COMES THE SUN TO THE HILL- From Worzel and Godfrey

Worzel here, Though at home most anywhere without beets, Godfrey loved the faded, little towns best. “I like to just sit”, he wrote. In ratty kilt, battered suitcase at his side, with the faded pink negligee’ plugging a tear, Godfrey enjoyed tea and pastries , wrote letters or journal, watched and listened as the whirled passed by..”.Daw yr haul i Bryn”, he muttered in Welsh if he felt I was rushing the given day….

I recalled this wisdom, translated for me with a rather wet “Feh” by Alice, his eccentric sister. “Comes The sun to The Hill”…like waiting for the tide, or Slibber Sauce to gel, or your birthday, especially if you fib like me, and enjoy it three times a year. eventually it will cease raining, said Alice- relax and wait.  

Today I climbed a hillock, not a mountain or a tor or crag, but climb I did up to the peak. And there I rested elder-knee, looked out across the vast sprawl of what once was farms, now city.

Comes the sun to the hill, to the little towns Godfrey made home in his travels. Like Ceylon in Saskatchewan where we two met, sun comes to the coulees of Ceylon town, where the kids play outside all year round. Hear the crack of ball bat summer evening sweet, scrape of hockey stick on the frozen street. The young will leave home but the town carry on, wish we all could know a little place like Ceylon.

Cowdown- nestled deep in a vale, we welcomed the warmth of the sun to the hill as we hitched a ride. So cold the carrot in my pocket froze solid, snow blew oer the valley        hiding a castle on the far river side.

I recall little of the lift that finally left us in Cowdown, only the chip shop, in the wee town. Hot slabs of good fish and chips, malt vinegar, no plates to be had, just spread out on newspaper.  Come the sun to the hills of Wiltshire so old, come the sun to Cowdown on days so cold, that the carrot in my pocket froze…a journey legendary, early days on the road for The vagabond Godfrey.

Comes the sun to the hills that cradle the mighty Buller. Steeped in mist, untamed in her splendor, one of Godfrey’s favorite places, is Inangahua, on a bend in the river.

One shop and fuel pump, pub and hotel, roadside forge, imagine riding on a coach, long ago down the Buller Gorge. Sun comes to the hills, stopped and rested a spell at the ruins of a “Pub with No Beer”, all that remains of “Lyell”. Wrote Godfrey, “I felt peace there, no ghosties feared I”, as the sun was gone, and stars bright over the Buller, feared only the swarms of the nasty biting sand fly…

I thought of how I missed Godfreys’ stories- of late summer afternoon, the sun bleached, peeling murals, hum and rumble of the highway, a place discovered in his youth called “Nar Nar Goon”- East of Melbourne can be found, this mural town.

In conditioned reflex the barman wields his rag, laconic story teller of a tiger snake he shot, behind the pan in the lady’s loo. On the pub walls, photos hang of rugby teams and race horses. In Nar Nar Goon, indeed the sun comes to the hill, seek out a shady spot to rest, rest as dos the gray Kangaroo….

Oh little town of” Ethelbert-“fond in my memory, clinging to the northern edge, of the Canadian prairie….gossip in the hotel bar tonight, laughter in the diner and take away counter of the “Chicken Delight”.

Comes the sun to the low hills, welcomes spring, old billboard on the one road in” 1971 Ethelbert Homecoming”. You may be told the story from one who was there, of chaos and coins, rolling everywhere. In the laundry-mat, Janice Krame put boots to the soap and bleach machine.

“Did the cops come all the way out from Grandview”? was there five police, or just the Ethelbert town two”?.  Janice went on with her laundry, – save the soap and bleach dispenser, no one was hurt and The cops did not arrest her, talk turns to crops,  and till the the sun will come to the hill… life will carry on in Ethelbert.

Home now, rested and warm- I sit at my window in turquoise chair, looking out at what Godfrey discovered long ago, my “Wall of Illusion”. When the trees are in full foliage, the wall is a wall of endless amusement. Today for example, a chap in a suit, carrying a bouquet of roses and purple wrapped box of chocolates from the posh store hurried down the wall. The illusion worked, he disappeared and a street person pushing his cart emerged, Godfrey would have loved it…

COUSIN RICHARD MEMORIAL DONKEY SANCTUARY- And other stories- from Worzel

My word, I have not written much this winter- oh  arthertis, now a surge of business at our luggage shop. We average at least three customers a day, mostly horrified young persons returning suitcases from “That Old Fogey Store”. I watch them bolt, refund in hand up to the posh, new outdoor outfitters. “Feh”, Godfrey would have muttered.  

Jim, the bird guy still comes in Wednesdays to smell all the leather goods, never buys anything. Mr Agout, from the Turkish Corner Deli drops by to complain about snow, though we have had a mere dusting, I spend a lot of time daydreaming out the window, recalling the years Godfrey saved his fruit picking wages to winter down south- we always made a day of it taking him to the ferry. let us make that drive again…

Newspaper story of vague recall, run by a rogue nun..named for someones lost cousin. We passed it every fall, taking Godfrey in the car to the ferry terminal. A property un kept, faded red barns of bygone date, patched up fences, blackberries, lop sided gate. Donation box nailed to a Garry Oak tree, “Cousin Richard Memorial Donkey Sanctuary” Drawn to the place was my friend, The Vagabond Godfrey.

He always had us stop and park in the weeds as what money he had went into the box, for donkeys have simple needs. Grass, shade and rest, ginger snaps for a treat, trees low enough for a good scratch of buttocks, care for old hooves and teeth.

Donkeys brown and gray stared at me where they stood in thistles knee high. Two large mules dozed nose to nose, idly swishing the occasional fly. Four nuns, two old, two young chopped wood, one nun swung the axe other nuns stacked logs neatly. “Distawrwydd” said Godfrey in Welsh,  “Peaceful” I agreed with him completly.

Driving on, we pondered what came of Cousin Richard? Did sweet rain ever cool for him a cup of hobo coffee?. Did he labor in an office all his life in obligation, long to break free?, Had he a donkey cart or plow with mules as a boy as Beatrice did in Wales on “Sonsie?”Or did a donkey walk with Richard in his older years on a dusty pilgrim journey?. Perhaps his fortune went to the kindly rogue nun, as Cousin Richard had no one…

We concluded all his life Richard followed “The Rules”, lived abstemiously, left his estate to rescue  mules, perhaps to upset greedy family. Every year in fall we parked, neath the donation box in the weeds, nuns were about, busy with task. “Godfrey, said I, do not fear that nun with her axe, if you wish to know of Cousin Richard, go up and ask”. For he would talk to anyone, of anything but beets, but he oddly shied away, from kindly Sister Mary May.

Since…I have let the years and many questions pass, I recall the peaceful sight of contented long eared ass. Replaced now by sprawl, of parking lot and ugly modern mall. All gone but that one lone Garry Oak tree, someone has shot the old donation box from it, where the shards lay- faded letters can still be read-  “Thank You From Cousin Richard- “In God we Bray”

VALLEY OF PUMPKINS- Nuns, donkeys, the common vagabond and poet, all have their autumn , read my dear old husband Garnet. We left the city, took the long cut northeast, round that ugly mall, a drive we take now when we feel elderly, on Tuesdays.

   The latter weeks of fall, “when I pass, wrote Godfrey, as you ramble about, look out for me”. Look for my boot tracks in the snow down Pumpkin Valley . And oft we see him clearly, or hear the echo of him muttering “Feh”, over the menu of the cafe, out on the Pat Bay Highway. The old place across from the new Kingdom Hall, and a booth by the window looking over Pumpkin Valley.

It’s on a verdant peninsula, sheltered thus by coast range hills and sea. Before we walk we always stop for coffee and the loo. Godfrey eloquently described the view- “In umber manure pumpkins grew, frost has loosed them from the vine. Harvest gold, orange, conservative beige, green and gray, ground mist smoky blue”

Sneaky mist has purloined the colors from sea and sky, and whispers down the endless furrows where the pumpkins of long past summer still lie. Brown muddy boots crunch the frozen leaves and vines, tractor ruts to the packing shed in deep, straight lines.

In the car with Godfrey, we set out for coffee, and to walk Pumpkin Valley. On the way home, I’d think him asleep , but he always got me- sit up with a start- Oh, no, Oh Piddle, we have forgotten about Agnes Doolittle….Nothing was insignificant with Godfrey- and he never, ever forgot a story.

I FORGOT ABOUT AGNES DOOLITLE-   We forgot to have children, consequently I have only memories of family car trips endured in my youth- mainly cold, Christmas afternoons..

         It was only ten miles to Grandpa’s house, highway treacherous in the deep, cold gloaming. We passed a cafe where it seemed every year, the same old men sat bent over soup, same slope hipped waitress standing with her coffee pot, we never stopped. My sister, Fillipendula, teased baby brother Cudberth, telling him wolves chased our old car, causing Cudberth, who had eaten a lot of fruitcake to throw up.

Older brother Inkerman, who recieved a new gun every other year sat poised for escape soon as we parked, to run off shooting rodents with our cousins- all big girls. Conversation consisted of dad “Shut up while I drive the car”, and our stepmother, Mrs Gibberflat, after zipping Cudberth into a plastic travel bag- as we passed that lonely cafe- “Oh Ishkabbible- I have forgotten a gift for Agnes Doolitle”!

No one ever asked who Agnes was, not auntie or cousin, in law or spouse, but on every occasion a turkey was served we could count on Agnes Doolitle being at the house. She had perfected the art of seeming busy whilst contributing nothing at all. Oven broken, power out, no water in the well, dog ate the pies she so lovingly baked leaving only the shell. Phones failed to, when Agnes tried to call, she made us kids, sit at a wobbly card table in the hall.

Agnes Doolittle’s pure white hair was held in place with a comb, her eyes were piercing, she ate like a hawk, claimed to be an artist, but her true talent was a voice shrill as a seagull and the manners of a very large flock. Agnes Doolitle did little but loud and endlessly talk.

Awkward and shy, I could not escape the scrutiny  and personal questions when Agnes Doolittle cornered me. “Such an odd face, it’s a shame her teeth and skin, and that hair, and those dreadful baggy clothes Worzel chooses to wear”.

I dreaded Agnes Doolitle creeping up near, to reach up and check if I was wearing a brasserie. And when Inkerman clomped in, all ruddy from the cold and smelling of damp wool to fill his face, later joining the men watching hockey on T.V.Agnes Doolittle called Inky, ” a long haired Hippie type, doomed to National Disgrace “.

She wore a big blue dress, and should you pass by, the Doolitle house on Thursdays it would be hung out to dry. She wore her flimsies, to do the wash we had to guess, but it was years later Godfrey taught me, not to take much stock in how others chose to dress.

Full of roast goose and mashed potatoes Agnes, taking up the whole couch snored and sprawled. Under the Christmas tree,  in wrappings and ribbons, Cudberth and I crawled, to sleep on coats piled deep. When we were dragged out for oatmeal at dawn, Agnes Doolitle was gone.

When first I met Godfrey, I still lived at home in Ceylon, on the Saskatchewan prairies, and he delighted in Mrs Gibberflat’s Agnes Doolittle stories. I forgot Agnes Doolittle, until I met Alice, Godfrey’s sister,  curmudgeonly, and expert  on all behavior naughty. “You missed the higher wisdom of such finely honed eccentricity” Alice gravely informed me.” It takes skill at the craft, to come across a daft harmlessly.

Agnes Doolittle, in all family photos she is standing beside me, oh piddle, I will never forget you, Agnes Doolittle.

THE HALIBUT HEADS OF CUDBERTH- By Worzel

Godfrey and I were seeking “Oder-less chalk”, one of his many quirks was dislike for the sneezy scent of chalk, he explained this to a doe-eyed, somewhat vacant looking clerk in the stationary shop. “As we were out walking, said Godfrey, a poem wafted to me on the breeze, and I need to chalk it on your shop wall”. Later on, back home, he mused over how many hundreds of times he stood before the chalkboard as a lad, writing “I will not behave Oddly”, over and over…tell us a story from your school days, dear Worzel, he asked as he sat, safonsified in my turquoise chair…so I did.

“My younger brother, Cudberth is a lot like you, has wandered through life with blyth disregard or worry, over what important people said or thought. He ate every beef tongue sandwich, and distaste full item in our old, cold lunch boxes. A year behind me, his room was across the hall from mine, where gym teacher Miss Augwire taught. Start of each day, after we all had to pray, and roll call was time for “Show and Tell”, we could bring something special, stand up at the chalkboard and share. Miss Augwire once brought Mercury, I once brought a Walrus tusk our stepmother Mrs Gibberflat had found somewhere.

Cudberth brought for his “Show and Tell”, a dead frozen weasel, found in a field first snowstorm of late fall. “We heard shrill commotion, some cheeky talking back, the clack of important shoes, little Cudberth was escorted out, sent home, dead frozen weasel still deep in his knapsack.

Came Thanksgiving Weekend- our stepmother, Mrs Gibberflat , bought a turkey from the chap who sold such goods farm to farm back then, door to door. She bought the good ice-cream, and as an afterthought, fish-heads  and scraps for Oscar, our cat. “What cat? mumbled dad, hockey game on,(He thought Oscar had been et by a predator, many years before).

Was a small town, small prairie school house…we each had a cubby, a nook for books and boots tucked away, and up a narrow set of steps, a cow-bell sat, rung as one hung out the window, to summon us, several times a day. Cudberth forgot his purloined packet of fish heads there he brought for “Show and Tell’, excited when called upon to ring the cow-bell. Imagine the stench, when poor Mr French, the custodian, truly a deeply philosophical man, who sang as he toiled, songs of woe cleaning up for a living, turned the radiators up so classes would be warm for us, after the holiday, Thanksgiving.

Indeed, it reeked, we could taste a green miasma, Miss Augwire ran about, blowing her gym whistle in warning. It smelled so bad inside they made us stay out, picking up trash in the snow all morning. My brother, Cudberth , eating his lunch, chubby cheeks rosy, innocent of all guile and blame, on the teeter-totter sat. Twas then I knew, that he knew I knew what became of the halibut heads Mrs Gibberflat bought for our cat. I’d like to report we laughed till we cried, but was the other way around…

The town cop came, the mayor, the fire brigade, and retired Nosey-Parkers Mr and Mrs Pettigrew, they summoned Walter Kotyk and his bloodhound, It was a most exciting day in my hometown, Ceylon, not Ceylon, Ceylon, but the Ceylon way down in south Saskatchewan. A helicopter flew over twice, it was a rare sight. Eventually the bag of fish, removed with a stick from “The Smelliest School House on The Prairie” read the headline, made the early news on channel 2 up in Regina that night, and was shown again at 9.

Our uncle, Tony DeMarais, lost the coin toss to haul the cubbies away, across the tracks where the firemen could spray it down with their hose, what became of it nobody knows. A large box of chocolate was offered as reward, to anyone who knew who left fish heads over Thanksgiving, neath the bell. Very tempting, but I did not claim glory or prize, Cudberth did not mind, we always shared with each other, but he would have been paddled, my impish, yet well meaning brother. But, of course, there was no pulling wool over Mrs Gibberflat, our stepmother…I still picture Cudberth, at the kitchen table, chin in hand, he is eight. It is late, pencil poised, he is smiling, writing one hundred times- “I, Cudberth Edward Edelpilz will not be disgusting”

What a delightful story, thank you, Godfrey laughed, and what became of Cudberth?  Cudberth never worried much what others said or thought. He is school  principal in Ceylon, the Ceylon, a small town hanging on down in south Saskatchewan, where Miss Augwire the gym teacher taught.