Stories Handed Down

I volunteer in a Grade 6 class. I read to the group and help individual kids with assignments. But what I love the most is telling stories from my life, in hopes that seeds will be planted in some of those kids.

Last week, I told them about meeting a Haida “watchman” in Haida Gwaii, an archipelago north of Vancouver Island. He told me about how “white men’s diseases” decimated the Haida population, and how hundreds of their children were stripped of their dignity in far away residential schools. I watched the kids’ faces. Many of them seemed to get the tragedy of it all.

This morning I had breakfast in the Belmont Diner. I sat at the counter with two local gentlemen, probably both of them in their 80’s. Stories were told, this time with me on the receiving end.

1. A young man walks along a plank suspended over a huge tub of molasses. He slips … and is instantly up to his neck in the stuff. Co-workers hauled and hauled and finally got him out of the tub. God only knows how he ever got cleaned up.

2. “Fred” lived right by the railway tracks. Before the world of lights and descending gates, he sat in his car and stopped traffic when he heard the train whistle. To while away the time, Fred drank beer. Apparently he polished off 24 bottles most days of his adult life … and lived to 90 or so.

3. Both of my companions had big run-ins with teachers. One got fed up with getting harassed for just having “a little fun”. One day in Grade 10 he walked out and never came back. A week later, he was working at the local hardware store.

The other chap went to a two-room school out in the country. His female teacher for Grades 5 to 8 was to be a woman who never smiled and appeared to hate boys. He was always being called out for something. Imagining three more years of this, my currently coffee-drinking friend went to his father and somehow got switched to another school. Future contact with the teacher was met with stony silence on both sides.

4. My little village of Belmont, many decades ago, had five gas stations! All this to serve a population of 500.

5. Then there was the story of an underaged guy getting into a bar in Detroit. The same fellow who was sitting beside me. I’ll spare you the heroic details.

***

While the tales were being spun with gusto, another fellow walked in and joined us at the counter. His first words:

The purple asters are covered with little yellow butterflies

So … old guys tell stories to a somewhat younger old guy who tells stories to 11-year-old kids. May it always be this way. It’s how we learn about life.

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