WAYWARD DAUGHTER- An Alice Story

Beatrice hear, writing again. It began on a Tuesday, I love to awake slowly on Tuesday, my tenants, Adelaide and Benny, when not off roving tended the morning farm chores- fair arrangement for the elderly couples board, and the times I have collected them from the town cells, pinching things, cheeking the cops, yellow houses..and on my bedside table a gift they had brought home..

Presented with a curtsy by Adelaide, tiny, bowlegged former chambermaid to the queen, it is a hideous lamp. Old, carved of some black wood, Atlas we reckoned, holding up the world. I can only envision his grimace, as the head is broken off, he is starkers naked, Adelaide, knowing I am a woman of modesty has dressed him in a loin cloth, fashioned from one of her hankies.

Times when not sure whether to laugh or cry, I wonder what Godfrey would do..laughed till he sneezed did Godfrey. Worzel and I now five years working on his story . I had been annoyed with Worzel lately, feeling our project veering into idiocy, dignifying the contributions of Alice, Godfrey’s sister, and her dreadful companion, “Nudge”. Worzel has discovered this new “Computer’ thing. She reports that readers love Alice, and want to read more. My goodness..so dear friends ,this is what happened when Alice came home in the fall

Twas a hush over the little town, more subdued than plain pudding, soft as duck down the news whispered over cup of tea and bun. Egg and chips went cool, notice was sent to the only school…Alice had been seen. Getting into her old, black London taxi, Alice was home in Skibereen.

Quiet had passed summer with the prankster far away across the sea, at The Lawn Bowling Club, Verne Allbread stalwart stood guard, the grass was deep on the slopes of the moat Alice dug round her home. Church bells tolled, Curmudgeon!, Curmudgeon!, hark the curmudgeon, Alice draws near!. Cloud of dust on the main road, tipped over garden-gnome.  Could it be?

For Alice and Nudge were pranksters, never nasty or mean, tolerated by most in the town of Skibereen, from fire hall to the shoe shop that employed her, those with little or no sense of humor did their best to avoid her.

At an age a lady would never disclose was Alice in her hand knit wooly clothes, she wore daily rubber boots and the same flannel shirt  as a lad Godfrey did wear, and twice a day rolled her step dad Arthur, singing war songs round the park in his bath chair.

But where were they? Alice and friend Nudge, (the only one she had) no one knew, Always together, an odd pairing the two. Town folk warned- “I hear her stick was seen luggage deck of the Batley Bus”. She and Nudge’s matching suitcases clearly labeled – BEWARE OF US.  

There are two High Streets in the town of Skibereen, true High and Down low where the docks begin, there are backstreet pubs and dark, greasy shops , where seeking pork pies Alice and Nudge were known to go. Brian, the town cop hung about the statue of Tenbrooks Smythe The First, town benefactor, long dead. Alice twice a year dressed him up in a frock, and wee cloche hat on the bankers brass head. Brian lectured Alice’s Ma- “Twer a great man, Mr Smythe the first”, when Alice decked him out for all to see in bra and garter. “I’ll see her scraping up behind the pigeons,  when I catch your wayward daughter”.

There is a hush over the town of Skibereen this night, smell of coal smoke and pumpkins, the moon cradles moon, just a sliver, and like moon behind the clouds, silently home slips Alice..Full of new stories for her “Book of Common Prank”, the curmudgeon settles down to write.

We went on an adventure, a long one, afar, afar!, with fish boats and tides in the great Fundy Bay, tides that swept Nudge’s trousers away. We saw lobsters and outhouses, tall ships and a moose, Nudge lost his trousers again in the wind, they were too loose. We ate great meals, avoided all herring, and picnic lunches at our Outhouse Museum, we reckon Nudge’s trousers are halfway home to Wales, do write and let us know if you see them.

We heard of a sand island alive with wild horses, but were not allowed there, enjoyed songs and stories, bottles banged on kitchen table, legends as we knew from home in Wales, in the big city we replaced Nudge’s trousers, from a bargain bin at a “Back to School” sale. They are huge round his waist, expose both knobby knees, and cinch tight under his chest. “Saturday Night Green” in color, Nudge is proud to look his best. For we were on a grand adventure- afar! afar!.

And when we were hailed by the police car, were usually a large person, “Pierre” or “Dawn”…they wore boots and spurs, and took umbrage over the side of the road that I drove on. Long ago a calendar hung on our cottage wall, yearly gift from an aunt we never met from Montreal. Godfrey loved the photos of canoes and peaks of snow, I vowed one day, “Peggy’s Cove” in Nova Scotia is where I would go.

Peggy was not home, just a pathway to a lighthouse. Call of nature led Nudge behind a shed, bees a swarm sent him dashing for the ocean, shedding vest and trousers as he fled. It is well known fact why I carry a stout stick, for fending off advances and to prank. This day I used it to save Nudge and his socks, but he lost his nice new trousers for they sank.

All a hush the little town of Knockfollies Bridge, the girls sorting fish work diligently. On the only main street the only two shops owners face each other with a touch of acrimony. One swept dust into the dooryard of the other, kids ran at play, scallop boats head away to sea, Knockfollies Bridge- dear to the memory of my odd brother Godfrey.

A kilt was provided for Nudge to wear home, an old kilt folded, stored with care, Godfrey had left it, many years ago, on the back of some young ladies chair. And hush to, the fair streets of Skibereen, “Curmudgeon Spotted!, read the morning paper, printed in Batley, top of page three. “Pranksters Return!, with a dark blurry photo of Nudge and me.

I, Alice, do not suppose  will ever be asked, to speak to innocent Girl Guides on Canada’s fair wonders by anyone….or hear parade, see banner high, “welcome home wayward daughter, welcome home Alice , our curmudgeon”…    From Alice

THE IMPORTANCE OF STAYING AWE INSPIRED- From Godfrey

Worzel here- Down home on Wharf Street, always random, season of the year rarely an issue, we enjoy the brief and spectacular “Irish Sunset'”, a term that Godfrey coined. For perhaps five minutes at eve the wending street of heritage brick buildings is washed in a brilliant orange glow.

The worn out grass and trees of the tent camp below our window are lit the most vivid green. Campers pause, look skyward and west cross the harbor.The cops and by-law officers relax. The young woman serving tables in the corner patio bar rests her tray, shares delight in the beauty until the boss barks her back to work…

Folks eating in the cool, dark sushi-bar miss out. Even the silvery fittings on the carriage horses’ harness glint in the light as she waits at the cross walk. City workers cease banging trash cans. Leaning from my window, I cannot hear “10 Men”, a lost soul who paces the waterfront most days shouting- “I am 10 men, I am the federal Government!”….IO Men is there, relaxing on the park steps, ever present plastic cup in hand, basking in the peace of “Irish Sunset”…

Time waits for us, despite all we remain awe inspired.

Wrote Godfrey on the subject- From the age I could waddle, nappy dragging behind, Grandma swung me to the sky, I was cherished and held, I loved how the baking in her warm cottage smelled, her songs as she worked, stepping out in her old frock to dance, never cranky or tired. Ma complained, “She is a drunken old sot” But she spoke in rhyme, taught me to stay awe inspired…

I keep a worn photo of the long past elders, deep in my suitcase where it stays flat and dry, they said Grandpa had scars inside, deep where no one can see. A limp in one leg, mild disrespect for authority. He was a fisher- job in itself awe inspiring, he took us out when I was big enough to float, set nets and bait lines. “Go when wind and tide tells you”, Godfrey, never turn your back on the swell, always respect the sea”. Grandpa said little else, yet never took a day on the water for granted, wisdom that awe inspired me.

Stocky legs deep in wet grass he stands, dappled back steaming dry after summer shower, he is wary. Eight years old, carrot in hand I am walking out to my new pony. He need not worry, for the hand that holds the treat, wiped clean on my shirt, will never hurt him.

The glossy coat I keep brushed free of dust and burr, will give way to winter guard hairs and fuzzy whisker.The adventures we share as I warm cold hands neath thick mane, bed the pony down in clean deep straw…awakens the poet growing in me, carries us places that inspire and awe.

I grew up believing in staying awe inspired- “Given to woolgathering, Godfrey,  I regret will amount to nothing”. Twas written in a letter sent from school to my old Ma. I strolled home most days,seeking treasure along the hedge row, from a distance could hear Ma shouting, and the music when my sister Alice played the piano.

I left home for vagabonding, was once left on my own with a heavy iron anvil, and two angry cats in the same box. Was on a remote track, with nebulous shade from one of those odd trees rooted in rock. We had lightened the load of the traveler’s horse drawn wagon, to spare him a uphill pull, feeling his oats Paddy took off at a trot, leaving me with the cats and anvil for to walk.

In my hitching career, was once picked up, the same day by three separate chaps named Verne in same make of car, a brown sedan. Never so welcome was the distant speck of gold, came Heidi, who drove a yellow Bongo Van.

Without question or qualm Heidi stopped, drove myself, the cats and anvil, following tracks and signs of horse to where they finally ended at our camp riverside. Inspired, and in awe of gypsy life, she stayed a month with us, befriended a horse who disliked everybody, down the Rakaia River they would ride.

For she grew up dreaming of being a hippie, defying, horrifying the parents who named her Heidi…Good on ya Heidi, long may you seek the wild mushroom, glean the wisdom from stream side plants, long may you live in joy and awe inspired, and on the bluffs of East Sooke may you dance.

Some thoughts from Godfrey..

RAINWATER COFFEE- from Godfrey

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This is the story, in verse and vingette of my friend, The Vagabond Godfrey- he described himself as “A poet and professional fig picker”. Always blithe with money, yet paying his way. I found this poem in his “Urban Pentimento” journal, on a laboring job, Godfrey had given the okay for the on site “Port-A- John” be strapped shut, hoisted onto a truck, and driven away, not knowing the boss man was sitting inside…he indeed was adrift, seeking a new job.   

Tonight, I hurried for home in a spring shower, weighted down with sundries. I grabbed a quick coffee to enjoy as the rain eased, leaning on the harbor wall for that first, hot sip. Water had pooled cup’s lid rim, tasting both sweet and cool before the hot, bitter richness…now I knew what Godfrey meant when he muttered about craving rainwater coffee…and watching ships head out. If you dislike coffee, any other hot beverage will do..

Godfrey writes-  Still cold and dark mid April morning. And here I am, adrift in the city. In line at a cafe’ came a sailor clad for foul weather, he spoke softly- said “I can tell by the cuffs of your coat that you come from away”. Indeed so, I replied, are you bound for warmer shores this rainy day?”

When I bid him farewell cup in hand I returned to the street. The first sip I took was of rainwater coffee, I was wet chilled through as the good brew  warmed me …recalled from lost youth a vivid memory.

Rainwater coffee, kneeling in the sand, fire coaxed from damp drift wood, scrape the last grounds out, bottom of the tin. Great, fat rain on hissing twigs, fog bound the sheltered bay I camp in.

Lonely,  concrete  tub entombed city tree, at the bus stop crows perch, check me out with unfiltered cheek, crow curiosity.  Spring rain pours from the nebulous roof, of a decrepit shelter, where sodden religious literature has been scattered, it sweetens the rim of my paper cup of coffee. My coat cuffs worn and tattered in the wearing. I drink rainwater coffee mid the bitter eyed, waiting, shift workers swearing.

My ship, the #50 bus, lurches from the curb, bow on into the storm it pulls away. I close my eyes as we set sail, remember the line squalls, recall the Southern sky at night, and the taste of rainwater coffee in the gale…

MY BATTERED OLD MUG- From Godfrey and Worzel

Worzel here writing, It was my 5th summer visit to Beatrice’s home in Wales, “Sonsie Farm”. Five years now, we two have worked compiling the story of our friend, The Vagabond Godfrey…it was a grand visit, Godfrey’s curmudgeon sister, Alice and her companion Nudge Giggleswick were away in eastern Canada.(Safely a continent apart from my home on Vancouver Island). They were at the “Outhouse Museum”, left to Alice by way of her brother, and no doubt creating some nuisance. 

Adelaide and Benny, elderly residents of the farm had taken to the road, with precious plaid steamer trunk and donkey cart. “Seaking Yelow Houses”read the note on their sleepout door, Adelaide only pretending she could not spell, they were a very literate pair, but still mistrusted me around the plaid steamer trunk. 

Blessed quiet time, to work on our book, to nap in the shade of the sunflowers Beatrice planted, Godfrey’s favorite plant. “I grow them where errant beets still come up every year”, Beatrice explained. This warm morning, doing the washing up, I noticed for the first time, Godfrey’s old, stainless steel mug hanging by a nail above the sink…recalling a story of his I will share here.

In the cool after sunset, I knelt by my fire. And mixed the batter for an evenings treat “Pikelets”, I had not a pan the wee cakes to fry, and I whistled as the beautiful Pelorus River rolled by.

But using my suitcase as a dining table, sweaty shirt to fan the flame, I set oer the  fire inverted my old mug, only cup I had to my name.Purchased back in Wales before leaving home, it only cost then a few pence, no longer shiny and new though, a story in it’s patina of scratches and dents.

Sweet scent of fresh Pikelets, summers evening, butter and jam bought in Canvastown, billy of tea keeping hot at my side, as the deep blue waters of the Pelorus chuckle down.

It’s the vagabond way to discard whats not needed, balanced against what gets lost naturally . Underthings forgotten on a hostel clothes line, or left behind a log by the sea. Stalwart, this battered old mug remains with me.

From the one lane bridge hear the  laughter, as  bold and reckless leap, into a pool so far below where the Pelorus eddies,  cold and deep.

Why do I sing the praises of such an old mug? not something a thirsty soul would nick, I hang it to clink on my backpack, to warn off fierce creatures where the tall grass is thick. Many a mug of hot coffee, warmed shaking hands in days of cold rain, and as I dip it to drink from the sweet Pelorus River, I dream of the time I will pass this way again…From Godfrey.

WITH ROGER ON THE GOOD ROAD- From Worzel

Here is a story, came in the post. I love these random letters, from people influenced by others influenced by those who met up with Godfrey.

“I was there, she wrote, that two weeks in Arthur’s Pass Youth Hostel when heavy rain washed out rail and road. I am the girl from Texas who found beer in a cupboard the 5th day of rain. Godfrey had been left in charge, an odd young man who kept the wood fire burning, and wrote these words in the hostel comment book. “daw haul Ar Fryn”- “Comes The sun To the Hill”, translated from the Welsh, it means- “It will get better”. 

I asked Godfrey, who spoke only in rhyme, and barely above a whisper for a Welsh swear word, he had honest eyes, behind the somewhat owlish glasses  worn since age five, and replied- “Cer i grafu, (Go and scratch).

My companion, Roger and Godfrey sat up late each night playing scrabble, from the vagabond, Roger learned there was nothing in life that could not be sung. Godfrey’s tuneless muttering as he went about hostel chores was his poetry. I remember, and always will, the pounding rain on sheet metal roof, the wind and fog swirling across the tussock grass. That time in Arthur’s Pass is now legend, as is Godfrey, but I was there, it is I made the awful pot of chili,  9th day of rain. 

Oh I am a poor rover from Valley Cleddau, I disliked beets then and do not like them now, but give me a kind horse, and reins of soft leather, then the wide Owen River at rains end, we shall cross together….such is what Godfrey sang as he cleaned the toilets. 

With Roger on The good Road- 

Was the good road with Roger, made it all worthwhile. From the hard, cold trek to Yahk. The long walk down Portage to a hitch-hiking spot, with shade enough to lean a heavy back pack.

Was the good road with Roger. To camp by the Owen River, blankets dew damp mornings, hands held to warm over the fire. Was the good road with Roger. In letters and laughter, in my memory forever. He collected words “RipRap””Rata””Ethelbert” and “Woollamaloo”. He wove them into stories and poetry as Godfrey inspired him to.

Time back then, truly did seem to wait, for this girl from Texas, and Roger, language scholar, son of an eastern city.

I will find that old and faded backpack, worn soft from sun and weather, take to that good road when I dream….Roger and I cross that wide Owen River together.

PRETTY LITTLE HOUSE-end of a dirt road- From Hawken

Worzel here, this odd winter, surly of storm and cold, I sleep away the dark days. Afternoon check of lottery numbers, lunch and a nap, some rubbish T.V. , and a session looking out the window, bustling today after week of fowl weather…I am ever grateful for the toilet that Godfrey repaired long ago, it gurgles and spews warm water, a pleasant spot these chilly days…

Time to tackle my morass of letters, stories from people who crossed paths with Godfrey, Alice’s dreaded packet, poetry and art related to beets, we still find offerings of beets at our shop door most Tuesdays. Our old building, “Tara” was renovated over the past two years, and re named “Le Chateau”, with fancy new lettering. It is when we last saw Hawken, young vagabond, a lad I called the son I forgot to have. Hawken stood in the gutter, battered hat shading his eyes, asking, “Why did they name it “The Cat’s Water”?….And in my heap of mail was this letter from him. 

Dearest of The Odds- Suppose you step on something rusty and die?, worried my dad. Old homesteads have wells with nettles and snakes, came this wisdom from Grandpa#3, third husband Verne my old gran has had. Mother was annoyed I left my suit and good shoes, down a low tract street for someone else to use. When last you saw me, I was bound for Albert’s Leap, and job in a small cheese factory.

Rather drew the place to me, as I understand oft did Godfrey. I turned cheese, wiped them with a towel, and turned them. 500 cheeses a day wipe and turn, in a dimly lit room of cheese and shelf, think of the money you can save I told myself, and whistled as I turned and wiped the cheese. And in my tent contented slept, and for once did not question why Albert leaped, for he must have turned cheese in his dreams.

Pretty Little House End of A Dirt road- Saw the sign and photo in the window of an office in town. I wiped and turned and with all I had put a payment down. This road so rough it has not been named, it’s a long hike out, I have that Appaloosa mare we talked about. Think I’ll let her just be, young, barely tamed….

Autumn- good time to kick about this old homestead, seeking clues in the old barns and soggy grass, of those who built it. Hand forged horse shoe I nailed above my door, mousey stack of”Family Herald”, from 1954, to the burn barrel up in flames, scratched on the hot water tank, must be a growth chart, Jack, Rose, George, Cynthia, faded names..

And I as over roof repairs paused to contemplate, came Pigface Roulade in his old truck to my gate. My pretty little house, end of a dirt road- observes my friend- “Will never be mistaken for gay Paree’. Pigface, with whom I wiped cheese reminded me.

But beauty is everywhere, in the old dry sheaf of prize  oats I found, tied with a blue ribbon  won by Jack, at Coombs Fall Fair the year I was born, in the buttery wodge of  dollar bills, hidden in a dented copper pan for popping corn.

Long un- mowed  the hay meadows chest deep on my pony, we follow the clear winding stream to far end of the property. Come summer I will tear out fallen fences, create for cows and horse open range, in the rusty barbed wire, I see something strange. They were threads of plaid wool…recall you once told me, threads of plaid wool is oft found, in the pathways of Godfrey.

Pretty little house end of a dirt road. Sheltered by the mountain I am told is called “Provider”. A humble cabin as befits a wayward cheese turner. Bobcat  tracks this morning in fresh snow, where she paused to drink at the stream. Wanted you all be first to know, all is well out here, at “Le Chateau”.

SPRAWL ON THE GRASS- a WISDOM

Worzel here,  He was an odd young man who disliked beets, a friend for 28 years, drifting in and out of my life, but never from my heart before choosing that overgrown fruit orchard back home in Wales, to continue on his way…

I wonder, this January morning, so long hence, what would Godfrey think of the “Whirled” as he called it, now?. Two thousand marched for peace and justice, marched bravely down Wharf street this day, we watched from our window, a decadent experience, redolent of our 70’s youths.

There passed rainbow flags, medi-chairs, all banners and flags, pets in strollers, (Feh, Godfrey would have wheezed). My kind husband, Garnet, reckoned with a squeeze of my shoulder, down there amid the stalwart, in spirit marches Godfrey…

In the park below our window, a hefty brown mutt, perhaps the great, great grand daughter of the dog Godfrey wrote of, pauses in her play, sprawled in the frozen grass, she watches as the marchers pass.

The deep cold now blessedly over, rare ice on the waterway has melted yet small stubborn patches still stick on stone, crusted shadow snow. I, dry and warm, sit and watch from my window. A thread of plaid wool remains of the sock, belonging to Godfrey we hung years ago, to remind folks below, doorbell broken, that we were in. I am feeling my age of late, yet remain assured the promise of spring.

“Souls adrift have always been drawn to harbors”..wrote Godfrey. Quiet the campers tenting in the park these winter nights. This morning the street dwellers played with their dogs, romped in defiance of order and by-law. I was reminded of a half wrote wisdom Godfrey left for to share, I found it on a bit of scrap paper, down deep in side my turquoise chair.

He wrote- “It was cusp of evening, brash ice had gone from the inlet verges, and low was the tide. Days work over, tedious the bus that I ride. And stopped were in traffic on Knockfollie’s Bridge, as habit I wiped off my window, looked out the side. A person, or more perhaps of minuscule mind, I don’t know, had thrown a shopping trolley, off of the bridge and down to the mud flats below.

Water and sky in what I call “Winterset” shades of platinum, orange and gray, and in its wild glory, a Great Blue Heron, had perched on the derelict shopping cart, looking south down the bay.

When troubling images I cannot avoid, and distant bells warn change or danger may near, I recall the beauty no one can take from me, the welcoming places Ive’ been, and know my words will never be silenced, nor will I cow down in fear.

To the Bampot Louts, who threw the cart out, on the mud flats to the park dwellers surviving in  snow, to you wearing fine shoes in the dim halls of power, may you understand what it means to be present …as the brown mutt who romps in sheer joy of living, and the Blue Heron, patient at Winterset, trusts  in the oceans giving.

Dry socks and coffee handed out from a van, round in circles the brown mutt ran, pursuing a stick her person had thrown away. She bowls over the lesser black lab who has joined her in play. I chuckle at the scene, wisdom only a street dog can know- “sprawl in the grass, fear not the bigot, the greedy, the arrogant, exalt in your freedom, remember the brown mutt, when you are weary -“Sprawl in the grass and pant”.