by Nicholas P. Snoek
There's going to be an addition to the family. Mom and Dad have had what is sometimes called an accident, an accident of the night. Whatever the proximate cause, number nine is on the way!
With fairly young children always in the house Mom hasn't taken a job in town; she hasn't worked out since she was single, and it probably doesn't appeal to her. Now, as it turns out, she can be productive without leaving the house.
Everyone is quite excited when the baby is finally due. All the others were delivered at home with the help of a midwife; this will be the first one to be born in a hospital. And this will also be the first natural Canadian in the family! The doctor is concerned about Mom's age, but she is not worried at all, and Dad seems quite happy about it.
When Mom goes to the hospital Jack is in charge of things at home. Neddie and Addie don't seem to have a problem with that, although they're both older than he is. They're used to Jack taking the lead. And Dad's mind is elsewhere, somewhere between the farm and the hospital.
It's a boy!
Healthy and lively, and Mom is just fine. They call him Fred. Now there are nine children. A football team? A nice pattern; two girls, a boy, two girls, a boy, two girls, and now, a boy. Three groups of three.
When Mom comes home, she finds she has too much milk. She asks Jack if he wants to help her with that, but he blushes, and says no, I don't think so. And he goes off into the bush. Doesn't she understand the difference? Or did he misunderstand her? He tries to put this out of his mind, but it does not go away. It comes up in his dreams. Everything comes up in his dreams.
Jack has the ability with language that seems to come with the experience of learning several new ones. It makes a person more aware of language and how it works. And all his reading has an effect here too. So he seldom has any problem with grammar, or with spelling.
Perhaps from reading so much, perhaps because he seems more than most people visually oriented, he notices that when he attends to a word, whether speaking or just thinking about it, he sees it in his mind, spelled out in large clear letters, the sort you first see in the lower grades, when words are taught for the first time. So to see how to spell a word, he only has to look at it in his head. The people he checks with don't seem to have this facility.
The spinster teacher he has for language skills, Miss Hoodly, is a bit archaic in her methods. Jack has her for history too, and before class she typically fills the blackboards with reams and reams of material, copied verbatim from her history texts, all about the lords and ladies of good old England, and how the Royal Family endured it all. The students are to write all this in their notebooks. Through the hand into the head, but oh, so much writing. Jack hates that sort of busywork.
She also insists everyone write out the day's spelling words in a special scribbler, three times each. But Jack knows them so well, he decides he won't do this. He can make better use of the time. He reads storybooks in class, which most teachers obligingly pretend not to notice.
And sure enough, one day Miss Hoodly has everyone put their books on the desks for inspection. And Jack's is blank. Empty.
"Well, young man, just what exactly is the meaning of this?"
"Miss Hoodly, I presume you want us to write the words out so we'll learn them. And I know them without doing that, so I decided not to take the time."
There is total silence all around, as all the students stare at him in disbelief.
"Oh, really! You decided. Well! Class, I want to point out something to all of you.
Every once in a while you get a glimpse into a person's life. A little window opens for a moment, and you can see what they're really like. Victor here, is a very polite young man, usually. You would think he is as sincere as he is respectful. But you see, his courtesy is a pretense; he disobeys his elders. His exercise book is completely empty. I am very, very disappointed.
Vick, I want you to come see me after school."
But my dear lady, what is courtesy supposed to be? Is it something other than a deference worn on the outside? A comedy of manners? Surely it's just an acted out concern for others, a performance pretending some regard. The more convincingly enacted the more respected, yes, but only taken as indicative of genuine feeling by the very naive. It is social lubrication. Gentlemen, and ladies even more, after the model of old country higher society, especially in the British culture, are acclaimed for their accomplished skill in courtesy as in a performing art. And the more successful they are in this, the less it is supposed they really are the caring persons they portray.
Jack goes to see her after school is out.
"Well Vick, what do you think we should do about this?"
"I don't see that anything needs doing; I know the work. I always get top marks; so writing a bunch of words out seems like a complete waste of time."
"I think you should go back and catch up to the others."
"No, I don't think so."
"You refuse to do that?"
"I guess so."
Looking at him thoughtfully, "Hmmn. Well, you'd better go before you miss your bus."
Jack leaves without another word. Strange, that she had no more to say. He was expecting a bit of a showdown. Oh, well. All is well that ends well.
He has missed the bus, so he runs the two miles home.
Dad gets Jack a job where he works himself, in the area behind the retail store. Jack learns to cut slabs of porkside into two inch strips and to separate the rind from the fat, so the porkfat can be rendered to make lard.
And he is put in charge of making the lard. A little too hot or too long will ruin the whole batch, which happens to him several times, as he tends to get lost in his thoughts. The boss is not too happy about that, and Dad gets really upset! He takes personally whatever Jack does. Jack often gets to empty the smoke house too. He enjoys that. It smells heavenly!
Dad makes the coffee, and he boils it, leaving the grounds collecting at the bottom for days. It makes for a sort of chocolaty quite pleasant flavor. He also throws in a dash of salt. Unique coffee.
And then there's the days at the slaughterhouse. Jack has little taste for the work there. He learns to do quite a bit, including a fair version of skinning with his left hand, as Viktor had been so proud of doing.
But the smells, the grease, and the noise! There's nothing louder than a pig-headed hog wanting to go in the other direction, especially when the desperate measure of a finger in the pig's eye is used to dissuade it. That must be where the expression `in a pig's eye' comes from.
Jack cannot shake the feeling that pigs and people have a lot in common. The skin is so similar. Pigs and people are about the only creatures that get sunburned. And their diet is practically the same; they're both egregiously omnivorous. Men are just a little more sophisticated in their style of rooting in dirt. Face it, people are pigs, pigs with slightly better manners. Sometimes.
Jack would sooner be doing something else.
After he learns about as much as he thinks he'll be able to, he picks a fight with the boss about having to stay past paid hours for cleanup, and gets himself fired.
Dad is furious!
And this time it's Mom who doesn't have a lot to say.
Jack has no idea what his life work might eventually be, but he knows it won't be in any slaughterhouse.
He chums a little with a French Canadian family. Ken is a bit younger than Jack, smaller, with thin short brown hair and brown eyes. He has a most ingratiating sense of fun, a real pixy with a big disarming grin.
The girl, Rosalie, was born on Jack's birthday. She has long dark hair, and a classy aristocratic mouth. She likes Jack, but sort of waits to see what he wants to do about that. They kid around a lot about being male and female versions of the same person, molded under the aegis of the same heavenly constellations. So what could possibly be the real difference between them? But that's as far as it goes.
And again, it seems to be more the parents, especially the mother, Jack relates to. But Ken's mom makes such a fuss over Jack, pointing out to her son how well mannered and well spoken Jack is and Ken is not, that the boys both get restless about it, and after a while Jack doesn't go there anymore.
It's Sunday afternoon. The Van Guuns are visiting, and Mr Van Guuns, Dad, and Jack, are playing billiards on a three by six foot billiard table that had been bought the year Viktor was born. The two men are discussing the paving of the Trans Canada highway in front of the house.
Siem "Yes, if they pave that, and put a stripe down the middle, it will be a road you could kiss!"
Mr Van Guuns "Ahh, but still dangerous."
And Jack pipes up "Mmmh, things you could just kiss are often dangerous."
With a quiet little smile Siem says "Oh, you don't know anything about that yet."
That's what you think, daddy-o. That's what you think. How old were you when that first kiss changed your life.
Miss Hoodly has not forgotten Jack's disobedience. She keeps a close eye on him, but she has a hard time finding anything significant to fault him with. The final test in the course involves a spelling section, and she announces that the words are so easy, just one mistake will turn an A into a B. Jack thinks that's fair enough. The words are quite simple. He has no problem with them.
But he gets a B. He takes his paper up to her.
"Miss Hoodly, you've marked this word wrong, and it's not wrong. See, right here. That's how it's spelled."
"No, Vick. You've got a b there, not an f."
"What? You really think I'd spell `defuse' with a b?"
"That's not the point. You've written what looks like a b to me. That makes it wrong. And a B is your mark. The clarity of your handwriting is not my responsibility. You should have been more careful."
So. Jack has a B. However, he decides it's not worth bothering about any further. Let her have that bit of fun. She didn't push the senseless writing out of spelling words, so that sort of evens out. Kind of amusing, actually, that she would stoop to this to get even with him.
The farm is about seven miles from the better sandy beaches on Shoeswich Lake, and Jack often hitchhikes over there for an afternoon of swimming. The beach is golden sand, and the water is clean and blue; the sky is reflected in it so clearly that if he sits up on a bit of a rise, he can study cloud formations without even looking up at the sky. He spends some of his happiest hours here, just sitting and thinking, absorbing the natural world.
When he first gets in the water he typically runs out into the shallows, then as it deepens he dives under, and swims out as far as he can go, holding his breath, before he surfaces. That sometimes upsets people watching. They worry that he might not come up!
He can swim far out into the lake, or miles along the shore, without tiring. And he pays no attention at all to the rule about not swimming right after eating. In this, as in some other things, he feels he is not subject to ordinary rules. He's had no problem with swimming after eating, and he hasn't observed that anyone else has, so where is the evidence? Probably another case of a very low risk activity. Alarmist attitudes. Mollycoddling.
Except when the whole class comes out here for a picnic, and it's Ms Hoodly in charge! He can hardly buck her authority so blatantly as to go in the water immediately after her express order not to. But he finds a way to have a bit of fun at her expense when she, spinsterishly dressed, stays on shore.
With so many people in the water, the sediment and finer sand on the bottom get stirred up, making the water so murky you can't see who's swimming under the surface. Jack gets some of the boys involved in swimming under water, supposedly to frighten the girls by gliding through between their legs, but of course the boys enjoy this surreptitious contact with those legs, and he can just feel that old Ms Hoodly's frustration!
And the girls love it. They are, after all, completely helpless, since they don't know who it is, touching them. And, although they make a good show of screeching their outrage, they don't seem to find it offensive enough to go ashore.
It's summer holidays for Jack.
There are so many animals now, on the farm, a decision is made to build a better barn, a big long one. It'll be about fifty by a hundred and fifty feet, and the peak will be a full thirty feet high. The family has made friends with a number of Dutch people in the area, so some of the men offer to moonlight, to help with the construction.
Dad buys an old barn a mile away that is to be demolished, and the men set right to work dismantling it. Large segments of stud wall, one inch rough fir boards nailed diagonally in opposite directions on the two edges of two by sixes, are salvaged, and moved by wagon and tractor to the site of the new barn. Almost everyone steps on a nail at some point, doing this.
Dad is away at his job during the day, but Jack is there. The work is still at the concrete footing stage when one day the men get to fooling around, showing off to each other.
One trick is to clasp your hands together and squeeze a wooden match between your index fingers, holding it as tight as you can. Your opponent gets hold of it the same way and tries to pull it away from you. A big burly round headed Dutchman named Popke is the overall winner. Jack is only twelve, and doesn't even think of participating, but some of the men urge him to try too. Jack figures that's just silly. These are big, strong men, they work in sawmills, and he's just a boy!
"I don't have a chance!" he says.
"Oh, come on. Try it! If you lose, so what?"
And he tries it. And he's so afraid of the pain of that match being pulled out of his fingers, that he wins! Easily!
That's the beginning of a reputation, for Jack. And he realizes he's much stronger than he ever thought.
He soon finds out that at school he doesn't have to be concerned about fighting. If anyone gets offensive or aggressive with him he just takes the offender by the hand and quietly squeezes him into submission. So simple! And he thinks back with regret to the time he first went to school in Holland, and Addie protected him from boys who teased him about being a foreigner! He could have taken care of that himself. He should have!
Another thing the men do is fool around with a single shot .22, and they puncture a feed bucket Dad uses for the pigs. Jack is amazed that he gets heck from Mom and Dad both! He thought these men would be regarded as self directed, fully responsible adults. If responsible to someone, then to Mom and Dad, not to him. But no! Mom and Dad expect Jack to be in charge! The men are to be responsible to Jack, and Jack is to report to Mom and Dad.
Whew! Hey, guys. I'm just a kid. Remember, I'm three years younger than my official age. How do you expect me to run a crew of grown up men?
The front half of the main part of the barn is mostly divided into pig pens. Jack absentmindedly makes an error in measuring off one of them -- the back is a foot wider! And sure enough, the men build it that way. And Jack gets into trouble over that as well.
The next day he has to tell them to redo it. There is the evidence; he IS in charge of this operation. What an idea! A kid in charge of adults. Help!
He remembers how he thought he might like to be a carpenter, back in Bhutan when he helped Bertus build some bed frames. Now he's learning, fast. He'd better know something about it. Quickly! He'd better work out some kind of approach to this.
He starts by explaining to the men, the next time he has a problem with what they're doing, that to avoid getting into trouble with his father he needs their co-operation. And after using that a number of times, he gets more and more involved in the details of the work, and gradually makes his comments more direct, until the time comes when he can make a fairly strong recommendation that is accepted almost as a matter of course.
Jack is surprised to find that the men are amazingly co-operative, and generally respond in good humor to his suggestions. Even when he has the wrong idea they don't seem to resent the irony of it, that they should be explaining to the one in charge why his idea won't work.
They seem happy to teach him, often smiling at him with subdued respect while explaining the details. And after each issue is discussed thoroughly, the correct method is usually followed without any more fuss. And Jack learns his way into this leadership role almost without noticing it's happening. He even starts enjoying these encounters.
One evening after supper Dad is hammering at something on one wall of the new barn, and Mom is there too, watching.
"Hi Mom, what's Dad doing?"
"Well, he's doing something a little different. There's some swallows building nests in there, and he's putting some short boards in place so their nests don't get knocked down, and the little things won't be scared from the men working so close."
Jack senses the pride in her voice. This shooter of pigeons and maimer of rats, who has no problem stunning a cow to lead it better, or redirecting a pig with his middle finger, this dire dealer of death, has another side, a gentler side for little birds and fishes. One Mom has, no doubt, long known.
Well, the barn goes up.
Using frame sections and beams from the other barn down the road is not the only cost cutting measure. The rafters in the back are long thin cedar poles, which the men cut in the bush. When you use materials like this you have to take special care which way you position each piece. A rafter or a joist, for that matter, should be placed crown or top-of-curve up, first of all, and if there's a sideways curve to consider as well, you should split the difference between crowning up and lining up, by putting the crown or upward bulge slightly in the direction of the concave side.
Also, to avoid the sag in the middle so characteristic along the roof ridge of older buildings, you make the posts and rafters in the center an inch or two longer than the ones at the ends, and the ones a quarter way down half of that amount. Now that's tricky. You have to be careful you don't get into trouble squaring off wall sections, and you have to keep an eye on the way the rows of shakes line up on the roof, because you have to start them straight at the bottom edge, and they must meet the ridge nicely parallel. But, somehow it all works out. Squeezing and jamming and splitting differences work wonders.
And so, eventually there is a building, tall and straight and true. On the whole, it's quite an accomplishment, and an education in leadership. Jack comes out of this with a bit more confidence. It was pretty scary though, for a while.
In the evenings he often listens to the radio, to episodes of `The Lone Ranger.' He remembers a wood burning set he got for his birthday at Kemloops, and the Lone Ranger pictures he copied from a coloring book. These stories are like the westerns he was reading on the train, but they're even more pointedly moralistic. This hero comes without even the suggestion of any warts or pimples.
But one thing about this series really bothers him, and it's especially prominent in the comic book versions, where you can go over it several times to be sure your impression is correct; and that is, the way Tonto is presented.
Poor Tonto has no personality. He's not a masked and mysterious super man -- he's scarcely a man at all. A shadow, without character or identity. Did he come from nowhere? Has he no family, no feelings, no views on anything?
He never expresses an opinion more complex than an estimate of distance, or the likelihood of water being around somewhere. Tonto never gets to say "I... [anything]!" Why is that? How can he function at this prehuman level? Even his name is an insult, Spanish for blockhead. If he's a person, with a sense of self -- and that really is the question -- why doesn't he blow his cork, to be a shadow, to be treated like a moron slave?
Jack gets indignant for a moment or two almost every time he listens to the program. Why won't they let Tonto be a person? How does the actor playing that part feel about it? It must be hard for him, constantly co-operating in these insults to himself and his people.
It's been a long day, and Jack is tired. He has a hard time going to sleep, thinking about the strange turns in his life that led him here.
/// He's lying in a meadow, on very soft grass, and beside him is a large woman with dark hair.
She is sitting up, slowly removing her clothes. She doesn't seem to be aware of him, not even when he too, starts to take his shirt off. It doesn't occur to him to wonder if he should do that; it just seems expected somehow. As he slips off his pants, and sees his limp little penis he vaguely wonders what he thinks he's going to do with that. But, they both get naked.
Her breasts are huge and swing long and low sweet chariots. Turning to him, she takes his head, and firmly pushes his face into her bosom. Her skin so close brings back those suffocating cream of wheat niblets! For a moment he panics, but the feeling subsides.
So warm, so much, so large and soft. A little fluid comes out of the nipples, and Jack licks it away. She pulls his head in closer. He cannot breathe! What now?
Suddenly she leans back, and lying down, pulls him over her. He has a swimming sensation... so much! So much! Her breasts are hanging to the side now. A broad expanse. A broad!
His hands are wandering all over her, her shoulders, her arms, those mindblowing breasts. She takes his right hand and puts it between her legs, lifting her knees up to his head. And he goes in, with his fingers and then his penis all warm and wet and deep. He starts to pump, up and down, but not much happens. It's all so wet and slippery big. What can he do?
But, little by little it gets better. She lowers her legs so he can get a good bang going. That does it, it's coming now, it's coming, Ohh! dear mother above, here we go! Ahhhh! \\\
In the morning he wakes with a sort of tired achy feeling. There's a wet spot on his sheet. But he doesn't remember masturbating.
With the new barn there's more scope for farming, so the animal stock gradually increases. The barn becomes productive, especially with pigs. Jack has the job of mucking out the pens every weekend. He doesn't care for that too much. The smell is bad. But, he gets used to it. People seem to be able to get used to just about anything.
For a time there's an aluminum shovel he uses, the kind they got for scooping the sawdust. It's nice and light, but it doesn't last very long. When it starts to break from the continual flexing under the weight, Jack asks for a new one. But Dad wants Jack to use a steel shovel. That makes Jack angry. He gets an allowance, so he uses the leverage it gives him. "Dad, I can't see any point in lifting all that extra metal every time I load my shovel. It doesn't make sense! If you won't get another aluminum shovel I'll go and buy one myself!"
Dad has little taste for this confrontation, so he gets the all important shovel.
A cat starts to hang around the barn, and Jack gets into the habit of setting out a bit of milk for it, but then there is another, and another. And soon there are so many cats Jack decides he has to control the cat population. He uses the .22 for that. It's good they keep down the mice, but too many cats can be pretty messy and noisy. And he doesn't want to give them all that milk either.
Mom tries her hand at raising pullets for a while. There are quite a few chicken farmers in the area, so she talks to them to get some background, and soon she sends for chicks. Batches and batches of them. They move in stages, from a spot in a corner of the kitchen to a small lamp-heated pen in the old and smaller barn, to the roomy pens in the rear of the new barn, away from the pigs.
Jack is astonished at how dumb a bunch of chickens can be. If something disturbs them they all go flying into a corner of the pen, landing on top of each other, and they crowd in tight in a big heap. Every time this happens three or four die from suffocation! By the time they attain market size less than a third of them have survived this stupidity.
It's about three in the morning. Jack wakes up to find himself standing at the top of the stairs, and Mom is at the bottom. She's looking up at him with an annoyed expression.
"Victor, what are you doing?"
"Looking for my pants. I've got to get ready for school."
"No, silly. It's three o'clock in the morning. Go back to bed, you're dreaming."
Jack feels foolish. What on earth possessed him? How could this happen?
Jack is too young yet to work at a sawmill, where the wages are best. But his acquaintance with some of the hired hands who helped with the barn gets him in touch with several farmers in the area, and soon he's out in the fields with these men, hoeing potatoes, and corn, and later, haying. He has a hard time with the heat, doing the haying, but it's better than the slaughterhouse. One day in the summer holidays, after a long day's haying, he sits at the kitchen table, and slowly drinks a whole quart of milk!
He gets to know quite a few of the farmers in this valley, and is struck by how different the one can be from the other. In Bhutan they all seemed so alike, whereas here, they hardly seem to have anything in common. They come from all sorts of backgrounds, with different accents, different values, and dozens of different ways of farming. And each one criticizes all the others! Maybe that's one thing they do have in common, even with their Bhutan counterparts -- independence!
Something about working with the earth, the soil?
One Sunday Jack misses Mass in the morning, so he decides to catch the service at the little church on the Reservation, about four miles out of town. When he gets there, just a bit before three, he's surprised there aren't more vehicles around -- the place looks almost deserted; the tiny building is kind of clap trap, no visible paint, all grey old warped wood. It looks like an abandoned country school. Father Burns' car is there, and a few old pickups. Some Indian men are sitting in the pickups, talking.
Jack goes in.
Father Burns is just entering at the front. There is no altar boy, so he's doing everything himself. The inside of the church is in better condition. It even feels sort of homey. There are only about ten benches on each side, and half of them are empty. The remaining seats are occupied by women, mostly older women. Not a man in the place. Their dress is in keeping with the outside of the church; faded pastel dresses and nondescript sweaters. They seem overdressed for this warm weather. There is no sound at all, everyone waits in silence.
Jack enters and takes a seat towards the back, feeling very much out of place. No one looks around at his entry. Impassively, the women stare to the front of the room, watching the priest go about his preparations.
When the service starts, the women slowly and very quietly begin to chant. An Indian song, in their own language. It sounds weird, to Jack. Little by little they get louder. Father Burns seems not to notice. He proceeds with the Mass as if all were still. And then, as he turns towards the tiny congregation, "Domine vobiscum"... all the women fall dead silent! And when he turns back to the little altar, they start up again, slowly and softly, as before.
This sequence is repeated, again and again. Whenever the priest speaks, the chant stops abruptly, and when he is quiet the women begin their singing anew, softly at first, then louder and louder, until they are again cut off.
Jack is intrigued. There are two religious ceremonies going on here, each oblivious of the other. No fellowship here, no meeting of the minds, no joining of souls, no intercultural exchange or understanding. Point counterpoint of two solitudes!
Jack's younger brother Pietje has a problem at school. There is a bully making his life miserable. Jack decides to take a hand in this. Of course the bully is much younger than Jack, so there is no rough stuff. A very short, very firm talk.
"If you beat on my brother, I will beat on you." There, that should take care of it.
But two days later, Jack is summoned to the principal's office. The principal is a short goodlooking man, usually in a neat brown suit, with his dark brown hair cut very short, almost military, and very intense blue eyes.
"Victor, I got a phone call from a parent this morning. She said her son refuses to come to school. Because the older Spiets boy is beating up on him. Now, I don't know who that would be, I don't know of any other Spiets boy, do you?"
Jack is thinking: Why do you assume I'm about to duck this with a mistaken identity ruse?
But he says "Sir, that boy has been bullying my younger brother. I just told him if he doesn't stop, I will beat on him. But that's all it was, just talk. I guess he got a bit more scared than I thought he would."
"Hmmn. Apparently. Tell you what, I'm going to call back and get him to come in. When he does I'll send for you. Then I want you to meet him in here and set this straight. Okay?"
When Jack is sent for, early in the afternoon, he finds a worried boy who is obviously very much afraid of him.
"Vick, will you talk to this young man?"
"Yes sir." Turning to the boy, " Look, you know you've been bullying my younger brother, Peter. Do you think that's an okay thing to do?"
"Well then, you have to stop. And if you stop, I won't bother you. You understand? Is that fair?"
"I guess so."
"Will that be all, Sir?"
"That should be okay." To the boy "And you'll come in to school tomorrow, and there won't be any more trouble, right?"
"Okay, you can both go."
They leave together. Jack is sorry now, that he went quite so far. He wants to make the boy feel better, but he can't think of what to say.
So he just smiles, and says "It'll be alright."
The younger boy looks unconvinced. Jack is thinking, people take him so seriously! He had no intention of touching the kid at any time, and look what a couple of comments turned into.
As often as not when he makes a joke the connections are missed by his listeners; they don't appear to have or make the associations he does. Does this come from being a displaced person? A culture gap?
And he remembers how he would have to explain his thinking to the men building the barn, sometimes going over it three or even four times, even when the idea was not complicated or unusual. At least it didn't seem so to him. Not having very much building background to base it on, how could his reasoning be much out of the ordinary?