kid placed a slobbery mouth on the ladle and drank his or her fill. Some older kids attempted to avert germicidal or viral disaster by drinking with their left hand or from the front of the ladle instead of the sides. In retrospect, I believe such precautions were illusory as protection from the virus of the week. Colds and flu spread like wild fire through our community from time to time.

It is not that the good citizens of this community did not want proper sanitation or were willfully negligent in not providing it. It was very much the case that historical precedent, poverty and inertia, carried these practices forward. I know that some folks from my hometown will be offended mightily by my words here but this is how I remember it in the ‘50s and early ‘60s. It is no reflection on the people who lived there – my family lived there for goodness sake! It is however a reflection on the economy and the ability of that economy to support a population no matter how small. The population was meager and their incomes were meager to match. It was not until later in the 1960s that a grant, I believe, made new restrooms at the rink possible. The facilities did not have flush toilets or running water but it was a Red Letter Day in the community nonetheless; small steps forward.

I realize now that the Devil must have liked to hang out in restrooms, stinky ones, because I think I saw Him myself, behind the Post Office and further behind a shed where my father kept coal for the heater in the Post Office, and a few other building maintenance items. The shed and the Post Office building formed a small closed, secluded, dead end where local men went to relieve themselves if they were too far from home or the hotel. I do not believe that anything nefarious happened in that space as might have happened “in the big city,” but it was very stinky back there.

I recall that the Post Office was robbed one night and the thieves took the safe outside and around into that little stinky spot in their attempt to crack it open. They proceeded to whack it with a sledgehammer until it spilled all of its cash onto the ground – right in the prime restroom traffic and dumping area.  I remember my father laughing his sardonic little laugh, and saying he hoped they enjoyed their dirty money. The Devil probably assisted the robbers that dark night because I am certain that He was there every time I came within a nose breath of that place.

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The Devil lived in the shadows behind that shed… or is that Him by the barrel?  Photo: unknown c. 1954

The Devil is not inherently stupid although He does have His moments where His actions may appear ill advised to say the most, or down right crazy-assed silly to say the least.  Nevertheless, He did not want to repeat the humiliation of losing the deal he attempted to strike with Willie MacCrimmon in the 1930s. He had been biding His time but now the Devil was getting anxious to extract revenge. What began as a slow burn escalated over the intervening 30 years to His being steamed, inflamed, heated, and hot under the collar almost to the boiling point. He wanted to strike while the iron was hot. That is why He made His presence known at the Altamont Rink just before midnight on January 28, 1961. Little did the Altamont curlers know that the Devil was seeking ‘oh so sweet’ revenge, avenging the craftiness of Willie MacCrimmon.  He had already picked out a spot on His trophy shelf, close to the roaring, fiery furnaces of Hell in case He was able to wrest some hardware away from the Altamont do-gooders and have it melted and smelted.

One the Devil’s biggest flaws is that He is terribly vain. The Devil doesn’t see it that way though because vanity for the Devil is a desired trait. It is all a matter of perspective, isn’t it? It took all the will power the Devil could muster to keep low after that fiasco with Willie MacCrimmon. And now He could stand it no longer. Vanity won the day as soon as He learned that Altamont, that little, pipsqueak, curling club in the middle of nowhere, had won “The Old Buffalo.” He was not prepared to suffer any insolence from a band of farmers with manure on their boots and almost broke shopkeepers, curling out of a tin shed they called a “rink” with one sheet of curling ice where you had to duck hockey pucks from the adjoining skating surface every Tuesday and Thursday night and sometimes on Saturday afternoons [This may be a run-on sentence but it is reflective of the run-on thoughts that the Devil was having.] In any case, it was vanity and narrow – mindedness that brought the Devil to Altamont and those same traits allowed him to rejoice and revel in the sheer power he had to disrupt what He deemed to be a gathering of curling impostors.  In doing so, He broke a cardinal rule of the Devil – to make you think He does not exist.

“La plus belle des ruses du diable est de vous persuader qu’il n’existe pas.” [The devil’s finest trick is to persuade you that he does not exist.] – Charles Baudelaire, Paris Spleen.

The Devil tries to be so invisible that you become complacent, begin to believe that you are safe, and believe that He does not exist after all. He may lay dormant for years and then enter through an almost imperceptible rift in your very Being, perhaps a character flaw such as … take your pick … conceit, vanity or pride of which a ‘kind and caring God’ would not approve as each has elements of egotism and maybe even narcissism that may form one of the “seven deadly sins.”

Yet, pride can masquerade as a positive character trait at times, sitting as it does on the cusp of individual achievement. The desire to be successful and being proud of our successes seem to go hand in hand. It does seem though that it is not a great leap from “pride” to “egotism” or “narcissism.” But where is the tipping point from one to another? I don’t think that it is actually necessary to answer this question with any precision. The important point is to acknowledge that there is a tipping point. The Devil watches for those who have no equilibrium on such matters e.g., pride has already slipped into vanity or worse.

OK, OK, I can hear you all shouting, “What the Hell is going on with the Devil when He crashes through the door into the Altamont Rink?”

Well, first of all, He has to crash through the porch door and then the door into the waiting room – two doors, not one. Give an author a little poetic license and the next thing you know he gets the facts wrong….

Back to January 28, 1961 a few minutes before midnight ….

If you recall, the Altamont curlers were about to celebrate their victory over the Wawanesa Curling Club for their very first ever O’Grady Challenge Trophy aka “The Old Buffalo” when the Devil burst with great sound and steam, if not fury, into the Rink.

The Devil looked around the waiting room of the so-called Altamont “Curling Club” and glanced out at the one sheet of natural curling ice and wondered what it was about this place that made His blood run cold. Yes, you read correctly – the Devil’s blood was running cold! He was truly uncomfortable here – except of course in the rink’s stinky restrooms and places that passed for restrooms. The Devil correctly reasoned that not one of the fine upstanding mostly God fearing citizens was going to accompany Himself (the Devil!) to the bathroom. The air in the waiting room should have been redolent to the Devil – a mixture of hockey players’ jersey and jock strap sweat, old skate mustiness, discarded, soiled underwear and snow pants, and manure scraped from bottoms of farm boots. Still, the Devil’s blood did not respond to these fragrances. You see, the lingering aroma of Soul satiating soup – hot bonspiel soup, ironically, made the Devil’s blood continue its downward temperature plunge. His cooling blood was rapidly turning the heat down on the effectiveness of His hissssssing arrival. No self-respecting Devil wants weak sound and fury so He thought it best to issue His challenge and get the Hell out of there before He got a chill – he didn’t mind a fever, but He hated getting a cold.

So, He spat the challenge out in His best Devilish sssssspit. No, the spittoon in the Altamont Hotel would be of no help here.  Gordon Holliston had been the first to speak when the Devil arrived and the Devil preferred not to look Gordon in the eye. Instead He directed His spit at the two Charlies – Charlie McDonald and Charlie Taylor. Both were members of the winning O’Grady Challenge Trophy (“The Old Buffalo”) team and the Devil perceived, rightly or wrongly, that one of them was the manager and the other was the assistant manager.

The Devil’s challenge went something like this:

Chassssss. and Chassssss. [The Devil had to keep as much ssssssteam going as He possibly could because He feared getting cold feet as His blood cooled.]  I, the Devil, hereby challenge the Altamont Curling Club to a curling sssssssskills competition of Dunbarssssss, for “The Old Goat” Trophy and Sssssspoilsssssss, the detailssssss of which are to be negotiated by the two teamssssss, with the match winner to be determined by ssssssunrise, January 29, 1961.

 SSSSSShould I be victorious (The Devil dug down deep and managed to bring up a heartburn heated burp that punctuated the next words,) I will own the SSSSSSoul of the ‘drawmasssssster’ of each and every Altamont Curling Club bonsssssspiel in perpetuity. SSSSSShould the Altamont Curling Club be ssssssuccessssssful, they sssssshall be the duly appointed official home of the “sssssstuff of Curling” in perpetuity. [Note the Curling – at least the Devil has been paying attention.]

[In a smaller voice,] Failure to accept thissssss offer will ressssssult in automatic forfeiture and your credit cardssssss will be debited $666.66 per month plus interest at 666 per cent per annum in perpetuity.

The two Charlies didn’t really need to put their heads together on this one but they did anyway so as not to let the Devil know that they knew they had to accept the challenge. Having played and watched a lot of billiards in their combined days, the two Charlies knew they were snookered. They needed to make a high risk, tricky shot, or even a risky, trick shot to extract the Altamont Curling Club from this matter. And, yes, they heard the small voice part as well (they were just those kind of guys) but no one in Altamont at that time had hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia, which is an irrational fear of the number 666 but they did have a rational fear of usury, money launderers and fly by night crop sprayers.   There was no way they could accept such a penalty even if that would have been a real option because ceding the Soul of the drawmaster of every Altamont bonspiel to the Devil would be a disaster of monstrous proportions. The Devil would win every time! And to top it all off, the “stuff of Curling” was a prize that deserved to be wrested from the grubby hooves of the Devil. It is not clear how He came to be in possession of it anyway – through some scurrilous, Satanic scheme no doubt.

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Not just snookered but behind the 8 ball  Photo: The PD Gardener 2015

In true synchronicity the two Charlies turned to the Devil and, blowing cigarette smoke through their nostrils, said, ”You’re on, Beelzebub!” A chorus of cheers erupted from curlers and onlookers alike along with the “glug glug” of liquids and the “clunk clunk” of paper cups in mid-toast. Let the game begin!

The Devil turned in disgust. Not only had Altamont accepted His challenge but the two Charlies, of all people, had called Him by His least favourite name, Beelzebub, and they pronounced it correctly, Be ¦ el ¦ ze ¦ bub and not Bee ¦ zel ¦ bub. This was a frightening prospect to the Devil.

The timeline was short. There was much to be done. The Devil had disappeared but was replaced by His apparent vice-skip, Darth Vader, to negotiate the details. The Altamont team put Lynwood Graham forward for the same purpose. It was a little difficult to understand Darth Vader – there hadn’t been this much heavy breathing in the Altamont Rink since M and R sneaked in late one evening and … well … never mind. In a very obvious move to distract Lynwood, Vader kept waving his light sabre around, almost decapitating anyone within reach. Finally Lynwood put his corn broom into Vader’s mask, irritating Vader’s hay fever to the point where he just sat down with his puffer. Negotiations re-commenced in earnest and were quickly concluded.

Ordinarily I would relegate the following agreement to an Appendix but it is germane to the story line so it is best to leave it in this text proper.

But first, I am certain that you noticed the word “Dunbars” in the Devil’s Challenge “… a curling sssssskills competition of Dunbarssssss,…” What in Hell is a “Dunbar?” That is a good question but luckily I can tell you precisely because I witnessed its introduction into curling lingo many years ago. Let me explain before we get back to the dreary details of the negotiation of the Challenge. It seems that the Devil did not want to end up on the short end of the score as he had with Willie MacCrimmon. Skills challenges and “skins” games are commonplace in curling today but in 1961 there were far fewer such events, and many were just informal wagers between individual curlers. The Devil reasoned that a skills challenge of “Dunbars” would be just the ticket because He can unleash enormous, stupidly wicked power on command. You’ll see.

Today, it commonplace to hear, HURRRRY! HURRRRY HAAAARD! as a curling rock hurtles down the ice with curlers keeping pace to brush as commanded. The curling slider (a shoe specifically designed to slide) has made it possible for a curler to slip and slide gracefully from one end of the ice to the other in a flash. Even better, the slider has made it possible to stay with a rock thrown at great speed and, as the rock approaches the house, to avoid “burning” the thrown rock or any other rocks close to its path. Such a slider, or reasonable facsimile, is a critical technological innovation and a necessary precursor for the creation of the “Dunbar.” I would call it a Beneficial Innovation if you recall the formula for the “Stuff” of Curling presented earlier.

The ”Dunbar”

Many readers will know that “Dunbar” is a town in East Lothian, Scotland. Without belabouring the point, it is unlikely that this town has anything to do with a curling shot called a “Dunbar.” Rather, the “Dunbar” [always capitalized] was originally coined by a young lad named Ronnie and, I believe, is a colloquialism specific to the Altamont area. I am not sure that it has ever been used outside of that locale and indeed it might now be considered archaic and no longer in use. Ronnie was a couple of years older than me and his strong, lithe body was well coordinated and well suited to the mechanics of throwing the curling rock. In fact, he had a long smooth back swing reminiscent of Saskatchewan’s legendary, Bob “Pee Wee” Pickering, who would bring the rock back in a smooth arc up to almost vertical over his head as he transferred his weight to his sliding left foot and pushed off with his right foot into a graceful delivery of the stone. Pickering was able to throw any type of draw weight or take out weight from this same delivery.   Ronnie was less successful in perfecting draw weight but he certainly could throw a “high hard one” or what he called a “Dunbar”.   In fact, the “Dunbar” was Ronnie’s “go to” shot as he was able to get a great push off from his hack foot and he could slid forever – clear down to the other end of the rink – aided by his slippery city shoes, of course, as very few in Altamont could afford proper curling shoes and sliders.

BobPickering1-748x1024

Bob “Pee Wee” Pickering Photo: Curlsask.ca

Whenever the house was getting crowded with the opponent’s rocks, Ronnie would say “I’ll just throw a Dunbar” which was code for “I’m going to throw the rock so hard and fast that all Hell will break loose” when the rock hits the array of opponent’s rocks. [This may be what the ‘Sociables’ at The Brier mean when they say, “Just huck it.”] When the dust settled, Ronnie hoped that his rock(s) remained and all opposition rocks were blasted clean out of the rings. When Ronnie threw the “Dunbar” all curlers scattered hoping not to be collateral damage as 44 lb. of speeding granite collided with several stationary 44 lb. lumps of granite. The word “finesse” does not come to mind when describing the strategy behind this shot.

The interesting thing about shot making in curling is that the laws of physics apply. I didn’t know this stuff then and I barely understand it now. Curling stones come in matched sets usually and are virtually equal in weight (44 lbs.), height (4.5 inches), circumference (36 inches) and running surface (0.5 inches by 5 inches) to each other. During games, the stones are traveling on close to the same ice surface conditions with some variations depending on the exact spot on the ice. The sides of the sheet will be different than the middle of the ice especially late in the game, as the middle will have had much more use from curlers, rocks and brooms. This just means that the rocks are traveling in an elastic environment.

So consider this:

If Ronnie’s stone hits another stone square on, (an interesting thing to say about round curling stones but “round on” just doesn’t sound right) it will transfer most of its kinetic energy to the hit rock making it move forwards at a similar but somewhat slower speed. Note: when the two stones hit, there is usually a loud noise that means that some energy is lost.  Still, in this case, it is wise to stay out of the path of the stone struck by the “Dunbar.”

However, if the “Dunbar” strikes the stone at an angle pushing it into another stone or stones, the struck stone(s) move forward with less momentum and in a slightly different direction. The more stones involved means that the further along the chain of stones you are, the slower the stones will move.

So what, you say? Well, all of this physics stuff tells us that the promised cataclysmic impact of a “Dunbar” might not materialize. If the struck rock hits one rock and it is the only rock moved out of the rings, then the mission (to cause maximum damage by moving as many opposition stones out of the house as possible) of the “Dunbar” has failed. If the stone hits more than one stone on initial impact and there are many subsequent indirect hits, then the damage to the placement of opposition stones in the rings may be maximized but the danger to participants will have been minimized because the transfer of energy and therefore momentum will be less with each subsequent indirect hit.

But you are not really off the hook if you are looking to save yourself from the experience of a 44 lb. stone striking your feet and legs on a slippery surface causing a fall and a concussion when your head hits the ice surface. The speed of the struck rock may be less and you may have some time to jump out of the way, but if you have no idea about angles then you will be in trouble. It is best to brush up on angles before hand just as you would if you were going to play snooker with a pool shark with money on the rail.

I know that there are many “Dunbar” connections in curling but to my knowledge none were instrumental in the development of the “Dunbar” curling shot.

Robert (Bob) Dunbar and his rink dominated the MCA bonspiel in the 1890s winning the overall and individual trophies more times than I care to document here. In 1901, Dunbar moved to St. Paul, Minnesota, but continued to curl in the MCA bonspiel winning trophies up until 1920. Bob Dunbar’s achievements were recognized with an Honorary Life Membership in the MCA in 1920, and he was inducted into the Manitoba Curling Hall of Fame in 1996. Given his stature within the game, it is surprising that he did not develop the shot that bore his name.

Kathleen Dunbar is from Stony Plains, Alberta and curls with the Leslie Rogers rink of the Saville Sports Centre in Edmonton. They play on the World Tour and are trying to win a berth in the Olympic Games. Cale Dunbar curls in the Westman Super League of Curling, Western Manitoba’s Premier Competitive Curling League. There is no evidence that they or several others named Dunbar can lay claim to the “Dunbar” shot, but if they have proof of provenance, I will gladly concede that point.

Okay, now we know that this “skills” challenge involves curling rocks that will be hurtling down the ice at tremendous speeds – with unknown results waiting at the end. With that in mind let’s get back to the administrator’s dream or nightmare of the “Devil is in the details” agreement between the two teams.

Devil 666 Challenge Agreement between Altamont Curling Club and Idle Rocks are the Devil’s Curling Club

The agreement in a nutshell:

Objective:

To eliminate as many stones as possible from a pre-set array or distribution of 8 rocks in the house, by throwing a “Dunbar.”

Definition of “Dunbar:” A curling rock or stone thrown by the curler as fast and as hard as that curler can throw it.

Scoring:

Each stone left, wholly or partially, in the house will count as one (1) point. Points are counted after each shot.

The team with the lowest combined score (total number stones left in the house) after 3 ends of play is declared the winner.

A perfect game is zero (0) points

An “end” is defined as one shot per team.

If the score is tied after three (3) ends, extra ends will continue with players shooting in reverse order from the first three (3) ends, and alternating the reverse order every (3) three ends thereafter until a winner is determined after a complete end.

Selection of players:

[There was much discussion over the selection of players as each side wanted to put forward their best but each side was understandably reluctant to face the other team’s best. In other words, each team wanted to complicate things a little in order to gain an advantage. Finally, they agreed on a process of player selection that was a strange cross between hockey player draft and jury selection.]

Each team will nominate eight (8) players;

Each team will have three (3) opportunities to challenge one (1) of the opposing team’s nominations making said player ineligible for play, not to exceed a maximum of three (3) players per team;

After each challenge, the team whose player has been challenged shall select one (1) player to be eligible for play.

Order of Selection/Challenge:

The winner of a ‘draw to the button’ contest has the option to select first or to challenge first. Subsequent picks and challenges alternate between teams until three (3) players per team are declared eligible.

Each team shall provide one (1) player to participate in the ‘draw to the button’ contest; said player may be any member of their curling club i.e., they need not be from the list of players nominated for play.

Rules of play:

Each team must indicate the order in which players will shoot prior to the start of play in the first end.

The “house” shall be pre-set with an array of 8 rocks.

Each curler will deliver one shot to eliminate (takeout) as many rocks as possible from the house.

After each shot, the house will be re-set with the identical placement for the next player.

Teams will alternate shots.

The short hand version is that three players from each team, each deliver one rock directed to a specific array of rocks, with the objective to hit as many rocks as they can out of house. After three shots, the team with the lowest aggregate number of rocks remaining in the house is the winner.

[Hey look, this has to be true because I couldn’t just make this ‘stuff’ up, eh?]

Before getting into the actual play during the challenge, I think it might useful to know something more about the teams and each of the curlers nominated. Personally, I am not  placing a wager on the outcome as anything can happen when the Devil is involved but I know that many curling fans do gamble. I am not just talking about buying 50/50 tickets. If gambling is one of your proclivities perhaps treat these next sections as your racing form

Altamont Curling Club Team and Player Nominations

Manager: Charlie McDonald  One of the “two Charlies,” Charlie McDonald was one of those people who always seemed to be around to help others when they needed it. Charlie married Bessie Holliston in 1936 and they lived closer than a curling stone’s throw from the Altamont Rink. Indeed, Bessie’s family donated the land on which the Rink was built. If Charlie was ever needed at the Rink, he could be there in a flash. I recall that Charlie worked for many years at the St. Leon Co-op Garage in Altamont. He also went south into the United States in mid-summer with Vern Ticknor’s threshing crew to “custom combine,” following the harvest north into Canada in September. His role as Manager of the Altamont team stemmed from his ability to keep things organized and to ensure the performers (curlers) had what they needed.

Assistant Manager: Charlie Taylor  The other half of the “two Charlies” farmed mostly in the Deerwood district but was never far from the Altamont sports scene. I don’t recall that Charlie was a great curler but he did play in four matches of the O’Grady Challenge Trophy including the very first challenge in 1961 and had a record of 2 wins and 2 losses overall. His contemporaries often joked that his initials were Cwt which pretty much summed up his physical stature. [Cwt is 100 pounds in U.S. measurement or 45.36 kg (a short hundredweight or cental.) In the British Imperial System Cwt was equal to 110 pounds or 50.80 kg or a quintal.]  He was never shy to voice his views on almost any subject matter. Charlie probably saw his position as being more “Coach” than “Assistant Manager” but not everyone saw it quite that way.

Murray “Moe” Stockford was, and still is, a farmer, musician, athlete, father, devoted husband to his wife June, and conscientious citizen in the community. A quiet, patient man of considerable prowess, skill and abilities making him a valued leader in whichever role he assumed. He came by these traits honestly in that his parents, Frank and Olive Stockford, were talented individuals in their own right and very giving of those talents to the community. You will also remember Olive from her curling success noted in Part I of this series.

[If memory serves me correctly though, Murray had considerably more patience and less of a temper than his father. I do recall Frank and I searching for about half and hour to find a wrench that Frank had pitched wildly into the deep bush when the baler broke down and we were having difficulty making the repair. We did find it and all was right with the world.]

Murray Stockford is one of those men who never swore, or if he did, I never heard him. The worst words he could utter, even in the most trying of circumstances, was “Garrrssshh!” or the less emphatic “Gooosshh!)

Murray’s curling credentials are excellent and at this time he is just on the cusp of more curling success in the O’Grady Challenge Trophy curling. He would eventually participate in 9 of the 11 O’Grady games Altamont played. [The Devil with his prescience factor would know this fact.]

Lynwood Graham was a strong man, quick to the boil but equally quick to the simmer. He was a farmer, devoted family man and committed to serving his community. His grandparents, George and Della, were among the first to homestead in the Altamont area circa 1878 so his identification with the community had long and deep roots. From the Graham’s farmyard at the crest of a low sloping hill you could gaze across fields of grain and the bucolic pastures of the McGillivray and McCaffrey farms to the Stockford farm. The Grahams and Stockfords farmed collaboratively, joining forces particularly at haying and harvesting times.

Lynwood was an excellent curler, skipping his rinks to many victories. He was integral to Altamont’s success in the O’Grady challenges. I remember Lynwood as having a reddish complexion but that may be because I mostly saw him during haying season with the June and July heat and sun beating down on our heads, necks and shoulders.

As I said, Lynwood was a powerful man and could pitch heavy hay bales all day as if they were bales of fluff. (This was before the big round hay bales of today.) We built haystacks in the fields for retrieval later in the fall or over the winter. Building stacks required an architectural mind to match size and hardness of bales to be placed strategically to avoid corner sag or outright collapse of an entire side of the stack and, of course, to minimize spoilage. Lynwood was expert at stack building and I recall that the bales sailed from his powerful arms across the top of the stack landing so close to their appointed spots in the architecture that they only needed to be shuffled into place. Speaking of power, Lynwood once sneezed an extraordinarily powerful sneeze as he was rounding a corner with a load of grain. That sneeze and the attention that it required, coming as it did from his rather prominent nose, blew him clean into the ditch.

Robert (Bob) Dunbar was, in fact, a “ringer”as he was not a member of the Altamont Curling Club at all and was not even alive at the time of this challenge. [Hey! No one ever said the Altamont team were not “resourceful.”]  You met Dunbar briefly earlier in our discussion of the “Dunbar.” His name was submitted in the hope that the Devil would not notice and waste a challenge as Dunbar was a pioneer in the sport of curling.  Born in Nova Scotia he was an all-round athlete who excelled in track and field, ice-skating, and roller-skating. He took up curling with a passion after moving to Winnipeg in the late 1870s. Curling out of the Thistle Curling Club, Dunbar and his rink dominated the MCA bonspiel for man years.

Bob Dunbar, a man ahead of his time, understood the advantages to changing the ergonomics of the curler’s delivery, paving the way for the slide delivery of today. Moreover, his competitiveness led him to be strategically astute using the “take out” game to his advantage. Interestingly, in future years the rules of curling would be changed to ensure more rocks would stay in play curtailing the advantage that the take out game provided. Nevertheless, to my knowledge, this ‘game changer’ never perfected the shot that would bear his name, “a Dunbar,” but he would most certainly have been suited to it.

Neuro de Generative. In most people’s minds Neuro is a relative newcomer to curling but he has in fact been around for a very long time, since 1817 in fact when Dr. James Parkinson identified his characteristics and gave him some prominence. Still, he stayed mostly in the background, waiting for an opportunity to get into a game that wasn’t called “shuffleboard” although he might shuffle when he does get into the game.

At first Neuro is barely noticeable, just hanging around the fringes; his presence identified only by those who have an extremely well developed awareness of their own bodies and minds; sometimes his face shows no emotion as if masked. Many are fooled into thinking that Neuro has no sense of humour as a result. Fleetingly at first but ever so gradually his true nature appears in the boutique versions of neurodegenerative conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease,) Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s, etc.

Because the average age of curlers in the early years of the sport was somewhere over 50 years old, neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s (or “Shaking Palsy” as it was often called) affected curlers disproportionately – or should I say affected former curlers disproportionately because many gave up playing the sport when their condition worsened. It just became too onerous to wrestle with tremor, involuntary muscle movements, cramping muscles, lack of balance, etc. More recently though, curling, boxing, dance, cycling, and a whole host of other activities are all recommended as they give people living with neurological conditions a reason to move, to exercise. Exercise seems to delay the progression of such diseases. This is good news. But the average age of curlers has been decreasing and unfortunately more younger people are  also contracting neurological diseases which are finding a home in the brains and bodies of what is called the “young onset” group. This is not good news.

Neuro was not a fantastic curler with his shaky, unbalanced delivery and slow, uncoordinated sweeping style, but he rarely missed the broom and never gave up even though the neurons in his brain were dying and robbing him of greater and greater measures of dopamine. By the time he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s over 70 percent of his dopamine producing neurons had already died. There is no cure and his condition will inevitably get worse, although exercise, physiotherapy, diet, good mental health, medical advice from neurologists, pharmaceutical therapies, medical devices, social supports, caregiver support, and the love of family and friends will give him many additional years of enhanced quality of life.

At first, it seems difficult to understand why Neuro de Generative’s name was forwarded in the Altamont nominations. In fact, the Devil Himself loved Neuro because he was subtle, stubborn, tenacious, insidious, debilitating, and yes maybe even a little Soul sucking in his approach. These were all traits valued by the Devil and were music to His ears. The Devil was beside Himself with glee when He saw Neuro’s name on the Altamont list of eligible nominees. Any observer, independent or not, would think that the Altamont team had taken leave of their senses … no… had gone stark raving mad … no, had a death wish!

Neuro de Generative was a complex individual; his personality was multidimensional, and many of his seeming failings were also strengths. He never denied those weaknesses but accepted them as integral to his identity. Most importantly, while it took great concentration and awareness of mind and body, he never allowed the weaknesses to overpower the strengths. It seems odd to say that, doesn’t it? But it is such an accurate depiction of what must happen with any degenerative disease. Neuro was an inspiration that way.

Walter John Wilson was one of seven sons and a daughter born to Jack and Eva (née Lyle) Wilson who were married in 1918. Walter was born in 1921 and like his father was educated in Altamont. He joined the 1st Manitoba Mounted Rifles (MMR) and in 1940 he enlisted with the Royal Winnipeg Rifles “Little Black Devils” under the command of Colonel Jack Bingham from nearby Deerwood, an even smaller community than Altamont if you can believe it. The “Little Black Devils” became one of the most famous monikers in the Commonwealth Armed Forces, earned at the Battle of Fish Creek (Saskatchewan) in 1885 where, a prisoner awed by the sharp shooting militia was heard to say, “the red coats we know, but who are those little black devils?” The name stuck and General Middleton himself referred to the MMR by that sobriquet in official documentation. Soon the nickname was officially recognized, and the devil and motto Hosti Acie Nominati (Named by the Enemy,) has been a source of pride and bragging rights ever since.

[The irony here is just too great for me to pass up a comment. The Battle of Fish Creek is widely believed to have been a major victory for the Métis against General Middleton’s forces forestalling, temporarily at least, Middleton’s advance on Batoche.]

I have no idea whether Walter Wilson was a good curler or not but the Altamont team were familiar with his family and welcomed him to the task. They respected his time with the “Little Black Devils.” The Devil, on the other hand, did not know what to make of Walter’s nomination. Was the Altamont team trying to “buffalo” him, as they were the holders of the O’Grady Trophy?  In any case, the Devil was not uncomfortable with Walter’s nomination.

Bert Marshall, former proprietor of the Altamont Restaurant, Postmaster, Rawleigh Products Salesman, husband to wife Kay, father to one son and two daughters, gardener and amateur horticulturalist, conscientious community citizen, and general all around philosopher, scientist, and busybody. He arrived in Altamont in 1950 with his wife Kay and red haired son to operate the local restaurant, poolroom and barbershop. Being neither good cooks nor willing to stay open six days a week until 9 or 10 at night they sold the restaurant about five years later, bought the building that housed the Post Office, and Bert became the Postmaster succeeding Steve Bishop. Bert continued to barber and began to sell Rawleigh Products and Wawanesa Insurance polices while operating the local bus depot, confectionery and comic book store (and you thought I learned to read at school!)

Altamont Post Office Colleen photo 2014

Former Altamont, Manitoba Post Office  Photo: C. Baumann 2014

It is reported from reliable sources that Bert was not a great curler at the time but he would eventually play on three Altamont teams in the O’Grady Challenge Trophy competition. Their record during that time was not great with one win (against Charleswood) and two losses (against Gilbert Plains and Roland.)

Dick Mussell was not quite the hermit, recluse or even the mountain man that people made him out to be but he was an interesting character who kept to himself most of the time. Living in a tiny ‘shanty’ just west of Altamont he was about 70 years ahead of the “Tiny House” craze that has been sweeping Canada and the U.S. recently. It seems you can’t watch any Home and Garden TV these days without watching an environmentalist, youthful idealist, or newly minted single parent with 2 children and a Labrador dog, search for the perfect “Tiny House” of 280 square feet on a budget of $22,000. Well, Dick lived the tiny house life in the first half of the 20th Century and he did not live as a complete hermit or recluse. A hermit usually has some religious reasons for choosing solitude while a recluse seeks to avoid social interaction and prefers a solitary existence. There is no evidence to suggest that Dick’s lifestyle was chosen to meet religious strictures. While Dick might appear to meet some of the criteria for being a recluse, his social side was never very far from the surface. He did enjoy his weekly ride into town on his horse, Queenie, on

Altamont curlers IMG_5472

Altamont Curlers  Far right is Dick Mussell  Photo: unknown

Saturdays to have Bessie McDonald at the grocery store fill his standing order of groceries, while he joined others to quaff a few beers in the Altamont Hotel.  By the way, this infamous hotel stands today, pretty much as it did in Dick’s day and it is not hard to see why Dick might feel at home there.

But there was one other activity that was sure to draw Dick out of his shanty and away from hunting and trapping, and that was a chance to curl. The photo above shows Dick with other curlers from Altamont. Dick always was protective of his personal space. Note how he is slightly separated from the others. Also, note their brooms – no slap,slap,slap from their straws.  Dick never expressed any fear of the Devil so when consulted about his possible inclusion in the challenge, Dick allowed his name into nomination as one of the eight names on the Altamont list.

 The Devil and Dick?

I have a very significant aside to tell you at this point. There is some evidence that, in his early life, Dick had confronted the Devil. As we know, the Devil cleanses our “cerebral hard drives” after any contact.   By all rights, then, Dick should have no recollection of that encounter. Still, there is a belief that Dick and the Devil had a “devil of a fight” and “all Hell broke loose” leaving the Devil enervated as He battled to overcome Dick’s inherent benevolence and humanity. The Devil’s psyche and energies were spent and drained to such a degree that He was not able to fully expunge Dick’s brain of all recollection. Dick managed to mount Queenie and rode off into the woods. Dick, for his part, could only recall the encounter as if through a frozen ice fog, and these recollections happen only when the temperature reaches -40F or -40C i.e., “when Hell freezes over.” This convergence of the Celsius and Fahrenheit scales is not common but Dick lived in rural Manitoba and it happens more often than you might think. Please note that I cannot make any definitive statement about this theory at this juncture as more research needs to done, and you can’t muck around in Devil “stuff” without financial backing. I just don’t want to sell my Soul to the Devil for this project and, believe me, the Devil would make such a deal in a heartbeat. Enough of that for now and I will update you when I have new information.

The Idle Rocks are the Devil’s Curling Club team and player nominations with brief biography

Manager: The Devil  The Devil is a bad man.  He wants a bad man in charge.  So, the Devil is in charge. Got it?

Assistant Manager: The Devil The Devil is way more bad than just one bad man so He can be assistant bad man in charge too!

Recall that the Devil’s team against Willie MacCrimmon had Guy Fawkes playing lead, Judas Iscariot throwing second stones, and Macbeth at vice – skip. The Devil was not inclined to use any of those losers this time around. He needed a fresh team, a team motivated to win. The Devil checked the availability of several possible choices but many were not available due to previous commitments e.g., Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev was busy working with Fidel Castro in Cuba. In any case, the Devil had a niggling feeling that neither Khrushchev nor Castro would provide unqualified support when it counted. Also, He was sure that Nikita had thrown away one of his curling shoes in that display of temper, October 1960, at the United Nations.

In the end, Idle Rocks are the Devil’s Curling Club put forward the following names for players:

The Devil. There is really nothing to be said about this nomination. He is the baddest, bad narcissist and He likes the look of being in charge.

Darth Vader. The Devil believed He could always count on the Dark Side of the Force to be with Him. Who cares if he can curl? The Devil reasoned that Vader’s voice was just crazy, freaky nasty and he had a cooooool light sabre.

Magnus Djävulsson. No one knows much about Magnus although it is rumoured that his family originally emigrated from Iceland to Canada (Winmount, Ontario) in 1870 and bounced to Manitoba in 1875 to settle near Narcisse, Manitoba midway between Gimli and Lundar and close to Arborg which claims the world’s largest curling rock at 4.2 m (13.78 feet) in diameter, 2.1 m (6 ft 10.68 in) tall, and weighing in at 1.5 tonnes. The rock celebrates the historical success of high school curling teams from the area going back to the 1940s.

Magnus’ ancestors were Icelandic on his mother’s side and Swedish on his father’s side. Magnus’ surname, loosely translated, seems to mean son of the Devil. He curled out of several different clubs over the years with varying degrees of success throwing lead or second stones. None of the teams ever came close to winning the Consols, emblematic of the men’s provincial championship.

Although he was a rugged and handsome man, he never married, perhaps because he was terribly vain and couldn’t pass a mirror or window without stopping to check out his reflection. He carried a black rat tail comb in his right back pocket at all times and had perfected its removal and subsequent sweep through his Brylcreemed hair to such a degree that it was often parodied by his friends and fellow curlers. Magnus, lost in his own world, did not seem to care.  An only child, the family lineage in Canada ended with his death in 1970.

Interesting isn’t it that in Greek mythology Narcissus was the son of the river god Cephissus and the nymph Liriope? He was so beautiful that when he saw his refection in a pool of water, he fell in love with it not realizing that it was just an image. Unable to leave it, he lost the will to live and died. Today, narcissism means a fixation with oneself and one’s appearance. The very fact that Magnus Djävulsson’s family settled in Narcisse signalled that Magnus was damaged goods and the Devil just could not resist adding this depth of vanity and egotism to His list of nominated outcasts.

On the other hand, the daffodil is the common name for the narcissus plant. From the family, Amaryllidaceae, these beautiful flowers pop through the snow shortly after snowdrops and crocus in the spring. They are among my favourites precisely because they are the death knell for winter and indeed, the most common meaning for daffodils is “rebirth”. Some may think that they get a little caught up in their own beauty as they dominate the spring landscape but I feel they are a perfect foil for any early spring snowy Devilishness.

Daffies IMG_1581

Narcissus, common name Daffodil   Photo: The PD Gardener 2014

Johann Faust is the same inquisitive Faust who summoned the Devil in a forest near Wittenberg. The Devil appears as a greyfriar called Mephistopheles and Faust cuts a deal to give Mephistopheles his Soul in exchange for 24 years of service. Faust has a ball for about 16 years and then tries to back out of the deal. The Devil cuts off this notion by producing Helen of Troy with whom Faust takes up a relationship. As the 24 years expire Satan announces Faust’s death and at midnight Faust dies a gruesome death. His eyes are found in his room while his body is found in the courtyard. If the Devil got Faust’s Soul, then Faust will play with Him in this curling challenge.

Robert Johnson, an American blues singer, songwriter and guitarist is said to have followed in Faust’s footsteps by selling his Soul to the Devil in return for success and recognition in the music industry. He never lived to see this recognition but his music, recorded largely in the mid – 1930s, has been a major influence on several generations of musicians after his death, attributed to poisoning at the age of 27. Perhaps, the Devil already has his Soul.

Severus Snape, devotee of the “Dark Arts” in Harry Potter. Even though it seems that Snape redeems himself and forms a strong bond with Dumbledore and carries out Dumbledore’s own request to be killed, Snape’s motives are largely unclear. Did Dumbledor sell his Soul to the Devil? Did Snape? Was Snape a double agent? What does the Devil know that we don’t? No matter, the Devil wrote Snape’s name on His list.

Rumplestiltskin seems a strange choice but he was a natural from the Devil’s point of view. “Rum-pie,” as the Devil called him, has the technology to turn straw into gold and the Devil’s challenge to the Altamont curlers was taking place during the hay day (so to speak) of the corn or straw broom in curling. The Devil was always looking for an edge in the strangest of places.

Bernie “Broom Broom” GeoFreeZone (pronounced Gee – off – ree – on with a silent “Z.”) Bernie’s main claim to fame is that he is an acknowledged leader in curling technological innovation. He began his career in the mid – 1830s by working on a project to “pebble” the ice surface diminishing friction by reducing the area of direct contact between the stone’s running surface and the ice surface. Pebbling the ice is a very important aspect of the game today as it allows sweepers to make a difference in the rock’s speed and amount of curl.

“Broom Broom” also has been influential in some rules and regulations changes. He was a consultant to a group assessing the impact of the “Guard Free Zone” on the “hitting game” where equally skilled teams could just exchange hit and peel (roll out) strategies keeping scores low and last rock only meant something in the first end.

Currently, ”Broom Broom” has been working on new type of curling broom called the “Devil’s Paint Brush” which has a feathery material of bright colours that allows for greater control over the behaviour of the rock by the sweepers. It does not contain waterproofed fabric, “stiffening” inserts or directional fabric. “Broom Broom” and his principal financial backer, Devil to Pay Inc., are claiming that their broom has been unfairly caught up in a ban of new brooms under the directional fabric broom ban of 2016.  GeoFreeZone is also a principal in the popular hairpiece firm, Devil Toupee Inc., a subsidiary of Devil to Pay Inc. Devil Toupee, not so coincidentally, provides hair to make many brands of curling brooms. “Broom Broom” is both vertically integrated and horizontally diversified in his personal portfolio.

But can GeoFreeZone curl? Who knows for sure? He hangs around the same places (curling clubs) as the elite curlers, but then so do a lot of other folks. If the Devil has to call on him, will he be able to deliver, so to speak? It remains to be seen whether “Broom Broom” can master the “Dunbar”, a shot he had absolutely no input into creating. He just never frequented those small bonspiels where the curling club did not have a private bar to run his personal tab. Actually, most of those clubs had no bar at all and drinks were dispensed from brown paper bags or silver flasks won in some other bonspiel. Nevertheless, the Devil trusted Bernie because Bernie idolized his adopted namesake Bernie Madoff. Bernie never liked “Broom Broom” as a nickname but his full legal name was Gladwynn Wynn Geoffrey GeoFreeZone (with a silent Z) and he didn’t much like that either, so he opted for the more informal moniker “Bernie” in order to cultivate comfortable conversation with his clients. Bernie was successful in keeping “Broom Broom,” his image for marketing curling equipment quite separate from “Bernie,” his image as financier for innovation among elite curlers, operating from 17th floor offices on Bay St.

Challenges and selections: The teams are formed

In true curling fashion they had a draw to the button contest between the two mangers with the winner having the choice to challenge first or second. So, it was Charlie McDonald against the Devil. The Devil won and surprise, surprise, elected to challenge first which meant the Altamont team would select first in the first selection round.

The round by round results are below:

Devil Challenge 1: Bob Dunbar.

The Altamont ruse worked in that it left other good Altamont players to be selected.  Bob Dunbar was rejected by the Devil because Dunbar was just too much of a pioneer, quick to learn and understand change and quick to adapt his strategy accordingly. The risk was too great for the Devil to take.

Altamont Challenge 1: Severus Snape

Well another surprise, surprise! The Altamont team announced they were challenging Severus Snape. It seems that their collective fear of snakes was greater than their collective fear of the Devil. So Snape was kicked to the boards.

Altamont Select 1: Lynwood Graham.

The Devil was furious as He began to realize what had happened. But the rules specified no appeals, just the way the Devil wanted it when He was dealing for Souls. The Devil had wanted to reject Lynwood mostly because the challenge involved throwing a “Dunbar” and Lynwood might just be too strong for the Devil’s liking.

Devil Select 1: Darth Vader

Holy Light Sabre! Everyone was betting that the Devil would protect Himself. Perhaps, He was overconfident that the opposing team would never dare to challenge Him and protected Darth Vader instead.

Devil Challenge 2: Murray “ Moe” Stockford

The Devil just could not afford to have the Graham – Stockford connection working against Him, so He challenged and eliminated Murray “Moe” Stockford. The fact is that when the Devil reviewed Murray’s biography, he was rejected immediately as not having a Soul that was consonant with the Devil’s raison d’être.

Altamont challenge 2: The Devil!

Hey, the Altamont Team did it! The Devil is out!

Altamont Select 2: Walter Wilson

You might surmise that the Devil would not mind the inclusion of someone from the RWR “Little Black Devils” and you are right. The Devil allowed a little smile when Walter’s name was called. Nevertheless, the Altamont team was also content with the selection

Devil Select 2: Magnus Djävulsson.

The Devil’s tail was switching all over the place as it betrayed his vexation with the process. But He needed a real curler on His team so he picked Magnus Djävulsson.  Magnus was very surprised when he was notified but he was a competitor and would do his best when his time to shoot arrived.

Devil Challenge 3: Dick Mussell

As indicated earlier, the Devil and Dick had unfinished business but the Devil was not willing to finish it in this Challenge and opted to keep Dick on the sidelines.

Altamont Challenge 3: Bernie “Broom Broom” GeoFreeZone (pronounced Gee – off – ree – on with a silent “Z.”)

The Altamont team could not in all conscience allow themselves to be contaminated by the slime left in “Broom Broom’s” wake even if they were competing against him.

Altamont Select 3: Neuro de Generative

This announcement was to everyone’s total shock, surprise and stupefaction! The Devil grew worried that the Altamont team was pulling a fast one on Him. These rubes, these hayseeds, these bumpkins, these hillbillies had better watch themselves.

Devil Select 3: Robert Johnson

The Devil took great pleasure in announcing that Robert Johnson would be on the His rink as He fully expected that Johnson would write and sing a ballad about this historic confrontation, chronicling the victory of a team He was beginning to call “The Satanic” in a sink or swim attempt at re-branding.

Recap of the final team members

Idle Rocks are the Devil’s Curling Club: Darth Vader, Magnus Djävulsson, Robert Johnson. Sweepers: Rumplestiltskin and Johann Faust.

Altamont Curling Club: Lynwood Graham, Walter Wilson, Neuro de Generative. Sweepers: Bert Marshall and Charlie Taylor.

The stones would be delivered from the far end of the sheet so that spectators would have the best view of the house from the bleachers set up behind the glass.

Challenge sells out (or maybe someone sells out?)

As happens in small towns, there is not much that stays a secret for very long and word leaked out about the Devil’s challenge. The good citizens began to converge on the small rink, jamming the waiting room, standing on the skating ice and the walkway between the skating rink and the curling ice. A few children escaped their beds and clambered up onto the rafters above the skating rink. Once they were within the boundaries of the Rink they could not leave until the challenge was over. None of the spectators would remember anything.

The Altamont team was beginning to be concerned for the health and safety of the ordinary, non-curling population, especially the children, but they also welcomed all the support they could get. Besides, Bessie McDonald already had three teenagers, Cliff, Diane, and Margaret selling tickets to those who had already entered or who wanted to enter. Perhaps, they would make enough for a new coffee urn and a soup pot for the Rink’s kitchen.

Bessie and her brother, Gordon Holliston, were settled into their customary seats in the second row of the waiting room bleachers. Jim Sharp, a carpenter/handyman and frequent visitor to Altamont, was passing by and brought a strong odour of beer, cigar smoke and garlic to the affair. Gordon Lowry along with Howard and Dora Andrews also had coveted bleacher seats.

The curling ice was almost ready for play. Young George Friesen shepherded the sheepskin up the sheet and back. At each end he exuberantly swept gray detritus from its woolly surface, proof that the ice surface was now clean. Charlie Taylor grabbed the pebble can and proceeded to lay the pebble down, cigarette hanging from his lower lip as he moved backward down the ice, carefully distributing the fine spray of water droplets from a dented and beat up cylinder of water with an equally dented and beat up sprinkle head. Charlie’s ability to keep that cigarette stuck to his lower lip always amazed me. That, and the ability to keep about an inch of ash on the end of the cigarette and always make it to an ashtray or suitable spot to place one nicotine stained finger on the cigarette to tap the ash off.

Ashtrays, usually tobacco cans, were placed strategically at each end of the curling ice and along its sides. These ash cans are important curling infrastructure as cigarette and cigar ash is not conducive to a smooth and continuous motion of a curling rock. In fact, it can sometimes have disastrous results. Bob Weeks in Curling Etcetera records an instance in the 1936 Brier where Manitoba curling great Ken Watson gave his lead, Charlie Kerr, a cigar to smoke before the game. Charlie smoked it during the game and by this I mean that it very seldom left his mouth even while sweeping. [This would have just made me want to gag.] The Watson rink was counting five when the sixth stone was stopped in its tracks by an ash, falling from Kerr’s cigar, as he was sweeping. When the end was over, Watson counted seven but it could have been eight if not for the cigar ash.

In any case, Charlie Taylor was either oblivious to the possible consequences of a cigarette ash falling to the ice surface or was supremely confident that the cigarette ash had enough structural integrity to remain on the end of his cigarette until he reached the end of the sheet and the pebble was finished. It did not fall until Charlie tapped it into an ash can. Charlie was always confident if nothing else.

It’s game on

The Devil won the right to challenge or select first so the Altamont team would have the right to decide to shoot first or last. A small wave of disbelief rattled the Rink’s tin roof as Charlie McDonald announced that the Altamont team had elected to shoot first. What the …?  Well, it had been a night for surprises and it continued to be.

I am not privy to the logic behind the respective strategies for the selection of players or the order of play. I can only speculate that Altamont was counting on Lynwood Graham to blaze the way with a fantastic, blistering, blast creating so much anger and consternation among the Devil’s accomplices that they would become disoriented and screw up, to use the mild technical term. The Devil, in turn, wanted Darth Vader and whatever force Vader had on the Dark Side, to be with Him on the last shot.

Curling set array 3 IMG_0181

Set array of rocks. Bottom is back of the house

In the meantime, Howard Andrews and Magnus Djävulsson threw eight stones from the far hack into the house at the home end of the ice producing the array of rocks that each curler would face in turn (see diagram.)

[ … Time passes … ]

Years of research have taught me that it is not unusual for significant amounts of time, money, or other things to go missing in challenges or events involving the Devil.  Whether it is the 18 minutes missing from the Watergate tapes, missing millions of dollars thought to have been paid to US lobbyists by Sri Lanka, or missing and misplaced principal residences for Canadian Senators, the pattern is there.

So it was with this challenge. The competition began and the first four stones were delivered – two for Altamont (by Lynwood Graham and Walter Wilson) and Two for the Devil (by Magnus Djävulsson and Robert Johnson)– with no details surviving aside from the score.

I apologize but there is nothing that I can do to retrieve additional details – short of selling my Soul to the Devil, that is.

Stan Mascots 2 IMG_0561

The PD Gardener at work researching the Devil   Photo: G. Bialkoski 2016

So, what’s happening?

We pick it up after the 2nd end with the score at Devil 3 and Altamont 4. In other words, the Devil’s team has left three stones in the rings and Altamont has left 4 stones in the house. The Devil is in the lead by one stone as low aggregate score wins. Only last rock for each team remains. Neuro de Generative will throw last rock for Altamont and Darth Vader will throw for the Devil – an interesting match up in and of itself.

Wait!!! What is Bert Marshall doing?

I hesitate to raise this matter but I feel that I must, in the interest of full disclosure, tell you that my father is the Bert Marshall referenced in this story. Regrettably and with some trepidation, I also disclose that I have uncovered some evidence that Bert Marshall was seen huddling with the Devil at the conclusion of the 2nd end. Only two or three individuals know of this clandestine meeting and I guess I could use my curling corn broom to sweep it under the rug but it is likely better to come clean about the “huddle” to maintain my personal integrity.

I am still picking through a mountain of misinformation and working with a medium (not a Tim Horton’s medium) to channel Dick Mussell who may have some foggy memory that may clarify the matter. At this point I have the following snippets of conversation as told by someone from the Devil’s side who claims to have observed the meeting and heard the informal conversation which took place under the bleachers. [Geez, you would think they could have found a better place.]

“…. the Devil situated himself quite close to Bert and whispered, “If you give me an idea I use, I will make it worth your while….”

Bert took out his handkerchief and blew his nose because … well because that is what he always does. Bert looked off to the side and whispered, “I always wanted to score an 8- Ender….”

What the heck was that all about and why would Bert huddle with the Devil without taking a third party to witness and corroborate any discussion or agreement? It also begs a second question with a potentially more explosive answer. Did Bert Marshall (my father) sell his Soul to the Devil (or worse yet, sell out the Altamont team) for an 8 – Ender? Does the man pictured below seem like he knows curling perfection is in his future?

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Bert Marshall, 2 years after the Devil’s Challenge  Photo: Unknown

I am still trying to reconstruct these events and reach a definitive conclusion but at this time I am not in a position to address my findings without some independent peer evaluation and corroboration of my research. [No! – that doesn’t mean we are looking for an insane Parkie storyteller!] I will update you as soon as new information is available.

de Generative delivers Altamont’s last stone

Altamont Curling Club supporters shuddered when they realized that their last “Dunbar” rock (the Devil’s team had the hammer or last rock) would be thrown by none other than Neuro de Generative, a curler who

  • Had a bad case of the “shakes” at the best of times;
  • Had more times when he was “off” than when he was “on” but when he was “on” he was really “on!”
  • Was unpredictable as to when he would be “on” or “off.”
  • Often went onto the ice surface and “froze” even when the weather was quite mild;
  • Needed a pat on the behind from a teammate’s broom in order to get moving again;
  • Had to seek the bathroom quickly and often when he was “off;”
  • Sometimes was sapped of all strength and found it impossible to throw the curling rock such that it crossed the hog line never mind reached the house for a take out;
  • Sometimes was so uncoordinated when sweeping that they called for him to be not just “off” but “right off!”
  • Moved very slowly at times making it impossible for him to keep pace with a rock thrown with any speed;
  • Was often so rigid that he could not sit comfortably in the hack to deliver the rock;
  • Sometimes fell into the path of rocks, “burning” them while trying to tiptoe slide through rocks in the house while sweeping;
  • Could not smell ”burned” rocks – or the coffee that he overcooked on the old pot belly stove;
  • And the list goes on … and on – but often “off.”

To put this into perspective, the year is 1961 and nobody really understood Neuro’s condition as a treatable medical one.  Levodopa, the gold standard for treatment of Parkinson’s disease, was not developed until the late 1960s and the brand name drug, Sinemet (levodopa/carbidopa,) was not in widespread use until the 1970s.

In 1961, this was just the way Neuro was and, to be honest, most of the other curlers had the same things happen to them more than once – sometimes as part of the aging process but more often from a love of the more liquid part of the game.

So, what happened when Neuro threw his rock?  The following account is pieced together from Dick Mussell’s recollection as told to those three guys, Scotty, Buster and Phil, who told it to me quite some time ago. Sorry, there were no handy video cameras or telecasts of the games back then. This is the best we have. I can only say that, for my part, I am recounting the facts of the events exactly as they were described to me in the mid-1970s. In order to make it more understandable to the generations who have grown up with live play-by-play of sports (thank you Curt Gowdy and ABC’s Wide World of Sports – “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat,”) let’s listen to how the legendary Cactus Jack Wells, and elite curler and broadcaster/colour commentator, Bob Picken, might have called the play-by-play.

DEVL 666 Radio play-by-play of the final stones

The broadcast leads with a verse of “Devil or Angel,” The Clovers 1956 original pop hit playing in the background. [Note: Bobby Vee covered this tune in 1960 taking it to the top of the charts once again and it was fresh on all minds, even curlers’ minds, in 1961.

Network Announcer: DEVL 666 Radio now takes you to Cactus Jack Wells and Bob Picken at the Altamont Rink for a real treat – The Devil vs Altamont in a winner take all, no holds barred, Devil may care, hotter than Hades, curling shoot off….

Cactus Jack: Well, it turned out nice again, didn’t it?

Bob Picken: It sure did Jack and it is such a privilege to be invited to the historic Altamont Rink to witness this unusual curling challenge. As you know, space is limited and people are having a devil of a time finding tickets even though it was put together very quickly.

Cactus Jack: Right you are, Bob. I am often high in the Winnipeg Arena and Bomber Stadium – hmmm, perhaps I should phrase that differently – but we are really up in the rafters here at the Altamont Rink!

Bob Picken: Yes we are, and we have ice level seats!

To be continued:

Next time:  The last rocks are thrown in the thrilling conclusion to one of the greatest curling confrontations ever!  Can the Altamont Curling Club keep the Devil from capturing the Soul of the draw master of the Altamont Bonspiel?  Will the Altamont Curling Club keep the “stuff of Curling” safe from contamination by the Devil, and how will we know what “stuff” is, even if they do?

There seems to be a lot of pressure on the Altamont curlers, don’t you think?  So,let’s put some pressure on the Devil:  Can the Devil avoid eternal embarrassment by not losing to this team of hicks curling out of a tin shack?

Whose side is Bert Marshall on and does it make any difference anyway? And, what is a double Gordon?

The answers to these questions and more in the third and last installment of

IN SEARCH OF THE “STUFF” OF CURLING  

Part III: Down to last rocks; The Devil made them do it

APPENDICES FOR PART II

Appendix A: The Devil and His tricks

This appendix is a caution to disabuse you of any notion that you enter into an encounter with the Devil on an equal footing. The Devil knows that the human foot with five somewhat flexible toes, an arch and hinging ankle, while it has some flaws, is superior to the Devil’s cloven hoof. Therefore He reasons it is only fair that He have some “advantages” (He does not object to calling these “tricks” as His perspective is totally different on these matters) to offset the footing differences. You can decide if they are offsetting factors or if the cloven hoof is inferior at all to human feet when it comes to curling.

Devil Trick #1. When the Devil does show himself in person, He wipes your cerebral hard drive clean which means that neither the Altamont curlers nor anyone else present will remember anything of that particular meeting and any subsequent curling competition where the Devil is present.

Devil Trick #2. The Devil had been following the challenges for “The Old Buffalo”, the O’Grady Challenge Trophy. In fact, He set His DVR “Devil Vision Recorder” (roughly equivalent to today’s Personal Video Recorder or PVR) to alert him and to record the matches. He had predetermined that Altamont, a southern Manitoba curling crazy community with a population of approximately 120 Souls; members in good standing of the Manitoba Curling Association (MCA) since 1929; [which mattered to the Devil greatly because He wanted the Curling gurus to provide their stamp of legitimacy on His inevitable victory] would be prime candidates for the Devil’s bait as a number of very good curlers in Altamont had ambitions to be even better.

Devil Trick #3. The Devil has the remarkable ability to suck the totality of information on any subject including both the science and art of curling from any knowledge source (a human brain usually) that enters “The Devil’s Triangle”, more commonly known as “The Bermuda Triangle.” Given the propensity for Canadians (even curlers) to go south for a few weeks each year to escape the coldest days of winter, it has not been difficult for the Devil to find such a brain passing through His triangle as Florida, Bermuda and Puerto Rico form the triangle’s apexes.   It is true that the Devil does need to find a new brain every few years to update His app to the latest in curling strategy and advances in equipment. The most recent version is D.v. 20.15. Remember, the Devil’s abilities to acquire knowledge this way long pre-date the “mind melds“ of Star Trek or the magic of Harry Potter. I won’t spend any more time on this brief explanation other than to say that the Devil’s skill and knowledge is restricted only by the intelligence of the last human brain to pass though the Triangle.

In present day terms, the travel itineraries of 2016 Brier Champion Kevin Koe of Alberta, Brad Gushue of Newfoundland and Labrador, Brad Jacobs of Northern Ontario, Mike McEwen of Manitoba, Glenn Howard of Ontario or Pat Simmons of Team Canada would be of interest to the Devil as they are curling strategic geniuses as well as technical and tactical magicians of the highest order – perfect for updating His curling app. All of these gentlemen skipped their respective teams in the 2016 Brier.

In 1961, travel was more limited than today and it not likely that as many top-flight curlers would travel through the Devil’s Triangle. There certainly were many great men’s curlers in that time: Ernie Richardson and his brothers from Saskatchewan, Garnet Campbell from Saskatchewan, Hec Gervais (the big potato farmer) from Alberta, Ab Gowanlock from Glenboro Manitoba, Matt Baldwin from Alberta, Billy Walsh from Manitoba and Ken Watson from Manitoba to name but a few.

And, of course, women curlers in Canada are equally skilled and knowledgeable such that 2016 Scotties Champion Chelsea Carey of Alberta, Jennifer Jones of Manitoba, Kerri Einarson of Manitoba, Jenn Hanna of Ontario, Krista McCarville of Northern Ontario, and Rachel Homan of Ontario and any of their respective team members could provide important updates. The history of women’s curling is rich with talent and who knows if any of these names passed through the Devil’s Triangle: Colleen Jones from Nova Scotia, Vera Pezer, Sandra Peterson and Sandra Schmirler from Saskatchewan, Marilyn Bodogh of Ontario, Lindsay Sparkes and Lindsay Moore from British Columbia, to name but a few.

Collectively their knowledge and experience is, to be blunt, massively massive.

Devil Trick #4. The Devil has what is known as a “prescience factor” of ten (10) i.e., He can foretell future events (up to ten years out) albeit somewhat vaguely but with sufficient sharpness to be able to hedge His bets.

Devil Trick #5: The Devil can intervene in a timeline, from time to time, so to speak. He can pass a temporary, temporal measure where time zones can be “held in abeyance” for short periods. In this case, Manitoba is on Central Standard Time (CST) and that can be converted to Central Suspended Time (CST) with no one really noticing in the short term.

[Note: for those who believe in God, Alberta may be on Celestial Standard Time (CST) as suggested in The Black Bonspiel of Willie MacCrimmon. God alone must initiate any intervention into Celesial Time while the Devil can initiate Suspended Time. It is commonly known that Saskatchewan does not change to “Savings” time so it stands alone as a province where time cannot be suspended. Newfoundland and Labrador is suspended by an extra half-hour no matter what happens. It is not clear whether God has anything to do with “timing” in Newfoundland and Labrador and Saskatchewan.]

Sources:

Bonspiel! The History of Curling in Canada http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/curling/

Curl Manitoba O’Grady Trophy History http://www.curlmanitoba.org/ogrady-history#.VrDXRCkof9M

http://curlsask.ca/

http://honouredmembers.sportmanitoba.ca/inductee.php?id=262&criteria_sort=name

Bob Weeks, Curling Etcetera, J. Wiley and Sons, 2008.

W. O. Mitchell, The Black Bonspiel of Willie MacCrimmon, McClelland and Stewart, 1993

http://www.worldcurling.org/history-of-curling

©Stan Marshall (The PD Gardener)

IN SEARCH OF THE “STUFF” OF CURLING Part I: Is it all about the soup?

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Ducats to the 2016 Tim Horton’s Brier

IN SEARCH OF THE “STUFF” OF CURLING

In this three-part series we take an excursion back to the mid-20th century small town of Altamont, Manitoba; we search for that illusive “stuff” of curling; we renew acquaintances with Altamont residents from past posts and meet new ones who quickly become fast friends; we meet a new Parkinson’s hero; we learn something about the human capacity to overcome adversity, and the price some may pay to avoid it. Learn the difference between “the Old Buffalo” and “the Old Goat.”

We have a rare insider’s perspective of an epic confrontation at the Altamont Curling Club as told to me by three guys named Scotty, Buster and Phil, who heard it from another guy named Dick. Prepare to read the play-by-play account of this fierce battle on the curling ice, a curling skills match that shapes destiny. Find out how much an 8 – Ender (a perfect end) is worth. And find out what a “Dunbar” and a “double Gordon” are anyway

So let’s begin:

PART I: IS IT ALL ABOUT THE SOUP?

Where in the world are you?

Assume someone kidnapped you, put a blindfold over your eyes and took you to a place where you could hear men or women shouting,

“I’m inside … right on it …. Hard … Hard for line, hard, HAAAAAARD … no, no, no …. whoa… right off, riiiiigggggghhhtttt off … clean, clean … weight only … leave it, leave it …. Now! … HARD! BURY IT!! … Great work!… (softly) Geez, it really dives at the end, eh?”

The answer is that you could be in any one of several different countries and the language and accents of those participating would be key to your answer. Many of you will have identified the fact that you are witnessing a curling match and therefore you could be in the UK, Scotland, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, USA, Switzerland, China, Germany, Canada, Japan, or South Korea. The “eh?” at the end is one clue which would lead you to identify the country as Canada. Oh, by the way,  we maybe have a few kidnappings but I don’t think we are renowned for it.

But, let’s face it; the whole of Canada is engaged at some level in the sport of curling and your location is likely somewhere within its predominantly frozen borders – and as we shall see, it would be a good bet that you are in Manitoba. No matter if it is a pick up game, a club game, a game in one of the hundreds of bonspiels held each year, a game in the provincial playoffs, a game in the Brier or the Scotties, or in a challenge match, Manitobans take curling seriously and play it with equal amounts of passion at every level. Any equality in skill or talent between or among these various categories is purely coincidental even though the delusion of equality exists within the minds of participants in each and every game, especially at the lower levels.

The Tim Horton’s Brier, the Canadian championship in men’s curling, is being held March 5 – 13, 2016 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, a place where our children were born and a place we now call home. Still, curling for me has roots in another place that I call, with equal certainty, my hometown – Altamont, Manitoba – a place whose population never warranted the designation ‘town,’ and is closer to a hamlet than a village. My earliest memories are of the Altamont Rink, built in 1919, where generations of children learned to skate and play hockey indoors – remarkable for the day. They also experienced something to which many other children in much wealthier towns and neighbourhoods’ were never exposed, never mind learned, and that was curling: the “roaring game,” “chess on ice”, the grand old game” a game for which the word “stuff” must have been invented. You see, our fortuity was not just learning how to curl but gaining a first hand understanding and appreciation of the “stuff “of curling.

Parky and Tix 2 IMG_5598

Even Parky of The World Parkinson Congress 2016 is going to The Brier

Curling: Not really so much a primer as words of advice

“Bonspiel,” funny word that, eh? Oh, the dictionary definition is straightforward enough. It means, quite simply, a “curling tournament” and The Brier is just another bonspiel in a way. Of course, if you don’t know what “curling” is, then you are at a distinct disadvantage in understanding any of these terms. Nevertheless, I am pretty certain that most readers of this particular blog will have anywhere from a passing familiarity with curling and bonspiels to an expert understanding of the application and interpretation of the rules and strategy, coupled with a mastery of the skills and techniques necessary to vanquish at least an equivalent level of opponent. If you have such an intimate relationship with rocks and brooms, then by definition you have extensive experience with … uh … well … the experience.

To those of you for whom ‘curling’ and ‘bonspiels’ are foreign territories, don’t despair, and for heavens sake, don’t stop reading! This blog requires neither an expert understanding of the game nor of the details of a bonspiel. This information will be spoon-fed to you here as necessary as we proceed. Trust me on this one – it is entirely possible to overthink the subject matter resulting in confusion and frustration. Think of me as your trusty tour guide who will not let you get into trouble – good grief, we are not mountain climbing where one misplaced step, one faulty placement of a piton, or one wrong choice in the type of crampon, may mean disaster. [By the way, apparently crampon type shoes were once used in curling – great health and safety equipment to avoid slips and falls but the damage to the ice surface played havoc with shot making after the first few ends.]  Assuming you don’t use crampons on the curling ice or fail to grasp the fundamental tenet that curling is a sport for gentlewomen and gentlemen where full (or even partial) body contact is expressly prohibited, the biggest mistake you will ever make in curling is failing to buy your opponent, should you lose, a drink in the lounge after the match.

I once curled in a league at the University of Western Ontario with several “eggheads” who thought that it was so much fun that they couldn’t wait to go to the library to borrow a book on how to curl. Resist this temptation with every fibre of your being! You should never read a serious book (one that explains the rules or is a “how to” book) on curling until you have a minimum of three years “on-ice” experience or five years “behind the glass.” Playing the game and/or observing the game are infinitely preferable to reading about the mechanics of the game in a book. For goodness sake, rent a sheet of ice; throw a few rocks. That will be the most fun and you will learn much more about the game in an hour than you will in a year reading about the harvesting and transforming of boulders of granite into curling stones (called ‘rocks’ in North America). It is interesting mind you, but you won’t know an “in turn” from an “out turn”, the “hack” from a “hacker”, the “hog line” from a “clothes line” or the “house button” from your “belly button” after reading the geological details and relative merits of blue\gray granite and red\brown granite of Trefor in North Wales or the blue hone granite and common green granite of Ailsa Craig, an island in the Firth of Clyde off the coast of Scotland.

I can hear every reader right now saying, “Hey, I thought you said we didn’t have to know any of those things?” Right now, you don’t. Be patient, all in good time.

Rocks 2015 IMG_5335

Not curling rocks

If you must do extra-curricular reading (and I know some of you just can’t help it) then you are encouraged to read books such as The Back Bonspiel and Willie MacCrimmon by W. O. Mitchell, books that use curling as “the medium for the message” to quote (or misquote?) Marshall McLuhan. If curling is a medium and the book itself is a medium, then is this an example of a ‘medium within a medium’ – a double medium? Sounds like a coffee order at Tim Horton’s and why shouldn’t it? Tim Horton’s has sponsored the Brier since 2005 and has been curlers’ coffee of choice for much longer.

Of course, reading blogs such as this one is also perfectly acceptable as the salty, spicy, sweet centre of curling is the feature item on this blog post’s menu rather than the rehashing of rules, regulations and regalia. Although to ‘give the Devil His due,’ or to ‘play Devil’s advocate,’ there are a few matters in this blog where the ‘Devil is in the details.’ We will address these in due course and some not until Part II or III.

Hey! My dad once scored an 8 – Ender!

Is there a better way to understand the specifics of curling than to examine what a perfect score on any given end means and what it looks like? Each team gets eight shots per end. The maximum number of rocks that can count is eight. It does not take a genius to figure out that if you have eight rocks closer to the centre “button” than your opponent does, then you score eight – a perfect score for that end, an 8 – Ender!

On February 14, 1978 Bert Marshall and his rink scored an 8-Ender in club play at the Cudworth, Saskatchewan Curling Club. This is an extraordinary happening. You might think that a hole in one in golf or a perfect score in bowling is the equivalent but golf and bowling differ in that those events rely solely on one individual’s skill, expertise and execution of the shot(s). [I once scored a hole in one at our annual golf tournament and even a bad goalie would have made that save.] In golf, your opponent is not actively trying to knock your ball away from the hole or in bowling to protect the pins. And, of course, in curling you are reliant on three other members of your own team to be perfect, or put more starkly, to not screw up.

8 ender napkin IMG_5509

No cell phones or cameras Napkin sketch of 8 – Ender  by Bert Marshall

A perfect game for a pitcher in baseball may be closer to scoring an 8 –Ender. No hits, no runs, no walks, no runners on base, 27 batters, 27 outs over the game. This is quite a feat and rarely accomplished. The odds of throwing a perfect game in professional baseball are about 1 in 18,192. There have been only 23 perfect games in 135 years and over 200,000 games played in the major leagues. No pitcher has ever thrown more than one.

The odds of scoring an 8 – Ender in curling are difficult to calculate. Until very recently, there were no professional leagues but there are tens of thousands of sanctioned curling games played in clubs across Canada each year. I have seen estimates that the odds are in the magnitude of 1 in 12,000 and would be much, much higher among those who are curling in the cash leagues.

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Re-creation of Bert Marshall’s 8 – Ender

I used to tease my father that he must have been playing against a very bad foursome of curlers if they allowed an 8 – Ender. But I have to admit that if the strategy of the end dictated a draw game (trying to place rocks in the rings and not trying to knock your opponent’s out) by either team then an 8 – Ender is entirely possible. I don’t know the precise shot by shot details of how they accomplished it, but accomplish it they did. In 1978 there were no smart phones with cameras to capture the excitement so my father sketched it out on a napkin that I have today along with a trophy awarded by Canada Dry.

8 ender 2 IMG_5536

Canada Dry 8 – ender Club Trophy is tough to obtain

Hey! My mother curled too!

Women are curlers in every respect that men are curlers but, as with every other sport in the world (think hockey, soccer, baseball, golf, etc.) women’s participation is discounted compared to men’s participation as being of lesser quality or skill, etc. and devalued accordingly when it comes to professional compensation and in assessing the significance of the sport in society. Curling is no exception although I believe that the elite levels have made some progress in relative terms but it is by no means close to equal in absolute terms.

Nevertheless, one of the things you need to know is that challenges are common in curling and in 1972 Saskatchewan’s Vera Pezer, Canadian Ladies’ Champion, challenged Orest Meleschuk of Manitoba, reigning Canadian and World Men’s Champion, to a game that was televised on CBC.  Pezer won the game 4 – 3 to highlight the fact that good curlers are good curlers irrespective of gender. On the other side of the ledger, Randy Ferby with several Brier victories defeated Jennifer Jones, Canadian Ladies’ Champion, handily in a “skins” challenge where the teams compete for “skins” worth different dollar values in each end e.g., a “skin” could be won by stealing a point in the end. Cash money is obviously the motivator in this competition.

The battle between the sexes in curling will continue. Is this a good thing? Probably, as it broadens women’s participation generally but the structural segregation into men’s and women’s curling competitions at the national and international levels – the ones that pave the way for entry into more lucrative money bonspiels, endorsements, and fame – continues.

There are many mixed leagues throughout Canada where two men and two women make up each team, throwing alternately. Mixed curling is every bit as competitive as men’s curling and women’s curling is, no matter the level, but much as women’s curling is discounted, mixed curling is discounted. Even more interesting though is the fact that very few women ever skip the mixed teams and only one woman (Shannon Kleibrink of Saskatchewan) has ever skipped a mixed team to a Canadian championship. “Mixed Doubles” curling with one woman and one man on each team just did not exist in the late 1950s and early 1960s. It came into popularity around 2005 but it is not germane to our conversation here so I will leave it for the time being.

Over the years a few Ladies’ teams from Altamont distinguished themselves in the MCA Ladies’ Bonspiel in Winnipeg. I don’t have a complete record of all accomplishments, far from it, but it is notable that Mrs. F. Stockford (as her name was reported in the February 19, 1944 edition of the Winnipeg Tribune) of Altamont was the winner of the prestigious Birks Dingwall Trophy emblematic, I believe, of the winner of the third flight. The Tribune lamented that the trophy was leaving the city and going to a rural entry. “Olive” was Mrs. F.’s given name and to my knowledge that is what everyone called her. Olive’s winning rink included Mrs. W. P. Reeve, Miss H. Snowden and Mrs. B. (Birdie) Fraser.

Olive, her husband Frank and their extended family, had a very significant influence on community and culture in many other ways but I shall wait for another occasion to highlight those contributions. Suffice to say that Olive was quite a curler in the 1940s and she was the mother of Murray “Moe” Stockford who was to be an integral part of the Altamont O’Grady Challenge legacy of the 1960s. We shall hear more about that later.

Mrs. F. E. Milligan of Altamont is the skip of another rink listed as a former winner of the Hudson Bay Company Trophy (1945.) I have no further details at this time on this victory or the individuals who curled on this team.

As I recall, in Altamont at the recreation level, women often shared the ice with men, as it was more important to play the game rather than to forfeit because there were not enough players. The rule of the day was a “curler was a curler was a curler” with the proviso of course that it was a woman playing in place of a man and not a man playing in place of a woman in a “ladies’” game. Interesting that, eh?

My mother curled in the Altamont Ladies’ and mixed leagues when they had them, and often in the Ladies’ Bonspiel when we children were not too burdensome (not sure quite when that was…) Women usually had their own curling events and these “traditions” persist to this very day at both elite and club level play. It is also noteworthy that the events for women are usually identified as “Ladies’” and not “Women’s” or “Girls,’” although sometimes in a nod to the Scots, they are called “Lassies.’” I suppose that is a half step forward but full gender equality still seems a long way off in the world of curling. Nevertheless, the competition is always fierce and fun. Perhaps, the “stuff” of curling has something to do with those facts.

My mother continued to curl after moving away from Altamont. Recently, I came across a clipping in the March 4, 1976 edition of the Wakaw Recorder in Saskatchewan where she and her teammates merited attention as winners of the A event in the “Ladies’ Closed Spiel.” At the time my parents were living in Cudworth, Saskatchewan and this victory was two years prior to my father’s scoring the 8 – Ender chronicled earlier in this posting.

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Back L – R     Kay Marshall,  Twyla Wiebe      Front L – R  Rita Dzendzielowski,  Karen Hessdorfer

To sum up, curling is a sport enjoyed by both women and men and is immensely competitive irrespective of level of skill. Historically, gender has played a large role in the sport in that the “value” attributed to the competition or the game is higher if men are playing than if women are playing. There is some tempering of this bias in mixed curling but a strong correlation between males and leadership positions remains. Still, the fact is that women and men had, and are having, one Hell of a good time curling no matter the level of skill and ability. This is a consequence of the “stuff” of curling – the “stuff” for which we are searching.   Oh, gendered inequality is a negative factor but the real question is, does the positive “stuff” outweigh the negative “stuff?”

Sweet wines and potato vodka

My parents seldom drank alcohol and they never served wine with any meal. If there was ever wine in the house, it came with someone else. Who buys, brings and drinks Mogen David and Manischewitz, anyway? As I reflect on this I am amused by the role albeit minor these sweet wines that fill Seder cups at Passover played in Altamont’s culture during my early teenage years. There was no one of Jewish religion within 50 miles and the call for kosher wine at our place was probably never heard. Still, Mogen David and Manischewitz did pass the threshold of our house. Maybe, this predilection was linked to a love for the Concord grape from which these wines were made. My paternal grandparents grew Concords in their orchard but I highly doubt that they made any wine from those grapes. Perhaps, it was just because these wines were sweet and more palatable than the homemade dandelion or chokecherry wines served up by nearby Hutterite and French Canadian populations. Whatever it was, I know for certain that the rich tradition of these wines in the celebration of a such a gut-wrenching occasion as Passover within Jewish culture was lost on us young fuzzy cheeked gentiles who opted for Mogen David or Manischewitz as our very first choice in wine.

As an aside, I must tell you that my father, (and this is very unlike my father,) made (or obtained) some homemade potato vodka when I was about 10 or 12 years old. Occasionally we would visit the root cellar and we would take a swig from an old brown crock jug. I never liked the taste but I always took a small sip. Without a word of a lie, I never considered the juxtaposition of this information with the facts of the preceding paragraph, until now. Kosher potato vodka such as Chopin is often consumed during Jewish Passover celebrations. Now, I am certain that the potato vodka in our root cellar was not kosher, but it does remind me of a saying that a friend of mine often uses – “not far from the shtetl,” meaning that some people, no matter where or how they live, are not far removed from the small towns/farms of their roots or ancestors. Entirely by coincidence I am sure, we gentiles from Altamont who grew up with Mogen David, Manischewitz and potato vodka, are not ”far from the shtetl.

The first hard liquor or spirits I ever remember being in our house was a bottle of Gilbey’s Lemon Gin Collins that appeared in our refrigerator one time during the Altamont Ladies’ Bonspiel. After a game my mother, her teammates and a few others gathered at our house for a drink. I don’t recall everyone who was there or who was the skip but I know that Flo Jenkins, our neighbour across the back lane, and Terri Bourrier, a very nice lady from north of Altamont, were part of the team. I say this not to cast any aspersions on Flo or Terri, far from it, but to mollify myself somewhat that my memory can at least recollect two people other than my mother who participated that day. I can say with some certainty that they were having a good time – curling has that quality, you know. [By the way, the design of the Gilbey’s bottle and label circa 1960 looks very much the same as it does today. Some things never change.] This too, is part of the “stuff” of curling.

I know, I have been inundating you merrily with a variety of seemingly useless facts all in the name of searching for something called “stuff” and it occurs to me that maybe this whole idea needs some elucidation. Here, I am trying to project an air of confidence that I can actually provide that clarity. Let’s try ….

Curling is all about the “stuff”

One of the first things you learn about curling and bonspiels is that the best parts have absolutely nothing to do with the rules, regulations, skills and technique … or even winning or losing for that matter. For the most part, unless you are an elite curler, the less attention paid to these aspects the better. No, it is the “je ne sait quoi” of curling that we have to understand – that “sumthin’, sumthin’” that it has, the atmosphere, the ambiance, the culture, the lifestyle, the character, the flavour, the tone, the feeling, the ethos, the values, the ideology, the mindset, the spirit, the mores, the community – that really matters. Hmmm …. Not too clear yet, is it?

Many years ago, Judith, the mother of my children, and I were moving to London, Ontario, and her Great Aunt Jean who lived in Altamont was telling us that there were other relatives living in the London area and remarked, “Well, I guess you will be seeing them around at the curling rink.”  It was not until years later that I came to realize that Great Aunt Jean did not have a parochial and naïve view of the relative sizes of communities and cities as I often intimated in my telling of the tale.  In fact, Great Aunt Jean’s comment was magnificently insightful and is essential to understanding the “stuff” of curling.  She understood intuitively that everyone in a   given community would inevitably and inexorably be drawn to the curling rink.  More on this stuff of “stuff” later.

Is the “stuff” of curling similar to the “stuff of life?” Ah, that technical term, “stuff of life,” thrown about as if it adds some deep meaning to our existence as living breathing human beings. Most philosophers or commentators probably would say this is merely another way of expressing the “essence” of life.

Movie buffs and space junkies can identify with the 1983 Oscar winning movie, The Right Stuff, celebrating the heroics of the Mercury 7 astronauts and their daring approach to the space program. Sam Shepard played Chuck Yeager, the first pilot to break the sound barrier and a shining example of “The Right Stuff,” even before Mercury 7 was launched into space. OK, let’s not get too hung up on semantics here but suffice to say at this point that “stuff” has both meaning and, dare I say, “gravitas” aside from being associated with DNA and genetics.

OK, maybe we should just ditch “life” (figuratively only) for a minute. Let’s think of “stuff” as something that makes … well … anything … including, but not limited to, a concept, a construct, a thing, a physical structure, a geological formation, a galaxy, a thought, or a feeling, greater than the sum of its parts?  Anne, my ballet-dancing lover, is fond of saying that great dance performances are so ephemeral and ethereal that the beauty and delicateness of its entirety cannot be captured on film or even recalled perfectly by one’s mind. It is interesting that the human brain, exquisite and accurate as it is in capturing such sentience in the first instance, does not have the capacity to summon a precise replica of what existed in that brief moment of lived experience. It is as if the expenditure of energy in the performance diminishes the capacity of those who witness it to re-create it, no matter how acute their senses were in the initial viewing.  The combinations and permutations of sight, smell, taste, touch, and hearing along with other more ambiguous factors such as mood, ambiance, etc. of that one instance, are too great to calculate and too great to replicate. We are left wondering: what is the “stuff” that makes the hairs of your arms prickle when you witness an event for which there are no superlatives sufficient to describe its effect?

Sociologist Emile Durheim maintained that society was greater than the sum of its parts. I happen to ascribe to that theory as well. What is it that makes society come alive? Maybe it is human social interaction or spirituality? My view is that neither of these adequately describes “stuff” although the latter may be closer to it.

So, I return to my question: What is the “stuff” that makes curling greater than the sum of ice, brooms, rocks/stones, etc.? Is it merely the fact that humans play this game? Perhaps, but not likely. Do rules and regulations give the game life?  You are permitted to laugh uproariously at this suggestion.  It is my own view that curling has a reach (an attraction or pull, if you will) that is not attributable to the hard infrastructure with which the game is played, the formal code that governs every element of the play, or the informal code that governs both on ice and off ice behaviours.

Curling is a social sport and a competitive game where strategy, tactics, skill and talent combined with the odd piece of good or bad fortune contribute to the final outcome and most importantly to the enjoyment of those who play. I am certain that those of you who curl can add one or to additional features of the game to round out your list of things that define curling. Still it is my contention that the number of items in curling is of no consequence; the “stuff” of curling is virtually indescribable and is more than the sum of its parts. Moreover, we have not yet developed the necessary capacity to prove its existence. The “stuff” of curling exists now only in theory and not as observable data proving its existence.

Toward a theory of “stuff”

Please bear with me as I am going to venture into some perilous territory of theory here but it is essential to understanding “stuff.” I can’t really bring myself to call it “stuff theory” and I know that many will just say “stuff theory!”

As I write this, the scientific world is abuzz with formal announcements of the observable detection of “gravitational waves” (for the first time ever) confirming the existence of “black holes” and Einstein’s theory of General Relativity postulated almost exactly one hundred years ago. Gravitational waves are ripples that squeeze and stretch the fabric of space and time. Their detection makes it possible to observe cataclysmic events in the universe e.g., the merger of black holes or the formation of neutron stars or “zombie stars,”a massive star that runs out of fuel and explodes in a supernova but hasn’t yet collapsed sufficiently to form a black hole.” This news is being hailed as a new way of seeing the universe.

It may seem ridiculous to some, but my hypothesis is that there is a social gravitational field around curling that equates to the “stuff” of curling we are seeking. This ”stuff” is a cumulative product of events and social interaction going back to the early to mid-16th century at least. The “Stirling stone,” dated 1511 and found in Scotland, is believed to be the oldest known hard evidence of curling as a sport. By the mid-16th century Flemish artists e.g., Pieter Bruegel’s Hunters in the Snow and Winter Landscape with a Bird Trap, began to depict curling on frozen ponds. Around the same time, John McQuhin, a notary in Paisley, Scotland, recorded a curling challenge between John Sclater, a monk in Paisley Abbey, and Gavin Hamilton, a representative of the Abbot. We can think of these events as the equivalent of the “big bang” but for curling – the birth of a game that humans would take intimately into their Souls. The importance of the Sclater “challenge” and its proximity to the centre of this “big bang” of curling will become evident later, but I am getting a little ahead of myself. For now, just be content to know that the gravitational waves from these events will enlighten us as to what the “stuff” of curling really is.

For those of you who want to engage in a more abstract theoretical discussion on the “stuff” of curling, please see Appendix A: Towards a theory of the “Stuff” of Curling.

For those whose time is more valuable, consider this: Much like gravity, curling is not evident until it gives us a reason to be aware of its presence. The popular story is that Sir Isaac Newton “discovered” gravity when an apple fell on his head. We know that this story is not entirely true and it is a good thing too because we now know that we don’t have to wait until a curling rock falls on someone’s head to know about curling. Just walk the streets of any city, town, village or hamlet in Canada after September 1st and before May 1st, and listen to people – you will discover that curling is Canadian cultural and social gravitational glue.

Okay, to be honest we still have not nailed down, in a precise manner, the “stuff” of curling. So we must forge ahead by observing people and human behaviour in events that make the curling world spin on its axis, keeping our “stuff” together, and in orbit.

Bonspiels and other “stuff”

We had a quick look at bonspiels in an earlier section but let’s return to them again as a great place to identify “stuff.”

When I was a young lad “bonspiel week” in Altamont was possibly the most exciting week of the year, rivaling Christmas in fact. The skating ice was converted into three additional sheets of glossy curling surfaces to augment the one permanent sheet on the other side of the boards and a walkway. The Altamont Bonspiel lured a variety of curlers to spend a large part of the week in Altamont. I believe they were guaranteed four games for their entry fee so it was a bit of a commitment but one the curlers happily accepted. Rinks from Altamont and environs entered of course as well as family and friends from across the province. There are always several rinks from other communities mostly made up of grain farmers who had flexible schedules and few work commitments in the winter. There were also several rinks, smitten in previous years by the hospitality, ambiance and atmosphere of the whole community, and the ‘competitive non-competitive’ duality of the bonspiel itself who returned to re-create the experience. I am not sure if they were captivated by its charm or captured by an invisible yet palpable quantity that is the “stuff” of curling. The “stuff” of curling was, for some reason, more evident, more salient, and more undeniable at the Altamont Bonspiel than it was in other places.

 

Altamont Rink IMG_4396

Altamont Rink built 1919

As you can see from the photo above the Altamont Rink is a small (if you were inclined to be charitable, you would say “intimate”) venue. The smallness does not detract from the charm or from the game itself. In some ways it amplifies it. In the days (mid-1950s to 1980s) before brushes became the predominant tool for sweeping [damn those Scots and Canadian Junior Champion Paul Gowsell,] and after the days (ending in late 1940s and early 1950s) when curling brooms looked like old kitchen brooms wielded by housewives Hell bent on saving their pies cooling on window ledges from scheming children like Huck Finn, the corn broom ruled the day. It’s distinctive slap, slap, slap could be heard outside almost a block away from the rink, as young strong arms and legs put every ounce of muscle into coaxing the rock into the correct spot. The low ceiling in a small rink, 32 curlers on the ice with 8 – 10 of them sweeping at any given time, and 4 – 6 others shouting instructions to sweep harder (HAAAARRRRDDDD!) or not at all (RIGHT OFF!) made for bedlam except … except when the sweepers developed rhythms intensifying loudness but softening discordance, lulling the observer into a short lived reverie of drumming and drill sergeants. It is in these moments where you begin to glimpse the “stuff” of curling.

In April 1991 the CBC, accurately in my view, captured the centrality of curling and the Altamont Rink to the collective Soul of this small community.  Indeed, I doubt if anyone who has ever spent an hour in the Rink has not been touched by the “stuff” (material and spiritual) that resides there.  Have a look at this footage from the CBC Archives:

http://www.cbc.ca/archives/entry/a-curling-community

These images triggered many memories for me and I shall return to the Altamont Rink on several occasions in Parts II and III of this series. Suffice to say that there is more to this “stuff” than meets the eye, as the old saw goes.

Most of us (young or old) could not afford fancy curling brooms.  I retrieved my own prized corn broom from the garbage can where it had been deposited unceremoniously by an unknown curler. To some it was a broken down castoff but to me it was as close as I would get to the real deal – and it was free!  The corn straw still had enough structural integrity and I had enough upper body, arm and leg power to make it slap so that I was not embarrassed. Older boys often had the trademark Blackjack broom made with inverted corn straw in the centre or the Rink Rat made from artificial fabrics. They could wield these brooms with the best of them, their slapping almost defying the sound barrier.

One of the less endearing qualities of the corn broom is that it left a lot of “trash” (broken straws) on the ice. If you weren’t diligent about keeping the ice clean, a rock could pick up a small piece of straw under the running surface causing it to lose speed or curl more dramatically than expected.  Of course, after the brush became popular some rinks took advantage of the ability to use either broom and switched back and forth depending on the outcome they sought. I recall that my ‘reclaimed’ broom left a lot of trash whether I wanted it to or not. I am not convinced that the corn broom helped me much as a curler but that is likely more a comment on my ability than anything else. These observations are not simply idle musings but serve as a good reminder that some “stuff” in curling is unintentional and perhaps even accidental.

Traditionally, the weather during bonspiel week was extremely cold except, of course, for those years which had the equally traditional “January thaw.” Most people don’t like it when traditions change like that, but as a raconteur, I can tell you that it comes in handy to have it any way you like. I can remember as many years when it was bone-chillingly cold as years that were ice melting warm. In the cold years, the sales of soup and coffee from the kitchen were up and the sales of cold non-alcoholic drinks were down with the reverse being true in the warm years. Sales of hot dogs, hamburgers, fries (chips to us), and hot turkey sandwiches remained steady irrespective of weather.

The “informal” consumption of alcoholic beverages remained stable and occurred mostly at the far end of the curling sheet, dispensed orally, directly from bottles hidden in any convenient hole or crack in the end wall, and shielded from public view by any number of complicit curlers huddling together. The raison d’etre of a huddle in curling is very different from that in Canadian and American football. Most bonspiels have formal and/or informal locations where one can seek out an appropriate libation at any time of the day or night. They may have names such as The Brier Patch, The Curler’s Rest, the Lizard Lounge, Three Sheets to the Wind, Shot in the Dark, Draw One, Extra End, or The Hog Line.

Bonspiels in my day were week long ‘spiels with 64 rinks in the draw. Gordon Lowry and his son Ron (called “Ronnie” by many back then and 55 years later probably still is by some) were most often the draw masters and each of them was beyond reproach in their setting of the draw. In any case, I choose to believe that there were no “seeded” rinks in those days and it was left to chance as to whether top rinks might meet each other in the early draws. Still the final draw for the championship title was always thrilling and featured excellent curling.

At some point in my early adult life, the weekend bonspiel with draws starting Friday evening and continuing around the clock until a winner was declared on Sunday afternoon became wildly popular. They did not require taking time off work during weekdays. And some baby boomers were prepared to curl and party all weekend long. I speak from experience when I say that strategic thinking and the execution of delicate curling shots takes on an entirely different dimension at 3 or 4 a.m. after a few hours of “discussing” the intricacies of the “roaring game” with your own team and/or with many friends (new and old) in the comfort of the Altamont Hotel or another cozy abode near the curling rink.  Let’s just say that, under certain conditions, the capacity of the human mind to be deluded into thinking that the body can perform feats beyond that intended by the Supreme Being’s blueprint, is infinite. And, even if infinity cannot be multiplied, it is multiplied exponentially by the sum of the quantity of spirits consumed and the hours of sleep deprivation suffered. The probabilities of predicting the winners of a weekend ‘spiel increased significantly if you had observable empirical data on a) skill level, b) degree of tiredness at 3 a.m. and c) number of “huddles” conducted at the far end of the rink.

Is it all about the soup?

It is the week long bonspiels that I remember most fondly. My sisters and I were allowed at least once during that week to have supper at the rink. This meal was a major treat for us as we rarely went to restaurants or had meals away from home outside of those at the homes of our grandparents, uncles and aunts. I can’t speak for my sisters but I loved the homemade soup that the ladies made at the rink – lots of meat, veggies, and flavour.

At home I would only eat our mother’s soup under great howling protest. It used to drive mother crazy. I don’t know what it was about her soup but it didn’t pass the bonspiel test. I know it bothered her all her life as not that many years ago, I mentioned it to her and she knew exactly what I was saying. Well, you know what mom, your passing hasn’t changed my mind, and your soup still doesn’t make the grade. Wherever you are, I hope that you are not making soup. I also happen to know that mom hated making soup so if she has a choice; she isn’t making any right now. If she had only done that when she was alive, it would have been a win-win situation for the both of us.

As the week wore on and the bonspiel came to a close, we kids looked forward to that moment when we would flood onto the hard, glassy smooth curling ice, reclaiming it for skaters and hockey players. It was the true test of whether your skates were sharp enough. When I was very young, they seldom were sharp and I recall the roundness of my blades slipping and sliding without ever getting the true feel of the “edge” that I would grow to love as a hockey player.

My final thought on bonspiel week is that soup has to be an essential ingredient in the”stuff of curling.” However, soup alone cannot be the sole ingredient because if it was, then it would be called the “soup of curling.”

What do you do when you can’t watch the grass grow?

Late winter or early spring, depending on how you measure it, always brought the Manitoba men’s curling finals, played at some esteemed establishment as the Granite Curling Club in Winnipeg.  Then, as it is now, it was a very big deal to make the finals, “The British Consuls,” so named after a brand of cigarette made by the Macdonald Tobacco Company, the original sponsor of “The Brier,” the Canadian Men’s Curling Championship. When you won the Brier, you were it; the best; the absolute undisputed best curling team in Canada. There were no other contenders. Unlike today where there is a professional tour, a series of cash bonspiels and skins games, the Olympic trials where a team wins the right to represent Canada at the Olympics, and a Team Canada that gets to play in The Brier, without winning a spot through the provincial play downs, by virtue of having won the previous year’s Brier.

Sometimes when I am asked how important curling was (and is) in the culture of Manitoba, I just tell them that the problem with Manitoba in the winter is that you can’t watch the grass grow. So what do you do? Listen to curling on the radio, of course! When I was a kid they did broadcast important curling games on the radio. This always prompts some quizzical looks and I then explain that it has a long history and tell them how that is done.

The early broadcast history is a bit unclear, but I believe that the CBC National Radio Network’s Bill Good did the play by play of the final game of the Brier nationally for the first time in 1946. In Winnipeg, “Cactus” Jack Wells of CJRC broadcast curling in the late 1950s and early 1960s and sports caster Bob Picken (who was an elite curler in his own right) would pick up those duties with CJOB beginning in the mid-1960s. The history is long and deep even without going into the television broadcasts.

I recall going to the drug store in Swan Lake with my dad to pick up some antibiotics as my sister Geraldine had an ear infection. It was in early spring 1958 I believe, and we had the radio tuned to CJRC Winnipeg. We were just on the far edges of the radio signal in Swan Lake and it faded in and out depending on where we were in the dips and rises on Highway 23. Amazingly though, the reception was quite good in front of the Swan Lake garage where the car ended up sitting, not because it was close to the drug store (few people called them pharmacies then), but because our car had a flat tire and our spare was not really functional. In fact, it too was flat. It seems that we were perpetually on the edge of mishap both where the rubber hits the road and where the power train engages for propulsion.

I don’t recall how long it took for the tire repair but I do recall it was a beautiful sunny, relatively warm day and I sat in the car listening to a radio broadcast of a game in the men’s curling championship of Manitoba. So what if my sister was screaming, driving my mother to distraction because the antibiotics had not yet arrived.

Braunstein shocks curling establishment

I don’t really remember which game of the Manitoba Men’s Championship it was, but let’s assume it was the final game and veteran broadcaster and member of the Canadian Curling Hall of Fame, Cactus Jack Wells, was calling the play-by-play solo. It would sound something like this:

“Well, it turned out nice again, didn’t it? [This was Cactus Jack’s signature opening line for any broadcast] …

“… And Stan Topalloffski’s [It was really Topolniski but Cactus Jack was infamous for mispronouncing names] rock stops fully buried just biting the back 8-foot behind Brownsteen’s [really Braunstein’s] rock, at ten o’clock. Tallaopski [Topolniski] also has a long guard just inside the hog line but not really in play.   We are in an extra end folks with the score tied 11 -11. If Brownstem [Braunstein] can draw the 8-foot with this last rock, he and his rink will become the youngest ever to capture the Consols, the championship of Manitoba. These youngsters certainly have set the curling establishment on its ear. Skip Terry is just 16, his brother Ray at third is 17, second man Ray Turnbull is the old man at 18, and lead Jack Van de Mond [Van Hellemond] is 16. Their average age doesn’t add up to a 2 – 4 of beer.”

“Braunstern [Braunstein] settles into the hack to deliver the final stone. It’s on its way with Turnbull and Van Mond [Van Hellemond] sweeping gently as it crosses the mid-way point.”

[You can hear the sound of brooms slapping lightly]

“The weight looks good as it crosses the hog line and Ray Braunstern [Braunstein] calls the sweepers off. […Pause…] Braunstem [Braunstein] has done it! His rock stops fully in the 8 foot. We have just witnessed history in the making folks! The young lads defeat a veteran, the curling plumber, Stan Topolinski [Topolniski] of Transcona 12 – 11 in an extra end.” [It was the 13th end as all games were played as regulation 12 end games in those days.]

Cactus Jack Continues: “The youngster, Brownstein [Braunstein], has accomplished what seemed unthinkable – a junior rink capturing the Manitoba British Consols emblematic of the men’s curling championship of Manitoba. “

Cactus Jack pauses briefly, either for effect or to take a drink, and continues: “And now the 64 dollar question is whether this young rink will be allowed to represent Manitoba at the Macdonald’s Brier in Victoria, B.C.?  The lads [at this point Cactus Jack has seemingly given up on pronunciation] are junior members at the Granite Curling Club and the regulations stipulate that only senior members can represent the province at the Brier.”

Cactus Jack’s question was a real one – and the answer had implications far beyond just finding a quick fix for the age and senior membership requirement.

Braunstein: “The Jackie Robinson of Jewish Curling”

Well, it turns out that Terry Braunstein’s victory in 1958 was more than a triumph of youth over experienced veterans; it was more than just solidifying Manitoba’s place as a “hot bed of curling;” it was a triumph that helped pave the way for Jews in previously forbidden territory. This little talked about side bar on the Terry Braunstein story stems from the fact that until the late 1950s, Jews weren’t allowed memberships in the curling establishment’s most prestigious clubs. In response to this deep-seated anti-Semitism, Jews followed the established pattern set in other cases of segregation. Many of those groups formed their own clubs, organizations, and even entire leagues if you think about the Negro League in baseball. In curling, Jews formed the Maple Leaf Curling Club (1933) in Winnipeg and the Menorah Curling Club (1947) in Edmonton.

Elie Dolgin in Tablet (February 10, 2014) writes about the role Terry Braunstein’s heroics had in smashing through anti-Semitic barriers in curling in the 1950s and 1960s.

If there was ever a Jackie Robinson of Jewish curling, it was Terry Braunstein. Braunstein started curling at the Maple Leaf. But as a teenager, he also played at the Granite Curling Club, the oldest and most established club in Manitoba—which at the time had no Jewish members. In March 1958, Braunstein and his younger brother Ron—both still junior competitors—beat out adult teams to win the Manitoba provincial title, with Terry playing skip. The next fall, the Braunsteins were granted full adult membership at the Granite. Other Jews soon followed.

The official granting of full adult membership of the Braunstein’s may have happened the next fall but young Terry and Ray Braunstein, Ray Turnbull and Jack Van Hellemond had to become adult members of the Granite Club in order to compete at the Brier so immediate action was necessary. In Ray Turnbull’s words, “So overnight, they kind of made us senior members. They had an emergency meeting of the club people and made us full members and away we went to the brier.”

Ken Neuman, 75, a dentist in Vancouver who curled with the Braunsteins in the early 1960s confirms the anti-Semitic nature of the curling establishment at that time. “When we went to curl there (at the Granite Club) we were made to feel a little uncomfortable … but after a couple of years, there wasn’t any of that [anti-Semitism] visible.”

We are left wondering what might have been the case if a) Terry Braunstein had not upset the apple cart by winning the men’s curling championship in Manitoba as a Junior member of one of the most prestigious clubs in Winnipeg; b) the entire Braunstein rink had not needed to be senior members in the Granite Club to participate in the Macdonald’s Brier in Victoria, B.C.; c) Ray Turnball had not been a member of Braunstein’s rink; d) Ray Turnball’s father had not been a member of the Granite Curling Club; and e) if the Granite Curling Club had not held the emergency overnight meeting [I would wager that Turnball’s father was instrumental in this effort] to make Braunstein and his rink senior members in good standing to meet the requirements for the young foursome to go to the Brier. Without the convergence of these facts, it is quite likely that anti-Semitism would have continued for a longer period than it did in Winnipeg curling circles.

Elie Dolgin’s comparison of Terry Braunstein to Jackie Robinson, however much of a stretch it may seem at first, is indeed a good one. Robinson always wanted his talent and skill as a baseball player to be recognized equally along side the talents and skills of others in a world where these abilities are valued. It was a different kind of politics. In Braunstein’s case, the skill and talent of these young players carried them into the winner’s circle such that their achievement and therefor entitlement could not be denied by anti-Semitic practices or politics within the curling club establishment. As with Robinson, it was not just good fortune and a matter of the right people being in the right place at the right time, the Braunstein rink had to prove they were worthy by establishing their place among the very best in their sport. And that they did!

But we are left with an interesting question: did the Braunstein rink have the right “stuff” or was it the “stuff” of curling itself that made the difference, or even more daringly, did the Braunstein “stuff” merely add its weight to the ever growing “stuff” of Curling to carry curling forward?

Manitoba is a hot bed of curling

Altamont was (and probably still is) a microcosm of a broader phenomenon in Manitoba and that is the creation and perpetuation of Manitoba as a hot bed of curling for both men and women. Hmm … that sounds fun! Anyway, it is fun but it is also highly competitive. The sport at the elite level is not for the feint of heart. Outwardly, it is a game of gentlemen and gentlewomen but in its belly, the fires of competition rage keeping the “stuff” of curling alive.

Men’s Canadian champions

The Brier is the most sought after championship for men in curling in large part because it is so very difficult to get into the provincial playoffs, never mind win that playoff giving you the privilege to face the incredibly strong rinks from the provinces and territories in the struggle for the Brier trophy. A Brier victory propels you to the World Championships. In men’s curling, Manitoba has won 27 Briers and finished as in the top 3 teams 55 times, the most of any province since its inception in 1927. Alberta is only one victory behind with 26 wins and has finished in the top 3 places, 52 times. As if to punctuate the pervasiveness of curling in Canada, the Brier has been staged in 31 different cities and at least once in every province. Only Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick and the three Territories have yet to win a Brier. The 2016 Brier is in Ottawa, March 5 – 13 and we have tickets to the last five draws!

Since 1927 the Brier has had only four major sponsors: Macdonald Tobacco Co., Labatt’s Breweries, Nokia, and Tim Horton’s.

1927 – 1979             Macdonald’s Brier

1980 – 2000            Labatt Brier

2001 – 2004            Nokia Brier

2005 – present       Tim Horton’s Brier

So sponsorship of the men’s championship of the “Roaring Game” has rested with the major producers/sellers of tobacco, alcohol, cellphones, and coffee with donuts. This lineage may help explain the addictive quality of the “stuff” of curling.

Men’s world champions

Canadian men’s teams have dominated the world championships with 50 finishes in the top three and winning 34 of those times. Sweden is far behind with seven wins and 21 top three finishes. Alberta has by far led the way with 11 victorious teams representing Canada. Ontario is next with 7 and Manitoba has 6 victories which is still enviable.

Women’s Canadian champions

Women have contributed greatly to Manitoba’s claim to be the hottest hot bed of curling, finishing in the top 3 teams in 29 national championships and winning it 9 times. Saskatchewan has more victories with 11 but have fewer top three finishes with 24. As I write this post, Alberta is the current champion (2016.) Nevertheless, as if to underscore the discounted nature of women’s curling in general, the Canadian Ladies’ Curling Championship has had more difficulty finding a committed major sponsor. Both the name and sponsorship has changed several times since 1961 and for six of those years the Canadian Ladies’ Curling Association assumed the sponsorship itself, as outlined below:

1961 – 67       Diamond D Championship (Dominion Stores)

1968 – 71       Canadian Ladies’ Curling Assoc. Championship

1972 – 79      Macdonald Lassies Championship (Macdonald Tobacco)

1980 – 81      Canadian Ladies’ Curling Assoc. Championship

1982 – 2006 Scott Tournament of Hearts (Scott Paper)

2007 – 2016 Scotties Tournament of Hearts (Scott Paper)

Women’s world champions

Canada has dominated women’s curling at the world level winning the championship 15 times and finishing in the top three 32 times. Sweden is a distant second with 8 wins and 23 top three finishes. Rinks from Saskatchewan and BC have won the women’s world championships four times each. Ontario has won it three times while Manitoba and Nova Scotia have each won it twice. Manitoba’s performance here is but a small chink in Manitoba’s claim to “hot bed of curling” status.

Rich tradition of curling in Altamont

Altamont has a rich tradition of curling with both men’s and ladies’ teams distinguishing themselves over the years. I have already noted that Olive Stockford and her rink won the Birks Dingwall Trophy at the MCA Bonspiel in 1944 and Mrs. F. E. Milligan won the Hudson Bay Company Trophy in 1945. I don’t have a complete record of all accomplishments for the ladies, far from it.

There were many good men’s curlers over the years as well and I know that many rinks made trips (some annually) to participate in the MCA Bonspiel in Winnipeg. My father went once or twice but it was difficult for him to get away from Post Office duties and quite frankly our family could not afford the cost.  I do not have any record of Altamont men’s rinks being as successful as the women at the MCA ‘spiel but the men certainly did have some success in challenge trophy competitions.

The O’Grady Challenge Trophy (“The Old Buffalo”)

Colonel J. W. deCourcey O’Grady, then President of the Manitoba Curling Association (MCA), established a trophy in 1908 “to encourage good will and promote curling matches between affiliated clubs in the Association.” Officially named the O’Grady Challenge Trophy, it is most often called “The Old Buffalo” derived from the figure that stands in defiant attitude on the trophy.  As it turns out this nickname is incorrect for those who care because the figure on the trophy is of a bison rather than a buffalo but this is a common mistake. The trophy has been open to challenge continuously since the Granite Curling Club won the inaugural challenge match against the Kenora, Ontario Curling Club (some Ontario and Saskatchewan clubs have been affiliated to Manitoba over the years) at the Annual MCA Bonspiel, March 2, 1908.

The thing about the O’Grady Trophy is that any club affiliated to the MCA is eligible to enter two teams in the competition with the winner having the most total points in a round robin competition.  The winner can hold the Trophy for seven days but it is open to challenge after that time.

For about a decade (1961 – 1971) the small community of Altamont was in the thick of the O’Grady Trophy challenges. January 28, 1961 marks the first time Altamont won “The Old Buffalo.” They defeated two teams from Wawanesa, Manitoba in the aggregate points round robin match. March 4, 1971 marks the last time Altamont played for the trophy and they lost the round robin to Roland, Manitoba. In all, they won “The Old Buffalo” four out of the six times they challenged but they were never successful in defending the trophy against a challenger so the trophy only ever rested briefly in the hands of one of the smallest curling clubs within the MCA.  Altamont’s overall record was four wins and seven losses.  Not the best, but still, it is a very good record for a ”hamlet” generously estimated to have a population of 120 in the 1960s and today is considerably below 75. The Altamont Curling Club has been a faithful and continuous MCA member since 1929.

It all began just before midnight ….

What I recount for you from here on may seem fantastical but I have been assured that ceteris paribus it is an authentic story.

It was mere minutes before midnight on January 28, 1961 and the Altamont Curling Club had just successfully wrested the O’Grady Challenge Cup from Wawanesa by an aggregate score of 31 -10.  Most of the members of the two winning Altamont rinks, and a few other folks who always hang out at the Rink, were at the Altamont Rink (yeah, I know… a “rink” is an arena and in curling it is also a “team”) for a small informal “after hours” celebration, admiring “The Old Buffalo.”

[In fact, any drinking of spirits or beer at any time in the Altamont Rink was “after hours” because there was no liquor license – no need for one – as there was no bar. Is this ‘circular reasoning?’]

The members of the winning Altamont rinks were Lynwood Graham, Murray Stockford, Percy Simpson, Jim Simpson, Charlie McDonald, Gordon Holliston, Herbie Rackham and Charlie Taylor.

Please see Appendix B for a complete list of O’Grady Challenge Trophy games played by the Altamont Curling Club including the names of the Altamont curlers.

What in the Devil ….?

Now, I believe we all know that the Devil loves to curl. He especially loves challenge matches like His infamous showdown with Willie MacCrimmon in Shelby, Alberta in 1939, so aptly chronicled by W. O. Mitchell in The Black Bonspiel of Willie MacCrimmon.  Well, to tell the truth, the Devil is not keen on having that story broadcast too widely as Willie MacCrimmon and three guys named Charlie Brown outsmarted ol’Cloutie. Ever since then though, the Devil had been keeping a low profile in the curling community, partly because He was still furious about the outcome with Willie and partly because He was biding His time, waiting for the right opportunity to extract revenge.

[For a note on grammar in relation to the Devil, please see Appendix C]

When “The Old Buffalo” arrived in Altamont with its single sheet of curling ice exuding the very “stuff” of curling, the Devil’s old-fashioned radar and his new  – fangled GPS (He was testing a very early prototype of Global Positioning of Satan) both pinged very loudly. In fact, the pinging was so irritatingly loud and insistent that the Devil could suppress neither the headache it was giving Him nor the impulse to show Himself.

Crown Royal IMG_5602

So it was that just before midnight on January 28, 1961, the Devil burst through the door of the Altamont Rink, a cloud of steam hissing around Him as the North Wind’s cold snowy breath melted in the wake of His advance. The waiting room and its jubilant occupants were illuminated by a pulsing red-hot glow. Scanning the room the Devil’s laser red eyes narrowly missed cutting through the bottle of Crown Royal in the centre of the card table, instead burning a hole in the velvet bag and, regrettably, slicing some of the filled paper cups lined up alongside.

Of those present, a voice carrying the authority of heritage and lineage, a descendant of one the first settlers to migrate (1884) from Merrickville, Ontario to Mussellboro (later renamed Altamont,) was the first to respond to the intrusion. That voice belonged to none other than Gordon Holliston, speaking as clearly and firmly as he could, “Nnnow … now… now…. see here … see here … dddon’t… don’t you… don’t you …”

To be Continued….

NEXT POST: Part II of THE “STUFF” OF CURLING, “The Devil’s Challenge: “The Old Goat””
Learn more about: The Devil’s challenge and how the Altamont team responds; Who the good guys are and who the bad guys are (Does the Devil have friends?;) What a “Dunbar” is; Where the Devil hangs out when He is in town; Meet a Parkinson’s hero (or a hero who has Parkinson’s) with an unlikely name; and much more…. (yes, it is still about curling….)

APPENDICES

Appendix A: Towards a theory of the “stuff” of curling

Below you will find the early musings of one individual on a theory, or parts of a theory, about the “stuff of curling.” In it, curling is analogous to a star around which a community or (communities) orbit. Much like the Sun and the planets, curling has a gravitational field holding key elements in check yet allowing other minor players occasionally to enter into, and sometimes escape, its gravitational pull.

The “stuff” of curling is the sum of Good Gravitational forces at the Societal (capital CCurling), the club (capital C – Curling level,) the informal recreational and pick up (small c – curling) level and Beneficial Innovation minus the sum of Evil Gravitational Forces at these same levels and Disruptive Innovation, expressed mathematically as follows:

∑ (GGFC+ GGFCn + GGFcn + BIn) – ∑ (EGFC + EGFCn + EGFcn + DIn) = 0

Where

GGFC is Good Gravitational Forces in Curling (Societal Culture level)

GGFC is Good Gravitational Forces Curling (Club and formal recreational level)

GGFc is Good Gravitational Forces curling (pick up and informal recreational level)

EGFC is Evil Gravitational Forces in Curling at Societal Culture level

EGFCn is Evil Gravitational Force Curling (Club and formal recreational level)

EGFcn is Evil Gravitational Force curling (pick up and informal recreational level)

DI is Disruptive Innovation

BI is Beneficial Innovation

[You always knew that curling was going to end up as a case of “Good vs Evil” didn’t you?  The author toyed with the idea of identifying “Good” as “Positive” and “Evil” as “Negative” but rejected those  assignations as too unwieldy in a world where everyone knows the difference between “Good” and “Evil.” It will be interesting to see how the Trump for President campaign plays out on this score … but that is not my primary (pun intended) purpose here -although Curling  trumps Trump.]

Back to our summation equation; If the resulting number is zero, it signifies that Good and Evil in the game are in balance. If the result is positive, good is triumphing over evil and if negative, evil is winning out.

The “stuff” of Curling is actually everything that is contained in each bracketed term.  I can hear your bleats of derision now: “You idiot,” you say, “that just means that “stuff” is everything and everything is “stuff.””  My response is a somewhat sheepish, “You are sort of correct, but the important part is that the equation is in balance if Good and Evil are in dynamic harmony.”  If the sum is not zero indicating an imbalance then something is truly wrong with your “stuff” and measures should be taken to deal with it.

The sociologists and political scientists among you will shoot me down by saying that this is a structural functionalist theory  as espoused by Talcott Parsons and other apologists for the status quo in social and political behaviour. In other words, change is not possible unless conflict occurs and the equation on the “stuff of curling” does not allow for conflict or change.

Again, my response is that you are sort of correct but I must point out that this equation is not an equation that generates change or conflict, nor is it intended to be. It is merely an equation which monitors those features in Curling, Curling and curling and assesses the relative strengths of each and possible responses to avoid an obvious damaging out – of – balance situation.

As a case in point, consider the use of directional brooms and directional sweeping. New fabrics and new techniques in applying the fabrics to brooms are making it possible for sweepers to direct, or lead, the rock in ways that have been unthinkable until now.  In the short term, these brooms have been banned from most elite level competitions. As such, they are a disruptive innovation which tips the competitive component of curling away from fairness. Something must happen on the other side of the equation if competitiveness is to remain as a central component of the sport. In fact, banning the brooms serves that purpose in the short term. But what about the long term?  The long term is the vision for the sport. Does the current “stuff” of curling (including beneficial and disruptive innovations) keep Curling, Curling and curling at the centre of the gravitational field ensuring its survival?

Let’s return to the gravitational force issue by thinking about social groupings such as community. Societies are made up of many different communities and these communities are held in orbits around the centre of society by an invisible yet palpable force analogous to a gravitational field. Each community in the orbit has its own gravitational pull as Earth does in our solar system. In fact, curling is a community and has this type of gravitational field, as do the curling clubs within curling’s orbit. Think of curling writ large as the Earth, the curling clubs as planets, and other recreational and informal curling events, happenings, etc. as moons, asteroids, etc. Just make sure you envision bodies orbiting around bodies orbiting around bodies. The number of orbits and bodies can be infinite but usually is self-limiting at some point. Each body has a social gravitational field, the strength of which may vary according to the relative proximity of events or the relative importance of the game(s) or activity at that specific point in time. Your own individual orbit or the orbit of any social grouping to which you belong may touch tangentially or may indeed coincide with the orbits of other social groupings, for periods of time. In either case, once you are subject to the social gravitational field of a social grouping, you are not master over it. Once you are within its field, it is extremely difficult to escape.

Consider curling. When you belong to a curling club you most definitely will feel curling’s social gravitational pull, especially the pull of the club to which you belong. But ironically you can be subject to the pull of curling’s gravitational field even though you are not a member of any curling club, as the gravitational pull of curling exists at more than one level.

Much like gravity, Curling is not evident until it gives us a reason to be aware of its presence. It is commonly said that Newton “discovered” gravity when an apple fell on his head. Fortunately we don’t have to wait until a curling rock falls on our head to know about Curling. Just walk the streets of any city, town, village or hamlet in Canada after September 1st and listen to people – you will discover that Curling is Canadian cultural and social gravitational glue.

Appendix B: O’Grady Challenge Trophy (“The Old Buffalo”)

Game#   Date             Holder           Challenger

500    01/28/61   Wawanesa 10        W- Altamont 31                                                             Altamont curlers: Charlie Mcdonald, Percy Simpson, Gordon Holliston, Murray Stockford, Jim Simpson, Herb Rackham, Charlie Taylor, Lynwood Graham

501    02/04/61     Altamont 16              W- Glenboro 24
Altamont curlers: Percy Simpson, Murray Stockford, Jim Simpson, Herb Rackham, Charlie Taylor, Lynwood Graham, Eugene Kehler, Ron Lowry

520    03/23/62     Pembina 12              W – Altamont 23                                                         Altamont curlers: Murray Stockford, Lynwood Graham, Charlie Taylor, Ron Lowry, John Rankin, Jim Scott, Cliff Holliston, Irwin Madill

521    01/02/63      Altamont 16              W – Mather 18                                                           Altamont curlers: Murray Stockford, Charlie Taylor, Lynwood Graham, Ron Lowry, John Rankin, Jim Scott, Cliff Holliston, Irwin Madill

538    02/22/64      Sperling 8                 W – Altamont 18                                                    Altamont curlers: Murray Stockford, Herb Rackham, Ron Lowry, John Rankin, Irwin Madill, Howard Andrews, Frank Stockford, Vern Ticknor

539    02/29/64      Altamont 12             W – Glenboro 22
Altamont curlers: Herb Rackham, John Rankin, Irwin Madill, Howard Andrews, Vern Ticknor, Allan Ticknor, Arnie Zilkey, Dale Adams

559    01/21/67      W – Roland 22                  Altamont 17                                                    Altamont curlers: Murray Stockford, Lynwood Graham, John Rankin, Irwin Madill, Norman King, Jim Wilson, Ed Picton, Real Labossiere

581    03/12/68      W – Gilbert Plains 17       Altamont 15
Altamont curlers: Murray Stockford, Lynwood Graham, John Rankin, Norman King, Alan Crampton, Bert Marshall, Bud Grogan, Fred Bourrier

582    03/13/68      Altamont 15             W – Miami 21                                                            Altamont curlers: Murray Stockford, Lynwood Graham, John Rankin, Norman King, Alan Crampton, Bud Grogan, Fred Bourrier, Howard Andrews

631     02/27/71      Charleswood 11       W – Altamont 19
Altamont curlers: Murray Stockford, Lynwood Graham, John Rankin, Alan Crampton, Bert Marshall, Bud Grogan, Howard Andrews, Alex Grenier

632     03/04/71      Altamont 17             W – Roland 21
Altamont curlers: Lynwood Graham, John Rankin, Alan Crampton, Bert Marshall, Bud Grogan, Howard Andrews, Alex Grenier, George Friesen

Information provided courtesy of the Manitoba Curling Association (MCA)

Appendix C: A note on grammar and the Devil

To satisfy the curious and to appease, at least partially, those who are offended by any perceived undue “respect” accorded to the Devil in the accounts recorded above, be advised that throughout this document, Devil has a capital “D” as does any pronoun attributable to the Devil e.g., He and His. The capitalization is not to denote spiritual equivalency with God but to denote that the Devil has power(s) not accorded to mere mortals. Further, it is assumed that the Devil is male unless someone cares to make the case otherwise.

REFERENCES AND SOURCES

Bonspiel! The History of Curling in Canada http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/curling/

http://www.cbc.ca/archives/entry/a-curling-community

Curl Manitoba O’Grady Trophy History http://www.curlmanitoba.org/ogrady-history#.VrDXRCkof9M

Elie Dolgin, “What’s the Jewish Equivalent of a Jamaican Bobsledder? Maybe an Israeli Curler,” Tablet, February 10, 2014

W. O. Mitchell, The Black Bonspiel of Willie MacCrimmon, McClelland and Stewart, 1993.

Bob Weekes, Curling Etcetera, Wiley, 2008

http://www.worldcurling.org/history-of-curling

© Stan Marshall (The PD Gardener)

COMING SOON! A THREE PART SERIES: IN SEARCH OF THE “STUFF” OF CURLING

 

COMING SOON!

Part I: Is it all about the soup?” of a three part series, IN SEARCH OF THE “STUFF” OF CURLING

In this three-part series we take an excursion back to the mid-20th century small town of Altamont, Manitoba; we search for that illusive “stuff” of curling; we renew acquaintances with Altamont residents from past posts and meet new ones who quickly become fast friends; we meet a new Parkinson’s hero; we learn something about the human capacity to overcome adversity, and the price some may pay to avoid it. Learn the difference between the “Old Buffalo” and the “Old Goat.”

We will have a rare insider’s perspective of an epic confrontation at the Altamont Curling Club as told to me by three guys named Scotty, Buster and Phil, who heard it from another guy named Dick. Prepare to read the play-by-play account of this fierce battle on the curling ice, a curling skills match that shapes destiny. Find out how much an 8 – ender (a perfect end) is worth. And find out what a “Dunbar” and  a “double Gordon” are anyway.

8 ender revised IMG_0170

A re-creation of actual 8 – ender scored by Bert Marshall in 1978. See original napkin sketch in Part I of blog post coming soon

And much more!

Watch for Part I: “Is it all about the Soup?” of a three part series, In Search of the “Stuff” of Curling, coming in March 2016!

 

From Aliases and Handles to Sobriquets and Zambonis: Nicknames, Parkinson’s, Gardens and More

From Aliases and Handles to Sobriquets and Zambonis: Nicknames, Parkinson’s, Gardens and More

Caution: This blog post is rated 18A suitable for viewing by persons 18 years of age and older. May contain coarse language and mature themes.

Caveat: As always, this blog is based on real situations with real people. Be aware though that some accounts herein may be altered or embellished for effect and names changed to maintain confidentiality.

Introduction

For some time now and for some odd reason unbeknownst (a word I rarely use) to me, I have been thinking about nicknames. Nicknames are inherently interesting as they often have a humorous side or hold a hidden meaning that lets you in on something private or personal about that individual’s character or upbringing, or perhaps something about their social, economic or cultural class. Anyway, the more I thought about nicknames, the more I wanted to write about nicknames. But the more I wanted to put my thoughts into words the more I realized that I have too many thoughts about nicknames – much like Antonio Salieri’s criticism that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s operas had “too many notes.” Nonsense of course, but it does mean that I have to organize my thoughts in some logical, if not pleasing, manner such that it makes sense. I can’t promise you the masterful equivalent of an opera such as Mozart (or Salieri for that matter) would have produced, but I do promise you a ramble through the world of nicknames – with a few detours of course to explore themes and thoughts about Parkinson’s, gardening and human nature.

I sometimes think nicknames are the tumbleweeds of nomenclature – they are odd things, very common but often misunderstood, rarely cultivated purposefully or hybridized, and they are quite seedy and prolific. There are cases where exuberant fathers bestow a nickname on a son (in particular) at birth in a vain attempt (or desperate hope) that the little boy will emulate, and become, a sports hero, or perhaps a child prodigy in classical music. But mostly nicknames grow up around you, not very pretty, and seemingly unnoticed until loosed to the wind by a voice or pen, freeing dried stalks to stumble, bumble and tumble across the cultural landscape until social relations provides a barrier with the right conditions for a nickname to germinate and stick in the collective mind of any given community.

Before I go much further, I have to say that getting started on a blog about nicknames has been quite fun but surprisingly, it has also presented its challenges. It should be pretty straightforward, right?  Well, wrong. I have lived long enough to know that I shouldn’t proceed to the writing stage of a project without doing some background research so that I don’t make a total fool of myself. [Note: I have long since given up the goal of not making a “fool” of myself but I draw the line at “total fool” which, as a category, encompasses both the completeness of one’s failure and the ‘laughability’ quotient associated with one’s name.]

What exactly is a nickname?

Most definitions of ‘nickname’ encompass the following: an informal, perhaps humourous, name given to a person in addition to his/her real name. OK, so far, so good but hilariously I think that definition is succinct only in the broadest possible way! When additional sharpness is applied to the focus we can see that nicknames often are descriptive of a person’s physical characteristics, personality, skills, talents, or abilities. It may include specificity of geographical location, or at least some hint of it. There may be an event or events (humourous or serious) behind its genesis. The nickname may be widely known and public or it may be held secretively and privately within specific groups or among small numbers of individuals. Nicknames may endure for a lifetime or may exist only fleetingly. Individuals may have more than one nickname over a lifetime and may have more than one nickname at the same time. Some individuals may have had none – but I suspect they are lying.

Superstan IMG_5437

Is this my nickname or my alter ago?  Graphics by CUPE Communications

Most people want to be called by their first name given at birth. Put another way, I believe that most people don’t respond well to someone yelling, “Hey you, get over here! Or, “You, in the black coat, you’re next.” Of course, generally speaking they will also accept to be called by their more officious last names with appropriate modifier e.g., “Ms. Mills, how much is that painting?” Ms., Mrs. and Mr. are commonly used with last names in such cases, and the use of a last name without one of these titles is decidedly less formal e.g., “Mr. Marshall, you are next” as compared to ”Marshall, you are next” unless of course, your first name is Marshall.

As a young lad I sometimes heard the words “I saw that Marshall kid there” when adults were discussing some trouble-making involving children in our small town. Trust me, they were not saying this out of formality and respect. My red hair usually singled me out in any group and I was more likely to hear, “I saw Carrot Top (or Red) there,” establishing my earliest memories of nicknames applied to me. I recall these words one day when I was caught, along with several friends, as we threw stones at the topmost window of a grain elevator. It as a long way up for a 7 or 8 year old but we were rewarded with the sound of tinkling glass, signalling “success.” The whack of my father’s razor strap (I have referred to this dreaded instrument in previous posts) across my behind later that day signaled the “failure” part of my action. Still, I remember feeling some pride (and my father obviously also felt this same sense of pride although misplaced perhaps) as I heard father talking with other fathers about how impressive it was that I had an arm strong enough to reach that window, never mind still have enough velocity on the throw to break the glass at that height. This was an early lesson that there is often bitter with the better, or not all is what it seems, or sometimes compliments come from the craziest of angles.

I also believe that, for the most part, people are happy with their names. I guess we have to be as, ordinarily, we have no control over what we are called. And to change a name requires special dispensation from the state. A name is given to us even before we can speak or think beyond a baby’s thought and is inscribed formally to meet the legal requirements of the responsible political entity within which you live. Informally, we often have a name attributed to us to describe a character trait or some other defining feature. Nicknames fall into this category. At some point(s) a name someone gives to us sticks and is forever contained with quotation marks within our given names, e.g., Herman “Babe” Ruth in baseball or Maurice ”Rocket” Richard in hockey, or Rex “Sexy Rexy” Harrington in Canadian ballet.

Lord knows, communities where I grew up were, and are, populated by people with nicknames like “Skull,” “Boog,” “Weasel,” “Pokey,” “Spud,” “Graser,” “Gruesome,” “Scotty,” “The Old Gardener,” “Jughead” or “Jug,” “Big Bill,” “Jake,” “Red,” “Carrot Top,” “Chuckles McGurk,” “Buster” ”Rubber Boot,” “Aunt ‘Mime,” “Birdie,“ “Helena but my friends call me Helen”and many, many others. Still, when I read local histories and accounts, people in those communities are hardly ever referred to by their nicknames even though many would have responded to those names each and every day. Why is that? Maybe historians are just too formal when they put pencil to paper or when their brain waves are translated into digital pulses. But storytellers shouldn’t be reticent to name nicknames, should they? In fact, it is much better if they aren’t. I am a storyteller first and foremost, and a firsthand observer of the myriad processes of life (that just means I am alive and cogent.) Storytelling is simply my way of packaging life in an understandable and hopefully entertaining form. I don’t have space today to weave in all the humanness contained in the nicknames above, or in the many others referenced elsewhere in this post, but rest assured that these informal monikers have stories to tell and tell them they will in future posts. But for today, here is what I have to offer about nicknames and some of the people who have them.

How nicknames happen

As a teenager I played hockey with a fellow named Neil who was from Wawota, Saskatchewan. Not surprisingly I guess, we called him “Wawota” … that is until he was goofing around one day just before practice while the ice resurfacing machine was finishing up the final flood. Chasing an errant puck he ran smack into its side causing the rest of us to crack up in riotous hoots of uncontrolled laughter, sticks smacking in approval on the ice, while a few of us acted out a series of impromptu on-ice copycat performances of the “move” complete with our best imitation of former Montreal Canadiens’ great broadcaster, Danny Gallivan, doing the play by play, to wit; “Wawota takes the Zamboni into the corner without an iota of trepidation.”

Zamboni IMG_5457

“Zamboni”

Neil was unhurt but in that single moment his nickname changed immediately and spontaneously to “Zamboni,” after the iconic ice-resurfacing machine. I have no recollection as to whether it was an actual brand name Zamboni but Neil’s new nickname was sealed for the remainder of that hockey season. Did the nickname stick? I have no idea as I never saw nor heard from him after that one year. It doesn’t really matter though as this is a perfect example of, not just a nickname, but also one process through which nicknames are assigned. [Of course, the most important outcome of this event was that we were prohibited absolutely from being on the ice at the same time as the Zamboni proving once again that humans, especially teenage boys, need to be protected from themselves.]

What is not a nickname?

Sometimes we can understand a concept or idea better if we look at it in the negative. What is it not? For me, a nickname most definitely is not a shortened form of your given name e.g., Stan is not a nickname for Stanley and Flo is not a nickname for Florence. On the other hand, some short forms are tantalizingly close to being the real deal e.g., Stosh as a nickname for Stan and Flossie as a nickname for Florence. Do they pass a threshold that imbues qualitatively new information? Does it really matter, you ask? Good question. Yes, I think it does matter because nicknames not only identify us to others but we ourselves are influenced in our self-identification and self-perception by our nicknames, especially those that we carry for long periods of our lives. This theory is reinforced by fairly convincing research on the impact of nicknames on learning success among children. I am not going to attempt to detail it here but positive nicknames are associated with positive self-image and success, and negative nicknames are associated more negatively in these aspects.

Let’s return though to the question of Stosh and Flossie. I think that “Stosh” in the North American context is a nickname especially if your given name is not ‘Stanislav’, which locates your ancestry firmly in Eastern Europe. By the same token, Flossie is really just a diminutive of Florence and not a nickname. Feel free to disagree as a few debates in this literature would liven it up a bit.

Stage names or legal name changes are not nicknames surely. In my view these new names replace wholly and completely the original name or are sufficient to disguise or obscure both public and private eyes to the legal name of an individual in order to render their birth name inoperative. The world of entertainment is filled with individuals who are not known by their original legal names e.g. (with birth names in parentheses) Marilyn Munroe (Norma Jean Mortensen,) Cary Grant (Archibald Alexander Leach,) Stevie Wonder (Steveland Judkins,) Anne Rice (Howard Allen O’Brien,) Shania Twain (Eileen Regina Edwards,) Fred Astaire (Frederick Austerlitz,) Ginger Rogers (Virginia Katherine McMath,) Truman Capote (Truman Streckfus Persons,) Judy Garland (Frances Gumm,) Rock Hudson (Leroy Harold Scherer, Jr.,) Meg Ryan (Margaret Mary Emily Anne Hyra,) and Woody Allen (Allen Konigsberg.)

Pet names of affection also, I believe, do not qualify as nicknames either so “Honeybuns,” “Snookum”, “Pumpkin,” “Ma Petite Choux,” “Cookie,” “Biscuit,” “Sweet Pea” and a myriad of others are all on the illegitimate list primarily because their intimate private nature means that only one person ever calls the other by that name. That means that context is everything in pet names of affection. By the same token, mean (nasty or bad) pet names or “terms of endearment” should not be classified as nicknames either, right? Or should they? I understand that Sally Struthers was a rather chubby young girl and family members called her “Packy,” short for “Pachyderm.” Apparently Richard Burton called Elizabeth Taylor “Fats” when they were lovers. I can imagine it did not always go over well with the glamorous star of the silver screen.   Are these nicknames? I guess you could make the case for Struthers, more so than Elizabeth Taylor, as more than one person in Struthers’ family called her by that name. However, I doubt that anyone other than Sir Richard Burton ever called Elizabeth Taylor ‘Fats.’  On the other hand, let’s face it, there will always be some grey areas or areas of confusion where context may be everything. I admit that these types of names and the social interactions that spawn them intrigue me greatly and are worthy of someone’s studious attention.

Nicknames and Parkinson’s

Let’s consider Persons with Parkinson’s (PwP) for a moment. Given that the majority of PwP are diagnosed after the age of 60, if they have lasting nicknames at all, these names are likely to have been forged and well cemented long before diagnosis and are unlikely to stem from the disease itself. For those with early onset Parkinson’s there is a greater possibility that nicknames are connected in some way to Parkinson’s but the probability of that happening is unknown, and pre-existing nicknames are likely to prevail.

Still, it makes some logical sense that some PwP will have nicknames related to this insidious disease i.e., a name that is a variation of Parkinson’s or describes one of its distinctive characteristics to wit “Shaky,” “Parkie,” “Parky,” “Parkyman,” “Parky lady,” “Parky woman.” I follow a friend on Twitter whose husband has Parkinson’s and she is known in the Twitterverse as “Parkywife.” When you think about it, “Parkinson’s” should be a natural root from which a nickname would sprout and a natural hook on which a nickname would hang. But to be quite honest with you, I haven’t come across very many PwP who have such nicknames. The reason may well be that Parkinson’s is such a negative force that we do not much wish to be identified with it, or to be identified by it – and that is what nicknames do.

One problem with pre-existing nicknames for PwP is that they actually may be antithetical, inconsistent or incongruent with a new life with Parkinson’s e.g., it is difficult to reconcile the old “Swifty” MacMillan with his new Parkinson’s gait or “Steady Eddie” Olsen with his soup spilling hand tremor at the dinner table. Although it is not always the case, it is often a sign of disrespect, especially to elders, to assign a negative nickname to someone who is disabled or suffering obviously from a debilitating disease. Would it ever be the case that “Swifty” would have his nickname changed to “Shuffles” or “Steady Eddie” to have his nickname changed to “Sloppy Eddie,” or perhaps, if he is a father he could be “Sloppy Poppy?” In the world I live in, such changes are not likely. Still, depending on the cultural, economic, political, demographic or ideological grouping to which you belong, degrees of affection or meanness can vary considerably and nicknames are susceptible to these forces.

Inappropriate and hurtful nicknames

I have to admit that I survived childhood and my foolhardy teenage years relatively unscathed in all aspects of my being, due more to good fortune than to good sense. Youthful eyes and ears are often ignorant about what they see and hear and when that information is transmitted to a youthful brain, it can sometimes spill out in unfortunate ways. Of course, there are worse nicknames than “Shuffles” or “Sloppy,” for a person with Parkinson’s, but the point is that if it is born of meanness or maliciousness, the PwP should be spared that slight, and accorded respect. At the very least (or should it be most?) you should not be defined in the eyes of others by a disability or illness especially with a derogatory or demeaning nickname. Believe me, you do lose some respect when people learn you have Parkinson’s or watch you struggle with your Parky body and brain. By the way, losing respect for those people in return does not even the matter up but this is a topic for another time. Here’s a little story to illustrate the meanness factor in some nicknames.

When I was a child there was a retired farmer and his wife in my community and they were ‘the salt of the earth’ as the saying goes. To my knowledge they harmed no one, were caring and loving parents and grandparents, were friends to everyone, participated to the betterment of everyone in community, church and social affairs, were unselfish in watching over the children of their neighbours. They deserved to be treated with respect – the kind of respect that is not undermined by behind the back uncharitable comments.  It was determined by persons unknown that the wife was not very good looking and, for as far back as I can reach into my childhood memory, she was called derisively, behind her, her husband’s and her family’s collective backs, by the epithet: “Beaut” or sometimes “Ol’ Beaut.” Please recall that the ignorance of youth is not only a blessing at times, it is also a curse and as children we did not know the meaning of the word “epithet“ and we accepted that “Ol’ Beaut” or “Beaut” was indeed the name we should use when referring to her. The tragedy of course is that we ended up using that nickname in front of her, her husband, her children and her grandchildren who were about my age at the time. The children’s rhyme of “Sticks and stones may break my bones/But names will never hurt me” comes to mind as the first line of defense we used to ward off name-calling. The problem is that, as we discussed earlier, nicknames are more than school yard name-calling, they are identifiers in life i.e., calling someone “scuzzy” is one thing but naming them “Scuzzy” is quite another. In the world of psychological hurt, this difference is meaningful.

But the story does not end there. The farmer and his wife had a daughter who married a fellow from a neighbouring district. For better or for worse as they say, they eked out a living on a small parcel of farmland for many years. But rural life was changing. The small quarter section family farm was giving way to agribusiness. Corporate family farms and Hutterite Colonies began buying up the land of farmers who could not adapt to changing grain, animal and produce markets. While this development was not sudden and stretched over a couple of decades, it was nonetheless inexorable in its march. Many farmers were blind to the inevitable as they viewed their futures through the prisms of whiskey and beer bottle bottoms and in the confines of the ‘still safe from intruding women’ men-only hotels that typified small towns across the prairies. The daughter did her level best to farm the conjugal farmland but it was a losing battle. Her husband succumbed to alcoholism and became more and more a hindrance than a help. Somewhere along this path (I am not sure that it really matters when) he acquired the nickname “Wacker.” I am uncertain as to the genesis of this name but it is the name that we children called him to his face and to others – including in front of the farmer and his wife (the aforementioned “Ol’ Beaut”) whose daughter married “Wacker.” As you can see, layers of insensitivity and subtle meanness can pile up over generations. It wasn’t until years later that I learned his real name. Perhaps, as children, we could be excused from such a continuous display of disrespect, but we cannot be excused if we persist in such behaviour well after we should know better. My words here are not intended as an apologia but rather as a supplicatus that no one, child or adult, should find such malicious nicknaming acceptable

Sometimes the default setting is defective

This brings to mind another occasion when I was embarrassed and betrayed by both my mouth and brain – my brain for not remembering and my mouth for engaging before my brain sent the signal to keep closed. Let’s be clear these failures cannot be placed at the feet of my usual whipping boy, Parkinson’s. If it had been due to Parkinson’s my mouth would have engaged several moments after my brain deemed it appropriate and in fact, the point of the conversation would have moved on long before the mouth uttered a word. No, in this case my mouth was clearly ahead of my brain and my brain was not loaded with the correct data.

In my early 20s I was hanging out one day with a young lad from my hometown at a friend’s place in Winnipeg. I was five or six years older and at that age, five or six years, while not quite a generational gap, is a considerable difference. On top of that, I had not been living at home for a couple of years. Suffice it to say that I barely knew this fellow and knew even less about his life and his likes or dislikes. I really have no recollection as to the primary reason for our being together on this particular day – maybe there was no reason other than the cosmic forces teaching me another life lesson, albeit a minor one – or, come to think about it, maybe not that minor as I remember it these 45 years later like it was yesterday.

Someone came to the door and it was necessary for me to make introductions. I know most of us have been in this situation – we have to introduce someone and we cannot for the life of us remember her/his name. Your mind is a total blank, either scrolling pointlessly and finding no memory of anything resembling a name, or freezing with the cursor stuck, unresponsive to any prodding. Either way, a familiar panic sets in – you are caught out. This day my brain opted for the default – not a good default, but a default nonetheless, put there by a programmer who didn’t fully understand social niceties. Thinking back, it could have worked, it might have worked, but it didn’t work. My brain says to my mouth, “You know his nickname, call him that.”

“… And this is …. um … Gruesome,” I say with some relief. Relief though immediately turns to regret – both are five-letter words but not anywhere close in meaning. I see the young lad’s face fall in disappointment. Clearly this name was not one that he had chosen for himself, and it may well have been bestowed upon him in a mean spirited way. To his credit and showing great maturity, he says calmly, “Actually, It’s Danny, and I am pleased to meet you.”

Shaping your identity

Now, there are worse nicknames than Gruesome, but no matter, the lesson is the same. You should make it a point to know those around you, not just because it is the polite thing to do, but because in that moment of introduction you have a responsibility in a real life process of perception and self-perception, and the formation and perpetuation of identity. In some senses, our self-perception is shaped by how others see us, the looking glass self.   I have no way of knowing for certain but I greatly doubt if Danny was harmed significantly by my inappropriate and awkward introduction and it may well be that I was impacted to a larger degree, given that it has been burned into my memory bank. Still, make no mistake; nicknames are a weird wild card in this process of identity creation.

Social Media

In this era of ‘social media’ (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.) we are always giving ourselves names that are not the ones we were given at birth. I reference many of these social media names in other sections of this blog. For example, the alter ego writing this blog is “The PD Gardener.” I wager that if not for social media and the practice of selecting one’s own ‘handle,’ no one would have ever in a million years called me “The PD Gardener” as a nickname. In fact, “The PD Gardener” is more so a ‘nom de plume,’ a pen name, pseudonym, or an alias, creating a vague cloak of anonymity without being truly anonymous, than it is a nickname. Pen names of course are not unusual and were often adopted for good reason. Mary Ann Evans wrote as George Eliot to ensure her work was taken seriously and Samuel Langhorne Clemens used Mark Twain as an alias. There is a richness to pen names that needs to be explored but that is not for me, at least not today.

To get a better handle (pun intended) on the development of nicknames, we have to understand that these names and the naming conventions on which they are based are not solely creatures of today’s social media. Rather, they are built on both established traditions and evolving practices in communications and maybe even an indication of the democratization of communications. [Uh, oh I feel like I am in a Sociology of Communications class.]

Shortwave Radio

Shortwave radio surged in importance in the early 1900s, replacing long distance communication using transoceanic cables and long wave transmission. Amateur radio took off as a recreational pastime with each operator having an individual ‘call sign.’ Prior to 1913 only the initials of the radio operator were required for a licence but a series of international protocols since then have evolved into the current standardized call signs. Most call signs in Canada are assigned by Industry Canada and start with the letter “V” followed by various digits indicating the province or territory. You often see these call signs on personalized licence plates of Ham radio operators. While there is some leeway for individuals to select call signs from those available, the signs themselves are formulated under strict government regulation. I am not going to go into detail but if you are interested you can visit the Industry Canada website at http://www.ic.gc.ca/eic/site/smt-gst.nsf/eng/h_sf01709.html

CB Radio (Breaker, Breaker)

If you had a CB radio in the 1950s and 1960s the chances are you heard something like this: “Breaker one-niner, Come in Thermos Bottle” (request for the driver of a chemical tanker to communicate on channel 19) or “Breaker one-niner, Kojak with a Kodak, I-10 Taco Town,” (communicating a warning on channel 19 that there is a radar speed trap on I-10 near San Antonio, Texas.)

This language is a cultural marker of a major development in communications in the mid – 1940s, the widespread use of CB radios especially in the trucking industry. Truckers selected their own “handles” and their ability to tailor their names was unlimited. “Papa Smurf,” “Billy The Kid,” “The Southern Shaker,” ”Bandit,” “Bedroom Bandit,” “Lead Foot Lady of Interstate 80” are legendary ‘handles’ and there are tens of thousands of others from the last 50 years that were popular and recognizable especially in the continental United States, Canada and Mexico. Police were called “Smokeys” and truckers were forever passing on information over their CB radios as to the locations of speed traps or load limit spot checks and how to avoid them. By the way, this function of the CB radio is now largely obsolete with the development of modern interactive GPS apps through which drivers can submit information on speed traps and red light cameras at intersections. In fact, I have such an app on my cell phone.

Summary of Essential Elements of a Nickname

What does this brief history of names in different modes of communication tell us about nicknames? I think there are three specific things to note: (1) ham radio handles are not nicknames but are alphanumeric codes under government regulation signifying province or territory. (2) CB radio ‘handles’ are analogous to nicknames on the one hand in that they are ascribed to an individual in place of a legal name(s) but, on the other hand, they do not meet a key test of a nickname in that they are conferred upon one’s own self and not ascribed by a third party or parties. Even if the ‘handle’ is descriptive of a specific characteristic of the individual it cannot be a true nickname unless conferred by a third party. (3) Handles in social media such as Twitter, Facebook, and email accounts, etc. are not nicknames but are self-ascribed names in an attempt to ensure some anonymity or secretiveness. But, as always, there may be exceptions or gray areas. Let’s follow up on that later shall we?

The number of nicknames is prodigious

As I was kicking around my initial ideas about nicknames, I became obsessed with asking people about nicknames and I began to assemble a list (a very, very long list.) Just think of the number of people with nicknames that you know personally and then add all those who are public and newsworthy figures. The numbers add up very quickly. Sports personalities alone occupy a massive amount of storage space in human memory banks. How many gigabytes or terabytes? No one really knows for certain but historic and current sports figures are immortalized there with names like “Shoeless” Joe Jackson the disgraced outfielder for the infamous scandal plagued 1919 Chicago White Sox (a team interestingly enough with its own nickname, the “Black Sox;”) or Rusty “Le Grand Orange” Staub of the now defunct Montreal Expos (still my favourite baseball team;) Maurice “Rocket” Richard and his younger brother Henri “Pocket Rocket” Richard of the Montreal Canadiens in hockey; Michael “Air” Jordan or Wilt “The Stilt” Chamberlain in basketball; Jack “The Golden Bear” Nicklaus or “Slammin’” Sammy Snead in golf; and Ricardo Alonso “Pancho” Gonzalez or John “The Brat” McEnroe in tennis, to name only a very few.

The sheer volume of nicknames in sports is prodigious – so prodigious in fact that I was sent scrambling to the dictionary to find out just how prodigious prodigious can be. Fittingly, prodigious is elastic and can expand to any size depending on the parameters set. In other words, the number of nicknames for sports personalities is prodigious now but can, and will, expand to an even greater prodigious size in the future. I see no end to it. The capacity for nicknames for athletes is infinitely prodigious.  In fact, as if to underscore the point, some athletes have the dubious honour of having more than one nickname active at any given time. Patrick Kane, star right winger of the Chicago Blackhawks has at least 11 nicknames including: “Kaner,” “Jonny’s boy,” “The Doctor,” “Peekaboo,” “20-Cent,” “Lil’ Peekaboo,” “Peeks,” “Dr. Kane,” “Showtime,” “Pattycakes,” and “He Came He Saw He Kanequered.” Arguably some of these are stretches as legitimate everyday nicknames, but undoubtedly some do meet the strict test I have set for the legitimacy of a nickname – describing character of the individual as accorded and used by a third party.

Nicknames for women in a gendered world

Okay fair enough you say, but are there any limiting parameters? The keen observer will have noticed long before now that most of my examples have been from the male world. I have done this purposefully as I perceive that there are significant gender differences in the world of nicknames. It seems to be true generally that women don’t engage in public rituals to confer a nickname on someone; don’t use nicknames in conversation with others; and they are not favourable towards having their nicknames, should they have one, publicly displayed. Still women do have nicknames. Let’s have a brief look at some names (nick or not) given to some famous women.

In the world of entertainment Jennifer Lopez is “J. Lo,” Katherine Hepburn was also known as “First Lady of Cinema,” “Kate,” and “The Great Kate;” Bette Midler is the “Divine Miss M.” Comedian Mary Walsh is a pioneer in hard-hitting Canadian political comedy and satire to the point where her alter ego ”Marg Delahunty: Warrior Princess” may well be her nickname.

Many female political figures also have nicknames. Time Magazine’s 2015 Person of the Year is German Chancellor, Angela “Mutti” Merkel, who is widely accepted as the most powerful woman in the world and the de facto leader of the European Union. “Mutti” is German for Mommy, Mama, or Mom. Not surprisingly, other strong women in politics have also been accorded significant nicknames e.g., Golda Meir was known as the “Iron Lady of Israeli Politics” long before Margaret Thatcher acquired the “Iron Lady” label in the UK. [Note: I am not passing judgment upon their politics here. I may well do that in future blog posts as I do have some strong views.]

First Ladies in the United States have often had nicknames. “Lady Bird” Johnson used this name allegedly given to her as a baby by a nursemaid. Mary Geneva Eisenhower was nicknamed “Maimie.” Dorothea Madison was called “Dolley” by all but there has been some discussion about whether this was an official name, and Helen Herron Taft was nicknamed “Nellie.” Lucy Webb Hayes, wife of President Rutherford Hayes was widely known as “Lemonade Lucy” as she was a supporter of the Temperance movement and served non-alcoholic drinks at the White House.

In Canada our first and only female Prime Minister, Avril Phædra Douglas Campbell nicknamed herself “Kim” as a teenager. And the nickname stuck perhaps making this an exception to my general rule that a nickname must be accorded by a third party or parties. You would be hard pressed to find anyone in Canada who would be able to identify Kim Campbell correctly by her real name. Famous Canadian political activist and suffragette Nellie “Windy Nellie” McClung lived a short 13 or so miles away from where I grew up and earned her nickname because she was a fiery orator and never at a loss for words. And the “Lady with the Lamp,” Florence Nightingale, forever changed the course of health care setting professional standards and practices for nurses and nursing care.

Nicknames in male Culture

I wager that men have more nicknames than women and are responsible for the act of nicknaming more than women are. Mind you, I have not conducted a scientific meta-analysis of existing peer reviewed and published studies within the esoteric literature of anthroponomastics or anthroponymy (the study of names of human beings including nicknames) although I admit that of all academic endeavours this does seem like a very pleasant diversion from the usual academic stuffiness if one were inclined to be part of the academe.

Nevertheless, I don’t think I am wrong on this one. Males are forever engaged in nicknaming everything and everyone they can. I am not inclined to engage in gratuitous descriptions about the male culture of naming body parts or assigning nicknames based on characteristics of sexual prowess. However, I do not feel it appropriate to skirt this issue without at least making a token foray into male cultural practices by citing two examples from my hockey playing days, for illustrative purposes only.

In this first case, let’s just say that the nickname “Poppycock” is not a reference to a fondness for the famous sweet mixture of candied popcorn, peanuts, pecans, cashews, and chocolate. In fact, I don’t even know if “Poppy” liked sweets but his nickname was more the measure of the man so to speak. Nevertheless, jockstrap size aside, he was short and sturdy and could skate like the wind. He didn’t always know where he was going but he tried to get there quickly. Coach Eddie would quip, “Poppy, you have million dollar legs and a 10 cent head.” There were also suggestions that perhaps the greater part of his hockey brain was housed within the head inside his jock strap rather than the one on his shoulders. [Competitive hockey was not then, nor is now, a game for sensitive souls. I shall blog about this more at a later time.] The Oakland Seals selected Poppy in the amateur draft portion of the 1967 NHL expansion to 12 teams from the original six. It was quite an accomplishment for Poppy. However, he never played in the NHL and kicked around in the minor professional leagues for seven years before hanging them up.

In this second example, the nickname “Job” is not a Biblical reference or a euphemism for a player who was hard working and gets the job done. Not surprisingly, as we are referring to a male cultural environment, it refers to an act of oral sex and the original formulation was “Blow Job” or “BJ,” a variant of this player’s name and initials, and it should come as no surprise that there were several iterations in existence at the same time. I recall his girlfriend being quite puzzled by the nickname and was forever asking him why we called him “Job.” You have to understand that Job was (and probably still is) one of the quietest, unassuming guys I have ever met. The word “nice” just didn’t do justice to his character back then. His shy smile could disarm even the hardest of hearts but on the ice he was a tenacious checker and ruthless in his drive to the net to score. Don’t confuse “quiet and unassuming” with a lack of motivation to succeed and he was a scoring dynamo in his Junior A hockey career. But alas, Job was on the small side at 5’9” and a charitable, even soaking wet, 180 pounds.  Scouts were looking for big and while he had all the tools as a skater, checker, goal scorer, Job was in a tough battle against other expansion draft behemoths of the day. For all but a five game “look see” near the end of his career with the NHL St. Louis Blues in the mid-1970s, he played in the minor leagues.

I hasten to say that there was absolutely nothing that either of these players could have done to avoid being saddled with these monikers. It was more or less spontaneous and as soon as the names hit the dressing room floor, the die was cast and the names stuck – at least within the team for a few seasons. I cannot say whether there was any longevity to the practice but I suspect the nicknames did not have much currency outside of the locker room and died after a short time, unless one or more contemporaries accompanied Job and Poppycock to other playing assignments. Ironically, contemporaries are nasty that way – they bring history with them! I also want to emphasize that, to my knowledge, neither one of them was a “player” in sexual relations with women. Of course, there were many other players whose teenage hormones raged and played the field of available girls to the limit.

While I do feel an almost uncontrollable urge to divulge other nicknames and information from those years of my life, I will leave that for another day as surely the main point to be made here is that male culture produces nicknames formed through the filter of that culture. If that is the dominant culture, then the mass and/or volume of nicknames in that society will reflect that reality. [I am certain there is a PhD thesis here but I am not going to do it.]

Perhaps, it is this dominance of the male culture that sent my family and some friends into paroxysms of laughter at the nickname “Shrimpy,” when I asked them at a family dinner over the Holidays, quite spontaneously and without warning, about nicknames. In fact, “Shrimpy” is a perfectly good example of a nickname and a character in Downton Abby is so named. Nevertheless, it seems that male culture often prevails. I apologize to anyone nicknamed “Shrimpy” for any embarrassment that my family so uncouthly attempts to foist upon him.

The points that need to be underscored from my vantage point are that males are more likely to have a nickname, more likely to address others using a nickname, more likely to attempt to hang a nickname on someone else and more likely to give himself a nickname. I am quite certain that there are equivalencies found in certain elements of female culture, but the probability and the generality of nicknames being more important for men than for women should hold true – according to ‘conventional wisdom’ at least

Critical thinking can make all the difference

Uh, oh, I feel a caveat involving ‘conventional wisdom’ coming on and I must deviate slightly from the main topic in order to explain my thinking and, of course, to absolve myself if I am wrong about any factual statements I make or conclusions I may draw.

The words “conventional wisdom” always remind me of a story told by one of my high school teachers. The message of the story resonated with me at the time and has continued to do so over the last 50 plus years. In fact, when I was teaching at universities or involved in adult education in the community or with workers, I always told this story as a way to underscore the importance of “critical thinking” in almost every aspect of life. Unfortunately, some people have taken “critical thinking” to mean that you criticize or attack other views and opinions to destroy them. My personal experience is that “critical thinking” is a positive activity that clarifies argument and paves the way for progress.

The story goes somewhat like this: A father was telling his daughter that she had things rather easy compared to his own childhood experience. I am sure that we have all heard variations of this story from our own parents and elders. You know, I used to walk six miles to school against the wind, through snow six feet deep, and other such embellishments. The father punctuated this particular assertion by saying, “When I was your age, I had to get up in the morning, do my chores in the barn and then I would go down to the lake, take off my clothes and swim across the lake three times.”

Lake Kawawaymog mist IMG_4543

Early morning pre-swim mist on Lake Kawawaymog   Photo: The PD Gardener 2015

The daughter thought for a few seconds about this latest attempt by her father to impress upon her that she was privileged in her life compared to those in earlier times, and responded very gracefully, “ Father, I am impressed with your work ethic in doing the chores early in the morning. Your parents must have been so grateful for your assistance. And your commitment to exercise by swimming across the lake three times is truly admirable, especially in a time when physical fitness was not as valued or as well organized as it today. You must have been a true role model. But respectfully father, I think it would have been better for you and, probably for everyone else, if you had gone to the lake, taken off your clothes and swum across the lake either two or four times so that you would be back on the same side as your clothes.”

This is a ‘cautionary tale’ and the very simple lesson is that we should never take anything at face value. Always listen carefully to what is being said. Sometimes, we are too quick to accept ideas or things we are told as truth before examining them for factual inadequacies, half – truths and mistakes, or indeed testing the consistency of the internal logic. This caution is for you to be on your toes and to not let me get away with anything. In return I shall do my utmost, as all storytellers do, to portray life events and their meanings accurately while at the same time avoiding detection when I am stretching truth and logic to the limits.

My personal experience with nicknames

Most of us have several nicknames over a lifetime. I had red hair so I was often called “Red” or “Carrot Top” as a child but they didn’t stick with me even into my teen years. “Sidney” was the first nickname I ever had that irritated me. It was bestowed upon me unintentionally in Grade One by Ms. Bennett, a young woman doing her teaching practicum in our small school in Altamont, Manitoba. Undoubtedly the seating chart listed me with my proper first name, Stanley, but when she called upon me, she always said “Sidney” instead of Stanley. This moniker stuck with me for several years, used somewhat derogatorily by a few local children who were not exactly good friends. It’s a funny thing but often nicknames are not short pithy descriptors. Sometimes they evolve into long form substitute names of considerable creativity. Consequently, “Sidney” for some odd reason (by the way, it doesn’t take much of a reason) morphed into “Sidney Slump” and then my status was devalued even more when I became “Sidney Slump from the City Dump.” Today, I am not known as “Sidney” or any of its elongations and thankfully, Sidney “Sid the Kid” Crosby, star center for the Pittsburgh Penguins, has transformed “Sidney” from ignominy into the desirable limelight within my age group.

My wife Anne, the person who knows and understands me best, often (but not always) refers to me by my nom de plume, “The PD Gardener.” As discussed earlier, I believe that a necessary criterion in the definition of a nickname is that it must be ascribed to your person by a third party or parties in place of your birth name. “The PD Gardener” identifies two major elements in my life – Parkinson’s and gardening. It is not the whole of my being it is true, but nicknames never provide a complete identification. In fact, some of them are remarkably devoid of any obvious identifying content e.g., Eldrick “Tiger” Woods while others provide clear clues as to character e.g., Gen. George S. “Ol’ Blood ‘n Guts” Patton. Both serve as nicknames though.

Rebranding T

Sometimes people try to create a nickname because … well just because it is better to have a nickname than not to have one, right? A childhood friend (let’s call him “T”) wanted to be known as “Tiger.” Keep in mind that this was around 1960, well before Eldrick “Tiger” Woods was born (December 30, 1975) and before Dave “Tiger” Williams debuted with the Toronto Maple Leafs in the National Hockey League in 1974. Perhaps, it was a nod to that iconic “Tony the Tiger”(Tastes Grrrreeeaaaattt!) of Kellogg’s Sugar Frosted Flakes fame. [Note that “sugar” was still an acceptable modifier in those days.]  I sometimes think that I learned to spell watching Kellogg’s commercials in the 1950s and 1960s – “K-E-double L – O – Double Good Good – Kellogg’s best to you.”

Whatever … let’s get back to our attempt to give T the nickname “Tiger.” Our strategy was to call T “Tiger” at every opportunity, as often as we could, in as many places as we could until others began calling him “Tiger” as well. My recollection is that the strategy was a complete failure. At first, some of us  were too aggressive and every sentence began and ended with the word “Tiger” and it became an endangered species due to overkill.  Some of us did not follow up on our commitment because we mostly forgot to call him Tiger. Some of us wondered who “Tiger” was when it came up.  We were young kids but we could have been old men!  I now recognize this experience as a clear lesson: just repeating something over and over again, does make it true, nor does it mean that everyone will accept it as “real.” And some people will forget anyway. It seems that many politicians, policy makers, communications gurus, and marketing firms have not learned this lesson. The long and the short of it is that “Tiger” did not stick even for the shortest of times.

Perhaps, part of the problem was that we, at the age of 9 or 10, didn’t understand the complexities of “rebranding.” Clearly, our small rural grade school education was quite deficient in teaching us skills we would need to know later in life. As I think about it, I don’t think people ever saw T as a Tiger and we gave them no reason to think of him as a Tiger. If you are going to change the name (or give someone a name) you have to highlight whatever it is that connects the body to the new name, or give the new name some value.  T did not perceive himself to be a tiger in any particular way e.g., personality. He just liked the name. Others did not make that connection either so they did not reflect that image back to him. If they didn’t think of him as a tiger then it was unlikely that he would adopt a self-perception necessary for the nickname to be viable. And T just did not look enough like Tony the Tiger on TV! In the end, T never really had a nickname that I can remember. Maybe he acquired one later in life.

More nicknames for me? Great….

My given name, Stan, was a name that begged to have “The Man” attached to it. I certainly didn’t mind it as it not only rhymed but it embedded seriousness in my existence, eclipsing the “City Dump” assignation. Even in those days, the concept of “You da Man!” was present in the sense that others thought you were more than capable of getting the job done. I was often called “Stan the Man” by my peers as well as by my parent’s generation especially when playing sports. Two particular professional athletes figured largely in the “Stan the Man” phenomenon. In baseball “Stan the Man” Musial played 22 seasons (1941 – 1963) for the St. Louis Cardinals amassing 3,630 hits, 475 home runs and a stunning .331 batting average.

Stanislav “Stan the Man” Mikita was a second influence. Mikita played his entire illustrious 21-year career with the Chicago Blackhawks, debuting in 1958 and leading the Hawks to a Stanley Cup in 1961. I was 12 years old and a huge Chicago fan living vicariously through my heroes, some with interesting nicknames e.g., Bobby “The Golden Jet” Hull, Stan “The Man” or “Stosh” Mikita, Glen “Mr. Goalie” Hall, Al ”Radar” Arbour, Elmer “Moose” Vasko, Kenny “Whip” Wharram, Pierre “The Bantam Bouncer” Pilote, Eddie “Litz” Litzenberger, Eric “Elbows” Nesterenko, Earl “Spider” Balfour, Doug “Diesel” Mohns.] It was the Hawks’ first Stanley Cup since 1938 (23 years) and the next win wasn’t until 2010 (29 years later.) Mikita played in 1,394 games, scoring 1,467 points including 541 goals. He won the Art Ross trophy as Most Valuable Player four times among many other honours.

Sadly, Mikita was diagnosed with Lewy Body Dementia (LBD) in 2015. Al Arbour, Mikita’s teammate from the 1961 Stanley Cup winning Blackhawks, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s and dementia a few years prior to Mikita’s diagnosis. Medically, if dementia occurs prior to, or within, one year of a diagnosis of Parkinson’s symptoms, then it is classified as LBD. If dementia is diagnosed after one year of a diagnosis of Parkinson’s it is classified as Parkinson’s dementia. Lewy bodies are structurally composed of misfolded alpha – synuclein a protein that forms clumps (Lewy bodies) in the brain and contribute to that person developing Parkinson’s. Research is ongoing and there is no clear scientific explanation yet as to how this happens. Still, it is my understanding that all PwP, when autopsied after death, show evidence of Lewy bodies in their brains..

“Stan the Man” came and went as my nickname a few times over the years but in total it did not stick with me for long. Still, it is humbling to share even briefly this name with such legends as Stan Musial and Stan Mikita, although I would rather that neither Mikita nor myself (nor Al Arbour) had Parkinson’s or Lewy Body Dementia.

Coincidentally, Stan Mikita was born in 1940 in Sokolce, Czechoslovakia to Slovak parents as Stanislav Guoth. Stanislav is a common name for Slovaks, Poles (Stanislaw,) Ukrainians, Russians, Bulgarians and others in Eastern Europe.   In my early 20s, I lived and worked in Winnipeg, which has significant Polish and Ukrainian populations in its north end and I was often called, and answered to, the nickname “Stanislav” or its diminutives “Stach”, “Stosh,” “Stasio” or “Stasiu.” I am not entirely certain how this name game got started but I worked in various places near the north end e.g., the CPR Weston Shops and the Anthes Western Foundry where many Poles and Ukrainians worked. Earlier, I observed that nicknames sometimes outgrow their diminutive stature.   This happened to me when my new nickname was elongated to Stosiu Mendowski – a relatively uncommon family name with Polish roots. In my case, this name is a completely fictional one foisted upon me by my pub-crawling, drinking buddies who were, ironically, largely of Mennonite heritage. I believe that there are people in Winnipeg who never knew my legal name and are convinced that I was, indeed, Stosiu Mendowski. While I did nothing to promote my nickname overtly, neither did I do anything to disabuse anyone of its veracity. It just seemed that under the circumstances of too many beers, too much whiskey and occasionally sketchy company in north end hotels, the idea to stay relatively anonymous was not a bad strategy.

Don’t get me wrong, there were not a lot of really bad things going on, it is just that often times we were riding the edge of misadventure. I don’t say this proudly but just as a statement of fact. I can spare you the effort of Googling it though; you won’t find Stosiu Mendowski in the long list of aliases attributed to “bad guys” in history. Stosiu was not a crook, thief, murderer, forger, bank robber, white-collar criminal, corrupt politician or senator, mobster, gangster, hood or drug lord. Gangs have been around forever but my “Stosiu period” was mostly in the early 1970s well before the musical and cultural phenomenon known as “gangsta’ rap” was unleashed on an impressionable youth in the early to mid-1980s – so let’s not get confused here!

Fingers Finnegan

Speaking of ‘bad guys’ is there any grouping in society that has more colourful nicknames than gangsters? Names like Al “Scarface” Capone; “Bugsy” Malone; Leonard “Needles” Gianolla; Lester “Baby Face Nelson,” Gillis; Stephanie “Queenie” St. Clair; Opal “Mack Truck” Long; “Ma” Barker; Evelyn “Billie” Frechette; Virginia “The Flamingo” or “Queen of the Gangster Molls” Hill; Gertrude “The Bahama Queen” Lythgoe; Rafela “Miconia” or “The Big Female Kitten” D’Alterio; ” Maria “The Boss of Bosses” or “The Godmother” Licciardi; Sandra Ávila “The Queen of the Pacific” Beltrán;” Jemeker “Queen Pin” Thompson to name a few. Note that nickname notoriety is not reserved for men in gangland, as women are infamous in their own right.

My nicknames never really had that gangster quality and I never associated, at least not knowingly, with mobsters or even small time “hoods.” But that does not mean I did not know some unsavoury types.   Think of a less savoury illegal occupation, one that even hoods and gangsters would look down upon as not having any honour, and you come closer to describing some characters who operated on the periphery of the loose social grouping of friends, acquaintances and accidental encounters with whom I hung out. If the words, “petty thief” came to your mind you are a winner! Petty thieves engage in illegal activity that is more serious than a peccadillo but less serious than a felony and is marked by a certain creepiness that offends.

To illustrate, let’s give this petty thief a fitting but fictitious name: “Fingers” sounds about right; “Fingers” Finnegan. I want to say in advance that I did not witness first hand any of the following events or actions and never benefited from the ‘rewards.’ Nevertheless, Fingers relished telling the stories in a boastful manner that highlighted rather than diminished the sliminess of it all, and made us realize what a warped sense of pride he possessed. Don’t ever mistake ‘hubris’ for ‘bravery’ or ‘blind stupid luck’ for ‘intelligence.” [Hmmm … I hope that he has reformed … or is still a petty thief, because if he is a gangster … or a lawyer … he might come looking for me to exact some compensation (physical or fiscal) for libel or defamation of character. I shall trust that statutory limitations accorded by time and forgetfulness is on my side.]

What follows is an enactment of a typical Finnegan petty crime based on my recollection of stories told by Finnegan himself.   [Apologies for the coarse language but, in fact, his expletives were usually more flagrant than I recount here. He was particularly fond of interspersing the word “fuckin’” in between syllables or words such that “the international unions” became ”the fuckin’ inter fuckin’ national fuckin’ unions.”]

Fingers Finnegan bursts through the door into the kitchen of the main floor apartment in an old, possibly heritage but not yet designated, house on Furby Ave in Winnipeg. It is mid- January 1971 and the air rushes in mimicking its parental cold front that was sweeping down from the Yukon through Cold Lake, Alberta and across the prairies in search of Winnipeg’s infamous Portage and Main. With the temperature falling through the floor at minus 25 F (minus 30 C,) a foggy swirl of ice crystals creates a vacuum leaving Fingers gasping for breath – but cradling a plastic grocery bag across his chest, he was breathless for a reason other than it was a stereotypical winter Winnipeg moment, and the fact that he looked truly frozen wearing only a thin windbreaker hardly worthy of the name. His hands were shaky and fingers numb, unprotected as they were by any form of gloves or mitts. It is a strange thing to treat your major “asset,” the reason for your nickname, with such disregard. His feet fared no better as his “patent” vinyl soled slippery city shoes did their level best to turn his feet into ice blocks. He tries to place the grocery bag carefully on the kitchen table but it lands with a frozen “thunk.” Perhaps out of habit, or because of some misconceived notion of the thermal capacity of cold beer, or because he needs to fortify himself after the evening’s excitement, Fingers grabs a beer from a two-four on the kitchen counter, sticks the top in his mouth and pops the cap off with his teeth. [How the heck do they do that without chipping teeth, I’ll never know.]

A TV is playing in the next room and there are voices of other male occupants.

Two guys sitting in the kitchen, simultaneously: “Close the fuckin’ door, you asshole!”

Finnegan: “Fuuuuccccckkk! That’s what I’m telling you, man, the door didn’t close!”

Finnegan: [Yelling at two guys in the other room]: “Hey! Listen up you freaks! This is the best yet!”

Finnegan continues: “You should have seen it man! She was this close to me!” [He indicates a distance of about 3 feet with his arms.]

Finnegan [now holding court with all occupants:] “I was in the back porch when she came out. Shit, I was so fucking lucky to be behind the door! I just held my breath and door stuck open on the floor. If that door had closed behind her, I would have been fuckin’ face to face with her. Christ, I was soooo luuuuccckkkky! She went over to a freezer, got something out and went back into the house pulling the door behind her. I don’t know how she didn’t see me! I could see her eyes as she walked past and I could smell her perfume. I thought I was fuckin’ dead.” [Emphasis on last two words]

[There is short period of silence as the others take a moment to process Finnegan’s words.]

Finnegan: “I could hear her walking around on the squeaky floor in the kitchen, making supper, I guess. I could hear the TV in the front room and a man yell from upstairs for her to help him with his suit. I wasn’t sure if there was anyone else in the house. I didn’t hear anyone else talking though so I was pretty sure they were alone. I was across the street at the corner store when I saw her get off the bus, knock on the front door and this little weasel opens it and lets her in.”

[Fingers pauses as if for effect. In reality he is just taking a swig from his beer, and chowing down on some unidentified left over food]

Finnegan continues: “Then I heard her going up the stairs. I listened but I didn’t hear anyone else. I opened the back door to the kitchen leaving it stuck open on the porch floor. I needed a quick exit. The fuckin’ wind howled outside but the porch was a good windbreak. My car was running in the back lane.”

[Again Fingers pauses to take a bite and wash it down with beer. It seemed like it might have been the only food he had eaten for awhile. He was skinny as a rail with a pasty white complexion that might have been confused with frostbite given the bitter cold … but it wasn’t. His hair was long, stringy and greasy – and getting greasier each time as he ran his food fingers through it to keep it out of his eyes.]    

Finnegan: “So I went in, looked around, not much to steal, so I looked in the ‘fridge, grabbed a grocery bag and got the fuck out of there. I don’t even remember if I closed the door. Holy shit! My adrenaline was pumpin’ as I skated to the back lane and hightailed it to Arlington.” (Fingers made a point of not stealing in his own neighbourhood.)

Other Guy No. 1 (as if stating a fact): “You’re nuts.”

Other Guy No. 2 (suspiciously): Hey, what’re you eating?

Finnegan (proudly): Turkey! Great, eh? Look….

[Finnegan reaches into the bag on the table and pulls out a large China platter laden with turkey pieces. It seems the platter was responsible for the “thunk” when the grocery bag hit the table and it now sits incongruously among greasy Gondola Pizza boxes, Kentucky Fried Chicken buckets, and Golden Dragon Chinese food containers with beer bottles, half-eaten pizza crusts, and chicken bones strewn about on the floor as if a time traveling feast of Henry VIII and his court had just passed.]

Other Guy No. 3: “You know, you really are fuckin’ nuts!”

Finnegan (as if notching his belt signifying a new kill): “Holy geez, first time I ever stole food right out of the kitchen when people were home!”

Other Guy No. 2: “What if that guy chased you?”

Finnegan: “Oh, I wasn’t fuckin’ worried about that weasel once I reached my car. You see, I stole the fuckin’ battery out of the asshole’s car before I went into the house.”

(Finnegan chuckles a short heh, heh,heh and blows imaginary gun smoke from the end of his right index finger)

Finnegan: That’s why they call me “Fingers.”

Several other guys (simultaneously with same intent but slightly differing words:) “Get that fucking guy outta here!”

I am not sure how to end this digression except to say that while the turkey may have been savoury, the crime was far from it – in fact ‘unsavoury’ may well be an integral descriptor in the definition of petty thief.

Rules for nicknames and legal names

“Rules? In a knife fight? No rules.“ This line from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (nice nicknames, eh?) is delivered by Paul Newman’s larger, stronger opponent just before Newman in return, delivers a swift kick to his tender parts. As we have already discovered, the game of nicknaming seems to have a similar set of rules.

It should be obvious when you think of the wide variety and nicknames that are out there that nicknames are not registered with any regulatory authority ensuring codified provenance and ancestry. However, It seems that naming your children is regulated fairly closely in some jurisdictions but less so in others.   In Ontario Canada where I live the only restrictions on parents seem to be that you cannot give them a symbol e.g., @ or a numeral e.g., 8 as a name. However, before we begin to think that this provides complete free rein to parents, the courts can rule on children’s names “in the best interests of the child” when requested to do so.   Nicknames, informal as they are, are not subject to any restrictions.

They regulate dogs’ names, don’t they?

Naming dogs though is regulated, as is the case for most animals where purebred pedigree is important.  The Canadian Kennel Club specifies that a purebred dog’s registered name can only be up a maximum of 30 letters including spaces. The first name must be the name of the kennel into which the puppy is born and the second name usually has some association with the sire or the dam of the litter. Any further name is at the discretion of the owner. Of course the owners seldom call their dogs by any of these names and give them pet names or “nicknames” in addition to the registered name.

With my ex-wife I once co-owned a Tibetan Terrier which we registered as “Harrowdene’s Shah Chiubacca.” His nickname was “Chiui” although I am quite sure that he was unaware of the cleverness of both his registered name and the spelling of his nickname. Keep in mind this was around the time of the original release of Star Wars. No matter, while he wasn’t a particularly smart dog he did live a good long life (18 years) and demonstrated before he left this earth that he had a soul worthy of respect. On the evening he died, a Sunday as I recall, he was being boarded at a kennel. About 9 pm, Anne suddenly told me to call the kennel. I knew this kennel and said that they would not be open and they did not answer the phone after hours.  So I didn’t phone. The next day we learned that Chiui passed away (peacefully in his sleep) overnight. In order to keep myself sane, I tell myself that there was nothing that could have been done to avoid his death. Anne does seem to have a connection with the animal world that few others have and she is one of very few individuals who could ever receive such a communication. I believe his call out to her was simply a farewell to our collective family for the care and love he received over the years.

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Harrowdene’s Shah Chiubacca “Chiui”   Photo: Stan Marshall

Gardens and nicknames

Gardeners know nicknames (and not just Cassandra “Mrs. Greenthumbs” Danz either) as gardens are filled with both scientific rigour and common names. The binomial system of taxonomy for plants uses one Latin name to indicate the genus of the plant and another to indicate the specific name or epithet. For example, Rudbeckia hirta is the Latin scientific name for Black-eyed Susans, which is the common name (or nickname.) There are many nicknames in the garden as gardening is an activity in which all sorts of folks are engaged. You don’t need to know Latin to garden and it is a good thing too because learning the formal Latin scientific names is a challenge for most of us I think – I can remember some but draw a total blank on others. Of course learning the scientific names is a great mental exercise in the ongoing efforts of Parkies and the elderly in general to ward off dementia. (I hate Sudoku and crosswords.) Be careful though, as with humans, there are often many different common names for the same plant and as we shall see, different names for virtual triplets.

Turtleheads (Chelone glabra) are also known as balmony, bitter herb, codhead, fish mouth, shellflower, snakehead, snake mouth, and turtle bloom. It is part of the Figwort family (Scrophulariacea.) In Greek mythology, there was a nymph named Chelone who insulted the gods; in punishment, she was turned into a turtle. The flowers of this plant are said to look like the heads of turtles. Glabra is from the Latin word meaning smooth because of the lack of hairs or texture on the stems and leaves. (Source: US Department of Agriculture Forest Service)

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Turtleheads in boggy part of our garden  Photo: The PD Gardener

Monkshood (Aconitine napellus) of the family Ranunculaceae has many alternate common names including Aconite, Napel, Blue Aconite, Blue Rocket, Casque-de-Jupiter (Cap of Jupiter), Goatsbane, Wolfsbane, Helm, Hex, Odins Hut, Ra-dug-gam’dzim-pa (Tibetan), Thora Quasi Phtora Interitus (Latin, ‘doom’), Trollhat (Nordic.) Source: www.entheology.com. All parts of the Monkshood plant, especially the roots, are poisonous and gloves are advised when handling it. Fortunately, it has a very bitter taste (or so I am told as, not surprisingly, I have never tried it) that alerts one to not ingest it. Monkshood prefers woodland conditions and it grows reasonably well in deep shade under a very old apple tree at the foot of our gardens. It blooms in late fall and we can count on it being in flower on Hallowe’en – a suitably scary time for a scary poisonous plant.

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Monkshood: Handle with Extreme Caution  Photo: The PD Gardener

Orange Daylily (Hemerocallis fulva,) is from the family Xanthorrhoeaceae and is also known widely as Tiger Daylily, Ditch Lily, July Lily, Tawny Daylily, Railroad Daylily, Roadside Daylily, Outhouse Daylily, or Wash House Daylily among others. As they are so common in so many settings that are not formally cultivated, these lilies masquerade as native plants but they are originally from Asia and introduced into North America in the early 1900s. You can always spot an old farmyard long after the house and barn are gone by the colourful patches of “Tiger Daylilies,” a patch of rhubarb, and some lilac shrubs – three organic monuments to the bygone era of homesteading. As you undoubtedly have already noticed, many of their common names are indicative of that history. Today, many consider these Ditch Lilies to be invasive plants threatening the native environment. They do spread quickly through root rhizomes and it is imperative to maintain their boundaries regularly. However, the term invasive is one that is open to interpretation. For an interesting challenge to the dominant view see Ken Thompson, Where Do Camels Belong? Why invasive species aren’t all bad, Greystone Books, 2014.

The Ditch Lilies in our garden serve to remind us of our youth and the flower and vegetable gardens tended by farming wives (primarily) and working folk in cities. In Ontario, they bloom reliably on July 1 and on a daily basis until the end of the month. In some vain attempt to break free of that heritage we do have several hybridized day lilies adding an entirely different dimension to daily daylily life blooming later in the summer. It may be heresy to some but our gardens are a melange of native, non-native, hybridized, and, yes, invasive, varieties of many different plants.

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Common Ditch Lilies or July Lilies   Photo: The PD Gardener

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Fancy Hybrid Daylily 1  Photo: The PD Gardener 2015

 

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Fancy Hybrid Daylily 2  Photo: The PD Gardener 2015

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Brown-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia triloba,) Black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta,) and (huh?) Brown-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia fulgida var. Goldstrum) are of the family asteraceae (aster.) These are three of the some 25 species of Rudbeckia in North America. Most people are not going to see many differences in these three plants and they refer to them indiscriminately as Brown-eyed or Black-eyed Susans. Of course, if they were human, triplets might object to being called the identical nickname, wouldn’t they? And if we anthropomorphize (wicked word eh?) a little more, I prefer to call them Brown – eyed Susans as Black – eyed Susans sounds kind of abusive.

Why should we pay attention to differences? Well for one thing, it does assist in designing the type of “look” or “image” you want your garden to project, and the way your garden reproduces itself. I confess that I don’t usually pay much attention to differences in the Rudbeckia as I am mostly concerned with assisting the garden to grow according to its natural plan, intervening as little as possible but intervening nonetheless to ensure that the garden is not choked out with other noxious plants. In other words, I am not trying to recreate an identical garden year after year as much as I am trying to permit natural tendencies in a controlled way. Undoubtedly, this statement will drive the native plant purists to distraction and will endlessly irritate the formal horticulturists because gardens of this type may appear a little “unkempt,” but it is an accurate description of how I garden.

Rudbeckia hirta is commonly called Black-eyed Susan or sometimes gloriosa daisy and is usually grown as an annual, biennial or short-live perennial. It is relatively short (24 inches) and some varieties may be hardy to zone 3 but often it is grown as an annual in northern climes. It is a common native wildflower in many U.S. states. A coarse, hairy, almost weedy plant, it has daisy-like flowers with bright yellow to orange-yellow rays and a dark chocolate-brown center.

Rudbeckia fulgida var. sullivantii ‘Goldsturm’ was the 1999 Perennial Plant of the Year growing to a height of 18 to 30 inches – a bit shorter than the species Rudbeckia fulgida that grows to 36 inches. It is also commonly called “Brown-eyed Susan” or sometimes “Orange Coneflower” even though its petals are usually yellow and is hardy down to zone 3.

Rudbeckia triloba (Brown-eyed Susans) have a more profuse bloom of smaller on e- two inch flowers and usually have fewer rays per flower as the basal leaves are often three leaflets, and sometimes each of the three also divided (hence the Latin triloba.) Their centres may begin as black and fade to brown. It is a short-lived perennial and hardy to zone 4 and possibly zone 3 under the right growing conditions. .

As I said earlier, I prefer to call them Brown-eyed Susans because Black-eyed Susans seems rather violent, but let’s not get carried away with garden political correctness. Brown-eyed or Black-eyed is good enough for most people. Their golden yellow petals arrayed around a dark centre can lift the darkest of spirits when viewed en masse from a short distance. They are prolific self-seeders so we always have several clumps migrating around the garden from year to year.

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Brown-eyed and Black-eyed Susans migrate around our garden  Photo: The PD Gardener

 

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Rubeckia fulgida “Goldstrumen masse     Photo: The PD Gardener

Common Mullein (Verbascum thapsus)  is considered to be a weed by most people and would meet a hasty demise at its first sighting in most urban and suburban perennial or vegetable gardens. It is usually found in waste spaces, ditches, roadsides, along railroad rights of way, in gravel soil near, but not too near, swamps and sloughs. It is considered to be a pioneer plant, one of the first to pop up in regeneration after a forest fire for example. It likes direct sunlight and abhors shade. It can grow up to 10 feet tall but in our garden, which has a fair bit of shade, it grows only to 3 – 6 feet at best. Most people think it is an ugly weed with its large furry leaves and a tall spike for a flower head. But unlike Lupins, the small, pretty, yellow florets open only five or six at a time for one day at a time, giving it a decidedly unfinished look, or a look that promises to be something spectacular, but never is.

The mullein is native to most continents but is non-native and considered a weed in North America, New Zealand and Australia . Nevertheless, it is used in a variety of herbal medicines, particularly as an astringent and emollient.  It is categorized as invasive, competing with native plants, but it is far from aggressive. It likes open scrabble gravel soil so it is rarely competition for tended gardens that are far too luxurious and crowded. Still, this biennial will pop up from time to time if the seeds, which require winter dormancy to germinate, find adequate infertile conditions.

The mullein has a wide variety of quite descriptive nicknames (over 40 in English alone by some accounts) including: “cowboy toilet paper,” “Indian rag weed”, “bullicks lungwort”, “Adams-rod”, “hare’s-beard”, “ice-leaf” “woolly mullein”, “velvet mullein”, “blanket mullein”, “beggar’s blanket”, “Moses’ blanket”, “poor man’s blanket”, “Our Lady’s blanket”, “old man’s blanket”, “feltwort” and “flannel”.

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The Common Mullein shows up uninvited once in a while  Photo:  The PD Gardener 2013

Whatever you call it, I don’t mind if one or two show up for a garden party at our place. They arrive uninvited to be sure but they are interesting company and make for great conversation as they mingle with other more high brow guests.   Keep in mind that for the mullein to grow at all in your garden depends on you recognizing the seedlings so that they are not weeded out in any rush to spring clean your garden of weeds. Resist the “tsk, tsk” of the neighbourhood garden purist who sprays and pulls his/her garden and lawn to within an inch of its life. As a matter of principle and in solidarity with all native and non-native plants, I stand in opposition to fanatical or harsh over weeding. Some good friends are lost in that process.

Are sobriquets bouquets of flowers?

I just can’t end this section on gardens without talking about “sobriquets” which just means a descriptive name or epithet – a nickname in other words. However, for the life of me I can’t get it out of my mind that a sobriquet should be a bouquet of flowers for non-drinkers.  Perhaps, “Lemonade Lucy” would have several “sobriquets” on the tables when she served tea at the White House.

However, as I begin this fanciful digression, it occurs to me that “sobriety” has two slightly different but complementary meanings i.e., not being drunk and seriousness. After a cursory review and due consideration of the many features of this particular blog post, I have determined that there are two flowering plants (Azalea and tulips) ideally suited to represent my (incorrect) interpretation:

1) In Victorian times the Azalea was a symbol of temperance.  In fact, even today some flower shops carry an arrangement specifically named “Symbol of Sobriety” and I have seen Alcoholics Anonymous Chapter pins incorporate flowers into their distinctive circle and triangle design. There are many other modern day meanings for the Azalea but I couldn’t let the history re: struggles for sobriety and the connection to the Temperance Movement pass unnoticed in my search for my version of a “sobriquet.”

2) The tulip seems to have been adopted as a symbol of sobriety in its second meaning of seriousness as well. Not surprisingly, it has a connection to the Netherlands (What tulip doesn’t?) but, unexpectedly, it also is central to understanding the “seriousness.”

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Tulips with Cherry Blossoms Photo: The PD Gardener

In 1636 – 1637 “tulipmania” struck the Netherlands. It is widely described as the world’s first financial bubble and subsequent crash as speculators drove tulip bulb contract prices (really a futures market) to incredible heights only to have the markets crash sinking the economy into crisis. I won’t go into details but until that point the Dutch economy was booming and Amsterdam was one of the richest cities in the world. Most analyses are that Dutch society, built on a religious and cultural foundation of Calvinism, reverted to its religious roots to recover from this Golden Age of extravagance and the shock of the tulip crash. In other words, it returned to ‘societal sobriety.’  [There are alternate analyses that suggest that the crisis was not really “mania” driven but a rational response to the government’s intended intervention in the economy where firm contracts would be cancelled, converting them into “options” instead. I leave it to the economists out there to explore or elucidate further.]

This diversion of course isn’t really a diversion. It is merely taking an alternate “scenic route” leading us back to Parkinson’s disease.  In 1981, J.W.S. Van der Wereld, a Dutch horticulturist with Parkinson’s disease, developed a distinctive tulip, red with white-feathered edges on the petals. Van der Wereld named his prized cultivar, the ‘Doctor James Parkinson’ tulip, (Tulipa Doctor James Parkinson) to honour the man who first described this medical condition and to honour the International Year of the Disabled. The Parkinson Disease Foundation (PDF) has been using the tulip as a symbol since the early 1980s. In April 2005 the red tulip was launched as the Worldwide Symbol of Parkinson’s disease at the 9th World Parkinson’s Disease Day Conference in Luxembourg. Parkinson Society Canada, its provincial and regional partners, and many other Parkinson’s organizations worldwide have adopted this prized tulip and it has become their most recognizable symbol whether depicted in realist or stylized form.

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Stylized tulip of Parkinson Canada Pin

Red tulips are normally associated with true love and they have that image for me as well – even though my lover prefers burnt orange. But I also recognize the red with white-feathered petals of the Doctor James Parkinson Tulip as a symbol promoting awareness of PD, the seriousness of PD and the hope we hold for a cure and/or a major medical breakthrough such that PwP have a vastly improved quality of life.

Parkinson’s disease is a very sobering disease and I believe that other than the Grim Reaper himself, or the Devil if you believe in the Devil as my Baptist friend does, it is the most formidable opponent I will face in my lifetime. [I realize that there are other horrific diseases such as ALS, Huntington’s and terminal cancers. I am not in any way diminishing their severity here.]  Parkinson’s is a petty thief much like “Fingers” Finnegan who creeps unknown into your kitchen, bathroom, living room and bedroom, stealing your life in small measures that are not, in and of themselves, felony crimes. Before you realize what is happening, it has become firmly entrenched in your brain, nerves and muscles and will shape the remaining years of your life. Our mission is to delay the petty thief, using all the tools we have at our disposal.  Parkinson’s rarely commits the final act of murder, preferring instead to aid and abet Death in our final days, but is guilty as an accomplice nonetheless.

It is fitting then that my mis-labelled, mis-interpreted, and mal-defined “sobriquet’ should be a bouquet of Doctor James Parkinson roses and a bouquet of Azaleas, together symbolizing a clear head and a serious determination of will to survive.

Conclusion

I have had great fun and amusement romping through fields of nicknames and re-living (for me) a few stories that might be called tangential but I don’t believe they were ever dead ends. Given the rather strict parameters I have placed on the definition of nickname, I regrettably must accept that “The PD Gardener” is not truly a nickname for me as it has not been legitimately ascribed by a third party or parties. But perhaps, with a little more time and more use by others, it will evolve into one. To tell the truth, Anne has called me “Mr. Marshall,” for years. I don’t object to this name as it really is my name with a formal title, but in my mind, “Mr. Marshall” is reserved for my paternal grandfather as my grandmother, for as long as I knew her, referred to him as “Mr. Marshall.”

I hasten to point out that there is no admission of defeat or submission to Parkinson’s in my desired identification as “The PD Gardener.” Parkinson’s does not own me. “The PD Gardener” merely describes my principle characteristics at this time of my life and, wouldn’t you agree, it is infinitely more accurate and appropriate as a nickname than “Sidney Slump from the City Dump?”

Post Script

Arrrrggghh! The nicknames just keep on coming – from everywhere, including drug lords, wrestlers from my youth, cricket players and besieged Canadian Senators: – JoaquinEl Chapo” Guzmán (drug lord,) “Haystacks” Calhoun (wrestling,) “Whipper Billy” Watson (wrestling,) Maurice “Mad Dog” Vachon (wrestling,) Lawrence “Larry” Shreve aka “Abdullah the Butcher”(wrestling,) Bret “Hitman” Hart (wrestling,) Shoaib “Rawalpindi Express” Akhtar (cricket,) Edward “Lumpy” Stevens (cricket,) Michael “Pup” Clarke (cricket.)   In Canada, Senator Mike Duffy is on trial for 31 charges of fraud, breach of trust, bribery, and frauds on the government related to inappropriate Senate expenses. The larger than life Senator is often called, somewhat derisively, “Puffy Duffy” by ordinary Canadians although the media hardly ever refers to him that way.

Is there enough storage in my brain to process nicknames ad infinitum? We will need to break psychological barriers to the human understanding of the meaning of “elasticity” in order to fully contemplate the “prodigious” volume of nicknames being created and disseminated each day in a wired and WiFi world.  I am certain I will return to this fertile ground in future blogs.

In the meantime, have look at some of my favourite nicknames in the appendices below

Appendix A: Nicknames (?) and Parkinson’s

These are some names that are commonly used by the Parkinson community in social media. Most are collective nouns, aliases, or nom de plume,

  1. “Parkie” – General nickname for someone with Parkinson’s
  2. “Shaking palsy” – a nickname for Parkinson’s
  3. PWP or PwP – Person with Parkinson’s
    PLwP –Person Living with Parkinson’s
    PD’er – Person with Parkinson’s disease
    YOPI – Young Onset Parkinson’s Individual
    Parkinson’s Peeps
    YOPD – Young Onset Parkinson’s disease
    Parkie D’s
  4. “Perky Parkie” @perkyparkie Alison Smith, Twitter and blogger
  5. “Parky wife” @parkinsonsdis Twitter
  6. “Parkinson’s Humour” @YumaBev Twitter, blogger, author
  7. “The PD Gardener” @pdgardener Twitter, blogger

Appendix B: A Few Lists of my All Time Favourite Nicknames

I have created four lists of my personal favourite nicknames: male and female for sports and non-sports personalities. I have limited myself to ten names in each list. This restriction makes it an extremely difficult exercise. Try it sometime.

My Top 10 All Time Favourite Sports Nicknames (Male)

  1. George Alexander ”Twinkletoes” Selkirk (baseball)
  2. Colin “Mrs. Doubtfire” Montgomery (golf)
  3. Andrew “#Hamburglar” Hammond (hockey)
  4. “Chucky Three Sticks” Charles Howell III (golf)
  5. Willie “Hit’em where they ain’t” Keeler (baseball)
  6. Darryl “Chocolate Thunder” Dawkins (basketball)
  7. Max “Dipsy Doodle Dandy” Bentley (hockey)
  8. Bernard “The Executioner” Hopkins (boxing)
  9. Harold “Red” “The Galloping Ghost” Grange (football)
  10. Marvin “The Human Eraser” Webster (basketball)

My Top 10 All Time Favourite Sports Nicknames (Female)

  1. Michelle “The Big Wiesy” Wie (golf)
  2. Steffi “Fräulein Forehand” Graf (Tennis)
  3. Hayley “Chicken” Wickenheiser – altered from original “Chickenheiser” (hockey)
  4. Paula “The Pink Panther” Creamer (golf)
  5. “Can’t miss Swiss” Martina Hingis (Tennis)
  6. Anastasia “Nastia” Liukin (gymnastics)
  7. Chris “Ice Maiden” Evert (Tennis)
  8. Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino Venancio (mixed martial arts)
  9. Jeanette “The Black Widow” Lee (billiards)
  10. Mildred “Babe” Didrikson Zaharias (basketball, baseball, golf, track & field)

My Top 10 All Time Favourite Non-Sports Nicknames (Male)

  1. Charles “The Great Asparagus” De Gaulle
  2. Manfred “The Red Baron,” von Richthofen
  3. George S. “Ol’ Blood and Guts” Patton
  4. Admiral Harold M. “Beauty” Martin USN
  5. Lester “Baby Face Nelson” Gillis
  6. Erwin “The Desert Fox” Rommel
  7. Calvin “Snoop Doggy Dog” Broadus,
  8. David “The Tiny Perfect Mayor” Crombie
  9. “Brangelina” Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie
  10. Abraham “Honest Abe” Lincoln

My Top 10 All Time favourite Non-Sports Nicknames (female)

  1. Opal “Mack Truck” Long
  2. “Lemonade Lucy” Webb Hayes, wife of President Rutherford Hayes.
  3. “Windy Nellie” McClung
  4. Iva Toguri “Tokyo Rose” D’Aquino
  5. Florence “Lady with the Lamp,” Nightingale
  6. Melanie “Scary Spice” Brown
  7. Margaret “The Iron Lady” Thatcher
  8. Virginia “The Flamingo” or “Queen of the Gangster Molls” Hill
  9. Rafela “Miconia” or “The Big Female Kitten” D’Alterio
  10. Emma “Red Emma” Goldman

© Stan Marshall (The PD Gardener)

 

 

Santa’s List: A Story of Naughty and Nice

Santa’s List: A Story of Naughty and Nice

Preface

An old storyteller once told me that story telling is equal parts art, magic, truth and bullshit. The trouble is he was telling me a story at the time and I am not sure which part he was engaged in at that particular moment. He also told me that the best stories are ones in which your audience can see themselves. To be sure, the story I am about to tell has all these elements and while most events are based on real people and situations, the story should be considered to be pure fiction. If you recognize yourself in these pages it is either because I want you to be recognized, or because it is pure coincidence. If others recognize you, it is pure coincidence.

As with all my blog entries, there is a Parkinson’s connection and this version is no exception. This Holiday Season remember to give to organizations who are fighting for a world without Parkinson’s and for a better world for those living with Parkinson’s. Thank you for your generosity.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all!

And I do hope you enjoy this story.

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American Bittersweet Early December 2015  Photo: S. Marshall

The Story Begins with Santa

When my children were a lot younger, I used to entertain them, and to be truthful I would entertain myself as well, by telling stories that I made up as I went along. (Some say I still do.) The stories often had the same basic structure and perhaps some similar detailed content, and some returned over the years much as a dear old friend returns, slightly older, slightly wiser, but still fresh from the experience and joy of living and of being remembered fondly.

One such story is about Christmas and all this naughty and nice stuff of which Santa seems to be preoccupied – a little too much if you ask me. But then, no one really asked me and who am I to intervene, or I daresay interfere, in the all-important duties of Santa Claus? I do sometimes wonder though – who wrote the job description and duties for Santa? Undoubtedly, it included such elements as the following (these are not intended to be either exhaustive or exclusive):

  • Coordinate innumerable Elves in a humane, jolly, environmentally friendly sweatshop producing toys, gadgets, clothes and all manner of i-products, useful and otherwise, with varying degrees of quality and durability applied randomly across all products;
  • Provide husbandry for reindeer, those delicate and sensitive animals who are prone to taking time out to play “silly reindeer games” and must be educated on fundamental principals of human rights such as no discrimination against others on the basis of physical characteristics. These reindeer will be called on for only one night’s work per year but must be taught how to fly. Ensure that one reindeer has a bright red nose which is neither a consequence of environmental contamination and/or pollution, nor over consumption of alcohol;
  • Reindeer Not IMG_3184

    Nope, these funny reindeer are never gonna fly!  Photo: Courtesy Reindeer Flight School North Pole

     

  • Possess a valid Type “BRS” driver’s license [this is a big one] for a big red sleigh pulled by a nine-reindeer hitch, and loaded to overflowing with toys and goodies for boys and girls across the world. A road test and a written test are required. Driving skills must include the following abilities: to land on all types of rooftops covered or not with snow; to direct said reindeer to swerve unexpectedly to avoid all manner of obstacles and orbiting space debris re-entering the earth’s atmosphere after being launched into space decades ago; to direct said reindeer in such a manner as to ensure not only that the aforementioned overflowing presents do not to fall from the sleigh but that, in mid-air, they follow the sleigh in a smooth graceful arc that is so pleasing to the eye that a charge of reckless driving could never be upheld in any court [where do you find a jury of 12 peers for Santa anyway?]; navigate the reindeer and sleigh through mountain passes and forests of trees, through a maze of chimneys, over seemingly vacant and barren tundra and verdant grasslands without benefit of compass or GPS. [As an aside: we know from family experience that in the rainy season a GPS may take you along a road that is technically on a cartographer’s map and in the GPS program but in reality is covered with water and inhabited by ducks! If you purchase a new car that can drive on its own and is guided by GPS, you may wish to re-think whether you can afford to take a nap when traveling;]
IGPS Road MG_2393

Do you trust your GPS to take you down this road? Photo: S. Marshall 2014

  • Climb down chimneys even if there isn’t one;
  • Climb back up the same existent or non-existent chimney, especially after consuming the items in the two points immediately below;
  • Eat, or otherwise discreetly dispose of, tonnes of “snacks,” primarily chocolate chip cookies but may also include ham sandwiches, blood sausage, vegemite with crackers, cheese and/or tofu, among other delicacies;
  • Drink, or otherwise discreetly dispose of, milk, coffee, tea, beer, scotch, apple cider and other fluids as required;
  • Be able to convince all Scrooges, Grinch and other doubters that you are the “real” Santa Claus and not a mall santa. [No, this is not typo – mall santas are not entitled to use a capital “S” in their name – consequently they are always “santa.”] Further, you must be able to address all questions as to your true identity with a twinkle of your eye and the laying of a finger aside your nose [isn’t this the sign for something else? Rude perhaps?] – all within the flash of a momentary moment, maybe even a fast, quick, speedy, micro-momentary nano-moment delivered at warp speed. Well, I am sure that you get the point; and
  • Other duties as required.
Tricky Santa landings IMG_3449

Some landings are trickier than others. St.John’s,NL  Photo: S.Marshall 2015

The Naughty and Nice List (The List)

Well, back to the story – or is this the story? Anyway, a few hours before Christmas Eve Day, back in 1963 I think, Ratfink Elf, Clerk (pronounced Clark) of the Naughty and Nice List, hereinafter referred to as “The List,” called Santa on his new touch-tone phone from the big red sleigh in Santa’s workshop. To be clear, in 1963 there were no mobile cell phones, as we know them today. Oh, there were some fully automated car phones in Sweden but Santa discouraged their inclusion on Christmas lists as they weighed a hernia – producing 40 kg (88 lbs.) and Santa didn’t want to risk a scandal by plying his reindeer team, and himself, with enough steroids to slog that sac full of mobile phones around the world through the snow. Not to mention that Santa was under serious scrutiny from Christmas Doping Control (CDC) because of some anonymous complaints in 1799 that the white stuff around Santa’s nose when he returned from Christmas Eve duties was not just confectioner’s sugar or cake frosting. It didn’t help that Dunder and Blixem were AWOL in January 1829 only to be discovered in a field of interesting foliage in Jamaica a week later. After ten months suspension and rehabilitation, and when they were no longer flying 10 meters higher than the other reindeer, they returned to the team under their new names Donder and Blitzen. No one was fooled really.

But back to mobile phones for a minute, the USSR was ahead in this game as motorists in Moscow had a fully functioning equivalent mobile phone system in 1963 whereas in the United States only a small area around Brewster, Kansas could make the same claim. Mysteriously, the private company offering the service was shut down shortly thereafter and never reopened. There has been much speculation that the company was shut down by (take your pick:) (1) The Feds – the US government trying to break up a corporate monopoly that would inhibit the democratization of the American populace. (2) The Reds – the USSR trying to break up a capitalist victory that would open the floodgates for unlimited sales of cell phones in the future contributing to the democratization of all citizens of the world. (3) Big Red – Santa trying to break up a massive assault by the world population on the regulatory agency responsible for restricting the weight of cargo entering and leaving North Pole airspace, thereby overturning the limits on the size and weight of Santa’s sac – against Santa’s wishes. His back really was killing him.

It is difficult to ascertain the precise reason, as each possibility is plausible. Plausible possibilities are the bane of those of us who believe in reason. To reason a reason with too many plausible possibilities is to risk signifying impossibility and implausibility that surely leads us to a conjuncture beyond which we cannot pass or is impassable or impermeable. If the impermeable is permanent, the secret may well go to someone’s grave – and it is increasingly looking like it will be my grave if I keep up this line of reasoning much longer. In order to avoid my own untimely demise then, I shall not belabour this point except to say that we will never know just how close the “Big Red” option was to the truth.

What do Puffins Have to Do with It?

Once read, all letters and requests made to Santa by any means or mode of communication, and all information specific to the “naughtiness” or “niceness” of any of Santa’s true believers (children mostly but not limited to children) are sealed until 00:01 a.m. local time on December 26 each year when they are shredded, along with transcripts of the most outrageous political speeches of the year. [In 2015 the award for such speeches goes to Donald Trump.] The resulting shredded paper is re-purposed as nesting material on the most remote nesting grounds of the Fraticula arctica or Arctic puffins in Labrador and Iceland. As yet, the most determined minds have not been able to reconstitute even a small shred of Santa’s naughty or nice list once it mixes with puffin guano. [And you liked puffins just because they are colourful, cute little birds that fly funnily.] Guano generation for puffins is essential under the Santa Naughty and Nice List Privacy Protection Act (SNNLPPA) passed as companion legislation to the Creation of Santa Act (CSA.)

Puffin Nesting ground IMG_3332

Puffin Nesting Ground 2015             Photo: S. Marshall

Oh, you should also know that only paper originals of The List, labouriously hand written by Scribe Elf in meticulous cursive, exist. No electronic versions of The List are ever made, as Santa is well aware, from some nasty personal experience, that anything posted to the Internet can never be totally erased from the Internet. Consequently computers, miraculously, are not a large part of the equation in this particular story. Nevertheless, on other matters, Santa and the Elves get to try everything before it hits the mass market, as it is essential that they stay ahead of the curve. That is why they had a touch-tone mobile phone in the big red sleigh.

Breaking: Everyone is “Naughty” in Southern Manitoba Town

Ratfink Elf was the Clerk (pronounced Clark) in charge of making The List and checking it twice, in order to find out who was naughty and nice. Oh, you want to know why Ratfink was calling Santa on that particular morning in 1963? Well, it seems that Ratfink and all his little ratfinks noticed that there was a small town in southern Manitoba where no one was on the “nice” side of the ledger and everyone was on the “naughty” side of the ledger.

[Note: This particular community (herein after referred to as Community A) shall remain anonymous in order to protect the guilty. It appears there are no innocents to protect, but quite frankly, I am concerned that those who are “naughty” will overtly exercise some “naughtiness” on my person as crude retaliatory justice. Now, there are certain “naughty” behaviours that are permissible and pass through the “naughtiness” screen insomuch as they meet select hedonistic criteria without being self-indulgent. There is a fine line to such a distinction and I am not opposed to such endeavours, but if one does not have administrative control, it is a risky business, as they say. It is sometimes best to be cautious. So, despite protestations from those who seek more openness and freedom of information, the name of this small town remains concealed, never to be revealed, as the recorded details of these events have long since met the guano of the Atlantic puffins.]

But can you imagine?! In 1963, in this small Santa fearing community there were no names on the nice side of the ledger – NONE! How could this happen? What did it mean? Would Santa and his team of reindeer simply fly past these houses – leaving all the cookies, sandwiches, sausages and other delectable foods to go uneaten and all the milk, beer and scotch to go sour, skunky and … well … aged!  Not bloody likely! Santa was furious! Something had to be done! And of course there was the small fact that the naughty Santa believers must be rescued from the most important consequence of their behaviour – they would receive no presents from Santa. Santa not only called immediately for an Inquiry, but he called for an immediate Inquiry.

President Claus

While you might think that Santa was the top dog in the administration of Santa’s North Pole (which may, or may not, be located at true magnetic North,) others are quick to point out that this queer, quirky and quixotic Elf is really an unelected, traditional, figurehead who often weighed in with views and opinions but whose vote did not count because … well … because he did not have a vote. The only thing worse than not voting is not having a vote. Still, Santa was not without a certain amount of influence and he took the matter to Mrs. Claus (sorry, still quite traditional on the Ms. vs Mrs. matter at the North Pole and it is likely to remain that way until Barbie is no longer in production as the most popular doll in requests to Santa.) Mrs. Claus did wield real power though as she was elected as President by the Elves to oversee all matters of “Santaness” and “Elfness” at the North Pole and on foreign territory when Santa traveled abroad. The Elves elected Mrs. Claus as President because they realized that Santa had a fatal flaw. He could be bribed easily with delicious and delectable deliciousnesses – and children learn about this flaw very early in life, hence their unfailing devotion to the rituals of Christmas Eve.

Santa IMG_2635

Santa reacts to “naughty news” from southern Manitoba

The ad hoc Santa Inquiry Into Naughty and Nice (SINN)

President (Mrs.) Claus received the petition for an Inquiry from Santa and appointed a select few of her trusty advisors to form an ad hoc Inquiry Into Naughty and Nice (SINN) with instructions to assemble at 3 a.m. on December 24. There is no better way to find out if your advisors are trusty or not than to call a meeting at 3 a.m. on December 24. But true to their loyalty and pledge the trusty advisors arrived at the appointed time and place – in the garden green house which Santa never visited because he was allergic to holly, ivy, mistletoe and other such greenery.

Christmas cactii Dec 15 IMG_5313

Santa is allergic to Christmas Cactus in his greenhouse.  Photo: Santa’s Horticultural Elves (SHE) 2015

Trusty Advisors Arrive

The first Advisor to arrive in the green house was Constitution Elf.  Con, as she was called, was the acknowledged expert on all matters related to the constitution and by-laws of the North Pole and territorial adjuncts. Con rarely stepped outside the strict boundaries of constitutional law and the word(s) “notwithstanding” were seldom far from her lips. Next to arrive was Litigation Elf (he was often called Lit, not as a short form, but because he had a fondness for scotch.) He preferred though to be addressed by his full name, Litigation.)  Litigation was frightfully concerned, voicing as he entered that the North Pole would be sued for ‘failure to deliver’ and he was already recommending a counter suit asking for costs as a result of the damage that Santa’s reputation would sustain, and for costs to recover expenditures on the over production of Christmas presents because the good citizens of Community A did not array themselves randomly around the mean of niceness on the Santa niceness scale.

Next to arrive was Goodwill Elf who only responds to the nickname “Goodie” which means she spends most of her time responding because “goodie” is a word you hear often around Santa.  Goodie, as you might guess, is an expert in building goodwill within organizations and she has many diplomas and advanced degrees in Human Resource Management with specialties in Elf Relations. Spinner, the Communications Elf, was right behind Goodie. Originally, her nickname was “Commie” but that was changed to “Spinster” in 1919 and later changed to “Spinner” in order to divert a backlash from older single women after a campaign and petition led by Helen Gurley Brown and backed by the ghost of Nellie McClung. In more recent years, after 1963 when this current incident happened, Spinner obtained her doctorate and became “Spin Doctor” although most Elves still call her Spinner.

There was a ten-minute lag before a Christmas bell choir dramatically announced the arrival of Archive Elf by pealing out a version of Good King Wenceslas, the popular carol written in 1853 about the Feast of Stephen held on the day following Christmas. [Perhaps my favourite carol of all time.] Archive Elf was affectionately known as “Dusty” but his full given name was Archival Recherche Classificus Heritage Elf or ARCH Elf.  ARCH Elf was also an acknowledged expert in quantitative and qualitative research with advanced degrees in statistics and research methodologies that made him a particularly valuable addition to the Inquiry.

So it was that President Claus (Mrs. Claus to most people and Elves) convened an emergency in-camera meeting of the ad hoc Santa Inquiry Into Naughty and Nice (SINN). With five voting member Elves in attendance, recommendations would carry the weight of a decree and be implemented immediately. Note: the President only votes in the case of a tie and abstentions are not permitted under Santal Law.

Inquiry Calls Evidence from Clerk (pronounced Clark) of Naughty and Nice List

The Elves settled into their chairs at a large round table decorated like a Christmas wreath with the words “Peace, Love, Joy, Happiness, Truth” emblazoned on a ribbon across the centre. Mugs of hot chocolate sat steaming at one end of the table and bars of chocolate were laid out in decorative style at the other end for those who wanted something a little stiffer. President Claus had her own mug of unidentifiable liquid, constantly refilled by an attentive attendant Elf. Idle chatter and the jingling of bells subsided as the President lowered the Candy Cane Sceptre to open the inquiry.

Only one witness was called and Ratfink Elf slinked obsequiously into the room trying to enter quietly but succeeding only in being an obtrusive, oleaginous, odious and subservient sycophant. Strong words but Ratfink was not well liked, a condition he inherited from his father, Snitch. Ratfink’s proper name was Squealor Contemptuous Scab Elf. Word has it that his mother left shortly after his birth to work for that Pagan variant of Christmas – All Hallows’ Eve or Hallowe’en – preferring to consort with that band of bad actors and clowns rather than to divulge that she was the birth mother of Ratfink.

Still, Ratfink played a huge role in sustaining Santa and all the good things for which Santa stands. The Naughty and Nice portfolio had only been entrusted to two individuals ever – Ratfink and his father, Snitch. The mandate of the Clerk (pronounced Clark) of the Naughty and Nice List was to ensure by whatever means necessary that all believers in Santa behaved properly such  that the word “nice” would be penciled in (and it was always in pencil so that it could be erased) beside their names on Christmas Eve, signalling to Santa to pilot the reindeer to their homes and to squiggle down their chimneys leaving not so much as an ash or a smudge of soot on the carpet while depositing toys, socks and pyjamas for happy girls and boys – although I have to say that if you didn’t get any toys and only got socks and pyjamas, you were not as happy as when you did get toys and candy. And after “Hoovering” in the thoughtful “snacks” left beside the tree, Santa would leave so quietly that even nosy old curmudgeons and hyped up hipsters did not notice the trace elements of cookie crumbs, scotch and garlic in the cold night air.

I am told that there was an air of anticipation as Ratfink took the stand. But however much as I would like to provide the transcripts of this meeting I am prevented from doing so, because it was, after all, an in camera meeting and there are no transcripts or minutes. And all personal notes and/or supporting documents (if any) were gathered at the meeting’s conclusion and have long since been shredded and are now covered with puffin guano in accordance with the dictates I discussed earlier. The only surviving document is one outlining the decision and the sole recommendation of the Inquiry, preserved for eternity as proof that justice was done. But I am getting ahead of myself.

This incident and Inquiry happened in1963 – 52 years ago. While some memories may have faded, some resolves have also been weakened as individuals approach the new realities of their mortality or immortality, as may be the case. The punishment of excommunication from benign servitude in Santa’s sweatshop and release from the cosy – covered hand of President (Mrs.) Claus, may no longer carry the same frightening consequences it once did. Still, it has taken 52 years to piece together a few telling details. Many of these pieces are inferences that are likely accurate but are not accompanied by concrete proof. They are gleaned from 52 years of my keeping eyes and ears open, along with diligent sleuthing including learning several dialects of reindeer and Elf.

The very fact that we know the Elf members of the Inquiry and their roles tells us a great deal. Not to mention the fact that we know the identity of the one and only Elf called to the stand to give evidence. Ratfink’s evidence was succinct. Naughtiness it seemed prevailed in Community A. Ratfink recited from memory a lengthy list of behaviours that were serious enough to keep the individual(s) off the “nice” side of the ledger. Ratfink took a full four hours without a break to present the evidence. The Elf members circulated freely to refill their hot chocolate and to avail themselves of the chocolate bars and double chocolate chip cookies that arrived just before the attendant Elves were banished from the greenhouse.   Despite the early hour not one chocolate-fuelled Elf dozed off during Ratfink’s uninterrupted soliloquy. To conclude his testimony, Ratfink tabled his conclusion: There was not one Santa believer in Community A who qualified to have the coveted Santa stamp of approval on the “nice” side of The List. What were the chances of that?

The Precedent and the Probabilities

Well, funny you should ask about the probabilities of this occurrence. In the subsequent discussion ARCH Elf reported that he had searched the archives at ELF warp speed (faster than current day Google searches and 100 times more accurate) and determined that this specific situation had been encountered only one other time in the recorded history of The List. The community in question was not named nor was the exact year divulged, but it is widely believed to be a small community with a population of four (two couples according to Russia’s long form census) in Siberia. It seems that a hunter trapped some weasels that had fleas and brought a couple of the pelts into his bedroom to provide warmth for him and his wife. The bedding became contaminated with fleas. When the neighboring hunter also became a host for fleas a short time later, an argument ensued as to how and when he was exposed to the fleas. Suffice to say that the outcome was nasty and the aforementioned community of four no longer exists (according to Russia’s long form census.) Police reports and criminal records were not introduced into evidence so it is not known if this argument escalated to the level of a “domestic” or whether it was simply a mutual agreement to disband the small community. It matters not. The end result was that Santa bypassed those two couples that Christmas as the charge of “naughty” as directed by Snitch Elf (Ratfink’s father) was applied. Neither couple sought to appeal.

In terms of probabilities, ARCH Elf worked out that a naughty – only list would occur once in every 200 billion times in a community of Santa believers. The larger the population the higher the odds (perhaps as high as 1 in a trillion) that not one individual would make the “nice” list on Christmas Eve. Such is the persuasive effect of Santa’s admonishment to be “good for goodness sake” and the lure of being on his “nice” list. And of course the odds against it happening twice in recorded history would be higher still.

But, what we do know is that this specific situation was not unprecedented and gave the Inquiry something of a benchmark for their deliberations. The transgressions, on the face of it, seemed serious enough to warrant the mandated penalty – no presents from Santa because they were naughty. The task then was to determine if the transgressions now in question were of the same ilk. [Apparently, when President Claus asked this question, a herd of 10,000 elk misunderstood and began to snort and move en masse across the tundra in the direction of Elk City, Oklahoma. Disaster was narrowly averted when President Claus was able to reach Wildlife Manager Elf to head the elk off at The Pas. That’s right, The Pas, Manitoba, not “the pass” as you might have guessed.]

Well, I am sure that you are dying to know whether the transgressions in this current case are comparable to the only previously known case. Again, we can make some educated guesses based on personal interviews and conversations with well-placed individuals and reputable sources, that the transgressions cited included some, or maybe all, or maybe none of the examples that follow here. No matter, at the very least the following serve as sample examples of behaviour that could condemn someone to the naughty list.

Sample Example 1 – Borgward GmbH Isabella Combi

A young lad and four of his buddies were out cruising early one Saturday summer evening. It was the kind of evening you don’t usually have in Manitoba – extremely hot but a dry heat, thankfully. Nevertheless, the sun hung on the western horizon refusing to set. The thermometer outside the local garage showed 99 degrees Fahrenheit and it was well past the dinner (or supper in those parts) hour. Adding to the kiln – like temperature was the fact that the car’s heating system was stuck in the “on” position and the fan was churning out a blast of air more suitable for roasting pigs than for cooling kids. The boys sat in extreme discomfort with wet armpits and T-shirt backs stuck to the ‘real vinyl’ seat covers. About an hour later the RCMP who patrolled the rural roads in those parts, pulled along side the car and signalled to the driver to pull over. The conversation apparently went something like this:

Teenage driver: Hello officer. Everything OK?

RCMP officer: May I see your driver’s license and vehicle registration?

Teenage driver: Of course. We weren’t really doing anything wrong, eh?

RCMP officer: And just what did you think you were doing?

Teenage driver: We were just trying to cool the car off.

RCMP officer: Oh. And how were you trying to do that?

Teenage driver: We decided to drive down the highway backward eh? With the doors open to catch some cooler air – to funnel it into the car, eh? You see, the heater is stuck on “on” and we are cooking in here.

RCMP officer: I see. And what isn’t wrong about that?

Teenage driver [with pretensions of being a lawyer or possibly just a smartass]: Well, we weren’t speeding, eh?

RCMP officer: That’s true, but you were driving down the wrong side of the road.

Teenage driver [perhaps not showing the best judgment possible for someone with pretensions to be a lawyer]: I am not sure about that as we had a big debate about which side of the road you should drive along if you are going backward, eh? We decided that the correct side is the side where the front of the vehicle is facing the same direction as the fronts of all the other automobiles in that lane,eh?  [Perhaps, the fundamentals of traffic flow evaded our young teenage driver.]

RCMP officer: I see. Interesting logic. I still haven’t seen your vehicle registration and what kind of car is this anyway?

Teenage driver: (proudly) It’s a 1955 Borgward GmbH Isabella Combi.

[Hoots of laughter from the other teenage passengers]

RCMP officer: I see. And who is the registered owner of this vehicle?

Teenage driver: My grandmother, eh?

[More hoots of laughter]

RCMP officer: And does she know you have the vehicle?

Teenage driver: Damn straight!  She asked us to see if we could find a way to cool the car off because the heater is stuck on “on,” eh?

Borgward

1955 Borgward GmbH Isabella Combi  Photo: http://www.HistoryofCars.com

 

RCMP officer: Have you boys been drinking? Do you have any alcohol in the car?

Teenage driver and passengers [in unison]: No way!

RCMP officer: Please get out of the vehicle so that I can have a look.

[Teenage driver and passengers fall out in two heaps – one on each side of the 2- door Borgward. There is much jostling and arm punching but nothing that is greater than what would occur if they were just standing in line at school. Teenage boy awkwardness and clumsiness is evident no matter what the social situation. It did not change here.]

There is really no need to go into much more detail. No alcohol was found. The teenage driver had not been drinking, nor had any of the passengers. No other illicit drugs were found. The RCMP officer gave the teenage driver a warning about driving more safely and carefully such that the lives of others are not endangered. No damage had been done as the highway was traveled infrequently – in fact, not one car passed in either direction during this entire spot check.

So, a verbal warning was given and no ticket was issued. Yet, Ratfink Elf found this sufficient to place the teenage driver in the naughty category on The List. But the most important aspect of this action is that the teenage driver must still have been a believer in Santa – at 16 years of age! As you recall you have to believe in Santa to even be eligible for inclusion on The List. Wow! If this information ever got out, his cool reputation would be shattered. Good thing these matters are always held in strictest confidence and destroyed in the interests of protecting privacy.

Sample Example 2: Sunflower Projectiles

Southern Manitoba is known to have prime agricultural land. Ever since the water began flowing north from the Mississippi watershed to Lake Winnipeg, the Red River has flooded regularly spilling water and depositing rich loam across the floor of the Red River valley. Apparently, it still does with some frightening regularity – but that is a story for another time. As is the creation of the Manitoba escarpment, two ridges of gravel, sand, and less desirable soil left in moraines as Glacial Lake Agassiz receded.

The rich agricultural land means that there are few sights as beautiful as the fields of sunflowers stretching across the Manitoba prairie, their heads following the great deity with undivided attention each moment of each day. Heads held high, they display their flower parts shamelessly and are rewarded when pollination begins a process to pack their heads full. Geez, this sounds like over the top horrible writing! And it is! What I really want to say is that when you grow sunflowers you get lots, and lots, and lots of sunflower seeds.

Sunflowers have many uses including as food, and oil used to cook food. It has medicinal and therapeutic properties used in aromatherapy treatments and beauty products. The hulls make great fire logs and other imitation wood products. Of course, the sunflower is also sought after for its inherent beauty as an ornamental flower. One of our daughters is particularly partial to sunflowers and I can’t blame her. I am certain there are many other uses that I have not mentioned.

But it is the recreational use of sunflower seeds that provided Ratfink Elf with another reason to tag many young boys as naughty. Seeds are roasted, bagged and sold as confection. Boys learn at a very early age to stuff a handful of sunflower seeds in their maw, cheeks puffing out like chipmunks, and using teeth, tongue, lips and cheeks they extract the seed from the hull, chew and swallow the tender part, and at the very same time transfer the remaining hull to a firing station on the tongue at the front of the mouth where air expelled from these youthful lungs propels the hull to great distances and with great force. Such talent! All boys and many girls become experts in the art of eating sunflower seeds.

Well, eating sunflower seeds is not a crime, is it? No, but spitting sunflower seeds on the floor, on the sidewalk or out the window of moving vehicles may be. Many communities have ordinances or by – laws against spitting in public. Some by-laws were enacted because spitting has a “negative impact on the enjoyment of public spaces” and some because spitting (now included with urination and defecation) constitutes a significant “health risk and a nuisance” whether on public or private property. Such local laws are not uncommon. But, is discarding the hulls of the sunflower really spitting? Maybe it is akin to throwing away the wrapper from a candy bar? It is easy to see the flaw in this argument as the emission of sunflower seed hulls from the mouths of its aficionados now becomes littering which is also not permitted and subject to attendant fines. Still, my experience is that spitting sunflower hulls is more likely to be tolerated than discarding candy bar wrappers is.

My father, who was a store owner in a small town in southern Manitoba, despised the practice of spitting sunflower hulls. All manner of the citizenry spat hulls on the floor of his store and on the sidewalk in front where older retired farmers and other gents often sat on a bench and chairs he provided, to pass time and the gossip of the day. How the toothless ones managed to extract the seeds from the hulls still remains a mystery to me. Nevertheless, my father continued to sell sunflower seeds as a confection in his store. Perhaps he conducted a cost – benefit analysis?

Father's store Manitoba IMG_4393

Post Office, Bus Stop and Confectionery  Altamont, Manitoba  Photo: Unknown

Accommodations to the practice were sometimes made. For example, the “Visitor’s” benches in local hockey rinks were often covered in much the same manner as dugouts are covered in baseball stadiums. It was commonplace, at least in my day, for the hometown fans of the “Royals” or the “Maroons” to spit sunflower hulls at the visiting teams. Some hometown fanatics had remarkable accuracy combined with good velocity and their mouths were like the magazines of repeating rifles – you were usually ducking a constant barrage. The canopies over the visitors’ bench were invaluable protection.

To be fair, I myself have been guilty of, although not formally charged with, spitting sunflower hulls in various prohibited places. I have also witnessed some egregious cases where all available floor space in an automobile and a rented house was covered with sunflower hulls. I am certain that these were accompanied to the floor by a spray of spittle from the sunflower connoisseur.

Undoubtedly, there were many in the community who contravened the restrictions on spitting (or littering) and Ratfink Elf who adopted a very black and white approach to his job, did not hesitate to pencil “naughty” beside their names on The List.

Sample Example 3: Paint by Numbers

Most often we are born into a ready-made, can’t change it, family. [I recognize that this is not always the case, but I will not deal with those matters at this time.] Families have their upsides and their downsides. On the upside, you learn who you are dealing with after a very short period of time and you learn that, despite internal bickering, families usually stick together. In fact, I have witnessed two brothers (X and Y) turn on a well-meaning individual Z who sided with X in a fight against Y. Lesson: never assist either brother when they are fighting because they both are likely to turn their anger on you. The reason for the fight matters not. But for those who are curious, the fight in this instance was over a girl and took place outside a dance hall and involved the considerable consumption of alcohol. For the record, the girl did not go home with either brother and neither did she accompany the intervener Z. Lesson: generally speaking, stay out of fights if you wish to win the girl.

I recognize that the above situation is gender specific and I am sure there are situations that speak to women more effectively. I am not going to go there, as that would take me farther into a digression than I am prepared to go at the moment.

The relationship between brothers and sisters is an interesting one and it is usually qualitatively different depending on age order in the family. I cannot address every situation but for girls, older brothers are often the bane of their existence. Oh, brothers can be nice from time to time, usually when they are older and come to your assistance when you need some muscle. But older brothers often play a role that my father noted was akin to that of a “promoter” in boxing or wrestling. In fact, my father used to call me “the promoter.” I would create a situation, cause some conflict between my two younger sisters such that they would fight, and I would just stand back and watch the fireworks. And I guess I was forever teasing and tormenting them, sometimes intentionally, and sometimes I think, just by my very existence.

Sometimes though, a sister just has to extract revenge. This story actually happened to me. One Christmas, or maybe it was on my birthday, I received a “paint by numbers“ kit. You know the kind – a line drawing of a winter wonderland or mountains or a Kirk by a brook or some such idyllic scene along with numbered paint pots. You use the paint from the numbered pots to fill in the corresponding numbered area on the canvas. Every paint by numbers painting I have ever seen looked ghastly and mine were even ghastlier (look my dictionary says that there is such a word although I think there shouldn’t be.) The canvas I was working on was no exception. The paint was applied too thickly in most places, a little like mortar, and I re-drew the pre-drawn lines carelessly. I was going to say with careless abandon but that implies some creative artistry at work and there was none. I failed to follow the rules as to the order in which the paint should be applied, causing some smeary sections. The brush was often not cleaned or even wiped resulting in even more imperfections. Painting by the open window and electric fan caused a dusty quality that may have enhanced the prairie landscape but did nothing for the snowbound mountain pass. In short, if there were prizes awarded for paint by number paintings, my canvas was not going to receive one – ever, ever, ever.

View from Sleigh IMG_0929

Early morning view from Santa’s sleigh would make great painting or puzzle.  Photo courtesy of Santa’s personal collection

My wife, who is skilled and extremely talented at painting as both craft and creative art, will laugh at my mercifully brief foray into paint by numbers. It was mercifully short because my sister helped to kick it to the sidelines by coming brazenly into my room, while I was present if you can believe it, and swiping her hands across the still wet canvas. I was furious! My work of art was destroyed! I would need an art restorer to return it to pristine condition. In retrospect, I realize that I was furious because my sister, the second oldest child, displayed no fear of her big brother and willfully carried out this act of vandalism as a symbol of her freedom and a statement that I would do her no harm – of course, that might have been because she knew that dad would kill me if I did. No matter the reasoning, she was correct and she extracted a small amount of revenge for my brotherly teasing and torturing in that moment, which interestingly, we both recall vividly.

I guess in the eyes of Ratfink Elf we had each committed an act or acts that were “naughty” and should be codified as such. But were they enough to warrant no gifts from Santa?

Sample Example 4: You Don’t Grow Old, You Just Lose Your Audience

Ratfink Elf recounted the case of the elderly grandfather who liked to tell off colour jokes at family gatherings. He would rise ceremoniously during a lull in the conversation at the dinner table to take the stage as he had done so often at the Legion, leading his comrades in arms in ribald songs and questionable humour. His family respected his position as patriarch and as long as he could be interrupted in time to avoid the obvious racist jokes, the dinner was considered a success. Were a few jokes enough to deny admission to the Nice ledger of The List? Ratfink Elf thought so.

Sample Example 5: Dog Eats House

Ratfink stooped to a new low in his determination to ensure that absolutely no one from Community A would be visited by Santa and that the vapour trail of Santa’s sleigh would show no descent to earth at those coordinates. A furry dog, left alone one afternoon in the family home in early December, was tempted by the most delicious smell of gingerbread in the kitchen.  The dog knew from experience that certain delectable baked goods were sometimes available there, as the previous year the family pet lost a few points by scoffing down a dozen Chelsea buns. So it came to be that the structural components of an entire ginger bread house mysteriously disappeared that afternoon.   Fortunately however, the family made two houses and one house survived the catastrophe. The dog explained to those who understand dog that “a sinkhole opened up” in the table and swallowed “a bunch of stuff.” Gingerbread crumbs, sparkles and sprinkles clung to the dog’s muzzle amid protestations that “I don’t even know what a gingerbread house is anyway!”   I am fairly certain that if dogs have any memory longer than the last tree sniff, this dog had some bad dreams about this particularly spicy gingerbread given the unusual eagerness to go to outside to “do business” during the following week. Perhaps, the pet was saved from even greater discomfort and possibly a trip to the veterinarian because its paws just couldn’t reach that last house. Ratfink had no sympathy and gave the dog a “naughty” grade.

Ginger Bread dog IMG_3129

Could this dog have eaten a ginger bread house?

Sample Example 6: Sandy and the Burnt Toast

Sandy (short for Alexander I am told) lived alone after his wife Maggie (short for Margaret I am told) died. They had no children and Sandy’s inner contentment was diminished greatly upon her passing. He sought the comfort of other elderly gentlemen in the community, some were bachelors and others were married with wives still alive. He did not seek female companionship – maybe because he felt a loyalty and love for his dear departed Maggie, or maybe because it was just too painful to have to set aside his many happy memories in order to forge adventures and good times with someone new. Just as we have difficulty packing up and putting cherished memorabilia into storage, or selling it, or giving it to charitable re-use and recycle shops when we downsize, Sandy had great difficulty reorganizing his mind to free up additional space – some would say that he flat out refused to so.

The relationship between Sandy and Maggie had been a very traditional one with a very traditional, gendered division of labour. Maggie did all of the cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping and anything else that could be categorized as a ‘household duty.’ She never worked outside of the home and was devoted and loyal to Sandy as her Prince. Each weekday afternoon she disappeared into the living room with a cup of tea sweetened with several spoonfuls of sugar and Carnation evaporated milk [where was there room for the tea?] to indulge in her favourite relaxations, watching the ABC soap opera General Hospital on KCND, a semi – independent station and forerunner of CKND, broadcasting into southern Manitoba from Pembina, North Dakota, and in the evening she never missed Front Page Challenge on CBC television. Sandy always teased her that she secretly had a crush on Fred Davis.

Gr Bill IMG_5346

“Sandy”               Photo: Unknown

Grandma H IMG_5355

“Maggie” with ever present cuppa tea              Photo: Unknown

Sandy in return brought home the bacon and always held steady full time employment – he had never been laid off or otherwise lost his job, even during the bleakest of times in the ‘dirty thirties.’ He did change places of employment several times over the years but always to better their situation. Maggie never questioned his judgement on these matters and he was always right. Sandy was meticulous in the way he maintained their home and other property. He applied fresh paint to the house and outbuildings on a regular pre-determined schedule. He washed and polished the car with turtle wax every Sunday in the driveway. He entrusted Otto, the mechanic down the street, with all oil changes, maintenance and repairs on their car to be completed on schedule. There was genuine love in the relationship between Sandy and Maggie and it didn’t take open displays of affection to know that they were both complicit in its forging.

It is hard to know if the dementia or the Parkinson’s appeared first. In the 1960’s not much attention was paid to the difference. “Shaking palsy” was fairly common among the elderly and general practitioners in rural communities seldom made the distinction between ‘essential tremour’ and Parkinson’s disease no matter how good their bedside manner. And, of course, some attributed any cognitive impairment to Alzheimer’s. Today, the diagnosis undoubtedly would be Lewy body dementia if cognitive impairment was diagnosed within a year of a diagnosis of Parkinson’s. Those nasty Lewy bodies are congregations of a misfolded protein, alpha-synuclein, in the substantia nigra region of the brain resulting in a depletion of dopamine causing Parkinson’s and dementia. You can have dementia without Parkinson’s, Parkinson’s without dementia, or both Parkinson’s and dementia.

Over fifty years of scientific research and debate on the existence and role of Prions in general and misfolded alpha – synuclein in particular has led us to our present day understanding of the characteristics of Lewy body dementia, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. But Sandy’s rural general practitioner had no way of knowing any of this. And quite frankly it didn’t much matter. He developed a tremour in one hand. He was forgetful and couldn’t remember names of even close friends at times. He dozed off one time while making his lunch, burning the water dry as he boiled eggs only to be awakened by a neighbour who was alerted by the burning rotten egg smell. After that, friends would often drop in on him at meal times. But new unanticipated concerns kept popping up.

Increasingly, Sandy had difficulty with executive functioning. Executive functioning does not necessarily mean making decisions on millions of dollars for a project in a high tech corporation. Rather, for most people it just means trying to make good decisions in the most routine matters of everyday life, being able to process information in order to solve problems. For Sandy this meant processing the information that the toast was burning and deciding to turn off the toaster. The trouble is that he decided to turn the toaster off by using the kitchen shears to cut the still plugged in electrical cord. The resultant release of electrical energy at the interface of wire and shears threw the lightweight Sandy clear across the room leaving him in a dazed heap with the shears scorched and in need of sharpening. A passer-by heard the loud ‘bang,” entered Sandy’s house, called the local police officer (there was only one,) and tended to Sandy’s mercifully few immediate medical needs.

The threshold had been crossed though and a small group consisting of a neighbour, a comrade from the Legion, and a member of Sandy’s church did what members of small communities have been doing forever. They took Sandy in and provided for his short-term needs until they could reach a member of his family to develop a long-term plan. For the purposes of this story the details of that plan matter not. Rest assured that Sandy lived the remainder of his life surrounded by loving family in a caring environment. He was fortunate.

What does matter though is that when that ratfink, Ratfink Elf, came to Sandy’s name on The List (Sandy had returned to the fold of Santa believers shortly after Maggie died) he wrote Sandy up for “careless endangerment – behaviour which placed both himself and his community at mortal risk.” It was a very serious charge and Ratfink felt it was his responsibility to interpret the letter of law.

Sample Example 7: “trompe l’oreille

Parents, ever wonder just when is the exact moment that a play date for your children went wrong – thankfully not horribly wrong, but wrong nonetheless? It may have been when the mother of a sweet and innocent five-year old girl decided to let her daughter play at the house of a neighbouring mommy and her two young daughters. Or it may have been when the hosting mommy decided that she could keep adequate tabs on the girls while she was busy with other chores elsewhere in the house. Or it may have been that moment when the host father arrived home and discovered that not all was what it seemed and the children fled for their lives, at least as they perceived it.

You see, it was a time before home computers and the Internet, cable TV, game boys and video games. Television reception was only as good as your antennae and even at that, there was precious little to watch as the three available channels carried few programs which would captivate the imaginations of five-year-old girls for long. Oh, colouring books and crayons were popular enough and many dwellings were decorated with early cave-girl and cave-boy pictographs drawn crudely on wallpapered and painted walls with crayons that defied the description “washable.” Most adults knew it best to keep pencils and pens out of the hands of these budding artists if you wanted to avoid them making an indelible impression.

Bear in mind it was also a time when there was no kindergarten in this small community and work for women consisted mostly of childrearing, and household chores of cooking and cleaning; providing emotional support for all family members no matter what the situation or crisis; being responsible for financial and administrative duties to keep the family in food and clothing even in times of weak revenue; being the glue that held the extended family together through thick and thin and across the miles of prairie separating its various members; being the family’s lifeline to the community and social coordinator as required; and, working at one of more paid employment opportunities to “augment” the family income. In short, women with families were extremely busy – doing every thing from childbearing to darning socks to working “on the line” at the “egg factory.”

It is not exactly clear what was happening on this particular day but the host mommy made a decision to trust her auditory capacities and instincts as she multi-tasked elsewhere in the house. What she heard were joyful and pleasant sounds. The children were having a great time amusing themselves with boxes, bottles, jars and pots and pans from the cupboards and utensils from the drawers. It was not uncommon for children to play in this manner. It seems the host mommy became quite absorbed in whatever she was doing and the time slipped away with her ears still satisfied that everything was OK in the kitchen.

But sometimes not all is what it seems. What seemed to be innocent play with household pantry items and pots and pans turned out to be the auditory equivalent of a trompe l’oeil – a trompe l’oreille? The children were engaged in advanced culinary activities that they had not yet witnessed on cooking shows on television. But it was abundantly clear to them that in order for any goodness to happen in the kitchen some ingredients had to be emptied from their boxes and mixed with other ingredients. This is a variation of the old saw – you have to break an egg to make an omelette. I am not certain that these children actually broke any eggs but they did begin to experiment with a new recipe and culinary style by emptying several boxes of different cereals on the floor. Flour was next on the list and a white cloud swooshed across the room turning the faces of the would-be chefs a ghostly white. The resulting mixture still did not have that …. certain something, something, necessary to qualify as haute cuisine so home preserved garlic dill pickles, bread and butter pickles and gherkins landed on the floor with satisfying splats.   Peanut butter, chocolate syrup, corn syrup, orange juice and milk were added liberally to the dry ingredients. (Always add wet to dry ingredients my mother said.) Using the floor as a mixing bowl, the girls proceeded to stir vigorously with wooden spoons in a manner that they had seen their mothers do so often. What a pity that cell phone cameras were not yet invented, as the scene was priceless. Children covered head to toe in flour, baking powder, cereal and syrup; ponytails and pigtails sticky and askew but held somewhat in place with pretty ribbons and barrettes. It was a glorious sight – sweet smiles all around – until the reverie was burst by the entrance of … [drum roll] … the FATHER!

The host father it seems arrived home expecting his lunch of chicken noodle soup, egg salad sandwiches, tea and a lemon square only to find the kitchen concoction instead. As he came through the back porch, the screen door slammed behind him (in those days all screen doors slammed.) The children, possessing remarkable sixth sense, sensed that perhaps this scene was not one to which they wanted to be associated. Before the father even entered the kitchen, all sticky fingers and toes fled to the nearest bedroom, diving like ground squirrels under the bed. It took a few seconds for the father’s brain to process exactly what he was seeing in the kitchen, but when it registered a loud “WHAT THE ….!” thundered through the air.   He caught some movement out of the corner of his eye and following the trail of syrup and cereal, reached under the bed and grasped the ankle of the first culprit he could reach. It happened to be the sweet little girl from the family next door. She was the last under the bed and consequently was the first to be pulled out. She received a sharp smack across the backside, which sent both her and her two accomplices into screams and tears. The sound of three wailing children cut through the walls like an air raid siren causing the oblivious mother to jump up from her work and run to the kitchen arriving only a second or two ahead of the mother of the sweet little girl from next door. After the dust had settled so to speak, and the kitchen concoction was scrubbed off all surfaces, smiles returned to the adults’ faces as they began to realize that this was one for the books.

Ratfink Elf thought so too and booked the host mother for being inattentive, the host father for paddling the sweet little girl on her behind, and the children for wilful naughty behaviour. He reasoned that because they fled when they heard the father coming home, they clearly knew what they were doing was naughty at the very least and probably egregious. Of course, Ratfink did not stop to think about whether the children understood the meaning of ‘wilful’ or ‘egregious’, never mind ‘naughty.’ Oh well … ‘naughty’ was checked beside each of their names just the same.

Santa Inquiry Tables Findings and Recommendation

President Claus and the Elf members of the Inquiry sat patiently and respectfully through Ratfink’s long explanation. There was no bobbing and jerking of heads, both tell tale signs of someone desperately staving off boredom and sleep. None of the bells at the tips of the Elf hats was ever in danger of dipping into the eggnog. Most telling however was the fact that the eggnog was not spiked! Brains were clearly engaged and engaged clearly. The level of attentiveness over the four hours was unprecedented in the history of Santal Inquiries. Even so, the Inquiry Elves took no notes and asked no questions of clarification.

At this point I think we need to refresh our memories on the reason for this Inquiry.  Ratfink Elf, the Clerk (pronounced Clark) responsible for maintaining Santa’s Naughty and Nice List (The List,) reported to Santa that with only hours left before Christmas Eve, a small town in southern Manitoba (Community A) did not have one person on the nice list which meant that Santa would not make any visits to believers there. Santa called for the Inquiry to ensure that there was no mistake in this report from the Clerk (pronounced Clark).

I am certain you want to know what the Inquiry found and what recommendation it made. Remember, earlier I said there was only one recommendation.

Findings: The Inquiry found that Ratfink Elf had erred on several points of Santal Constitutional law re: jurisdiction to wit the criminal and civil codes of member nations of the Santa Convention Regulating Administrative Punishment (SCRAP,) rendering the prohibition of Santa’s Christmas Eve visit to Community A as null and void, notwithstanding that several individuals of Community A would remain on the naughty list as charged.

Recommendation: Santa should visit Community A in his usual fashion distributing presents to a list revised by Ratfink to meet reasonable definitions of ”naughty” and “nice,” and approved by President (Mrs.) Claus.

President (Mrs.) Claus IMG_0178

President (Mrs.) Claus on vacation in unidentified location after Inquiry Photo courtesy North Pole Archives

The recommendation was implemented with the force of a decree. Ratfink Elf was miffed that his assessments were not upheld in total but was satisfied that he was successful in having so many assessments upheld. It was a clear vindication of the necessary existence of his position as Clerk (pronounced Clark) of the Naughty and Nice List.

In layperson’s terms, the song “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town” has it right.  Santa is concerned with “naughty” and “nice” – that’s the list he checks twice. Oh, he knows if you have been “bad” or “good” but that is a matter for a different jurisdiction. The word “naughty” denotes mild disobedience while the word ”bad” denotes something that is unsatisfactory, unacceptable, negligent or unwelcome and is not the responsibility of Santal law but the responsibility of other jurisdictions with advanced civil and criminal codes. The capacity for the Clerk (pronounced Clark) to recommend and for Santa to take action is subject to these jurisdictional realities. Santal law is neither criminal nor civil, it turns out.

IMG_1269 - 2

Santa came! He came!

Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town: “The Boss” Takes the Stage

This story should not end without a rendition of Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town. John Frederick Coots and Haven Gillespie wrote this seasonal smash hit in 1934. It was first performed on the Eddie Cantor show and it shot to the top of the charts. It has been recorded innumerable times by artists such as Perry Como, The Four Seasons, Bing Crosby, The Beach Boys, Lou Rawls, The Carpenters, Neil Diamond, George Strait, The Supremes, and Andrea Bocelli, to name but a few.

But by far my personal favourite performances of Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town are by Bruce Springsteen. His rock version has become a staple in his playlist for concerts all over the world. No matter the time of year, fans often come prepared with Santa hats and Christmas cards to throw on stage giving Springsteen (and sometimes the E Street Band) the whimsical boost necessary to live up to their trademark high-energy performance with Springsteen exhorting the crowd to sing along. The audience responds in kind in anticipation of Santa’s arrival – even if it may be months until Christmas Eve. There are two Springsteen versions that are particular favourites of mine, partly because both feature the big man Clarence Clemons on saxophone and bass vocals, and partly because 31 years separates the performances. Have a listen by clicking on the links below:

1. A young Bruce Springsteen performs Santa Claus is Coming to Town 1978.09.20, Capitol Theatre, Passaic, N.J. from “Live in Passaic – September 20th 1978” (JEMS Archive-Brucevideos).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KsDieLwIaaw

 

  1. It’s 31 years later and a more mature, high energy (in my opinion) Springsteen performs Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town with the E Street Band – Live at HSBC Arena in Buffalo, New York 2009-11-22.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V2NhmrootkY

There are many other Springsteen versions of Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town out there and it fun to watch and listen to them all.

  1. Bonus: And, of course another Springsteen classic is Merry Christmas Baby, which always puts me into the rock and roll spirit of Christmas. The Buffalo 2009 version is here

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B803AXVYzeE

NOTE: Bruce Springsteen is a long time supporter of the Light of Day Foundation fighting Parkinson’s disease. Springsteen has appeared as a “surprise” guest 11 times over the 15 years of Benefit Concerts organized by Bob Benjamin, an artistic manager and music industry veteran who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1996.

© Stan Marshall (The PD Gardener) 2015, with the exception of Bruce Springsteen performances and photographs as noted.