Sunday, November 13, 2005

On Not Winning a CBC Contest

I don't suppose my wide readership was holding its collective sweet breath as CBC's North by Northwest ran through a few entries and announced the winner of a trip and weekend for two to Victoria yesterday morning (Sunday, Nov 13).

I was. I worked my figuratively wide butt off responding to Sheryl McKay's siren call for stories about "homecoming." Quite a long time ago, I'd written an elegy to Prince Edward Island and especially to the two homesteads there that, as a child, I visited long and happily - one uncle and aunt's farm and another uncle and aunt's tourist cabins. So I kind of cannibalized that ode and pumped out the latest contest entry of an unreformed contest addict. And, to be clear, doubters, I wasn't just sucking up to Sheryl who just happens to be from PEI.

One kind of contest I don't enter much however is a "draw" from a hat. I'd far rather depend on my middling talents than on lady luck. So I was not amused this morning when, after all the entries were in, Sheryl cheerily announced that she was now going to pull the lucky winner out of the proverbial hat. Thus today a grouse which is certainly not on the scale of Chretien's follies nor, most certainly, the ubiquity of cinnamon in apple pastries ...that CBC clarify the rules a little more explicitly before we unseen, unwashed, highly talented but never-that-lucky bards are lured from our garrets by promise of our justly deserved 15 seconds of fame.

Naturally you are dying to see what I fashioned and sent and so without further introduction...

___________The Road Home_____________

Watch carefully for it as you come off the Confederation Bridge at Borden, P.E.I. Just past the truck scale – there on the left! - you’ll see a general store and, along side it, a rundown and abandoned garage. Humped against that paint-peeled building is a sloppily pushed up mound of red earth and dry weeds. Once, it was a lawn with swings for tourist kids, close trimmed as a putting green.

Stop your car; get out and walk about. You have arrived at the Borden Inn and Cabins.

In the 50s a dozen or so brightly-painted cottages formed a gentle arc around that garage and what was then its restaurant, now that general store. Above the garage was an apartment, crafted just after the war with love and care by my uncle and his friends. That’s where he, his wife and my maiden aunt lived until 1962, running a gas station and the cabins. That’s where my siblings and I spent weeks, even whole summers a half century ago.

Small children remember the oddest details - what I recall best was the gravelly sound of sliding cupboard doors in the little kitchen. Inside that cupboard was an oversize mug reserved just for me: a Johnson Brothers china pattern called “The Road Home”

Not so long ago, unwisely ignoring Thomas Wolfe’s counsel about going home again, I got the present owner of that property to let me in for a look-about. I climbed those stairs that wound up to the suite above the garage. Well, it was sadly obvious that a sequence of ever less prosperous tenants had done the place in. The once-lustrous hardwood floors were now covered with a cheap and quickly tattered oilcloth. The walls hadn’t seen new paint in the countless generations of the beetles and woodlice now scurrying about. It seemed vacant in every sense of the word.

That cupboard was still there and like an infirm, aged friend, fallen on hard times, croaked out a weak but recognizable facsimile of its old gravelly song as I slid the door open. Then, I closed my eyes and could hear again the footfalls of my uncle coming up from the garage for his afternoon break. He carries some sweets, a thank-you left by one of those tourist families checking out of the Borden Inn and Cabins. “Time for tea” he says. Instinctively, I reach into the emptiness of that cupboard, looking for The Road Home that is no longer there.

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