Worzel Writes; Godfrey only ever asked me once, the story of my birth mother. “Mom ran off when I was 8, I explained to him. I recall the scent of her “Pond’s Cold Cream”, the smell of fresh ironing which meant we were off to visit our great aunts, Nell and Nelly, they fed us on black bananas and made turkey stuffing with the contents of their compost pail.
When I was a baby Mom caught them giving me a dog biscuit to teeth on. Mom was the restless sort, she packed up and left every Saturday after supper. Dad would wait until the end of the hockey game, then head out to fetch her from down the highway.
One spring night the game went into overtime, we never saw her again. She named me Worzel Marie Edelpilz, oh I longed for a pretty name, but feel I fared better than my brothers, Cudberth and Inkerman, and older sister Fillipendula. She did write, as she drifted from job to job, and every time she got married. Love or forgiveness was never mentioned, never really entered into it once Mrs Gibberflat, as subtle as a tram-smash came into our lives.
I gave Godfrey the brown paper bag of letters, cards and photos from my legendary mother, and cherish the song he wrote. THE BALLAD OF THREE MILE LIL- Bye Godfrey-
How I wish I had known you, 3 mile Lil. I understand your need to keep moving along. Look as far as you can down that inlet this morning, Gather round folks as I sing out her song.
The beets she was holding out gave him a chill, twas the last photo taken of 3 mile Lil. Her vivid tattoo read- “Like Hell I’m Yours, under what looked like roses or a poorly drawn lobster..pity the poor chap who crossed her, (thought Godfrey).
Her hair was the color of pumpkin inside, her lipstick crimson, ineptly applied, the fire of youthful mischief burned in her eyes still, and her time worn name tag read Three Mile Lil. She cooked for harvest crews cross the prairies, she cooked in float camps where the logs were rolled down she cooked on the far Nelson, on the Mighty Mackenzie, preffered the remote sites to living in town.
The pilots and tug captains radioed in, for weather reports as they chugged up the strait, in wind, fog and tide they would wait, for the visibility they depended on me. I’d look out from my stove or away down the cove, if I could see twixt water, cloud, hill, I’d yell 3 miles clear, so all ships could hear, if I could not see far, tell all to stay safe where they are, stay where you are- from Lil.
I’d biff a roast in the oven, mash spuds, cook some peas. Three miles was as far as I saw over river or seas. So along with my poems, and pie baking skill, I came to be known as three mile Lil. She walked with a limp, burn scars on her arms, she would show you the thumb she lost in a bar near The Pas.
Show photos of her husbands and the salmon they caught, Lil said, “all my old mans liked plain food, or ate it like it or not”. In her later years Lil sat watching the water, watched Pelicans drift on the breeze, enjoying coffee she sat, muttering “such lazy birds are these”.
I will finish the Ballad of three mile Lil..16 years on the float camps from inlet to mill, quiet now, no complaining as Pelicans float by, no reliable old cook scanning the sky, but the towboat captains remember her still, tell the young folks the legend of three mile Lil.
..A postcard from Mom read, “There is no work here in Stettler, we are heading for the coast again, my home”. I would like to see you, Worzel, now that you and little Cudberth are grown. Cudberth was a solid six feet tall, Lil did not show up, we were not surprised at all..
Mom wrote verse, which I found awful at the time, Godfrey saw some thing special in her rhymes.
The kitchen I work in is high on a mountain, out the bakeshop window is only fresh air. When I burn my buns or boiled custards, I just open the window and throw then out there- By Lil.
The Good Ship Fairfield- By Lil. The good ship Fairfield she has sailed, passed the breakwater at dawn. She set her pilot down, under Knockfollies Bridge she steamed out of sight from the town. The good ship Fairfield’s gone we fear, lost to the rumptious sea. I did not hear her noble captain call for the visibility.
In better times than these, when heart aches end.. will bring the good ship Fairfield home again..the good ship will bring three mile Lil safe home again..