Friday, December 31, 2010

PAIN IN THE BUTT!


I first met Jim Bishop, Sr. when I was in high school. The Bishop farm was located several miles south and east of town. Jim would hire groups of young guys for some chickin' pickin'. (No, this was not some type of guitar jam!) We showed up at the Bishop farm around midnight on the chosen night and, for several hours, stuff mostly live chickens into crates and load them onto semi trailers. We entered the pitch black barn and by crouching low and feeling for legs, we would gather 10 or 12 birds at a time depending on the size of the chicken, and head out to the truck, place them in a crate and return for more of the same. The Bishops provided a lunch about halfway through the night and then we worked until the wee hours of the morning when the job was complete and thousands of the white creatures were safely in their crates.

The job was quite horrible, even foul, as we sloshed around in a great deal of chicken poop, the strong smell of ammonia burning our nostrils. A lot of the guys wore gloves, but I never felt comfortable doing that as I couldn't feel how many legs were in my hands with gloves on. So barehanded I went and the resulting scratches, pecks and cuts would be a colorful reminder the next morning of the lengths we would go to earn some pocket money. The birds were never very comfortable with their impending destiny and fought and struggled for their freedom. In later years we were replaced by professional crews that would travel from farm to farm loading the trucks. I'm sure these crews were not only faster, but I guarantee the mortality rate of the fowl went up.

Jim was very involved in cloud seeding. Cloud seeding is the attempt to change the amount or type of precipitation that falls from the clouds. This is commonly done by dispersing substances into the air that serve as cloud condensation, which alter the microphysical processes within the cloud. The intent is to increase precipitation (rain or snow), but hail and fog suppression are also widely practiced at airports. As a farmer, Jim was very interested in the reduction of hail, as many an Alberta farmer has lost their crop to this menace of mother nature. From time to time his articles, extolling the virtues of this technology, would appear in the Three Hills Capital, our local paper.

In the summer of 1979 Jim decided it was time to build a new barn and hired several high school guys along with his sons, Jim, Jr., Frank and Roy to help with the construction of his new edifice. I spent several weeks working on the project and my brother Dave stayed on for the entire summer. The barn was sided with a heavy gauge metal siding. This was applied with a long ring nail delivered by power nailers. These nail guns were powered by .22 calibre gun ammunition and packed quite a punch.

One evening, our family was invited out for supper to the George McPherson's. This particular day, Mom had set the supper time a little later knowing that my brother would be coming home from work and would need to shower and clean up. Dave arrived home and Mom encouraged him to hurry as she wanted us to be on time. When Dave came up from his shower, he held in his hand one of the 3 inch ring nails. Most notably with this particular nail was that there was blood up its entire length. With a slight grin on his face, he explained to us that as he had gone to remove his jeans to take a shower, he couldn't get them pulled down. They were nailed on! Nailed right into his derriere. He had pulled out the offending object and continued on about his business. Mom, a little incredulous at this tale, questioned him as to what had happened. He said that earlier in the day, he had felt a slight bit of discomfort as one of the other workers had bumped into him with his nail gun while they were up on the scaffold. Evidently, the gun had fired a nail and it had found its target.

Dave has an incredibly high pain tolerance and I can assure you that if that had happened to me, I would have yelped to high heaven and been off to emergency in a New York minute. He thought the discomfort was just from being bumped by the gun and went on with his day. Mom freaked out. She insisted that he go next door immediately to our neighbor, Dr. Ying, and get a tetanus shot. Dave went over, was given the shot and suffered no after effects. Miraculously the nail had missed any bones.

Dave still has the offending nail in a clear plastic pill bottle - a reminder of the day it was a real pain in his butt.


www.prairieboy.com

© 2010 Stephen J. Rendall - All rights reserved

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

IT CAME AS QUITE A SHOCK!

One of the perks upon entering junior high from grade six was the opportunity to take Shop class, or, as it is called now, Industrial Education. While the girls went to Home Ec, we boys ventured off to the old converted skate house behind the school. The building had been transformed into a wood working shop. A lathe, drill press, table saw and other power tools adorned the east wall. Along the west wall were a series of numbered boards, each with it's own set of hand tools all with matching numbers. Screw drivers, squares, chisels, hand drills, etc. were all neatly arranged. Below each tool board was a small work bench. The class, taught by Bud Kowalsky, embarked on various projects including a spice rack and a lamp to varying degrees of success. Toward the end of the year we were each allowed to build a project of our own choosing.

I chose to build a stereo cabinet. In my mind this was to be the stereo cabinet to end all stereo cabinets even though I didn't even own a stereo of my own, but that's where faith comes in. I drew up a little plan on graph paper and presented it to Mr. Kowalsky. He probably thought I was nuts but with that typical twinkle in his eye, he nodded his head giving me the green light to go ahead. To save costs, we decided that the "box" part of the cabinet would be Arborite laminated on plywood. The doors were constructed out of nice veneered oak plywood which I would stain to match the rest of the cabinet. I selected some good heavy hinges and door handles and set to work. constructing each shelf to be pulled out for easy access to my as yet to be acquired stereo. With some hard work, a lot of advice from Mr. Kowalsky and some trial and error, by the end of the school year I was the proud owner of a very large stereo cabinet. Valuable lessons were learned such as measure twice, cut once and a little about laminating, sanding and staining. My poor mother had yet to lay eyes on the behemoth, but I would be introducing it to her in short order. I wasn't sure where I would put it, but that seemed a rather minor concern at the time.

George Martin had been our next door neighbor for many years when I was growing up on Prairie Crescent. His wife, Avonelle and my Mom became life-long friends. Hailing from Johnstown, Pennsylvania, where George had been in the automotive business, the Martins moved to Prairie in 1962. After enrolling as students, George became the foreman of the garage in 1962. Later he worked in the Stewardship Department and then the Post Office, retiring in 1974.

Not unlike the George Martin of Beatles fame, this George Martin loved electronic gadgets of all types. He would acquire all manner of radios, electronic clocks and tape players and resell them out of his little garage. I first became acquainted with George's shop when my Dad paid him a visit and purchased a small, light green, battery operated transistor radio. This little Sony radio, with the brown leather strap, sat on the kitchen table and brought the nightly CBC news and As It Happens into our little home. For some reason, Dad thought the back of that little radio would be a good billboard for the Chiquita banana stickers and adorned the back with a bunch of them.

I don't recall how I got the stereo cabinet home, but after seeing it, my Mother graciously suggested that maybe it could go in my bedroom. Maybe that was to insure that it didn't end up in her living room . . . I'm not sure. I cleaned up a corner of my rather small bedroom and proudly made a place for my latest piece of furniture. No stereo to put in it, but I sure thought it looked good sitting there. I had been saving my pennies and thought it was time to go and visit my friend George Martin and check on what he might have in stock. George who by now had moved out to Grantville where he had a bigger house and an even bigger garage.

I could have lived in his garage - shelves piled high, stuff hanging off the ceiling and piled high on the floor, really eclectic stuff. Weird colors, odd shapes, off beat brands. I loved it! After explaining what I was after, George rummaged around and came back smiling from ear to ear. In his hands he held a stereo receiver. A Lloyds 8-track stereo complete with AM and FM tuner and amplifier. He plugged it in and the dial glowed a soft orange color. The little black buttons along the bottom lit up with red lights when you pressed them in. WOW! This thing was calling my name. "How much?", I asked George. "Well, Stevie," (he had called me Stevie since I was knee high to a grasshopper), "There is just one slight problem."

"O no", I thought, "What now?". "There are no speakers," he continued. "Well", thought I, "Who needs speakers anyway? I can get those later . . . maybe I can build some . . . maybe Dad woudn't miss his if I borrowed the ones from the living room."

"No problem, that's fine", I said, "I'm sure I can work something out." George then said, "Well, I do have this really nice pair of headphones that I could sell you to go along with it". "Aha", I thought, "Of course, I would be needing a pair of headphones. They would be ideal for listening to rock music late into the night and I wouldn't disturb anyone."

He proceeded to produce the largest pair of headphones that you have ever seen. They were Quad phones, meaning they had two speakers in each earpiece and looked every bit like two gas masks stuck on either side of my head. Quad was a very short-lived attempt at surround sound and never really caught on. I thought those headphones were the coolest thing I had ever seen and struck up a package deal with George on both the stereo and the headphones and returned home a very happy camper!

Arriving with my new acquisition, I rushed into my room carefully placing it on the top of my stereo cabinet. Plugging in the monster headphones, it suddenly dawned on me that I had nothing to listen to as the unit only played 8-track tapes. Disappointed, I realized that I would have to fashion a makeshift antenna and be satisfied with listening to the radio until I could purchase some 8-track tapes. I began to collect a few 8-track tapes, but was never very happy with the sound. "Borrowing" Dad's new Sony turntable I recorded some of my LP's onto blank 8-track tapes, purchased from the Prairie Bookroom.

One of the very first LP's I bought was the brand new Olivia Newton John release, "Have You Never Been Mellow". This mega selling album had the song, "The Air That I Breathe" on it and I fell head over heels in love with the song . . . and with Olivia. Many hours were spent trying to figure out how to breathe some of her air. The song, initially written and recorded by Albert Hammond on his 1972 album, "It Never Rains In Southern California", was later covered by the Hollies in 1974 and became a smash hit for them. I had pretty broad taste, even in those days, and went through a big Irish Rovers and Peter, Paul and Mary phase as well. The summer of grade nine, I was out at Camp Homewood off the coast of Vancouver Island, where Olivia Newton John's yacht was docked in Gowlland Harbour. We could see the boat from the camp and visited with the crew one day. I never did meet Olivia.

Over the next few months, I built a set of speakers in rather crude boxes. They got the job done if Dad telling me to turn them down was any measure of success. Cassettes were just coming into fashion and I thought it would be really cool to be able to record some of my LP's onto cassettes to share with my friends. Again, there was a slight problem in that I didn't own a cassette player. After puzzling over this dilemma for a while, I remembered that in my Dad's office was a small mono Sanyo portable cassette deck. By portable, I mean only 20 pounds, not ipod portable. The origin of this cassette deck is a bit of a story in itself. Evidently some years previous, a Prairie college student had gone to our local drug store, owned at that time by a man named Austin Sawdon. He confessed to Mr. Sawdon that he had stolen the cassette machine in question from his store and was there to return it and make amends. After the student left, an inventory was taken, and there was no record that they had ever even carried such a model, let alone were missing one. Mr. Sawdon called on my father and brought the machine to his office explaining that perhaps the student had the wrong store. Dad made contact with several of the other stores in town, but the origin of the cassette recorder was never discovered. He saw no reason why I couldn't borrow it and so I added it to the growing collection of gadgetry in my room.

One evening just before supper, Mom and Dad were in the kitchen when I decided to make a couple of modifications to my rig. By then I had wires and cables going every which way in my room. I'm sure it looked like a complete rat's nest. I had seen David Hartt, one of the electricians at Prairie, wiring all manner of appliances in the electric shop and thought I could follow in his footsteps. On several occasions "Grandpa Hartt", as we called him, would grab a live electrical wire and as his hand would shake he would exclaim, "I think there's a little power there". In later years I would watch him as he would lick his finger and stick it in a light socket to check if it was live. I guess his skin was so dry that there was minimal conductivity occurring and he wasn't hurt.

The little Sanyo had a white electric cable with the plug that went into the wall on one end and a small rubber nub with two recessed holes that mated up with the two pins inside the case of the machine on the other. Trying to be as efficient as possible and utilizing all of my resources, I decided that as I was moving the little machine onto another shelf, I would hold the corresponding cable between my teeth for just a little bit. Now I was smart enough not to get my tongue in the way, but I forgot about the moisture equation. I had barely started to lift the cassette machine when there was a loud exploding sound followed by a WHOOOOSH! and a huge ball of blue flame shot right out of my mouth. I was facing my Dad who was sitting at the kitchen table and saw a look of great horror written all over his face. There was a black scorch mark on the end of the cable. I felt a tingle in my mouth and tongue and a strange aftertaste, but other than that I wasn't really hurt. I have however, never put another electrical cable in my mouth.

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© 2010 Stephen J. Rendall - All rights reserved

Monday, December 20, 2010

SHARP AS NAILS

When I was growing up, the IDA drugstore in town was right up there on my list of favorite places. Not because of the toothpaste, deodorant, candy or even the drugs, it was because of the music. Before there was itunes, MP3's, Limewire, CD's, minidiscs, cassettes, or even 8 tracks, there were LP's. The store had a very large section of Long Play records and I knew exactly what they had, what they should have and what I thought I wanted.

Prairie Bookroom had extremely strict policies on what it would carry and by diligently guarding the flock from this type of worldly influence they provided no option for those interested in other types of music. John Toplensky, the proprietor of IDA, had carved out a very nice niche market in the selling of Contemporary Christian Music or CCM as it is called. John carried some secular music, but focused primarily on CCM as distributed by WORD Canada.

I saw no reason why the secular couldn't live in harmony with the sacred and so I would eagerly await the arrival of the latest releases. Albums by Love Song, Daniel Amos, Phil Keaggy, 2nd Chapter of Acts or Keith Green would quite happily co-exist in my collection alongside the Eagles, April Wine, Alan Parsons, Chilliwack, Joe Walsh and many other titles. I would be there waiting the day a new shipment arrived. John would let me special order LP's that he wasn't planning on stocking. He also began to bring in recording magazines of which I couldn't seem to get enough of. The WORD rep would come to town and hold "listening parties" of the latest music and hand out prize packs of singles, promo flats, etc. This effectively fueled my fire.

Back in the day, WORD ran a coupon program with stickers placed on all of their LP's and cassettes. If you bought 3, you would get one free, but later that program moved to buy 4 and then buy 5 and then eventually was done away with all together. The coupons were stuck to the outside of the shrink-wrap and on occasion WORD would "double coupon" in order to incentivize the buyer. I would carefully save up my coupons waiting to use them on just the right title. I always bought the vinyl, feeling that the cassettes were too low quality and thinking of myself as quite the little audiophile. I loved the LP jackets with all the liner notes, lyrics, pictures and large artwork. In my mind the absence of these extras is one of the great losses in the new digital delivery world we live in.

Over the years I became as familiar with the music inventory in the store as John himself or maybe even more so. I had started noticing that many of the LP's were missing their coupons. There were holes in the cellophane where they should have been. It looked like someone had taken a little exacto knife and just cut a neat square around each one. I talked to John about this and he didn't seem to have any idea where the missing stickers were wandering off to. This was before closed circuit TV became popular.

Several weeks later as I was perusing the stacks of LP's, I noticed a most curious sight. Right beside me was a middle aged woman from the community. This lady and her husband owned a business in town and were very upstanding citizens. As she would flip an album forward, I could see her take the nail of her index finger and jab it down into the cellophane behind the coupon. Quickly, she worked her long, sharpened fingernail all the way around the coupon, pocketing it and moving on to the next one. I was shocked to say the least! She was very focused and by the efficiency of the act, looked like she had done this a time or two before. To this day I am not sure why she didn't notice me or seem to care if anyone was watching her, but she was making quite a haul. I wasn't really sure what to do, being only 14 or 15 at the time. I should have said, "Hey, Mrs. so and so, what do you think you're doing?", or something to that effect, but I didn't. I walked to the back of the store and found John. After telling him what had happened, he assured me that he would keep an eye out for this woman. Some time later I was visiting with him and he mentioned that he had caught her doing exactly what I had described. He confronted the lady and the coupons stopped disappearing.

In later years, as I visited with many store owners, I was told that Bibles and Christian music are some of the most stolen items in stores. Since that time, I have never looked at long fingernails the same!




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© 2010 Stephen J. Rendall - All rights reserved.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

WHILE SHEPHERDS WASHED THEIR SOCKS BY NIGHT . . .

Every fall when November rolled around, each class started practicing for the Annual Grade School Christmas program. Parts would be learned in individual classrooms and during the weekly music classes. I wouldn't term these particular exercises "fun" in the traditional sense, so we were often called on to create our own "fun".

You see, the standard for excellence for Christmas programs had been set very high by the college. The annual Christmas Music Night at Prairie drew people from all over the provinces of Alberta, British Columbia and Saskatchewan. Some brave folk even traveled up from Montana. The logistics of a small town and college putting on a such a grand production like this were mind boggling. A 180 voice choir, 60 piece orchestra, various small ensembles and soloists made up a two hour production of sacred music. Conservative . . . absolutely!, but well done, no argument there. The large tabernacle would be full to overflowing. In those days, the "tab" as we called it, sat close to 4500, making it the largest religious auditorium in Canada. In later years as fire codes were enforced, the bench seating was spread out, reducing the capacity.

Every two years the entire entourage would travel to both Edmonton and Calgary and perform the program in the Jubilee auditoriums. With seating for about 2600, these beautiful, acoustically correct concert halls were built to commemorate Alberta's 50th birthday in 1955. Both were filled to capacity when the Prairie Music Night came to town. When the school first started going to the "big cities", everyone would load up on the train and make the journey. The kitchen staff would go along to prepare meals for close to 400 people! As busses and vans became more readily available, they became the preferred mode of transportation. When I was in junior and senior high school, I was privileged to be be part of the sound and light crew, learning a great deal about working with various equipment, leaders and musicians.

Back to our lowly grade school program. After several weeks of practicing, it was time to start proper rehearsals in the tabernacle. Single file, we made our way, class by class, down 6th Avenue, for a number of practices before the big day. We sat by class and our teachers tried their best to maintain some modicum of law and order. With 300 kids, this was much easier said than done. A group of us would get particularly creative when it came to lyrical re-writes. All very childish, we would sing with gusto, "While shepherds washed their socks by night all seated on the ground, the angel of the Lord came down and passed the soap around", and "We three kings of orient are; tried to smoke a rubber cigar; it was loaded; it exploded; now we are no more". And on it went . . . you get the point.

In kindergarten and grade one we participated in a "rhythm band". Having a rhythm band at Prairie was a complete anathema, but for some reason this was encouraged. Little did they know they were influencing a whole generation of rockers! We were all given instruments like triangles, wood blocks, shakers, bells, etc. and off we would go, accompanied on the piano by our music teacher. This auspicious group was led by Phil Callaway. He was given a small baton and instructed to wave said implement from side to side in time with the music. Phil, always the class comedian, determined early on that if he moved his derriere to the opposite side as the baton in a rhythmic fashion, he could elicit giggles from the girls and laughs from the parents! Wonder of wonders, on the night of the big performance, we actually knew the right words and the programs usually went off without a hitch. None of us had the guts to sing our version of the songs.

One of the highlights of the evening was the candy bags. These ample brown paper bags contained a mandarin orange, nuts of various kinds and a plastic bag full of candy and were handed out to every student and child at the end of the program. Older teenagers would meet in the butcher shop to help assemble the bags a few days before the big night. Mr. Butler would keep a wary eye out for any who dared sneak a candy or two!

There were always the odd wing-nuts that had some wacky, misguided idea that we shouldn't celebrate Christmas because of it's pagan origins, etc., and didn't allow their children to participate in the program. I remember even as a young child being angry with those parents and feeling so very sad for the children.

The Christmas program signaled that the holidays were about to begin and this notched up the excitement one more level. Christmas vacation was the best time as a kid growing up at Prairie. We boys pretty much lived at the outdoor rink and played hockey in every kind of weather from the melting ice of a chinook to the bitterly cold freezing temperatures of a blizzard. Revolving games of shinny would entertain us from morning to night, pausing only to duck into the skate house to warm up or to hurry home for some grub or a bathroom break. The big flood lights were turned on around 5 o'clock as it was getting dark. If we could enlist some of the lady folk, lively games of crack the whip, pom pom pull away or duck duck goose would ensue. At one time there were five rinks on campus alone. If the weather was warm enough and the snow would actually stick together, we would build snow forts and have snowball fights. Many times the packed drifts along the snow fences were so high we could walk up and over the fences. As we got older we would trek out to the Three Hills for some tubing. The annual Christmas basketball tournament would also be played. I usually had a couple of uncles who were involved in that, making for a lively discussion at Grandmas house. Both gyms would be utilized, ending in a big championship game on the final night. On really cold days we would go to the boys dorm and play ping pong.

It seemed like even the administration let down its austere legalistic guard to take part in the Christmas spirit. They would plan a number of activities for those on the campus and in the community over the holidays. In those days, many students stayed in the dorms for Christmas as travel was costly and dangerous in the tough Canadian winters. All of these students were invited into staff homes for meals and game nights.

One of the organized activities was a couple hours of movies, or films as they were called, in the afternoons. For a couple of weeks the High School auditorium was transformed into a movie theater and 16 millimeter films were rented in for our entertainment. The Sound of Music, Where The Red Fern Grows, Follow Me Boys, Laurel and Hardy films as well as more serious movies like The Drylanders and National Film Board of Canada documentaries were projected up on the screen. To us staff kids, who were not allowed to have televisions in our homes, this was a big deal. Never fear though, the high standards did not completely go out the window! One year, during the showing of Sound of Music, a hand quickly went up to cover the lens when the Baroness made her entry, as it was deemed the neckline of her blouse was too low.

For many years a "Boxing Day Program" was planned with zany skits and funny musical numbers. Hot chocolate and treats were served. I remember Vernon Charter playing a hand saw with a violin bow and George Bryant and Bert Shelton lip syncing to some funny song. At the ages of 4 and 6 my wife Cathy and her brother John Kirk made their acting debut in a parody of college students, alongside Mrs. Pulliam who played a young grade school girl in pigtails.

The Dining Hall was the scene of another highlight of the holidays. Every Christmas Day for decades, the school invited all staff, students and families for a formal dinner. A full course turkey meal with all of the trimmings was served. The Dining Hall was decorated with a large 20 foot Christmas tree at it's centre. The mounted deer heads were given red noses in honor of a missing Rudolf. The kitchen staff prepared for and fed close to 1000 people. For us kids this event was terribly exciting. We would dress up in our finest, every hair in place, often wearing new clothes we had just received that morning. Mom was from a large family of 12 children and many of my Aunts, Uncles and cousins travelled a great distance at considerable cost, braving perilous conditions to be in Three Hills for Christmas. It was exciting to see people we hadn't seen for a year or more. Staff kids that had grown up and left the nest would often be home for Christmas, accompanying their parents to the Christmas dinner. Tongues would wag about which girl's dress was the shortest, who wore the most makeup and jewelry, or which boys had their hair over the ears and collars. These "worldly" actions were the subject of great interest and gossip for weeks after the big event.

To say that my mother LOVED Christmas would be a huge understatement! Because she had endured some pretty bleak Christmases as a child, she did everything in her power to make them extra special for our family. The baking and decorating would start weeks before. Mom had the house decked out in festive lights and colors and would host parties, meals and game nights for various church groups as well friends and relatives. We boys helped pull taffy, make chocolates, decorate cookies and squares and wrap presents. Mom gave presents to everyone! At least it seemed like it to us kids. She gave presents to students she had gotten to know, people in the church, relatives, friends, neighbors and always had a few extra gifts wrapped, "just in case". She organized large food hampers and gifts for needy families and married students in the community. Mom had the "It's more blessed to give than to receive" thing down pretty good. We were made keenly aware of the less fortunate and were taught to be grateful and thankful for what we had.

Both Dad and Mom made a great effort and sacrifice to see that we were given nice gifts at Christmas. Usually, we received one "big" present like hockey equipment and several smaller gifts. They always included a book or two as reading was very important around our house. There was one family gift as well. I remember a toboggan one year. We would save up our allowances and do our best to get both Mom and Dad something we thought they would like. Dad would always try and determine what was in the package so we would go to great lengths to disguise the contents using rocks for extra weight and large boxes to keep him from guessing. It was fun watching them open their presents. Mom would use some of her creativity in making our Christmas stockings extra special. Along with the standard gum, candy and orange, she would include our favorite Archie comic book, jacks, a puzzle or two and maybe a small game. This gave her a great deal of pleasure and she was always delighted as we opened them. On Christmas morning, we were up at some crazy hour, bugging Mom and Dad to wake up. When we succeeded, Dad would read the Christmas story from Luke, chapter 2 and then we were allowed to open our presents. After Christmas dinner we would make the rounds to Grandpa and Grandma's, Uncle's and Aunt's to see what everyone had received for Christmas. Many were the hours spent around Grandma's kitchen table playing a lively game of Pit or Stock Ticker, consuming Grandma's special popcorn balls and other treats. By the end of the day we were tired out and ready to say with jolly old St. Nick, "Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!", and with Tiny Tim, "God bless us, every one!".

These are just a few of my memories of Christmas as a Prairie Boy . . . I wouldn't have wanted it any other way!

Thanks to Darrell Wilson for the pictures circa 1971

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© 2010 Stephen J. Rendall - All rights reserved.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

MONEY BAGS

In March of 1993 it was my privilege to accompany my friend Bob MacKenzie to the annual MIDEM show. MIDEM ( Marché International du Disque et de l'Edition Musicale) is the world's largest music industry trade fair. The convention has been held annually at the Palais des Festivals in Cannes, France, since 1967. Bringing together musicians, business people, cultural policy makers and journalists from many countries, it provides a forum for business talks, and the discussion of political and legal issues. The convention allows for showcasing new artists, musical trends and music related products, hosted in one of the most idyllic settings in the world.

I traveled from Calgary, Alberta, Canada and Bob journeyed from Nashville, Tennessee. Bob had vast industry experience, having owned studios, and record and publishing companies as well as having produced hundreds of records. I was looking forward to learning from one of the industry veterans. We had agreed that we would meet at the top of the stairway in the main train station in Milan, Italy at a predetermined time. My flight connected through Toronto. As luck would have it, that very night, Toronto saw one of the worst snow and ice storms on record. One of the few times in the history of the airport, Pearson was completely shut down and all flights were canceled.

I knew that Bob would be patiently waiting for me at the top of that long flight of stairs. Having no way to contact him, (this was pre-cell phone era), I called his wife Joy in Nashville and let her know of my predicament. I suggested that if Bob were to call home, she inform him of my whereabouts and see if he could meet me the next day, same time, same station. I also called my wife in case Bob were to contact her to see what had become of me. I spent the night in Toronto and made my way back to the airport early in the morning, hoping to work out a way to get to Milan. I was able to get on a flight and everything went off without a hitch.

Landing in Milan, I took a cab to the main train station and there was Bob, large as life, grinning from ear to ear. He had spent some time looking over schedules and maps and decided that there was just enough time for us to take a slight detour. He wanted to go and visit Venice before the conference was to start in Cannes. So off we raced to the other end of the station, boarding the train just as it was pulling out. Venice is a delightful city, full of as much "old world charm" as a person could ask for.

We were able to hit a number of high spots, including the massive Cathedral of San Marco which sits on the Piazza San Marco. The cathedral dates back to 828 and is one of the finest examples of Byzantine architecture in all of Europe. We walked many of the narrow city streets where past historical luminaries trod, Marco Polo and Vivaldi among them. Charles Dickens, the great English novelist, spent a brief period in Venice during a tour of Italy, and the city inspired a dream sequence in his work Pictures from Italy. We followed our ears to the sound of beautiful classical music coming from a side street. There we discovered a wonderful string quartet playing in a quaint little concert hall on the second floor of an ancient building. The two of us dined on some fine Lebanese cuisine and explored some of the city's canals by gondola before boarding the train to Cannes. Along the way we were able to taste some of the local flavor and enjoyed shopping in the outdoor markets for fresh fruit, vegetables and cheese.

Set on the glorious French Riviera, Cannes is right next door to the Kingdom of Monaco, with it's uber wealthy. Monaco is the second smallest country, by land size, in the world; only the Vatican City is smaller. Monaco is also the world's second smallest monarchy and principality to be more exact, and the most densely populated country in the world. A wonderful harbor, with hundred of luxury yachts from around the world, sits at the base of the city, a prominent feature of the area. High on the cliffs above sits the Jacques Cousteau museum and headquarters.

Bob and I stayed in a small pension called Hotel de Paris and we were just a few blocks walking distance from the main conference center. Lectures and presentations were given by many of the leading lights in the music industry. Of particular note was a talk given by Thomas Dolby of She Blinded Me With Science fame. Mr Dolby's topic was on the future of music, and although it was forward thinking for that time, I am sure he had no idea where we would be today. Most of the main record companies in the world had booths set up and manned by their representatives at the convention. There were artist showcases to attend, special events and dinners planned and many people to meet.

After one particularly busy day, Bob and I thought we would go over to Monte Carlo and have a nice sit-down meal and relax. It was only a short walking distance from the convention center, so off we went. By this point it was evening and starting to get a little dark. There were thousands of people walking back and forth on the main cobblestone esplanade. As we walked, we heard the sound of an engine and a fair amount of commotion behind us. I turned to look, and there was a long black Mercedes stretch limo coming straight down the walkway, parting the people as it slowly moved forward. As it came up alongside us, I noticed the back door was open. Then I heard the tinkle of coins. Looking again at the car, I realized that someone inside was holding a burlap sack and was literally pouring coins out onto the street. Hundreds of coins, no, thousands of coins, substantial looking coins! By now people were scrambling to pick up the treasure. Some were beginning to push and shove in their greed and eagerness, to latch onto some of the impending wealth. Not wanting to be left out, I stepped on a number of the coins and then picked them up. It was too dark to really make out what they were, so I put them in my pocket. You never know, they could have been pieces of eight! The limo continued on its way, slowly heading towards the bright lights of the restaurants, hotels and casinos of Monte Carlo, the jingle of it's diminishing treasure slowly fading as it went.

After we arrived at the restaurant, I fished the coins out of my pocket and discovered they were all Russian rubles. I realized that these were not the gold pieces of eight I was hoping for and I had not been the recipient of anyone's generosity. The Russian ruble has faced numerous challenges since it was first introduced more than 500 years ago. During the period of hyperinflation of the early 1990s, the ruble was significantly devalued. A new set of banknotes was issued in the name of the Bank of Russia in 1993. No less than seven different permutations of the Russian ruble have existed in its history.

That very day, the Russian ruble had completely collapsed, rendering the hapless currency almost useless. The owner of the coins was obviously making a statement and was letting all within earshot know how little his wealth was worth. Upon returning home, I put the 5 or 6 coins in a little leather bag, intending to give them to our kids as souvenirs. They were on a shelf in my home office and mysteriously disappeared after we had an out-of-town crew doing some work at the house. Who ever took them would have quickly discovered how little they were worth. I am reminded of the writer of the Gospel of Matthew whose wise counsel talks about the futility of storing up earthly treasure. I assume that includes Russian rubles.

www.prairieboy.com

© 2010 Stephen J. Rendall - All rights reserved.

Monday, September 6, 2010

HISTORY OF SOUND AND RECORDING AT PBI


I am writing a short book on the history of sound and recording at PBI. I hope to have some stories, pictures, etc. This will be a limited run as I am aware that there are only a few that would be interested. If any of my friends have stories, memories or pictures of the studio or PA system or music groups that they would like to share, I would be grateful. If you worked for Doug Kirk or John Binet during those years, I would like to include you in the book. Thank you - SjR

www.prairieboy.com

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Friday, July 30, 2010

I MAY LOOK LIKE AN IDIOT, BUT I FEEL LIKE A KING!

Coming Soon!

TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE!

There is maybe no sadder sight than to see a fellow human being who has been beaten up and then beaten down by life. Kicked in the stomach, dealt a raw deal, hit over the head, call it what you will. Left by the side of the road.

My Grandfather Norbo was one of those people. You could see it in his hollow eyes, hear it in his voice, observe it in the way he walked and carried himself. Sometimes you could catch it in his vacant stare as he sat in his old brown rocker in the living room. You could almost smell the fear. An unspoken desperation hung like a cloud over the very fabric of life itself. His gaunt face and twisted body told a tale. There was an underlying, unspoken sadness that permeated his very being. It was like he was always looking over his shoulder. For what or whom I didn't know, but I had the sense even as a young boy that there was more to the story. Much more. You see, my Grandpa Norbo had a past life. A past that would haunt him until the day he died . . . to be continued . . .

www.prairieboy.com

WALKING ON GRADE 8 TURF

Fridays were a big deal when I was growing up. Not just because it signaled the weekend, but because it usually meant that it was Film Day. Film Day wouldn't have been such a monumental event, but in a community where the watching of television and attendance at the movie theatre was strictly forbidden, we looked forward with great anticipation to this activity.

Class by class we would file to the main auditorium and for a couple of hours, watch a selection of 16 millimeter films. The variety was immense, with titles ranging from science, history, human interest and the odd humorous piece. A great human tragedy would occur should you miss Film Day and be made to study as a result of unfinished homework, slumping grades or some type of misbehavior.

The source for most of these films was the National Film Board of Canada. Every week a large carton of movies, pre-selected by the teachers, would arrive at the school. One of the benefits of a "socialist" country was that in certain eras a great deal of money was spent on the arts. In 1939, The National Film Board of Canada was established to produce and distribute audio-visual works which would provoke discussion and debate on subjects of interest to Canadian audiences and foreign markets. Exploring the creative potential of the audio-visual media, it would achieve recognition by Canadians and others for excellence, relevance and innovation.

I will never forget a certain Friday when we were in grade 8. We all filed down to the auditorium after lunch, ready for a good afternoon of film watching. Our teacher, Arthur Freeman, had already threaded the film projector by the time we arrived. The lights were turned off, the machine started rattling away and we were off. One of the films that day was entitled "Walking". I'm sure when Mr. Freeman ordered it, he thought that it was a short film extolling the benefits of good healthy exercise. As it turned out, it probably was. Animator Ryan Larkin used an artist's sensibility to illustrate the way people walk. He employed a variety of techniques - line drawing, color wash, etc. - to catch and reproduce the motion of people afoot. The springing gait of youth, the mincing step of the high-heeled female, the doddering amble of the elderly - all were registered with humor and individuality to the accompaniment of a special sound track, without words. Released in 1968, the 5 minute short film begins with a silhouette of a man cast against the strains of a nylon string guitar. The film had some very current music, sounds which we would not have heard much in those days.

After the movie began, Mr. Freeman would often leave his post at the projector and walk to the back of the auditorium. This was a much better vantage point from which to survey the entire class and watch for any disturbances that might occur. At about the minute and a half mark, as the soundtrack started to gather steam, a male walker entered the screen from the left. One of this particular fellow's distinctives was that he had not one stitch of clothing on. There he was, fully nude, pendulum swinging in the breeze, nothing on but a smile on his face. Let me assure you that by now every person in that room was paying very close attention! At this point Mr. Freeman began running towards the projector. He arrived just after a female participant had made her appearance from the right hand side of the frame. In a similar state of undress, large headlights proudly announcing her entrance, she bounced across the screen. Even though the movie was an early form of animation, there was still enough detail for us to get the point. Reaching the projector, Mr. Freeman quickly covered the lens with his hand. The darkened room masked his ever reddening face as he blurted out, "I think we have had enough walking for today . . . class dismissed . . . you can all go home."

We sat there a little stunned. He was obviously embarrassed that this film had slipped by on his watch and more than a little flustered. Nudity was not something that we saw everyday on the screen at Prairie and while we were more than happy to get the rest of the day off, more than one of us was left wondering how the rest of the movie might have unfolded. It was unusual to see Mr. Freeman rattled, but it wasn't the first time.

Arthur Freeman and his family moved to Prairie in the summer of 1960, from Bridgeton, New Jersey, to teach at Prairie High School. Born in the Boston, Massachusetts area, he met his wife Katherine at Gordon College in Wenham, MA. Teaching first in the High School and later becoming principal, Arthur's love for his students was evident from his very first class. He later accepted the position of teaching English, Language Arts, Social Studies and Bible to Grade Seven and Eight.

I don't remember too much about the older Freeman children, but I do have a memory of an infamous story which has gone down in Prairie lore. Evidently, the Freeman boys ran their own brewing company. The liquid which was the object of this endeavor was none other than Hires Root Beer (or root pop as Cathy's Grandpa referred to it) The staff store sold kits for brewing your own root beer and the Freeman lads took it to one more level. Mixing up the ingredients in the bathtub, Joel and Steve would bottle the elixir, placing a raisin in the bottom to aid in the aging process and give the liquid refreshment a little extra oomph. One year, my Father, who was Principal at the time, received one of the bottles as a gift. The bottle in question must have contained a powerful concoction, because to Mr. Freeman's great embarrassment, and to his boys perverse delight the bootleg bottle exploded in our pantry.

In life we all encounter people who define us in some way, either for good or bad. I, along with countless of his former students, consider Arthur Freeman to be one of those teachers who helped shape me in a powerful way. He had the philosophy that if a student treated him with respect, he would treat you the same way; a novel concept! One of his oft heard quotes was, "Abuse a privilege; lose a privilege.” The rules were strict, but always fair. His daughter Beth was in our class and she received the same treatment as the rest of us; no special privileges. He had a "no gum chewing" rule and if he spotted a chomping offender, he would walk over to the corner, pick up the trash can, and not even skipping a beat in the flow of his teaching he would bring it over to the student. Holding it under their chin he would demand, "Spit!"

Arthur kept a couple of large bulletin boards which he would continually update with newspaper and magazine clippings of current world events. His grasp of history, as well as the present day, allowed him to teach with a balance few teachers seemed to possess. He, along with my own Father, instilled in me a love of news and current affairs and fostered a desire to create an expansive world view. Just because we were from a small town in the middle of the prairies didn't mean we shouldn't and couldn't know what was going on in the world. He would engage us in intelligent adult level conversation, always expressing interest in what was going on in the rest of our lives. He loved to have fun and his quick wit and sharp mind made his classes a great experience. There were limits however, as there should be, and we learned very quickly that there were certain lines that you dare not cross.

This was brought home to us very early in Grade Seven when an enterprising student, or perhaps an art hopeful, spent a good deal of time modifying the cover of one of our textbooks. The book in question was entitled, "Words Are Important" and this student had taken great care in trying to match the font color and style and re-christened his book, "Words Aren't Important". Arthur did not find this amusing in the very least. To him, words were very important and he knew that they would be some of the tools and building blocks we would use later in life to carve out our futures. He went on a tear in front of the whole class on the disrespect this student had shown, not only to school property, but to the very ethos of words. I will never forget the passion with which he delivered that speech!



In Grade Eight, one of our assignments was to write 4 separate, 2500 word papers on the major world religions; Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism. This was a daunting assignment and for some very strange reason I took to this like a duck to water. I went into major research mode searching out books at the Prairie and Town libraries. Dad helped me find relevant books from his own personal library. I scratched out the assignments on ruled loose leaf paper and my Mother did her best to interpret my hieroglyphics, kindly typing them out, giving them a professional, polished look. Papers handed in, I was astonished to receive an A+ on each one, due in no small part to the neat presentation I'm sure. One of the aspects that stands out was the encouraging words that Mr. Freeman scrawled at the top of the papers in his red pen. His writing alone took some deciphering, looking something like a doctor's scribble. Handing me one of the papers and looking me square in the eye, he said, "Steve, you can really write . . . and then he paused . . . when you apply yourself." With a twinkle in his eye and a grin on his face, he moved on to the next student. For the remainder of my school years, it was the applying of oneself that became my Achilles heel, but in some ways I always found comfort and felt some degree of confidence in those life affirming words from Mr. Freeman. Utilizing the classic Plain English Handbook, his careful teaching on grammar, adverbs, adjectives, nouns, and proper punctuation have helped me in writing ad copy, multi-media scripts and marketing materials over the years, and given countless students a solid foundation as they went on in further studies and occupations.

Arthur loved colorful posters and would decorate the classroom according to season. He would allow us to order posters from a company called Giant Posters. Animal, sports and scenic shots in all kinds of sizes could be ordered several times a year. He would handle all the paper work and distribute the posters when they arrived. I remember ordering a giant Minnesota Vikings poster and presenting it to my Grandpa Norbo as a Christmas present. In either a show of love for me, or as an indication of his great loyalty to the Vikings, he hung that poster up in his bedroom where it remained for another 15 years until his death.

In 1963 a book was published, entitled The Cross And The Switchblade. It told the true story of David Wilkerson's first five years in New York where he ministered to disillusioned youth, encouraging them to turn away from the drugs and gang violence they were involved with. The book became a best seller, with more than 15 million copies distributed in over 30 languages. In 1970, a film adaptation was released, starring Pat Boone as David Wilkerson and Erik Estrada as Nicky Cruz, the teen gang member whose life was transformed by Wilkerson's work. By the time we hit grade 8, many of us had either read the book, seen the movie or both. While the point of the story is one of redemption and transformation, I think there were a number of us boys who were quite enamored with the portrayal of gang culture and the whole underbelly of the story. Whether this was the impetus for what happened next, I can't be sure, but it was certainly in our consciousness.

One day some of the "tougher" guys in our class decided it was time that we as the big kids on the block do something to assert this lofty position. During the morning recess, several guys manned the door of the boy's bathroom and would only allow other grade eight students in to use the facilities. I'm not sure exactly where we thought the underclassmen would find relief, but the tactic seemed to work and we all returned to class as the bell sounded. That afternoon, the "gang" resumed its terrorism tactics and the guards took their positions on the inside of the bathroom, once again only allowing grade eight boys access. Towards the end of recess, there was a knock on the door. "Who is it? . . . Grade 8 turf", was the response from the inside. The knock had now turned into pounding and the same call was issued. "Grade 8 turf . . . who is it?" In an instant the door burst open. There stood Arthur Freeman, veins bursting out of his skull, nose as red as Rudolf's, sweat dripping down his face, fire flashing in his eyes, demanding to know exactly what was going on. He had simply needed to use the facilities himself before class resumed and had encountered resistance when he tried to open the door. To say all hell broke loose would be a gross understatement. Every one of us grade eight boys were rounded up and ordered into a separate classroom. We were then given what can only be described as a well deserved tongue lashing about respect, abuse of younger students, rebellion, selfishness, disobedience and anything else that came to his mind; all things we needed to hear! I'm reminded of the scripture which makes reference to righteous anger. We saw some of it that day. Punishment was meted out and the short lived flirtation of a bunch of grade eight students with the gang life came to an abrupt end.

Arthur Freeman had one other quality for which I have the deepest respect. On the birthday of every one of his former students, he would send an envelope containing a bookmark with a personalized greeting and verse. He did this until the student got married or turned 21. When I think about this, it still boggles my mind. Talk about being faithful in the little things!

The world needs more teachers like Arthur Freeman. Teachers who know what their role is in a students life. Teachers who are not afraid to uphold principles. Teachers who instill personal responsibility and a love of learning in their students. Teachers who will not back down from what they know to be right.

Arthur Freeman passed away on March 19th, 2009 at the age of 91, 33 days after the passing of his loving wife of 65 years. I don't claim to know a lot about heaven and what it may or may not be like. There is one thing I do know however, and that is this; The streets of gold that Arthur Freeman now walks on . . . are not Grade 8 turf!

www.prairieboy.com
© 2010 Stephen J. Rendall - All rights reserved.

BUY THE BOOK!

It is said that if you were to line up every book in the main library in Oxford, England, end to end, they would extend the entire length of Great Britain. Established around 1096, Oxford is comprised of forty colleges and halls, each with it's own collection. With over 10 million volumes in it's main library, Oxford's central research library is the Bodleian, founded by Sir Thomas Bodley in 1598 and opened in 1602. Housed on 117 miles (188 km) of shelving, it is the second-largest library in the UK, after the British Library. It is a legal deposit library, which means that it is entitled to request a free copy of every book published in the UK. As such, its collection is growing at a rate of over three miles (5 km) of shelving every year. A great town in which to browse, buy books or carry out research, the history that is found in this small area is remarkable. The collection of rare books and manuscripts is one of the most important in the entire world possibly rivaled only by the Vatican.

I don't remember a day that books did not play a significant role in my life. From the plastic picture and alphabet books of my early childhood to books of a more weighty variety, they have always been present. Hardly a meal went by at our house where Dad and Mom would not discuss authors, cover designs, fonts, publishers, and the marketing of books around the little kitchen table. I would share with them in the joy of a manuscript's acceptance and the disappointment of the rejection letter. Dad's extensive library provided research material for many reports and essays throughout school. In addition, he received about 40 magazines a month. US News and World Report, Time, Newsweek, Macleans, as well as religious periodicals and journals crammed his small office. Dad felt that it was important to know what was going on in the larger world. We may have been landlocked in a tiny town on the Canadian Prairies, but Dad's world view was global. He felt as a teacher, writer and a leader he owed it to his students and to himself to be informed. He did this with intention and passion. Discussions at our round table covered religion, politics, current and world events, culture, entertainment and sports.

When Cathy and I had our children, just like our parents had, we felt it important to read to them. This became a part of our nightly routine. Even after our kids could read for themselves, they still loved to snuggle up on the couch as one of us would read to them. There is something about being read to that is comforting and speaks of stability.

Call me crazy, but given the choice between a fine meal and a fine book, I would probably choose the book. Nine out of ten times I would rather read the book than watch the movie that it was based on. Nothing against movies, as I have the utmost respect for well crafted films and the process by which they are made. Books ask questions, provide answers, transport you to another place, make you laugh or cry. Shelves of books beckon me to pick them up and explore the contents beneath their covers. I love the feel of the paper, a well designed dust jacket, and a quality binding. Somehow an e-book, kindle or ipad is just not the same, although it will be interesting to see how these technologies will impact reading and learning. Much of my work is with songwriters, and I often tell them, "Good readers make good writers". I often wonder about the back story of those books. What motivated the authors to write them? What sacrifices were made? What risks were taken? Why does one book become a best seller when a book on a similar topic, perhaps even better written, bombs?

It was a chilly fall day in 1970 and that Monday morning when I arrived at school there was a distinct buzz in the air. Dwight Jack had learned a new word that weekend and was eager to share his newfound knowledge with some of the boys in our class. The word in question was quite simple really, but when you think about it, carried a fair amount of weight. The little three letter word was . . . bra. The abbreviation of the formal word brassiere. More importantly, Dwight had also learned the definition. It seems that the item in question was a piece of woman's clothing which housed, in the words of the biblical writer Solomon, the "two fawns, twins of the gazelle".

Don't think for a second that old blues singers like Robert Johnson, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Lightning Hawkins or the new crop of rappers like Jay Z, Missy Elliot, P Diddy or Dr. Dre are the only ones to have come up with code names and slang terms for special parts of the body. A cursory read of the holy scriptures would indicate that the writers of old were on to this technique a very long time ago. Solomon was particularly adept at his use of the creative double entendre. A more careful study and examination will clearly show why young Jewish boys were not allowed to read the Song of Solomon until they were at least thirteen years old.

We looked at Dwight to see if he was pulling our leg. He seemed quite serious, which was unusual for Dwight. I think it was Phil Callaway who was pretty sure that the word in question didn't really exist, and if it did, surely it couldn't mean that? Phil had been diligently studying three letter words and had moved on to the four letter variety. Intrigued, we all agreed that further research was in order. Class was about to begin and we would have to wait until recess to pick up on our discussion.

As the bell rang for recess, like any good team of researchers would do, we hurried to the library. The library was housed in a separate room in the school which was just down the hallway from our grade four classroom. Presided over by Miss Verla Gale, the rules of no talking and orderly behavior were strictly enforced. Toward the back of the room, in the far corner, were kept the dictionaries, encyclopedias and other research materials. We made our way to the corner and proceeded with our research project. It was decided that we should divide and conquer and so a group of us went for the Webster's Dictionary and the other group turned to the World Book. Some of the boys had difficulty finding the B's, but eventually we all got on the same page.

Lo and behold, there it was, large as life; bra (bra) n., complete with a brief definition and a black and white illustration which looked more like a medieval slingshot of some type than an undergarment. Amidst some giggling and gawking the definition was read in hushed tones to the group. Dwight beamed as if to say, "told you so" and Phil was able to add another word to his vocabulary. Raydean Keller, Steve Porr, Stan Kirk and myself were left wondering what this new information meant and exactly how it applied to us. Miss Gale must have wondered why in the world this group of grade four boys had taken such a keen interest in higher learning. If only she had known, she would have gotten out her large black felt pen.

There were lots of books in our little grade school library that had been the recipient of Miss Gale's felt pen. Words like gee, gosh, golly and darn were all dutifully blacked out, less they corrupt our young, impressionable minds. Not to be easily fooled, we found that we could hold the books up to the light or to the window and make out what the word had been by the difference in the shade of blacks. Miss Gale must have been exposed to a fair amount of corruption in her day, judging by the frequency of these marks in the volumes that lined the shelves. If there were any illustrations, of human anatomy for instance, that had been decided were unacceptable, Miss Gale, like a renaissance artist of old, being ordered by the pope to put clothes on some of the world's great artwork, would draw in the equivalent of a black fig leaf where she deemed it appropriate. Miss Verla Gale had actually taught my Mom back in the day and I thought she was absolutely ancient!

By Grade four, I was a voracious reader and had devoured all of the Thornton W. Burgess, Danny Orlis, and Sugar Creek Gang books in our small library. A particular favorite of mine was the Silver Chief series, in which an RCMP officer owned a wolf, Siberian husky cross and together they performed heroic feats in the wild Canadian north. I could just imagine myself riding along on that dog sled, tracking and bringing in the fugitives to justice.

Wishing to expand my own horizons and not wanting be held captive to the censorship whims of an octogenarian librarian, I had discovered that for 50 cents, I could purchase a library card at the Town Library. This opened up an entirely new world of reading opportunities. It was like discovering a special secret, a ticket if you will, to the future. I wasn't very eager to tell my friends, because they might go there and check out the latest Hardy Boy book that I had been waiting all week to get. Saturday afternoon would come and I would get on my bike and head to the library. I loved the smell of the library. A little bit dusty, musty and old, the library, with it's solid oak table and chairs and rows of shelves always greeted me with open arms as I bounded up the stairs ready to fill my bicycle basket with the coming week's entertainment.

I read every Hardy Boy, Tom Swift, Sr., and Tom Swift, Jr. book in the Three Hills Library. Having run out of those types of books, I moved on to the entire Nancy Drew series. Mrs. Helton and Mrs. Keenan were the quiet, gracious librarians who were always so helpful in locating books, answering questions and encouraging me to read. They would stamp the little card in the back of the book and send me on my way. I loved sports and between hockey, soccer, softball and reading, I had little time left for homework or piano lessons. Without the distraction of a television in the house, there was more time for reading. I always had a book in my hand or one close by. After Mom would turn off the light in our room at night, out would come the flashlight and the reading would continue. No wonder my eyes are shot!

I discovered that Dwight Jack also loved the Hardy Boy books and we both wanted to read the latest release. The problem was that there was only one copy. So, in the spirit of generous community and sharing, it was decided that we would read the book together at the same time. Sort of a one for two type of deal. In grade four I sat behind Dwight over against the wall. By holding the book forward and with Dwight looking to the side, we could both manage to see the pages. Off to an early start, we were actually working on perfecting our method before class began. As our teacher, Mr. Kowalsky, opened our day with a prayer, I accidentally dropped the book. Crash! Onto the floor it went. There were a few giggles from the girls and lots of heads turning and eyes opening to see what the commotion was about. The interruption prompted Mr. Kowlasky to wind up his prayer in short order and come over to see what exactly was causing all the fuss. Walking down the aisle and spying the blue cover of the book lying on the floor, it didn't take long for him to size up the situation. He asked that I give him the book which he would keep for a set amount of time. Dwight and I were sent to back of the classroom to stand in shame with our faces towards the bulletin board, where I promptly began to count how many pin holes I could see without moving my head. I think I was able to convince Mr. Kowalsky to give the book back before it was due and the fines would begin.

One Sunday morning, as we were getting ready for church, I was trying to finish a book. My brother Dave kept bugging me to hurry and I was ignoring him. Maybe he was threatening to take away my book. I don't really remember. Exasperated, I finally said, "Listen hear you little son of a b%&*". He looked at me as if to say, "What language are you speaking?". My father, who had no problem understanding what language I was speaking, heard me quite clearly from the kitchen where he was having his breakfast. Appearing at our bedroom door he said, "Stevie, what did I just hear you say?" I repeated what I had said. By the look on Dad's face, I realized that was not the smartest thing I had done that day and that I was not in his good books at that moment in time. "Son, do you have any idea what that means?" "No", I said, "I don't". "Where did you hear that?", he continued. I explained that I had just read it in one of my new acquisitions from the Three Hills Library. I think in that instant a light went on in Dad's head and he realized that I had moved on from Joe and Frank Hardy. I, of course, didn't realize that this term was not very respectful to my younger brother let alone my dear mother. Dad, in very sober tones, laid out for me a very clear definition that even I could understand. He then asked that I never use that term in his house again.

Prairie had a very strict policy on language and more than one student was trotted down the hall to have their mouths washed out with soap, the theory being that it would wash the dirty words away. To avoid trips down the hall accompanied by the teacher to meet Mr Ivory, we had our own version of a sanitized language. Sick, shoot, frick, crap, dang, and son of a tea biscuit peppered the halls and playgrounds of our school. We even paid special tribute to staff members Fritz Honecker and Hector Hannah. Fritz and Hec . . . tor were added to our vocabulary.

Words were very important around Prairie. What was said. How it was said. What was not said. People had mouths . . . they also had ears. Reporting on these violations was not seen by the authorities as squealing. You were simply helping the other person to stay accountable. We also learned that "real swears" could often be accompanied by hand signals which seemed to reinforce the delivery of said word.

We would take great delight in cornering an unsuspecting student and asking them to insert a finger in each side of their mouth, stretching it in a big horizontal oval and say the word "puck" When it turned out that pronouncing the P was nearly impossible and it invariably came out sounding like F, we would gloat that we had "caught" that person saying a bad word. Childish, I know, but it reinforces how important and scandalous words were.

Recently there has been much in the news about countries like China and North Korea trying to control the internet in their specific countries. It plays out well in the press, but I highly doubt that the leaders of China and Korea are really that interested in keeping their citizens from seeing naked people engaging in all manner of creative calisthenics on computer screens. No matter how much they insist that they don't want the corruption of the west to have a negative impact on "their" people, it is really about control of the many by the few. Have you read their history lately? Not exactly modicums of moral high ground are they?

No, the real reason is that as people learn about freedom and what it means, they realize what they are missing and what their lives could become. They then begin to demand change. The governments of these countries are all about control and are desperately trying to prevent their people from having access to information that is not spun their way. The cat is out of the bag, the horse is out of the barn, the train has left the station. Information is now global and people worldwide are finding ways of accessing that information. Computers, PDA's, cell phones and whatever gadget is next are all being utilized to carry and distribute information. Is there bad information out there? Yes. Is there material that probably should not be there? Absolutely! This is the price of freedom. Freedom that allows people to make their own decision, to have choices. To worship and believe how they see fit. To receive an education. To make something better for themselves and their families and build for future generations. To have hope. Hope is such a big word isn't it?

Does there need to be regulation and protection for children and for those who are disenfranchised and the victims of another's power? Of course there does. How should that be implemented? I have no idea, but I am hopeful that this will be figured out. We know that both the church and the government have controlled, manipulated, censored and withheld plenty of information over the years. These practices are getting harder and harder to carry out. This is something we can be grateful for.

I have been reading several books on poverty and economics and highly recommend that anyone with an interest in this subject read: Banker To The Poor: Micro Lending and the Battle Against World Poverty by Muhammad Yunus. Another good read is Jeffrey Sachs excellent book: The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities For Our Time. I am more convinced than ever that the end of poverty will begin in part with literacy. Should we stop clothing the needy and feeding the hungry and just buy them books? Of course not!, but lets support those who are doing what they can to teach the world's less fortunate to read.

Diane Sawyer was featured in a special 20/20 documentary some time ago on the problem of illiteracy in Kentucky and other parts of the U.S. called, "A Hidden America: Children of the Mountains." If you can find it on line, please watch it. Some of the rural school's library budgets for new books are less than a couple of rounds of golf and a good meal!

There are many adults in Canada and the US that can't read. - The numbers are shocking! If you know one of these people, please lovingly encourage them to read. There are wonderful adult learning programs that will help them. Start simply with a book that is in an area of interest to them. If they are a golfer, get them a golf book. If they are a car nut or fashion fan, start them there. Don't try and get them reading Alexandr Solzhenitsyn or Fyodor Dostoevsky right off the start.

We have all heard the saying, "Knowledge is power". I would like to propose that knowledge is freedom. Maybe the pen is mightier than the sword? Another popular saying is, "What you don't know can't hurt you". The reality is that we live in a day where what you don't know could very well hurt you. As another biblical author has written and was often quoted by the Reverend Martin Luther King, "You will know the truth and the truth shall set you free." I would suggest that learning to read is the beginning of that truth.

Who is to say that a little boy in Africa won't discover the cure for cancer, because he learns to read. Maybe it will be that little girl tending goats in Afghanistan that will invent a super food that will solve the world's hunger problem, because she learned to read. It just might be that child in Kentucky who, because of a parent who was concerned enough that they should learn to read, will discover the cure for AIDS.

I am so thankful and blessed to have learned to read . . . bad words and all.

The next time you are tempted to reach for the remote or the mouse . . . buy the book!

Note: My loving wife says I have gone to preaching! If I lost you in the last three pages, I'm sorry!

www.prairieboy.com

© 2010 Stephen J. Rendall - All rights reserved.

Monday, July 5, 2010

OH, YES, THEY CALLED HIM THE STREAK!

If ever there was a taste of heaven on planet earth when I was a kid, it would have been Pine Lake. Prairie owned 10 cabins on a small lake about 45 minutes drive from the campus, depending on who was driving! This 50 acre property provided a much needed getaway spot for both students and staff to unwind and relax. The cabins were all numbered and our family had some favorites that Mom would try and reserve for us each summer. Through the years, hundreds of folks took advantage of this quiet, private location. Sadly the school sold the property in the early 1990's and it has been greatly missed.

Every summer, Dad would load up our little red '63 Ford Falcon with his typewriter, stacks of books and research materials. If we could fit anything else in when he was done, we were welcome to bring it along. Fishing rods, model boats, walkie talkies, BB guns, sand pails and shovels were all deemed by us to be summer essentials and we found a way to squeeze most of it in for the trip to the lake. We would bring along whatever pet we had at the time. The cats would help keep the mice down. Mom HATED mice and made every effort to rid the cabin of the pests as soon as we arrived. The dogs would chase the cows and watch over the place. One year we smuggled Snowball, our fluffy white bunny with the pink eyes, into the car. Imagine Mom and Dad's surprise when we arrived and there was the rabbit. Of course, Mom had to fit in bedding, food, clothes and other essentials as well, but that seemed incidental to us at the time.

As far back as I can remember, several weeks of every summer were spent at the lake. There was no running water, sewers or electricity and that suited us just fine. We hauled water from the ice cold spring, did our business in rickety old outhouses and lit coal oil lanterns at night. Our days were filled with fishing, boating in old wooden row boats and rafting on primitive structures that we lashed together. We would scour the rocks near the beach looking under them for bloodsuckers that we would use for fish bait. We fished for perch and northern pike. The perch were much better eating in my opinion. Dad would fillet them, coat them in corn meal and fry them over the fire in the old coal stove in the cabin. I remember Dad telling me when he first started fishing at Pine Lake, before there were limits, he pulled out over 100 perch in one day, many of them close to 14 inches in length. He has the pictures to prove it! At that time the water was so clear that you could see at least 10 feet down into the lake. If the fish approaching your hook was not to your liking you could just move it aside and choose another one.

The spring at Pine Lake was of particular note. Ice cold, crystal clear water would come up out of the ground. The water was piped to a large wooden storage locker where each cabin had it's own locked and numbered compartment. The water would flow in and around each compartment keeping fruit, vegetables, meat and milk cold. At one end of the locker was a spout from which we would fill up our water containers for hauling back to the cabin. This water was incredibly tasty and made the best coffee, tea and juice. Some distance from the spring an area was set up for cleaning fish. There was a large trough that we could store the fish in before they were cleaned, keeping them cold and firm.

When we were little, Mom would sit in her lawn chair on the porch of the old wooden boathouse and keep an eye on us. We would sail our big plastic boats, sit on the dock, build sandcastles and play on the swings. We would watch muskrats and beaver diving in and out of the water. Giant blue herons would nest in the reeds and ducks and geese would watch over their babies as they swam in a little row on the shallow, calm water. When we were tired of fishing and playing in the water and sand we would head up to the cabin for lunch. Mom brought special baking along and made considerable effort to have our favorite foods and drinks on hand for this vacation.

Dad would sit in the screened porch and study, read and type. We could hear the clickity clack of his manual typewriter down on the beach. In our early years, before we could row the heavy row boats, he would come out with us and be our oarsman. Sitting in the boat in his straw hat, he taught us how to bait a hook, set our bobber's and more importantly, how to get the fish off the hook once we caught it.

In the afternoons we would often go in search of wild strawberries, raspberries, saskatoon berries, gooseberries and Alberta wild roses for Mom. She would put them in a big bowl on the table, their fragrance filling the room. We would chase the cows, shoot gophers and build forts. It was as if time was frozen. If the weather was cooperative, we boys would spend the entire day just wearing cutoffs and were brown as berries by the end of the summer. Playing in the back woods we would sometimes hike out to sand and gravel pits that were on the property. We chopped wood, fetched water, hauled coal and cleaned fish. On Saturday, piling our laundry into the Falcon, back to town we would go. Mom went grocery shopping and we got all scrubbed up. On Sunday, after Dad had preached at Bethel, the small country church he pastored, we piled into the car and headed back to the lake for a repeat of the week before.

Many times we would see deer, rabbits, skunk and coyotes. Colorful birds would nest in the trees near the cabin and families of chipmunks and gophers would roam the grounds in search of some tasty morsels. Like silent sentinels, large gray owls would sit atop fence posts keeping a watch over us. Their heads seemed to spin around in a complete 360 degrees. Sometimes at dusk, we would observe a snowy white owl heading out on a hunt. The odd time we might spot a wolverine or badger slinking into the woods. Hawks nesting in the back trees would keep a wary eye out for lunch.

Directly to the north of the Prairie property there was small trailer park resort called Rushton's, named after the owners. A narrow winding trail went through the woods and came out at the resort. We would take family walks over to the little store to buy ice cream Revello's, and steal a listen to the jukebox out on the deck. Walking around on the docks and beach, admiring the gleaming boats, we would observe swimwear that was not quite in keeping with Prairie standards! Several families from the church had their camping trailers parked at the resort and we would stop in to say Hello and the adults would have a visit.

For supper we would sometimes build a roaring fire out in the fire pit and roast hot dogs, tinfoil dinners and marshmallows. A special favorite was smores, made up of roasted marshmallows and chunks of chocolate sandwiched between a couple of graham cracker wafers. As the night wore on and the smoke drifted skyward from the fire, bats would start to flit about eating mosquitos and other little bugs.

The evenings were full of family games, reading books by lantern and listening to Dad's little battery operated Sony transistor radio. Mom and Dad loved word games and would listen regularly to a rebroadcast on the CBC of a BBC program called My Word. As the evening cooled off, Dad would get a big fire blazing in the coal stove and then bank it up for the night. Before we turned in, he would read a chapter or two from a special book that he had saved for this purpose. One book in particular that I remember him reading was Where The Red Fern Grows.

All the activity during the day, combined with the water and heat, usually had us tuckered out before it got too late. After we hit the hay, Mom and Dad would have a game of Scrabble, which sometimes turned quite competitive! We would be awakened the next morning to the sound of Dad rummaging around in the kitchen, getting a fire started so that he could cook breakfast. The kindling crackled and sputtered as the larger wood caught fire. When there was enough heat, Dad would add big black chunks of coal. The cabin slowly warmed up and the day would begin.

In 1974, when I was 13, Ray Stevens recorded what was perhaps his most famous hit, "The Streak". The song poked fun at the early 1970's fad of running nude in public, known as streaking. It made No. 1 in both the UK and the USA and No. 3 on the country chart. This novelty song had the format of an action news reporter on the scene at various locations where the activity in question was occurring. It featured a crazy whistle sound, a plunky banjo and the sound of a crowd roaring their approval. There had been a little streaking done by some of the high school students back at the campus. No one got caught and no harm was done.

I thought this song was very funny and played it at the lake that summer for Mom and Dad. One night the song came on and I said somewhat jokingly that I was going to go streaking that very night. Dad said, "Knock yourself out son, just wait until we have gone to bed". I was a little shocked that my announcement was not met with any resistance. The more I thought about it, the better the idea became in my adolescent head. After everyone was in bed I announced to all in the little cabin that it was time for my adventure. In the pitch black everyone was giggling and wondering if I would really do the deed. I doffed my shorts and donned some sneakers, knowing I wouldn't be able to see much of the ground to avoid tree roots and rocks. I opened the door and was off. I got about halfway down the trail and began to freak out just a little.

There I was all alone and it seemed deathly quiet except for the occasional howl of a coyote. There were no street lights within miles and most of the other cabins on the property were already dark. The night was black except for the moon. As it glistened off the water I began to worry that who knows who might be in the bushes and could reach out and grab you know what. With this thought resonating in my brain and with fear in my heart, I quickened my pace. The more I thought of this impending danger, the faster my skinny little frame ran. I took a short cut from my initially intended circuit and rushed back to the cabin. This must have cured me, because I have never gone streaking since. I think Dad got the last laugh.

So, tonight, if you happen to see a full moon . . . rest assured, it won't be mine!

THE ROAD TO PINE LAKE

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r3S6q2oP1ZM

www.prairieboy.com

© 2010 Stephen J. Rendall - All rights reserved.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

WARNING: SASQUATCH ON THE LOOSE!

Rick Lubrick, or Ricky as we knew him, was about 16 years older than I. Ricky's mother was Tilly Lubrick, who became famous for her running of the campus thrift shop. Dubbed the "Tilly Shop", it sold all manner of used clothing, household wares, shoes, hats and everything in between. There were usually line ups waiting for the little shop to open. Items were sold for a mere pittance which at the time seemed like a king's ransom to us. I'm sure that my first several pair of ice skates and possibly some of my hockey equipment were procured at the Tilly. I recall the skates having so little ankle support, if you didn't learn quickly to skate on the blades, you were scooting around on the inside of the boot. Hundreds, if not thousands of students, staff and staff kids were clothed from Tilly's domain.

Tilly was the summer cook at Camp Silversides. I first became acquainted with her when she insisted that I finish my porridge, which quite honestly, I didn't recognize as such. Haute cuisine aside, Tilly was another of those staff members who worked hard and had a true servant's heart. She and her husband Steve served on staff where he fixed small appliances and helped out in several other departments during their tenure on the campus.

Ricky was an outgoing, athletic type of a guy and as I recall, quite popular with the lady folk. He and some of the other college students ran a program for us young kids in the west gym of the campus. Someone must have recognized that there was a need among the dozens of young staff boys to have some type of outlet for all their energy. They organized a quasi Boy Scouts or Boys Brigade, type of club. We would meet once a week in the gym and play dodge ball, floor hockey, learn a little bit about wrestling, have some type of lesson and generally have a great time.

Ricky had something that no one else in our town had. He owned a monkey. A real live little monkey! This tiny primate who Rick christened, Buster, looked every bit like one you might see with a hurdy gurdy man. Cute as a button, with big eyes, little ears and a long tail, said monkey could be found much of the time sitting atop Ricky's shoulder. Some of the college girls even knitted Buster some sweaters in an attempt at keeping him warm in a foreign climate.

Several years ago, Rick's Dad and I were having a visit and I asked him what had become of the little monkey. Steve told me that one summer Rick had gone to the province of British Columbia to work in a lumber camp. Somehow the monkey got loose. A light bulb went on in my head and I believed I may have solved a long standing mystery.

I think what happened was the little monkey escaped into the forest, got some good meals under it's little belt and grew... and grew... and grew. In fact I believe it grew so big that if you ever happen upon what is known in British Columbia as the Sasquatch, it is non other than Buster, Rick's little monkey!

www.prairieboy.com

© 2010 Stephen J. Rendall - All rights reserved.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

NO SHOES, NO SHIRT, NO SERVICE!

Bob Dawson was a character who should have been in the movies. A most friendly guy with elegant white hair, Bob lived across the street from us when our kids were very young. Bob was never short of a story and entertained us with tales of gold mining in the Yukon along with some of his other exploits. He owned a big 'ole Cadillac that he kept parked in the front yard while he drove his old brown pickup truck.

One beautiful summer evening he was walking around the neighborhood visiting with whoever was out and about. Wearing a golf shirt, dress shorts and white golf shoes, Bob had a real presence. As he moved around from house to house, yard to yard, chatting away, he had in his hand a cup of tea. The cup had the string of the tea bag hanging over the edge. I was watching him make the rounds of the neighborhood when I noticed the most hilarious sight. There hanging down from one of his legs was an extra pair of underwear. He had obviously forgotten to take the old pair out of his shorts when he pulled them off the night before. In the morning he had managed to get one leg through the proper hole. Wearing three pairs of shorts, he was as happy as a lark. Sipping his tea, he was completely oblivious to his wardrobe, although those that visited with him must have wondered what the latest fashion was that Bob was wearing that day. When it came time for Bob to move on, he approached us about renting his house. Dubbing it the "Dawson House", we were thrilled with the added space for our growing family.

One Sunday morning in June we were getting ready for church and I went out to start the car. That morning was particularly hot and I thought I would get the air conditioning going before we loaded the three kids into their car seats. As I approached the door, I looked down to see a body lying face down in the front seat. Dressed only in a pair of pants with no belt, the lifeless figure didn't budge as I opened the door. Suddenly I thought, "What if this person is dead?" I ran back inside to get Cathy and see what we should do. I thought maybe we should call the police. She came outside with me to look at the scene and determined that all this person needed was to wake up. Showing a great deal more bravery than myself she started shaking his shoulder and yelling, "Hey, wake up, wake up!". Eventually the body began to stir. Cathy asked, "What are you doing in our car?" Appearing to be in a great deal of confusion, the young guy slowly sat up. With a most bewildered look on his face, he told us that he thought he was at his friend's house. When he had tried to get into the house the previous night, the door was locked. You can imagine the look on Cathy's face when she realized that had our door not been locked, he might have been sleeping in one of our beds! Needing a place to sleep he had decided to lay down in our unlocked car.

He asked us where Alan McLeary lived. We told him we had never heard of the McLearys. He had no wallet or ID and seemed completely clueless as to where he was or how he got there. As he started to stand up you could see the impression of the car seat fabric over his body. It was obvious he hadn't moved in quite a few hours! "Where am I?", the stranger asked. I told him he was in Three Hills. That didn't seem to ring a bell with him. He asked a couple of other questions and we realized that this guy was not from our town and had not willingly come to visit. He started to walk down the street towards the highway. I offered to call someone for him, but he ignored me and kept on going, staggering down the street. It was evident that his "friends" had gotten him plastered and just dropped him off in a foreign town to fend for himself.

So if you see a guy walking around your town in a bit of a daze, with no shoes and no shirt, please give him some service . . . and keep your cars locked!

www.prairieboy.com

© 2010 Stephen J. Rendall - All rights reserved.