Friday, May 2, 2008


    Anyone who gets anything out of the childhood reminiscence parts of this exercise should think gratefully of my wife. Her name is Shawn, named after the American male dance troop impresario. Shawn's mother had a co-natural relationship with the arts, perhaps the first older woman I ever met with such an attribute other than my teachers. She had attended both the University of British Columbia and Mills College, San Francisco, and went through elementary school with the nuns.
    I have no memories of telling my own favourite childhood tales to the girls I met before Shawn. I probably did to a degree, being such a verbal type, but once I found my wife-to-be, there was a continual dialogue based on the adventures and misadventures of our mutual childhoods, and she began insisting quite early into this process that I write about my young life. This is a crucial sign of the right stuff that I recommend to every courting couple. She was particularly eager over an episode arising out of my family's time on an island in the north end of the Gulf of Georgia, just after the war, where I had met an eleven-year old girl who also liked to listen to my tales. From so much traveling about because of my soldier father, with so many different schools, I was hardly short of information.
    Anyone grateful for the more adult material should be grateful to some few Vatican personalities, principally John Paul II, but by no means excluding the late Cardinal Agostino Casaroli, Secretary of State for the so many troublesome years prior to the collapse of the Soviet system, and the present Pope, Benedict XVI, who was then Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for Doctrine. All three received letters from myself, beginning in 1983. By that time, after innumerable notes to various secular people that generally led nowhere, I found the Vatican the only place to get results from my style of epistle.
    Ah, yes. I did write to Paul VI, in 1977, but he did not answer. Neither did all sorts of people.
    As early as 1965, had I got a real response from a journalist, the entire pedophile problem might have sprung itself an earlier solution. The Holy Spirit was doing his part, but there were so many professions, in and outside the Church, which did not. Man, that took a lot of prayer, to get them up and running.
    1964 was a good year, too. In some ways the best year of all. But God strutted his stuff in a diocese where the bishop was one of the worst of the protectors and, indeed, practitioners, and His whispers in the prophet's ear would not be heard by one of His own successors to the apostles. They almost put that successor in jail, eventually, but not quite. No matter. He's dead now, and in the place where God always puts those who betray the most essential stewardships. The prophet has been told, twice, and his ally once. Two or three, in My name, are witness enough.
    Those who find themselves grateful for the music tips - yes, we will get back to them - have a lot of people to thank, but the chap I want to bring up now is the late well-known and much loved Alexander Ross, or Sandy. Very effective subsequently in Canadian journalistic circles, especially in and around Toronto, he was a late joiner at the Ubyssey in the academic year of 1953-54, but turn up he did, after the New Year, and thus my instrumental career began. I could refer to the ups and downs of my musical education between 42 and that fateful day in early January, and I probably actually will, where it is relevant to points of instruction, but we need confidence and the conviction of light at the end of the tunnel, so here goes.
    It was a lovely sunny Friday afternoon. Early January, 1954. I had now put in my first semester in the halls and huts of that educational institution, UBC, that sprawled with perfect Fitzgeraldian leisure over the western half of Vancouver's Point Grey peninsula, and not only had I caught on with the formidably well-read staff of the university newspaper, but I had, by default of harmony among the senior staffers, been appointed to the editorial board. Canadian University Press Editor. My my.  An easy job, scouting articles in other college organs that I deemed fit for general student interest, and a priceless opportunity to read what student life was like not only all over Canada, but on a few campuses in the United States. The Berkeley, California, paper came our way, for example, and when our northern coast was doing its rain thing, day after day, I pondered switching universities. But somehow I read of out-of-state fees, and thought otherwise. There was a real connection with the U of Cal at B. Their Golden Bears Rugby team and our Thunderbirds squared off every year over some cup whose name I have forgotten. My high school game had been rugby, and to walk by the local Grizzlies when they are practicing is an old man's occasion of a profoundly heart-felt distraction. Stop it, stop it , stop it. You're too old to play. My grade nine math teacher and rugby coach, Mr Chapman, must be in heaven, simply from the joy he created in my brain the day he sketched out on his blackboard the field positions of the players and announced the time and place of the first flyweight division tryouts.
    But back to Sandy and the sunny Friday afternoon when I had cut an English class in an East Mall hut because I knew I would be unable to sit still. Our professor was a good teacher, one Dr John Creighton, who on an earlier rainy afternoon had produced a profound light in the lecture room by discussing the relation between the metaphysical poets and mysticism. But I had other instincts and proceeded on down to the basement at the north end of the Brock Hall in hopes of finding some fellow pubster similarly disengaged.
    What I found was Sandy Ross, very much engaged in wailing the tar out of a ukulele. The entrance to the Pub offices was similar to a coal mine. There were a lot of tunnels, and several corners, or so it seemed, first gained by a full flight of stairs going down, and once I hit the bottom of the stairs, and turned 180 into the first hall, I could hear not only a voice - possibly singing "Five foot two, eyes of blue," but also chords on a fretted instrument. I'm sure I had heard of a ukulele, but nobody I knew played one, and as we did not have a television, I didn't get to watch Arthur Godfrey.
    But Sandy certainly played a ukulele, one foot up on the U-desk, where they put the paper together three times a week. I had never seen him before, this stringy fellow with a build just like mine, and I had a sense that he was performing some sort of audition ritual. But I also realized that all this music, added to his voice, was simply the result of a few chords. His right hand strummed with folded matchbook, his left held this position for a bar or two, then changed, and so on, but only over a compass of three or four chords. Simplicity itself. I was sure I could do it equally as well.
    Well, his audition carried, he was accepted into the ranks, and he went on to become the editor-in-chief of the Ubyssey, although without even thinking about it I guess I made him sweat, as long as he thought that post was my ambition. Nonsense. I had to put my best energies into my attempts at fiction. And fretted instruments. But he did tell me where to buy a ukulele. Western Music, on Seymour Street. Five bucks for a plastic uke in a cardboard box with an instruction booklet and a felt pick. And by that time, thanks to Sandy, I had learned the tuning notes for the four strings: "My dog has fleas."
    I was immensely grateful, got on with it, and started applying the chords to the dozens of songs I already knew. But it should have been: "Five one three six". My God. All those college students, from the 20s, 30s, and following, and not a one that actually understood the rules of the Greeks. And they say that mankind has progressed.

1 comment:

Southview said...

Revelations in the reminiscence! I was not aware that you are/were a military brat. Which service branch? I just assumed that you and Shawn were native Canadians with lineage stretching back to Noah. So now it begs the question, how did you and Shawn and Marianne meet and where and under what circumstance? Could we post that under childhood reminiscence or do we have to flash forward to adult hood?
I'm still not sure if our lives are a series of separate portraits or an ever evolving mural. So much fear, so little understanding. The Human condition is so bent on self destruction, as can be noted even from the defiance in the Garden of the "WORD", on to Cain and Able right up to the present time of selfish greed. I do not put much stock into our further domination and stewardship of Mother Earth. 2012... What was given can be taken back! And the END TIME is UPON US!