Sometimes I get to go home to Whitehorse for a holiday. I race around for a couple of days trying to visit everyone in the family, and by the time I get on the plane I am more exhausted than I was before I went on vacation.
The last few times I went home were for business. I ran from rehearsals to gigs to interviews, and in my downtime I raced around trying to visit everyone in the family. It works best when someone has a birthday or cooks a turkey, and several of us congregate in one house for a period of time. Then I can multitask, visiting four aunts at the same time while simultaneously getting something to eat and waiting for my laundry to dry.
Last spring I went home for the Young Author’s conference. I spent a couple of days teaching writing in the high school I once attended, was kicked out of, and eventually graduated from.
The result was a complicated mix of feelings, the main ingredients being a potent blend of triumph and nausea. I was buying some Advil in the drugstore right after school on the Friday afternoon when I ran into one of my aunts, who had heard a rumour that a couple of my uncles were going to be at the bar shortly after five o’clock that evening. Perfect.
I needed a drink.
Turned out that Uncle Rob and Uncle John had had an argument about something a few days earlier, and were still not speaking to one another. The two brothers were sitting at separate tables five feet apart with their backs turned to each other.
Small towns and big families. You learn to work around things.
I sat and had a drink with one uncle, and then crossed the floor to join the other table. This quickly became ridiculous, so I insisted that they both come outside for a cigarette with me at the same time. My Aunt Cathy picked up her purse and came along.
John took a long drag and squinted at me. He had knocked off from work a little early, and had already had a couple. “That a clip-on tie you got on?”
I shook my head. “No way. Double Windsor.”
He harrumphed. “That’s no double Windsor.”
Cathy snorted at her brother-in-law. “What would you know about tying a tie? Last one you wore was at your wedding.”
This was a bit of an inside joke. John never got married.
John reached over and pulled my tie undone. “Gimme that thing. I can still tie a perfect double Windsor. The old man showed us all.”
He flipped up the collar of his denim work shirt and looped the tie around his neck.
One of the other dudes who had been standing next to us smoking stepped forward, a giant gut bulging behind his navy blue T-shirt, blowing smoke from under the brim of a black leather Caterpillar baseball hat.
“Umm… mind if I watch?
My wife used to tie my ties for me. She passed away three years ago and I haven’t been able to dress up since.”
This kind of broke my heart.
I smiled at him and stepped back so he could join our little circle.
John narrowed a beer-loosened eye at the tie in his hands. Things were not going well. He was drunk, and left-handed. The wide part of the tie was hanging about four inches under his beard. The skinny part was dangling almost at his knees. The label was facing the front, and he had definitely tied some sort of knot, but it wasn’t a double, and it wasn’t a Windsor.
Cathy shook her head in disgust. “Take that thing off and give it to your niece. Let her show you. Look, we’re gathering a crowd here.”
It was true. A skinny guy in Carhart overalls had now stepped up, claiming he was divorced and therefore also needed tie tying lessons.
I carefully smoothed the tie out on my chest, took a deep breath, and began. “Well guys, first of all you have to start with the right amount of tie on either side…”
They all leaned forward, fascinated, and watched. When I finished, they all stood back, lit new cigarettes. The guy with the black leather baseball hat cleared his throat.
“So… you, uh, having a sex change operation or something like that? You wish you were a guy or whatever?”
This is what I like about good old Yukon guys. No fumbling around with political correctness. They just blurt it out.
“No,” I say. “I just like to wear men’s clothes. I feel more comfortable in them.”
This seemed to be enough of an explanation for him, so I stopped there, hoping someone would change the subject. Instead, my Uncle Rob picked up the ball and ran with it.
“Well, you did have that one operation.” Rob winked at me.
“So everyone would think you were a man? You know, that one where they stuck the tube in your ear and sucked out half of your brain?”
The best and most hilarious part came next. Cathy laughed out loud and John choked on his smoke, but the guy with the hat crossed his eyebrows and said “Huh?” like he didn’t get it at all.
Which he didn’t. Neither did the guy in the overalls. They both stood there, looking confused.
I couldn’t write a punch line like that. I laughed so hard I needed to pee. So did my Aunt Cathy.
“Well, gentlemen, if we are finished here, I am going to have to excuse myself. I need to go visit the ladies room.”
I swung the old wooden door open for my aunt, and left the boys outside. I can still see them there, standing in a circle, with the spring sun still hanging large and low in the sky behind them. The sound of big trucks gearing down on the highway in the background. Talking. Laughing. Smoking.