Those Special People:
Carl (Arundel 2001)
I want you girls to see this property, it’ll come up for sale soon, a rough voice said, then, he led the way through knee-deep snow for 10 minutes until we reached a summit with a wide view of the Riviérè Rouge Valley. Do you think you girls could be happy here? Thus began an arrangement that eventually yielded the purchase of the old Craig farm to Greg, Ann and Joanna.
During the lengthy process of buying, dividing and building on our property, Ann and I lived in three small upstairs rooms in Carl's farmhouse, in exchange for purchasing and preparing food. Carl was a retired cattle farmer, who slept in the same bed he was born in. In his retirement, he raised sheep, geese and chickens, and took on the task of educating Ann and Joanna in the ways of farming. His friendship eased our transition into the small rural and self-reliant community of Arundel.
Carl taught me how to:
-cook well-done vegetables: Nash, they’re almost raw….cook the fucking vegetables;
-add 1/2 lb. of butter to mashed potatoes: Jo, keep adding - I was a dairy farmer….
-cook and stuff a beef heart as per his grandmother’s recipe so it could be cut into delicate flower shapes;
-catch and hold irate, wing-flapping-fowl:….Nash, if you’re going to handle chickens, HANDLE THEM!
-push to the front of bake sale lineups: Jo, those old dolls can really bake, so get me lots of chocolate stuff;
-prepare for future hard times: nash, get extra cookies and put’m in the freezer;
-play darts after dinner…nash you can’t hit the broad side of a heffer in heat;
-chase and herd: cows, sheep or pigs without getting run over;
-kill and pluck geese (Jo, you grabbed the wrong end - turn’er over);
-appreciate Hank Williams and other country musicians;
-buy from a hoarder who won’t sell(requires 2 people) = distract-find bath feet-leave 20$-and get out fast;
-hire Carl’s buddies for home repairs: Jo, I got someone to paint your house….Claude’s just out of prison;
-get a kitten down from a 20 ft. tree: Keith’ll do it, he likes climbing when he’s high….
-refine my veterinary skills re fowl foot mites: it’s easy Jo - apply gasoline and Vasoline = catch, dip, shake and smear.
Memorable car outings with Carl on Sundays:
-come on girls, let’s check if _______________ CHOOSE from the following - is still alive:
Bob-in-the-hole, the homeless-guy-in-the-woods, the guy who collects fowl, the guy who repairs stuff in exchange for food, and most memorable, the guy looking for a ‘blonde’ to buy and install his indoor plumbing.
-come on girls, let’s check out the fire in __________ CHOOSE from the following - Grey Valley(the guy who lit a fire near his propane tanks), Chez Josepha (the 4-wheeler with overheated underbelly setting straw on fire); the A-frame(cigarette butt in a pool of gas).
Unusual shopping trips:
-come on girls, let’s go and get _________ CHOOSE from the following: geese, sheep, goats, Highland cattle, ducks, border collie pups, boxes of Christmas chocolates from Jean Coutu, etc.
-come on girls, let’s go and visit those Catholic dolls: In reality, a visit to an order of Greek Orthodox nuns who produced local sheep milk products. As Carl stood by the car and lit up a cigarette, a 4’8” tall, elderly nun ran up to him and told him to put it out immediately. Carl the intrepid did - immediately. Girls, let’s get out of here fast, that old battleaxe looks like she could snip a herd of steers in no time.
Outstanding Carlisms using creative Arundelesque vocabulary:
regarding movies: Carl loved watching ‘fill-ems’, and we watched Lonesome Dove a few times; every episode of Deadwood(Nash, after these guys, John Wayne looks like a cartoon), and his all-time favourite: Brother Where Art Thou - watched at least 12 times with Ann and I.
2. after meeting some of my friends:
Janelle, a parasitologist from Australia: nash, what does that para-psychologist do? and,
Cynthia, an architect from L.A: nash, you can bring more good-looking ‘arti-tects’ for tea.
Carl’s kitchen table was occupied most afternoons after his sofa nap. He entertained various guests who knew they could get a cup of tea, hear local gossip, get advice spanning many subjects, laugh or get other benefits.
Due to his own ‘lived’ life, Carl was a good listener and did not judge others harshly. In fact, he could have posted an ad as a para-psychologist and charged by the hour. His sofa was available to any man kicked out of his partner’s home and bed; to the confused; to misfits, and, to men needing the use of his shower. Carl also had a calming effect on men ‘off their meds’ - a surprising number considering the small region of Arundel.
My mother, Valerie, well into her 90s, loved to visit ‘the funny man with no teeth’. Monique, her caregiver, would bring her for an afternoon cup of tea, and Carl would entertain Val, or as he fondly called her: ‘the old doll’. His pièce de résistance was to put a variety of kittens on the kitchen table for her amusement.
About cats. Carl’s advice to Ann regarding preditors: SSS(shoot, shovel and shut up) was not applied to his growing population of cats. Carl could no longer control his cat population by drowning them in the river(nash, I’ve gotten too soft…). So, he devised a unique method of sterilization - shooting the males from his kitchen window. I asked how he distinguished males from females at a distance, but he never explained. On one of my ‘tea time’ visits, the window of his screen door was shattered into pieces on the floor. It seems Carl had shot his 22 at a cat and apparently hadn’t noticed his sister Joan had closed the window(damn woman, visiting and shutting my window without telling me….).
I was surprised at the number of religious vendors visiting the Arundel area. Carl loved to invite __________ CHOOSE from the following: Jehovah's Witnesses(eager), the Brethren (elderly), the Mormons(well prepped), or the Apôtres de l’Amour Infini(go figure?) for tea, thankfully, never at the same time. He would engage them in lively discourse when his supply of newsprint was low(The Watchtower and other tracts = newsprint = fire-starter). If the visitors were not fast enough to sense trouble, they might leave either doubting their faith or, with an unwanted kitten in hand. Hydro meter readers were also candidates(for kittens - not religious discourse).
Carl’s persuasive capacities were powerful, and he convinced Ann and me to run for municipal council. He personally organized my election campaign. On three consecutive Sundays, we visited a variety of people(unique, peculiar souls) often living in hard-to-describe abodes, who immediately agreed to vote for me on the basis of Carl’s enthusiastic say-so(in a few cases, packages - possibly meat, were exchanged). His sphere of influence covered: aging dairy farmers, retired waitresses, people in recovery from substances or belief systems, and some indescribable souls, all respectfully listening to his Franglais, while he winked at me.
I recall many examples of his quick humour: the crafty bugger had some medical services administered to him at a hospital without presenting his Medicare card. Months later someone called him about the bill:
Secretary: I’m calling from the Lachute General Hospital. Is Mister Champagne there?
Carl: Mister Champagne is dead.
Secretary: I’m so sorry to hear that, when did he die?
Carl: Soon after he was treated at your hospital.
It is impossible to encompass a richly experienced life in a short essay, but many of us felt an emptiness after Carl died. His memory, however, lives on in:
- his farmhouse and barn, now occupied by a neighbour;
- the influence of his grounded and inventive knowledge;
- local stray cats, the ongoing progeny of “Gateau” his favourite and matriarch of a cluster of over 60 felines at the time of his demise;
- the minds of the remaining elderly farmers as the best, knowledgeable cattle expert in the region;
- the hearts of those who knew him in his sober years, as a generous man with a kind heart, a unique personality, an innate intelligence, AND a very quick wit.