Posts Tagged ‘Expulsion of the Acadians’

Dazifasomi Water

August 26, 2012

soundtrack

(dedicated to all cowboys)

“Steee-rike!”

It’s the beginning of the seventies, and I’m eight while my little sister Shirley is six. In the middle of July, the old man is playing a ball tournament in the Dazifasomi Indian Reservation. The Steel City Sixpax are playing three games against a Tictax team at the same provincial skill level. And even though the reservation is an isolating half-hour drive from any white suburbs, the Rotary Club calls this a community-building activity. I guess the idea is to build community by beeping your car horn whenever a white guy scores a homer against the injuns.

Baseball has always been an important part of my childhood. My earliest childhood memory is of being punished because I wouldn’t “sit still and watch my father play” when I was three and a half. Back in those days, people used to say that male homosexuality was caused by having an invisible father and a nasty mother. Now we know it was actually a reaction against feminism, but for a while, we were told it was healthy, natural, and merited rainbows and weddings.

In the Brave New P.C. world in which I turned 17, gays were supposed to embrace diversity and they weren’t supposed to question their upbringing or try to start a family. The 80s were a decade of abortions and permanent bachelorhood, and having been told to “sit still while other men play” was probably my own personal abortion moment.
(Imagine your own mother telling you to stare at guys in tight pants running in circles when you were a child. You would also have probably come out gay if this had happened to you.)

Victor Armstrong

One of my dad’s ballplayer friends is a skinny and talkative ball of nerve named Victor Armstrong. He’s visited our bungalow a few times, and once, when I was six, he showed me how to do some magic tricks. Victor’s not the best ballplayer on the team – he smokes three packs of cigarettes per day – but the Sixpax keep him around for morale and because he organizes off-season poker tournaments (and is a bootlegger).

Hard Times

Like many other economically-depressed small towns, Steel City has hundreds of baseball diamonds that are the result of Recreation grants that were designed to help locals get enough weeks to qualify for Employment Insurance.

Most of these pogey parks don’t have drinking fountains because outdoor plumbing is too expensive. And it’s the same in Dazifasomi: four diamonds, zero drinking fountains. So both teams resourcefully bring their own water coolers.

Explorers

Exploring the land around Dazifasomi Ballfield, Shirley and I find grassy meadows, beaches, and woodlands, and run so much that we get tired and thirsty. So we decide to get a drink of cold water from the orange water cooler on my dad’s team bench.

Little sister goes first. She slowly separates a conical white cup from the pile and places it under the spout. But before she can get any water to come out, Victor Armstrong is standing over us, menacingly frowning with his forehead crunched up. “Shoo!” he yells at us, as if we were wild dogs.

Shirley looks at him confused and scared, but he just repeats “Shoo! Get the hell out of here!” even more loudly, and motions violently with his hands for us to scram while flashing his shiny white shark teeth. Shirley starts to cry, so I grab her arm and we run away.

“Steee-rike Twooo!”

Shirley says between sobs that she wants to see Ma, so we find the playground where Ma’s smoking with another player’s wife, and tell her what happened. When Victor sees us chatting with a white woman, he comes over and explains: “Oh my God. I thought they were two little squaws. I didn’t know they were yours. Sorry ‘bout that, Kass.”

Ma takes a long drag from her DuMaurier King Size, and shakes her head: “That’s what youze get for getting’ so dark this summer. He’s right.” Embarrassed, she tells Victor not to worry, and then tells us to go sit in the car until the game’s over.

I suddenly realize that our Acadian skin tans deeper than most of the Scottish and Irish people who play on my dad’s team, and that this is a liability.

““Steee-rike Threeee! Yuuuuu’re out!!”

My sister and I liked to think of ourselves as Malibu Barbie tanned, rather than as two little squaws. See, Steel City summer is usually two months of rain which is perfect for playing Barbies and watching TV, but this summer’s been sunny for a change. I guess that’s why we were ethnic-cleansed by Victor Armstrong. No hard feelings. We chose to tan, after all.

Talking in the car

On our way back to the car, we meet up with two Tictax kids our age – a brother and sister – and ask them to come with us to talk privately in our parent’s massive Ford Gran Torino. They tell us that they saw what happened, so we sit and share personal stories about growing up. We learn a few words of Tictak, and share a few words of our remnants of French. The girl – Pamela – tells us we can drink water from the Tictax cooler if we want to. But after what’s happened, we decide to just hang tight and wait until we get home.

Even though my mother agreed with him that day, Victor Armstrong never visited our house again after the ball tournament. And the Steel City Fruit will live his entire life without enjoying a card trick, a magic act, or playing in any kind of poker tournament because, well, those are ethnic-cleanser activities.

(Note. Any resemblance to real human beings is unintentional. This story – like other Steel City Fruit stories – is purely fictional.)

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Nameless and Blameless

August 1, 2011

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The most famous Orangemen family in Steel CIty are the McTuskets who live on Horne’s Road near the abandoned Devil’s Point Shell Refinery. Because Mr. McTusket is in the merchant marines and away at sea most of the time, his affection-starved wife has taken up cat hoarding  as a hobby, with 29 felines calling the McTusket premises home.

Mrs. McTusket has never had any of the female cats spayed or the males fixed. Instead, twice a year, her brother – a wiry bruiser we kids call Uncle Brute – takes away the “extra” kittens.

Where he takes them, no adults will say, but Billy says he puts them in a garbage bag with rocks and throws them off the bridge near his house. I find this hard to believe; Mrs. McTusket has always been known for her kindness to animals. And humans too. So I figure Billy just says this to make his family sound tougher than it really is: working class tough talk.

But when Uncle Brute shows up one Sunday to pick up a pair of fresh kittens, I stick around to see what happens.

On the TV that afternoon, there’s a boring documentary about the ethnic cleansing of the Acadians. In a way, I’m glad there’s nothing interesting on like WWF or a Bronson movie because it means less distraction from the kitten drowning we’re about to experience.

Brute arrives about three o’clock in his red pickup wearing a New England Patriots cap and oversized Moosehead tshirt. He already seems a bit drunk as he stumbles out of his vehicle, but  Mrs. McTusket nonetheless offers him a few beers for his nerves. After drinking the first one, he can barely stand up. His eyes start darting aimlessly around the room, and his speech is slurred and loud – which means we can hear every word he says from the next room.

“I’m too fucking drunk to drive, Wilma. Just bring me a friggin’ bucket,” he says to his sister Mrs. McTusket who never curses herself.

My pulse starts to accelerate so I focus on the tragedy that is unfolding on the TV. As Uncle Brute prepares the bucket… Governor Cornwallis has just brought in New England settlers to scalp the local natives  – the Mi’kmaq.

“Never mind the fucking basement! I’m taking this jeezuz bucket right into that goddamn living room so that everyone can see it with their own fucking eyes!” he shouts, a water-filled bucket in one hand and two pink kittens in the other. The kittens’ eyes are still shut while Uncle Brute’s are wide open and glaring.

Father LeLoutre has just told a crowd to burn down their farms  Then a New England Planter destroys a dike and more Acadian families drown. Then three commercials: dandruff shampoo, Toyota Camry, and Oxfam.

Brute sets the bucket down between my chair and Billy’s. We’re both in our early teens and sort of curious about things like Satanism and cruelty. But Billy’s little eight-year-old brother Herbert and his friend Peter are also sitting in front of the TV next to the bucket. They aren’t curious about cruelty at all. They’re Disney kids. Nervous little Peter hides his face behind the corner of the multicolored afghan he’s sitting on.

But there are holes in that afghan, so all of our eyes are on Uncle Brute’s hands as they submerge the tiny kittens for a few minutes. Even though the TV is still on, I can’t hear the sound anymore. I can only see Brute’s skinny tattooed arms holding the kittens underwater, and hear the silence in their tiny voices.

After about three minutes, Brute raises the lifeless blobs of pink fur up out of the water, as we all sit breathlessly waiting for the triumphal conclusion of our first live animal sacrifice. But as soon as Brute brings them out of the water, they start to cry like little babies. They continue to cry until Uncle Brute puts them back into the water, and this time, for a much longer five minutes.

On the TV at that moment… Robert Monkton has just lead a band of New Englanders up the Saint John River to kill the few remaining Acadians hiding there.

When Uncle Brute pulls the tiny furry bodies up the second time, they’re very, very dead, and we’re all relieved. In a way.

One sleepless week later, Mrs. McTusket has all her females spayed.

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