The clarity of my first vision stands in contrast to the memories of the rest of my youth when a barrage of family and mythological heroes and villains conquered my developing mind. Time went forward and back without warning. I sat down to dinner with Israelites and attended family reunions in the lion’s den. These years, full of wonder and terror.
I remember my grandparents; the memories set in their townhouse are my most valuable intangible possessions. Full of colour, sound, flavour and texture, these memories have kept me company ever since my grandmother moved out in the winter of 1984 when my grandfather died suddenly. Theirs was a humble abode, ultimately destined to be bulldozed to make room for luxurious condos which peer down at a small tributary of the Bow River on Calgary’s Northeast side. I make a pilgrimage to the spot every time I go back home.
There was a pool table in the basement, so that’s where the men and the children spent most of our time. My grandfather took up the game in his retirement. He preferred eight ball to snooker, and was impossible to beat: my stubborn uncle called out, “let’s go again, dad!” every ten minutes or so. It was his job to rack ’em up though.
I was too small to play pool. The cues were off limits to me and the other kids, so I resigned myself to playing with cubes of chalk instead; my fingertips were blue within minutes of descending those stairs.
I spent most of my time underneath the pool table. I watched the legs of my father, various uncles and grandfather frantically circle around me, only stopping momentarily to line up a shot. I would try to guess, based on the position of any given pair of legs, which of the pockets would quiver under the weight and velocity of polished ivory. In time, my predictions became startlingly accurate.
These games were often cut short, however, by the aroma of sausage and fried potatoes which wafted down the wooden stairs, my grandmother’s unspoken call to dinner. Ours is a family which loves to eat. We were organic way before it became trendy to be organic; the men of the family were comprised of avid hunters, fisherman and farmers.
In the summer, our menu consisted mostly of jack-fish and rice. My grandfather left me an inheritance of rusty spoon lures, betraying his longstanding love for a sport, most solitary. His legacy, a legacy of five-o-diamonds, jigs and plugs was given to me, the youngest of his massive brood of grandchildren at the time of his death; I look at those lures often. He loved to fish. The bow of his tin boat bounced upon the waves of every Albertan lake. He ran his small outboard into the water. Most of his lures were built with pike in mind, he called those fish “little sharks”.
Winter promised the smell of a different, and less noxious form of flesh. From late October to Christmas day, a large sheet of plywood sat atop my grandfather’s pool table and the plywood, in turn, was covered with brown, waxed butcher paper, which worked as a makeshift butcher’s block for the men.
That table bore the tremendous weight of Winter’s spoils, it transformed a multitude of deer, elk, moose and sometimes bear into roasts, steaks and sausage as the men loudly celebrated by singing hymns in German and English.
I remained underneath that table. I collected the odd piece of flesh that fell to the floor. I rolled the scraps between my thumb and index finger, breathing deeply the heady, wild fragrance. I remember marveling at how the grinders, bolted to the edge of that table, processed all that meat: spices were added and, combined with pork and fat, eaten raw to test the mix. I was not allowed to partake of this feast, for fear of sickness. My stomach wasn’t strong enough yet.