I’ve itched to get back to my writing. You poor people are the benefactors of my fruit. I appreciate your faithfulness, ever patient while I restructure my life around holidays, diet and exercise. Just kidding. The exercise bit hasn’t been working out very well. Get it? Working out? I crack me up.
The holidays, you ask? Well we went up north, as Midwesterners are oft to do. We go waaaaaay up north. Bubba has family up there, and as such, they are as good as kin to me as well. It’s a trek, but the road trip is nice. There are several hours (about 7 to be exact) where there is nothing but the two of us exchanging meaningful conversation and healthy snacks.
Yeah . . . just kidding again.
Actually, Bubba turns up the tunes, we do a little head-banging until I have something to say and he politely turns it down. He nods in agreement, waiting to see if I’m done, and when I go back to checking out Messenger, Snapchat, or Instagram, he turns it up and we return to the head-banging.
In Clearwater, Minnesota, we stop at the Travel Plaza and buy a muffin from the Nelson Bros. Bakery. It’s tradition. They boast cinnamon rolls the size of your head, and they aren’t just bragging. One of those things would feed a small family.
We listen to podcasts like TED Talks, Freakonomics, This American Life, Radiolab, and sometimes I can get him to listen to Savage Lovecast. Then we stop to let Bubba and the dogs pee on some secluded back road. We switch command posts, me taking the wheel while he naps.
Our route takes us through Fargo, until at last we settle in a little Minnesota town a stone’s throw from both Canada and North Dakota. At first glance, it’s a quiet little place with not much going on. But then the Canadians come to visit.
Bubba’s late mother came from Canada. I never met her, but she lives in the pictures and stories that surround the place. Once a year, the Canadians come down from parts north. They bring with them Coffee Crisps, homemade wine, and border stories.
Bubba loves Coffee Crisps, something that until recent years, had not been found this side of the Canada/US line. As I write, he brushes the crumbs from the last one off his beard. The new dog, Mosh, climbs up to check for remnants.
I, however, love the homemade wine. And roast beast with gravy, and potatoes, and jello salad, and Christmas cookies. And conversation. I must let you know that no Canadian conversation, in my experience, is complete without a good border story. It starts out innocently enough.
“How was the border?”
“Not too bad.”
“You got through pretty good, eh?”
“Yeah. Pretty good.”
“Not like that one time, eh?”
And then we’re off. Homeland security only adds another layer of interest to the ever-increasing buzz. It doesn’t matter that I’ve heard the stories before. I love to listen to them talk. I imagine they like to listen to us, too. There was a moment when we had to clarify that a parking lot was the same thing as a parkade, neither of us fully understanding the other. Call me a word geek, but I love those moments.
The “eh” is something we laugh at or joke about, but they use it the same way we say either “huh” or “ya know,” which is just as strange to say when you think about it. I wonder if they laughed about the way we talked on the way home? I really hope so.
My grandparents were from Saskatchewan, Cananda — they talked a lot about Moose Jaw, Saskatoon and Regina. Gramma used to say Regina like it rhymed with Vagina, and my mom would purse her lips, shake her head, and correct her. I don’t remember Gramma saying “Eh” very often, if at all, but Grampa used that word regularly. He lost most of his hearing in the war — the artillery going off too close to his ears — and he would interrupt us mid-sentence with a loud, “Eh?”
Gramma would often whisper something completely inappropriate in his extra-large ear, to which he would reply, “Eh?” Then before the hair on the back of my neck could fully stand, it was out. Gramma, taking a breath of air, and speaking as loud as her tiny frame permitted, would announce something like, “I said . . . It’s very sad how large that woman over there is.” And she would point. And he would stare. And I would try to hide in the neck of my shirt.
Grampa also used it in place of an exclamation point at the end of a sentence. “The thing with kids these days is they’re all doped up . . . eh?” That was not a question. That was a statement that you were meant to a agree with or suffer his resignation from the conversation.
But mostly, he kept quiet, trying to look interested in what was being said. He had hearing aids, which only helped a bit. He complained of the background noise, and still halted conversations by interjecting something completely off topic, followed by “Eh?” I suppose it was a lonely place — amongst family and still alone. I used to believe he was a man of few words, and only spoke when he had something to say. Looking back, I think he was doing a lot of lip-reading, and waiting until he thought he might have something relative to say.
Listening to the Canadians made me wish I knew my distant relatives that still live up there. We are ghosts to one another, linked only by those who came before us. Still, every Christmas I make the Butter Currant Tarts from the recipe that Gramma passed down to me. And occasionally, you may see an “Eh?” in my writing. When you do, that is not a simple verbal interjection. That is me waving my Canadian flag, singing “Oh Canada!” — incidentally the only two words I know from that anthem — and saying, “Hey Grampa and Gramma, I haven’t forgotten.”
Peace . . . Eh? . . .