Monday, December 14, 2009

A true holiday story

I was 12 years old, we lived near Montréal, Québec and my mother wanted to visit friends in a remote village some 300 km away. It was January in the 1980s with temperatures around -20, we didn't have a car, but we had matching Inuit parkas with fur and all. We hitchhiked all the way there, with hunters (I sat with a big dead moose in the back), truckers, even the police helped us along. My mom made me ask everything as she didn't speak French properly. We got there the same day, but arrived some 6-7 km from the house we had to go to at night. By then I figured out mom had not called ahead (her friends didn't have a phone) and this was a surprise visit. I thought this was normal.

It's pitch black outside, no wind, we're walking uphill on a 'rang', which is a rural road with a number because it's in the middle of nowhere. No street lights, no cars, a few wild furry animals, a house every 1 km yet empty and snow, snow, snow. All you hear is the sound of your footsteps in the snow, nothing else. We didn't see a single car the entire time on that rural road and there were no trees in sight. We walked for a long time, it was really cold and my mom didn't even have an address, just an idea of where the house was.

We finally got there in the middle of the night, woke up this friendly couple with their young daughter I hadn't seen in years and their newborn baby girl. They were pleasantly surprised, laughed, all got up, fed us freshly poached rabbit in mustard sauce with drinks and all, stayed up all night, played songs on the guitar for us and were happy to see us. They were artists - it's still an artists' village today - and were very cool. We stayed with them for about four days, played with their Saint-Bernard dog in the snow, helped them with some construction work as their house was far from finished (you can just build one in many towns). It wasn't Christmas or New Year's, but it was winter.

How did we get back? We left one day when the sun came up, we walked back down that hill (slid most of the way) and hitchhiked all the way back in terribly cold weather.

It took me about 25 years to tell my father this story, he knew this couple as well, although him and my mother had met them in the summer elsewhere. He would have just driven there in the toasty warm Volvo. 
La Bolduc sings traditional 1930s holiday music when the recession was on, people were out of jobs and drank out of boredom. La Bolduc (aka Mary Travers) had money, chose to record songs and make people happy. She is a French Canadian legend and this beer was named after her. She grew up poor, but had a dream and is still covered by Québec bands today.

"Peinture ton cutter, va ferrer ta jument
On ira voir ta sœur dans l'fond du cinquième rang"

(Paint your cutter, shoe your mare
We'll go see your sister, down in rural road number 5)


BillyBlagg said...

I'm not sure if I love that story or it scares me senseless (London born and bred - rarely see a field). Nice tale though and very evocative.

Maks said...

Love this music-archeology. And a beautiful story too.

Anonymous said...

Driving a '75 Dart through sideways snow in the prairie winter's night back in the 80s, -45 celsius, the car's engine slowly freezing and slowing from lack of gasline antifreeze... and my girlfriend and I wondered if we would make it to the next hamlet. If we didn't, we weren't sure if we would make it; we hadn't seen a single car on the drive.
Well I'm still here to tell you that your story brought back memories of my own.
Merry christmas.

Rajamanickam Antonimuthu said...

Good narration!!!

BillyBlagg said...

Actually, after reading Anonymous's story as well, I'd like to amend my earlier comments about not being sure if I love these story's or they scare me.

It's official: I'm terrified

Maks said...