A girl’s best friend

My last post was prompted by a chance hearing of a song I had never heard before.  ‘Always trust your cape’ by Guy Clark awoke a memory of my son’s failed attempt at unassisted human flight.  Another video this morning helped me recall my daughter Tara’s early life with our dogs. I guess at my age these little nudges to boost memory are as welcome as…what was it now…oh yeah, ducks in May.  Tara was just about two years old at the time and very tiny for her age. I have read somewhere that, up to the age of two, children and dogs can communicate on a non-verbal level that can be quite amazing. We had two dogs at the time, a beautiful German Shepherd by name of Senta, and a Basenji named Isis. Two dogs with personalities that have as much in common as a fish and a bicycle.

Tara, at the age of almost two had developed a relationship with the Shepherd that was as close as a human and an animal can become. When she walked around the house with dog in tow, one could almost hear them talking to each other. Tara did most of the talking, while Senta grunted now and then…in approval I think. One morning something woke me early, around 6 am. Somehow, it was too quiet in the house. Usually Isis and Senta were up, chasing each other and having their first morning slurp of water. All noises I was used to as they usually helped me grab that additional 30 minutes of ‘dozing time’. Why was it so quiet in the house? Something was not right and I had to find out what was going on.

When I rounded the corner into the dining room there was the answer to my question. Tara’s mom had purchased some new dog treats the day before and had left them within Tara’s reach. I guess Senta told Tara to get them and start sharing the wealth with her. Now, unless you have had a close relationship with a German Shepherd, you may not fully understand the intelligence of these dogs. They can be very gentle, and their first instinct is always to serve us. Tara had poured some of the treats into a bowl and had seated herself between Senta’s front paws. With great enthusiasm and care she was feeding the dog, one treat at a time. “Open Senta”, Senta would open her huge mouth full of shiny white canines, Tara, delicately holding a single treat, would stick her toothpick size arm up to the elbow into Senta’s mouth, whereupon she would deposit the treat, withdraw her arm, and repeat the procedure.

Very quietly I watched for a minute or two, being careful to not surprise the dog or Tara. When I made myself known to them, the magic spell was broken. Both jumped up and ran over to greet me.

Tara was brought up with Senta and saw her as just another, if somewhat hairy, human being. When we brought her home from the hospital I showed her to Senta and Senta showed her approval by licking her tiny face. Tara’s love for dogs has never changed, but that early bond between human and animal is no longer there. The price we pay for being human. Enjoy the video.

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“Always trust your cape”

Like so many other fathers, I have a son who can be the bane of my existence. Don’t get me wrong, I love him and really care what happens in his life, but he does make it difficult sometimes. The strange thing with him, when he was in his teens, was that he never gave any hint that he wanted to break out, leave the nest and head for greener pastures. As a matter of fact, he stuck around and stuck around, and even when he left he kept on coming back. Well, finally I guess his inner voice told him to get the hell out and live his life somewhere far away from the safety net of Ol’ Dad. He ended up in Chile of all places, without a job and without money and without any real idea of what might come next. We lost all contact for about four and a half years and all but gave up on ever hearing from him again. Wouldn’t you know it, his sister found him and we reconnected. Will he come home? “No”, was his definitive answer. “I love it here, I love the people, I am learning Spanish, I am a chef in a great restaurant, and life couldn’t be any better.” Well, it relieved me to know that he was all right and had found what he had been searching for. I miss him, but with Skype and Email we can chat from time to time without causing him any discomfort. He’s a grown man now, no longer the kid I once knew, and he has made that ‘leap of faith’ we must all make if we want to take a hold of our own destiny. If it works out…great…if it doesn’t, you have only yourself to blame.

But I digress, let me step back a few years, almost forty now. The stairs going to the second floor of our house had a landing part way up, and the last set of stairs, about 10 of them, ended on the final landing, about a 4’x4′ pad. Young Fred loved Superman, and was very fond of wearing his official superman uniform, complete with cape. One day I heard him talking to himself at the top of the stairs while he was pacing around rather restlessly. I quietly sneaked into the hallway to see what he was up to, when I witnessed the final act of his experiment with flight. Trusting in his cape he took off with a great deal of energetic enthusiasm and became airborne. Yes, he flew all the way down those 10 stairs, all the way to the landing. Well, it wasn’t altogether a landing, so to speak, it was more like a crashing, if you get what I mean. There was no victory cry, just a blood-curdling scream as his head met the wall and he thumped onto the hardwood floor. I ran to his side to console him and to make sure that he hadn’t done himself any serious harm. Six year olds are like rubber ‘Gumbies’, they bounce, and he was OK. Thank goodness, he never tried that again, but somewhere in his psyche he retained this notion that, if he had to, he could fly. I guess we all do to some extend, some of us succeed (we call them entrepreneurs) others fall flat on their faces and must Continue reading

Emma


Emma is Tara and Bill’s little girl and our granddaughter.  She has been dancing since she was 4 years old, to the point that dancing has become second nature to her. Emma has a wall covered with trophies and medals from her annual competitions. She has spent a full year with the Nation Ballet School of Canada and is in the process of deciding what to do next. Whatever she chooses, it will be dance and it will be beautiful.

I would like to share with you some of her wonderful talents through a series of photographs. Enjoy the poise and beauty of this exceptional young person, our Emma.


My day with Marilyn Monroe

Have you ever had an event of such serendipity that you simply had to share it with others?  I recently did.  When I was 15 years old I worked part time at the Indian Trading Post in Banff, Alberta.   Hollywood produced a number of movies that summer including Monroe and Mitchum in “River of no Return”, not her best movie, but that’s another story.  I was very fortunate to meet Miss Monroe and that began my lifelong fascination with the actress and her troubled life.  The story I want to share with you consists of an Email I wrote to a playwright by the name of Ken Cameron, telling him about my personal experience with Marilyn Monroe, and his return Email which deals with his play “My One and Only”.

Good morning Ken,

I was pleasantly surprised to hear on the CBC News that a new book entitled “Marilyn Monroe in Alberta” has just been released.  Briefly, I would like to tell you about my connection with this story, and a really odd coincidence that has to do with your play ‘My One and Only’.  My father was chef at the Banff Springs Hotel when “River of no return” was filmed.  We had arrived the year previous to this event happening.  The year was 1953, I was then 15 years old and had found ‘after school’ employment with Norman Luxton, (*1) the owner of the Indian Trading Post which was central to some of the pictures in this book (Marilyn Monroe in Alberta).  Mr. Luxton called me on a Sunday morning and asked me to help him host some important movie people.  We opened the shop for Miss Monroe and her entourage, with a mob of photographers and onlookers plastered against the outside of the windows of the store.  It was my job to help her understand our displays that included stuffed animals, skins and many wonderful Indian handicrafts.

On one occasion Miss Monroe (she had her ankle bound) was sitting on her haunches trying to get a closer view of a fake animal in a glass case.  It was supposed to be a mermaid from one of our cold lakes.  When she attempted to get up she had great difficulty and I helped her to her feet to the catcalls and applause of the onlookers outside of the store.  Having been so close to someone so beautiful and famous was almost too much for me.  I have replayed that moment a thousand times since then, and have often questioned my personal feelings about the event.  Can you imagine falling for Marilyn Monroe at the tender age of 15.  Being in her presence at the Indian Trading Post was an odd sensation, since all of our moves within the store were amplified and exaggerated by the onlookers outside of the glass bowl; hooting and catcalling as a mob, each one trying to outdo the other.

Before she left the store I asked her if she would give me an autographed picture of herself, and she told me that she would call me from the hotel and I could pick it up.  The next day I received a call from her “lady in waiting” (a woman who was a little difficult) telling me that I should come to the hotel, ask to be shown to Miss Marilyn’s room and get the picture.  When I arrived in the lobby and people found out where I was going, I was immediately mobbed and loaded up with autograph books.  I arrived at her room where, in the presence of Otto Preminger and Joe DiMaggio (neither one I had ever heard of), Marilyn presented me with a personally autographed picture. After collecting the autograph books of the hotel staff, my brief moment with Marilyn Monroe was over.

In an odd way I did not see her as overtly beautiful.  In fact, I was surprised by her very ordinariness, an almost simple and innocent young woman who was lionized by this insane mob constantly surrounding her.  She wasn’t even allowed to have a hair out of place. In a way I felt sorry for her.

The picture she gave me has been a very special treasure all of these years, one that I will never let go.

I will try to get my hands on your play, since I think it would be fun to read about an event that ran parallel to my own experience.

Perhaps I could purchase a  copy of the play from you.

thank you for reading my story

sincerely

Fred Steinmetz

Dear Fred,

Thank you for writing such a wonderful account of your encounter with Marilyn Monroe. It is quite an interesting story and you told it very well. I was bowled over by the similarities between your story and the play that I wrote entitled My One And Only. As you rightly observed there is a connection – but I conclude you must be unaware of how closely the play tells mirrors your own story.

The play centres around a boy named Scout, who was 15 years old when Marilyn shot the film in Banff, the same age as you were when you met Marilyn. My play imagines what might have happened had Marilyn and this boy had an affair. The notion was not so far fetched to me, as Marilyn herself was abused while in a foster home, something that is sometimes a factor in such cases.

My One And Only asks the question what would happen to the rest of your life if your first love was Marilyn Monroe? Would you ever escape it? The play uses what’s called a non-linear narrative structure – that is, it bounces back and forth between 1954 when Scout first met Marilyn and 1963 when Marilyn has died, as well as a few other pivotal dates in this boy’s life – to illustrate that Scout cannot ever escape this memory. It seems from your letter that you may have been similarly haunted by the memory of the day you met Marilyn, though to a much lesser degree.

I received your email on the day that I was travelling to Edmonton for a launch of the collection of the plays that you refer to. That evening we planned to read a selection from each of the plays, and I hope that you will be pleased to know that after reading from the first two plays I pulled out your email and read it out loud by way of introduction to My One And Only. I realize now that I ought to have asked your permission in advance, but I was too excited not to seize the opportunity. Rest assured that the twenty-odd strangers in Edmonton who also know of your story loved your letter as much I.

Your letter, with its surreal coincidences with my fictional play, set the stage for what became a very magical evening.

Since each one of these plays had been performed in Edmonton at one point over the preceding six years, I had been able to arrange in advance to engage some actors from the original casts, including April Banigan, the talented actress who played Marilyn. April had been involved in the very first workshop of the play – a process wherein a theatre hires actors to come in and read the play over several days, in order to assist the playwright in visualizing the play. In our instance, we read the result in front of a live audience: April in her wig and simple costume was such an effective Marilyn that she became my muse whilst I wrote that play. (Her photo graces the inside pages.) April arrived at the reading that night dressed in the same wig and with the same mole in the corner of her cheek.

Since the actor playing Scout had moved to Vancouver I was privileged enough to play Scout opposite the actor who had played the investigating policeman on the one hand and the actress who had been my muse on the other. The scenes we read culminated in their first kiss and their subsequent encounter at midnight in the Secret Cave and Basin. Even years after the play had premiered, the skilled April Banigan gave such an effective impersonation I felt as if I had been momentarily and magically inserted into the fictional world I had written. It was truly an out-of-body experience.

So when you ask in your letter “Can you imagine falling for Marilyn Monroe at the tender age of 15?” I feel compelled to smile inwardly and answer “yes, Fred, I can imagine that.”

In return for proving to me that the universe is not just a collection of random particles, and by way of thanks for whatever universal impulses brought your email to me that strange day, I would like to offer you a copy of the play as my gift. I see by your address that you live in London ON. My parents – who are the subject of the first play in the collection – live in London and have offered to deliver a copy to you.

I hope it brings you joy,

best regards,

Ken Cameron

(*1)   Norman Luxton was a most interesting person who had lived a life full of great accomplishments and adventure.  When I worked for him he almost never talked of his exploits. So, with the help of the internet, I am now able to discover who he really was. I invite you to read about his seafaring adventures.

Little red MGA-love at first sight

So I thought to myself, perhaps I should consider changing the oil in my little Chinese-red racer.  This is the first summer that I have had the opportunity to drive my ‘58 MGA roadster.  During the past two years I have had to buy a steering mechanism all the way from New Zealand, new springs for the front suspension, a rebuilt windshield wiper unit, side  curtains, the list goes on and on……

However, it’s worth the cost and effort, and, driving an MGA on a sunny day is still one of the best cures for that crappy day feeling, for the blues, or just to make one feel a bit special.  Kids love to let you know that they ‘dig’ your car, they holler, give you thumbs up,  high-five, smiles and whistles.  It sort-of makes one feel ‘cool’ and young.  Older people pull up along side you and comment:  ”nice car”–“what year?”– “had one of those when they were new.”  If you drive one you know what I mean.  I’m off topic and I must get that oil changed.  At our Hoser-eh’s pub nights last week we had talked about the ‘spin-on oil filter adapter’, It sounded like the way to go.  No more fighting with that filthy oil filter that has become seized in its rusty holder.

So, once again I put off the drive and get down to the serious business of perfecting this ancient piece of machinery.

Step number 1.  Look up the part number in the handy-dandy Moss catalogue.

Number 2.  bring up ‘bookmarks on the old computer—Little British Car Company‘–  search–type in 235-940 and presto, up comes a part described as ‘Adapter kit, spin on oil filter’ MGA, MGB, thru ’67 (18G, G1, GB).  Obviously this is the part I have looked for and at an excellent price to boot, thank you Jeff Zorn, MG guru.  Oh, and I also need a shifter knob and the turning light green crystal (about the size of a lentil),  might as well get that too.

A few days later my parts arrive, an event every bit as exciting as Christmas.  I take the spin-on adapter out to the garage, open the hood – sorry, bonnet – and check my replacement part’s point of destination. At first glance it looks straight forward, spin the old one off–spin the new one on.  A second more careful inspection reveals a major problem.  My new adapter requires, what appears to be, a short rubber hose to transports the oil from the filter back to the engine.  My car’s oil filter canister is ‘sans’ hose.  A trip to Mike’s house (Mike also has an MGA, only his is in top-notch condition) proves that my engine is indeed different.  A quick reading of the Tech Sessions chapter on the subject (18/1 Page 115) tells me that I must have a 1500 ZA Magnette engine.  My engine number is BP 15M 5724–not even an MGA engine.  That should mean something really important, but for now I have hit a brick wall.  What to do next?

I check the condition of the oil, it’s golden and clear. Decision made.  I will go for a slow, lazy drive through the old neighbourhood. “Hey, what year is that?  I had one of those when they were new”,– “hey mister, nice car”.  Now, there was something really important I was going to do to my little Chinese-red chariot, but for the life of me I can’t remember what that was.  Driving my MGA always makes me feel so gosh-darned great.

Bearly believe it, an adventure set in Churchill, Manitoba

Ptarmigan-winter plumage

The thin blanket of snow under our boots crunched like crushed cellophane as we left the Iceberg Inn, our home-away-from-home.  We cautiously crossed the dimly lit deserted street to have dinner at Gypsy’s, a favourite eating establishment in town.  This was our second day in Churchill, Manitoba.  The day’s excursion in the much publicized tundra buggies had disappointingly brought us face to face with nothing more than a couple of red foxes and a small flock of ptarmigan.  As a Texan tourist had so aptly put it, “damned tundra buggies, I’ve traveled 2500 miles by train and plane, just to see a fox and a couple of pigeons.”

The travel brochures had promised sightings and close encounters with a variety of wildlife, especially the king of all North American mammals, the polar bear.  After all, this is the polar bear capital of the world, and a promise is a promise.

For now the day’s activities were behind us and we were hungry.  We crossed the road, as everyone does up here, with the certain knowledge that the great white bear could suddenly appear from out of nowhere, at any time.  The local, popular advice is, walk with someone who is slower than you, that way you can at least outrun them.  I knew that I was safe in that department, although I felt like a cad for even thinking of leaving my beloved Beth to the wants of a gigantic flesh-eating monster.   Hearts beating a bit faster than normal we finally reached the entrance to the restaurant.  Hearing the door bang shut returned us, for the time being, to feeling safe.  We would deal with the walk home later.

We removed our awkward but cozy northern winter gear (I had purchased a fur-lined Siberian style hat for the occasion) and settled in for a comfort meal of fish and chips and hot coffee.  What a great little place in such a remote setting.  A dining room, the usual selection of photographs of bears, local gifts actually produced in the north, and a well stocked deli section.  It gave this establishment the appearance of a ritzy resort in the Rockies.

Next to us sat a very attentive young father and his 10-year-old future Wayne Gretzky.  They were discussing the evening’s hockey game at the local arena.

The young man leaned over and introduced himself.  “Hi, I’m Vern and this here is my son, you folks enjoying your visit to our town?”

“We are indeed,”  I replied, “except we managed to miss the move of the polar bears onto the ice, and we hope that some time this week we’ll be lucky to see at least one.”

Vern turned out to be a great source of information and lore about this part of the world.  He regaled us with stories of his father’s success in the tourist business, his plans, south of town, for a brand new resort complex, and plenty of scary stories about people getting attacked by bears in and around the town. By the time we finished our dinner, we had won over a good friend for the upcoming four days.  “Tell you what,” Vern offered, “take my truck tomorrow and go out to the dump, you’ll see bears for sure.  I, and the whole town, will be at the ‘Ducks Unlimited‘ banquet at the recreation hall, and your Innkeeper Dick can drive me home when the banquet is over.  The truck is white and it will be running in the front row of the parking lot. Pick it up and have a great time.”

Well, that was an offer too good to pass up—an opportunity to take my lovely wife to the dump, and finally a chance to see some polar bears.

Darkness comes early this far north and at the end of November.  Around seven o’clock the following day we nervously made our way down a deserted, unlit street, across, what seemed like a 60 acre field, and over to the parking lot in front of the recreation hall.  We moved quickly and nervously, knowing that we could most certainly be attacked at any moment.  Half hidden by a white cloud of hot exhaust, a white half-ton Chevy truck was idling and had probably been doing so for the past hour.  For some reason people will not turn off their vehicle’s engine, unless it’s absolutely necessary to do so.  Or so it seems.

Our hearts still pounding, we quickly climbed aboard. The heater had been running and our cab was very hot.

“Safe again Beth,” I said jokingly, “hang on for an adventure, you and I off to the dump in Churchill, cavorting with the great white bear of the north.”  I think she was impressed, and if not impressed, she certainly appeared excited about what lay ahead of us.

The drive out of town was quiet and beautiful. We silently skimmed across a fresh snowfall under a clear sky and a full moon. To the north of us we could see the ragged, blue-green, curtains of the aurora borealis whipping across the vast expanse of the northern sky.   We had the road to ourselves and we were gliding across the top of the world.

The 20 km partially paved road skirts Hudson Bay, passes the airport, the holding compound for delinquent bears, the now retired rocket range, the dump, and a few scattered cottages.  I guess even in a remote place like Churchill people find it necessary to escape the rat-race of town living.

“Let me see if this thing will shift into four-wheel drive on the fly, it might help us when we turn down the unpaved road into the dump,”  I said, talking mostly to myself.  Beth is not very much impressed with my love for all things mechanical.  I pulled the floor shifter forward and was indeed in four-wheel drive.  “Now that I know it works, I’ll just return to normal two-wheel drive until we get to the turn-off.”

That was to be the last statement of absolute certainty to come out of my mouth for some time.  From here on the mysterious forces of the far north took over our destiny.  I tried to shift out of four-wheel drive and into two-wheel drive on the fly, but only managed to grind the gears with a horribly destructive sound.  “I will have to stop this thing and make the change,” I said, trying to maintain a calm and rational voice so as not to show the panic that was suddenly welling up inside of me.  “No need to worry, I can, after all, drive this thing in four-wheel drive all day, it won’t hurt the truck.”  I know that it won’t hurt the truck, but I do want to prove to myself and to Beth that I can do this…I am a man and, I know something about cars.  “Only one thing left to do, I will pull over, shut off the engine, disengage four-wheel drive, restart the engine and Bob’s your uncle.”

Well–I did–and it did not.  No, it would not start.  I tried everything in my repertoire of possible solutions; it  just went ‘click’ as the lights momentarily dipped lower.  This truck is powered by propane, perhaps there is a switch somewhere that one must activate, perhaps a button to push, perhaps two at a time.  Why is there no light in this cab?  I just pulled the right radio knob off, how stupid is that?  Could it be that panic is robbing me of my mechanical know-how?  “Beth, where are we?” I asked, mainly to change the topic and to give the appearance of being in control and calm.

“I think we are about half a kilometer from the dump, and we have just passed the airport, and I am beginning to panic—my door is ajar will not close, the heater motor is screeching, you don’t seem to know what to do or where we are, there is no traffic in sight, and we are within a bear’s smelling distance of the dump.  Nobody will look for us for at least four hours, they’re all at the stupid ‘Unlimited Ducks’ thing, and by the time they do look for us we’ll be either frozen or eaten.”  That was the most she had spoken all night and, she seemed to be as scared as I was.

“Don’t worry” I said, giving the appearance of supreme confidence, “I know how to get somebody’s attention, I know the distress signal…surely there must be people at the airport nearby–just over the ridge–hidden just over the ridge.”  I started with the international distress signal, three of anything will do the trick, three light flashes, three horn beeps, three screams…”is anybody listening?”

With all of this commotion coming from our truck I was actually beginning to worry that I might be attracting the wrong kind of attention.  What if the bears at the dump thought that we were an interesting sort of flashing food conveyance, or someone wanting to compete for their stinking garbage?  What if they made their way over here to investigate…Beth’s door was still slightly ajar and would not close, a bear could easily insert one of those four-inch claws and rip the door wide open. Earlier that day we had seen the results of an SUV ripped to pieces and the windshield smashed by a polar bear who wanted to get at a scientist’s lunch.  Luckily he had left the vehicle and gone into a home nearby.  Our truck would be easy prey.

After about half an hour sitting idle in this tin can, our windows were beginning to freeze up from our hot breaths, and we were left with no view out.  Earlier on we decided not to run the screeching heater for fear of gaining the attention of hungry bears that must surely be closing in on us for a closer look.  The outside temperature was at least -15° C, it was getting cold in here—and still not a single soul on the road.

By now we had both lost all sense of humor and an eerie quiet had come over us.  In situations like this it was best to stay calm and rational, not to leave the safety of the vehicle, and hope that help is just around the corner.  “I am getting out to better see what is around us and perhaps I can get help.”  I said without any real conviction.

“Oh no you don’t!” Beth screamed at me. “You get your ass in here and you stay in here with me, and if they come and get us…they’ll find the two of us!”  I was not about to argue with her solid reasoning, and so we settled in for the long wait.

Suddenly, after what must have been a full hour of quiet terror and absolute resignation to our inevitable demise, lights appeared over the slight hill behind us.  Someone was coming from town.  I jumped out of the truck, stood in the middle of the road, and waved my arms like a crazy man.  All of my fear of bears gone…stop that vehicle!…was my only thought.

We were snatched from the claws and teeth of certain death, and safe in the comfort of our rescuer’s truck. He introduced himself with an East European accent as Boris, and told us that he had moved to Churchill many years ago, and he was on his daily trip along the coast trail.  So here we sat, trying hard to hide our trembling. A cosy foursome consisting of Boris, his snarling German shepherd, Beth and myself, all on the truck’s bench seat, heading back to town and to the ‘Ducks Unlimited’ banquet.

Politely and patiently listening to my rantings, Vern was terribly apologetic about his truck and offered it to us for the next day.  We agreed, but secretly we both knew that one outing in Vern’s truck was enough for this trip, and we thanked him for his very generous offer.  We returned to the Iceberg Inn and sat up until two in the morning giggling, laughing, speculating ‘what if’ scenarios;  all the while thanking our lucky stars that we had not actually reached the dump, turned off the key and watched the cute polar bears.  We were told that there had been eight bears sighted at the dump that evening.  Hearing that, I broke out in a cold sweat and thanked the friendly spirits of the north for our safe deliverance.  We both agreed that we could not have survived a visit to the dump.

When I paid Vern a visit at his garage the next day, he said exactly what I expected him to say.  “I don’t know what you did Fred, but I went out after the banquet, got into the truck, turned the key, and started it.”

“Thanks Vern, I really did not need to hear that.”

Next time we go to the dump in Churchill we’ll tell the bears that they lost out on a great feast that night long ago.