So Are They All

I WROTE A SHORT STORY CALLED “So Are They All”. It is one of a collection of over fifty that I have created, many of them about the fictitious Mennonite village of Hartplatz. This story concerns acts of honour, violence, justice and redemption. I took cues from Julius Caesar where some of the same timeless themes may be found.

The story was entered in the Write on the Lake fiction contest held by the Lake Winnipeg Writers’ Group where it won second place and was published in their semi-annual journal, Voices. On Sunday, Nov 20, I attended the launch of Vol 16 Number 2 and read an excerpt from the story.

This is the twentieth consecutive publication of the Voices literary journal, so, as Leamington Dave would say, “this ain’t no disco”.

The President, Jeanne Gougeon; the editor, Maurice Guimond and the large turnout were all welcoming and I could feel them willing me to do well as I began my oration. I am no stranger to public speaking like this but, damn, I still hate it. I have died many a coward’s death the night before these kinds of events. One of my unfortunate involuntary affectations – brought on by nerves I suspect – is sniffing. (Yes, like Donald Trump in the US debates.)  It’s as if my family-size nose, and its enthusiastic contribution to the nasal quality of my voice, becomes moistened by all the reverberation. An annoying drip results and the mic picks up each snuffling snort.

Snot issues aside, it went well, except that Jan – my wife and stalwart (but not a braggart) corner woman – was nowhere to be found! Her bright red jacket was not in the audience as I looked up during my reading. I searched for her reassuring nod and smile – but she was AWOL.

Turns out she was in the audience, just not this particular audience. McNally Robinson was holding two events that cold November Sunday on the frozen tundra of Grant Park Shopping Centre: the LWWG launch of Voices (2 PM, south reading room) and the launch of best selling author Romeo Dallaire, retired general and former senator, who was there to present “Waiting for 1st Light” a much anticipated memoir. (3 PM, north reading room.)

Although his and mine are both stories about noble intent, conflict, honour and the consequences therein, author/general (ret)/senator R. Dallaire’s talk was the more strongly attended. The place was BLOCKED! Jan and I had been separated when we entered the bookstore (potty break). When Jan saw the (north) lectern and noticed the available seating was filling up fast she grabbed a seat and saved one for me.

Alas, at about this same time I was just south of her accepting my humble accolades and sniffling my way through an excerpt of my story. With my phone turned off, I was oblivious to Jan; pinned down on the nearby Dallaire beachhead and requesting reinforcements.

Here friends, countrymen and countrywomen is the excerpt I read:

Hence :

Second only to the Hedy Lamarr beauty of Em Gerbrandt was the beguiling feminine charm of the Gidget-like Ms. Froese, our teacher. Of course, Ms. did not exist then, only Misses and she was one. Around five feet tall, bobbed blonde hair, saddle shoes, cashmere sweaters and rocket bras. I am sure I had no distinct thought then of the part of her anatomy contained therein, only that it was soft and pleasing when she leaned over to help you with a problem and she happened to make fuzzy impact with your head or shoulder.
.
Miss Froese was sweet-natured and young and I remember the utter sadness I felt when, later that same school year, on November 22, she ran crying from the room after telling us that school would be cancelled for the day because of what had happened in a place called Dallas, Texas.
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The next day we returned to school and added, “America the Beautiful” right after our normal singing of “God Save the Queen”. A big box of Kleenex sat on her desk and was empty before science that afternoon. Baseball and the Kennedys were things about the United States that our well-traveled neighbour, Mr. Vogel, had made certain that I appreciated so I felt a special kinship with Miss Froese that desperate day in November.
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Lenny’s dental reckoning was months before the events of Dealey Plaza, but I already had a crush on Miss Froese by then. I was happy to clean chalk brushes after school, run to ask the janitor to open sticky classroom windows on hot afternoons, or agree to appear in the class play. If she had a need, I agreed. So, it was not surprising that when she asked where Lenny was on the second day of his absence, I raised my hand, eager to share with Miss Froese the solemn news. Though under oath to keep this quiet, how could it harm to tell HER? She was, like me, only concerned with Lenny’s well-being.
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“Yes, Mattheus?” she asked, seeing my upraised hand. “Do you know why Leonard is not here again today?”
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“Yes, ma’am. He is at the dentist. His teeth are all black from too much candy and he is getting them fixed. He is brave and he probably won’t even cry,” I reported in detail.
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That day was Friday. On Saturday afternoon, as I collected interesting rocks from the driveway between Grandma’s house and the back of the bakery, Lenny pedalled up to me. He let his bicycle fall clattering as he jumped off.
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“Zehen!” he shouted, through a clenched jaw still tender from the dentist.
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“Hi, Lenny,” I said, standing, “How are your teeth?”
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“Why don’t you ask Eleanor?” he said, scoffing, “or Ruby, or the Kehler twins or…”
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Wait,” I yelled, putting my hand up to stop his rushing words

*SNIP*

The Voices book is only $12 CAD and can be had here *or at McNally Robinson in Winnipeg. Besides finding out how Lenny and Matt sign the Barkman Avenue Peace Accord, you may also read a lot of other terrific prose and poetry. The Adult Fiction~First Place story, “The Rocking Horse Keeper” is a moving tale, with mythic aboriginal overtones and a lightness that makes it, well…rock!

*$34 CAD, for TWO copies of Voices (Vol 16, No. 2 and 3), including shipping and handling.

allfornow – m

~~~
#NovemberNotes – Nov 22

 

Copyright Mitchell Toews ©2016

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Coming Attractions

Well, as Facebook will attest and remind – should I ever be mercifully allowed to forget – my birthday is coming up.

“Get plastered, you bastard,” was the line in the cover version of the Happy Birthday song we used to sing to celebrate these milestones. Now, my consciousness-indicator (an app I use to show Jan when I am awake and when I am asleep) goes into the semi-awake mode when I crack my third beer, so getting plastered won’t be on the agenda. (I fall asleep before the plastering can take place.)

The one possible exception was when Jan left me alone with my Irish son-in-law and his dad. James and Tom showed me a thing or two about how to drain a St. Catherines craft brew. Several, in deed. Some parget activity did, in fact occur there among Canada’s rich and famous, but the only manifestation that I could observe was that our stories were truly hilarious.

Speaking of draining…back before I was a son-in-law, and also before I had any sons-in-law of my own, my buds and I used to say, “draining”, as in,

Q: “What are you doing on Friday night?”

A: “We’re going draining. You?”

Other fine turns of phrase from them days:

Paving, being paved, on a paver. This is a lyrical conjugation. Paving is when a teenager with too rich an ingested blend of greasy food and alcohol, must expel a portion of it. When the expulsion takes place out of the window of someone’s car, and the expelled material falls beneath the rear wheel of the slowly moving vehicle – that, eager students of higher learning, is paving.  Being paved is when one is inebriated and is likely to do some paving. By logical extension, being on a paver is – usually on a long-weekend – an extended  period of paving and being paved.

Shaker. A shaker is a party. But, more than that, a really good party. Women, inebriants, a few existentialists, a little knuckle justice. If the shaker were to wane, it might spawn a…

Country Tour. Accompanied by John Prine, Emmy Lou, Kristofferson, Leonard Cohen (RIP) or that lad from Hibbing, a group of teenagers drive slowly along gravel mile roads on the prairies. The car, powerless to refuse, is set in Drive or first gear (if a standard) and it idles along while deep discussion ensues. Synonym: Booze cruise. Disambiguation: when a lot of singing takes place, it may become a “drinkalong”. Related Terms: If the driver falls asleep or is busy paving and the car runs off the road, the vehicle becomes a “tree machine”.

As you can see, mine was a rich adolescence, filled with the type of sophisticated experiences that have made The Simpsons a popular show for 28 seasons.

Anyway. Just before my next birthday – this Sunday – I will read aloud my story, “And So Are They All” at the launch of the seventeenth edition of the semi-annual print journal, Voices. It is published by the Lake Winnipeg Writers’ Group and the event is at the McNally Robinson book store on Grant Avenue in Winnipeg @ 2:00 PM. The story has absolutely nothing to do with paving, tree machines, et al. Here is a snippet:

Second only to the Hedy Lamarr beauty of Em Gerbrandt was the beguiling feminine charm of the Gidget-like Ms. Froese, our teacher. Of course, Ms. did not exist then, only Misses and she was one. Around five feet tall, bobbed blonde hair, saddle shoes, cashmere sweaters and rocket bras. I am sure I had no distinct thought then of that conically constrained part of her anatomy, only that it was soft and pleasing when she leaned over to help you with a problem and she happened to make fuzzy impact with your head or shoulder.

Soon after, another story of mine will be released into the wild. On Tuesday, Nov 22 my short story “South Oromocto Depths” will be published on Literally Stories. It is a story with some connection to the aforementioned tomfoolery, although this perspective is a bit more obverse – it looks at some of the negative aspects of drink. Here’s a teaser:

I padded silently across the cold floor, pulling a hooded sweater over my head. Surveying the scene, hands on my hips like a construction supervisor, I shook my head slowly. The glass ashtray on the blue Formica kitchen table was jammed with white cigarette butts, overflowing. “Alpine” was printed in menthol green font and many butts were on the table. Black ash was mixed into spilled beer, the crummy remnants of a bag of Cheezies was in a large mixing bowl and orange bits also joined with the wet beer-ash mixture on the table.
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The place smelled like bum. A single, long Alpine cigarette was planted in a round-edged pound of butter that rested on its unfurled aluminum wrapper. The cigarette stood proudly up from the butter – a lone palm tree on a deserted yellow beach. Evidence of a few taps of ash decorated the foil.

Today, Nov 17, incidentally, is Literally Stories second anniversary. Please remember that those are internet years, so multiply X seven. Happy Fourteenth, LS!

allfornow – mitch

 

Copyright Mitchell Toews ©2016