by Nicholas P. Snoek
Enderbush lies about seventy miles to the east of Kemloops. In 1952 there are around 5,000 people in this little river bottom community, built where the Salmon Creek flows into Shoeswich Lake. Jack first sees the town in late evening, coming down the Ply Hills on the gravel Trans Canada Highway. Mr Frank, the Thompson riverbank friend from Kemloops who is driving, says enthusiastically, "Look, Vick. Isn't that a pretty sight? See all the lights on the bottom slopes of Mt Ika there?"
"Yes, it's like a fairy tale!"
And a pretty town it is. The approach from the east gives even more of a post card view. The drop is steeper, and the whole valley is visible below, with the river meandering between dairy farms and fruit orchards to the left, curving away up around the conifer covered flank of the reputedly volcanic mountain, Mt Ika; to the right the intensely blue five fingered Shoeswich Lake with a thousand mile shoreline; and right in the town McGuiche Lake, lit up at night with a brightly shining rainbow colored water fountain, a little jewel of a landlocked lake with big goldfish, lining the manicured parklike hospital grounds, .
It is said McGuiche Lake is connected way deep down with Shoeswich Lake, but Jack finds that difficult to believe, since the water level in the small one is at least thirty feet higher than that of Shoeswich Lake, only about a hundred yards away, and the shore of the larger lake slopes so slowly and gradually into the water that the maximum depth for hundreds of feet can be no more than the height of a man.
The Spiets move right downtown into a tiny rented house, which has a small yard and shed, and a garden. There is little furniture at first. But the Dutch government, although it forbade the removal of significant cash, did allow the taking of household effects; so about two weeks after they move here the family receives a large crate, about eight feet by ten feet by twenty feet, packed tight with all their furniture and personal effects from Holland. It is so big the trucking company just winches it off the deck onto the ground right on the shoulder of the road. What a cheery chore, to unpack that monster box and find all those things from home! Things the children thought were gone forever. Mom has a lot of her treasured heirlooms. Dad is glad to see his billiard table. The children have their toys and clothes. Jack is delighted to have some books, and the children are happy to find all their private keepsakes again.
The furniture does not include a fridge, and the family makes do without one for quite a while. Dad brings home a lot of odds and ends of various cuts of meat from work, and it is preserved by being cooked and then immersed in buckets of lard.
All the children of age are registered at school. And Jack is finally in a secure, conventional home, and going to a school with some prospect of attending long term. He is registered as though he were Viktor's age, in the expectation that he will likely be able to handle that level of studies. He settles in with relief, and gets right to work.
There is no library at the church but he is happy to have unrestricted access to both the school and the town libraries. With the large selection of books now at his disposal his reading becomes more selective. He can follow up any subject or question of interest by using the card index systems; so now, instead of just devouring whatever is available, he starts to choose what he reads. But action adventure is still his overall preference.
The Spiets house is within a block of the Catholic Church. It's a very small, very old church, with a piano sized old pump organ up in the choir area. Dad becomes a member of the choir, and after a while, so does Jack.
And he gets to know the priest, a tall spare ironhaired Irish gentleman of sterling character. Jack is amused to note that when this worthy minister gives a sermon, he first makes one or several observations and injunctions with good clarity and coherence, then, in summing up, he undoes whatever he has just accomplished by pointing out to the puzzled parishioners that -- in this imperfect world, with the pressures and problems he knows they are subject to, God will understand their not being able to quite live up to what has just been asked of them.
So... don't bother? That's a puzzle.
Jack starts to visit Father Burns, and they become good friends. Jack can't help wondering how this man, who seems so very straightforward, even simple in some ways, could have managed the theology required in the seminary training. But he is such a solid person, such an exemplary good person. Seeing others as he sees himself, the man can scarcely bring himself to think ill of anyone. Jack is convinced, here is a living saint.
Jack has never been in a situation where being popular or accepted by peers was an issue. In Holland, his going to school was a matter of making some use of the time before leaving for Canada. He didn't bother much with other children, except for Geerhard and, for a little while, Floortje. But both of those boys were loners themselves; Geerhard from being an only meek and mild misplaced boy in a gaggle of ebullient girls, and Floortje because he was an only intellectual snob child of uppercrust parents.
Jack has always been the odd one out, a lone wolf from birth. He has no idea about playing a part, or doing what is expected of him by any person or group of people his own age. And he has no experience in group activities. The time he spent with the Schuurmans and the Spiets did not prepare him for life in a regular school. And his experience with all those sister types has made him adept at the quick self defense putdown, but it has not been the normal socializing experience.
He now finds himself in a culture where people from the most diverse backgrounds are accepted quite readily on even terms. The obvious differences between children in Holland and children here pleases him immensely. He thought the Dutch were stiff, stubborn, restrained and repressed, whereas Canadians seem accommodating, easygoing and uninhibited.
But while he admires this, he cannot seem to adopt it, or learn how to imitate it. He cannot get his own Dutch out. So any significant contact with others is mostly at their initiative, not his.
One of his first peer associations here is with Gerry Sloehard who, talking to Jack one day, makes quite a production out of telling him he has an aunt who is Dutch. When Jack finally understands this news, he cannot help thinking: So? So what? But of course he does not say anything quite so offensive.
Gerry sort of takes Jack under his wing, keeping others away. Jack can't quite see why Gerry has this interest in him, they have so little in common. And why keep others away? What's that for?
Gerry is solidly built, but has girl features and delicate hands, thin brown hair and gentle brown eyes. He's a bit of a ham, taking Jack into the attic of his house and, fumbling under the boards with some electronic gadgetry, he pretends to have conversations with the police and with forest rangers.
There's a girl who apparently has been Gerry's friend for some time. She comes and tries to hang around with the two boys, but Gerry tells her very meanly to get lost, she is not wanted, he hates her. Jack is mortified and quite disappointed, as he likes her just fine, but he doesn't say anything.
Gerry gets Jack to undress with him. He repeatedly asks Jack to penetrate him. But even though the getting naked and horsing around results in the needed erection, Jack is embarrassed, and keeps saying he doesn't want to, it's dirty. Gerry, missing the intent of that word, goes to the washroom again and again, making himself cleaner and cleaner.
Jack thinks this funny. He doesn't mean soap dirty, he means moral dirty. But he doesn't say that, not wishing to seem prudish. Why Gerry wants him to do this, he cannot fathom. Wouldn't it be awfully uncomfortable? As for himself, that dry skin on his glans penis is far from a pleasant feeling.
The Spiets parents come to know Gerry's folks through the boys, and one of Jack's sisters is conscripted to babysit at Gerry's house. Gerry's dad is a very good looking young man with strawberry blond hair combed back and very pale blue eyes. He seems a bit remote, and has little to say to Jack.
But apparently he has more interest in the sister. He takes advantage of her in the car, to what extent is never made clear, when he brings her home. The two mothers have a get together over this when it surfaces, and Gerry's mother, a short blackhaired very voluble lady, who always treats Jack with incredible kindness, offers to pay for the damages! Mom just says goodbye, and walks out.
Quite an approach. That'll be twenty dollars, please. Payment rendered, the offense is effectively transformed into a fair exchange?
Jack now feels uncomfortable around Gerry, and begins to avoid him. And after a while the Sloehards move away. No goodbyes or good lucks or anything. Just an empty house one day.
Is this to avoid the possible consequences of the Spiets' becoming culturally acclimatized and taking the legal action which is currently deemed beyond their capacity? There's a covert putdown.
As was the case with the baker's son next door in Holland, Jack finds there is little effort made to exclude him from the conversations regarding this incident. He feels vindicated and complimented by this, but it puzzles him too. It doesn't seem to fit with being treated as a child in other ways.
At first he's not sure if his being half included is just a result of being in the house more than the others, but it becomes a definite pattern. From not being excluded, he slowly comes to be included, and then starts to participate, especially with Mom, one on one.
At first when this happens, Jack worries about how Dad must feel, but after a while it comes to seem natural.
Jack has a bike now, and runs a paper route. And he has a sweet tooth; he spends a lot of his pocket money on fudgicles. He does not save any money. Those chocolate fudgicles are just too tasty!
He joins the Scouts, at Mom's behest, and hates it. He does enjoy the challenge of earning the badges, and the learning part of this Baden Powell mystique is not too bad, but he's just not the camping hiking spending time in hardship bonding with the guys sort of person that people just automatically expect a boy to be.
One evening meeting stands out. The Scouts are having a contest type of game. They all join hands to form a circle, in the middle of which they have put empty bottles, one less than the number of boys. Then they pull and shove each other, each trying to force his neighbor to topple a bottle. When someone knocks over a bottle everybody stops, the loser picks up the downed bottle, and he withdraws from the game.
When it gets down to just two players, Jack and a very large heavy farm boy, there is just the one remaining bottle standing between them. At the signal, they pull at each other, head on! And of course, that's exactly what happens. They bang their heads together. Ouch! Game over. It's a tie!
But mostly Jack would just as soon not go. Sometimes when he is supposedly at a meeting he's actually just walking around town till it's time to go home. On occasion he even takes a girl to the movies instead of going to Scouts. Several of his sisters know this, but it doesn't seem to occur to them, anymore than it does to him, that something should be done or said. How often parent-child interactions default to mere crisis avoidance!
The Spiets are prospering. In the early spring there is some money saved for a down payment to buy a place. Thirty acres and a large house and shed and even an old barn, right on Salmon Creek, not far up from the mudflat part of the lakeshore, on one side, but right on the Trans Canada Highway on the other.
The purchase is made, involving some complicated rent to buy arrangement, and the family moves, two miles out of town. The lawyer who acts for them, a short strawberry blond fellow with a partly artificial arm ending in two shiny stainless steel hooks, becomes the family lawyer, and he receives from Mom all the important documents she has, including the envelope and instructions from Brother Andre. He's intrigued by this arrangement, and promises to do his part.
Dad soon gets the farming started with a couple of cows, and it's Jack's job to milk them in the evening. Dad does it in the morning. They get some pigs too. Dad usually feeds the pigs, and Jack cleans the pens.
Halfway up the path to the old barn Dad assembles a cooking setup for the pigs. A steel pipe frame holding an empty horizontal forty-five gallon drum, chisel sliced open along one side, with the protruding parts of lid and bottom bent over so as to catch the pipe frame, making a huge boiling pot, raised sixteen inches over a fire pit. It's half filled with water from the hand pump, and then scraps, tripe, pig heads, tails, and other offal from the meat shop and slaughterhouse are thrown in and boiled to a stew.
What pigs we are, Jack muses, to make cannibals of pigs!
It's his job to mind the fire, keeping it going till the whole thing is done. He's always surprised at how good this soup smells, considering everything that's in it, and that no spice or flavoring of any kind is added.
If a sow farrows or a cow freshens on the birthday of any of the children, they get the calf or one of the piglets, to keep. That's pretty neat! Well, that's the theory, anyway. It's only the very determined would-be-owners like Rosie who do something about identifying the exact young pig, and monitoring its progress, who end up benefiting.
But she's a strong minded young lady in other respects as well. Jack has discovered that she is ticklish, as much as anyone, but will not flinch when someone tickles her.
She likes to sit at the edge of the slough behind the old barn in the evening, and sing to the moon, strumming on an old guitar, watching the ducks and geese.
The farm consists of thirty acres of river bottom, good land. Ten of it is tilled, ten is in pasture, and ten is bush, and scattered throughout are swampy ponds, some in the open, some in the bush. Jack of course, is mostly interested in the bush part. There are huge Palm of Giliad, or poplar trees, some three feet or more on the stump.
Sometimes when he is upset, or just feels like exercise, he takes the double bitted axe into the bush, removes his clothes, and tackles one of these monster trees and fells it, without once stopping for breath! It involves removing several wheel barrow loads worth of chips right out of solid wood. He carves out a strip a little above comfort height, and another about two feet below that, and then chops out the wood between the two, and then he goes round, again and again, deeper and deeper. It takes hours to make the required wedge incision. He enjoys this especially in the spring, when each chunk hisses its reluctance with the sound of squirting sap. And the great noise the tree makes, finally crashing down!
What a rush!
There is a grand daddy tree, the center rotten for a good five feet, but still living in the outer six inch rim. Jack sets himself a project to hollow it out, and he spends hours and hours, removing the chunks of brown rot. He enlarges a doorway and chops out a window opening. And eventually he has his own living hollow tree carved out to about fifteen feet up, and it becomes a special spot of seclusion for him, the fantasy headquarters of his private little hunting and exploring world.
One Saturday afternoon, after stoking up the big cooking barrel for the final stint, which he has learned to time with the changing smell of the barrel contents, Jack comes back to his tree and, lost in a reverie sitting back in his little hideaway, he falls asleep.
He has a sensation of going through smoke, huge billowing black clouds of it, smelling murky and bitter from incomplete combustion. But then it comes clear.
/// He's standing on the side of a small hill, near some tall wire fencing, with bent over posts and barbed wire strung along the top. To one side he can see an entrance, and on a curved sign spanning the gate, the word DACHAU in Gothic letters.
There are some low buildings nearby, somewhat set off from the other larger and longer ones.
Beside him is a young man leaning against a large black kettle. There's a delicious smell coming from it. Looking around to see if anyone is watching, the young man pries the lid up a bit, and he sees a murky broth, with bits of meat floating in it. Quickly he snatches one and eats it. His hunger providing all the spice he needs, he is soon catching and devouring one piece after another.
Jack notices a jawbone, and he sees that the front is very rounded, and several of the teeth have fillings in them.
This is not pork! This is another type of butchery.
"Was machen Sie? Kommen Sie hier, schnell!" A soldier is yelling at them, and pointing where to go. The young man runs, weakly, as he is ordered. Jack doesn't move, but no one seems to notice him.
A man in a white coat has come out of one of the buildings. A scientist, or a doctor. What is all this? Some experiment? \\\
The house has a sawdust burning range in the kitchen, with a lead pipe jacket right inside the fire box to heat water. The sawdust is fed in by a hopper built onto one side of the fire box. It also burns stove wood.
Five-gallon pails of sawdust are brought into the house, two at a time, from a bin built into the porch at the back. At meal times wood is used as well, for extra heat and better control.
One of Jack's chores is to keep the bin filled. He uses a large wooden wheelbarrow that he loads from the utility shed -- which used to be a horse and buggy shelter when this property was a minister's home, and services were held in the house.
He also helps Dad load the pickup truck with the sawdust, which they get from the sawmill just two doors down the highway. They use large aluminum scoop shovels, and the sides of the Fargo pickup are built up high with solid racks to hold a good load. It's hard work, even with those light shovels.
One day, when they are just about done, Jack asks Dad "Doesn't your back get sore from doing this?"
"Oh, no. Not at all."
But Jack notices afterwards that Dad makes a practise of stopping for a bit when the truck is about halfway full. Dad is not altogether impervious.
The sawdust from a sawmill is not dust. It's called dust mostly because of the way it's usually blown away from the saws, by means of powerful fans through one foot diameter sheet metal pipes, out onto a huge mound in the yard, usually behind or to the lee of the mill.
The teeth of the big round blade saws commonly used to slice logs into rough lumber are removable, like little curved chisels, so that the wood they bite out of the log comes out as small square chunks, cut across the grain. Although they start out as one quarter inch wide chunks sometimes almost cubical, they do break up, because they are battered about, but not to the point of turning into dust. The `sawdust' makes good fuel while it is fairly fresh. If left too long after cutting it deteriorates, turning punky, and then it's not good for much else but mulching into garden soil.
One area people expect Jack to excel in is sports. And he does not. Probably the biggest reason is lack of interest, but he doesn't do well at it, so perhaps the lack of interest is partly due to lack of skill, a chicken and egg situation. The pressure to play softball and baseball is unrelenting, but he cannot hit that ball to save his life! How do others do it?
At first, when it came to choosing up sides, the other boys would take him right away, on the supposition that wow, if he ever hit that ball, it would really disappear! But after a while it becomes apparent he's just not going to. So he becomes the last to be picked for any ball team. Which is not terrible, he only wants to be picked to fit in a bit better, to be accepted.
He has little interest in the solo sports either, like running and jumping. He doesn't understand why this sort of thing doesn't come easy for him like everything else seems to. And he doesn't understand why people do it, to begin with. What for? Where is the satisfaction, to justify all that effort?
Or what's wrong with him? Is there something missing inside? An empty space where there shouldn't be?
The sports coach, Mr Pianco, a red haired Italian, notably unintellectual himself, and more than a little prejudiced against brainy people who have the nerve to question the pre-eminence of sports, drifts into a sort of vendetta against Jack.
One day this gym teacher explains to the class that the older darker colored basketballs are of better quality than the paler new ones, more pliable and resilient, hence easier to handle and use.
Some weeks after, when Jack is suddenly faced with having to pass a basketball to Mr Pianco, and there are about half a dozen balls to choose from, he takes one of the older ones praised so highly, and passes it to the coach. And lo and behold, Mr Pianco stops dead, the whistle blows, all activity ceases, and everyone gathers round in a huddle.
Mr Pianco, "Class, I want to teach you something about respect. Just now Vick passed me a ball, and instead of giving me a new one, he tossed me an old one. That's disrespectful. He should have had the courtesy to throw me a new one."
Jack, "Sir, you told us yourself the old ones were better than the new ones."
"That makes no difference. You should've given me a new one."
Right. Justice in the halls of learning.