My father celebrated his birthday a few days ago. My sister baked him a cake, decorated it and we lit the tiny candles that covered the entire cake. His lungs are still powerful, considering he’s been a smoker for most of his adult life, and he blew out all 78 candles in one huff. Most non-smoking 70-year-olds would need the help of the north wind to blow out that many birthday candles.
My father was conceived, born and grew up in the bush (Waskaganish was still technically bush at the time) learning to hunt, fish and trap. He went to school one summer and after about three months he tuned in, turned on, dropped out and headed for the bush again. A hippie before his time but without the psychedelics and Hendrix.
I credit my dad for many of the good things in my life. The ability to laugh at myself… and others and not take life too seriously. Even my love of reading. My dad can only read maybe a word or two of English (“open here”), yet when I was young and still hadn’t been to school he and I would lie in bed and he would read me Archie comics. Needless to say Archie and the gang were not what we all know them as. I remember laughing out loud at the antics of Mr. Weatherbee courting Miss Grundy and the whole Archie gang constantly making fun of Jughead’s nose. Archie comics seemed boring to me after I learned to read.
Yes, my father has a great sense of humour and can laugh at himself. Once, he was out with my two brothers hunting. He prepared a meal of moose stew and put it away for breakfast. The following morning he warmed it up and ladled a serving to my brother only to find one of his moccasin duffels had
fallen into the pot during the night. They had nothing else ready so they ate the breakfast stew anyway. He still gets a laugh out of the story when my brother or I mention it.
My father is proud of his now-fading hunting prowess and jokes that when he would set snares for rabbits, the rabbits would be sitting beside him ready to get snared so he would have to shoo them away gently saying, “Not right now!”
He is, like most of his generation, a master storyteller and still carries on our oral tradition. His knowledge and remembrance, with my mom’s prompting, of legends and stories is encyclopedic He still picks up the drum and performs an old chant he might have heard his grandfather play after a kill. He will also beat on the drum and sing with a millions time more feeling than Pavarotti, one of his own hunting compositions.
My dad remembers his grandfather still hunting with a bow and arrow, old men beating the drum and shaking tents to ask the spirits for news. He remembers his grandfather building a sweat lodge to cure himself of ailments in the middle of winter. He recalls walking nonstop for miles to get medical help for my older brother with an infected wound.
These days he can be found, when he feels like it, still hunting, fishing and trapping not far from the community. Or sitting at his usual table we refer to as his office, at Sally’s Restaurant reminiscing, and sometimes napping, with his good friend and contemporary Ronnie Cowboy about the old days.
Happy National Aboriginal Day, happy birthday, happy Fathers Day and good fishing Babah.