Sunday, May 18, 2008

Company A

The term "Georgia Volunteers" shows up in the journal notes following the inspirations over "Gone With The Wind". I'm not going to look up those pages now, because it is more important to recollect the genesis of term "volunteer", inasmuch as it applies to my own particular mental processes, as booted about here and there by own guardian angel, or angels. There are, by the way, an enormous number of these latter entities. I have had internal visions of angels for a very long time, coupled with a variety of interesting conversations, but back in 2000, in the spring of which I became excited about the possibilities of the Net and also looked up new fitness opportunities, I had a whacking great vision, again internal - or intellectual, as John of the Cross calls them - of the most humungous quantity of angels I had ever imagined. This was in the sky over the centre of Kootenay Lake, as MT and I were crossing over to Kootenay Bay, from Balfour, in March, during the season of the last runs of the MV Anscombe, before she was replaced by the bigger, faster, Osprey 2000. It was rather like the vision of the Emperor Constantine, before the battle of the Milvian Bridge. "In this sign conquer." Only in my case it was more like "In this company, you will get creative." Not a locution, more a puzzling intimation. At some point, I might bring out the journal notes for that day. I think it was March 22.
Back to "A" Company. This was that wonderful collection of Nelsonites known as the "West Moseby Volunteers", a profoundly democratic cross section of vocations and interests that as far as I know was the brainchild of a guitar playing, bagpiping, treekeeping, songwriting, professional forester named Jim Munro. I have mentioned Montana before, and I must refer to that great state again because West Moseby was a humble cow pasture lying within its boundaries, and it was from a trip to that area that Jim came up with the name for the organization.
There was a certain amount of historical rigamarole surrounding the history of this "Para-military" assembly, loosely derived from some claim to it being founded by the hitherto undocumented survivors of the Little Bighorn, but no one was required to take an exam concerning this history, no one swore any oaths to defend anything, and there was therefore, logically, no paymaster. But there was a lot of bonhommie and now and then a useful contribution to the community. Jim and carefully selected explosions engineers snowshoed up the steep trail to Pulpit Rock, to launch fireworks into the Nelson sky during some winter celebration of the 60s, and later, during one of the summer festivals an even larger troop of gunners tugged and pushed a wooden cannon over the trails of Gyro Park in order to fire an evening salute from the lookout. I was present for the latter, having been trained as an artillery man myself, and felt inspired to write a poem, but failed. This was typical. With the Mosebys, idea and good intentions were much more important than execution.
I got into the outfit because I sang, and especially because I knew a good number of Celtic folk songs. Munro was far from being the only piper.
The connection went like this. Sometime before Christmas of 64, while I was still more or less content to haunt the halls and work in the bookstore at NDU, I heard of an upcoming celebration for Brotherhood Week, to be held on the campus early in February in the big gym-cum-auditorium, known as Maryhall, the site of our first Nelson hootenanny. The organizer was Felix Meuller, a veteran of the Luftwaffe, a fighter pilot, and now public relations officer for the college, and the celebration was to include as much cultural variety as Nelson and area could boast. This was not a little extensive, but as far as I knew from the local music scene, we had no Jewish folk musicians, so I approached Felix to tell him that Shawn and I, thanks to Pete Seeger, knew a couple of Jewish songs, the Moorsoldalten and the the temple cleanser from the days of the Macchabees, the name of which I cannot at the moment spell here.
The first we would sing in English, but the second in Yiddish, for which the world's least linguist would need help in getting the pronunciation right. Did he know any Jews in Nelson who could help me with this?
He did. Sam Bitnun, the pediatrician. Did I wish to be introduced?
No thanks, I would make my own way.
The opportunity came shortly after, at a hockey game, probably between the Notre Dame team, which also carried a number of lads who played for the Nelson Maple Leafs, in the Western International league, and a team from UBC, coached by Father David Bauer. I think Bauer's team was in training for the Olympics. This was a while before they let the pro's into that arena.
Sam and his wife were in the stands. Someone, possibly Felix, pointed them out to me and I nipped up to introduce myself and explain my errand. It was a happy encounter. They had kids the age of ours, Sam had the pronunciation right, and Shawn and I got an invitation to their upcoming house party, whereat we met at least half the Mosebys, and of course their wives. Sam must have been regimental MO. I don't think he was the regimental rabbi, as that job as far as I recall had already been taken up by Denny Coen, whose day job had to do with buying and selling of used heavy machinery. Denny had been a real soldier, with a real bren gun carrier, in the Seaforth Highlanders, all the way in from the beaches of Normandy.
But I had to do the songs by myself. Just before we were scheduled to taxi up to the campus, our newest youngster went into a fit of projectile vomiting, so her mother had to stay home. And I had to follow a very tough act, the senior Doukhobour choir from Grand Forks, pretty much the principal offering of the evening. But I got through my part, and Sam said some nice things to me.
That was also the first time Marianne saw and heard me. She had come to the concert with her parents. Coincidentally enough, there is a legend in the St. Martin part of her ancestry that somebody with that name was in Custer's campaign against Sitting Bull and died at the Little Bighorn. She was in grade five, in her second year at Saint Joseph's. She did not then play lead guitar.
Aha! The lady who did not become an English professor, but is most certainly the household's leading librarian, just came up the stairs from the lower music shelves with the household copy of "Rise Up Singing".

Mi y'malel g'vurot Yisrael, Otan mi yimne? Seeger used to belt it out most wonderfully.

Not being a lodge in the ordinary sense, the West Moseby's gathered infrequently, and did not gather much at all after Jim Munro went to Ottawa to count icebergs and glaciers. Something about the nation's fresh water resources in the solid state. But Rab Douglas, regimental artist, gave me a painting which hangs three feet from my nose as I write. And in 96, as I was scribbling song notes for the opera, the name "Georgia Volunteers" came to mind.
Where is "B Company"?

No comments: