Brannistickles and Sculling Oars


2013-02-07 16.11.55_sketch"Why don't you come live with us, Dad? Why do you stay?"

Its a familiar refrain, heard many times. He can't move as fast as he once could, time and work have made the joints and muscles slower than they were, his face still glows though, leathery from years of sun and outdoor toil, but the creases just add expression to his smile.

Smoke floats straight up from Silas' chimney, the only other person that seems to be up yet. Its so quiet in the harbour, the water still, vapour rising in the chill air. He can here the scrape of Silas's chair over the old wooden floor. Turning his feet, he strolls towards the house. Silas will have the kettle on, a cup of tea will be good.

Why indeed? There's not a lot here anymore, few friends left, most passed on or gone to live with family. Just him and Silas and old man Cooper down the way. But the memories, oh the memories...

"Its not the same anymore Si" he says as he sips tea from the old china cup, toast and the jam dish nearby.

"I know its not Ralph, but we're not the same anymore either. We've seen more than one pan of ice come in the harbour." He pauses "Kids after you to move away again?"

Ralph looks up "Yeah, as usual, and they are likely right, but this is home, its where it all was, all the memories are. You remember the time...?"

Ralphie! Si! You young devils! Get off that path with them slides, your gonna turn it all to ice!"

Pretending they never heard, they race back up the hill for another run. Shaking her head, she turns away, back into the warm house and the bread baking in the oven.

His slide is wooden, with flat polished runners, made by his Dad. Not as fancy as the new coaster with the metal runners Silas got for Christmas, but that one sinks in the heavier snow and his rides up on top. Anyway, taking turns on each others is as natural as breathing for Silas and Ralphie, inseparable as only young boys can be.

Flinging themselves down on the sleds, laying on their stomachs as they race down the ice slickened path, they steer into the huge snowbank to emerge with red faces in a flurry of snow.

"Let's go somewhere else, before she really gets mad" Ralphie says. "How about we try the long run?"

Silas' face lights up, "You think the snow is right?"

"Seems so, let's try!"

The long run is the old woods path, used in summer to get to the ponds, berry grounds and wood stands, and in winter for ice fishing, and hauling the wood and logs out to shore. The path rises gradually in some places, more steeply in others, but steadily till it reaches its peak about a mile from the harbour.

Off they race, streaking over the crust, sometimes falling through, never slowing, Silas' new coaster left behind, they will double on the wooden sled.

Exhausted, exhilarated they arrive at the top of the long run, named Hap's Cap by the old timers, though who Hap is or was no one seems to recall. Breath puffing they take a breather, hands on their sides as they survey the whole harbour. Its like the world has spread out before them, a small part, but huge in their eyes.

Si sits on the front of the sled, Ralph gets behind and gives a running push before jumping on behind, feet wrapped around to work the steering bar. Slowly at first, but picking up speed they slide down the hill, seeing the familiar terrain. A rabbit darts across the path in front of them. Si glances back to make sure Ralph has seen, but his delighted eyes tell the story.

Barely avoiding rocks as big as themselves strewn by glaciers in ages past, cruising past stumps of logs and firewood, they careeen down the long run. Suddenly Uncle Bax is in the path, jumping out of the way with a curse. "You young sleeveens! You needs your hides tanned!"

Unbelievably quickly the garden is upon them, but they are going too fast and can't steer into the gate. Crashing into the paling fence, they splinter several, giving themselves a few scrapes, but no damage as they tumble into the snow drifts.

"Uh oh, Dad's gonna be mad."

"Yeah, he's gonna yell at us, and we're gonna have to fix that come spring. But man! What a ride! Wanna go again?"

Ralph pauses for a second, "Naw. Its nearly dinner time, and I'm starved, lets work on the fort till mom calls."

The fort is a snow bank, dug out with hands and packed down with feet to form a rectangular enclosure. Walls packed tight with snow hardened to nearly ice, and a tunnel through the bank to enter. One small opening is left to the outside world, how else to fight off the imaginary indians and pirates that assail them?

Crawling through the tunnel, they inspect the fort for damages. Assured all was ok, they settle back on their beef bucket chairs and start stockpiling snow balls for the inevitable assault to come. A crow, settled on the ground outside is now a pirate, and quietly the pair peer through their porthole and take aim.

A shrill “Scraw” comes from the crow, as the door opens and the cry of “Dinner!” echoes over the harbour.

Back through the tunnel, and racing to the house, old fashioned double mitts discarded, boots kicked off, and jackets in a heap on the floor, all to be picked up and hung by the wood range, or put in the warmer or on the oven door.

Dinner is the gourmet meal of Franco-American spagehetti on toast, and hot tea. Simple fare, but eagerly devoured by Ralph and Si.

“Yeah, that was a good day, or days.” says Silas, “They kinda blend together over time.”

“You’re right, but still, it was you and me, right here, how can I leave? All my life has been here. “

Tea finished, Ralph makes his way back home. The wood range is gone now, the convenience of instant heat too much to pass up as age catches up, but its the same house, the same home made table he ate spaghetti from all those years ago.

As the evening closes in, snow starts to fall. Looking out the window there’s nothing to be seen except a veil of white. Nothing to hear but the sound of his own lonliness. Is it home anymore if there’s no one left? Nothing to break the sound of the house creaking in the wind?

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