Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Golden Harmonica Golden Thread

A French Canadian
His name was Fernand
Went off to a War
With an old marine band
At Piccadilly Circus
With buddies on leave
Fern says "See that girl,
She'll marry me"

Angels came down
When that harp was played
They wanted to waltz
In a circus parade

Joy took Britannia
To Halifax
Her train was greeted
By wild lumber jacks
They settled in Toronto
Had six children more
I was conceived
Between domestic wars

Dad favored my brother
With grease on his hands
He couldn't get into
My grandiose plans
I could remember
He hurt me
As long as I live
But what's the use
You go on and forgive

I played a wild blues harp
On my very first gig
And Fern was so happy
He danced up a jig
I got an apology
From his dying bones
I left a gold harp
On his tombstone

© 1996 Stefan des Lauriers

When my mother reached Canada after sailing from London with 600 other war brides on the Britannica, she was in for a shock. She had married my father on July 30th 1943, and was on her way to a French Canadian village called Field, in northeastern Ontario. She still remembers leaving on March 21, 1945 and arriving on April 13th in Halifax. There was one baby boy with her, and one on the way. About six months later my father was discharged and went to meet them in the town on the Sturgeon River, with the sawmill the church and the cross on the hill.

With her British accident my mother once told me how they met. It was thirty years later; she was sitting with me in her bedroom, which she had finally furnished to her liking in French provincial “When I first saw your father it was in Hyde Park; he and the two with him were all in uniform. Later, I heard from my friend Sally Perkus who was with me at the time that Fern had said, ‘See that woman there — I’m gonna marry her.’ ‘Bloody cheek,’ If I’d ‘ave known that I wouldn’t have spoken to him.” She laughed and her eyes drifted back to the moment. “I spent the day with him and made arrangements to meet the day after. But Sally told me what he had first said and I went with her to a carnival. He ended up finding me at the carnival… [That was April 25th 1943 according to her logbook entry on Wednesday April 25 1973: “30 yrs ago today I met Fern.”]
“Sally and I were working at a factory, Eveready’s, your father was loading bombs on planes. Sally and I would ride our bikes to work singing all of the popular songs that would pass the time. Sometimes we’d grab hold of a lorry and it would pull us along. Then the time would pass even sooner. One day both Sally and me got fed up with Eveready’s and quit, and started working at the factory across the street. But that place was worse, so we came back that afternoon, and got our jobs back. I missed my family and London when I came over.”
“After arriving in Halifax, I took the train to North Bay. When I arrived in Field, someone came to meet us in a nice car. I thought the Deslaurier’s must be well off to afford a car like that, but it turned out to be a taxicab they had hired. Taxis were much more different in London. They took me to your grandmother’s house, across the street from the Sturgeon River. It was all so primitive, with the outhouses and all. I knew I was in for some rough times.
“Eventually Fern started working the mines in Timmons, where the twins were born, in July of 1947. So that made Bob, Rick, Terry and Sue.” In 1950 my family moved to Toronto where my father got a job working at Goodyear inspecting tires. It was not easy for him to get a job, as he had a heavy French accent. The four children were left up north for some time, till my parents were able to send for them. I was born on February 9th 1953, in Toronto. Kim and Danny were born in 55 and 1958, making seven children.
Around the same time my mother shared about meeting my father, I heard some stories from my dad. In the peacefulness of the summer evenings my father would sit on the veranda passing the time. There were two tall trees in our front yard, a maple and an elm. I would sit with him and ask him to tell me about his childhood. At times, while telling me these tall tales he would get excited, and more of his French accent would come out. “There was a man on the other side of the river who was trying to build a house, but he couldn’t figure out how to get the lumber across. There was a pile of two-by-fours where my friends played, so we thought we’d help him. He had been praying to God to find some way of getting his lumber. So a bunch of us kids found some old tire-tubes and we made a sling shot between a couple trees. By having a number of kids pull those tubes back, we could send those two-by-fours like arrows across the river. We shot them quickly, so it must have seemed to that man that the boards were falling from heaven. He got on his knees and thanked God.”
Another time my father told me how he had dived from the bridge, and would come up through the logs. One time he could not find a hole in the logs, and had to swim an incredible distance before coming up for air… Another time he shimmied all the way up a tall pine, but when he reached the first branch it busted, and he fell and broke his arm. He was able to hide his injury for a week, until the pain became unbearable. The same thing happened with an umbrella. My father would jump off the highest peak of the two-story house using the umbrella as a parachute. But it turned inside out, and he fell, ruining the umbrella. So he hid the umbrella until a very stormy day, when he took it out and brought it back in, and said “He ma, look what the wind did.” The most shocking story was about him having a job carrying buckets of water up a hill, and taking a cow to pasture across the railway tracks. One time the cow refused to move when a train was coming.
Many summers my parents would drive up north over 250 miles to visit our relatives. We’d stay at our grandmother’s house and visit with all the cousins. My grandmother’s husband died when he at the age of 27 just after my father was born; then she married her brother-in-law, following an Old Testament custom.” She would cook for us on a big stove fired by coal and wood. One of the first things that Kim and I would do when we arrived was to go running on the logs in the river, or go to the cross. The logs would be all jammed together and we would play lumberjacks on them. My grandmother always knew when we went to the cross. If you stood by the little house behind her house you could see the giant steel cross that overlooked the town. All around the base of the cross were blueberries; we’d pick them and yell, and bang rocks on the metal cross to see if our echoes returned. From the cross you could see the Sturgeon River as it made a turn through the town, the Catholic church at the bottom of the hill, the few stores and hotel, and the houses. Sometimes a train would pass through. At every minute, at the sawmill, there would be a log being turned as it was debarked, then it would roll back into the water with a big splash. We couldn’t hear the splash from the Sawmill, but we could be heard at the cross. When we came down grandmother would be waiting for us, telling us the priest had called and told her we were up there.


I remember the ice cream truck’s incessant chimes
And asking my Mother for a million dimes
Running to the Esso station with those coins in hand
For a box of Smarties from the concession stand
My mother served soup to a hungry little boy
(A tin of Campbell’s soup I suppose I still might enjo)
Being taught to eat the noodles without the messy slurping
Sunday school banished me for my incessant burping

Yes, I would consider trading the poems and prayers,
I was bequeathed In Mother’s Puzzle Box
For a bar of gold wrangled out of Fort Knox

I remember November 11 as Mother mopped the floor
Pausing for a moment’s silence with the lost souls of the war
Surviving the London bombings — Joy Oram  — the “war bride”
Made it across the pond with a little boy and another one inside
Endlessly knitting for the babies who are helpless when they cry
“Cause it wasn’t just their pain it was in their not knowing why”
She’d be working on a puzzle and her eyes would slip away
To the innocence lost in England or perhaps a brighter day

Yes, I would consider trading the poems and prayers,
I was bequeathed In Mother’s Puzzle Box
For a bar of gold wrangled out of Fort Knox

It must have tried her patience having seven obnoxious kids
She never raised her voice at all the naughty things we did
I’d often fight my brother — and once dodged a flying rock
Which broke the glass dome cover of Mother’s favorite clock
I can’t recall how many times I stayed out half the night
And just before I let the screen door slam she’d turn off her light
I was the budding poet who would often go on lengthy walks
Thinking up the silly stuff that ended up in mother’s puzzle box

Yes, I would consider trading the poems and prayers,
I was bequeathed In Mother’s Puzzle Box
For a bar of gold wrangled out of Fort Knox


My friend the atheist satisfied the flock has fled
Says, “If God exists she’s must be good as dead
I say, if there are deeper waters if you care to tread
Hold on to this lifeline for it’s a golden thread

Behold the Golden Thread
It ties together the precious stones
The Kingdom comes on the foundation
Of the first stone that wasn’t thrown

What’s known of what the Lord is said to have said
There's more to him than what’s written in red
Can man be freed from poverty just on daily bread
I have to disagree cause I know the golden thread

Behold the Golden Thread
That ties together the precious stones
The Kingdom comes on the foundation
Of the first stone that wasn’t thrown

Down the pathway where no chariots have sped
To the dungeons where fears are easily lead
The atheist quotes some passages that I dread
But I say the perfect truth:
Was written over an imperfect scribe’s head


Golden Children are climbing
In the branches of an apple tree
The boughs are so embracing
They fit so naturally
Too soon the blossoms disappear
As little apples start to grow
Who can hold unto their youth
When its time for youth to go

And any child who ever sat amid
The blossoms of an apple tree
Would know that being golden
Is the best way to be 
Golden Children are drawing
Yellow suns with happy grins
See the sunspots on the apple
The apples have a star within
And any child who ever sat amid...
Golden Children are running
Through the strings of rain
Much like fingers strumming
The notes of an endless refrain
And any child who ever sat amid...
The sun makes a cameo appearance
Its beam is a magic wand
May your youth be a magical vehicle
That you may always travel on
And any child who ever sat amid...

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