Saturday, November 14, 2015

Lasqueti Island Part Two

    My father was in the Second War from the beginning until some months after the end. He joined as a private, or gunner, as he was called in the anti-aircraft and by the time the war was over he was an officer and gunnery instructor. He had started his military career with only a grade eight education, like so many young men whose teen-age years were the Depression years, and the army gave his natural intelligence a high school education. As one might expect of an artillery man, he was fascinated by mathematics and problem solving.
    When I was older, he was concerned that I appreciate trigonometry especially and his love for working out design problems and learning something new often made me wonder if he should have become a school teacher.
    Because of the war, we had moved about much more than most families. Between 1941 and 1946 I had changed schools ten times. With my father back in Canada in 1942 - the air war in Britain finished -  my mother was able to be near him. I moved with her, when that was possible, or was boarded out, but my little brother stayed in the West with another family until the summer of 1945. The important thing about the house at Lasqueti was that it was to be our first family home.
    In December 1945, when my second brother was born, we were staying at my grandparent's house in Burnaby. Their house was huge, with a three-quarters acre lot on which they raised most of their own food and three hundred chickens. It was the house - and miniature farm - that my father had grown up in. It had also been the scene of my first experience of the spirit of story telling. My grandfather Lamb was always an influence for good, and in my first memory of him as a story teller, he was an influence of the magic that I would later try to make my profession. Sitting on a couch covered with wolverine skins, within view of an antelope head high on the wall of that fourteen foot ceiling dining room, he told me some of his experiences in the Cariboo. As I said, it was magic, in my child's soul. partially because of the images of rivers and horses and wild animals and camping scenes; partially because my grandfather lived out of the Bible and most of the time prayed as he talked.
    So my grandparents' house just down the hill from the uncut acres of Central Park evergreens, was a good place to be, even if it meant going to Sunday School, but it was not our own home, nor did metropolitan Vancouver offer the kind of work my father wanted. He who had been an instructor, and in the months before his discharge a kind of defense counsel for soldiers charged with assorted offenses, in his heart of hearts wanted to go to work in the woods. He also wanted, after six years of army life, to be his own boss.
    In the beginning of January, I was ten. Sometime in February, I think it was, my Dad went away. A few weeks earlier, not long after my youngest brother was born, I remember my Dad telling me that he had found work as a logger, for a man who had a crew of eight or ten men. The trip my father took was to find us a place to live, and look over the island with a mind to the future.
    One night after supper, just after he returned, we stayed at the kitchen table to look at some plans he had drawn. These were of a houseboat he was designing for a home. He had no chart of this little island I had never heard of, but he drew a sketch of the part of the island that he had his eye on, showing us the little cove he would use as a booming ground. On the shore of the cove our houseboat, when it was built, would tie up. He knew the routes from there to the school, and in the meantime, until the houseboat was built, there was a house we could rent.
    We never did live in that houseboat, for it was never built, but my father's drawn plan, the sketch, and his details of the island's location and how we would get there started my imagination rolling. Lasqueti Island began as an adventure, which it was to remain all the time we were there, and ever afterward.
    A boy at school had spent summers on the island, and said there were salmon to be caught off the government wharf at False Bay. My father mentioned some of the people he had met - loggers, fishermen, even a few Indians. The house we were to live in until the houseboat could be built was big, standing in the middle of a field, and had a fireplace. There was a barn, and when he went to work for himself he would use a horse or two, so he was going to buy a horse. In Falkland, where my mother and I had lived for a few months when I was six, other people had horses. In Springfield, I lived on my Uncle Frank's farm and he had horses, but on Lasqueti Island we were to have horses of our very own! I had once walked a mile out of my way and got home from school much too late because of a grade two girl who deceived me into thinking there were horses at her house but now it was me who would have the horses.
    I was also to have a bicycle and that was just as exciting as the horses, for I did not even know at ten how to ride a bike. I had roller skates at six and learned to skate and ski in the Nova Scotia winter, but this was my first bike.
    I made a few discoveries before we left for the island. One was the western romances of Zane Grey, the other was my capacity for schoolwork. Like any other small boy, I had loved movie westerns. I had in fact become something of a purist, insisting that only the nineteenth century was the real West. The Roy Roger version, with airplanes, radios and automobiles was not real. Zane Grey, of course, was pure nineteenth century and his books were mine to go into whenever I pleased. I was no longer restricted to show times and the money it took to get in. When I got to Lasqueti, moreover, there was no theatre.
    The first Zane Grey I read was "Thunder Mountain", set in Idaho. The mountains of that book gave me visions and the rest of the ex-dentist's writings gave me consolation that was to last for years. Once I had seriously taken up the study of writers, Grey's unedited fantasies and horrendously stilted conversations became unreadable, but in those youthful years he provided me with magic. His writing had its fine moments - especially when he described the outdoors, and the epic themes of his plots could not fail to make a youngsters heart feel good to be alive.
    In moving schools so much I had not had the opportunity to assess my intelligence vis-a-vis that of other students. I simply enjoyed learning most of the time and did well enough to survive the changes. Being able to learn the lines for a lead in a Christmas play the year before was a confidence builder, and at the end of the year, in Vernon, I had come up with a good report and seemed to be among the top three students. Like most boys of nine, I had been much more interested in hitting home runs. I was not then, nor ever, much of a hitter. I had come a cropper, I thought, on an I.Q. test, and in the fall of grade five, did not seem to be doing so well. In Burnaby, however, the schoolroom felt interesting and I somehow picked up a few study habits. We stayed at my grandparents' house just long enough for me to pick up a report showing that I had headed the class.
    The household was proud of me, of course, and perhaps the news was taken as a good omen of the move to Lasqueti. In retrospect, though, it is not too hard to see the growing proof of my academic powers as one of the reasons why Providence was going to give us only two years on the island.

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