Short, Pithy and/or Pissy Post No. 4: Which Underground?

Short, Pithy and/or Pissy Post No. 4: Which Underground?

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In winter the intersection of Empress Ave., Scoles Rd., Hwy 27 N and Heritage St. in Altamont, Manitoba is as bone-chillingly cold as the infamous corner of Portage and Main in Winnipeg – before they forced pedestrians underground to avoid frostbite and injury from the beastly wind howling through the city core. Just another example of how humans try to conquer Mother Nature… if the tax base will permit.

There will be no pedestrian underpass in Altamont because… well, because Altamont is an unincorporated community within the Rural Municipality of Lorne (population 3,041 according to the 2016 census.) Statistics Canada does not deign to recognize Altamont itself as having any official population. In fact, some bureaucrat had a delightful sense of irony when s/he classified Altamont (estimated 1910 population: 100 and 2016 population: 50) as a “Local Urban District.”

I doubt that the municipal councillor in Altamont has ever felt political pressure to dig an underpass to conquer the nasty north wind at any intersection. The suggestion just begs the question, “What if they built an underpass, and nobody came?”

But there is another reason there is no underpass.  The intersection is almost famous for its Time and Space Warp (see SPPP no. 2) and the Warp is largely ineffective when operated below ground. This shortcoming was driven home to me many years ago while having a beer with a retired farmer named “Abe” in the iconic Altamont Hotel. Abe told me that Mr. Somerville, the stationmaster after the Northern Pacific and Manitoba Railroad reached Altamont in 1899, was fond of saying, “You cain’t see nuthin’ if yer six foot under.” I have no reason to believe that someone named “Abe” would lie – especially about something so germane to life and death.

When you look at the roads of egress from Altamont, the future certainly seems bleak. However, the Warp uses highly sophisticated socio – cultural geographic modeling along with temporal/spatial analysis methodology to ascertain the influence (positive and negative) of Altamont on the success and failure rates of its emigrants by analyzing the future futures, the present futures and the past futures of literally hundreds of individuals who will pass, are passing and have passed through Altamont – stopping to live a year or two, or ten, or twenty – or a lifetime. You will find that the accomplishments of those women and men are impressive and lead to the four corners of the earth and beyond.

[In technical terms the sum of such individual interactions is the Cumulative Overall Influence (COI); the downstream impact on the outside world over future generations is the Impact on Outside World (IOW); therefore, COI + IOW = Magnitude of Influence (MOI.)]

At any given time the road out looks bleak but the potential for success is great.  If you remain, you risk clogging up a system that depends on people leaving. Perversely, the success of a small town depends on its failure to thrive – forcing out-migration, which ironically contributes to its Magnitude of Influence.

Under such imperatives some residents establish strong bonds with small towns; bonds which neither distance nor death can break.  If these allegiances prevailed, there would be a steady stream of souls returning “home” each and every day. In Mr. Bishop’s words,

“Altamont was my birthplace.

Altamont was my home until I was 28 years of age.

Altamont has always been my home even now when I have been away for 43 years.

The hill east of Altamont will be my final resting place. From here I will view in all directions the beauty of all the seasons and play and laugh with those of my friends that are with me.”  

~ Lisgar Bishop in Memories of Altamont, 1884 – 1984

As for me, my family home was in Altamont for close to 17 years. I was married there … for the first time. For the next 30 years I lived and worked far away; visited infrequently; became estranged socially, politically and ideologically from the town folk; children arrived; divorce; new marriage, new family; diagnosis of Parkinson’s. Altamont became a place I used to live … but a place to which I am still contributing to its Magnitude of Influence (MOI.)

While I admit I have a fascination with Altamont’s history and the stories of those who call it home, love and gardens are beckoning my soul to a place other than the Altamont Cemetery when the time comes.

Besides, “You cain’t see nuthin’ if yer six foot under.”

(743 words)

© Stan Marshall (The PD Gardener) 2017

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Short, Pithy and/or Pissy Post #2: Song Titles

Short, Pithy and/or Pissy Post #2: Song Titles” is now available.

“My lover thinks I have been sitting around wasting time listening to music from the last 7 decades. … It all started with an innocent thought about the geo–cultural origins of song titles.” Read more at https://wordpress.com/page/thepdgardener.wordpress.com/10598

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Short, Pithy and/or Pissy Posts: A new feature

Short, Pithy and/or Pissy Posts is a new feature on this site devoted to well … “Short, Pithy and/or Pissy Posts” about Parkinson’s, gardening or anything really … but uncharacteristically for me, I have to say it in 750 words or less!  It is all explained in the first post which you can find here:  Short, Pithy, and/or Pissy Posts

Have a great weekend!

DIRECTIONS PART II: Stories of Halloween, outhouses, potatoes, pesticides, Parkinson’s and mea culpa

DIRECTIONS PART II: Stories of Halloween, outhouses, potatoes, pesticides, Parkinson’s and mea culpa

Prior to my last post, DIRECTIONS PART I: Stay werr you’re to, ‘til I comes werr you’re at, B’y!, which is the first in a planned series, it had been over four months between posts. My instinct, even though I wasn’t raised in a family with a strong religious tradition, is to confess my sins i.e., apologize for my tardiness and seek your forgiveness. However, as I was reflecting on what words would be suitably contrite, I realized that this same lax religious upbringing permits me to conclude not only that I have no obligation to confess but equally I have no reason to apologize. I have done nothing untoward. Rest assured that I say none of this out of any disrespect for you, dear reader.

In November 2016, I wrote a piece that is truthfully a “Last Post” in that it was my reportage on the Celebration of Life for John R. Mills, a man who warranted the many accolades that were thrown his way at the best wake I have ever attended.  I know that learned intellectuals and professionals studying death and dying within all types of societies have researched, interpreted, analyzed and written about the grieving process identifying its stages and concomitant behaviors of the mourners. For the last four months I have been trying to come to grips with the reality that the strikes of the hammer on the anvil were hailing the blacksmith and farrier, beloved by all, to come home.

John’s death affected me in ways that I did not anticipate. He and I shared some quite personal moments in the months (even years) before he left us – moments that gave me insights into his life and his person; moments that give me the strength to face my own future with Parkinson’s, a progressively degenerative neurological disease; moments that help me better understand my own person; and moments that bring calmness to my spiritual self. Most of those moments will remain private and confidential but there are one or two that I feel I can share.

Sometimes there is no ‘option’ in option

During the last months of John’s life, there were many decisions to be made, difficult decisions; decisions no man or woman should have to face. He had sage and respected advice from physicians, health professionals, family and friends so he did not face the decisions or their consequences alone. Still, the final burden was disproportionately his to bear.

What turbulence is created in your intellectual and spiritual self when too much ‘hard’ medical data competes unfairly with too little ‘real’ time?  Some are tempted to call this problem a “quandary,” a ”puzzle,” or a “dilemma” for which there is no correct answer. Others see it as a kind of cost – benefit analysis where the positives and negatives (upsides and downsides) are totaled and offset to inform the decision – making process. Characterizing the problem as having a binary answer (yes/no) disguises the fact that the options under consideration are most often ‘options’ in name only and each option could be equally unthinkable e.g., living longer with a medically assisted but vastly diminished quality of life or dying more immediately from the ravages of your disease on your body and mind.

Here lies W. C. Fields. I would rather be living in Philadelphia”

The language of “options” also implies that we have a say in the matter; that there is ‘free will’ and we can, not change the course of history but, choose the course of history. The heading above is the epitaph (several slightly different versions are often quoted) that W.C. Fields proposed for himself in an article in Vanity Fair (June 1925.) I guess if Fields had the final say he would be alive in Philadelphia rather than in a grave beneath a headstone in Glendale, California.  Wouldn’t we all?  More likely, he would still be in a grave but in Philadelphia rather than California.

I do not deny the existence of free will for many actions we take, or do not take, in the course of life, but does free will always exist for life and death actions/inactions? If free will does exist are we fortunate or are we fortunate if it doesn’t? If there is no higher power than you, then to whom are you accountable? What if you, as the highest power, do not wish to die but your body and spirit can no longer sustain life? What if, at the very end of life, at that moment when our Soul is to be released from its material casing, we have no choice? How does that happen; who makes that decision? What if we do not have a Soul? The list of questions is interminably long.

Living with the dying and dying with the living sucks, doesn’t it? Or does it suck only if dying has greater importance or gravitas than life? The problem is that ‘not dead’ means ‘alive’ and ‘not alive’ means ‘dead.’ In relational terms each condition should be equal; each dependent upon the other being not present. As I only know and experience “aliveness,” that is the only condition about which I can speak and it turns out that I don’t know very much about it at all.

On the positive side, I know nothing about “deadness” and I am not even certain I ever will. This is not to imply that I will live forever but that there may be no consciousness for me after death. It is all very confusing and is very much a “black hole” into which the secret code of life is absorbed after death, never to be relinquished. Perhaps, being prepared to live and to “not live” (rather than “to die”) is the best we can do.

“Tell me a story”

What could I possibly say to John that would be at all helpful? The mind often boggles at times like this but John took the lead and on two occasions he lifted one hand slightly off the hospital bed to signal that he wanted to “say” something and although he was unable to speak without great effort, he signaled that everyone except me should leave. The first time was very private and personal and shall remain that way. The second time he wanted me to tell him a story. I had been sending John copies of my blog for quite some time and I knew that the stories resonated with his own experiences and that he appreciated the humour and context. So I stood by John’s bedside and spun a few stories that had been tumbling around in my brain but hadn’t yet made it into written and more polished form. Today, you are privy (pun intended, you’ll see) to some elements of those stories in a more organized form.

Nothing says Halloween like outhouses … and a potato?

I knew that John would appreciate the particular time period within which the stories are set as well as the many threads within the stories themselves. For me though, the significance of the stories lay in the telling and in the non-verbal responses they drew from John. In those brief few moments, I was thrilled that I was able to remind him of what it is like to be an eight year old boy – a boy who plugged Bob Lang’s sump pump hose with a potato on Halloween night, causing a minor flood in his basement which thankfully was unfinished and unfurnished.

I am sure those of you with sump pumps would like to take that boy and wring his neck, as water in the basement is not what any homeowner wants and a plugged drain pipe could overheat the sump pump motor and blow a fuse or trip a breaker. (See note 2) I suppose it could also start a fire if there was no thermal relay switch. My recollection is that the potato plug in Bob Lang’s sump pump hose caused only minor flooding. I heard no talk of fire or other damage.

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Who plugged the sump pump hose with a potato anyway? Photo: S. Marshall 2017

It is well known that boys over the age of nine, teenagers and immature adults look forward to playing the “trick or treat” game on Halloween night. The idea is simple; if a residence or business did not give you a treat then they could expect a trick to be played on them. Sometimes the older tricksters did not even give the “treat” part a chance; they just went directly to the trick. Tricks came in a wide variety of forms: soaping windows was quick and easy to do but slow and labourious to remove; throwing hay or straw bales on a roof top required the strength of young men; anything that wasn’t tied down and was smaller than a car got moved; but the most common trick was to tip over the outhouse. Almost every house in Altamont had at least one outhouse; likely a “two-holer” but there are many with only one hole. I remember seeing a three-hole outhouse on my grandparents’ farm when I was a kid. I thought it was hilariously funny but you never know, perhaps the number of holes is determined by the size of family … or some other social or economic variable. I am sure someone has done an analysis and with power of Google I could find out but this not the time to wander too far from the subject matter.

Cottage outhouse

A “one-holer” outhouse was common for a residence  Photo: S. Marshall

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A typical outhouse for a business with separate entrances for “Men” and “Ladies”   Photo: S. Marshall

Humour and Horror in the ”honey pit”?

Halloween is not all Hollywood, horror movies and Freddie Krueger. The horror of the “honey pit” predates the Nightmare on Elm Street movies and seems to have persisted over time. One recurring story is that a specific someone e.g., Ed Bulmer, Oz Jackson or Bob Hetherington, was in his outhouse when it was tipped over on its front, blocking the door. These images produced roars of laughter at each telling. Whether it is true or not is hardly the point. Strangely, I do not recall any women being named as someone, pants down, struggling to get out of an outhouse lying on its door in front of its “honey pit.” In fact, there are very few visual sightings of women entering or leaving the outhouses at any time and certainly none at Halloween no matter how strong the call of nature might be.

Sometimes the perpetrators got their comeuppance and one or more of those (no names will be provided here) tipping the outhouse inadvertently found himself (it was always a male) in the “honey pit,” having slipped during the deed. Even though I had been present at a few tipping events when I was young, I never witnessed such misfortunes – and it certainly never happened to me!  Still, it could not have been that hard for someone to nose out the truth after you have fallen into a pit of human excrement and piss, but perhaps like a cat that failed in its leap onto a precarious perch, you just preen for a second or two after falling and walk away nonchalantly as if nothing happened.

It is a safe bet that at least once in the last 130 years someone in Altamont was in the outhouse when it was tipped over and at least once a trickster did fall into the pit after giving the outhouse that one last mighty shove to break the centre of gravity.

The origins of Halloween go back thousands of years and bear resemblance to traditions of the Celtic harvest festivals. Interestingly, in the 1880s and 1890s many Irish immigrants passed through the Ottawa Valley (Merrickville, Carp) and other parts of southern Ontario (Lucan) on their way to settle in southern Manitoba around Musselborough which was founded in 1884 and later renamed Altamont. Undoubtedly, their Irish humour was fertile ground for tricks at Halloween and they relished the opportunity to regale one another with tales of forays on this night when the authorities turned a blind eye to minor infractions. It is not hard to see how stories of falling into the “honey pit” or of being in the outhouse when it was tipped over on its door, the only exit being over or through the foul smelling and disgusting looking pit, would become standard fare whenever they gathered.

I tend to think there is a kernel of truth in most stories that persist over time and the rumours associated with outhouse tipping are no exception. As if to prove this very point, the following entry in the book of memories for the 100th anniversary of the founding of Altamont was written 33 years ago and speaks to the general nature of these outhouse capers at Halloween.

“Halloween was always an exciting time in Altamont, especially in the days before in-door plumbing. It could be a dangerous time too. You had to be careful where you walked. More than one in–a-hurry, prankster found himself the victim of a fate worse than death, having fallen into an uncovered toilet hole.”

“Those outhouses must have been built well to survive the annual “pushing over.” Sometimes they were hauled out into the road and used to block traffic.”

“The most famous back-house in Altamont was also the most fortified. In fact, it still exists today. Bob Lang secured his one-holer with barbed wire. Most years he was successful in keeping his out-house at home.”

“Just when the boys were making some progress in getting his toilet over, old Bob would come running from his house waving his hockey-stick cane in the air. Everyone would scatter only to try again later.” ~ Allan Dawson in Memories of Altamont, 1984 -1994, compiled by the Altamont Centennial Committee.

Yes, Mr. Dawson identifies the same Bob Lang I referenced earlier in the sump pump potato plug incident. Bob seemed to be a target for many on Halloween. Perhaps, it was the challenge of his fortified outhouse and, appropriately enough, the danger of being ‘slashed’ by that hockey stick cane.

Memories of Altamont 1884 -1984 cover

Fire??!!

John was a great fan of stories that had action and he loved it when the characters were hit quite literally over the head as part of the story line. It goes almost without saying that when I was fully engaged in the stories of the outhouse tipping shenanigans, John was more animated and his eyes were visible under their closed lids. I am not sure what he enjoyed the most: the idea of a general assault on outhouses at Halloween; the tipping and dragging of outhouses onto the street to block traffic; the possibility of someone actually being in the outhouse at the critical moment when its centre of gravity was breached; the irony of a perpetrator falling into a cesspool of piss and shit; or the idea, which I heard more than once during the outhouse raids, “Let’s set fire to the fucker.”

Fire was no stranger to Altamont and I am researching a number of fires over the 130 years of Altamont’s existence. As my research is incomplete at this stage I cannot delve into those events too deeply but let’s consider the following questions: What if the Halloween tricksters did set the outhouse on fire? What if the idea caught fire, so to speak? Would there be a conflagration of “shitters” the likes of which the world has never known? Not likely, but even though Altamont was small, setting fire to one or more outhouses in the community would make a statement far beyond the usual Halloween “pranks.” Flaming outhouses are sure to hit the news – even though cell phones were not yet in widespread existence and video of such events would be difficult to find. Rest assured the concept of mens rea would be applied and charges would be laid.

Environment, outhouses and Parkinson’s

In the 1950s and 1960s small villages and unincorporated Local Urban Districts (LUDs) such as Altamont did not have public utilities such as water and sewer. Only a few houses had septic fields and the “water utility” was an electric pump drawing water from a well on the property. But in truth most houses had no electric pump; no running water; no flush toilet; no septic field; and the waterworks was an old creaky hand pump drawing water from a well directly below.

Most people had outhouses where they went to “do their business” or “honey pits” into which they emptied a “honey bucket” from the house, a task I was given when I was about 8 years old, once a day, every day after my sisters had gone to bed. I can still recall the weight of the honey bucket in my hands, stink trailing behind me as I walked through the kitchen and back porch out into the back yard – the air fresh and clean until I passed through. The honey pit was located at the northwest corner of our lot beside our rhubarb and as far as possible from our well but still only a distance of 10 – 12 meters. Cleverly disguised as a squat wooden square box, the honey pit sat there innocuously and surprisingly stench free with a padlock securing the trap door entrance on its top. I always fumbled with the lock and opened it with trepidation as it was usually after dark and there were no lights in that corner of the yard. I don’t know, maybe I expected a monster with extremely foul breath and dripping with soggy toilet paper and excrement to jump out the moment I opened the hatch! I think dad must have tossed in copious amounts of lime to cut the smell and reduce fly and pathogen problems, as I was always surprised that the smell didn’t knock me over and there were few flies when I opened the door

Drinking water and water for bathing was drawn from wells that were dug only a few meters from the outhouses and honey pits. So how far should an outhouse be from a well? I thought this should be an easy question to answer. Turns out that it is not. At the one extreme, some municipalities in Canada prohibit outhouses outright. At the other extreme, unorganized townships have no restrictions or regulations whatsoever … build your outhouse wherever you want – and better yet, don’t tell anyone even if you do build one. It is the best thing about unorganized townships, ‘don’t cha know’ (facetiousness is dripping here). Other people argue that a “few feet” is OK as long as the pit is above the water table. I agree that deep wells accessing  underground aquifers far from the surface pits of outhouses would be quite safe.

Surely, the juxtaposition of drinking water sources and the storage and disposal of human waste does matter and close proximity does not make for a healthy environment. When I was first diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, I wondered if sanitation issues and/or contaminated well water might be factors contributing to the development of Parkinson’s in an individual.

Well … what about the well?

The well in our house in Altamont was directly under the kitchen. It was a hole about five feet in diameter and about 15 feet deep. There was cribbing for the first five or six feet and the whole thing was covered by a large piece of 3/4 inch plywood forming a landing at the bottom of a set of stairs made from rough-hewn timber, leading to an unfinished basement. Occasionally my father would take the cover off to peer into the depths to determine the water table. About three feet to one side a separate hole about three feet deep housed an electric sump pump to keep the basement from flooding should the water table rise too high.

I have no idea how often a well should be cleaned if ever, or what should be used to clean it. I do recall one time my father cleaned our well. It happened one July when I was about 14 years old. It was a hot Saturday evening during haying season (it’s beginning to sound like a country and western song here) when I returned home from a long day of riding the hay rack behind a baler spitting out alfalfa bales in rapid succession. [Interestingly, the sway and rock of the hayrack across the field is not unlike the feeling that I currently experience with my Parkinson’s balance and peripheral neuropathy proprioception issues.]

I arrived home hot, sweaty and thirsty, thirsty, thirsty! I grabbed a tumbler out of the cupboard, went to our water pump in a small alcove just at the top of the stairs to the basement. I worked the pump handle up and down a few times to fill the tumbler with water that was not extremely cold but as cold as I was going to get. I tipped the tumbler up and let the water drain into my throat. About half way through the last gulp, a very big gulp I might add, I sensed that this glass of water was not all that it promised… or maybe it was more than it promised. I could feel something disturbing in my mouth. I suppressed the urge to swallow and I suppressed the urge to gag, although I don’t know how. Instead, I willed my self to spit the contents of my mouth out into the porcelain sink. A three to four inch long worm began wriggling across the slippery surface. I don’t know how I hadn’t spotted it before tipping the glass all the way to vertical but rest assured that I have pre-checked every glass of water I have ever had since then. It is something I will continue to do into the future. The worm in a glass of mezcal repels me and I can hardly look at it never mind have a sip!

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A word to the wise: always check the bottom half of your glass  Photo: S. Marshall

Of course, my mother was extremely distraught by my account of the worm in the drinking water. The very next day, dad and a neighbour took the cap off the well, pumped it dry and with a rope around his waist dad descended into the well with a brush and sponges. He scrubbed the walls and cleaned the intake on the pump. It seemed to make my mother much happier if nothing else.

I doubt that a worm or two in your well causes Parkinson’s but I do recall that dad was concerned about high levels of arsenic and other contaminants in well water in the area. Even so, I don’t remember our well water ever being tested although I do recall dinner table conversation that it should be. In the end analysis, I think we were too poor to pay the test fee plus the shipping cost to Winnipeg. Dad likely relied on the tests that others in the community had obtained as being indicative of the readings that our well would have. In any case, I don’t think the arsenic was much of a problem but I cannot say the same for the chemicals and/or metals the ground water may have contained, although studies are inconclusive as to the consequences.

We lived in an agricultural area and the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s were times of intensive usage of pesticides on farms, and I know that our father used these same practices in our gardens. (See Note 3.) As always there is considerable difficulty in obtaining reliable data for pesticide usage and funding for research on the health impact of pesticides on the population is relatively scarce. Still, since 2003 seven provinces including Manitoba have passed legislation banning the use of pesticides for cosmetic (non-essential) use. Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia are the holdouts. The definition of “cosmetic use” ranges from use on lawns only to use in all elements of landscaping. Most provinces have some exceptions.

Those initiatives and laws are all well and good but the 60 years between 1940 and 2000 were pretty freewheeling when it comes to pesticide usage. The current legislative bans and regulations come far too late for those of us in our 50s and 60s who are just now being diagnosed with Parkinson’s as we could have been exposed to the pesticide as many as 50 years ago. Indeed, it is much more likely that we were impacted by pesticide use than by the proximity of outhouses and honey pits to well water.

There is also a possibility that some metals, oil and petroleum products seeped into the ground from nearby industry. Whether it (whatever “it” is) ever reached the water table in our case I cannot say as the details were buried forever when our house and the industrial buildings were torn down and the area redeveloped.  In other words, none of these possibilities can be verified, no conclusions can be drawn and all speculation will remain just that, speculation.

I suppose that every Person with Parkinson’s (PwP) has asked two questions: what causes Parkinson’s disease and why me? Do you know that this year, 2017, is the two hundred year anniversary of Dr. James Parkinson’s famous work, An Essay on the Shaking Palsy, which established the disease as a medical condition named after Dr. Parkinson. After 200 years of study the question as to what causes Parkinson’s has yet to be answered.  Scientists are coming ever closer as they research proteins such as alpha-synuclein that misfold and form Lewy bodies that are present in the brains of all those with Parkinson’s disease. Nevertheless there are gaps in the research indicating that perhaps they  are not isolating the precise genetic factor and protein or that the cause is more multifaceted than we care to believe e.g., other factors such as environmental exposures may be complicating or confounding features of the cause(s).

Is there a link between poor sanitation and Parkinson’s disease?

There are many references in the literature to the links between environmental factors and Parkinson’s disease. Could there be a link between poor sanitation and Parkinson’s disease?  I suppose that anything is possible given that a definitive cause of Parkinson’s has not been isolated, but it is not probable. I have not seen research reports showing a correlation between the presence of outhouses or “honey pits” and the incidence of Parkinson’s or other neurological diseases. I am certain that it is not desirable to have human waste “honey pits” in close proximity to wells providing drinking water as it increases the likelihood that insects can pass diseases back to the human population. Nevertheless, I don’t think such proximity was a contributor to my Parkinson’s.

Pesticides are a trigger

Researchers have long suspected a correlation between the incidence of Parkinson’s disease and the presence in the agricultural environment of pesticides. The authors of a newly released (April 2017) literature review and meta-analysis conclude

“ …there is now strong evidence that exposure to any pesticide involves a ≥50% increased risk for developing Parkinson’s disease.” (Gunnarsson and Bodin, 2017)

Let’s be clear though, most research and considered academic writing on this matter is careful to highlight that environmental exposure to these toxins is not sufficient in and of itself to develop Parkinson’s. In order to develop Parkinson’s a person must already possess a genetic marker for Parkinson’s that is then triggered by the environmental factor. Neither exposure to toxins nor possessing the genetic marker is sufficient to result in Parkinson’s but together they may result in Parkinson’s. Not very convincing is it? But, on the other hand it is encouraging that we at least have some leads.

“In conclusion, this meta-analysis provides evidence that pesticide exposure is significantly associated with the risk of PD and alterations in genes involved in PD pathogenesis.” – Ahmed, H. et al. in Biomed Pharmacother. 2017 Apr 13;90:638-649.

“As a neurogenetecist, I’m prejudiced to say that people have a certain proclivity that resides at the genetic level which predisposes them to environmental insults—whether they be pesticides, well water, living in rural areas, or trauma, possibly.” – Northwestern University neuroscientist Teepu Siddique as cited in The Atlantic, “The Brain of a Fighter” by James Hamblin, June 2016

There is also research, although not as strong as the chemical toxin research, that supports the conclusion that well water with high levels of iron, mercury, manganese, aluminum and other by-products of industry are linked to the increase in incidence of Parkinson’s disease. These metals leach into the water table or enter underground streams and aquifers to be drawn on through wells and consumed by the population as drinking water.

Summary offence (misdemeanor) or indictable offence (felony)?

Before I forget, we do need to return to the sump pump potato plug case to tie up a few loose ends. One of those loose ends is the question of whether the perpetrators of Halloween pranks were “mischievous” or “rotten to the core?” I prefer to think mischievous, as it was a different time then, a different morality. Pranks were expected on Halloween. Still, is a potato stuck in the sump pump hose a prank of a different order than an outhouse tipped or moved into the street to block traffic i.e., was the potato incident an “indictable offence” (felony) and the outhouse tipping a mere “summary offence (misdemeanour)?” I have bracketed the terms “felony” and “misdemeanour” even though those terms have been abolished in the Canadian legal system because they still evoke an intuitive understanding of the relative severity of the offence. I have my own view and when I asked John for his opinion his face brightened a little and I knew that he had experience on both sides of this question and there was a discussion to be had, if only he had the strength and ability to talk. I like to think that we wouldn’t be far apart in our interpretation.

Bob Lang's house front view 1982

Bob Lang’s house (front view) Photo: S. Marshall 1982

It seems that Bob Lang spoke to the parents of a different young boy (let’s call him “H”) accusing “H” (wrongly) of the prank. In keeping with their values of respect for elders and discipline for their children, the parents believed Bob and punished “H” accordingly despite his wailing and vigourous protestations that he was not guilty.

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Does this look like a kid who would plug your sump pump hose?

At this point I could tell by some slight movements of John’s mouth muscles and the gentle squeezes from his hand in mine that he could identify with the first young lad who was in truth guilty not only of the potato caper itself, but also guilty of not confessing to the deed (a mischievousness but cowardly act of omission) after his friend (“H”) was wrongly accused and subsequently punished. I knew that John empathized with “H” who was wrongly accused – although I know also that John would find the fact that the wrong boy was punished to be tremendously funny especially if he (John) was the true guilty party.

Bob Lang's house back view 1982

Bob Lang’s house (rear view) where the sump pump hose was located. Photo: S. Marshall 1982

Straw bales burn better than outhouses

To my knowledge no one ever acted on the suggestion to set fire to the outhouses in Altamont at Halloween. However, I do recall that a number of straw bales were set on fire about a half-mile south of the village. It is a strong memory for me, not because I actually saw the bales blazing, but because an RCMP Constable later interviewed me as to my whereabouts on Halloween and whether I could say for certainty that I was nowhere near the burning bales. I was sitting in the driver’s side backseat of the RCMP cruiser while the Constable sat in the passenger side front seat with his clipboard (no computers on those days.) We were well away from others and thankfully well away from my father and his failing hearing – hearing that could be cured with faith-healer-like speed if the conversation was interesting enough.

A second Constable was rounding up a few other local lads to be interviewed in the search for the straw bale pyromaniac. I had no problem in convincing the Constable I was not in the vicinity of the fire … as I was busy sticking a potato in Bob Lang’s sump pump hose. The Constable laughed and said he had no report on such an incident and that I shouldn’t do that sort of thing.  At that moment I knew the policing arm of the state, rightly or wrongly, ranked a potato in a sump pump hose at Halloween to be similar in severity to outhouses tipped on their sides, stinking up the neighbourhood. i.e., they were summary offences at worst and forgivable on Halloween with no charges laid. Fire and arson, on the other hand, were clearly matters of a higher order – indictable offences –  and the RCMP were looking to lay charges.

The Constable dismissed me from the cruiser and called the next kid in line to jump into the rear seat. As fate would have it the next kid was “H,” the very same kid who was punished by his parents for the Bob Lang sump pump hose potato plug caper even though he was innocent. It is a good thing that ”H” did not know who was actually guilty of “his” crime and it seems that the Constable never mentioned it to him.  Perhaps “H” has been searching for the real potato prankster for the past 60 years?

IMG_3925

This kid probably plugged the sump pump hose. He looks like a hood to me!

I never heard another word about the potato plug in the sump pump hose caper or the straw bales which “spontaneously combusted” in Fraser’s field. The petty pyromaniac pranksters (if alliteration for effect can be overdone, this is probably an example) were never found. If there are any outhouses remaining (and I believe there are many,) they continue to be “at risk” each Halloween. On the other hand, the risk of a potato in the sump pump hose attack is relatively low.

Is mischievousness only a children’s thing?

On Halloween nights there are acts of commission and acts of omission which fly beneath the radar of the legal system because they meet a reduced community standard on Halloween. The more that these actions bump against the outer edges of that community standard, the more humourous it is until there is a breaking point. Remember how your mother admonished you to stop waving that sharp stick because you will take someone’s eye out? It is exactly like that; it was all very much fun until Tommy lost an eye.

John R. Mills was a man who loved stories where the action is on the edges of acceptable community standards and/or legality – and the subject matter didn’t have to be as serious as murder either.  He had a keen sense of small-scale mischievousness and that mischievousness fuelled his ability not only to maintain a boy’s view of the world but also to engage in adolescent behavior from time to time during his adult life. I sense that we shared this connection.

On the other hand, what if I read John’s non-verbal responses incorrectly? After all, as a young man he was a member of the mounted force of the Toronto constabulary and he was a superior horseman and rider all his life, winning cutting championships in Kentucky and Kansas. Perhaps he was imagining himself in the role of a mounted officer with the power of a trusty and fearless police horse snorting underneath him as he provided crowd control on Halloween night. In the end it matters not as John was not one-dimensional in any respect and I know he would have revelled equally in a detailed account of police horse vs prankster on Halloween.

A larger moral message?

As I looked at John’s face, eyes alert under the closed lids, a slight smile on his lips, I knew that I had transported him to a different place, free from the weight of medical evidence, medical procedures and medical consequences – all of which pointed to him becoming a medical and demographic statistic of the worst kind.

I sense that some of you may be looking for a more meaningful lesson in morality to emerge from these small town shenanigans and my telling of those stories to John. Sometimes in life there isn’t an obvious moral lesson. Sometimes, when the conditions of life warrant, it is just a matter that we, like John, deserve a few short moments away from the serious (sometimes life and death) decisions men and women have to make. We should be granted that respite.

I could end this post here except for the fact that the end is not here … for those who wish to argue over whether actus reus (the act) and mens rea (you meant the act to have the consequences it did) were both present in the potato plug sump pump case and that a “duty to act” was breached in the act of omission (not confessing) such that a crime was committed… but because I cannot “plead the Fifth” in Canada I am just going to mutter “mea culpa” under my breath and move on … and I would suggest you move on with me except that …. the questions about Parkinson’s go unanswered if we do.

Afterword

What causes Parkinson’s? It seems obvious to me that outhouses and poorly located “honey pits” are not high on the list of suspects. More and more the research data is leading us to the conclusion that pesticides, insecticides and fungicides are prime suspects as co-conspirators and should be investigated with increased vigour and resources. Think of it this way: the environmental violations of outhouses located too close to a water supply are summary offences or misdemeanors compared to the indictable offences or felonies that are negligence and misuse in the development and application of chemical toxins in the environment.

I am no lawyer but it seems we are closer to establishing that, at least for some portion of the Parkinson’s population, there is an actus reus but is there no agreement that there is mens rea by those who develop, manufacture, sell and use the toxins i.e., they did not intend that the chemicals to contribute to an increase in neurological diseases of which Parkinson’s disease is one. But should they have known? After all, they were developing chemicals that work by attacking the nervous systems of those pests they were trying to kill. Would that not twig someone to ask the question, what does this mean for human neurological systems? If it did, then did they find that it was without cause for concern? Did they downplay the consequences? Did they willfully ignore the signs? Is there an act of omission? Did someone breach a duty to act? Are we confident that there is no corporate interference with, and influence on, the research process?

There are so many questions, so little real time and so few resources. The weight of the evidence is beginning to accrue towards a conclusion that exposure to pesticides is related to Parkinson’s disease but don’t hold your breath for chemical corporations to step up and say, “mea culpa”;  to start making amends (reparations is probably too strong) through financial contributions to independent Parkinson’s research; and to defray the costs of pharmaceuticals and medical/therapeutic devices and programs which enhance quality of life for Persons living with Parkinson’s.  That would indeed be a radical change in direction.

NOTES

Note 1:

Definitions:  An “outhouse” is defined as a permanent private privy used as a toilet and situated on a permanent privy pit usually 3 to 6 feet (1 to 2 meters) deep within which human waste is kept, maybe forever. The outhouse is located on private property or at a private residence and serves the sanitation needs of the owner and/or tenants. For further clarity, an “outhouse” is not equivalent to a temporary, transportable, commercial “port-a-potty” used on construction sites and at outdoor entertainment sites and fairgrounds. Such port-a-potties as the name suggests are built to be transported and have an internal waste holding tank that is designed to be emptied at a sanitation facility.

Disclaimers: 

I do not advocate that outhouses be tipped at Halloween or any other occasion nor do I condone such action as serious injury and/or property damage may result.

I am aware through social media sources that port-a-potties are overturned as a prank from time to time. I do not condone such behaviour.

I do not condone the blocking of sump pump hoses in any manner. Serious property damage may result.

Note 2:  As I write this post we are experiencing very heavy rains in eastern Ontario and western Quebec. Many homes have been flooded and their residents evacuated. It is not my intention to diminish the severity of these events by making light of the consequences of the potato plug in the sump pump hose. The situation as described, in Altamont at Halloween of that particular year is not comparable.

Note 3: I follow the convention used in most of the research literature and government documents where “pesticides” is an overarching concept that includes insecticides (insects), herbicides (plants and weeds), and fungicides (fungi.)

APPENDIX: Outhouses are a serious measure of health and sanitation

WaterAid reports that in 2015 there were over 65,000 Canadians (0.2% of the population,) mostly in rural areas who do not have safe reliable access to toilets inside their homes. The UK has over 500,000 (0.8% of the population) citizens without proper inside toilets. Interestingly, WaterAid claims the USA is approaching 0% of pop with just slightly over 36,000 citizens without adequate toilets, bettering both Canada and the UK.

Only 17 countries in the world – including Australia, Japan, South Korea, Singapore and Saudi Arabia – have reported that just about every single household in the country has a safe, private toilet. (WaterAid 2015)

These numbers probably represent the best-case scenario and unfortunately we will never know the actual numbers as the question on indoor toilets is no longer asked routinely on census forms in Canada and other countries. The Washington Post puts the 2014 estimate as considerably higher at over 1.6 million households in the US without adequate indoor plumbing facilities i.e., they do not have one or more of the following: a toilet, a tub, a shower or running water. In any case, many thousands of outhouses are still in use as the primary toilet facility for households, and many more outhouses serve as secondary or back up facilities for use when the indoor toilet is otherwise occupied.

When my parents moved to an apartment in The Pas, Manitoba in the early 1970s after our father got a job at the pulp and paper mill there, I recall how excited my mother was that they were on town water and sewer. In fact, it was the very first time (ever!) that our mother had lived in a home with running water and a flush toilet. Needless to say, she was thrilled!

REFERENCES and RESOURCES

Ahmed H, Abushouk AI, Gabr M, Negida A, Abdel-Daim MM, “Parkinson’s disease and pesticides: A meta-analysis of disease connection and genetic alterations.” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmetd/28412655

Alberta Environment and Parks, http://aep.alberta.ca/water/programs-and-services/groundwater/documents/AlbertaWaterWellSurvey-Report-Dec2010.pdf

Backcountry Canada Travel, http://www.backcountrycanadatravel.com/outhouse-culture-canada/

Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, Fact Sheet on Pesticdes http://www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/chemicals/pesticides/general.html

Canadian Journal of Neurological Science https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/canadian-journal-of-neurological-sciences/article/geography-drinking-water-chemistry-pesticides-and-herbicides-and-the-etiology-of-parkinsons-disease/B8A09AAE44121012B905C358CCE9A8EF

Cosmetic Pesticide Ban Manitoba https://cosmeticpesticidebanmb.wordpress.com

Cottage Life http://cottagelife.com/environment/10-things-you-probably-didnt-know-about-outhouses

Grandpa Remembers: Tipping over Outhouses, July 25, 2010. http://grandpa-remembers.blogspot.ca/2010/07/tipping-over-outhouses.html

The Guardian, “Can you catch Parkinson’s?” https://www.theguardian.com/education/2002/apr/04/medicalscience.healthandwellbeing

Gunnarsson, Lars-Gunnar and Bodin, Lennart,“Parkinson’s disease and occupational exposures, A systematic literature review and meta-analysis,” Scandinavian Journal of Work, Health and Environment, online first, April 2017

Hamblin, James, “The Brain of a Fighter” in The Atlantic, June 8, 2016 https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2016/06/ali-and-parkinsons/485798/

Kashatus, William C, “Outhouse has faded from region’s landscape,” in Standard Speaker, June 26, 2011 http://standardspeaker.com/outhouse-has-faded-from-region-s-landscape-1.1165644

Law Lessons, http://www.lawlessons.ca/lesson-plans/2.1.definition-and-principlesb

Mayo Clinic, http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/pinworm/basics/causes/con-20027072

Parkinson, Dr. James, Essay on the Shaking Palsy, originally published as a monograph by Sherwood, Neely, and Jones (London, 1817). Republished by J Neuropsychiatry Clin Neurosci 14:2, Spring 2002.

Parkinson’s Disease Foundation, http://www.pdf.org/environment_parkinsons_tanner

Parkinson’s Saskatchewan, http://www.parkinsonsaskatchewan.ca/pd/nd.html

Popular Mechanics, http://www.popularmechanics.com/home/how-to/a3896/4305543/

Small Cabin, http://www.small-cabin.com/forum/5_781_3.html

Summers, R. (2010). Alberta Water Well Survey. A report prepared for Alberta Environment. (University of Alberta: Edmonton, Canada).

Survivopedia, http://www.survivopedia.com/waste-disposal/

Warick, Jason, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation News, Saskatoon, “U of S, prof under fire for Monsanto ties,” May 17, 2017 http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatoon/u-of-s-prof-under-fire-for-monsanto-ties-1.4100399

Washington Post, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2014/04/23/1-6-million-americans-dont-have-indoor-plumbing-heres-where-they-live/?utm_term=.42d2da15b8dd

WaterAid, IT’S NO JOKE: The State of the World’s Toilets 2015 Its_No_Joke_2015_the_state_of_the_worlds_toilets.pdf

Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/W._C._Fields

© Stan Marshall (The PD Gardener) 2017

 

LIST OF POSTS IN THIS SERIES

DIRECTIONS: Taking the Scenic Route to Parkinson’s and Beyond

DIRECTIONS Part I: “Stay where you’re at ’til I comes where you’re to, b’y“

DIRECTIONS Part II: Stories of Halloween, outhouses, potatoes, pesticides, Parkinson’s and mea culpa

COMING SOON!

DIRECTIONS Part III: (Working title) Detours and your GPS 

 

DIRECTIONS: A Series of Posts on Taking the Scenic Route to Parkinson’s and Beyond

DIRECTIONS: A Series of Posts on Taking the Scenic Route to Parkinson’s and Beyond

Foreword  

This post is the first in a series called Directions: Taking the scenic route to Parkinson’s and beyond. I explore some of the ‘things’ that have changed, are changing and will change the ‘direction’ of my life. I know, ‘things’ is a very imprecise word and is overused to refer to almost anything (well, there you go, eh?).

Do you know that delay and equivocation in decision-making is one of the many non-motor symptoms of Parkinson’s? I kid you not. I am not going to blame all my procrastination on Parkinson’s but the title of this post eluded me for a very long time. It did not come easily. It rarely does but this time it was doubly difficult. I kept delaying a final decision and even now I am not convinced I have hit the right chord. You see, words are tricky things – double entendre, multiple meanings, concepts nested within concepts, different levels of discourse with different intellectual and cultural origins. Sorry, but lately I just can’t help but be amazed by words and language. It is as if I have been near-sighted all my life and then thrown abruptly into a world where my micrographia, an early symptom of Parkinson’s disease, makes it impossible to read my own handwriting but is also, quite magically, a feature of enlightenment. It is all a matter of perspective.

At one point it occurred to me that perhaps I should follow journalistic practice and task someone else with the responsibility to decide on a title. I remember being amazed when I first learned that journalists don’t (at least in those days) write their own headlines. That explains why over the years I have noticed a few headlines that are out of sync with the text of the article. One of my favourites is an article reporting on the government of Sri Lanka sending a representative to an international meeting. The headline read, “Lanka plans to attend.” It is so nice to know that Ms. Lanka has sent in her RSVP.

Eventually, I settled on the title: Directions: A Series of Posts on Taking the Scenic Route to Parkinson’s and Beyond. Of course, that was some time ago as I went through further periods of procrastination and indecision about the content and order of publication for the first few posts. Stay tuned as this is still a work in progress.

The idea of exploring the many different directions of my life has been tumbling around in my brain for quite some time. It should be simple enough, don’t you think, to articulate how I got to be the person I am … at this moment…. in this place… with a traceable historical timeline complete with events and documents? You would think so but it is never that straight forward, is it?   My research and rough drafts started out smoothly enough but it soon became evident that the process of uncovering, analyzing, interpreting and communicating the direction of one’s life is a daunting task and, dare I say, disorienting, unless you have a reliable metaphorical gyroscope to stabilize the entire endeavor.

Unfortunately, the temptation is to write a chronological account and that turns out to be deadly boring and resembles an application for life insurance. I quickly scrapped this approach. I once worked for someone who would comment on my work by saying, “I don’t know what I wanted… but this isn’t it.” There was never a reason given as to why it didn’t meet the grade or what I should consider doing to correct the shortcoming. The lack of feedback meant that I had to become skilled at listening, guessing, extrapolation, and interpretation in order to survive. While these are very useful skills they are quite inefficient as tools. Am I being reduced once again to a guessing game, but this time it is trying to figure out the nuances of my own life so that I can understand myself? Whoa, that sounds like I should be booking some couch time with a professional. We’ll leave that for the moment.

Taking a small step back, I can safely say that a chronological “listing” or cataloguing of ‘things’ that I think are important is not my primary objective. Oh, there will be ‘things’ and ‘events’ but they must be accompanied be “the ‘stuff’ of life” i.e., by whatever makes the static, dynamic. My trusty thesaurus suggests that “stuff” is a synonym for ”things” but that is not how I see it. For me “stuff” is what gives “things” life but you should also know that: “stuff” can lay dormant for years and be resurrected with one fortuitous nudge or change in ‘direction’.

While I am at it I may as well clear up a few other potential ambiguities. When I say the “direction” of one’s life, I do not mean ‘achievements,’ ‘goals,’ ‘legacy,’ or ‘good deeds,’ which can sum up one’s worth on earth. Neither do I mean ‘destination,’ or ‘defining moments.’ I am not trying to reach nirvana, to go to Mecca, or even to see Altamont, Manitoba one more time. And if I wait until I win the Nobel Peace Prize or equivalent before I consider my life to be worthy enough to bring into the spotlight, I will be waiting a long time. That doesn’t mean I won’t go places or that I won’t live a full, useful and worthy life such that people will speak well of me after I am no longer physically present; it just means that in as much as these form part of the ‘direction’, they are not influencing agents with the ‘stuff’ necessary to alter course, those ‘things’ (positive and negative) that have ‘nudged’ the ‘trajectory’ of a life onto a slightly different ‘track.’

Marshall house  in Altamont Manitoba

The house of my youth – both are now gone Photo: S. Marshall 1982

Being astute readers as you are, you know that the word “direction” has many meanings and nuances. For the sake of clarity, I rarely use the word “directions” to mean “instructions” so I will not be issuing recipes for matrimonial cake; or shop instructions on how to build a three – story 15 unit wren house; or instructions on how to make a snowflake quilt. When it comes to matters of life, each of these approaches would be tantamount to telling you how to live your life. No matter how much I might want to tell you how to live your life, I won’t. Rather, in this series I am content enough to expose the vectors of my own life such they convey a more complete understanding to me … and to others whose eyes may pass over these words.

The ‘things’ and ‘stuff’ I find most intriguing and insightful are usually small and maybe insignificant to others. Why they are intriguing may not be evident immediately and might be revealed only upon focused reflection at a much later time, but know this, the consequences of ignoring a small error in measurement in carpentry can be monumental when you get to the corner or to the top of the wall. The old saw (no pun intended), “measure twice, cut once,” has broad metaphorical applicability to all areas of life.

In sum, life is not a curriculum vitae or a compendium of artifacts; it is a force inherent in every aspect of being, no matter how exciting or how dull and insignificant it appears. This force is integral to every life as it establishes the ‘tendencies’ within the ‘direction’ of life. Or put another way, “I didn’t know that the little ‘things’ would turn out to be so big and that so many ‘factors’ can influence and change the parameters of the original course.” We shall leave aside the question of how the original course is set in the first instance for the moment. Right now, my task is to illustrate ‘stuff’ in the comings and goings of everyday life.

Altamont MB gallery_128_2013_75075

Altamont, Manitoba 1985 Photo: United Grain Growers

There is a Buddhist saying, ”Happiness is a journey, not a destination.” It has been echoed by many others including Ralph Waldow Emerson, Aerosmith, theologian Lynn H. Hough substituting slightly different words for “Happiness” e.g., love, religion, success, etc. I believe we should indeed enjoy the journey as life has a rather inhospitable destination (dead is dead) for those who do not believe there is a Heaven.

I prefer to think of this post as a journey along the Red or Assiniboine Rivers in Manitoba, especially in the spring and summer. In spring they overflow their banks seeking to breach every dam and flood every unprotected low-lying land with free flowing and often-undefined waters that carry danger as well as richness. Once the flood subsides and summer arrives there is no need to spend the rest of the journey treading water just to keep our noses clear. The rivers are now within their channels and meander with a lazy habit and we have time to contemplate the rush of earlier times. I have found that one of the most important questions we have to ponder is whether the river has determined our destination or have we navigated the river?

As regular readers know, neither my process nor thinking is linear. In keeping with that approach, I often do not have a self-evident point of beginning but begin we must, so read on to Part I.

DIRECTIONS Part I: Stay werr you’re to, ‘til I comes werr you’re at, B’y!

“Stay werr you’re to, ’til I comes werr you’re at, B’y” is a saying that has almost become synonymous with Newfoundland and Labrador. [See Note 1) When you look at the words sitting rather alone and limply on the page, it doesn’t seem all that funny or profound. Still, when you catch it mid-monologue, swimming in a stream of consciousness and slang tripping off the tongue of a fast talking (not slick, just talking fast) descendent of the original Indigenous people and the Irish, French, Scots and English who came to the shores of “The Rock” in the early 16th century, the oratory is theatre, comedy, music and gospel with a smear of blasphemy and a nod to graffiti.

Near Cape St. Mary's

Near Cape St. Mary’s, Newfoundland and Labrador Photo: S. Marshall 2015

At my former workplace we employed highly trained and very skilled professional interpreters (English to/from French interpretation primarily) for our National Executive Board meetings. Occasionally the interpreters would apologize that they could not provide proper interpretation into French when Brother O’Leary from Newfoundland and Labrador was in a jocular mood and in full swing in English with his Newfoundland accent and slang. It had less to do with “salty” language than it had to do with Brother O’Leary’s version of the “English” language. Neither the interpreters nor the rest of us English-speakers could understand a word he was saying. We often joked that we needed a third interpreter for the English spoken in Canada’s youngest province. [See Note 2]

Now, the language and the accent on “The Rock” is such that some people recommend that you travel with an interpreter if you are a “Come from away” i.e., someone who is not local and therefore without a family heritage in Newfoundland and Labrador. However, my lover and I found the locals to be quite tolerant and accommodating and would switch to an understandable form of central Canadian English, especially if a commercial transaction was imminent.

Near Cape St. Mary's NL

Do sheep and sheep dogs understand the language of Newfoundland? Maybe they are smarter than I am …. Photo: S. Marshall

Maybe it is my inquisitive nature but I find that the instruction, “Stay werr you’re to ’til I comes where you’re at, B’y” is one that begs the question…. well, what was the original question that spawned this response? The question undoubtedly was, “Where am I and how do I friggin’ get out of here?” The Newfoundlander is kindly offering assistance by coming to get you. I hope so because if you have ever tried to follow directions given by a Newfoundlander, you might inadvertently go “out on da neck” instead of “down da arm” or “up da shore”… or is it up da arm and down da bay? …. Oh, never mind. [See Note 3]

Of course there may be extenuating circumstances. For example if you are “some stunned” or are recovering from a “Screech In,” you might be a little foggy on how you got to be where “you’re to” or exactly where “you’re at.”  I don’t consider myself to be particularly dense and I have always gotten along well with the sisters and brothers from Newfoundland and Labrador but the night that I was “Screeched In” is indeed a little foggy in places and I am at the mercy of anyone who has a better recollection of what transpired that night than I do.

Is the “Screech In” a rite de passage?

An argument can be made that from a cultural anthropological perspective the “Screech In” is the celebration of a “rite de passage” which confers a new status on selected candidates. How and why the candidate has been selected is of no great relevance except that the selection is not random i.e., each and every citizen does not have an equal probability of being selected. This means of course that if selection is not random then it must be determined in some manner. For example, in many societies age is a determining factor and these ceremonies mark important moments as a child becomes an adult and accepts responsibilities as an adult. In this case, it appears that the candidate must have already achieved the age of majority (19 years old) in Newfoundland and Labrador in order to fulfill the requirements of the ceremony. Another determining factor is that the candidate must be a “Come from away (CFA),” i.e., a resident of someplace, any place, other than Newfoundland and Labrador, and you must have wandered by design or by accident into the territory of the Newfoundlander, and been selected (or even self-selected) to be a participant in a Screech In.

The significance of the CFA designation cannot be overstated. Newfoundland and Labrador is similar to many other unique social groupings – it is very difficult to penetrate from the outside. Once a CFA, always a CFA or so the saying goes. Even if you lived on “the Rock” for 40 years, it is likely that you will be identified as a CFA. With any luck, your children will not carry the designation but they might. I am reminded of a woman who lived in Altamont, Manitoba for over 50 years. She initially moved to this small village as a schoolteacher and when she married a local farm boy, she stayed. Together she and her husband built a successful business and raised a family. In spite of the lengthy time spent living in and participating in community activities, she could never quite escape that somewhat derisive moniker, “city girl.” If her ways didn’t quite mesh with the locals or if she didn’t know how to do something, it could be explained by saying, “Oh, she’s a city girl, ya’ know.”

The “Screech In” carries the promise of a change in status from a pure “Come from away” to “Honourary Newfoundlander.” Cultural anthropologists tell us that there is a period of ambiguity or disorientation called “liminality” when the subject has moved on from her/his old status and has not yet accepted her/his new status i.e., s/he is on the “threshold.” Everyone who has been “Screeched In” reports that they experience this period of fogginess and disorientation as they shed the pure “Come from away” status and accept their new status as an “Honourary Newfoundlander” or a “Screeched In Newfoundlander.”

All that for an asterisk?

The problem is that the whole “Screech In” thing is bit of a fraud if you stack it up against the measure of a bona fide rite de passage. It seems that in the mid-1970s a St. John’s nightclub owner named Bill Walsh and a few of his cronies cooked up a fake tradition and called it “The Screech Club” to attract out of province business. It was pure genius because what better way to attract tourists than to give these “Come from Away” a chance to become something they desperately wanted to be but could never become – a member of a unique, quaint, welcoming society where its citizens carry a sense of humour 24/7 for 365 days a year.

“Lard-Tunderin’ Jeezus B’y!” The clubs on George Street in St. John’s are usually packed with tourists all too willing to be screeched in – all too willing to be called to the altar of cod in a rite de passage which confers honourary status but no actual rights. Funny thing that; the ceremony provides the candidate with a sense of inclusion in a culture that specifically excludes her/him. The “Screech In” rite de passage admits you into the “Royal Order of Screechers,” a club to which native Newfoundlanders would never belong … and can never belong. The “Screech In” leaves you almost exactly where you started – as a CFA with an asterisk for the official statistics (CFA*) – a “Come from away, Screeched In.”

Armed with your certificate attesting to your status as a “fake” Newfoundlander, you are now welcomed with generous and open arms in all ports and as an added bonus you can watch with a new appreciation the many fine comedians from “The Rock” who have dominated Canada’s comedy venues and television shows for decades. Andy Jones, Rick Mercer, Greg Malone, Cathy Jones, Mary Walsh, Tommy Sexton, Shaun Majumder, Mark Critch, Bob Joy, John Sheehan, Jonny Harris, Diane Olsen and many others have established Newfoundland – style comedy and political satire not just as entertainment for the masses but as mandatory education for the elite.

My God, there is no cod

I personally was “Screeched In” at an odd ceremony 20 years ago in Marystown in the Burin Peninsula late on the night of the “scoff n scuff” (dinner and dance) of the annual convention of our Newfoundland and Labrador Division. An “appointed” representative (a native Newfoundlander) of all that is good and wholesome in NL ushered us into the dance hall, accompanied by suitable music (“I’s da b’y wha builds da boat…”) and a huge outburst of hands clapping, boots stomping, and voices hollering and hooting. Those of us who were “Come from Away” were directed to form a circle holding hands as we did so. The Officiant, wearing the traditional yellow sou’wester and slicker, solemnly called the congregation to order and began the liturgy of the “Screech In.” I don’t recall everything about the service but some elements still wash through my memory banks at high tide.

Officiant (addressing all who are “Come from Away”): “Do ya want to become Newfoundlanders?”

“Come from Away” (collective response): “Yes B’y!”

At this point each “Come from Away” is called forward individually and his/her name clearly stated for the record. The Officiant proceeds to tell the assembled crowd a few amusing “lies” or stories that must have been true because no one could ever make up such ridiculousness, about that particular person (clearly, the Officiant had been briefed in advance.) At the time I was an Executive Assistant to our National Secretary Treasurer so there was much joking about how important it is to “follow the money” [little did they know how close this jesting was to the truth about some practices within the National Secretary Treasurer’s Office – more on this at another time perhaps.] Also, a few shots were taken at my “landlubber” and “mainlander” origins in Manitoba and the Canadian prairies.

Officiant (addressing each “Come from Away” by name): “Are ya a screecher?”

Come from Away: “ ‘Deed I is, me ol’ cock! And long may yer big jib draw!” [Translation: “Yes I am, my old friend, and may your sails always catch wind.”]

Newfoundland Screech

The bottle was full like this one when I started…. Photo: S. Marshall 2017

At this point the liturgy directs that the Come from Away must to kiss a cod. Sometimes the cod are not in plentiful supply so there are a few acceptable substitutions e.g.,“Newfy steak” (baloney,) the rear end of a rubber puffin, or any other ugly non-cod fish that can be found. In this particular case, a helpful Newfoundlander with a warped sense of humour had located a package of frozen capelin (a small fish that spawns on the shores of Newfoundland.)

Officiant (getting into the spirit of things): “I decree the capelin to be sacred for the purpose of this Screech In.”

Officiant (after a brief pause to consult with a group of locals acting as advisors): ”The absence of a proper “Host” (the Cod) and the sanctification of the capelin can only be granted if the “Come from Away” not only kisses the capelin but also bites its head off.”

There was uproarious laughter and hooting from the assembled throng. I suspect that alcohol was a major factor in this decision but as the Officiant decreed it, it must be done, and it was done.

One of the Officiant’s more thoughtful advisors provided a tin bucket into which the “Come from Away” could spit the head of the capelin if s/he chose not to swallow it. The bucket also proved to be a suitable vessel for depositing anything else that came up to accompany the head of the capelin.

To my knowledge not one “Come from Away” actually swallowed the capelin head but to our credit (I think) each of us did bite the head off. It should be noted that each “Come from Away” was given a shot of Screech, which s/he was required to down before kissing and then biting the head off the capelin. The Officiant’s advisors, being naturally helpful, were ready with a second shot of Screech so that the taste of the capelin could be washed from our sophisticated “Come from Away” palates immediately after spitting the capelin head into the bucket – and after we finished gagging of course. The bucket again proved to be handy for a few of the “Come from Away” group immediately after the second shot of screech hit her/his gullet.

Certificate of Screech In Stan Marshall 1997

Kept my certificate just in case ….

Officiant: “You have honoured the body and blood of our ancesters and the great God of the Cod so by the grace of the ghost of Joey Smallwood [the last founding Father of Confederation as he was premier of NL when they joined Canada in 1949] and the authority vested in me by the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador, you are hereby enrolled in the Fraternity [and Sorority] of Screeched In Newfoundlanders.”

Once you have received your certificate it is advised that you carry it with you whenever you return to Newfoundland and Labrador as proof of your “Screeched In” status. Failure to have your certificate on your person is equivalent to revoking your status and it is mandatory that you experience the “Screech In” ceremony once again to bring your status up to date.

If you are an astute critical thinker, and not too foggy, groggy or stunned, you will know that come the morning there are questions that will need to be answered – no, not the questions that I usually ask in sequence after a night of celebrating e.g., “Where are my glasses? Where is my wallet? Is there any money in my wallet? Where are the painkillers?  But first things first, before you go to sleep or fall down where you are, your most important task is to remember that there are important questions that need to asked. I enumerate only a few of them here to start the process because I find the more that I think about these questions, the more questions I have.

  • Does it really matter if a rite de passage originated as a crass marketing tactic to fill the pockets of nightclub owners and the distillers of Screech and other beverages?
  • Is it possible or even desirable to be a candidate in the same rite de passage more than once e.g., can you pass into adulthood twice?
  • Is it possible that the “Screeching In” ceremony is more for the amusement of the native Newfoundlanders than it is for the Come From Away (CFA)?
  • Does a steady stream of CFA celebrants kissing cod (or biting the heads off capelin), drinking screech, singing, dancing and otherwise being made to look the fool tickle the Newfoundlander’s funny bone (that place at the back of the elbow where the ulnar nerve rests against a prominence of the humerus.)
  • Can a “Come from away” ever learn the language of Newfoundland?

So many questions, so little time … for a chucklehead like me to learn a new language and hatch a plot to exact revenge by dressing up like a mummer at Christmas… wait I am getting carried away. One thing I know is certain; it is pointless to try to get the last word in with a Newfoundlander.

Still flappin’

The celebration of the “Screech In” for the newly minted Honourary Newfoundlanders in Marystown continued for at least another four hours. I recall the President of our NL Division (let’s call him Wayne because everyone else in NL does and they wouldn’t want us to stand on formality) dancing a little jig as he stepped to the Convention podium first thing the next morning, all bright eyed and bushy tailed with not a hair out of place while the rest of us were “all mops and brooms” and looking like we had been “hauled through a knot hole.”

Wayne addressed the assembled delegates at 9 a.m. sharp with an informal report on the dance the previous evening. He had supervised the entire event personally to ensure it was a huge success and to win a bet with the National President at the time (let’s call her “Judy” because everyone else does) that he could keep her dancing until the band “gave’er up” and that was at 4 a.m. Wayne relayed that he was glad he hadn’t taken his shoes off when he went to bed because when he woke up in the morning, he looked down and his feet were “still flappin’.” I dies at ‘im [translation: he is some funny guy.]

I didn’t know it at the time but Wayne’s professed experience of continuing the dance all night even after going to bed, was to be my future. I wake up often to find one or both of my feet “flappin’” as my medication has worn off.  These involuntary muscle movements are more than mere tremours which many of us identify as being Parkinson’s; they are strong, constant, persistent, repetitive and painful muscle contractions over which I have little or no control without pharmaceutical assistance. I sometimes use some meditative techniques but they are successful only to a limited degree in some speciifc instances.

Don’t get me wrong; Wayne’s little joke is still very funny in context but it is not quite as fun or funny if you consider what a Person with Parkinson’s (PwP) feels and faces upon waking with feet ‘flappin’.” Nothing is absolute, as they say, and thank goodness there is room for humour in many things that we may think to be sad, painful or grim. Sometimes flappin’ feet can be funny and fun and it makes us laugh when our two kittens think it is a game and pounce on my feet as I kick and wriggle under the covers.

As long as the arse isn’t outa ‘er

You know, the highly expressive language of the Newfoundlanders is exactly what I needed to help me identify, clarify and sum up my objective for this series of blogs. My goal is to begin to understand of how I got ‘here’ from ‘there.’ What happened along the way? Have I passed through the requisite rites de passages on my journey to my present status in society? How many of those events were real and how many were fake and does it matter if they were ‘meaningful?’ What kept me on course and what threw me off course?

Usually when a Newfoundlander says that the “arse is out of ‘er,” s/he is referring to the fact that the economy is in hard times and that things have gone wrong, very wrong and probably out of control. I hesitate to think of what that means when applied to the direction of a person’s life. I am counting on not hearing, “The arse is gone right clean outa ‘er,” when I continue my journey to explore the factors that hold my life together.

We’ll continue the quest in these and other questions in Directions Part II: No mea culpa here, coming soon to thepdgardener.wordpress.com.

NOTES

Note 1: On December 6, 2001 the Constitution of Canada was amended to change Newfoundland’s official name to Newfoundland and Labrador. In keeping with that change, I will use the full Newfoundland and Labrador assignation when referring to the political entity, the province. However, when I reference the cultural entity that is Newfoundland, I will use the short and original form, Newfoundland.

Note 2: It is nice to be referred to as young and I bask in this moment as Newfoundland came into Confederation as Newfoundland in 1949, the year in which I was born. It became Newfoundland and Labrador in 2001, see note 1 above. For those who are asking: Nunavut became Canada’s youngest Territory, not a province, when it separated from the Northwest Territories in 1999.

Note 3: Shaun Majumder is a comedian of note and a native Newfoundlander. He has a very funny bit on what happens when you ask for directions to a pharmacy in Newfoundland and Labrador. Be warned that this clip does contain mature language and explores some mature themes. It can be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vxR6YPW24X0

RESEARCH AND REFERENCES

Martin Connelly, ”Why I won’t be screeching” in The Morning News https://www.themorningnews.org/article/why-i-wont-be-screeching

Encounternewfoundland.com http://encounternewfoundland.com/newfinese-101-words-and-phrases-youre-likely-to-hear-on-the-rock/

en.wiktionary.org https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/arse_is_gone_right_out_of_%27er

Explorenewfoundlandandlabrador.com http://www.explorenewfoundlandandlabrador.com/newfoundland-words-and-sayings.htm

Joebattsarm.ca http://www.joebattsarm.ca/Old_Sayings.html

Shaun Majumder, Newfie Directions, on YouTube.com https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vxR6YPW24X0

newfoundlandlabrador.com http://www.newfoundlandlabrador.com/AboutThisPlace/PeopleCulture

© Stan Marshall (The PD Gardener) 2017

_____________________________________________________________________

LIST OF POSTS IN THIS SERIES 

DIRECTIONS:   Taking the Scenic Route to Parkinson’s and Beyond    

DIRECTIONS Part I: “Stay where you’re at ’til I comes where you’re to, b’y“    

COMING SOON!

DIRECTIONS Part II: Stories of Halloween, Outhouses, potatoes, pesticides, Parkinson’s and mea culpa

LEARNING TO WALK AGAIN … OR … READING BETWEEN THE LINES

Learning To Walk Again … Or … Reading Between The Lines

Author’s foreword

Readers of this blog know that I have been accused of (and admit to) writing extremely long blog posts with content that takes many twists and turns before finally arriving at some evident, or not so evident, conclusion. Now, I am aware that many people neither like, nor read, lengthy posts and they have articulate reasons for their inaction and inattention.

Equally, I am aware that there is a long and honourable tradition among those who love newspapers (and especially among those who impress upon others that they read their broadsheet newspapers from cover to cover,) to read the headline, a few of the sub-heads and first sentence and then move on to the next article. Naturally, they look at the photos – in a kind of reverse approach to how many men say they read Playboy or Penthouse. 

Today, I acquiesce to this reading style by writing in a form to match i.e., this post will consist of one headline with five sub-heads and respective opening sentences mimicking the content many readers would actually read even if the article were thousands of words longer.  I approach this project fearfully as it is a major departure from my usual style and so many words will have to die in the editing process. Read on to see how this works out.

PERSON WITH PARKINSON’S RENDERED IMMOBILE

The PD Gardener, having walked and cycled almost all of his life was understandably shocked at becoming almost completely immobile i.e., not able to walk without assistance, over a very short time span (4 – 5 days.)

IMG_0105

The PD Gardener doing what he does. Photo: Anne Marshall 2014

Looking for answers (in all the wrong places?) 

“Doctor, Doctor, Mister M.D. Can you tell me what’s ailing me? “ (Endnote 1)

and

Knee bone connected to the thigh bone

Thigh bone connected to the hip bone

Hip bone connected to the back bone (Endnote 2)

The above lyrics sing to me as I struggle to understand the crisis that currently engulfs my body and brain but unfortunately the answer seems locked forever in a “song that never ends.” (Endnote 3)

‘Advance’ and ‘progress’ are positive words, aren’t they?

It is a sobering moment when you realize you are ticking off the progress of your new and/or worsening Parkinson’s symptoms on a mental score card of scientifically established, empirical milestones signifying the intractable advance of Parkinson’s.

Symptoms defy explanation say medical specialists

“Appointments with various physicians, surgeons and other health professionals have left us confused and frustrated.”

The new normal 

Physiotherapy, Pilates and exercise show definite promise to lead the way back to a new normal … but why does the new normal feel like walking on bubble wrap?

IMG_2389

Better take provisions if the journey is 1,000 miles like this first mile.  Photo: The PD Gardener 2015

Next step
“It is often said that ‘a journey of 1,000 miles starts with a single step’ (end note 4) … but the importance of finding the start line and the correct direction should not be underestimated,” the PD Gardener notes sardonically.

IMG_3159 (1)

Perhaps the answer is just around the corner and down the hill…. Photo: The PD Gardener, 2015

End Notes

  1. “Good Lovin’ “ lyrics by Rudy Clark and Arthur Resnick. Number hit for The Young Rascals 1966.
  1. “Dem Bones” is a spiritual written by James Weldon Johnson circa 1920.
  1. Origin of “This is the song that never ends” or “This is the song that doesn’t end” is unknown but seems to have been made popular by Shari Lewis and Lamp Chop.
  1. Attributed to Lao Tzu, a contemporary of Confucius and a major figure in Chinese philosophy.

© 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.

 

Snow 2213 Webster IMG_5673

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.”]

HMCS Uganda stokers For eng rm IMG_5662

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.

Fiery entrance to Hell IMG_0646

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)