BY MARCUS DAY
Hello again Maple Creekites, let me tell you about my first Cowtown Christmas.
If you care to accompany me, I’ll show you places I visited, people I met. Be aware, you’ll be entering part of my world and such an experience carries an automatic mental health warning.
It was shortly after 3pm last Thursday that I stepped from my office into Harder Street, armed with a new camera and full of wonder about what lay ahead.
What struck me initially was the quiet. What did I expect? I don’t know. A swelling, noisy tide of drink-fuelled humanity, perhaps, spilling over from Jasper Street into yards and alleyways. Yes, I have a lot to learn: small-town Christmases bear little resemblance to Saturday night rampages by English football fans yelling “here we go, here we go, here we go …”
Anyway, here we went – my camera and I – towards our first destination: the Broken Spoke Fine Art Gallery, possibly my favourite place on earth, where I can lose myself in paintings, each one a portal to somewhere different from, yet connected to, our amazing world. There I met nature artist Glen Scrimshaw, a man devoid of the “I’m a celebrity, you will worship me and buy one of my masterpieces if you have enough money” syndrome. It was just as well, because it soon became evident that my camera was determined to embarrass me.
It refused to take pictures of Scrimshaw and his wife, Zorka, unless I stood 40 feet away. It meant stumbling backwards past multiple obstacles to reach a sweet spot. Farcical? Oh yes, extremely so.
With a “please help” expression, I handed Scrimshaw my grouchy companion. After fiddling with it for a few minutes, he said: “You need a smaller lens, 50mm, I would say.”
Back outside, I noticed the drop in temperature. My cell phone said -17, but I could have sworn the digits were the wrong way round. I was also suffering hunger pangs. I looked at my events schedule? Ah yes, holiday treats were promised at Kelli Dee Floral. My stomach murmured in anticipation.
En route I saw the Salvation Army’s Captain Ed hopping in a doorway, ringing his bell.
“Cold?” I said. It was one of those ultra-dumb questions that you know is ultra-dumb, but you ask anyway because it sounds cheery and seasonal.
Once he assured me he was fully insulated, I shuffled past the Cypress Credit Union, accepted a hot chocolate from their table, and headed towards Kelli.
I’m not sure what came over me during that brief walk – maybe I passed through an air pocket filled with marijuana from Mr Trudope’s bedroom – but I suddenly felt, well, kind of, sort of, almost, you know … dare I say it … stoned.
A natural high, of course, your worship. I am, let’s not forget, a woebegone Englishman in foreign parts, energized by strange surroundings, overwhelmed by novel experiences. I cannot, your honour, be held responsible for any spasms of abnormality. In any case, isn’t dope legal now?
I laughed aloud as I tramped through snow and ice. What a happy quirk of fate had guided me to Maple Creek. Just the name of this town agreed with me.
When I entered Kelli Dee Floral, seasonal colours from the artfully arranged floral displays intensified my hyperactive state.
Quite what owner Nola Sanderson made of me, I dread to think. If I behaved like someone ad-libbing through the lead role in a self-penned pantomime – and I probably did – I hope she enjoyed the free show.
I certainly enjoyed her free show: the floral arrangements and Vonda Russell’s quilts were a delight. And oh, before I forget, I also loved those scrumptious chocolate thingummies laid out on a table.
Just one regret: I should have filled my pockets with them and swept the others into a doggie bag.
Outside again, the cold had got colder, if that were possible: -18. A good, heroic number to pass on to my smirking friends on Horseshoe Bay in Bermuda. They are always thrilled to hear tales of my shivering.
As I lingered by a fire pit, I gazed angrily at my hands. It’s funny how as you get older the list of things you dislike about yourself lengthens. Actually, it’s not at all funny.
My silly, treacherous hands had now joined other despicable body parts: tummy, legs, ankles, feet, nose, teeth, ears and eyes. I could provide a lifetime’s work for a plastic surgeon.
By now it was clear that my Cowtown experience was being dictated by two basic needs: finding warmth and filling my grumpy old stomach.
At the Legion hall, I discovered an enormous bake sale. I was also followed by an enormous man .. or perhaps, subconsciously, I followed him thinking he was a famous basketball player back in the day. Whatever the truth, whenever I turned he was always there, leaning towards me like a friendly windsock.
I soon discovered I was in the company of members of the Christian Brethren and Discovery Learning school. They were very pleasant, patiently answering questions from my bottomless reservoir of ignorance. Meanwhile, in the background a group called Powerhouse played unfamiliar songs with impressive youthful confidence as my stomach gurgled its own refrain: don’t forget me, don’t forget me, don’t forget me. As if I could.
A man began talking very earnestly to me about the Saskatchewan curriculum, immoral teachings and same-sex marriage and all I could think about was the array of baked goods stretching for miles before me. What kind of delicious fillings were in those cakes?
Was it immoral of me to covet so much food while my ears were being fed with weighty matters about human behaviour? Possibly. Greed isn’t good, despite what Gordon Gecko says. I wondered how much I could stuff in my pining belly in an hour. Probably a whole table’s worth of goodies. Oh, My Lord, just look at those buns.
“It is high-focused, self-directed learning …”
The talk about Discovery Learning continued and I grew hungrier still. You could say I was high-focused and self-directed … towards turning into a little pig and making a mess of the tables. I bet there was apple filling in some of those tarts.
Something made me turn around and there he was again, the 20-foot man, smiling benignly at me from the stratosphere, busy being extremely tall, while I was busy shrinking. Shouldn’t he be using an oxygen bottle, I wondered.
When I left the bake sale, I felt like a Lilliputian, my tiny legs taking an age to get me to the exit. Within minutes I was shivering, my pathetic, hateful hands pleading for warmth.
I escaped into the toy shop and pulled off some very effective skulking while my fingers rejoined my body. My final skulking venue was the Jasper Centre. I just missed a musical performance … but never mind, there were plenty of cookies and hot chocolate.
It was official: I had become the Number One Pig in Cowtown. Never mind having ink in my veins, as they used to say about journalists, I had oink in them. There should be a prize for such an achievement: a year’s supply of Kelli Dee treats, I propose.
One thing’s for sure. If I’m still around next December – and by that I mean still above ground – I’ll make sure I have super insulated mittens and a full stomach before throwing myself into Cowtown Christmas.
I think I’ll take tips from Capt. Ed.