I went home to the Yukon last month for three weeks and, like all of my trips North, I was visited by a revelation, a brief but exhilarating glimpse of what is truly important in my life. I realized that I am one of the fortunate few that truly loves the family I was born into.
For all our foibles and fuck-ups and disturbing table habits and occasional dysfunction, overall I would say I scored big time. If I were up in heaven about to do it all over again, I’d rest my ass cheeks on the edge of the cloud and tell whoever is in charge to send me right back to where I came from, and not to change a single thing.
I reckon that makes me one lucky fella.
I won’t go on about what a pleasant and jovial baby Tony’s newest is, or how good my younger cousins are doing in college, or how cute Nick’s daughters are.
I’ll just relate a couple of my favourite moments.
I taught my mom to play street hockey in -26C. Turns out she is an excellent goalie, a natural. My favourite quote of hers was directed at her boyfriend, the black belt from the opposing team: “My crease is getting too slippery, too slippery for the two of us to be in it at the same time. Back off, bucko.”
One night my grandmother from my dad’s side drank three glasses of red wine and got a bit candid with my cousin Trish and I. We were watching the news in Iraq and she suddenly confessed that she had once had a brief yet scintillating affair with a Muslim man.
“He was lovely, just lovely, and so charming. Very well educated, and certainly more well off than we were. Hardly any body hair. We had a beautiful summer, but then I had to say to him…” She narrowed her eyes directly at me. “You’ll get a kick out of this. I told him I’m a good Catholic girl from the Prairies, and you practice another religion, one I know nothing about whatsoever, and you come from the other side of the world. Don’t you think it would be best if you went home and found yourself a nice lesbian girl, like yourself?”
She paused while Trish and I looked confused, and then laughed out loud through her nose, like she does. “Of course I meant to say Lebanese.”
She drained her wine glass while we rolled around on the carpet, laughing until the tears ran.
I was driving three non-Yukoners back down the Grey Mountain road, coming back from a jaunt up to the lookout to smoke and take scenery pictures. I was totally full of bullshit as I turned to my buddy Brenda and said: “My spidey senses are all a-tingle. Keep an eye alongside the road, I feel like we’re about to spot some wildlife. It’s about the right time of day for it.”
Which was, of course, also a crock. But I had no sooner got the last word past my lips when a coyote trotted from the brush into the ditch and stopped in his tracks right beside the truck. He then chased two ravens off of a dead gopher, one of which promptly swooped down and pecked him on the ass. He jumped like a cartoon character and dropped his prize, disappearing back into the bush. The ravens swooped past our windshield, squawking triumphantly into the blue, blue dusk.
Brenda knew it was just a fluke, that statistically speaking I am almost always at least partially full of shit, but the other two passengers were real impressed, like I was all at one with my natural habitat and the like. A real Yukoner, still, after all those city years, I could still smell the wild game from inside the truck.
I thought I saw a fox, later that day, but it turned out to be a plastic bag from the Superstore, caught in a bit of shrubbery, fighting the wind. That northern light can play tricks on the eyes.
One of the best nights I had was when I went to the inherited house of an old buddy of mine from high school. He was the tall, good looking one from grade 12 when I was in grade 10.
It turned out he was having a little bit of a party, just a few of the guys from the old days and their girlfriends from Edmonton, Winnipeg or Vancouver-wherever the guys ended up going to school to get their apprenticeships done with.
They told me about working construction and selling blinds and how old all their kids are now and do you want to see pictures? We drank Coors Light out of cans that were almost frozen from being left in the garage too long, lit a fire in the shop and smoked cigarettes with all the windows open, blowing the smoke into the flames, promising not to tell the girl from Winnipeg that Cam had a whole one to himself, not just a drag off of someone else’s.
Ted cried a single tear when he told us about his Dad dying, and then hammered out a beautiful drum solo on the rusty kit he had just recently dragged out of the basement and set up again.
We put on AC/DC’s Back in Black and I seriously stubbed my toe on a crack in the concrete during my air guitar solo.
“Been meaning to fix that,” Ted told me. “It’s on my list. Knocks the kid off of his skateboard, too.”
It was just as good as the good old days but better somehow, and I didn’t figure out until later just what the difference was.
I finally got to hang around with the guys from the block, without trying to pretend I wasn’t really one of them. No one told me I wasn’t like the other girls. No one said I was almost like one of the guys.
Mark hugged me by the front door when I left, his stubble brushing my neck on its way by. “You ever need security blinds, now you know where to come.”
I could still smell his after-shave hanging onto my sleeve when I took my sweater off at home later. Stetson, maybe, or something along those lines. It reminded me of my Dad. The kind of after-shave my Dad’s wife would buy him, and he would stash it in the cabinet under the sink. To wear for special occasions.