BERT AND GERRY AND DAD
Bert and Gerry grew up, but they never outgrew the practical jokes. They must have been 25 or 26 years old, heading to Venosta the night before hunting season was to open, when they cooked up a really good one. They’d worked that day, then had to pack their stuff, and made stops at Brennan’s Hill and the Venosta Hotel. They arrived at the cottage about 1:00 a.m., and the whole gang was soundly sleeping: Dad and I, Rick, Guy and Roger.
Bert and Gerry sneaked into the cottage as quietly as they could, and moved the clock to 5:30. Then they turned on the lights, stomped around and clapped their hands, yelling “time to get up, it’s daylight in the swamp!” Everyone jumped up. No one was hungry, but Roger started cooking breakfast, anyway. After awhile Rick noticed that Bert and Gerry were missing. They all took a look, and found those two in their beds, snoring. It took awhile before everyone figured out what they had done.
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Bert and Gerry must have been in their thirties, the Spring that they got Dad’s jeep stuck at the cottage. Dad had owned a couple of new vehicles in his life, but never a four-wheel drive jeep. Rick and I had seen this one at a dealership in Ottawa—brand new, four-wheel drive, blue with denim seats, very cool. We went and got Mom, and sold her on the idea that Dad should have it. She loved doing stuff for Dad, so she bought it as a surprise. He was so shocked, it took him awhile to get used to the idea. But he loved that thing, and of course, so did Bert and Gerry.
In the early spring, when they were at the cottage with Dad, they took it out for a drive and decided to take it right into the laneway that hadn’t been plowed all winter. Of course they got it completely hung up in the snow. Dad came out, and they had to use shovels and wood, for hours. They finally got the thing out, and Dad told them, “The snow is three feet deep, and this is a four-by-four, not a tank.” He was pretty fed up. But after Dad went back inside, they decided that those big fancy studded tires should never have gotten stuck, so they went back to try it again. They got stuck in exactly the same place, all over again.
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These two just never stopped the practical jokes. Dad hated raccoons, because they ruined feed and made such a mess of anything they could get into. One hunting season, Gerry and Bert went to Brennan’s Hill Hotel for the evening, and on the way home they hit and killed a raccoon. Only those two would have picked the thing up from the road and brought it back to the cottage. They set the raccoon up on the back steps, so that it was on one step, with its head resting on a running shoe on the next step. In the dark, it really appeared that the raccoon was looking up toward the door. They went in and told Dad there was a raccoon on the steps. Dad loaded the 12-guage shotgun and opened the door. He stepped out and fired, and then saw the running shoe flying through the air. Bert and Gerry were on the floor, holding their sides and laughing. Dad took it really well, and admitted the joke was a good one.
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Gerry and Bert were helping Dad install a new swimming pool at an upscale home on the outskirts of town. Dad had to go downtown to pick up something, and he told Bert and Gerry that a truckload of sand probably would arrive before he got back. Dad showed them where to have the sand dumped, a considerable distance from the site of the new pool. They thought Dad was just trying to make them do it the hard way, to use their strength and develop character. So when the truck arrived, they told the driver to back it right up to the pool.
What they didn’t know, but Dad knew, was that there was an old wooden septic tank in the ground, between the driveway and the pool. This truck backed up to dump the sand next to the pool, and the old septic tank just collapsed. The truck went farther and farther down at the back, until the whole front end was up in the air. It took Gervais Towing’s biggest crane to get that truck out of the hole.
Gerry and Bert didn’t want to run into Dad right away, so they walked home from there. They took all the back streets, through wooded areas and across railroad tracks, so that Dad wouldn’t find them. It must have been miles out of their way.
How to Shit in the Woods
The catchy title of this small paperback appeals to 10-year-old boys, but the book was a gift to my spouse from her mature, sensible sister who has a fine sense of humour. I understand that when she discovered the book in a California bookstore, she bought copies for all five of her siblings. It’s really quite a book: a highly entertaining treatise on how to minimize the impact of your body’s wastes on whatever wilderness environment you might enjoy. This book goes far beyond digging a hole and choosing leaves carefully: it describes how to manage when kayaking in deep waters, a smearing technique for the high tundra, how to “pack out” your poop from overused and sensitive environments like the Grand Canyon. The introduction alone is worth the price of the book.
My sister Helene has always been pretty, sociable, and popular. She was in high school when Mom and Dad had the cottage in Venosta, and she loved it. She was proud to invite friends, so they could appreciate and enjoy it as much as she did. When she was about 17, she decided to invite a bunch of her friends to spend a day at the cottage.
Mom and my sisters got right into it, planning the food, the decorations, and the music with Helene. Mom made us all come up the week before, to help clean the cottage—no one escaped, even the boys.
On the day of the party, Mom and the girls made piles of fancy sandwiches and arranged them beautifully on platters, covered with damp tea towels and waxed paper, to keep them fresh. My brothers Gerry and Bert were about 14 and 16 years old, and could disrupt any event with their practical jokes. They competed with each other to come up with bigger and better hell-raising ideas. They had reluctantly helped with the cleaning, only because they didn’t dare to defy Mom. But then they were hungry as only teenaged boys can be. They wanted to get into the sandwiches, but Mom threatened them with the broom.
Helene and her guests were all outside. We had a little golf setup, volleyball nets, horseshoes, and dancing. Mom was outside, too, enjoying watching the party. She had set the platters of sandwiches on the tables inside, with napkins and drinks.
Gerry and Bert sneaked into the cottage, unnoticed. There was an old stuffed deer head hanging on a wall, and they used a knife to pop out the glass eyeballs. They cleaned them up and rubbed them all over with Vaseline to make them shiny, and then carefully lifted the waxed paper and tea towels from two of the sandwich trays. They put one eye in the middle of each of the two trays, replaced the wrapping, and waited.
Helene and her friends came in for lunch, and uncovered the sandwiches. There was screaming, tears from Helene, no one wanted any sandwiches, and Mom took after Bert and Gerry with the broom.
At the end of it all, Mom made more sandwiches for everyone, Helene was consoled, and Bert & Gerry had to spend the day in their room—no swimming, no fishing, and absolutely no sandwiches.
BUCKSKIN COOKERY: OLD TIME RECIPES FOR REAL OLD TIMERS
In 1957, a lady named Gwen Lewis compiled recipes and anecdotes from her friends and neighbors in the First Nations community near Quesnel, British Columbia. A copy of her entertaining and enlightening booklet, Buckskin Cookery has come to my hands, and I have spent many hours trying without success to find Ms. Lewis or her descendents, to see whether the booklet could be reprinted. With full credit to Gwen Lewis and her contributors, here are a few of my favorites:
Mudpack Grouse: Leave on feathers, head and guts. Pack soft mud into feathers and pack 2 inches thick all around. Bury in red coals and keep hot 2 hours. Roll out with stick and crack mud. Pull off mud and it take off feathers. Take out guts in a little ball. Keep feet for handles.
Beaver Tail Beans: Blister tail over fire till skin loosens. Pull skin off. Boil big black pot of beans. Add beaver tail. Add onion and salt. Put on lid and bury in good hot ashes in pit, for long time.
Bear Feet: Place feet in forked stick and singe off hair in fire. Boil in water to loosen skin. Wash his feet good. Boil with salt to eat.
Coyote Stew: I thanked Trapper Joe for the meal and started to leave for home. As I passed through the outer shed, I brushed against something hanging beside the door. I turned and saw a freshly skinned coyote slowly revolving by one hind leg…To my growing horror I saw that one hind quarter was missing. “Joe,” I called in a strained voice. “What was in that…stew…we had for…supper?” “Oh, you like stew? Good, I tell you. Cut up coyote meat in little pieces. Put him in pot of hot water. Put some onion, too. And some turnip and some potato. Maybe little bit old rabbit, or rice. Any old ting. And some salt. Boil him up good and ……Lady, why you run away? You sick? Oh Lady, why you sick?”
Quick Cuts: Sprinkle salt on top of hot stove. Drop pieces of deer meat on salt. Cook meat and turn over. Scrape mess off stove when cold.
Moose Delicacy: Take one moose nose, singe over blazing campfire; hold with long-handled fork to singe. Singe until all hair is removed, then wash clean. Soak in salt and water for 2 hours, then boil in salted water for four hours, or until done. Season with a little onion or garlic and bay leaf in water while cooking. Serve hot or cold with mustard or horseradish. Very delicious!
Buckskin Cookery also contains helpful hints for the hunter and trapper, including excuses to have on hand to cover hunting mistakes, and detailed directions on “How to Get Lost.” There are also more serious bits like Waterproofing woolen sweaters, flameproofing tarps and clothing, and how to dress a deer and moose. I will continue to try to get permission to reprint the whole booklet.