Tag Archives: 147 Stanley Street

Lord of the Fishes

By Ed Staskus

The  North Rustico beach slivers itself at the mouth of the harbor of the town, on Prince Edward Island, Canada’s smallest province. The crescent shaped island is tucked into the shoulders of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, across the Northumberland Strait. On the far side of the Gulf of St. Lawrence is Newfoundland. Europe is the farther landfall across the Atlantic Ocean.

North Rustico is on the north-central coast, on Route 6, between Cavendish and Rusticoville. Some of it can be seen from the deck of Pedro’s Eatery, where Route 6 dips and curves through the middle of town, the market and gas station, the bakery and the credit union, the lobster restaurant and the post office. The rest of it is within a few minutes, down the harbor road and up some side roads.

It’s all within easy sight of the flocks of seagulls who fly up and down the coast.

Frank and Vera Glass, staying at the Coastline Cottages just outside of town, drove the mile-or-so from their cottage along the parkway, past Rollings Pond to the parking lot at the back of the beach, where a creek empties, up the dirt road to the other lot, parked in front of a sign saying the beach was unattended by life guards, walked up and then down the path to the beach, and made fast at a nice spot on the sand not far from the shoreline.

It was sunny and fair, the sun behind them, as they unfolded their low-slung blue canvas chairs, plopping into them, pulling books from their Pedro, a yellow and black re-purposed bicycle messenger bag.

Vera was reading an autobiography of Agnes de Mille.

Frank was reading “The Durrels of Corfu.” He interrupted Vera every few minutes with something funny he had just read. Vera thought, you’re slowing me down, dude, even though she was a slow reader, anyway.

“Did you see that sign?” she asked Frank.

“No, what sign?”

“The sign beside the lifeguard cabana, the one that said, ‘Caution! Attention!’”

“There are no lifeguards, not until next week,” said Frank. “I saw that sign when we parked.”

“It’s the North Rustico Beach welcome sign, the big red and white sign when you walk onto the beach, the one that says rip currents, strong offshore winds, beware of large surf, and don’t use inflatables.”

Frank looked out at the flat quiet water, the spaghetti surf, and the wide sky dotted with puffy clouds standing still.

“No, I didn’t see that sign,” he said. “Anyway, it seems beside the point today.”

“It does, doesn’t it,” said Vera, smiling at her husband.

They read their books, watched couples walking by barefoot, children running, and a head down in a cell phone shuffling past. A family set up camp nearby, Vera took a nap, and Frank rolled out of his canvas chair and practiced a half-hour of yoga on the warm sand. He didn’t have a mat, but it didn’t matter. He turned and pulled and released and twisted one way and the other.

When he was done he rolled back into his low-slung chair.

“That felt good,” he said.

“I’m glad, honey,” said Vera. “What was that last thing you did, the twisty thing? I haven’t seen you do that before.”

“It’s called Lord of the Fishes,” he said. “It’s supposed to be good for your lower back.”

Vera didn’t do yoga in any of its forms, although she was glad Frank did. He had a bum back and the exercises kept him on his feet. The thinking behind the practice – Frank liked to call it that – also seemed to be good for him, keeping him on the tried and true straight and narrow.

“Do you remember the last time we had dinner with Barron at Herb’s Tavern, and he spent coffee and dessert railing about how steady as it goes has gone big top high wire?” Frank asked Vera.

“Yes, I do,” said Vera, remembering the carrot cake she had not been able to fully enjoy.

Barron Cannon owned and operated and taught at a small yoga studio near where Frank and Vera lived in Lakewood, Ohio, an inner ring suburb on the shores of Lake Erie, west of Cleveland. He was between young and middle-aged, married but divorced – what woman could stand living with him, Vera wondered – a post-modern sensibility with a PhD in philosophy, but a yoga traditionalist. He taught the exercise poses, but always in the context of the other arms of yoga, which he considered the essential parts of the practice.

Whenever he was in high dudgeon he complained about the 21st century western emphasis on the physical aspects of yoga.

“Everywhere you go, everywhere you look, it’s asana on the mat, in a hot room, an hour of hard work and it’s back to whatever else you are up to. When did yoga become work hard, no pain, no gain? When did it become just another something on the checklist, getting fit, staying ahead? When did it become competitive, a race to the finish, another rat bastard in the rat race?”

Barron was Frank’s friend. Vera tolerated him for her husband’s sake. She didn’t dislike Barron, but she disliked it when he said things like, “Nobody worth their salt is nice.”

“I was going to tell Barron about Eric Young, mention his ideas, but I didn’t,” said Frank. “We would never have gotten out of Herb’s, at least not until after closing time, if then.”

“Who’s Eric Young?” asked Vera.

“A Baltimore guy, a lot like Barron in some respects, teaches some yoga, aerial style, a big fan of the Baltimore Orioles, which is too bad,” said Frank.

“Why were you going to bring him up to Barron?” asked Vera.

“Because he’s on the other side of the teeter totter,” said Frank.

“What’s too bad about the Orioles?”

“You don’t want to know.”

“Competitive yoga started in India, not the west, but that’s a minor detail,” said Eric. “I am curious, though, at the idea of the physical becoming the more dominant focus, and so many people feel the need to tell other people that’s not yoga when there is no agreed upon definition. If we are all properly practicing an inward journey, shouldn’t that remove the need to be concerned what others do and what they call or label the activity in which they are doing it?”

“That makes sense to me,” said Vera.

“There’s more,” said Frank.

“Setting aside the definitions of yoke and some of the more deeper translations and interpretations of yoga from the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, and setting aside the atman and seer ideas, for the average practitioner they will have no understanding, or care to,” said Eric.

“In my yoga teacher training class, I would say half had no idea there was anything beyond the physical. To many, yoga is a down dog, a bird of paradise, with a glass of wine after, and for some, a puppy or a baby goat wandering by. I say more power to them, for at least two reasons. First, if they are truly in the present, they are doing a lot of the work, even if not labeled as such, and if they do it enough, the work will pay off one way or another. Second, if I am doing my yoga, in whatever form that means to me, then I should not be bothered one way or another. As no one owns the term and there are so many different facets, it’s arrogant for me to say you’re wrong.”

“I’m not sure Barron would be good with that,” said Vera.

“You know how Barron is. He would have plenty to say,” said Frank.

“I will concede if your business is teaching, and I set up shop next door spouting I know as much and am as good a teacher, which I don’t and am not, you have every right to be bothered by this, but that’s business, not yoga,” said Eric. “I don’t think the gurus of yore were bothered by what another one did on the other side of the country. But for those who say because it’s not four thousand years old, only two hundred years, and it’s not authentic, I call that bullshit.”

“He speaks his mind,” said Vera.

“There is wisdom and there is gray hair,” said Eric.

“I wouldn’t put Eric and Barron in the same room,” said Vera.

“I don’t know about that,” said Frank. “They’re both on the same yoga planet.”

“What planet are you on?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, don’t put them in the same room, for God’s sake. They may be on the same planet, but they’re not coming from the same place. That would be a head-on collision.”

Vera and Frank heard a sudden loud squarking from the shoreline, and when they looked towards the sound, they saw a herring gull dragging a rock crab out of the surf. The crab latched onto the bird with large claw, swinging side-to-side as the seagull flapped up. The bird shook the crab off, dropping it into the surf, and going after it again, pecking and pecking. When the seagull dragged the crab out of the water it began to slash at it, killing it, if the crustacean wasn’t already dead, pulling it landwards whenever the surf rolled it back towards the ocean.

“I thought their shells protected them from birds,” said Frank.

“Maybe the shell was cracked already,” said Vera.

“One of the guys at the harbor told me that gulls will pick up shellfish, fly them up in the air, and drop them on rocks so their shells crack when they land.”

“I didn’t know seagulls had it in their pea brains to be able to think that out,” said Vera.

“It’s a dog eat dog world,” said Frank. “Seagulls are intelligent. They can unlock trash bins. They’re omnivores and they’ll eat anything. I read about a black-backed gull down on Cape Cod that snatched up a miniature chihuahua, right off the beach, and the dog has not been seen since.”

They watched the seagull rip legs off and pull goopy innards out of the crab, until there wasn’t anymore left to be had. The big white and gray bird arched its neck, cawed several times, and flew away. The remains of the crab slowly but surely rolled back into the ocean.

“What time does Doiron’s close?” asked Vera.

“Six,” said Frank.

“What time is it now?”

Frank looked at his iPhone.

“Quarter of six,” he said.

“Drive me over me there” said Vera. “You can drop me of and I’ll walk back to the cottage.”

“All right, maybe I’ll drive up the parkway, go for a walk around Orby Head, and we can meet back at the cottage,” said Frank.

He dropped his wife off at the fish market.

Doiron Fisheries is on the wharf on Harbourview Drive. It’s been there since the 1950s.  It’s a small storefront with a big sign over the door, a long shallow front room chock full of haddock, hake, halibut, salmon, mackerel, oysters, mussels, scallops, and cooked crab.

Frank drove up Church Hill Road, past the Stella Maris church and the graveyard, and down to the National Park kiosk. They had a seasonal pass attached to the stem of the rear view mirror of their Hyundai Tucson, and when the attendant in the kiosk glanced up and waved him through, Frank swung the car to the left up the hill into the seashore park.

He had once stopped and asked the teenager in a National Parks shirt behind the drive-through window, “What do you call this building?”

“We call it the gate,” she said.

“The gate?”

“That’s it, yup, the gate.”

Frank drove past Doyle’s Cove and the Coastline Cottages. The cottages are in the Prince Edward Island National Park, but aren’t a part of the park. The Doyle’s kept their land, in the family for a dog’s age, not selling it to Canada when the park was established. There are a handful of their houses, one nearly a hundred years old, another one newly built last year, within sight. They are the only homes in sight.

He drove the two miles-or-so up the Gulf Shore Way, pulled off the road at Orby Head, and went for a walk along the red sandstone cliff. He lay down face forward on the other side of the rope fence and looked down at the waves churning and breaking on the narrow rocky landing far below.

A group of cormorants in a v formation flew past, nearly at eye level. He closed his eyes and breathed evenly for a few minutes. He heard a car pull in, its tires crunching on the gravel. He opened his eyes, got up, and walked back to his car.

When he stepped into the cottage the lowering sun was lighting up the kitchen window, and Vera was at the stove.

“What are you making for dinner?” he asked.

“Crab cakes,” she said.

Ed Staskus posts stories on 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Cleveland Ohio Daybook http://www.clevelandohiodaybook.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

By Ed Staskus

The  North Rustico beach slivers itself at the mouth of the harbor of the town, on Prince Edward Island, Canada’s smallest province. The crescent shaped island is tucked into the shoulders of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, across the Northumberland Strait. On the far side of the Gulf of St. Lawrence is Newfoundland. Europe is the farther landfall across the Atlantic Ocean.

North Rustico is on the north-central coast, on Route 6, between Cavendish and Rusticoville. Some of it can be seen from the deck of Pedro’s Eatery, where Route 6 dips and curves through the middle of town, the market and gas station, the bakery and the credit union, the lobster restaurant and the post office. The rest of it is within a few minutes, down the harbor road and up some side roads.

It’s all within easy sight of the flocks of seagulls who fly up and down the coast.

Frank and Vera Glass, staying at the Coastline Cottages just outside of town, drove the mile-or-so from their cottage along the parkway, past Rollings Pond to the parking lot at the back of the beach, where a creek empties, up the dirt road to the other lot, parked in front of a sign saying the beach was unattended by life guards, walked up and then down the path to the beach, and made fast at a nice spot on the sand not far from the shoreline.

It was sunny and fair, the sun behind them, as they unfolded their low-slung blue canvas chairs, plopping into them, pulling books from their Pedro, a yellow and black re-purposed bicycle messenger bag.

Vera was reading an autobiography of Agnes de Mille.

Frank was reading “The Durrels of Corfu.” He interrupted Vera every few minutes with something funny he had just read. Vera thought, you’re slowing me down, dude, even though she was a slow reader, anyway.

“Did you see that sign?” she asked Frank.

“No, what sign?”

“The sign beside the lifeguard cabana, the one that said, ‘Caution! Attention!’”

“There are no lifeguards, not until next week,” said Frank. “I saw that sign when we parked.”

“It’s the North Rustico Beach welcome sign, the big red and white sign when you walk onto the beach, the one that says rip currents, strong offshore winds, beware of large surf, and don’t use inflatables.”

Frank looked out at the flat quiet water, the spaghetti surf, and the wide sky dotted with puffy clouds standing still.

“No, I didn’t see that sign,” he said. “Anyway, it seems beside the point today.”

“It does, doesn’t it,” said Vera, smiling at her husband.

They read their books, watched couples walking by barefoot, children running, and a head down in a cell phone shuffling past. A family set up camp nearby, Vera took a nap, and Frank rolled out of his canvas chair and practiced a half-hour of yoga on the warm sand. He didn’t have a mat, but it didn’t matter. He turned and pulled and released and twisted one way and the other.

When he was done he rolled back into his low-slung chair.

“That felt good,” he said.

“I’m glad, honey,” said Vera. “What was that last thing you did, the twisty thing? I haven’t seen you do that before.”

“It’s called Lord of the Fishes,” he said. “It’s supposed to be good for your lower back.”

Vera didn’t do yoga in any of its forms, although she was glad Frank did. He had a bum back and the exercises kept him on his feet. The thinking behind the practice – Frank liked to call it that – also seemed to be good for him, keeping him on the tried and true straight and narrow.

“Do you remember the last time we had dinner with Barron at Herb’s Tavern, and he spent coffee and dessert railing about how steady as it goes has gone big top high wire?” Frank asked Vera.

“Yes, I do,” said Vera, remembering the carrot cake she had not been able to fully enjoy.

Barron Cannon owned and operated and taught at a small yoga studio near where Frank and Vera lived in Lakewood, Ohio, an inner ring suburb on the shores of Lake Erie, west of Cleveland. He was between young and middle-aged, married but divorced – what woman could stand living with him, Vera wondered – a post-modern sensibility with a PhD in philosophy, but a yoga traditionalist. He taught the exercise poses, but always in the context of the other arms of yoga, which he considered the essential parts of the practice.

Whenever he was in high dudgeon he complained about the 21st century western emphasis on the physical aspects of yoga.

“Everywhere you go, everywhere you look, it’s asana on the mat, in a hot room, an hour of hard work and it’s back to whatever else you are up to. When did yoga become work hard, no pain, no gain? When did it become just another something on the checklist, getting fit, staying ahead? When did it become competitive, a race to the finish, another rat bastard in the rat race?”

Barron was Frank’s friend. Vera tolerated him for her husband’s sake. She didn’t dislike Barron, but she disliked it when he said things like, “Nobody worth their salt is nice.”

“I was going to tell Barron about Eric Young, mention his ideas, but I didn’t,” said Frank. “We would never have gotten out of Herb’s, at least not until after closing time, if then.”

“Who’s Eric Young?” asked Vera.

“A Baltimore guy, a lot like Barron in some respects, teaches some yoga, aerial style, a big fan of the Baltimore Orioles, which is too bad,” said Frank.

“Why were you going to bring him up to Barron?” asked Vera.

“Because he’s on the other side of the teeter totter,” said Frank.

“What’s too bad about the Orioles?”

“You don’t want to know.”

“Competitive yoga started in India, not the west, but that’s a minor detail,” said Eric. “I am curious, though, at the idea of the physical becoming the more dominant focus, and so many people feel the need to tell other people that’s not yoga when there is no agreed upon definition. If we are all properly practicing an inward journey, shouldn’t that remove the need to be concerned what others do and what they call or label the activity in which they are doing it?”

“That makes sense to me,” said Vera.

“There’s more,” said Frank.

“Setting aside the definitions of yoke and some of the more deeper translations and interpretations of yoga from the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, and setting aside the atman and seer ideas, for the average practitioner they will have no understanding, or care to,” said Eric.

“In my yoga teacher training class, I would say half had no idea there was anything beyond the physical. To many, yoga is a down dog, a bird of paradise, with a glass of wine after, and for some, a puppy or a baby goat wandering by. I say more power to them, for at least two reasons. First, if they are truly in the present, they are doing a lot of the work, even if not labeled as such, and if they do it enough, the work will pay off one way or another. Second, if I am doing my yoga, in whatever form that means to me, then I should not be bothered one way or another. As no one owns the term and there are so many different facets, it’s arrogant for me to say you’re wrong.”

“I’m not sure Barron would be good with that,” said Vera.

“You know how Barron is. He would have plenty to say,” said Frank.

“I will concede if your business is teaching, and I set up shop next door spouting I know as much and am as good a teacher, which I don’t and am not, you have every right to be bothered by this, but that’s business, not yoga,” said Eric. “I don’t think the gurus of yore were bothered by what another one did on the other side of the country. But for those who say because it’s not four thousand years old, only two hundred years, and it’s not authentic, I call that bullshit.”

“He speaks his mind,” said Vera.

“There is wisdom and there is gray hair,” said Eric.

“I wouldn’t put Eric and Barron in the same room,” said Vera.

“I don’t know about that,” said Frank. “They’re both on the same yoga planet.”

“What planet are you on?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, don’t put them in the same room, for God’s sake. They may be on the same planet, but they’re not coming from the same place. That would be a head-on collision.”

Vera and Frank heard a sudden loud squarking from the shoreline, and when they looked towards the sound, they saw a herring gull dragging a rock crab out of the surf. The crab latched onto the bird with large claw, swinging side-to-side as the seagull flapped up. The bird shook the crab off, dropping it into the surf, and going after it again, pecking and pecking. When the seagull dragged the crab out of the water it began to slash at it, killing it, if the crustacean wasn’t already dead, pulling it landwards whenever the surf rolled it back towards the ocean.

“I thought their shells protected them from birds,” said Frank.

“Maybe the shell was cracked already,” said Vera.

“One of the guys at the harbor told me that gulls will pick up shellfish, fly them up in the air, and drop them on rocks so their shells crack when they land.”

“I didn’t know seagulls had it in their pea brains to be able to think that out,” said Vera.

“It’s a dog eat dog world,” said Frank. “Seagulls are intelligent. They can unlock trash bins. They’re omnivores and they’ll eat anything. I read about a black-backed gull down on Cape Cod that snatched up a miniature chihuahua, right off the beach, and the dog has not been seen since.”

They watched the seagull rip legs off and pull goopy innards out of the crab, until there wasn’t anymore left to be had. The big white and gray bird arched its neck, cawed several times, and flew away. The remains of the crab slowly but surely rolled back into the ocean.

“What time does Doiron’s close?” asked Vera.

“Six,” said Frank.

“What time is it now?”

Frank looked at his iPhone.

“Quarter of six,” he said.

“Drive me over me there” said Vera. “You can drop me of and I’ll walk back to the cottage.”

“All right, maybe I’ll drive up the parkway, go for a walk around Orby Head, and we can meet back at the cottage,” said Frank.

He dropped his wife off at the fish market.

Doiron Fisheries is on the wharf on Harbourview Drive. It’s been there since the 1950s.  It’s a small storefront with a big sign over the door, a long shallow front room chock full of haddock, hake, halibut, salmon, mackerel, oysters, mussels, scallops, and cooked crab.

Frank drove up Church Hill Road, past the Stella Maris church and the graveyard, and down to the National Park kiosk. They had a seasonal pass attached to the stem of the rear view mirror of their Hyundai Tucson, and when the attendant in the kiosk glanced up and waved him through, Frank swung the car to the left up the hill into the seashore park.

He had once stopped and asked the teenager in a National Parks shirt behind the drive-through window, “What do you call this building?”

“We call it the gate,” she said.

“The gate?”

“That’s it, yup, the gate.”

Frank drove past Doyle’s Cove and the Coastline Cottages. The cottages are in the Prince Edward Island National Park, but aren’t a part of the park. The Doyle’s kept their land, in the family for a dog’s age, not selling it to Canada when the park was established. There are a handful of their houses, one nearly a hundred years old, another one newly built last year, within sight. They are the only homes in sight.

He drove the two miles-or-so up the Gulf Shore Way, pulled off the road at Orby Head, and went for a walk along the red sandstone cliff. He lay down face forward on the other side of the rope fence and looked down at the waves churning and breaking on the narrow rocky landing far below.

A group of cormorants in a v formation flew past, nearly at eye level. He closed his eyes and breathed evenly for a few minutes. He heard a car pull in, its tires crunching on the gravel. He opened his eyes, got up, and walked back to his car.

When he stepped into the cottage the lowering sun was lighting up the kitchen window, and Vera was at the stove.

“What are you making for dinner?” he asked.

“Crab cakes,” she said.

Ed Staskus edits Theatre PEI. He posts stories on 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Cleveland Ohio Daybook http://www.clevelandohiodaybook.com.

Theatre PEI

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Rearview Mirror

By Ed Staskus

It wasn’t until the movers took the legs off the dining room table and hauled it and the six chairs out that I realized the two town paintings in their glossy walnut frames were still on the wall. I stood in a pool of damp late October sunlight at the other end of the room. I hadn’t noticed Lucy had painted the wall a light green color until the room was empty.

A Stacey’s Moving and Storage truck was on the street. The trailer and cab were longer than the width of my house. One of the Montreuil’s and three other men were methodically tramping up and down a ramp into and out of the back of the truck. Sugar maple and white cedar leaves stuck to the soles of their boots.

Autumn was stripping the trees so that the neighborhood, concealed all summer, was becoming clear.

I turned away from the window and faced the paintings. I had seen them every day for years, but hadn’t looked at them for a long time.

The painting on the left was of the fishing docks on the Niagara River. Two men spin nets while a third slumps on the ground, his back against a two-story shingled building. He sits with his legs splayed out while a dog squats beside him. Fort Niagara is on top of the cliff face across the river, below a leaden gray and white streaked sky.

The other painting was of Art’s Coffee Shop on Main Street, or what is now called Queen Street. The pregnant woman wearing a red hat, leaning back as she walks, and carrying what would be twins is Betty White. Nineteen years later Lucy White and I got married.

The large purple dog trailing a small boy on a tricycle in the center of the painting is an Airedale, as are the other four dogs in the painting, including the one peeing on a lamppost. You probably couldn’t paint that from real life anymore. Niagara-on-the-Lake has by-laws about it.

One night my new neighbor reminded me it was against the law for a dog to bark more than twenty minutes after 8 PM.

“Your dog’s been barking for twenty two minutes,” she said over the phone.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I was out and I haven’t had a chance to walk him, yet.”

She hung up.

“What the hell?” I thought, the dog’s lead in my hand.

I have a Jack Russell terrier. He misses me when I go out in the evening. The dog burns himself up whenever he spots a rat in Paradise Grove Park behind the Festival Theater. He always used to get what he was after, but he’s grown older and slower, and sometimes the rats get away.

The fisheries closed when Lake Ontario became polluted and there was too much DDT in the water. Algae blooms got so thick waves couldn’t break. It’s better now. There are even walleye to be had, although they don’t reproduce anymore. They have to be restocked year after year.

Lake sturgeon used to be the King of Fish. Then they were hunted down. They were even burned as fuel to power steamboats. No one’s allowed to try for lake sturgeon anymore, even if someone could miraculously find one.

Art’s Coffee Shop is gone, too, and it’s now called Cork’s Wine Bar and Eatery. They serve Hawaiian Meatballs and Beef Panini’s for lunch. A John MacDonald is what needs to be in your wallet for a bowl of soup and a cup of coffee.

My father got the paintings in trade from Bruce Rigg, the town doctor, the same year he got our dining room set. After he died and I inherited the house they stayed where they were on the wall where they’d always hung. We only ever took them down the year we tore off the wallpaper and whenever we repainted the room.

Bruce Rigg was our family doctor. My father was a mason and worked on Dr. Rigg’s office building on Davy Street whenever repairs were needed. It had been the high school gymnasium until after World War Two, when there weren’t any more children in town. Bruce Rigg and his brother Jackson bought the building and converted it into a medical office. They were the town doctors for the next forty-some years.

In 1957 another high school had to be built since there were suddenly so many soon-to-be teenagers in town. That one closed four years ago. I remember its mascot was a Trojan with a Jay Leno chin and a blue plumed helmet. When the Parliament Oak elementary school closes next year there won’t be any schools left in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

At the front of the Art’s Coffee Shop painting two boys wrestle like spitfires, a boy in a green shirt rides a tricycle, a girl in a red jumpsuit pushes a wheel and paddle on a stick, and a woman with a yellow stroller carrying a round-faced toddler stops to talk to Betty White.

Whenever there were sleet storms my sister and I would tie our shoes around our necks and skate down Main Street to school.

The trustees and the town debated for months about Parliament Oak. Everyone said the school was essential for the Old Town’s vitality. The Lord Mayor argued no one appreciated the growth anticipated for the town. One of the parents cried she was flabbergasted by the decision. But, there are barely any children left in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

No one’s setting their houses on fire at night.

By the time the movers took the dining room table out all the rooms were vacant. I had emptied the bookcases, packed my clothes, and taken everything off the walls, except the paintings, the day before. It was when everything else was gone that the paintings stood out, like a sudden, sharp image in a dream.

The summer before my sister was born my father drove the more than two hundred kilometers to Owen Sound and came back with our dining room set and a china cabinet. He drove a Chevy pick-up he had hired from Tommy May’s Livery Stable. The truck had a wood slat deck, so none of the furniture got scratched, although the Jack Russell’s we always had in the house left their mark.

My father lived in Niagara-on-the-Lake, went to school, and worked here his whole life, but he was born in Lancashire. He and my uncles and aunts were all born there. Whenever she was seven months along my grandmother went back to Britain to her mother to have the baby.

She took a train from Buffalo to New York City and sailed on the White Star ocean liner Cedric. She went back and forth five times in third class. She never got seasick and was on the Cedric when it collided with another ship in Morcombe Bay and sank it. The last time she sailed to Lancashire she died in childbirth and my grandfather had to take the boat to bring the baby back.

I was one of the first children delivered at the new Niagara-on-the-Lake Hospital on Wellington Street when it opened in 1953, replacing the old cottage hospital. Dr. Rigg was the attending doctor, although my father said he hardly did anything. My mother said she did all the hard work.

That’s all changed. No one works hard here anymore. The growth industry in Niagara-on-the-Lake is lawn care. Every time I look out my window some guy goes by in a pick-up with a lawn mower in the back. They cut the grass for people who are too lazy to cut their own.

No one is born or dies here, either.

They tore down the general hospital outside St. Catherine’s and built a mammoth, new one. Now all the small local hospitals are closing in its wake. Ours is turning off its lights at year’s end and children won’t be born in Niagara-on-the-Lake anymore.

They say it makes economic sense, but I don’t think it matters. Once you get involved with anything under the rule of no one, like the National Health Service, you’re not going to save even a dime. That’s a given.

When there were still docks in town Dr. Rigg painted the river and the fishermen on weekends. He and his artist colony friends had social parties at Bill Richardson’s, the local coal yard owner. Mary Jones wore a cape and Betty Lane, the bohemian of the group, played a fiddle.

They lived here all their lives.

Almost no one in Niagara-on-the-Lake now has been here long. They’re all from somewhere else. The sub-divisions are full of them. At first I noticed their high-end cars, like Audis and Mercedes. I thought it was the tourists. Everyone in town used to drive Chevy’s and Pontiacs.

But, they weren’t tourists. They were living here. And they’re all retired, getting a pension from somebody or other, most of the time the government. That’s why there are no children anymore and the schools are all closing.

Last year the veteran’s house on the corner, a story-and-a-half, like mine, was sold. They built a little porch around it, which was nice, but it was something anyone could have done on a weekend. Seven or eight years ago the house would have sold for a hundred grand.

They sold it for four hundred and thirty thousand dollars.

Nobody who actually lives here, and was in their right mind, would pay that kind of money for that house.

The out-of-towner who bought it was a single woman. She had a self-satisfied spinsterish look on her face when I met her. She was a retired schoolteacher from Toronto who had sold her house, that she bought for fifty thousand 35 years ago, for nine hundred thousand, and come to Niagara-on-the Lake.

She drove a metallic blue Audi A4 and had plenty of money left over.

A few years from now she’ll probably look like a seer.

“Oh, yes, I only paid $430,000.00 for my house. The man next door might sell you his for God knows what.”

When you live here, with one bathroom, in a small, funny house you can’t swing a cat in, and someone offers you a half million for it, you take it. Very few people are left in Niagara-on-the-Lake. They’ve all sold out and moved to St. Catherine’s, where they can get a real house for half the price.

Niagara-on-the-Lake has become, like Oakville, one of the beautiful places to live. It’s nostalgic, the houses have been tarted up, and it’s close to Toronto. Everybody used to know everybody. But, now nobody knows anybody. It’s a wealthy ghetto, although no one calls it a ghetto. They call it the good life.

People used to work here, but all the manufacturing jobs have left. General Motors is still in St. Catherine’s, but even GM is just a shadow of what it used to be.

The federal provincial government backstopped all the pensions when it went under. It’s a gravy train if you’re on the train.

The woman from St. Catherine’s who cleaned my house once a month is retired from General Motors. She was there for twenty-five years. She’s figured out carpal tunnel. She doesn’t have it, but she got a check for $30,000.00 for having it, and she gets a monthly check, to boot, for the rest of her life.

Her first, second, and third husbands all worked for GM. The one she’s getting rid of now worked for GM, too, and they double-dip everything from the drug store to eyeglasses.

We had our own government here, in the town, once, but then it was amalgamated, and the town lost control. The barbarians in the township took over. Everybody asked what was going on, but that was it. It was all down hill from there.

A town planner from Scarborough was sent to Niagara-on-the-Lake. He was a big man with cornflower blue eyes in a black suit. He stood on the corner of Mississauga and Queen Streets twenty years ago and said, “When you look left, that’s going to be residential. When you look right, that’s going to be commercial.“

That would have been news to lot of people in town.

Scarberia is what we called Scarborough. Niagara-on-the-Lake has the oldest, largest collection of Georgian architecture in Canada and the man from Toronto was taking over. No one with any sense believed it. But, what he had in mind is what it is today.

When the bureaucrats take over there will be problems. It’s hard making sense of anything. Everything gets very commercial. There used to be fine big trees on Queen Street, their branches almost touching over the street. They’ve slowly been cutting them all down so they can grow annuals in the sidewalk flowerbeds. They think the tourists like it.

It’s a terrible idea.

There were once a block-or-two of shops, but now the whole street is commercial, although not so you can buy baby food, drop your shoes off to be repaired, or get a haircut.

There were always a few bed and breakfasts in town. Widows and orphans ran them. They couldn’t afford the taxes on their houses, so they let a room, or two. Now it’s an industry. They’re all out-of-towners running the bed and breakfasts, retired teachers and bureaucrats from Toronto with time and money on their hands.

They walk around the town, strolling here and there with a dog on a leash because it makes it seem like they’re doing something, which is the same thing they were doing when they were working.

They watch television during the day and drink at night, and after a few years give up and someone else takes their place.

The next step was to turn houses into guest cottages. They aren’t widows and orphans and they don’t live there. They rent the house and live somewhere else. There are people in the house and no one’s got a clue who they are. I mow my lawn and every few weeks I notice I’ve got new neighbors.

The Chinese own the hotels. They had to get their money out of Hong Kong in the 1990s before the Communists got their hands on it, and so they brought some of it here. They own the Queen’s Landing, the Oban Inn, the Prince of Wales, and all the other big places.

When the Queen’s Royal Hotel was still open, before the bust, the Prince of Wales was a run-down dump. It was a weasely small thing on the corner. Now the town is booming and it’s got more than a hundred rooms at $300.00 a night.

You can’t smoke in any of the rooms, either, no matter what you pay. You can’t smoke anywhere indoors. Anyone can smoke in his own house, but you can’t smoke in your own car if there is a child in the car. Or, even if a child is going to be in the car.

My wife asked me to stop smoking seven-or-eight years. I promised her I would, and I did. I didn’t mind the gruesome pictures on the packages, but the price got to be too much. The hell with it; I wasn’t a big-time smoker, anyway. She never smoked, but she got cancer, somehow, and died two years ago.

She died in the same hospital on Wellington Street she was born in.

The stores that sell cigarettes don’t let you see them anymore. They’re behind a curtain, the way they used to hide alcohol. The liquor stores would give you a pencil and a piece of paper. You wrote down the number of what you wanted, brandy or whiskey, handed it to them, and the clerk went into the back room to get it for you.

Cigarettes used to be good and booze was bad. Now cigarettes are bad and booze is good. There are more than eighty wineries in Niagara. Drugs used to be bad, too, but lately greenhouses have gone up on the escarpment growing pot. They’re going to make it profitable and then they’re going to tax it.

Niagara-on-the-Lake isn’t really a town anymore. It’s a group of people who show up here once in a while. It looks pretty because there’s so much money floating around, but it’s more a show town than anything else.

The Shaw theaters could be anywhere. They just happen to be in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Most of the theater people live here part-time, and even those who have houses aren’t here for half the year. They go somewhere else to work. Old Town is a very quiet village in the winter. The actors and musicians and everybody used to rent in the town, but they can’t afford to anymore. It’s one of their big problems, finding accommodations for all the show people.

Trains used to bring summer visitors from Buffalo and Toronto up the tracks on King Street. They stayed for a few weeks or a month and the trains went back loaded with fruit. Now the summer people come for a few days, walk up and down Queen Street shopping, go to dinner, see a play, and tramp to the wineries.

“It’s such a cute little quaint town and everyone is so nice.”

Then they drive away down the parkway back to the USA or up Mississauga Street to the QEW, racing past one sub-division after the other.

“Are you taking those pictures?” Emil Montreuil asked, coming up behind me.

“You bet,” I said, taking them off the wall. “I can’t leave them here.”

“Do you want me to bubble wrap them?”

“No, I’ll just take them this way.”

I climbed up into the moving truck with Emil and laid the paintings side-by-side face up on the wide recessed dash. I lowered the passenger side window for my Jack Russell. The dog leaned on the armrest barking at our retired schoolteacher neighbor as she crossed the street. She looked away as she went up her walk.

The low watery sky, the tops of the thinning trees, and dark house rooftops reflected off the glass of the two paintings as we slowly rolled from one stop sign to the next stop sign on Mary Street. We turned away from the town on Mississauga Street. When it became Niagara Stone Road Emil picked up speed past the big wineries.

As we passed the Niagara District Airport he reached into his jacket pocket.

“Smoke?” he asked, gesturing with a pack of Export A’s.

In the painting of the fishermen spinning nets the man with his hands jammed into his pockets and sitting on the ground, leaning on a wall, his legs splayed out and his dog beside him, is smoking a pipe.

“What the hell, sure,” I said.

Ed Staskus edits Theatre PEI. He posts stories on 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Cleveland Ohio Daybook http://www.clevelandohiodaybook.com.

Theatre PEI

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Searching for the Surfside

By Ed Staskus

“Whenever we leave home, to Ontario or New Brunswick, I always say we are crossing into another world, into a strange world, into Canada,” said Marie Bachand. “I always ask Louie did you bring our passports?” She always asks in French because her partner Louie Painchaund doesn’t speak English.

It was a cumulus cloud high sky day when they went to Prince Edward Island. They didn’t have their passports. Who wants to look like their passport picture on a sunny summer day, anyway?

They live in Saint-Gregorie in Quebec, a community of the city of Becancour, on the south side of the St. Lawrence River. Their house dates to the 1780s, built by refugee Acadians after the French and Indian War. “They came down the St Lawrence River, four hundred families. It was a rough time. They stopped, said OK, looks good, and settled here.”

It is about six hundred miles to Prince Edward Island, up the St. Lawrence, down New Brunswick, and across the Confederation Bridge to PEI. The first time they went they were touring the Maritimes. The island was a spur of the moment runaround. They drove across the Northumberland Straights on the nine-mile-long bridge to the other side.

“We thought we could run over and visit PEI in one or two days,” Marie said. “It’s so small.”

Even though it is pint-sized, the smallest of the ten Canadian provinces at just a little more than two thousand square miles, compared to Quebec’s almost six hundred thousand square miles, it goes over big.

Ten years later, even after Andy’s Surfside Inn is no more, they still go to Prince Edward Island two weeks in the summer, staying at the Coastline Cottages up the hill across the street, riding their bikes all over the place, still finding substantial fresh things to rack up on the to-do list.

The inn was on the ocean side of North Rustico, near the entrance to the harbor, a white clapboard two-story house with a dozen windows, two dormers and three porches on the side facing the water. A broad lawn slopes down to the cliffs. It wasn’t always the Surfside Inn and isn’t the Surfside Inn anymore, having since taken up where it left off, back to being a home.

“The first house was bigger,” said Kelly Doyle.

Kelly’s grandparents, Mike and Loretta Doyle, were visiting and playing cards at a neighbor’s house one winter night in 1929. Their friends lived about a mile away. At the end of the evening, going home in their horse-drawn sled, they crested a frozen hill. A red glow lit up the sky and flared across the flat cove below them.

The house was being swallowed up by fire. The pitch-dark night was blazing. They had left seven children behind in the care of the eldest.

“It was a flue fire,” said Kelly. “It burnt down because of the stove.”

By the time the Doyle’s raced their sled down to the house, and finding all the children safe and sound outside, there wasn’t much they could do. There were no neighbors nearby to help and there was no fire department. Mike Doyle was able to drag some furniture from the first floor out the front door and saved as many fox furs as he could.

The house was rebuilt the next year and finished the following year.

“The foxes my grandfather saved built the new house.” Kelly’s grandfather was a fox farmer. What he sold the pelts for paid for the work of the itinerant immigrant tradesmen who built the house.

Furry garments are made of furry animal hides. Even though it has lately fallen on hard times, fur is one of the oldest forms of clothing. Once we started globe-trotting out of Africa, to where everywhere else was colder, we started wearing furs. Ever since, people have worn beaver racoon sable rabbit coyote wolf chinchilla opossum mink and foxes.

Mountain men wore the bears they shot and killed.

In the 1880s foxes were bred for the first time, accomplished on Prince Edward Island by locals Charlie Dalton and Robert Oulton. Theirs was the original fur farm in 1884. Within several years the rush was on. But the rush didn’t really and truly mushroom until after a pelt sale a few years later when their harvest of 25 skins brought them nearly $35 thousand dollars. It was a boat load of a barn door of money, bearing in mind that the average island farm worker those days made less than $30 dollars a month.

In 1926 nearly nine hundred live silver foxes were shipped from Summerside to the United States. It was the most valuable shipment in the history of Prince Edward Island up to that time and is still called the ‘Million Dollar Train’. Andy Doyle was born the same year, spunky and healthy, although nobody ever called him the ‘Million Dollar Baby’.

By the 1930s the fox farm industry was strong as a bull, raking in multi-millions of dollars. There were hundreds of thousands of foxes being farmed and skinned coast to coast throughout Canada and the United States.

“The furs my grandfather was able to rescue from the fire were worth five thousand. In the end the new house cost five thousand,” said Kelly.

“We stayed at a country inn, at the information center at the bridge they said it was nice, but it was a little room, yuk,” said Marie. She picked up the official PEI tourist book. Where to stay next? She thumbed through the book. She put her finger on Andy’s Surfside Inn. “I say to Louie, what’s that, the north shore? We had already decided to stay three or four more days. We went looking for it.”

Gavan Andrew “Andy” Doyle was 81 years old in 2007 when Marie and Louie went driving up and down the north shore looking for his eponymous inn. Andy had been born in the white house that was the inn. Years later, grown-up a young man, pushing off after World War Two, he landed in Montreal, married, brought up three stepchildren, and years later, when his wife Vivienne died, went back to Prince Edward Island.

His mother died shortly after and he inherited the house on Doyle’s Cove. “My aunt, his sister in Montreal, always had a soft spot for Gavan. She helped him get the place up and running. She bought a bunch of nice furniture for him,” said Kelly Doyle. It was the late 80s. Andy Doyle resurrected the Surfside Inn that had been his mother’s brainchild in the late 40’s.

“When my grandfather died in 1948, my grandmother wanted to make some money with the house and started taking in tourists,” said Kelly. “There was a white picket fence, she had ducks and geese and sheep in a big barnyard, and she kept a garden.” It was a large working garden. “She fed the bed and breakfasts herself.”

As her six girls and two boys grew up and left home, she converted their rooms to guest rooms.

“She filled those rooms all through the 50s and 60s,” said Kelly. “PEI wasn’t like the rest of the world back then. Tourists found the way of life interesting, honest and down-to-earth. There wasn’t much entertainment, but there was always lots to do. They just liked the place.”

When Marie telephoned the Surfside Inn, a Japanese woman answered the call.

“Andy always had Japanese girls, three girls, housekeepers for the season who were exchange students who wanted to learn English. They shared a small bedroom over the kitchen. She told us, yes, we have a room.”

Louie and Marie drove up and down Route 6 between Cavendish and North Rustico searching for the Surfside Inn. When they couldn’t find it, they finally stopped at a National Parks kiosk and got directions. It was in the park, although on private land, Doyle’s Land on Doyle’s Cove. They drove down the Gulf Shore Parkway, past Cape Turner and Orby Head, and down to the coastal inlet.

When they got there, there wasn’t a room. There were four rooms that shared a bath. They were all taken. What Marie and Louie didn’t know was that there was a fifth room on the ground floor, which was Andy’s bedroom with a private bath.

“When we are full, he gives you that room,” explained the young woman.

“We’ll take that,” said Marie. “Where does Andy go to sleep?”

“He sleeps in the boat.”

The Japanese girls did the heavy lifting in return for being able to learn English. “I don’t know where they learned it, but it wasn’t from Andy,” said Marie. “He never talked to them.”

Outside the house was a castaway wooden lobster boat. The hull and forward cabin were worthy enough, although it needed some planks and rib work. it looked like it still had some spirit to it, like it could still make a living at sea.

“It smelled bad, all old stuff papers tools junk a small bed,” said Marie. “It should have been burned long ago.”

The Surfside Inn had a kitchen with several refrigerators. “We thought it was just for breakfast, but we saw other people storing food and making supper.” They started shopping at Doiron’s Fish Market on the harbor road. One suppertime Andy saw them coming into the kitchen with lobsters.

“Let me fix those for you,” he said.

“Oh, my God,” said Marie, “he was good. Tack, tack, tack, all done.”

They started bringing their own wine from home, though.

“I don’t like PEI Liquor wines. We brought Italian and French whites and rose for the fish.”

Coming back from Doiron’s one day, putting away fresh cod wrapped in Kraft paper, Marie noticed small buckets of frozen milk in the freezer.

“There was a Muslim couple staying at Andy’s, the guy was always in the living room, but she was wrapped up, always going to the bedroom. She didn’t talk. At breakfast, no words. She looked at her iPad, that’s all.”

The mother was expressing her breast milk and storing it. She kept it in the back of the freezer, the coldest part of fridges. One day all the milk was gone.

“We never saw the baby, though, maybe it was somewhere else, with a grandma.”

“Tourists in the 50s and 60s weren’t from Monkton or Toronto,” said Kelly. “Some were from the States, but a lot of them were from Europe. We lived next door and ran around the yard, having fun, meeting people. In 1970 my grandmother got a little bit ill and couldn’t keep it going. She lived alone for seven years until my dad moved her into the senior citizen’s home in North Rustico.”

The white house was empty for about ten years, for most of the 80s. It came back to life as the rooms filled up. In summertime it was never vacant.

“You could see the sea right in front of you,” said Marie. “We sat on the porch every day. It was a special place. After a week we would say, let’s stay another day, then another day. Other people, too, were crazy about this place.”

One day Andy asked Louie to help him take an old heavy bicycle out of the lobster boat. “You’re a big guy, you can do it,” said Andy.

When the bike was on the ground Andy straddled it and pedaled to the downhill on the all-purpose path. “He was going down the hill, but Louie told me there were no brakes. Stop! Stop! I yelled but he yelled back, I’ve been riding this bike for thirty years!”

Whenever Andy pulled his four-door sedan out to run errands or go to the grocery, Marie and Louie kept their distance. “I don’t think there were any brakes on his car, either,” she said.

He seemed to own only three short-sleeve shirts. “I have three nice ones,” he said. “I got them for a dollar each at the Salvation Army.” One was yellow, one green and one blue. The blue shirt was his favorite. He dried all his laundry on an outside clothesline, in the sun and ocean breeze.

“All the guests, they were from Canada, the United States, Italy, England, all over. A Chinese couple had a four-year-old who had been born in Quebec, so they named him Denis. Whenever we saw a Chinese child after that we always called the child Denis Wong. There was a couple from Boston, they lived in the harbor on a boat there. He was 80 and she was in her 70s.”

“I didn’t come with my boat. I came with my girlfriend,” he said.

“There is no age,” said Marie. Until you find out your grade school class is running the town city province country.

Aging and its consequences usually happen step-by-step, sometimes without warning. One minute you’re only as old as you feel and the next minute you don’t feel good. It’s like going on a cruise. It can be smooth sailing or a shipwreck. Once you’re on board, though, there’s not much you can do about it.

“There were always many guests, but suddenly a few years ago Andy started getting mixed up. He forgot reservations, there were two Japanese girls instead of three, it wasn’t the same.” What it takes to make an inn work wasn’t getting done. By 2016 it was far more vacant than occupied and Marie and Louie were staying at Kelly Doyle’s Coastline Cottages up the hill across the street.

“Andy introduced us to him,” Marie said.

Like Dorothy said at the end of ‘The Marvelous Land of Oz’, “Everything has to come to an end, sometime.”

In 2018 Andy Doyle moved to the Garden Home in Charlottetown and his nephew Erik Brown took the house over, renovating it and transforming it into his home. In November Andy died. He was 92. It was the end of the Surfside Inn.

“On the ocean was wonderful,” said Marie. “Once we found it, Louie and I loved the Surfside.”

Ed Staskus edits Theatre PEI. He posts stories on 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Cleveland Ohio Daybook http://www.clevelandohiodaybook.com

Theatre PEI

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Guardian Angel

By Ed Staskus

   The night Siobhan Murphy died in 1901 was the same night Queen Victoria died almost five thousand kilometers away. Siobhan was hit on the head when Father Georges Belcourt’s one-seater fell on her. The horseless carriage killed her just as fast as the horse who kicked her husband in the head many years before killed him. 

   Her last thought was of the day she first met William Murphy in Cavendish, of her first look at him. She knew in a flash what he was about when he looked at her and knew what her answer would be. After her last lightning-fast thought she went down into the darkness, taking her last breath.

   Siobhan lay dead under the steam-powered car in her barn all day before anybody noticed. She didn’t feel sorry for herself. She knew she wouldn’t be forgotten. Flies buzzed around her. Her cat wandered in and lay down beside her. There was nothing he could do except keep her company. The sun went from one end of the sky to the other. Queen Victoria died in Osborne House of a stroke in her sleep, in a palatial bed surrounded by her family, under a full moon.

   Father Belcourt bought the car that killed Siobhan from a man in New Jersey in 1866. It was unloaded at Charlottetown and pulled to the Farmer’s Bank in Rustico by a team of horses. Nobody except the priest knew how to work the self-propelled wagon. He had a letter explaining its operation. He was keeping it close to the vest in the meantime.

   “Be careful father,” one of his parishioners said pulling him aside. “The devil could be in that tank.”

   If he was, he was hunched over and hot as hell. The steam chamber was four feet high, and the motor was connected to the wheels by a chain. The car had no suspension, no windshield, and no roof. Father Belcourt kept it in a shed beside the bank. The Farmer’s Bank was organized soon after the priest arrived there in 1859. One of the first things that jumped out at him was the economic hardship of his flock. What he did was establish a Catholic Institute to bring parishioners together. Everybody had to agree to be teetotalers. The second thing he did was create the credit union to provide loans to farmers at Christian rates of interest. The third thing he did was buy the car to be able to get out to see the sick and homebound.

   The priest was from Quebec and had been in the business of saving souls for more than thirty years before arriving in Rustico. He led missions in Manitoba and North Dakota and fought it out with the Hudson’s Bay Company over their compensation to the natives who delivered furs to the trading company. But when he demanded the savages swear off liquor as he demanded for conversion, they were unwilling to give up their Hudson’s Bay Company-supplied booze.

   He didn’t give up working for them, working up a petition for redress of wrongs. When he got a thousand of the savages to sign the petition about the company’s selfishness and discrimination, a petition he meant to send to Queen Victoria, Earl Gray the Colonial Secretary threw it away and had Father Belcourt arrested for inciting discontent. The Archbishop of Quebec had to step into the fray. He got the charges retracted but sent the priest far away to Prince Edward Island. 

   Father Belcourt retired as the pastor of Rustico in 1869 and moved to Shediac, New Brunswick, but couldn’t get islands off his mind. He pled to pastor a parish on the Magdelen Islands. It wasn’t long before he was on a boat out on the Gulf of St. Lawrence with the Archbishop of Quebec’s expeditious blessing. Before he sailed, he asked Siobhan Murphy if he could store his steam-powered car on her farm. 

   “Of course,” she said.

   The horseless carriage had forgotten how to get up and go and had to be towed there by a team of horses.

   Siobhan had gotten into the habit of burying her money in a hole at the backside of the barn. When the bank got going, she dug it up and put it in the bank. She didn’t know it, but she was one of the biggest holders of the credit union. In 1893, a year before the bank closed, after her son Bill told her the bank would be closing soon, she withdrew all her money and buried it in the ground again. 

   She had raised six children on her farm outside North Rustico. She raised them by herself. Siobhan knew the value of a dollar better than most. She wasn’t a miser, but she was frugal. When the shipbuilding business in Atlantic Canada collapsed in the 1880s and her son Sean was thrown out of work, she paid for his passage to the United States, where he joined Michael, her youngest. 

   Half of the island’s economy disappeared when shipbuilding disappeared. Thousands of islanders migrated to the Boston States looking for work in factories and domestic service. By the time Siobhan died more than a third of everybody on the island was gone. She never saw Sean and Michael again. Her three daughters all married, one of them going to Summerside, one to Acadian land, while Biddy stayed nearby in Stanley Bridge. She married a fisherman who was good at getting eels. They had seven children by the turn of the century.

   In the mid-1880s, unhappy that their winter mail and passenger service was still relying on iceboats, islanders started demanding a fixed link to the mainland by way of a railway tunnel.

Siobhan rarely got mail and never left the island and didn’t care if there were iceboats tunnels or bridges. The tunnel never got built, no matter how many folks demanded it.

   In 1895 Robert Oulton and Charles Dalton become the first men on Prince Edward Island to successfully breed silver foxes in captivity. They brought a litter of foxes with a vein of silver in their fur to maturity near Tignish, on the far west end of the island. They did it by mating red and black foxes. After that the gold rush was on. They shared the secret of their success and breeding stock with a small circle and before long the small circle was getting rich. When word started to get out, the fox boom was on. When Bill Murphy heard about it, his ears pricked up. It was early fall 1900. When he told his mother about it, she dug up the family money buried behind the barn and laid it out on the kitchen table.

   She knew there was a livelihood and even a fortune to be made from fur. The explorer Samuel de Champlain was in the fur trade three hundred years earlier. Alexander Mackenzie, the first European to go cross-country and reach the Pacific Ocean, was in the fur trade. John McLaughlin, who built forts in Vancouver and established the Oregon territory, was in the fur trade.

   The Hudson’s Bay Company and North-West Company were in the business of hunting and killing bears, beaver, fox, deer, buffalo, mink, otter, and seal for their skins. Every Victorian woman in the Americas and Europe coveted a fur coat, but as the century raced to a close there weren’t enough wild animals left to answer the demand. Fur farms became the answer.

   “Charlie Dalton and another man have got a fur farm out on Cherry Island,” Bill said. “They’ve been raising foxes in pens and have somehow got it so that the females stay quiet. They sold two breeding pairs to Silas Rayner up in Kildare and he’s making it work, too. Bob Tuplin bought a breeding pair for $340.00 and has gone into a partnership with Jimmy Gordon at Black Banks.”

   “That is a bushel full of money,” Siohhan said.

   Farm hands on Prince Edward Island made about $25.00 a month. After a year they might have been able to buy one breeding fox, but it takes two to tango.

   Bill leaned across the table. “Charlie sold one of his pelts in London for almost two thousand dollars.”

   Siobhan was amazed and said so.

   “Charlie and the Raynor’s and some others are setting up what they call the Big Six Combine. They plan on keeping their secret a secret, not produce too many pelts, and keep the price sky high.”

   “What’s their secret?” Siobhan asked.

   “One of their secrets is the wire they use, which they import from England. The foxes don’t seem to mind it. Charlie builds his pens with it. The wire stays free of rust and shiny. They keep one breeding pair in one wire pen with a wooden kennel.”

   “How do they keep the foxes from climbing or digging their way out?”

  “They build sidewalls slanting in and add overhangs. To keep them from burrowing, they dig trenches and bury wire in the ground. They put catch boxes in corners and along the guard fences to trap any of them trying to escape.”

   “I would build a watchtower, valuable as the animals are.”

   “Charlie’s got watchtowers.”

   “It must be hard on him if a fox does escape.” 

   “He pays schoolboys to hunt them down on weekends. There might be a boy or two who ends up going to Saint Dunstan’s with that money.”

   “What does he feed the foxes?”

   “He mixes fowl livers, junk fish, raw horsemeat, tripe, and offal with water. They eat about the same as a cat does, about a half pound a day. If a vixen can’t make milk for her pups, he brings in a nursing cat. He keeps the pups in good health, making sure they don’t have mites or worms.”

   “How do they go about getting the pelts without damaging them?”

   “Charlie pokes poison into their chest cavities. I hear he might get a stunner from Norway, which kills the foxes on the spot. He’s got a fleshing machine that cuts the flesh from the pelt and sucks the fat into a tank. He cleans the pelt by putting it into a spinning drum filled with corn grit. Then he dries it on a wood board cut through with ventilation holes.”

   “Do you think you can make it work like Charlie’s done?”

   “Yes.”

   “How do you know all this about farming fox furs?” Siobhan asked.

   “It’s a secret,” Bill said.

Excerpted from “Bloodlines” at http://www.redroadpei.com.

Ed Staskus edits Theatre PEI. He posts stories on 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Cleveland Ohio Daybook http://www.clevelandohiodaybook.com.

Theatre PEI

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One Man Army

By Ed Staskus

There has never been an overabundance of men who fight for a guerrilla group and three armies, one of them twice, during any single war. An army a day keeps most men busy enough. Leonas Lucauskas stayed busier than many other combatants during the titanic struggle that was World War II, serving in the Lithuanian, German, and American armed forces. He may not have had as many lives as a cat, but it was close enough.

“My father was born in 1916, in the Ukraine,” said Leo Lucas. “My grandfather Juozas and grandmother Stanislava were living in Poltava, insanely far from Marijampole, their home.” He meant the 700 miles was insanely far given the state of Russian roads and railroads. The Eastern Front, where millions of men were slaughtering each other at the time, was closer.

“He was a professor, teaching there during the war.” said Leo.

The school was the Poltava National Technical University. It was founded in 1818 by the wife of the governor-general of the province, the granddaughter of the last Ukrainian strongman before the Russian Empire absorbed the country in the 18th century. For hundreds of years Lithuanian and Polish freebooters had controlled vast tracts of the Ukraine and were a law unto themselves. They were no match for the Cossacks, however, who were later no match for the Russians.

The main building on campus was built in the early 1830s as the home of the Institute of Noble Maidens. It had an Empire-style look. When the institute became the technical university, women were forbidden to attend.

After the war the family, including Leonas’s older brother and sister, who were twins, went back to Lithuania. They settled near Iglauka, not far from Lake Yglos, His father taught school in Marijampole, 12 miles to the west, and they lived on a farm. His mother’s family were prosperous owners of acreage and property.

In 1924 the state-sponsored revolt in Klaipeda was signed sealed delivered, the country competed in the Summer Olympics for the first time, and his older brother suddenly unexpectedly died. The next year his mother was shot dead at a wedding.

It had been Russian Imperial policy to leave the country in a non-industrial state. The inheritance system that was exercised after the land reform of 1863 forbade the partition of land plots. There were many landowners at the reception. They stuck tight together socially friends neighbors families bound by the old time way.

“A group of Communist agitators, people who wanted other people’s land, came to the wedding, started a ruckus, started shooting guns, and my grandmother was accidentally shot and killed,” said Leo.

The Communist party of Lithuania was formed in 1918 and remained illegal until 1940. They were out for blood, though. There is only so much land to go around in small Baltic-like countries.

Years later, Leonas told his son the challenge of his life after his mother’s death was, would he take revenge when he grew up? They all lived in small towns, everybody knew everybody else, and everybody knew who the Communists were. Should he kill them when he grew up? He decided he wouldn’t.

When he grew up, he got married, had a daughter, was planning on going to school to study medicine, but then the Second World War happened. His father was shot and killed by fifth column Communists in his own home, Leonas joined the Lithuanian Army, and the Soviet Union invaded.

It was never a fair fight. In mid-June 1940 a half-million Red Army troops poured across the borders of Estonia and Latvia. Within a week the Baltics were overrun, one week before France fell to Nazi Germany. Josef Stalin blew his nose into his walrus mustache. Adolf Hitler did an awkward little jig grinning behind his square mustache.

Leonas took to the forest, joining a group of partisans, staying in the fight for the next year. It wasn’t any more dangerous than anything else in the dangerous times. He had been working in the fields when his father was killed. “They were killing landowners. My father’s luck was just the luck of being out working,” said Leo. They would have killed him all the next year if they had been able to track him down.

A year later Lithuania was invaded by two German army groups. Most Russian aircraft were destroyed on the ground. The Wehrmacht advanced rapidly, assisted by Lithuanians, who saw them as liberators. They helped by bringing their weapons to bear, controlling railroads, bridges, and warehouses. The Lithuanian Activist Front and Lithuanian Territorial Corps formed the native backbone of the anti-Soviet fighting.

Leonas Lucauskas was one of many who joined the German Army, being assigned to a Baltic Unit. Three years later he was having second thoughts. The Baltic Offensive of 1944 was in full swing, the Red Army on the march to “liberate the Soviet Baltic peoples.” An NCO by then, Leonas and his men were ordered to man the front line and hold it at all costs. It was costing them more lives every day.

“The rich Lithuanians were officers,” Leo said. They weren’t in the tranches getting their heads shot off. “The enlisted men were getting endlessly killed.”

A small airstrip was nearby for reconnaissance and resupply. Junker 52s were flying in and out with ammunition first aid food and hope in the grim hopelessness. Leonas and three other men from his unit were unloading one of the planes at a side door by means of a ramp, the front prop and wing-mounted engines roaring, when with hardly a word spoken between them, they made up their minds to steal it and fly to safety.

Two of the men rushed up the ramp and threw the two German pilots out the door, while the other man and Leonas kept watch, guns at the ready. He was the last one to scramble into the plane and was shot in the back of the foot just before he slammed the door shut.

“I was playing on the floor one day,” Leo said. It was the late 1960s. “My dad was relaxing, shoes and socks off, sitting on the sofa in the living room reading a newspaper. I saw a scar on his heel and asked him what it was. He said it was a bullet wound. He rolled up his pants and showed me three more on both legs.”

One of the Lithuanians returned the shooting with a MG15 machine gun set in the dustbin turret, while the other two men dragged Leonas to the cockpit. None of them had ever flown an airplane. He was the only one of them who had ever even driven a car.

How hard can it be? he thought. With bullets slamming into the corrugated aluminum fuselage he found out it wasn’t hard at all. He pushed on the throttle, got the Junker going as fast as he thought it would go, raised the nose, and “Iron Annie” lifted up into the air.

They quickly came up with a plan, planning to fly to Switzerland. They got as far as the neighborhood of the Poland to Germany border when they ran out of gas. The plane wasn’t the fastest, 165 MPH its top speed, and it could go about 600 miles on a tankful. When they went down, they were headed in the right direction. All they needed was another full tank.

It solved their landing problem, since Leonas had already told his countrymen he had no idea how to land the plane. The Junker hit the ground hard and every part of it broke into pieces. When Leonas came back to life he was in a field hospital. He never found out what happened to his comrades.

The doctors and military men asked him who he was and what happened. He answered them in German, in High German, not Low. “My father spoke Lithuanian, Polish, Russian, and German.” He was wearing the right uniform when found, was speaking like a householder, and they assumed he was one of them. Leonas bit his tongue about who he really was, thanking God for his good fortune.

After he got out of the hospital he was deemed not fit enough for combat and assigned to the motor pool. Soon after he drew a lucky number and was assigned to be the driver for a general. It was lucky enough until several months later, early one morning, in the middle of winter, when he got a wake-up call from one of his motor pool sidekicks.

“Don’t come to work today,” the man said.

“What does that mean?”

“Your general died late last night. One of the first people the Gestapo will want to talk to is you.”

He knew it was true. He knew what had happened to anybody and everybody involved in the attempt to assassinate Adolf Hitler in mid-July. Nearly 5,000 people were executed. He would never be able to stand up to scrutiny.

His general was probably out carousing in their Tatra 87, slid on ice and smashed into a tree, but it didn’t matter. It didn’t matter whether he died in the arms of his mother or was assassinated. His goose was cooked if the Geheime Staatspolizei got him. The SS literally cooked people to death.

The Tatra 87 was the car of the year the last five years. Sleek futuristic BMW-engine fast and high-tech as could be, it was the vehicle of choice for German officers. Unfortunately for them, it was sloppy, handling like pudding, killing its drivers right and left. Leonas always kept it under 40 MPH. It was the vehicle of choice of the Americans, too, for their mortal enemy. They thought of it as a secret weapon, killing more high German officers than died fighting the Red Army.

He jumped to his feet, hurriedly dressed in his uniform, threw on a winter coat, and fled his room. Making his way to the motor pool, he found a truck with keys in the ignition and a full tank of gas. There were plenty to go around. Opel manufactured 95,000 of the 2-ton 4 x 4 Blitz Utility trucks during the war. He quickly signed it out, turned it over, and drove away unnoticed. He drove straight for the front. His plan was to break through the line and surrender to the Americans.

When you’re at the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on.

He didn’t get shot by either side and what went down is, he surrendered. He was relieved and confident that the war was over for him. But by the time the war was actually raising the white flag he was in his third army. At least he was finally on the winning side.

“My grandfather Juozas was a gigantic guy,” said Leo. “I’m six foot four. My father Leonas was five nine and maybe one forty pounds.” In the end, what counts is what you do.

Dwight Eisenhower was the Supreme Commander of what he called “the whole shebang” in Europe. He knew there was more to winning the war than armor. “What counts is not necessarily the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog,” he said.

At the beginning of 1945 the Allied Expeditionary Force on the Western Front had 73 divisions ready to go. The Germans had 26 divisions. The Battle of the Bulge ended in an Allied victory. Adolf Hitler held a meeting with his top men, instructing them to hold the Americans and British off as long as possible. By that time, however, his top men were flat tires. He boarded a train and never went back to the Western Front again. At the end of January, he gave the last speech he was ever to give. It didn’t do any good.

After surrendering, Leonas spent time in a DP camp, until being recruited by the Americans. They were looking for men who spoke multiple languages and he fit the bill. He had been picking up bits and pieces of English. Russian and Polish are among the Top 10 hardest languages to learn. English is no slouch, either. He served as a Sergeant in a Baltic Unit. In 1946 and 1947 he was in Nuremberg, where war crime trials were being conducted. The evil men who propagated the National Socialist German Party either committed suicide, were executed, or locked up for a long time.

As the hard-fought civilization-saving decade of the 1940s wound itself down, Leonas Lucauskas emigrated to North America, finding work as a lumberjack near Sudbury, Ontario. “It was an indentured servant kind of job,” said Leo. More than two-thirds of the Canadian province is forest, in land area the equivalent of Fascist Germany and Fascist Italy combined. “He was never quite sure where he was.” He wasn’t, at least, a mike down in Sudbury’s nickel mines.

Making it in a company town is unlikely. Since there is no competition, housing costs and groceries bills can become exorbitant, and workers build up large debts they are required to pay off before leaving. It can be slavery by another name. Leonas determined to find another way, his own way.

He and several other men pooled their resources, found a broken-down car, scavenged parts from other wrecks, filled the tires with enough cotton to get them to roll, and hit the road. He ended up in St. Catherine’s, near Niagara Falls, and later, finding the opportunity to go to the United States in 1950, took it and settled down outside Buffalo, New York, where he stayed the rest of his life.

He got married again. His wife Louise taught school. They raised a family. He went to work as a butcher in the meat department of a grocery store for more than thirty years, rarely missing a day.

He built their house on three acres of land. One acre of it was devoted to a garden. Leo recalled, “I must have moved 5,000 wheelbarrows of manure as a child. Whenever our car parts factory friends went on strike, I delivered food to them in the morning before school.” His older sister Katherine still lives in the family home.

Leonas hung from his heels in the garage to prove he could still do it. “My father was a strong man.” said Leo. Sometimes men are strong because it’s the only choice they have. Spinning your wheels doesn’t get it done. He smoked and drank with his friends at the local Italian and Polish social clubs. He was an affable strong man.

Once he was done, he never enlisted in any other man’s army ever again.

Ed Staskus edits Theatre PEI. He posts stories on 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Cleveland Ohio Daybook http://www.clevelandohiodaybook.com

Theatre PEI

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Calm Before the Storm

By Ed Staskus

   There is plenty of good better best even better seafood chowder on Prince Edward Island, since there is plenty of seafood on all sides of the crescent-shaped province. There are cultured mussels and lean white halibut and wild-caught lobster. They go into the chowder. It comes in cups and bowls. Some of the bowls are bigger than others and can be meals in themselves.

   Or more than a meal in themselves.

   “We had a large bowl of chowder last year, but I don’t see it on the menu anymore,” Frank Glass said to the young man who was putting glasses of water down on their table.

   “We have a really good seafood chowder,” he said, pointing to the menu.

   “Is it a big bowl?” asked Frank.

   The young man sized up an imaginary bowl with his hands.

   “No, the chowder we had was in a bowl about twice that size,” Frank said.

   “Oh, you mean the big ass bowl.”

   “What kind of bowl?” asked Vera Glass, sitting across from her husband. They were at a table at one of the windows overlooking the Clyde River. On the far bank the red roof of the PEI Preserve Company, where jams and jellies are made, glowed in the rolling up of dusk.

   “That’s what we call it in the kitchen,” the young man said. “We don’t call it that on the menu, obviously. If you want it, I can ask, and I’m sure we can make it for you.”

   “You’ll just clear the decks and whip it up, even though it’s not on the menu?” Vera asked.

   “Sure,” said the young man.

   “Sweet,” she said.

   Vera and Frank Glass were at the Mill, a snug as a bug up-to-speed restaurant in New Glasgow on Prince Edward Island. It is neither a small nor big roadhouse, seating maybe fifty diners, right on the road, on a zigzag of Route 13 as it runs south from coastal Cavendish through New Glasgow to Hunter River. There is a performance space on the second floor. A deli case just inside the front door is always full of fruit pies and meat pies. The building is blue, two–story, and wide front-porched. It is kitty-corner to the bridge that crosses the snaky river. The Mill describes itself as “carefully sourcing seafood, steaks and entrees served in a rustic yet refined space with scenic views.”

   That’s hitting the nail square on the head.

   It was the night before Hurricane Dorian slammed into PEI, even though it wasn’t a hurricane anymore when it did. It was a post-tropical storm, which is like saying you took it on the chin from a cruiserweight rather than a heavyweight boxer.

   “Under the right conditions, post-tropical storms can produce hurricane-strength winds,” said CBC meteorologist Jay Scotland the day after the storm. “Dorian serves as a good example that the difference between a hurricane and a post-tropical storm is more about the storm’s structure and not its intensity.” On Saturday morning, moving north, it sucked up energy from another weather system moving in from the west. The winds spreading over the island grew to hurricane strength during the day and the storm unrolled over a larger area than Hurricane Juan, the “storm of the century,” had done in 2003.

   “Look who’s back,” said Vera, looking over Frank’s shoulder.

   “Who?”

   “Michelle.”

   “Good, maybe she’ll be our waitress.”

   “She looks better tonight, not so spaced.”

   “Didn’t she have to go home the last time we were here?”

   “I think so.”

   “Hi, how are you?”

   “Good,” said Michelle. “I see you two have made it back again.”

   “This is our third time here in three weeks, although we’re leaving for home on Sunday,” said Vera.

   “So, you’ll be here for the storm.”

   “It looks like it.”

   “Where’s home?”

   “In Ohio, Lakewood, which is right on the lake, just west of Cleveland,” said Frank. “We get thunderstorms that come across Lake Erie from Canada, but nothing like what we’ve been hearing is going to blow up here in your neck of the woods.”

   Hurricane Dorian hit home like a battle-ax.

   “The result was much higher rainfall and more widespread destructive winds across PEI with Dorian compared to Juan,” said Jay Scotland, the weatherman. On Monday Blair Campbell, the chief executive officer of PEI Mutual Insurance, said they logged the most claims ever on Sunday, the day after the storm. More than four hundred policy holders called in property damage.

   “These are damage claims in the frequency and magnitude that we have not seen before,’’ he said.

   Fishing boats from Stanley Bridge to Covehead were smashed submerged sunk.

   “Sobeys in Charlottetown this morning was worse than Christmas time,” said Michelle. “You couldn’t get anywhere with your cart. Everybody was buying dry cereal, canned fruit, ready-to-eat, and cases of water.”

   Frances MacLure was stocking up like everybody else.

   “So far I have just bought batteries,” she said. “I have two radios and I’m going to make sure one of them is going to work. It’s always nice to be able to keep in touch if the power is out for any length of time,” she said.

   There were sandwich makings on her list, as well.

   “Just for a quick bite if the power goes off.”

   “Everybody was buying batteries,” said Michelle. “The last time a hurricane came to the island, power was out for more than a week.”

   “We are very concerned, we’ve certainly spent the last three days in readiness, in going through all of our checklist and checking our equipment,” said Kim Griffin of Maritime Electric as the weekend approached. “There is a lot of greenery and foliage on the trees, that is a concern to us. So, we are really asking our customers to make sure they are prepared and ready.”

   “When was that?” asked Frank.

   “About fifteen years ago,” said Michelle. “Summerside has its own power, but if it goes out in New Brunswick, this whole part of the island won’t have any power.”

   “Do you still have that moonshine cocktail?” asked Vera.

   “We do,” Michelle said.

   Vera had an Island Shine and Frank had a pint of Charlottetown lager.

   “Are you going to have the big chowder?” asked Vera.

   “Yes,” Frank said.

   “I’m going to have a small bowl of soup and the ribs,” Vera said. “What about going halves on the lamb and feta appetizer? It’s good with everything.”

   “Sure,” Frank said. “You can’t go wrong with the ribs, and the mac and cheese they come with. That cheese from Glasgow Glen, it’s good. I had it the last time we were here.”

   “I hope Emily has the sweet potato curry soup tonight,” said Vera. “Curry is my number one favorite thing in the world.”

   “What about me?”

   “You’re close, maybe third or fourth.”

   “That close, huh?”

   “You don’t like curry, which is a problem. It drops you in the standings. I think Emily is a curry person, like me. She probably does a great Fall Flavors menu.”

   The Mill’s owner and chef Emily Wells was born in England and lived on the continent before coming to Prince Edward Island in 1974 when her parents bought Cold Comfort Farm. She is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of Canada, committed to local healthy food and ethical food production. She has worked in restaurants in PEI and Ontario for more than three decades and is a key contributor to the River Clyde Pageant. The pageant is about the tidal river, and features great blue herons, trout puppets, schools of dressed-up jellyfish, bridge trolls and mermaids and fishermen.

   “I love it when you put curry in things, but sometimes all of a sudden you don’t taste anything else. I feel like you can taste everything in her soups.”

   “It’s like her chowder, it’s chock-full, but nothing’s drowned out, all the parts stand out,” Frank said. “It’s not too busy.”

   “Everything here is always better than I expect, even though I always expect it to be good,” Vera said.

   “My boyfriend is a chef at the Blue Mussel in North Rustico, and it’s hard for us to get a day off in the summer on the same day, so we hardly ever eat out,” Michelle said.

   “After eating here and at the Mussel, we don’t always want to go, anyway, but we ate out in Charlottetown a few weeks ago, and the chowder we got was mostly a milky liquid, with so little fish in it. We poked around for whatever we could find but ended up asking for another loaf of bread. We got it to dunk into the chowder, because there were hardly any pieces of anything.”

   From one end of Prince Edward Island to the other pieces of preparation for the storm were coming together.

   “We have been busy as a team,” said Randy MacDonald, chief of the Charlottetown Fire Department, the day before the storm. “Our team has been making preparations for tomorrow.”

   He said chainsaws and generators were on hand. “We may see trees down, branches down, large branches taking down power lines, that sort of thing.” Rapid response cars, trucks, and ambulances were gassed up full and staff was on the alert, ready to go.

   While the tempest was rolling up the coast, Michelle didn’t only rush to Sobeys. She took matters into her own hands, in her own kitchen, in her own house.  “I live just down the road from here, next to the Gouda place. I send my son there for pizza, since he can walk over.”

   The Gouda place makes artisan cheese.

   “I’ve passed my name and my expertise on to Jeff McCourt and his new company Glasgow Glen Cheese,” said the former Cheese Lady, Martina ter Beek.

   Glasgow Glen Farm slaps out skins from scratch, down the line doing the dough to sprinkling homegrown veggies and meats on the pie, featuring their own made from scratch gouda, working behind the front counter at two long tables just inside the door, wood firing the pizzas in a brick oven.

   In the summer there are picnic tables on the side of the gravel parking lot, a grassy field sloping away from a pile of cordwood.

   “I made chowder,” said Michelle. “It was a fishy stew, like Mel does. I ended up using cod, clams, and scallops. I made everything else, clam juice, potatoes, carrots, onions, and tomatoes out of my garden. Once the potatoes were almost completely cooked, I took the pieces of cod and sat them on top. I put a lid on it and all the flavor of the cod went into it, yeah.”

  She didn’t need any bread to help her chowder out, either.

   While Vera pulled gently at her baby back ribs, Frank started scooping out his large bowl of broth and seafood.

   “How’s the sinkhole?” Vera asked.

   “So far so good,” said Frank. “It’s sort of like a Manhattan clam chowder, like the Portuguese make, and like a seafood goulash at the same time.”

   “Like a cioppino.”

   “Like a what?”

   “That’s the official name of it,” Vera said.

   “Anyway, I can taste bay leaves and thyme, and there might be some oregano in it. It’s loaded with stuff. She must have hit the motherload at the fish market. There are mussels, halibut, lobster, a chuck of salmon, and shrimp.”

   “Emily probably uses whatever she has on hand,” Vera said.

   “On top there’s a red pepper rouille, almost like a pesto, which gives it a kick.”   

   “Are you going to be able to finish it?”

   “I’m going to give it my best shot.”

   Halfway through their meal, when Vera spotted a plate of maple mousse walking by, she said to Frank, “That’s what I want to try for dessert tonight. It’s frozen mousse, like ice cream. I thought it might not be good for sharing, but that thing is more than big enough.”

   “All right,” said Frank, “since that Anna kid is a wizard. First, we eat well, then we face tomorrow, no matter what happens.”

   The Mill was almost vacated evacuated when they paid their bill of fare and left.

   “You wouldn’t know a hurricane is blowing in,” Frank said to Vera as they lingered in the front lot after dinner, leaning against the back hatch of their Hyundai, watching the no traffic on the quiet road, the starry northern sky inky and still above them.

   When Saturday morning rolled around, it started getting dark, and by noon it started raining. It got windy and windier. The Coastline Cottages and the Doyle houses on the other side of the park road lost power in the late afternoon. Churchill Avenue in town was shut down. The Gulf Shore Parkway east from Brackley was shut down. Roads in all directions were shut down, as utility wires and branches blew away. Fences were flattened, roofs torn off, and hundred-year-old trees toppled.

   The damage to the Cavendish Campground, seven-some miles away from where Frank and Vera were staying, was so bad it was closed for the rest of the year. An arc from Cavendish to Kensington to Summerside was walloped. Islanders tarped their roofs, sawed up tree limbs, and hauled away debris for days afterwards. On Sunday morning all the trails administered by Parks Canada everywhere on PEI were shut down until they could be assessed.

   After their cottage lost power, Frank and Vera packed for their drive home the next day and tidied up while there was still some light. “At least we know the mondo bridge is as sturdy as it gets,” said Vera. When it got dark, 19th century-style dark, they popped open the remains of a bottle of red wine and spent the rest of the night riding out the lashing all-out rain and gusting big ass wind.

Ed Staskus edits Theatre PEI. He posts feature stories on 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Cleveland Ohio Daybook http://www.clevelandohiodaybook.com

Theatre PEI

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Kitchen Party

By Ed Staskus

Some years later living in a Polish double in Cleveland, Ohio, the last winter we lived in the old neighborhood off St. Clair Ave., before moving to the new neighborhood in North Collinwood where a school and convent adjoining the Lithuanian church had just been built, I watched my 9-year-old sister Rita walk up the stairs in her new American winter coat and remembered the blimp-style snow suit my mother made for her in Sudbury, Ontario.

She looked like one of the astronauts in ‘Destination Moon.’ I had seen the Technicolor sci-fi movie on a 15” black and white “Atomic Age” Zenith. It had a sharp picture, at least until it warmed up, when it would sooner or later start arcing and hissing. It was always on the verge of blowing up.

It was space, the new frontier, brought to life by space the old frontier, at least until the TV went black. Rockets were hot. Project Mercury was done and gone, launching the first American astronaut on a suborbital flight in 1961. John Glenn lifted off on an Atlas rocket in 1962 to become the first American to orbit the Earth.

Rita wore her space suit winters in Sudbury. It was where my mother Angele Jurgelaityte married Vytas Staskevicius in 1949 and gave birth to me in 1951, my brother in 1952, and my sister in 1954. It was the trifecta. When she did, she gave up her job as a nanny for the Lapalme’s, known as “The Largest Family in Sudbury,” and went to work raising her own family in her own house. The Lapalme’s had 13 kids.

“I spent all my time cooking, cleaning, doing laundry, and watching my own kids,” she said.

The day she got married she knew how to boil pork and make soup. That was about it. “I didn’t know how to make any other food.” The first time she bought ground meat for a meatloaf, she bought too many pounds by far of it. “We didn’t have a refrigerator and I had to ask one of our neighbors to keep it for me.” She stuck to the basics, fruit in season, fresh meat from a butcher shop, eggs, cheese, bread, milk, and coffee.

“No matter how much I ate I couldn’t put on weight,” she said. “I was thin as a pencil.” She saw a doctor who told her not to overthink nor overeat her slender figure. “You’ll want it back some day,” he told her.

My mom and dad rented an upstairs room to a German couple recently arrived in the country, Bruno and Ingrid Hauck, in order to bring in some income. They charged $11.00 a week and soon converted a second upstairs bedroom to accommodate more boarders. There was a half bath.

“I don’t know where they went for a real bath,” she said. Our family lived on the ground floor. We had a full bath. Once a week in the tub was de rigueur at our house.

“I loved having kids, but we still had to go out sometimes,” she said. Her husband bought her a fur coat after Rita’s birth. Fur was more a north country necessity than a big city luxury, and didn’t cost an arm and a leg, especially since it wasn’t mink and came from the nearby outdoors.

They couldn’t afford a babysitter but made friends with the Hauck’s. “Ingrid loved the kids, especially Rick. She watched them so we could go out.” They walked to the movie theater on Elm Street on Saturday nights. After the movie they took a stroll.

Angele worked for the Laplame’s as a mother’s helper one winter, spring, and summer. J. A. Lapalme, a local businessman, had promised her he would help get Vytas out of Germany and into Canada. He went to his office every day and every day she waited for word about the sponsorship.

“One week he was in Montreal,” she said. “When he got home, he didn’t say anything about it. I was in the kitchen washing dishes. I asked him if he had done it, sponsored Vytas, but he said he forgot. I got so mad I threw the washcloth on the floor.”

She ran upstairs, down the hallway to the back, into her room, slammed the door, and threw herself on the bed.

He knocked on the door, came in, and said, “I’ll fix it tomorrow.”

“He did it the next day,” she said.

Vytas went to work in the nickel mines. Sudbury was a mining town. Either you worked underground, or you worked in an ancillary business. He wasn’t low man on the totem pole, like pick-axe men, but he had to watch his step in the 3,000-foot-deep dim damp mineshafts. A wrong step could be a last step. His first job was packing black powder. He worked as a blaster, the man responsible for loading, priming, and detonating blastholes, breaking rock for excavation, creating rock cuts.

Sudbury is the regional capital of northeastern Ontario, 230 miles north of Toronto and 140 miles east of Sault Ste. Marie. It lays in a 200-million-year-old crater, surrounded by the Canadian Shield, and has hundreds of lakes within its boundaries. Lake Wanapitei is the largest city-contained lake in the world.

Sudbury’s economy went boom and bust through the years as demand for nickel fluctuated. It was high during World War One, fell sharply when the war ended, and rose again in the 1920s and 30s. It was one of the richest and fastest-growing cities in Canada through the 1930s. During World War Two one mine alone accounted for all the nickel used in Allied artillery. With the advent of the Cold War Sudbury supplied the United States with most of its military grade nickel.

Angele and Vytas lived in an old two-story clapboard house on Pine Street after their wedding and one-day honeymoon at a nearby lakeshore park and local hotel. They saved everything they could and couldn’t afford, and with the help of a loan from J. A. Lapalme, were able to buy a new house on a new dead-end stretch of Stanley Street.

Stanley Street stretched four blocks from Elm Street, the commercial thoroughfare, past Pine Street to Poplar Street. When it was extended to the nearly sheer rock face on top of which the Canada Pacific ran hauling orian, it became five blocks. Several new homes were built. All of them had basements and coal furnaces.

“There were three on our side of the street and three on the other side when we moved in,” said Angele. There were no sidewalks. “One of the houses on the other side was bigger. It was the builder’s home.”

He neglected to install storm windows on their new house, regardless of the long winters.  “We hadn’t signed for the house, yet, and Vytas insisted he put in second windows. He put them right in.” They might have been recent immigrants, DPs from Eastern Europe, but they didn’t need a weatherman to know which way the winter wind blew.

The builder had four children, two of them boys. We played with them in the summer, climbing the sloping rock hills behind our house, and planning on how to someday climb the steep rock cliff at the end of the street. Our parents forbade us the fantasy, while we bided our time.

Angele spoke Lithuanian fluently, Russian and German competently, English just barely, and French not at all. Everybody in Sudbury spoke English and French. It was the grapevine and listen some more for her to be able to go shopping.

“I listened to people. I learned English by talking to them.”

The first Lithuanians came to Canada in the early 1900s to work in Nova Scotia’s mines. They established a parish and built a church in 1913. Another wave of immigration, tens of thousands, took place after World War Two. Most of them went to Ontario. They spread out to London, Hamilton, and Toronto. Some of them went to Sudbury. There was ready employment there.

For all its work and prosperity, the mining town was known as one of the ugliest cities in Canada. Logging for the purpose of roasting ore on open fires and the smoke that resulted despoiled the landscape, leaving behind scattered poplars and birches, the only trees able to endure the harm. The small city and its vast environs were often compared to the landscape of the moon. What birds there were carried their nut and seed lunch boxes from tree to tree because the trees were so far and few between. They never said goodbye, though. The nest is where the heart is.

“The summers were short and steamy,” Angele said. “There were no trees anywhere. The rock would get hot and make everything hotter. The winters started in October and they were cold.”

When spring came, there wasn’t much to it. Decades of indiscriminate logging, massive mining operations, and smelter emissions had wiped out almost all of the vegetation. The pollution poisoned lakes and streams. The dearth of trees meant a dearth of mulch, leading to widespread soil erosion. As a result, frost was severe in the winter and it was too summery in the summer.

It was colder than cold in winter. The average temperature was below zero. “Our best friends, Henry and Maryte Zizys, had to go home on the bus one weekend after visiting us and it was 45 degrees below zero.” The average snowfall was above average for northern land. The last frost in spring was in May. It came back early in autumn.

In the winter, once she got the hang of it, Angele sewed clothes. When she started, she had sewn little except a button back on a shirt or skirt. “But when you have to do something, I did it,” she said. She learned to sew the same way she learned to speak English. She rummaged cheap clothes from second-hand stores and took them apart to see how they had been put together. She cut up adult pants, reusing the zippers, and made children’s pants. “The zipper in pants was hard to figure out.” She learned by doing what she was doing.

“I found out it was just common sense,” she said.

She bought a used foot-powered Treadle Singer sewing machine in good condition. A rubber belt operated it. It stretched from the balance wheel to a flat metal bigfoot pedal at the bottom. The power came from the rhythm of the sewer’s feet. The stitch length couldn’t be adjusted. Only a single straight stitch is possible with treadle machines. But once you get into the swing of things, both delicate and durable stiches become more workable.

Within a few years she was making curtains and tablecloths for herself and their neighbors.

She sewed dresses for her friends. She made a dress for Irma Hauck. “I sewed a coat for Maryte Zizys.” She learned to make pants for the men, cuffs and all. She sewed winter suits for us. I got a German army winter field coat and matching wool pants. Rick got a Space Cadet zip up one-piece suit. Both of us wore snug form-fitting hats based on “Atomic Rulers of the World.”  Rita’s snow suit was puffed up like a dirigible, cinched at the waist, and paired with a white rabbit furry hat. She was “The Thing from Stanley Street.” We chased her with make-believe ray guns.

When my father learned how to ice skate at a local rink, he bought us skates. He flooded the front yard with hose water, and when it froze solid taught us how to skate. Whenever Rita fell down, she never felt a thing, her puffy suit protecting her. But sometimes she couldn’t get back up, lacking leverage, the sharp gusty wind rolling her over and over.

“When I lived in Nuremberg, at the Army Hospital, one of my roommates, Monica, read my palm, and said I would have three children, but one of them would die young,” Angele said. “When it was time to take the taxi to the hospital for Rita, my third child, I was so scared I fell down on the living room floor and couldn’t go.”

Vytas got her to her feet and inside the car. In the event, Rita survived, fortune teller or no fortune teller, ray guns or no ray guns, rock solid ice or not.

In the spring, between pregnancies and births, Angele performed in plays resurrected from Lithuania. She danced with a folk-dance group. They practiced in the church hall and did turns on local stages, once going to Sault Ste. Marie for an outdoor dance jamboree.

“Rimas Bagdonas was always my partner,” she said. “He was tall and a good dancer.”

Vytas and Angele met Rimas and Regina Bagdonas in Sudbury. They met everyone they knew in Sudbury, since everyone else they had known in Lithuania was either stuck in the homeland behind the Iron Curtain or had emigrated to one corner of the wide world-or-other or had died in the war.

Rimas worked for Murray Mines and hosted a Lithuanian radio program Sundays in his spare time. He sang and danced and played the piano, violin, harmonica, accordion, and organ. He was one of the church organists and one of the accordionists for folk dancing performances.

He worked down deep in the rock for eight years. In 1957 he was told in order to be promoted he would have to change his last name. A manager suggested Rimas Bags or Rimas Bagas. He didn’t like the idea. He worked in the dark but was beginning to see the light.

“My dad told them he was born a Bagdonas and would die a Bagdonas,” his daughter Lele said. “So, a family decision was made that he would leave to find a job. We stayed in Sudbury. That November after he found work, we moved to Hamilton. My dad’s first job was at the Ford plant in nearby Oakville.”

By 1957 most of the Lithuanians in Sudbury were thinking about talking about planning on leaving or had already left for greener pastures. They were moving to Toronto Montreal and the northern United States. My father had made a foray south of the border, exploring where we might go to live and work.

Mining has been and is one of the most dangerous occupations in the world. Some of the worst workplace disasters ever have been collapses and explosions. The most common accidents are the result of poisonous or volatile gases and the misuse of explosives for blasting operations. Especially dangerous below ground is mine-induced instability. It is a major threat for all diggers. None of the DP diggers wanted to be dug out of rubble.

At the start of the 1950s Sudbury had a population of about 40,000 and of the 14,000 men in the labor force more than 8,000 of them worked in mining and smelting. Ten years later, due to the high demand for labor, the population of the city doubled. But at the outset of the 2000s Sudbury had the smallest proportion of immigrants of any city in Ontario, the Italians, Ukrainians, and Lithuanians almost all gone.

In the meantime, Sudbury modernized its mining and reclaimed its landscape. They changed the climate. Nearly 9 million trees were planted over a 30-year period. It was one of the largest re-greening projects in the world.

“I hated my husband having to work in the mines,” said Angele. “Whenever a miner died, you never heard it on the news or read about it in the newspaper. We only ever found out by word- of-mouth, one to the other.”

Rita’s godfather moved to Chicago. Rick’s godfather moved to San Diego. My godfather moved to Los Angeles. Henry and Maryte Zizys moved to Montreal. The Hauck’s moved to Detroit. Almost everyone who had come to Sudbury for the chance to get out of Europe and for the available work went somewhere else.

“My husband worked nine hours a day for two weeks and then nine hours a night for two weeks,” said Angele. His days of getting up, shoveling coal into the furnace on cold mornings, having breakfast, walking or hitching a ride to the mine, working his shift, getting home, having dinner, seeing his kids for few minutes, took up most of his day. “When he worked nights, we barely saw him. He would come home in the morning, have a bite to eat, and go to bed.”

Refugees and displaced people believe in hard work as the way to get ahead. It’s often the only thing to believe in. Everything else has been left behind.

“When the men were working day shifts, we had parties on weekends at our house,” Angele said. “We had a big living room and the Simkiai, Povilaiciai, and Dzenkaiciai would come over.” We got shoved into a bedroom to fend for ourselves.

The men played bridge in the kitchen long into the night, drinking beer and homemade krupnickas, which is a kind of Lithuanian moonshine, smoking Export “A” and Player’s Navy Cut cigarettes until the card table was under a pall of smoke. The women put food out, mixed cocktails, and kibitzed the card players. They danced to records. They kicked back and talked.

“We didn’t have TV’s, so we talked.”

They talked about their kids, their neighbors and friends, their baznycia and bendruomene, who was getting married and who was getting dumped, the movies, shopping cooking the butcher baker and candlestick maker. They talked about local doings. The men talked about their jobs, who knew and didn’t know what they were doing. They put us to bed when they spotted us listening. They talked long into the night in the living room.

Outside when it got dark, and started snowing, the black rock face of Sudbury got muffled in white. When the wind picked up drifts built up against the side of the house and the windows. After that there wasn’t much to see. They didn’t talk about what had been, so much, but about what was going to be. Up ahead was what mattered to them.

“One day a door will open and let the future in,” Angele said. In the meantime, she made sure the front door was securely latched. There was no sense in letting Old Man Winter crash the party.

Photograph by Vytas Staskevicius.

Ed Staskus edits Theatre PEI. He posts feature stories on 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Cleveland Ohio Daybook http://www.clevelandohiodaybook.com

Theatre PEI

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Bringing Back the Future

By Ed Staskus

   The green house on Doyle’s Cove and the shore road on the Gulf of St. Lawrence have both been there for more than a century, except last century they changed places. The road used to be on the cliff side and the house on the hillside. The green house is on the cliff side today and the road has been moved away from the ocean. It is now the National Park road.

   “It was on the property but maybe a few hundred yards away,” said Kelly Doyle, about what became the green house. When Kelly’s father, Tom, hauled it down to the water’s edge, it was because his new bride refused to stay in the white family house, the house that ended up within earshot.

   “Dad in the back of his head thought his mother and wife would get along, but they were both very damned strong women,” Kelly said. “They just couldn’t live in the same house, both determined about that.”

   When Doris and Tom Doyle married in 1947, both in their early 20s, Dottie from Boston and Tom native to the island, they moved into the big white house on the cove built in 1930 that Tom grew up in.

   “The only place to live was living in the white house,” Kelly said.

   The white house is on the ocean side of North Rustico, on the north side of Prince Edward Island, near the entrance to the harbor, a clapboard two-story house with a dozen windows, two dormers and three porches on the side facing the water. A broad lawn slopes down to the cliffs. 

   “The first house was bigger,” said Kelly.

   It had been bigger, but it was gone.

   Kelly’s grandparents, Mike and Loretta Doyle, were playing cards at a neighbor’s house one night in 1929. It was winter, cold and snowbound. Their friends lived about a mile away. At the end of the evening, going home in their horse-drawn sled, they crested a frozen hill. A red glow lit up the sky and flared across the ice in the cove below them. 

   The pitch-dark night was lit up. The house was on fire. They had left seven children behind in the care of the eldest. Tom was the youngest, four years old.

   “It was a flue fire,” said Kelly. “It burnt down because of the stove.”

   By the time the horses raced down to the house, the parents finding all their children safe and sound outside, there wasn’t much Mike and Loretta could do. There were no neighbors nearby to help and there was no fire department. Mike was able to drag some furniture from the first floor out the front door and saved as many fox furs as he could.

   The house was rebuilt the next year and finished the following year.

   “The foxes my grandfather saved from the fire built the new house.” Kelly’s grandfather was a fox farmer. What he sold the pelts for went to pay for the work of the nomadic immigrant tradesmen who built the house.

   “Nobody knew them,” said Kelly. “They weren’t from around here.”

   It took the Great Depression a year to get to Prince Edward Island, but when it did it disrupted farming, what the island did for a living. In 1930 PEI farmers had a large grain and potato harvest. They had never had problems selling to their markets, but by then their markets were going broke. For the next couple of years, no markets were buying. By 1933 average net farm income on PEI was twenty dollars a year, selling fruits, produce, vegetables, and cattle.

   Although agriculture and the fisheries crashed, tourism and fox fur farming boomed during the 1930s. It was how many islanders kept their heads above water. One in ten PEI farmers were involved in keeping foxes, supporting their families. There were 600-some fox farms on the island in 1932. Five years later there were double that. By the end of the decade ten times the number of pelts went to market as had the previous decade.

   “When my mother married my dad, she didn’t get along with my grandmother all that well,” said Kelly. They were all living together in the family house. “My mom and grandmother liked each other enough, but not enough to live in the same house. She finally said to my dad, you better build me a house.”

   It put Tom Doyle on the spot. There wasn’t the money for a new house, even though they had the property. “Dad had a choice to make, either lose your wife, or build a house.” He couldn’t build a house, so he improvised.

   “I don’t know what kind of a building it was,” Kelly said. “It was few hundred yards away. He hauled it down the hill to the cliffs and turned it into a house, even though he had his hands full farming at the time.”

   Moving a building is no small amount of work. Fortunately, the building was on the small side, there was a short clear route, and there weren’t any utility wires that had to raised. There was no electricity or plumbing to disconnect, either. Still, wooden cribs had to be inserted to support the building inside and out, jacks had to raise it at the same exact rate and lower it the same way, and it had to be trailered slowly and carefully to its new foundation, between the barn and the white house.

   “It was almost eighty years old when my dad moved it,” said Kelly. “It was two thirds the size of what it is now. When I grew up in it, it was pretty small. They built onto it in 1964 when I was eight years old. We spent that winter in my grandmother’s house while our house was being renovated.”

   The Doyle kids, Cathy, Elaine, Kenny, John, Mike, and Kelly grew up in what became a two-story, gable-roofed, green-shingled house, even though it was never big enough for all of them, never enough bedrooms.

   “It wasn’t bad, since there was a fifteen-year difference between the youngest and the oldest. We all left the house at different times.”

   Mike Doyle died in 1948, soon after Tom and Dottie’s marriage, leaving Loretta a widow. She started taking in summer tourists, putting up a sign that said Surfside Inn. She harvested her own garden for the B & B’s breakfasts. “My grandmother filled all the rooms every summer. Some Canadians came, and more Europeans, and Americans because they had lots of money.” 

   She ran the inn for more than twenty years. 

   “She got a little bit ill around 1970, and lived alone for six, seven years until my dad moved her into the senior’s home in the village. After that nobody lived in the house for ten years.”

   In the late 1980s Andy Doyle took it over, rechristening it Andy’s Surfside Inn. 

   “My uncle had been gone for more than twenty years, nobody ever heard from him, and then he came out of the woodwork and took it over,” Kelly said. Nobody could believe that a man in his late 60s wanted or could run a five-room inn. He ran the show for almost twenty-five years, outliving all his siblings until dying in his sleep two years ago.

   It was the end of the Surfside Inn, but not the end of the white house. Erik Brown, the son of Elsie, Andy’s sister, moved in, keeping it in the family. The next summer he started renovating the house back to a home.

   “It was a rambling old home with large rooms and a spectacular view,” said a woman who came from Montreal. “The best thing is having breakfast in the morning with all the guests around one table. One year ten years ago it was with mime artists from Quebec, an opera singer from Holland, and another lady from Switzerland. A dip in the cove outside the front door is a must before breakfast. There are lovely foxes gambling outside, in the evening, on the large lawn!”

   “It was neat when I was growing up,” said Kelly. It was the 1960s. “There were ducks geese and sheep and white picket fences. She had lots of tourists from Europe. We were just kids, all these little blond heads running around. I started meeting those people from overseas.”

   Up the hill from the bottom of the pitch where today there is forest land there was in the 1970s a summer camp for clansman kids.

“They called it Love it Scots. There wasn’t a tree up there then. A couple hundred kids from around the Maritimes would come and they would teach them Scottish music and their heritage. We could hear the bagpipes being played every night on our farm down here.”

   Highland College staged the PEI Scottish Festival there.

   “After that it was a campground, three four hundred families up there.”

   When the campground closed, the trees began to grow back until today it looks like the trees have always been there, rimming out the horizon, alive with damp and shadow. Blue jays, weasels, red squirrels and red foxes live there. The foxes hunt mice and rabbits. The blue jay is the provincial bird and stays above the fray.

   “I grew up with tourists,” said Kelly. “It was different back then. Now people come here and expect to be entertained.”

   There is Anne of Green Gables for the kids. There is harness racing and nightlife. There are performing arts in Charlottetown, Summerside, and even North Rustico. There are ceilidhs every summer evening all over the island. There is a country music festival in Cavendish that draws tens of thousands of people. There is cultural tourism. There are bus tours. Cruise ships dock in Georgetown, Summerside, and Charlottetown, disgorging hundreds of passengers on shore excursions, looking for something to do.

   The provincial authorities opened a buffalo park in the 1970s after getting a score of bison as a gift. Bison is not native to the island. Nevertheless, tourists lined up to see the car-sized animal like a large cow with horns curving upwards. Bison can run three times faster than people and jump fences five feet high. Fortunately, they were behind six-foot fences.

   “Back then people came here with a different attitude. There was lots to do, too, because they found the local life interesting. They liked the humbleness of everybody, the way of life that was so honest and down to earth. PEI wasn’t like the rest of the world back then. The Maritimes were kind of cut off from the rest of the world once the Merchant Marine was taken away. We kind of fell behind there.”

   The tourists of the 1950s and 60s were young couples travelling with children. Some were older couples from the American east coast. There were nature lovers. There were artists. Some of them were bohemians. Others came because PEI had become the “Cradle of Confederation.”

   “Even though, it was a dump here when I was growing up, to be honest,” said Kelly. “Everyone had an outhouse and a pig in the backyard. There were rats everywhere. It wasn’t all that nice in Rustico, but a lot of artists, writers, photographers, people who liked nature came here. It took a long time to come back, in the 70s and 80s, before it became looking like a real village.”

   In the 1970s the provincial government invested in tourism and has stayed invested ever since. It partnered in the Brudenell Resort near Georgetown and the Mill River Resort. Both include golf courses, which are seen as important tourist attractions. 

   Fifty years later, Prince Edward Island is a different place.

   “It’s sterilized now,” said Kelly. “It’s a completely different PEI, and the people who come here are different, different attitude, different interests.”

   Kelly grew up in the green house, on the cove. After storms the beach and red sandstone were often choked with seaweed, stinking for hundreds of yards. Back in the day some men collected it for fertilizer in their gardens and banked it against their house walls as insulation against the cold winter weather.

   Everyone went to school in town. After school Kelly and his friends didn’t have to go far for fun.

   “Between the pool hall and the rink, those were my social events, before I could drink. We grew up in the pool hall here.”

   To this day John Doyle is an outstanding pool player and participates in tournaments. “John is a decent shot,” said Kelly. “Keep your money in your wallet.”

   The pool hall was down and around the corner from Church Hill Road. A boatbuilder had several shops there and one of his sons converted one of them. The shop that became a pool hall was green like the green house. “There were a couple of pinball machines up front and eight tables in the back. it was the spot for boys and girls on weekends.”

   By the time he was 16 years old and finished with 9th grade, he was finished with school. Many boys did the same, going to work with their fathers, or simply going to work. Kelly went west to Quebec and Ontario, but when he got back to Prince Edward Island and started going into the tourist trade, the green house was still there. 

   He built a cottage up the hill from it.

   In the years since then Kenny Doyle built a brown house behind the barn. After Tom and Dottie passed away, the green house was rented to a young woman from the village for a few years, but John Doyle has taken it over. Bill and Michelle DuBlois, sprung from Elaine Doyle, have built a blue house across the street. 

   It is Doyle’s Land, from the edge of the ocean to the edge of the trees.

Ed Staskus edits Theatre PEI. He posts stories on 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Cleveland Ohio Daybook http://www.clevelandohiodaybook.com

Theatre PEI

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Ground Zero

By Ed Staskus

   The General Hospital of the Immaculate Heart of Mary opened in Sudbury on Paris Street in 1950. It was the first English speaking not just French hospital in northern Ontario. It had a brick façade with a steel beam grid system. The parking lot was close to hand right at the entrance, which was handy if you were dragging a broken leg behind you.

   Nobody needed to speak English or any other language to get around. “They used to do this cool thing,” Ginette Tobodo said. “On the walls they painted certain colors, one color for the lab, another color for the cardiac department, and you just followed the color to where you needed to go. It was easy to find your way around.”

  Susan Cameron was the lead blast off. “The hospital was not officially open, but my mother was in labor,” she said. It was unofficial but necessary vital time sensitive. When it’s your time to be born, it’s your time, no matter what anybody officially rules on the matter.

   When I was born the next year in March 1951 everybody was already calling the hospital the ‘General.’ I don’t remember a single second of being in my mother’s womb. The next thing I knew there were bright lights, voices, a pair of scissors, a slap on my butt, and I was being held up for inspection like a hunk of ham. I couldn’t make out what was happening. Everybody was wearing clothes and I was naked as a jaybird. It seemed like I had come into being not knowing anything.   

   The whole thing was such a shock I couldn’t bring myself to talk about it for almost two years, by which time nobody wanted to hear about it.

   A man wearing a mask counted my toes and fingers and pinched my arms and legs. He stopped when he seemed satisfied. I wanted to ask him what he was doing but didn’t know how to talk. That month’s issue of Sudbury’s Inco Triangle newsletter had a poem called “Man’s a Queer Animal” on one of its inside pages.

   “With a lid on each eye, and a bridge on his nose, with drums in his ears, and nails on his toes, with palms on his hands, and soles on his feet, and a large Adam’s apple, that helps him to eat, with a cap on each knee, on each shoulder a blade, he’s the queerest thing made.”

   I looked myself over. I didn’t seem queer, but what did I know? I checked the other newborns but couldn’t see any difference between them and me. Were we all off the wall? I was reassured when I heard a nurse say, “They are all such little miracles.”

   Inco was the corporation that ran most of the mining in Sudbury. Its head man died a month before I was born. Robert Crooks Stanley was a mining engineer who patented many new refining methods including the Stanley Process. He became president of Inco in 1922, when the company was at a low ebb. He had to close operations owing to a loss of war orders. Six years later, recovering his poise, he launched a $50 million dollar building and expansion project. 

   When I came down the chute the mines were booming. My mom was getting her bag ready for the hospital the day Len Turner and Nifty Jessup arrived at the Bank of Toronto in the Donovan neighborhood, one of Sudbury’s oldest neighborhoods, with Inco’s weekly payroll. Going up the steps of the bank, the pay clerks were suddenly brought up short by two men armed with revolvers.

   “Let me have that case,” one of them snarled.

   Len made a grab for the man’s gun. The gun went off, the bullet slamming into the bank building. The bank was unharmed. The gunman grabbed the payroll case and the thieves drove off in a stolen car towards North Bay. For all that, they made a wrong turn, got trapped on Fir Lane and the Sudbury police, more of them and better armed than the bandits, rounded them up.

   “A little of that excitement goes a long way,” Len said to Nifty after they got their company’s payroll back.

   Sudbury came into existence in the early 1880s as a construction site for Canadian Pacific Railway that was laying tracks for a transcontinental line. It was a company town and all the stores and boarding houses and everything else were operated by the company. W. J. Bell cut down every tree he could see to supply the railroad, at least until the day the railroad was done and left town. It looked like the end of Sudbury.

   It was saved from stillbirth by prospectors who found vast mineral deposits, what became known as the Sudbury Basin. It is the third largest impact crater on the planet, when something big from outer space crashed there about 2 billion years ago. “By 1886 we knew Sudbury was going to be a mining town,” Florence Howey wrote. In that year mining and smelting was started by Copper Cliff. Seven years later the town incorporated itself.

   Meanwhile, Sam Richie formed the Canadian Copper Company in Cleveland, Ohio, which was an unknown place to me in 1951, although by 1959 I was finding out all about it since my parents, with my brother, sister, and me in tow, migrated there. At the turn of the 20th century Canadian Copper was merged with International Nickel, controlled by J. P Morgan, and moved to New Jersey.

   Sudbury’s nickel plating on warships helped win the Spanish-American War for the United States. Afterwards, the British and their international military cousins sat up and took notice. The arms race was on, and Sudbury was rolling in dough.

   Even though my mother and I had been inseparable for nine months, the next thing I knew I was being separated from her. I was carried to a nursery and spent the next week in the company of a gaggle of strangers. Half the time half of us were crying. The rest of the time we were sleeping or looking around for food.

   The boy next to me seemed to be hungry 24 hours a day. Whenever anything edible was within reach, he reached for it. “He’s a nice boy but he’s got more nerve than a bum tooth,” I thought, even though he was far off from cutting his teeth. A girl on the other side of me wiggled her legs and giggled. She started wiggling her arms, too. 

   I couldn’t take my eyes off her, baby fat and all. “That girl is fidgety as a bubble dancer with a slow leak,” I tried to tell the hungry boy beside me, but the words wouldn’t come, and besides he was eating again.

   The nurses gave us a bath every morning and fed us every three hours. The nurse who scrubbed me from tip to toe was all business. She tested the temperature with her elbow, soaped me up, and I went gently down into the water. One day something scared me, and I jumped like an electric eel. I was crazy slippery from the soap and slipped out of her hands. I landed face down in the baby bath. The commotion I caused would have made anyone think she was trying to kill me.

   When we were done with breakfast lunch dinner and snacks, which was all the same mush, they bubbled us, changed us, and put us back to sleep. I wasn’t fussy or gassy and slept like a log. As soon as I woke up, I was hungry again.

   The boys took it easy in blue beds and the girls in pink beds, what the bosses in white uniforms called cots. My mother got to stay in a room with another woman, chatting it up, eating in bed, and reading Woman’s Day, Good Housekeeping, and Ladies’ Home Journal. I saw her twice a day for a few minutes for some real food. One day my dad showed up.

   “Who’s that?” I wanted to ask.

   My cot was near a window. When I looked out all I could see was ice and snow. More than a hundred inches of snow had fallen that winter and there were snowbanks as far as the eye could see. The month before the thermometer had gotten stuck between 30 and 40 below for a week. It was still bitter cold. I pulled my blanket tight around me when I heard one of the nurses say, “It’s too bad we can’t take them out for a little airing.”

   The minerals in the Sudbury Basin had a high sulphur content and needed to be roasted before smelting. The open pits burned for years. The roasting yards puffed yellow gray clouds all around the compass. There were slag and mine tailing piles, soil erosion and blackened hilltops. When I was born Sudbury was largely barren and treeless. Everybody said that was the way it was. Everybody cashed their paychecks and got on with it. Tourists on their way somewhere else called the Sudbury Basin the Canadian Death Valley.

   I was an infant and didn’t have a clue that engineers and corporate executives can be a burrito short of a combination plate. The executives were sly dogs, though. What their mines paid in taxes was the equivalent of about one-half the revenue that Sudbury would have gotten if it had been any other heavy-industrial city in that part of Ontario. The national press was always saying my hometown was a “slum” or “a smaller version of Katowice, Poland.”

   My dad belonged to Local 598 of the International Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers. It was the biggest trade union in Canada. Local 598 and Inco hated each other’s guts. The local built union halls and a children’s camp where we went to hear music and see movies. I saw Walt Disney’s “Treasure Island” and “The Littlest Outlaw.”

   It wasn’t like I needed a day off like my father and godfather, who worked long hours miles down in the ground. One day my godfather walked up to me at the camp and said, “What are you doing here relaxing? You haven’t worked a day in your life.”

   “You’ve got to love livin’,” I said.

   He coughed up a mouthful of mine dust and cigarette smoke and laughed. “If you aren’t laughing, you aren’t living, my baby boy,” he said, reaching for his Export A’s when my dad walked up, so they could kick back together for ten minutes.

   My baby days were behind me, but I let it slide.

   My parents didn’t live in Lively or Onaping Falls, where class and race paid the bills. Little Warsaw was where the Poles lived. Little Italy was under a line of smokestacks and the Italians lived there. I ended up living in the middle of town where the East Europeans and Finns lived. The Finns liked to wrestle and ski, although not at the same time. My parents and their friends liked to play cards smoke drink and dance. They worked like Puritans, though, saving their money, so they could get ahead. They left the DP camps of Europe in the late 1940s on separate freighters with a duffel bag and enough cash to buy a snack.

  When it came time to pack up, I wasn’t ready. I had gotten used to the nursery and had made friends. I learned soon enough that all good things come to an end. It was a sunny day towards the end of the month when my dad gathered my mom and me up and took us home. There weren’t any crocuses showing, but most of the snowpack had melted away.

   The General did fine work by me. I was hale and hearty when I got to what I found out was home. I had been living on the bottle, but my mom switched the menu up, feeding me herself. My parents lived in a small, rented house on Pine Street. My father was working in the tombs of outer space, taking all the overtime he could get, and was planning on buying a house on Stanley Street, just down the street.

   Sometimes the hospital couldn’t get it done and people took matters into their own hands. Edmond Paquette, an Inco pensioner in his 80s, had suffered a paralytic stroke that left him unable to walk. He vowed an act of penance, building a built-to-scale church inside a five-gallon glass carboy. When he was done, he stood up and walked across the room to tell his son-in-law Dusty that he had accomplished his mission.

   “You’re walking unaided,” Dusty exclaimed. 

   “It’s a miracle,” Edmond said.

Ed Staskus edits Theatre PEI. He posts stories on 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Cleveland Ohio Daybook http://www.clevelandohiodaybook.com.

Theatre PEI

28660348_162333201093170_735205771249634989_n

Six Oysters Ahoy

By Ed Staskus

“He was a very valiant man who first adventured on the eating of oysters.”  King James VI and I

“I checked the weather report,” said Frank Glass.

“What did you find out?” asked Vera Glass.

“It’s going to be the same today as it was yesterday.”

“Is it going to rain all day?” asked Vera.

“You don’t need a weatherman for that,” said Frank, throwing a glance at the window.

A steady rain was falling outside the large front window of the cottage, down on the long sloping lawn of the Coastline Cottages, on the Gulf Shore Parkway, on the three houses on the other side of the road, and out to the horizon as far as they could see. The sky was dark over Doyle’s Cove. Broad surfboard-sized waves worked up the water. When Frank looked out the northwest-facing kitchen window, the sky, where the weather was coming from, was even darker.

“What should we do? It rained all day yesterday. I’m getting cabin fever.”

“We could play cards, read, and talk among ourselves. How about dinner and a show?”

“That sounds good, especially the part about dinner,” said Vera. “Where do you want to eat?”

“There’s a show opening tonight at the Victoria Theatre.”

“All right, but what about dinner?”

“We could eat at the Landmark, it’s right there.”

“I’ve always liked the Landmark,” said Vera. “Eugene is a great cook. They have the best meat pies.”

“Somebody told me he sold it and there are new owners,” said Frank.

“What? How can that be? Eugene and Olivier and Rachel are gone?”

The Sauve family tree had repurposed an old grocery store in Victoria into a café restaurant in the late 1980s, adding a deck, digging a basement for storage and coolers, and expanding their dining space several times. They were a perennial ‘Best Place to Eat on Prince Edward Island’ in the magazine Canadian Living.

“It’s now called the Landmark Oyster House.”

“I love oysters,” said Vera. “Let’s go.”

It was still raining when Frank and Vera drove up Church Hill Road and swung onto Route 6, through North Rustico to Route 13, through Hunter River and Kelly’s Cross. It was still raining when they pulled into the small seaside town of Victoria on the other side of Prince Edward Island, on the Northumberland Straight side, 45 minutes later. It rained on them as they rushed into the Landmark Oyster House.

There wasn’t a table to be had, but there were two seats at the bar.

“Look, we’re right in front of the oysters,” said Vera, as they sat down at the closed end of it. “I love this spot.”

Kieran Goodwin, the bartender, agreed, standing on the other side of the bar, on the other side of a large shallow stainless steel bin full of raw oysters on ice.

“Best seats in the house,” he said. “They were going to put the bar in the front room, but the dimensions didn’t work out.”

“Who’s they?” asked Frank.

Vera looked the chalkboard on the wall up and down. The names of the oysters on ice were written on the board. There were six of them, Valley Pearl, Sand Dune, Shipwreck, Blackberry Point, Lucky Limes, and Dukes. She looked down into the bin. She couldn’t make heads or tails of which were which. She knew raw oysters were alive, more-or-less.

She wondered, how could you tell?

“Greg and Marly Anderson,” said Kieran. “They own a wedding venue up the road.”  It is the Grand Victoria Wedding Events Venue, in a restored former 19th century church. “When this opportunity came up, when Eugene was looking to tone it down a bit, they decided to purchase it.”

“I worked at the Oyster House in Charlottetown shucking oysters for almost five years,” said Marly. “We heard that the family wanted to retire because they had been working at this restaurant for 29 years. We already felt a connection to this place and we are friends and neighbors with the family.”

“They’ve put their roots down in the community, are making their stand here,” said Kieran.

“I like what they’ve done in here, casual but upscale,” said Vera.

“It looks like the kitchen is more enclosed than it was,” observed Frank.

“Yeah, they did up a wall,” said Kieran. “When you used to walk in, you could peek right in.”

“I remember Eugene telling us once he learned all his cooking from his mom. Who does the cooking now?”

“Kaela Barnett is our chef.”

“We couldn’t do this without her,” said Greg Anderson.

Somebody’s got to have a steady hand on the ladle that stirs the soup.

“I’m thinking of doing oysters and a board,” said Vera.

“That’s a good choice,” said Kieran. “I recommend the large board. You get a bit of everything. I personally like getting some cheese.”

“Me, too.”

“Are you oyster connoisseurs?” asked Kieran.

“Not me,” said Frank. “I can’t remember the last time I ate an oyster.”

“I wish I was, but I love them,” said Vera. “We were on the island last year and went to the Merchantman in Charlottetown with Doug and Rachel, Eugene’s daughter. We had oysters and she went through all the ones we ate, explaining them to me.”

“Would you like something from the bar?” asked Kieran.

“I’ll take the Gahan on tap, the 1772 Pale Ale.”

“What wine goes with oysters?” asked Vera.

“We have a beautiful California chardonnay,” said Kieran. “It’s great with shellfish. I recommend it.”

“This is good, fruity,” said Vera, tasting it.

“We have six oysters,” said Kieran. “You could do one of each.”

“That’s what I’ll do,” said Vera.

“I think I’ll have the seafood chowder and some of the board,” said Frank.

“Oh, Frank, try one,” said Vera.

“Lucky Limes are my favorite,” said Kieran. “It’s a good medium oyster.”

“OK, I’ll try it,” said Frank, shrugging.

Kieran handed him a Lucky Lime.

“How do I eat this thing?” Frank asked Vera.

“Sometimes I chew it, sometimes I don’t,” she said.

“Some people like putting stuff on it, like horseradish, which kills the taste,” said Kieran. “But straight up is best. That’s how islanders do it, just shuck it.”

Frank looked down at the liquid-filled half shell.

“From the wide end,” said Kieran.

He slurped the oyster into his mouth and swallowed it.

“Now you’re a pro,” said Vera.

“That wasn’t bad,” said Frank. “How could you tell it was a Lucky Lime? They all look the same to me.”

“If you look at the chalkboard, it’s one through six. That’s one way.”

“Can you tell by looking at them?” asked Vera.

“I can tell by the shell,” said Kieran. “The ones that are more green, that means there’s more saltwater content. So this is a Sand Dune, quite briny. That one is almost straight salt water.” He pointed to an even darker greener shell.

“The Shipwreck, the name made me nervous to have it, but it was mild,” said Vera.

“It would be farther up the estuary, closer to fresh water.”

“Blackberry Point was very salty.”

“The Blackberry’s are from Malpeque, which is near Cavendish,” said Kieran. “The Sand Dune is from Surrey, down east, and the Lucky Limes are from New London Bay. Valley Pearl is from Tyne Valley and the Dukes are from Ten Mile Creek.”

“I thought you were just making all this up,” said Frank.

“No, its like wine,” said Kieran.

“How did you get into the shellfish racket?” asked Frank.

“I graduated in business, traveled, lived in New Zealand and Australia, and then came back home, and worked in a bank as a financial advisor for six years, in Summerside and Charlottetown, but then I just got tired of working in a bank, and went back to school.”

“How did you find your way here, behind the bar?”

“I date Jamie, who is Marly’s sister.”

“Are those pickled carrots?” asked Vera, pointing at the charcuterie board in front of her.

“Yes, and you have raisin jam, too,” said Kieran.

“Chutney, stop the madness!” exclaimed Vera. “Oh, it’s strawberry jam. It just looks like chutney. It’s delicious.”

“We had raisin pie at a small diner in Hunter River the other day,” said Frank.

“The one by the side of the road, up from the Irving gas station?” asked Kieran.

“That’s the one,” said Frank. “The waitress told us she always thinks of raisin pie as funeral pie, because back in the day, if there was a funeral in the winter, women always made raisin pies for the reception after the memorial service, because raisins kept all year round.”

“Can I take my oyster shells with me?” asked Vera.

“Sure,” said Kieran. ”We can get a little bag for you.”

“You can really taste the sea eating oysters,” said Vera. “Blackberry Point was a little thin and too salty, but once you eat one, and you don’t like it, whoa, what are you going to do? Valley Pearl didn’t have a lot of flavor, but there was some good texture to it. Lucky Lime was very good. My favorite was Sand Dune. It had a strong ocean flavor, briny.”

“I’ve heard people say oysters are slimy, but the one I had, it didn’t seem that way,” said Frank. “I can see having oysters again.”

“Don’t people sometimes say the world is your oyster?” said Vera.

“Do you want dessert?” asked Kieran.

“Do you have carrot cake?”

“It’s made here.”

“We’ll split a slice of that, and two coffees, thanks.”

As Vera and Frank dug into their carrot cake, there was a commotion at the other end of the bar. Kieran, Jamie, and Marly were huddling over glowing screens.

“Did your electronics go haywire?” asked Frank when Kieran brought them coffee.

“The microwave in the basement tripped the breaker. We hardly ever use it, except to melt butter sometimes. It’s weird, it’s been working until now. We have a thing that magnifies our wi-fi signal. We just found out it’s on the same circuit.”

“My mother was a pastry chef,” said Vera. ”She didn’t use microwaves much, but whenever she did, she always said, ‘I’m going to nuke it now!’”

Frank and Vera used their forks on the last crumbs of their cake and finished their coffee. Frank checked the time on his iPhone. “Time to go, sweetheart,” he said. They paid the bill and stood to go.

“Enjoy the show, hope to see you again,” Kieran said as Frank and Vera walked out of the Oyster House.

“It’s raining and sunny at the same time,” said Frank as they dashed across the street to the Victoria Theatre, yellow slanting sunlight leading the way.

“That’s PEI for you,” said Vera. “By the way, what are we seeing?”

“Where You Are.”

“I know where we are,” said Vera.

“That’s the name of the show,” said Frank.

“Aha, I see,” said Vera.

“Hustle it up, we’re almost late.”

They went up the steps into the theater, got their programs, and sat down. Vera tucked the bag of shells under her seat. “Wherever you are, there you are, oyster boys and girls,” she thought, making sure they were safe and sound.

“How could you even tell?” she wondered, as the lights went down and the show started.

Photograph by Vanessa Staskus

Ed Staskus edits Theatre PEi. He posts stories on 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Cleveland Ohio Daybook http://www.clevelandohiodaybook.com

By Ed Staskus

“He was a very valiant man who first adventured on the eating of oysters.”  King James VI and I

“I checked the weather report,” said Frank Glass.

“What did you find out?” asked Vera Glass.

“It’s going to be the same today as it was yesterday.”

“Is it going to rain all day?” asked Vera.

“You don’t need a weatherman for that,” said Frank, throwing a glance at the window.

A steady rain was falling outside the large front window of the cottage, down on the long sloping lawn of the Coastline Cottages, on the Gulf Shore Parkway, on the three houses on the other side of the road, and out to the horizon as far as they could see. The sky was dark over Doyle’s Cove. Broad surfboard-sized waves worked up the water. When Frank looked out the northwest-facing kitchen window, the sky, where the weather was coming from, was even darker.

“What should we do? It rained all day yesterday. I’m getting cabin fever.”

“We could play cards, read, and talk among ourselves. How about dinner and a show?”

“That sounds good, especially the part about dinner,” said Vera. “Where do you want to eat?”

“There’s a show opening tonight at the Victoria Theatre.”

“All right, but what about dinner?”

“We could eat at the Landmark, it’s right there.”

“I’ve always liked the Landmark,” said Vera. “Eugene is a great cook. They have the best meat pies.”

“Somebody told me he sold it and there are new owners,” said Frank.

“What? How can that be? Eugene and Olivier and Rachel are gone?”

The Sauve family tree had repurposed an old grocery store in Victoria into a café restaurant in the late 1980s, adding a deck, digging a basement for storage and coolers, and expanding their dining space several times. They were a perennial ‘Best Place to Eat on Prince Edward Island’ in the magazine Canadian Living.

“It’s now called the Landmark Oyster House.”

“I love oysters,” said Vera. “Let’s go.”

It was still raining when Frank and Vera drove up Church Hill Road and swung onto Route 6, through North Rustico to Route 13, through Hunter River and Kelly’s Cross. It was still raining when they pulled into the small seaside town of Victoria on the other side of Prince Edward Island, on the Northumberland Straight side, 45 minutes later. It rained on them as they rushed into the Landmark Oyster House.

There wasn’t a table to be had, but there were two seats at the bar.

“Look, we’re right in front of the oysters,” said Vera, as they sat down at the closed end of it. “I love this spot.”

Kieran Goodwin, the bartender, agreed, standing on the other side of the bar, on the other side of a large shallow stainless steel bin full of raw oysters on ice.

“Best seats in the house,” he said. “They were going to put the bar in the front room, but the dimensions didn’t work out.”

“Who’s they?” asked Frank.

Vera looked the chalkboard on the wall up and down. The names of the oysters on ice were written on the board. There were six of them, Valley Pearl, Sand Dune, Shipwreck, Blackberry Point, Lucky Limes, and Dukes. She looked down into the bin. She couldn’t make heads or tails of which were which. She knew raw oysters were alive, more-or-less.

She wondered, how could you tell?

“Greg and Marly Anderson,” said Kieran. “They own a wedding venue up the road.”  It is the Grand Victoria Wedding Events Venue, in a restored former 19th century church. “When this opportunity came up, when Eugene was looking to tone it down a bit, they decided to purchase it.”

“I worked at the Oyster House in Charlottetown shucking oysters for almost five years,” said Marly. “We heard that the family wanted to retire because they had been working at this restaurant for 29 years. We already felt a connection to this place and we are friends and neighbors with the family.”

“They’ve put their roots down in the community, are making their stand here,” said Kieran.

“I like what they’ve done in here, casual but upscale,” said Vera.

“It looks like the kitchen is more enclosed than it was,” observed Frank.

“Yeah, they did up a wall,” said Kieran. “When you used to walk in, you could peek right in.”

“I remember Eugene telling us once he learned all his cooking from his mom. Who does the cooking now?”

“Kaela Barnett is our chef.”

“We couldn’t do this without her,” said Greg Anderson.

Somebody’s got to have a steady hand on the ladle that stirs the soup.

“I’m thinking of doing oysters and a board,” said Vera.

“That’s a good choice,” said Kieran. “I recommend the large board. You get a bit of everything. I personally like getting some cheese.”

“Me, too.”

“Are you oyster connoisseurs?” asked Kieran.

“Not me,” said Frank. “I can’t remember the last time I ate an oyster.”

“I wish I was, but I love them,” said Vera. “We were on the island last year and went to the Merchantman in Charlottetown with Doug and Rachel, Eugene’s daughter. We had oysters and she went through all the ones we ate, explaining them to me.”

“Would you like something from the bar?” asked Kieran.

“I’ll take the Gahan on tap, the 1772 Pale Ale.”

“What wine goes with oysters?” asked Vera.

“We have a beautiful California chardonnay,” said Kieran. “It’s great with shellfish. I recommend it.”

“This is good, fruity,” said Vera, tasting it.

“We have six oysters,” said Kieran. “You could do one of each.”

“That’s what I’ll do,” said Vera.

“I think I’ll have the seafood chowder and some of the board,” said Frank.

“Oh, Frank, try one,” said Vera.

“Lucky Limes are my favorite,” said Kieran. “It’s a good medium oyster.”

“OK, I’ll try it,” said Frank, shrugging.

Kieran handed him a Lucky Lime.

“How do I eat this thing?” Frank asked Vera.

“Sometimes I chew it, sometimes I don’t,” she said.

“Some people like putting stuff on it, like horseradish, which kills the taste,” said Kieran. “But straight up is best. That’s how islanders do it, just shuck it.”

Frank looked down at the liquid-filled half shell.

“From the wide end,” said Kieran.

He slurped the oyster into his mouth and swallowed it.

“Now you’re a pro,” said Vera.

“That wasn’t bad,” said Frank. “How could you tell it was a Lucky Lime? They all look the same to me.”

“If you look at the chalkboard, it’s one through six. That’s one way.”

“Can you tell by looking at them?” asked Vera.

“I can tell by the shell,” said Kieran. “The ones that are more green, that means there’s more saltwater content. So this is a Sand Dune, quite briny. That one is almost straight salt water.” He pointed to an even darker greener shell.

“The Shipwreck, the name made me nervous to have it, but it was mild,” said Vera.

“It would be farther up the estuary, closer to fresh water.”

“Blackberry Point was very salty.”

“The Blackberry’s are from Malpeque, which is near Cavendish,” said Kieran. “The Sand Dune is from Surrey, down east, and the Lucky Limes are from New London Bay. Valley Pearl is from Tyne Valley and the Dukes are from Ten Mile Creek.”

“I thought you were just making all this up,” said Frank.

“No, its like wine,” said Kieran.

“How did you get into the shellfish racket?” asked Frank.

“I graduated in business, traveled, lived in New Zealand and Australia, and then came back home, and worked in a bank as a financial advisor for six years, in Summerside and Charlottetown, but then I just got tired of working in a bank, and went back to school.”

“How did you find your way here, behind the bar?”

“I date Jamie, who is Marly’s sister.”

“Are those pickled carrots?” asked Vera, pointing at the charcuterie board in front of her.

“Yes, and you have raisin jam, too,” said Kieran.

“Chutney, stop the madness!” exclaimed Vera. “Oh, it’s strawberry jam. It just looks like chutney. It’s delicious.”

“We had raisin pie at a small diner in Hunter River the other day,” said Frank.

“The one by the side of the road, up from the Irving gas station?” asked Kieran.

“That’s the one,” said Frank. “The waitress told us she always thinks of raisin pie as funeral pie, because back in the day, if there was a funeral in the winter, women always made raisin pies for the reception after the memorial service, because raisins kept all year round.”

“Can I take my oyster shells with me?” asked Vera.

“Sure,” said Kieran. ”We can get a little bag for you.”

“You can really taste the sea eating oysters,” said Vera. “Blackberry Point was a little thin and too salty, but once you eat one, and you don’t like it, whoa, what are you going to do? Valley Pearl didn’t have a lot of flavor, but there was some good texture to it. Lucky Lime was very good. My favorite was Sand Dune. It had a strong ocean flavor, briny.”

“I’ve heard people say oysters are slimy, but the one I had, it didn’t seem that way,” said Frank. “I can see having oysters again.”

“Don’t people sometimes say the world is your oyster?” said Vera.

“Do you want dessert?” asked Kieran.

“Do you have carrot cake?”

“It’s made here.”

“We’ll split a slice of that, and two coffees, thanks.”

As Vera and Frank dug into their carrot cake, there was a commotion at the other end of the bar. Kieran, Jamie, and Marly were huddling over glowing screens.

“Did your electronics go haywire?” asked Frank when Kieran brought them coffee.

“The microwave in the basement tripped the breaker. We hardly ever use it, except to melt butter sometimes. It’s weird, it’s been working until now. We have a thing that magnifies our wi-fi signal. We just found out it’s on the same circuit.”

“My mother was a pastry chef,” said Vera. ”She didn’t use microwaves much, but whenever she did, she always said, ‘I’m going to nuke it now!’”

Frank and Vera used their forks on the last crumbs of their cake and finished their coffee. Frank checked the time on his iPhone. “Time to go, sweetheart,” he said. They paid the bill and stood to go.

“Enjoy the show, hope to see you again,” Kieran said as Frank and Vera walked out of the Oyster House.

“It’s raining and sunny at the same time,” said Frank as they dashed across the street to the Victoria Theatre, yellow slanting sunlight leading the way.

“That’s PEI for you,” said Vera. “By the way, what are we seeing?”

“Where You Are.”

“I know where we are,” said Vera.

“That’s the name of the show,” said Frank.

“Aha, I see,” said Vera.

“Hustle it up, we’re almost late.”

They went up the steps into the theater, got their programs, and sat down. Vera tucked the bag of shells under her seat. “Wherever you are, there you are, oyster boys and girls,” she thought, making sure they were safe and sound.

“How could you even tell?” she wondered, as the lights went down and the show started.

Photograph by Vanessa Staskus

Ed Staskus edits Theatre PEI. He posts stories on 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Cleveland Ohio Daybook http://www.clevelandohiodaybook.com

Theatre PEI

28660348_162333201093170_735205771249634989_n