Tag Archives: 147 Stanley Street

Flower Power

By Ed Staskus

   My father was a firm believer in the harder you work the better your station. He meant better car better house more money in the bank better everything. He was a refugee from Lithuania, getting out of Europe in 1949 with a duffel bag and twenty-five dollars in his pocket. By the time he got to Sudbury, Ontario, he was down to five dollars, but found employment at a cement factory the next day. Even though I wasn’t sure bigger was better, I was barely 15 years old the summer of 1966 and not about to argue with him.

   When I came home from our Lithuanian American Canadian Franciscan summer camp on Wasaga Beach I was immediately put to work. My father got a job for me on the chain gang of a landscaper who was redoing the grounds at Mt. Sinai Hospital. We trimmed trees, took out dead shrubs replacing them with new ones, and planted marigolds.

   Mount Sinai Hospital began in 1892 as the Young Ladies’ Hebrew Association “caring for the needy and sick.” It opened as a hospital in 1903 on East 32nd Street, catering to east side Jews, then moved to a bigger building on East 105th Street in 1916. In time it became the healthcare provider to Cleveland’s urban poor.

   My job was helping unload clods of rolled-up sod and laying them down to make new lawns. That meant removing the old grass and some of the worn-out soil beneath it, preparing the ground with a bow rake, breaking up any large chunks, laying the sod, neatening the edges, and finally watering the heck out of it. Handling the hose was the best part of the job. By the end of the first day, I was dirty and tired and underpaid. 

   I got a ride every morning from Val, a local Lithuanian American like us home from college. He drove a 1960 Plymouth Valiant with push-button transmission shifters. There was no button for park, but there was a lever for it. Moving the lever to the end put the transmission into park and popped out whatever button was in gear. It was groovy as he smacked the buttons from first to second to drive.

   We hopped on I-90 at East 185th St. and took the Liberty Blvd. exit, driving along the winding road through Rockefeller Park to the hospital work site. The 200-acre park was given to the city by John D. in 1897. Four stone bridges carried traffic and trains over the road, there was a lagoon for rowing fishing and ice skating at the end of it, and a couple dozen Cultural Gardens down the three-mile length of it.

   The gardens are a series of landscaped green spots honoring ethnic communities in Cleveland, set up from the south shore of Lake Erie to University Circle. The first one was the Shakespeare Garden in 1916, which later became the British Garden. The Cultural Garden League carved out the next one, the Hebrew Garden, in 1926. After that they were up and running. In the next ten years 14 more gardens were created, including the Italian, Hungarian, and Lithuanian. The idea was to reflect the city’s immigrant groups, which at the time made up about a third of the population.

   In 1936 the city unified the gardens with bordered paths. Busts and statues were installed in many of them. The first One World Day took place in 1946. A parade of nationality floats and bands blaring homegrown tunes started downtown at Public Square, crept six miles along Euclid Ave. to the Cultural Gardens, where there were speeches and a ceremony. Afterwards there was food, souvenir stands, strolling around the gardens and hobnobbing, and dancing to more music. By the end of the day, it sounded like the Tower of Babel.

   We were listening to ‘Hanky Panky’ by Tommy James and the Shondells on the car radio one Wednesday, curving onto Liberty Blvd. on our way to work, when we were brought up short by a jeep with a machine gun mounted on the back. It was blocking the road. There were more jeeps scattered in the distance. A line of cars was backing up and going the way they had come. Val pulled over to the side until a National Guardsman walked up to our car. 

   “Turn around fellas,” he said. “The road is going to be closed today, maybe the rest of the week.”

   “Why, what’s going on?” Val asked.

   “The niggers are raising hell, busting into stores, burning them down.”

   “What about the parade?” I asked. One World Day was scheduled for the weekend. My parents, brother, sister, and I always went. It was a big thing.

   “I don’t know about any parade, but there ain’t going to be one until things cool down.”

   The street fighting started on Monday when a black man walked into the white-owned Seventy-Niners Café at Hough Ave. and East 79th St. He asked for a glass of water to cool down. It had been a hot day in a hot summer. The café said no, get the hell out of here. One thing led to another and before long the Cleveland Police Department had a riot on its hands. The more cops who showed up the bigger the mob got. By the next day there weren’t enough policemen in the city to handle the violence. Mayor Ralph Locher asked Ohio Governor James Rhodes to send in the National Guard. They showed up through the night and deployed in the morning.

   “Why are you home so early,” my mother asked after Val dropped me off. “Did you do something.”

   “No, the colored people did, there’s a riot going on and we couldn’t get to work,” I said.

   In the mid-1960s 60% of Northern whites agreed that Negro students should be able to go to the same schools.70% agreed with residential integration. 80% agreed that they should be able to get the same jobs as white folks. 90% agreed that they should enjoy public transportation just like everybody else. 100% of Lithuanian Americans didn’t care what bus Negroes rode to whatever job, but the same 100% was opposed to colored kids in their schools and colored families moving into their neighborhoods. When the moving started was when the white flight started.

   My parents weren’t any different than any other Lithuanian I ever heard say anything about it. They hated the Russians, disliked Jews, and looked down on Negroes. Their culture was one of nationalism religion property and community. They thought Negroes were bad Americans, slow-moving and shiftless, belonged to the wrong religion, didn’t respect private property, careless stewards of it, and didn’t have a community based on anything other than their skin color.

   Where we lived there were no Negroes, at all. I delivered the Cleveland Press afternoon newspaper door-to-door six days a week and collected money for it once a week. I knew who lived on our street of 90-some houses. There weren’t any black hands on my route handing me their payment of 50 cents and a tip if they wanted their rubber-banded paper to land on the front porch the following week.

   Where I went to high school, St Joseph’s, it was the same as my paper route. I might see a black face once in a blue moon, but not in any of my classes. They were the janitors. There were lots of big Catholic families in our neighborhood of North Collinwood, and they were a solid block of European stock.

   After Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka and the emerging Civil Rights movement, the times were slowly changing, but it was a bumpy change. Integration meant a big stink ill will and uproar. There had been a couple of incidents at Collinwood High School, a few miles southwest of us, the year before. “With the passage of each year, the western fringes of the Collinwood area are being occupied by the Negro overflow from Glenville,” according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the morning paper.

   Four years later 400 white students and their friends milling around Collinwood High in the morning started throwing rocks, smashing more than 50 windows. The 200 colored students newly attending the school fled to the third-floor cafeteria. When the mob stormed into the building the Negroes blocked the stairs to the third floor with tables and chairs, breaking off the legs to arm themselves. Cleveland police from the 3rd, 4th and 5th Districts poured in, forming a cordon to keep the whites from attacking the blacks who were boarding buses. 

   “Always be careful around them,” my mother said, meaning Negroes. “They might have a knife.”

   My mother and father believed African Americans went ballistic at the drop of a hat. I took my parents at their word. It was dicey messing with their point-of-view. They survived three invasions while growing up in Lithuania, were in Germany during the convulsive last months of the Third Reich, emigrated to North America with just about nothing except willpower, and worked their way up to tax-paying property-owning Republicans in the New World. 

   Hough was a powder keg the summer of 1966. Downtown was white, University Circle was white, and in the middle was Hough, which was black. The housing was substandard and overcrowded. The area stores were crappy and overcharged for their wares. The cops were surly about who they were serving and protecting. When the race riot got rolling, there was rock throwing, looting, arson, and some gunfire. Four people were killed, all four of them Negroes. Two were caught in crossfires, one was killed by a white passerby while waiting at a bus stop, and one was shot by a Little Italian who said it was self-defense. More than 30 were injured, close to 300 were arrested, and 240-some fires were set. There was an estimated $2 million in property damage, most of it in Hough. Some homes burned to the ground.

   Real family income rose rapidly in the 1960s. From 1960 to 1970, median family income, adjusted for inflation, rose to $20,939 from $15,637. It did, at least, if you were white. It didn’t if you were Negro. It went the other way.

   “It is a stark reality that the black communities are becoming more and more economically depressed,” Bayard Rustin wrote in 1966.

   “There has been almost no change or change for the worse in the daily lives of most blacks,” Carmichael and Hamilton wrote in 1967.

   “Although it is true that the income of middle-class Negroes has risen somewhat, the income of the great mass of Negroes is declining,” Martin Duberman wrote in 1968.

   You can only do so much with less. It’s smooth sailing when there’s money in the piggybank. It’s a hard slog when the piggybank has been smashed to pieces. Living on bits and pieces is bitter.

   “The white man is reaping what he has sown. He is learning you can’t push people around. The trouble is here because the white man won’t treat the black man right,” the owner of a barber shop in Hough said. A grand jury later concluded that the Communist party, outside agitators, and black nationalists organized the haphazard uprising, but the finding was laughed off. No Communists had been seen in Cleveland for years and not even outside agitators nor black nationalists wanted to be seen in Hough, fearing for their safety.

   An angry crowd started a big fire at Cedar Ave. and E. 106th St. at the start of the weekend, burning down most of a block of stores, but that was the low point of the disturbance. Life in the ghetto returned to normal on Sunday and the next day merchants started reopening. The National Guard was released from duty and Val and I went back to work on Wednesday.

   From where we stood on the grounds of Mt. Sinai Hospital, it looked like nothing had happened. But there were two Cleveland Police cars parked at the front, and one near the back, that whole week. There had always been police cars around the hospital, but those three stayed round the clock.

   Nobody talked much about the riot, except to say, “those coons are crazy” and “it’s a damned shame about the parade.” Val and I shouldered on for another week-and-a-half. When the project was done, we were sent out to Bratenahl, mowing lawns for the millionaires who lived in the east side lakeside mansions.

   Our last day, driving home on Liberty Blvd, the Cultural Gardens looking great in the full summer sun, Val said, “Have you noticed there isn’t an African American garden?”

   “No,” I said.

   “They were some of the first immigrants, against their will, but still, you would think there would be a garden for them, especially since this is all in their neighborhood.”

   “I guess so,” I said.

   Val was five years older and wiser than me. He was going to an east coast college, majoring in philosophy. He wore his hair long. Some Lithuanians called him a dirty hippie, even though he worked like a sharecropper.

   The idea of building a garden for Cleveland’s colored community was brought up in 1961 by Cleveland councilman Leo Jackson. He proposed a “Negro Cultural Garden.”  The mayor supported the proposal, but it was voted down by his finance committee. In 1968 the idea came back, including a statue of Martin Luther King, Jr., who had been assassinated that year, to stand in the middle of it. Nothing came of the comeback until 1976, when Congressman Louis Stokes brought it to life again. Ground for the garden was broken and dedicated in 1977, but the project remained unfinished until 2016, almost forty years later.

   When we turned off Liberty Blvd., curving onto the entrance ramp to I-90, Val punched the spunky Valiant’s push buttons through its gears, and we rode the current of rush hour traffic back to North Collinwood. The weekend was tomorrow. I was glad to be going home.

   “It’s shelter from the storm,” Val said.

Ed Staskus posts feature stories on Red Island http://www.redislandpei.com Paperback Yoga http://www.paperbackyoga.com 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Lithuanian Journal http://www.lithuanianjournal.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

Lights Out at the Lighthouse

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By Ed Staskus

“Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got, ‘till it’s gone.”  Joni Mitchell

Starting early in April, lights start coming back on in stores inns restaurants and businesses of all kinds on the Outer Cape. Hiring ramps up for cooks, waiters, waitresses, cashiers, retail associates, merchandisers, front desk agents, landscaping, cleaning services, and even at local airports parking and fueling aircraft.

Even though snowfall is uncommon on Cape Cod, whatever there is of it melts as the weather suddenly gets warmer. Purple-blue hyacinths and bright yellow daffodils start to open. In Wellfleet, where almost everything closes down for the winter, almost everything opens up again in the spring.

Except when it doesn’t.

Early in April Joe Wanco and his family, wife Laura and daughters Michelle and Jodie, made it known that their iconic Lighthouse Restaurant in a mid-19th century building in the middle of town on Main Street would not be opening for the season spring summer and fall.

“After many years, many employees, many building renovations, many blueberry muffins, pints of beer, and Boston sports championships, it has been decided it is in the best interest of the family that we no longer operate as a business. This is not a decision made overnight or without extensive consideration. Forty years is a long time and even longer in restaurant years.”

“Oh, man, this is sad,” said Molly MacGregor.

“This is worse than closing down Town Hall,” said Steve Curley.

“I want to scream, NOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!” screamed Heidi Gertsen-Scheck.

Forty years in the dining room trade is like four hundred in dog years. It’s a challenge. If you like falling pushing jumping off the deep end, watering holes are for you.

Even if your menu is coherent and priced appropriately, and the tables are set nice and neat, and the ambience is what your customers like, if the customer service goes sour, customers will remember. Even if management is on top of orders, sales goals, and labor costs, if they don’t notice nobody is asking for slimehead fillets, and don’t take it off the menu, they’re stuck with a freezer full of slimehead. Even if the grub is outstanding, the staff trained and ready to go, if you’re slow marketing your restaurant, you end up with a half-empty restaurant.

“You’ve had a great run,” said Jim Clarke, who owned the Lighthouse from 1968 to 1978. “I still have memories and nightmares from those years. I wish I had a nickel for all the muffins I made.”

The Lighthouse was a local seafood eatery, with arguably the best oyster stew between Cape Cod Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, a local sports bar and grill where the Patriots Red Sox Celtics ruled the roost on the flat screens, and a local dive bar with two dollar cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon and Cape Cod bands livening up the joint year after year.

“Main Street won’t be the same,” said Donna Adams McCaffery.

“You guys have been a bedrock of this community,” said Sam Greene.

“We started almost every vacation in Wellfleet at the Lighthouse, starting in 1989 when my now husband met my family there for our vacation-starting breakfast,” said Laura Kaspar Wardwell.

Six American presidents came and went, while another has been out to lunch, in the time since the Wanco’s landed on Main Street. Townspeople and tourists grew up with the Lighthouse. Some were born and had to find out for themselves.

“I grew up with stories about the Lighthouse before I even knew what it was,” said Amy St. John Ramsdell.

“Our five children grew up having breakfast at the Lighthouse every Sunday after mass,” said Jodi Lyn Deitsch-Malcynsky. “Your family was always inviting and gracious and fun! Our summers in Wellfleet will be forever changed.”

“I remember parking my bicycle out front and coming in for a Cherry Coke or hot chocolate,” said Matt Frazier, years before he became their trash hauler and recycler. “An extra special thank-you for always treating our crew with snacks and beverages during and after Oyster Festival.”

The menu wasn’t the biggest buffet catalogue in the world, and the prices weren’t an arm and a leg, even though the plates were chock-full, but the always hot food was more than good, often very good.

“The best scallops in the world, as good as Digby, Nova Scotia,” said a man from Boston. “What’s more to say?”

“I can’t say enough about the Cod Ruben,” said a man from Westfield. “They have a great selection of beer. The service is awesome.”

“They happened to have lobster dinners on a special, super fresh and tender,” said a woman from Worthington. “They were the best lobster dinners we had all summer.”

The Lighthouse was the only restaurant on the Outer Cape without a front door, two side doors, and plenty of windows to sit at and watch the world go by. “Here’s to missing the big picture,” one man said to another, sitting at the bar one September morning, over hearty breakfasts and Bloody Mary’s, their backs to the window. The bar sat about a dozen and the front room and side room tables sat forty or fifty. The floors are hardwood. There is a large skylight in the beamed tilted ceiling of the side dining room. It isn’t a small place, but it isn’t a big place, either.  It was always lively and got even more lively at night.

“When I was younger it was our breakfast place,” said John Denninger. “As I grew older it was my place to get a drink. When I decided to move here you made it feel like home. I could not have found a better place to hang out.”

A red and white replica of the red and white Nauset lighthouse sits straight and true on the flat roof of the front room. “The lighthouse does great service, yet it is the slave of those who trim the lamps,” observed the writer Alice Rollins. It doesn’t go looking for passing ships in the night. It just stands there with the big bright light on. Lighthouses are always lighthouses in somebody’s storm.

The Wanco’s came from northern New Jersey in the late 1970s. They partnered with a friend of theirs in the restaurant “to have their hand at a small business in a seaside town in an expression of their own American dream.”  Their partner retired ten years ago, but the Wanco’s kept the lights on, carrying on. “It left just our family to provide a watering hole, meeting place, warm meal, cold beer, loud music, local gossip, friendly banter, and a smiling face.”

Besides everything else, who wants to lose a smiling face?

“Ah, Jaysus,” said Jenifer Good. “It’s too much!”

Owning and operating a restaurant isn’t the same as going to work. It’s more like work. Many people start work by checking their e-mails. So do many restaurateurs. Many people check their e-mails all day. Most restaurateurs don’t. They don’t have time. There are too many other things to do.

After they’ve turned on the lights and checked their mail in the morning they do a walk-through of the restaurant, note what needs to be cleaned repaired replaced, start receiving orders, start food production, say hello to arriving cooks and staff, last minute scrambles because someone is sick hungover missing, breakfast service, take a break, lunch pre-shift, lunch service, move on to more food production, staff meal, dinner pre-shift, dinner service, clean up, wipe down, go over the day’s receipts, stay on top of staffing for tomorrow, and fit in balancing the checkbook, making payroll, checking inventory against reality, making a list of purveyors to talk to, and finally, turning off the lights.

All of this without swearing overly much at staff customers passersby loved ones.

Not that working at the Lighthouse wasn’t a happening, an exploit. “Working there was always an adventure,” said John Dwyer.

“My first waitressing job 40 years ago,” said Gina Menza. “I was terrible, but you kept me on. Some crazy memories living upstairs, sitting on the roof to watch the parade, and sneaking into the drive-in rolled up in a carpet in the back of the van.”

“Living in the upstairs apartment to working at the Lighthouse for my first job, smashing my head into the tables while running from the kitchen to the dining room, creamy dill salad and the best pickles on the planet, working down in the bakery, and years later to many post-shift beers,“ said Jacqueline Stagg.

“My most fun job,” said Kelly Moore. “Endless pre-games and endgames, situations, life lessons with Pill Bill, meltdowns, bike stealings and returnings, hurricane parties, skinny dipping team meetings, Wall of Shame, family breakfasts, jam sessions, chats with Thomas, high society, beer pong tournaments, roof top nights, off-season regulars, Mexican meltdowns with Slammo, and mista sista kissa.”

Communities are built around their city halls, schools, and businesses. Even though the Outer Cape is known for its guidebook attractions, sun and sand whale watching galleries seafood summer theater, Provincetown, the Cape Cod Rail Trail, and the National Seashore, its essence is in its smaller neighborhoods and places.

“They were the center beacon of our town,” said Chris Eize of the Sacred Mounds. “When we became the house band, we became part of the Lighthouse.”

Most bands that ever played at the Lighthouse played in a place where the music making was consistently better than it should have sounded, resonating better than the written notes, and from Funktapuss to the Sacred Mounds they always lit up the venue.

“The Super Scenics always had a blast playing there with our gracious hosts the Mounds and the Lighthouse” said Jeff Jahnke, “Thanks and cheers!”

“We got to know Michelle and Jodie on an intimate level of trust, honest communication, and friendship,” said Chris, the frontman of the Mounds. “I loved how Jodie didn’t really have a filter, and you knew exactly what she was thinking, because she would tell you, whether you liked it or not. We enjoyed the after-show drinks and reflections with Michelle, and that openness will live on with appreciation and fondness.”

There is always a lot of camaraderie in restaurants, everyone working closely together, all around the chuck wagon.

“The restaurant business, even in the most stable of markets is, frankly, exhausting,” said Joe Wanco. “It’s an ever-consuming extra member of the family. There are no restful nights, even with the help of your favorite tequila.”

It is a consuming undertaking because of the long hours and hard work, most of it on your feet, and the competition inherent in the undertaking. The restaurant business is massive, with more than one million restaurants coast to coast. The chances of making it even one year are slim. Most eateries close in their first twelve months. Three of four close in the next three to five years. Making it four decades is Bunyanesque.

“The Wanco family put their heart and soul into their work,” said Chris Eize. Staying the course means staying steadfast. “Wow, 40 years, that’s awesome,” said Katie Edmond.

“You and your oyster stew are going to be greatly missed,” said Rob Cushing.

“Joe and Laura, enjoy your well-deserved retirement,” said Virginia Paine Davis. “You have served the town well.”

It works both ways, coming and going, since Main Street in Wellfleet is not a one-way street.

“We are eternally grateful for the many years of support from our loyal clientele, especially our year-round community,” said the Wanco family, signing off.

“Good luck, cuz,” said Joyce Buccino Fabiano to the leave-taking.

“We sure are going to miss you all,” said Mike Deltano.

“But how will I ever find my children now when I get to Wellfleet?” asked Judy Sherlock. “Look for them at the library?”

The Wanco’s were the Lighthouse keepers for a long time. The lights of our favorite places go on and off over time. Every now and then they need a new minder. What Main Street needs now is a new barkeep to fire up the lanterns again at the local public house, like the Garden State transplants did forty-some enterprising years ago.

Ed Staskus posts feature stories on Red Island http://www.redislandpei.com Paperback Yoga http://www.paperbackyoga.com 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Lithuanian Journal http://www.lithuanianjournal.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

One Man Army

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By Ed Staskus

There has never been an overabundance of men who fight for a guerrilla group and three armies, one of them twice, during any single war. An army a day keeps most men busy enough. Leonas Lucauskas stayed busier than many other combatants during the titanic struggle that was World War II, serving in the Lithuanian, German, and American armed forces. He may not have had as many lives as a cat, but it was close enough.

“My father was born in 1916, in the Ukraine,” said Leo Lucas. “My grandfather Juozas and grandmother Stanislava were living in Poltava, insanely far from Marijampole, their home.” He meant the 700 miles was insanely far given the state of Russian roads and railroads. The Eastern Front, where millions of men were slaughtering each other at the time, was closer.

“He was a professor, teaching there during the war.” said Leo.

The school was the Poltava National Technical University. It was founded in 1818 by the wife of the governor-general of the province, the granddaughter of the last Ukrainian strongman before the Russian Empire absorbed the country in the 18th century. For hundreds of years Lithuanian and Polish freebooters had controlled vast tracts of the Ukraine and were a law unto themselves. They were no match for the Cossacks, however, who were later no match for the Russians.

The main building on campus was built in the early 1830s as the home of the Institute of Noble Maidens. It had an Empire-style look. When the institute became the technical university, women were forbidden to attend.

After the war the family, including Leonas’s older brother and sister, who were twins, went back to Lithuania. They settled near Iglauka, not far from Lake Yglos, His father taught school in Marijampole, 12 miles to the west, and they lived on a farm. His mother’s family were prosperous owners of acreage and property.

In 1924 the state-sponsored revolt in Klaipeda was signed sealed delivered, the country competed in the Summer Olympics for the first time, and his older brother suddenly unexpectedly died. The next year his mother was shot dead at a wedding.

It had been Russian Imperial policy to leave the country in a non-industrial state. The inheritance system that was exercised after the land reform of 1863 forbade the partition of land plots. There were many landowners at the reception. They stuck tight together socially friends neighbors families bound by the old time way.

“A group of Communist agitators, people who wanted other people’s land, came to the wedding, started a ruckus, started shooting guns, and my grandmother was accidentally shot and killed,” said Leo.

The Communist party of Lithuania was formed in 1918 and remained illegal until 1940. They were out for blood, though. There is only so much land to go around in small Baltic-like countries.

Years later, Leonas told his son the challenge of his life after his mother’s death was, would he take revenge when he grew up? They all lived in small towns, everybody knew everybody else, and everybody knew who the Communists were. Should he kill them when he grew up? He decided he wouldn’t.

When he grew up, he got married, had a daughter, was planning on going to school to study medicine, but then the Second World War happened. His father was shot and killed by fifth column Communists in his own home, Leonas joined the Lithuanian Army, and the Soviet Union invaded.

It was never a fair fight. In mid-June 1940 a half-million Red Army troops poured across the borders of Estonia and Latvia. Within a week the Baltics were overrun, one week before France fell to Nazi Germany. Josef Stalin blew his nose into his walrus mustache. Adolf Hitler did an awkward little jig grinning behind his square mustache.

Leonas took to the forest, joining a group of partisans, staying in the fight for the next year. It wasn’t any more dangerous than anything else in the dangerous times. He had been working in the fields when his father was killed. “They were killing landowners. My father’s luck was just the luck of being out working,” said Leo. They would have killed him all the next year if they had been able to track him down.

A year later Lithuania was invaded by two German army groups. Most Russian aircraft were destroyed on the ground. The Wehrmacht advanced rapidly, assisted by Lithuanians, who saw them as liberators. They helped by bringing their weapons to bear, controlling railroads, bridges, and warehouses. The Lithuanian Activist Front and Lithuanian Territorial Corps formed the native backbone of the anti-Soviet fighting.

Leonas Lucauskas was one of many who joined the German Army, being assigned to a Baltic Unit. Three years later he was having second thoughts. The Baltic Offensive of 1944 was in full swing, the Red Army on the march to “liberate the Soviet Baltic peoples.” An NCO by then, Leonas and his men were ordered to man the front line and hold it at all costs. It was costing them more lives every day.

“The rich Lithuanians were officers,” Leo said. They weren’t in the tranches getting their heads shot off. “The enlisted men were getting endlessly killed.”

A small airstrip was nearby for reconnaissance and resupply. Junker 52s were flying in and out with ammunition first aid food and hope in the grim hopelessness. Leonas and three other men from his unit were unloading one of the planes at a side door by means of a ramp, the front prop and wing-mounted engines roaring, when with hardly a word spoken between them, they made up their minds to steal it and fly to safety.

Two of the men rushed up the ramp and threw the two German pilots out the door, while the other man and Leonas kept watch, guns at the ready. He was the last one to scramble into the plane and was shot in the back of the foot just before he slammed the door shut.

“I was playing on the floor one day,” Leo said. It was the late 1960s. “My dad was relaxing, shoes and socks off, sitting on the sofa in the living room reading a newspaper. I saw a scar on his heel and asked him what it was. He said it was a bullet wound. He rolled up his pants and showed me three more on both legs.”

One of the Lithuanians returned the shooting with a MG15 machine gun set in the dustbin turret, while the other two men dragged Leonas to the cockpit. None of them had ever flown an airplane. He was the only one of them who had ever even driven a car.

How hard can it be? he thought. With bullets slamming into the corrugated aluminum fuselage he found out it wasn’t hard at all. He pushed on the throttle, got the Junker going as fast as he thought it would go, raised the nose, and “Iron Annie” lifted up into the air.

They quickly came up with a plan, planning to fly to Switzerland. They got as far as the neighborhood of the Poland to Germany border when they ran out of gas. The plane wasn’t the fastest, 165 MPH its top speed, and it could go about 600 miles on a tankful. When they went down, they were headed in the right direction. All they needed was another full tank.

It solved their landing problem, since Leonas had already told his countrymen he had no idea how to land the plane. The Junker hit the ground hard and every part of it broke into pieces. When Leonas came back to life he was in a field hospital. He never found out what happened to his comrades.

The doctors and military men asked him who he was and what happened. He answered them in German, in High German, not Low. “My father spoke Lithuanian, Polish, Russian, and German.” He was wearing the right uniform when found, was speaking like a householder, and they assumed he was one of them. Leonas bit his tongue about who he really was, thanking God for his good fortune.

After he got out of the hospital he was deemed not fit enough for combat and assigned to the motor pool. Soon after he drew a lucky number and was assigned to be the driver for a general. It was lucky enough until several months later, early one morning, in the middle of winter, when he got a wake-up call from one of his motor pool sidekicks.

“Don’t come to work today,” the man said.

“What does that mean?”

“Your general died late last night. One of the first people the Gestapo will want to talk to is you.”

He knew it was true. He knew what had happened to anybody and everybody involved in the attempt to assassinate Adolf Hitler in mid-July. Nearly 5,000 people were executed. He would never be able to stand up to scrutiny.

His general was probably out carousing in their Tatra 87, slid on ice and smashed into a tree, but it didn’t matter. It didn’t matter whether he died in the arms of his mother or was assassinated. His goose was cooked if the Geheime Staatspolizei got him. The SS literally cooked people to death.

The Tatra 87 was the car of the year the last five years. Sleek futuristic BMW-engine fast and high-tech as could be, it was the vehicle of choice for German officers. Unfortunately for them, it was sloppy, handling like pudding, killing its drivers right and left. Leonas always kept it under 40 MPH. It was the vehicle of choice of the Americans, too, for their mortal enemy. They thought of it as a secret weapon, killing more high German officers than died fighting the Red Army.

He jumped to his feet, hurriedly dressed in his uniform, threw on a winter coat, and fled his room. Making his way to the motor pool, he found a truck with keys in the ignition and a full tank of gas. There were plenty to go around. Opel manufactured 95,000 of the 2-ton 4 x 4 Blitz Utility trucks during the war. He quickly signed it out, turned it over, and drove away unnoticed. He drove straight for the front. His plan was to break through the line and surrender to the Americans.

He didn’t get shot by either side and that is what happened, he surrendered. He was relieved and confident that the war was over for him. But by the time the war was over he was in his third army. At least he was finally on the winning side.

“My grandfather Juozas was a gigantic guy,” said Leo. “I’m six foot four. My father Leonas was five nine and maybe one forty pounds.” In the end, what counts is what you do.

Dwight Eisenhower was the Supreme Commander of what he called “the whole shebang” in Europe. He knew there was more to winning the war than armor. “What counts is not necessarily the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog,” he said.

At the beginning of 1945 the Allied Expeditionary Force on the Western Front had 73 divisions ready to go. The Germans had 26 divisions. The Battle of the Bulge ended in an Allied victory. Adolf Hitler held a meeting with his top men, instructing them to hold the Americans and British off as long as possible. By that time, however, his top men were flat tires. He boarded a train and never went back to the Western Front again. At the end of January, he gave the last speech he was ever to give. It didn’t do any good.

After surrendering, Leonas spent time in a DP camp, until being recruited by the Americans. They were looking for men who spoke multiple languages and he fit the bill. He had been picking up bits and pieces of English. Russian and Polish are among the Top 10 hardest languages to learn. English is no slouch, either. He served as a Sergeant in a Baltic Unit. In 1946 and 1947 he was in Nuremberg, where war crime trials were being conducted. The evil men who propagated the National Socialist German Party either committed suicide, were executed, or locked up for a long time.

As the hard-fought civilization-saving decade of the 1940s wound itself down, Leonas Lucauskas emigrated to North America, finding work as a lumberjack near Sudbury, Ontario. “It was an indentured servant kind of job,” said Leo. More than two-thirds of the Canadian province is forest, in land area the equivalent of Fascist Germany and Fascist Italy combined. “He was never quite sure where he was.”

Making it in a company town is unlikely. Since there is no competition, housing costs and groceries bills can become exorbitant, and workers build up large debts they are required to pay off before leaving. It can be slavery by another name. Leonas determined to find another way, his own way.

He and several other men pooled their resources, found a broken-down car, scavenged parts from other wrecks, filled the tires with enough cotton to get them to roll, and hit the road. He ended up in St. Catherine’s, near Niagara Falls, and later, finding the opportunity to go to the United States in 1950, took it and settled down outside Buffalo, New York, where he stayed the rest of his life.

He got married again. His wife Louise taught school. They raised a family. He went to work as a butcher in the meat department of a grocery store for more than thirty years, rarely missing a day.

He built their house on three acres of land. One acre of it was devoted to a garden. Leo recalled, “I must have moved 5,000 wheelbarrows of manure as a child. Whenever our car parts factory friends went on strike, I delivered food to them in the morning before school.” His older sister Katherine still lives in the family home.

Leonas hung from his heels in the garage to prove he could still do it. “My father was a strong man.” said Leo. Sometimes men are strong because it’s the only choice they have. Spinning your wheels doesn’t get it done. He smoked and drank with his friends at the local Italian and Polish social clubs. He was an affable strong man.

Once he was done, he never enlisted in any other man’s army ever again.

Ed Staskus posts feature stories on Red Island http://www.redislandpei.com Paperback Yoga http://www.paperbackyoga.com 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Lithuanian Journal http://www.lithuanianjournal.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

The Last Splatter

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By Ed Staskus

“What the hell am I doing?” Jackson Pollack asked himself, giving the once over to the rise of the road, driving up too fast toward the top of it for what was on the other side. He couldn’t dope it out. He was driving like a crazy man, like what all the shrinks he had ever gone to always told him he wasn’t.

Not crazy, not exactly.

One of them once said, “You’re just in search of a nervous breakdown.” He didn’t tell that one about 1938. It didn’t matter. He knew he was raw on the inside. That’s why the work on the floor worked. He wasn’t a nutcase because he saw psychiatrists. But in the last five minutes he had twice caught himself steering the car straight at the soft shoulder.

He was the next-best driver in Springs, next to Harry Cullum, who told him he was second best on a late afternoon one day in mid-winter when the two of them were having beers at Jungle Pete’s.

“You’ll have the last laugh, just wait and see, Jack,” he said, clapping him on the back. “Maybe not on the road, but you’ll get ‘er done.”

Jackson Pollock’s convertible didn’t have seat belts, even though Harry, the best driver in town, had outfitted his family car with lap belts. He told everyone it was for his wife’s sake. “In stock car racing we never used seat belts if there wasn’t a roll bar, suicide if you do,” said Harry. “Family life is different, different kind of suicide, need a belt.”

The girl in the middle of the front seat, between Ruth and him, was screaming. “Stop the car, let me out, let me out!” He wasn’t going to stop the car, he knew that, but he had a bad feeling. It was a clear, starry night, splashed no moon dark, hot and muggy. The road felt spongy. He felt queer, not himself, not yours truly.

It was August 11, 1956. The car was an Oldsmobile 88. It was a big open-air carriage.

He got his first convertible, a Cadillac, when his action paintings started to get some action, after Life Magazine put him on the cover almost exactly seven years ago. He was wearing denim pants and a denim jacket in the photograph. The jacket was dirty and spattered. It was his high-octane light-of-day look at me now ma year of success. They said he was the new phenomenon of American art.

“He looks like some guy who works at a service station pumping gas,” said Willem de Kooning.

When 1950 got good and done, the next month Art News published a list of the best exhibitions of the year. The top three shows belonged to him. It wasn’t bad for somebody who never graduated from high school.

Even though he purposely used to throw his car keys in the bushes when he was getting drunk at parties, he smashed the Caddy into a tree. He got off light, a citation and no broken bones.

Action painting, he thought, and snorted, spraying spit on the steering wheel. What the hell did that mean? There wasn’t any action, just headlines.

What critics didn’t know wasn’t worth a pot to piss in.  “If people would just look at my paintings, I don’t think they would have any trouble enjoying them. It’s like looking at a bed of flowers, you don’t tear your hair out over what it means.” He had meant it when he said it. He’d say it again.

Who needs a critic to find out what art is, or isn’t? Most of them, these days, if they saw him walking on water, crossing the Hudson River at Canal Street, would scribble something about him not being able to swim. All they wanted was to see you drown. The only time he met Man Ray, at the Cedar Tavern when the born-again Frenchman was on his way back to Paris, he told Jackson, over a boatload of drinks, he hated critics.

Franz Kline laughed across the table. “Manny, tell us what you really think.”

“All critics should be assassinated,” he said.

Lee called his work all over painting because he got it all over the flat canvases nailed down on the floor, the hard floor, and his boots and jeans and hands. Bugs and bits of litter and blackened shag from his cigarettes fell into the paint.

“Is Jackson Pollock the greatest living painter in the United States?” is what Life Magazine said, blowing the balloon up, with a picture of him slouching against a wall with a smoke dangling from his mouth, and a couple of pictures of his paintings. He looked good, like he didn’t have a care in the world, didn’t give a damn, like he had the world by the balls. Now it was different. He hadn’t made a painting in more than a year. The ball was over.

He was washed up. He didn’t have anything to say anymore. He was almost sure of it.

“She started to scream,” said Clement Greenberg. “He took it out on this pathetic girl by going even faster. Then he lost control on the curve. The screaming is what did the killing, finally.”

What was her name? He chewed it over in his mind, tossing a glance sideways at her. He couldn’t remember. They were on the Fireplace Road in East Hampton, not far from home. It couldn’t be more than a mile. Not much of a home anymore, though. Lee was in Paris with her friends. She said she was coming back, but he had his fears. He wanted her back, but it had all gone to hell.

Hell-bent in his Olds with two broads in the car and his wife in Europe wasn’t going to get it done, wasn’t going to get it all back. He had to get back on track. Maybe the last analyst he’d seen was right, maybe there was something gumming up the works. He was going to try a fresh approach, the shrink said, calling it hypnotherapy.

He was one of the new downtown brain doctors. “It’s not hypnosis, at least not how most people think of it,” said Dr. Sam Baird. “We’re not going to try to alter or correct your behavior. We’ll try to seed some ideas, sure, but we’ll talk those out before we go ahead.”

He told Lee he was going to get his mind clear this time. “He isn’t full of old-time shit,” he said about the new man.

If any of his neighbors saw his car fast and sloppy staggering down the road they would laugh and say it was like his paintings. Most of them still thought he was nuts, even though they didn’t say so anymore to his face, now that he was in galleries and museums. When he was a nobody, they looked down on him like he was a nobody.

“I could see right away he wasn’t from here,” said Frank Dayton. “I asked a fellow later who he was. ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘that’s just a loony artist.’”

“To some goody-goody people he was a bum, just someone to laugh at,” said Sid Miller. “They didn’t think much of his work. They didn’t think he was doing anything.”

“Folks said he painted with a broom,” said Ed Cook. “Near everybody made jokes about his paintings, never thought they’d amount to anything.”

“To hell with them,” he said to Ruth, her elbow laying careless on the shelf of the door. She was a looker, that’s for sure, the juice he needed to get him going again. He had gone dead inside. He knew he had. She was the kind of girl who could crank him up. What’s-her-name in the back seat kept screaming.

“What?” asked Ruth, loud, twisting towards him.

“To hell with them,” he muttered to himself. “What do they know?”

“Slow down a little bit, the car’s a little out of control, take it easy,” she said.

The joke was on them. When he was painting, straddling a canvas, it was when he was most in control. It was when he didn’t have any doubts about himself or what he was doing. He knew exactly what he was doing. He told anybody interested in listening to him, I can control the idea, the flow of paint. There is no accident in the end, not by my hand.

“He picked up can and paint brush and started to move around the canvas,” said Hans Namuth. “It was as if he suddenly realized the painting was not finished, His movements, slow at first, gradually became faster and more dance like as he flung black, white and rust-colored paint onto the canvas. He completely forgot that Lee and I were there. Finally, he said, ‘This is it.’”

I work from the inside out, he told Hans. That’s when I’m in the painting, in the middle of life, but outside of it at the same time. I can see the whole picture. Someone told him his pictures didn’t have any beginning or any end. He didn’t mean it as a compliment, more like a sneer, but it was fine by him. It was a fine compliment. Only twisted lip didn’t know it.

He was good driving his Olds, too, even when he was as drunk as could be, which was what he was now.

“He came in for his eye-opener, a double, about 10:30 before train time, that day.” said Al Cavagnaro. “Start your day the way he did sometimes, you’d be in the same fix he was. If you said he was half bagged up, you’d be about right.”

Doc Klein said it was OK for him to drink and drive. Jack liked that. He knew trees never hit cars except in self-defense. “But stay on the road,” said Doc Klein, a big man laughing a big laugh.

“Goddamn right, I always stay on the road,” said Jackson Pollack. “Except when I’m pulling into Al’s or Pete’s, then I get off the road. I have to. Anyway, there’s no trees in those parking lots.”

“It was continual, almost nightly drunken large parties,” said Patsy Southgate. “Everyone was totally drunk all the time and driving around in cars.”

He wasn’t driving right. He was driving wrong. The screaming girl grabbing his right arm was right. He lived it up driving. But tonight, instead of fluid with the steering wheel, like he was with free-flowing paint out of a can, he was going clumsy, as though he was at cross-purposes, herky-jerky. The quiet precise gestures he used to stream paint from a stick when he was working were usually the same when he drove his car. Tonight, they were too big around, whiplash gestures, like they had a life of their own.

“He had to be moving fast, 85 to 90, anyway,” said Harry Cullum. “There was one hell of a crown where the town tar road begins at the beginning of the left curve. Jeez, I almost lost my car a couple of times there when I was a kid, but finally you smarten up and ride that crown, the one they fixed after Pollock got killed.”

It was after the fact, like an empty bottle of beer thrown out a car window at a stop sign that wasn’t there.

“Jackson’s death is he died of drink and the Town of East Hampton Highway Department,” said Wayne Barker.

It was three years ago, the first week of November, when he stormed over the crown of the road like a firecracker. He came back from the city on Friday, on the train. It snowed all morning and it was still snowing at the end of the day when he found his car in the lot, brushing a mound of snow off the front window with his hands, rubbing the cold out of them at the car’s dashboard heating vent. When he finally got on the road to Springs, he was one of a handful of cars. The storm was blowing off the ocean. The car trembled whenever the road flattened out and he was sideways to the coast.

“I crawled up there, could barely see, and stopped when I saw the pile of snow,” he told Lee later at home, the windows in their sash frames rattling in the wind gusts. “There was a snowdrift, five feet, six feet high, down the other side blocking the way. I backed up a little, to where my rear tires could get a grip on a stretch of clear road and hit the gas as hard as I could. I went as fast as I could, hit the snow head on, everything went white, everything disappeared, no color, just white. By the time I came out the other side the Olds was barely moving, just crawling.”

They laughed about it all night, over dinner, and later in bed again, curling close together under a pile of blankets.

The girl beside him was still screaming. How long could she keep it up? She was driving him nuts. He was driving wrong, all wrong. There was a reason. He knew it, but he also thought, how could there be a reason? What was it?  He could feel it. Where was it? He knew it was right there, right at the edge of the front of his brain. It was like the images behind the abstractions in his paintings, right there. But when he tried to think of why he was driving wrong his brain hurt like the next day’s hangover, before getting his hands on some hair of the dog.

He had a hangover all the time now, more than five years-worth of hangovers, but it wasn’t from gin. It was from having rocketed to fame, putting everything he had into it, until he didn’t have anymore, and he quit pouring liquid paint cold turkey. It was all over. After that he couldn’t make a painting that anybody wanted. When he finished his black paintings, he couldn’t give them away. Even his fame couldn’t prime the pump. Nobody thought it was any good.

He knew they weren’t any good.

“An artist is a person who has invented an artist,” Rosenberg burst out with something that meant something one night near the tail end of a long night of poker and drinking.

Rosie always thought he was right, Jackson thought. He got it wrong on the train, though, the day we were riding into the city together. When I said the canvas was an arena, I meant it like it was a living thing, not a dead thing. I didn’t mean slugging it out in the ring. He thought I meant it literally, even though both of us were dead sober at the time, and the next thing I knew I was an action painter.

At least he finally got it right at the card game. Not like Hans. He was like all the others.

When Lee brought her teacher, Hans Hoffman, over to meet Jackson, he saw the sour look on the great man’s face right away. Hans was a neat freak, everything in its place, clean and orderly. His own studio was a mess. There wasn’t a sign of a still life or a life model anywhere.

“You do not work from nature,” said Hans. “You work by heart, not from nature This is no good, you will repeat yourself.”

“I am nature,” said Jackson Pollack.

There wasn’t a drop of a map left in the sky or anywhere on the other side of his windshield. It surprised the breath out of him when he got to the curve at the dip, where the concrete stopped and the town’s blacktop started, and he suddenly veered off the road, aiming for the trees. The car skidded in the sand. He let it slide, its big front-end dead set on the big oak tree to their left.

Going into a skid in the dirt off the road didn’t surprise him. Besides, he was going too fast. He was going fast, that’s all. It didn’t mean anything. The girl next to him stopped screaming. She got small and slowed down. She was squeezing her handbag in her hands with all her might. His hands felt dry and relaxed on the steering wheel. He didn’t squeeze the steering wheel even when he smashed into the tree head-on.

The Oldsmobile broke every bone in its chassis when it hit the one-hundred-year-old tree. Jackson Pollack was catapulted over the windshield and into the woods. The front end flipped over, tossing Ruth to the side. When the car landed upside down, crushing the frame of the windshield, the girl with the handbag tight in her hands suddenly stopped gripping it. The car horn blared, stuck, crazed. Gasoline poured out of the punctured gas tank. The taillights blinked on and off and on and off.

“I’m going to be one of my paintings,” Jackson Pollack realized in mid-air, midway to the future, rocketing his way to forever. “I’m going to splatter all over. I’m going to be in nature, be nature, once and for all.”

He hit the oak tree hard. When he careened back, he landed with a mortal thud, even though it was soft ground. There was a just barely jutting out of the ground bump of rock mottled with luminous moss waiting there a lifetime for him.

His neck hit the rock like a falling star. Gravity had been the heaven-sent hand that gave life to the paint and flotsam that dripped splashed flowed down onto his canvasses. It was now the hand that dealt him a death blow. He broke his neck.

He lay there like a tree branch, cracked in the stick, shoeless, arms and legs haphazard.

Excerpted from the crime thriller “Stickball” at http://www.stanriddman.com.

Ed Staskus posts feature stories on Red Island http://www.redislandpei.com Paperback Yoga http://www.paperbackyoga.com 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Lithuanian Journal http://www.lithuanianjournal.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

Born Again (Yellow House)

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By Ed Staskus

The Yellow House on the south side of North Rustico on Prince Edward Island isn’t any different than most houses. It has a front door and back door, two stories, two gables, two chimneys, plenty of windows, and a latter-day addition The only difference is that it’s on a fishing harbor on the ocean, has its own parking lot, and isn’t strictly a family house anymore.

It’s a family restaurant, takeout, and catering house.

On sunny days the Yellow House looks like it is painted in sunlight. On its open to close days, if it’s overcast on the Gulf of St. Lawrence, light streams out of the windows brightening the gloom. On catering days it buzzes with energy and deadlines.

When Marie “Patsy” Gallant died in 2009, the home she had lived in on Harbourview Drive, next to Barry Doucette’s Deep Sea Fishing, went empty and dark.

“She let the town buy the house, but they didn’t have any money to renovate or turn it anything,” said Mike Levy. “They wanted a restaurant, something that would service the community.” Six years later he and his wife, Jennifer, recently become residents on the north-central shore of PEI, decided to give it their best shot.

“We had to fix it up so we started looking for funding. We couldn’t find any. Nobody wants to risk a restaurant, even though we had worked in finance and banking and worked in the food and beverage industry, been servers bartenders cooks managers.”

Between them they had two university degrees, two degrees from the Culinary Institute of Canada at Holland College, and had already gotten a business, the Green Island Catering Company, off the ground. They had been catering the Prince Edward Island Legislature’s “Speaker’s Tartan Tea” for three years.

“It’s easier to get a loan for a food truck, since the truck is an asset,” said Mike.

Lenders are understandably skittish, given that 60% of eatery start-ups go out of business within a year and 80% within five years. Even though many entrepreneurs believe failure isn’t an option so long as their determination to succeed is strong enough, it is more often the case, as Winston Churchill said, “Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.”

No matter what your best shot is, doing almost anything worthwhile carries with it some kind of risk. It’s only when you don’t try, on the other hand, when you don’t play ball with failure as a possibility, you don’t take any risks. But, since Mike Levy getting to the Yellow House was, in the first place, only made possible by playing poker, he stepped up to the plate.

“Some friends and I were playing poker on-line,” he said. “I had written a paper in university about gambling sites. I loved poker because there is a way to play that isn’t just pure luck.”

A native of Unionville, a once-farmland suburb of Toronto, Mike was living and working in Calgary, Alberta, after graduating from nearby Lethbridge College. “The money we won that night didn’t split evenly, so I let my buddies have it so long as they let me have the ticket to get into the next tournament.”

He couldn’t lose.

“I knew enough to know it wasn’t skill. No matter what I did it didn’t matter. I made it up to twenty grand. Anybody tells you gambling isn’t an addiction is full of it. I could feel myself itching to go back to the computer and play more. The only thing that saved me was the thought, in the back of my mind, Jen will kill me.”

Jennifer Johnston, his wife-to-be, was finishing her degree at Leftbridge College. Mike was working at the Dockside Bar & Grill. A meat packing plant squatted next door to the restaurant. Working behind the bar, some of his tips were in lieu of cash.

“I’d come home with a box of steaks.”

After dinner – after watching “After the Sunset” – a movie about a master thief who retires to the archipelago following his last big score, Mike popped the question one night. “There was a song in the movie, the pineapple song, and I couldn’t get it out of my head. I finally said, Jen, do you want to try the Caribbean?”

“What? Where?” Jennifer asked.

“I figured she was going to ask.” He had done his research beforehand. “The Grand Cayman Islands fit all of our requirements. The history was British, the laws were similar to what we were used to, and the currency was stable. It was safe and everyone spoke English.”

They parlayed their winnings into moving lock stock and barrel three thousand miles southeast of the Canadian Rockies, from where high temperatures in summer in Cowtown meant the mid-70s, to where low temperatures never fall below the mid-70s, summer or winter.

Grand Cayman is the largest of the three islands. Hundreds of offshore banks and tourism drive the economy. Orchids, mahogany and palm trees, and many kinds of fruit trees dot the landscape, as do turtles and racer snakes. They are known as racer snakes because they tend to race away when encountered.

After living in town they found lodgings on the seashore. “A doctor who owned a beach house needed somebody to look after the property,” he said. They lived in the caretaker’s apartment. “It was only rented twice a year, by a nun who was a writer, very active politically. She drank me under the table twice a year.”

Jennifer found work immediately as a server at the Royal Palms on Seven Mile Beach. “She’s a cute blonde girl, she got hired in ten seconds.” The Royal Palms is the closest beach bar to the cruise ship port. She later worked as one of the managers at the Dolphin Swim Club, where tourists paid to swim with fish.  “I’d visit her and a dolphin would go flying by her office window.”

It took Mike a few weeks, but he finally found a job as a junior bartender at the Westin. “You get all the bad shifts at first,” he said. “You get screwed. You make no money. I put in my dues. After a few months I got better shifts.”

Mike and Jennifer worked in Grand Cayman for almost three years. “It’s a very stratified economy,” said Mike. “You’re either very rich or very poor. But it was semi-affordable for us.” On off days they rode their Vespa around the island, taking martial arts and yoga classes on the beach. “Afterwards we’d swim in the ocean, go out for brunch.”

He learned to get along with his boss. “He had been down there for more than thirty years, from Saskatchewan. He was a bald-headed, serious-looking, aggressive-looking guy. Everybody called him Bitter Bob. When I found out why, I felt bad.”

Thirty-or-so years earlier, with his island sweetheart, visiting Miami where he planned to propose, she was killed in an accident in the street, run down by a city bus. He went back to Grand Cayman and never talked about what happened.

Many years later, shortly before Mike and Jennifer’s leave-taking of Grand Cayman, Bitter Bob and his friend Fabio Carletti came out on top.

“Fabio grew up in rural Italy, flamboyantly gay, and his village chased him out,” said Mike. “He and Bob bought a nothing-special plot of land on the west end of the island, except it turned out their little acre had the only deep-water well in the area. They sold it for millions.”

Fabio went back to Italy and bought his mother a car. He bought her a big house. He told off all the villagers, as well.

“Bob sorted himself out, was getting happy, but when I told him we were leaving he held a grudge for months. You get attached to people down there.”

The couple returned to Toronto to get married in order that both of their Ontario families could celebrate the nuptials. It was just in time for Mike’s grandfather to make it to the wedding, too. “He passed away a few months later on the only golf course he ever got a hole-in-one in his entire life.”

He suffered a heart attack walking up the hill to the green of that same hole.

Mike’s family has long been entrepreneurs and business people. They broke ground for Mastermind Toys, a 300-square-foot store, in 1984 in Toronto. It became a chain of toy stores that became Canada’s largest specialty toy and children’s books retailer. “I picked up our first shipment of Beanie Babies,” said Mike Levy, who was then a teenager. “I remember thinking, this is the stupidest thing ever.” By the mid-1990s Beanie Babies had become a craze. In 2010 Andy and Jon Levy collaborated with Birch Hill Equity Partners, masterminding the company’s national expansion.

After high school Mike joined the army. He was 18-years-old when he was sent on his first out-of-country mission. “They sent us to Fort Benning to train with the Rangers.”  The US Army Rangers describe themselves as an agile, flexible, and lethal force. One of their beliefs is “complete the mission, though I be the lone survivor.“

The only thing they’re afraid of, it turns out, are snow snakes.

Fort Benning is named after a Civil War-era Confederate States general and is ‘Home of the Infantry’ in the United States. The Canadians marched in the woods all day carrying nearly a hundred pounds of gear and rucksack. They went on simulated search-and-destroy exercises at night. They set up bivouacs in the dark, exhausted, in the middle of nowhere.

When they befriended a troop of American counterparts being posted to the far north, they warned them about Canada’s deadly snow snakes. “Heading up north, eh? The snow snakes are bad this year.” They were met with blank stares.

“What’s a snow snake?”

“They tunnel through the snow. They’ve got long fangs and can bite right through your boots.”

“My God! Are they poisonous?”

“You know the two-step? With those things, they bite you, it’s more like one step.”

The entrepreneurial Canadians offered the Americans their own down-home antidote. It looked like a can of tuna fish with a label that said “Arctic Snow Snake Bite Kit”. The reason it looked like a can of tuna fish was because it was a can of tuna fish with an improvised label the Canadians had designed and printed and stuck on the can.

They sold the antidote like hot cakes for ten dollars a can until they were caught. “Some moron had done it the year before, so they caught us in about twenty minutes.”

“Don’t be idiots,” their commanding officer said.

“They let us go even though they were mad.”

When Mike Levy boarded the plane back to Canada the following month he was told to never come back to Fort Benning. “I’m not sure if the ban is still in place,” he said. In any event, he was leaving the army. “I went off to university the next year.”

After getting married Mike and Jennifer flew to Prince Edward Island for their honeymoon. They stayed at the Inn at St. Peters. “We loved it.” They went to the Provincial Plowing Match and Agricultural Fair in nearby Dundas. Jennifer entered the Wife Hollering Contest.

“You literally had to call your husband to dinner,” said Mike. “I was wandering around a field when I heard my name shrieked out. I stood at attention. The guys around me, I could see them thinking, the poor bastard, I wonder what he did.”

Jennifer Levy won first prize.

“Many of the Canadians we knew in Grand Cayman were from Prince Edward Island,” said Mike. “They always said PEI had good people, good food, and was a great place. That is where you want to go.”

In 2011 the Levy’s moved to PEI and enrolled in the two-year program at the Culinary Institute. In the meantime they cut their teeth working in the kitchen at the Inn at St. Peters, the Orange Lunch Box, the province’s first food truck, and the Delta Hotel in downtown Charlottetown. On his first shift his first day at the Delta, the chef, Javier Alarco, asked him if he had ever shucked a lobster.

“A couple, at school,” said Mike.

“Oh, good. There is a dinner party for the Liberal party tonight. We’ve got 600 lobsters. The kitchen’s got three hours to shuck them.”

Shucking a lobster means twisting off the large claws, separating the tail from the body, breaking off the tail flippers, opening the body, and extracting all the meat. “My first thought was, that’s not going to happen. But, we got it done.” The next day a hundred pounds of potatoes, a hundred pounds of carrots, a hundred pounds of celery, and a hundred pounds of turnips were delivered to his work surface.

“Small dice, three hours, go,” said Chef Alarco.

“That hurt!” said Mike.

The politicians wining and dining in the ballroom at the Delta might have wondered, how hard can it be to boil a lobster? The work in a commercial professional kitchen is hard, hard keeping track of all the sharp knives and sharp edges of stainless steel, hard on your arms and shoulders and back from lifting all during your shift, hard on your legs from being on them all the time. There is nothing that requires a chair for the doing. There isn’t any time to sit, anyway.

There isn’t any time for explaining and complaining.

After finishing culinary school the Levy’s had a plan. Their plan was to work on privately owned yachts plying the high seas. “We were going to find a billionaire who wanted a private chef,” said Mike. “We had the connections from working in Grand Cayman. The pay is outrageous.”

Most super-yachts spend winters in the Caribbean and summers in the Mediterranean. Sometimes they are chartered and other times they are anchored in quiet spots with their owner. Produce has to be bought in port towns, but fishermen often deliver fresh catch to the boat. Although chefs are disconnected from their family and friends for weeks and months, they accrue their wages since there is nowhere to spend it.

“When you’re done they give you a check and away you go,” said Mike. “I thought that was brilliant. That’s what we were preparing to do.” But, sometimes your way of life happens to you, not the other way around, or as John Lennon said, “Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.”

Before Mike and Jennifer could sail away they got a phone call from Ontario’s Child Protective Services. Jennifer’s sister, beset by problems with drugs and drink, and the mother of two children, emotionally neglected and in-and-out of care, was on the threshold of losing her children.

“We are going to adopt the children out, unless you, as eligible family members, take them, and agree to make PEI their home,” they were told.

“You have to declare your intent within 24 hours, yes or no.”

The children, Jacob and Madeline, were 7 and 12-years-old. “They had been moving from shelter to shelter, living in crappy apartments. They weren’t living, just surviving, no opportunities. It’s not that I love kids so much, but it was take it or leave it. I could never say no,” said Mike.

“No cruise, two kids, it was a hell of a change.”

They stayed on Prince Edward Island, buying a house in Rusticoviille, where the North Rustico Harbour meets the Hunter River. “My family strongly supported us, they helped us get our house, and a small allowance to take care of the kids, so that we wouldn’t just be scraping by, so they could lead a normal life.”

The Levy household turned on the lights.

“The kids were a stabilizing factor in our lives, too, even though they cost me years of idyllic luxury.”

Not only had they lost the life of Riley, now they had to support their newfound children. Their fledgling catering company was growing, but it wasn’t enough. “We needed a more solid income,” said Mike. When they found the vacant Yellow House, Jennifer Levy was dead set on getting it. “Ten years from now people are going to look back, how did you get so lucky and find a nice spot like this,” she said.

They still needed funding to bring it to life. They got it when they put the problem on the doorstep of Anne Kirk, the mayor of North Rustico. “She was so pissed, so incensed,” said Mike. “I’ve got three or four businesses like yourself and nobody’s helping them,” she said. “Come back in few days.”

The mayor went to Charlottetown, the capital of the province. “She lambasted everybody about helping small businesses in rural areas,” said Mike. “Sure enough, we got our funding.” They got some from the non-profit Futurepreneur, a loan from the Bank of Canada, and kicked in the balance themselves. They opened in July 2016.

The Yellow House is not a halfway house on the way to a sandwich.

“We had Lester the Lobster Roll for lunch,” said a man with his hands full of a lobster roll. “A wonderful taste of lemon zest on a fresh and flaky roll, yummy.”

“The best ever cod burger with homemade tartar sauce,” said a woman eating a cod burger.

It’s not duck soup, either.

“The service is limited, the menu is limited, but we would go back in a heartbeat,” said a man finishing a bowl of chowder. “The food is outstanding.”

The first year their menu was take-out only. “We didn’t have any indoor seating or a public access washroom,” said Mike. They fried with a small portable unit and lived without a commercial fume hood. Mike and Jennifer did all the work. Mike was the boss and Jennifer was the decision-maker. “We cooked all the food from scratch. It was exhausting.”

The second year they renovated their washroom, added indoor and outdoor seating, and added staff. “Jen and I still do a good chunk of the cooking, but we hired a young guy, Jake, who has the right temperament to work in a hot stressful environment with lots of people yelling around you. He’s ambidextrous, too. When he’s chopping vegetables and his hand gets tired, he flips his knife into the other hand.”

Their adopted family helps out, likewise. “Maddie does a great job maintaining the garden and cleaning up after us.”

They fill their larder locally as much as possible. “We’ve got an intense island focus,” said Mike. They procure garlic from nearby Eureka Garlic. It has a deep earthy sweet flavor. Their gouda cheese comes from nearby Glasgow Glen Farm. Their cured meats come from nearby Mt. Stewart. “They smoke them like they would have a hundred years ago.”

Moving into their third year, the Levy’s continue to cater, working out of the Yellow House, servicing weddings, meet-and-greets, and Buddhist retreats.

Even though fewer than a few hundred natives of the province identify themselves as Buddhists, there are two large religious communities on the southeastern end of Prince Edward Island. The Great Enlightenment Buddhist Institute Society is for monks and the Great Wisdom Buddhist Institute is for nuns. Monks and nuns typically study for fourteen years.

“They were having a retreat and Molly Chang, the coordinator, reached out to us. We had no idea about Buddhists. When I asked her how many people would be there, she said, oh, maybe five hundred.”

There was a pause. Mike Levy tried to downplay the numbers. “Oh, we do those all the time, no problem.”

”It’s got to be vegan.”

“Sure, no problem,” repeated Mike.

The problem was how to plan prepare lick into shape that much food in the limited space of the Yellow House, transport it an hour-and-a half away, keeping the hot food hot and the chilled food chilled, get it ready to be served on time, and then serve it. “There was a lot of fear and anxiety,” said Mike. “But they were great. When you watch TV and see the super wise calm thing Buddhists do, the first nun we met did that, and it all went well.”

At the end of the event the organizers showed their gratitude to the vendors and suppliers on hand by asking them to step up on stage and take a bow. “We had taken Jacob, our eleven-year-old, with us, and after the applause, leaving the auditorium, I looked around, where’s Jacob? I looked back to the stage. There he was center stage, alone, bowing to all the Chinese people, thinking he might be the next Buddha.”

He wasn’t the next Buddha, just that day’s Buddha.

“The nuns thought he was cute as anything.”

Buddhists take as gospel that we existed before we were born and we will have another life after we die. They believe the cycle of life and death continues endlessly, or at least until one achieves enlightenment, or liberation, losing the attachment to existence in the first place.

In the meantime, no matter how many times you’re born again, they believe in being mindful of what you say and do, mindful in your livelihood, and having care and concern in your heart for others so you can, in the end, understand yourself.

Once Jacob was coaxed off stage, however, it was back to work, loading up for the road back to North Rustico.

If kitchens are the heart of all houses, the Yellow House is all heart.

Ed Staskus posts feature stories on Red Island http://www.redislandpei.com Paperback Yoga http://www.paperbackyoga.com 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Lithuanian Journal http://www.lithuanianjournal.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

Feet to the Fire

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By Ed Staskus

The first summer Doug McKinney joined the staff at the Landmark Café in Victoria, on the south shore of Canada’s Prince Edward Island, he joined at the bottom. He was a busboy. One of the first times he cleaned a table in the newer back dining room of the restaurant, he miscalculated the ceiling.

“I was clearing a mussel dish off a table, stood straight up, and hit my head,” he said. “It was like somebody hitting you right on the top of your head. I blacked out for a second.”

Doug is slightly taller than six feet eight inches. The ceiling is slightly shorter than six feet six inches. Something had to give.

He didn’t make the same mistake twice, although there were several more close calls. Almost knocking yourself out one time is often the charm, never mind any more times.

“I’ve always been the kind of person, if I don’t know how to do something, I’m going to ask, or I’m just going to go ahead and do it. Maybe I do it right. Maybe I do it wrong. If I do it wrong, I’ll probably only do it wrong once.”

An only child, Doug grew up on the eastern end of the island, near Montague. The small town is known as “Montague the Beautiful” for its river, tree-lined streets, and heritage homes. His father was a Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer. In 1993 his dad was struck by a fatal heart attack. The boy was 7-years-old.

The 33-year-old man has a tattoo on his chest honoring his father.

The following year his mother and he moved to Charlottetown, the capitol city of the province.

“The RCMP relocated them, bought them a house,” said Rachel Sauve, Doug’s fiancée.

“They are good for that,” said Doug. “I went from living in a rural community to a brand new suburb. My mom spoiled me a lot, for sure. There were lots of kids my own age. I was playing sports, basketball, and we had more than two TV channels.”

By the time he was 15 he was growing more and playing more basketball. He spent early mornings and late evenings at hoops. You can’t do it by loafing around. Practice makes it happen, not just wanting it to happen, and his growth spurt, which can’t be taught, took him up a notch.

As much as basketball was becoming his life, life and death came knocking.

“I was playing in the Canada Games in 2001 when my mother was diagnosed with cancer,” he said. “I came back home, and even though she had only been given until Christmas, she made it until April.”

An inking honoring his mother joined his father’s tattoo on his chest.

“When I lost her, I put more emphasis on basketball.” Not yet grown up, he had to grow up on his own. It was get up stand up for yourself on your own two feet. He treated every day on the hardwood like every day was his last day draining a jump shot.

“Basketball was developed to meet a need,” said James Naismith, the inventor of the game.

Doug played basketball at university and professionally until he was thirty. A graduate of Charlottetown Rural High School, he played five seasons with the UPEI Panthers. Later he played internationally in Lebanon, and after returning to Prince Edward Island, played four seasons with the Island Storm of Canada’s National Basketball League.

He had his ups and downs fast breaking crashing the boards shooting floaters, like every player, since even the superstars barely shoot 50% for the season, but he knew how to recognize his mistakes, learn from them, and then forget them. He never let an opponent try harder than he did.

”It’s basically grown men who do this for a job,” he said when trying out for the Island Storm in 2011. “Everybody is strong, everybody is athletic. I just try to play hard, sweat as much as I can every day, show that I’m willing to work.” Going nose to nose with grown men means proving yourself every day.

He was named to the NBL All-Star Second Team the 2012 – 2113 season.

When his team needed him to score, he scored. During game seven of the NBL Canada Finals in 2014 he went 7 of 8 from the field, 4 of 4 from the 3-point line, threw in an assist, a steal, and three rebounds, and set a playoff record that still stands for most points scored in the fewest minutes.

Basketball is a team game, to the extent that even the best basketball players, like Michael Jordan and LeBron James, could never have won multiple championships without solid teams around them. Doug McKinney’s pro career as a power forward was solid on getting it done.

Ask not what your teammates can do for you. Ask what you can do for your teammates. Make the extra pass.

After retiring from the pro game he has continued to work with the sport. Last year he was the Minor Basketball Advisor for Basketball Prince Edward Island, helping players and coaches of grassroots programs in PEI communities.

In the meantime, he re-connected with Rachel Sauve.

“We first met in 2002-or-so,” she said. “I was dating one of Doug’s teammates at UPEI.”

Years later they ran into each other at Baba’s Lounge in Charlottetown.

“One of my Storm teammates texted me that he was there, and even though I usually never went there, I went,” said Doug. “I saw her, she gave me a big hug, we hung out for a little bit, and after I left I couldn’t stop thinking about her.”

“I don’t think either of us were looking for a relationship, but we didn’t want to pass it up,” said Rachel. ”We both are islanders and want to be here.”

“I think we both knew there was something other than the fact that I’m really tall and she’s definitely shorter, something special about our energy together,” said Doug.

Rachel was working at the Landmark Café, her family’s homemade soup signature quiche traditional meat pies hot-off-the-press seafood all made fresh daily sit-down in the heart of their small town. The produce is local organic and they make their own salad dressings. Her father, Eugene, and mother, Julia, had staked out the restaurant, several times expanded since, excavating a new basement for storage and coolers, building new dining rooms, and adding an outdoor deck, twenty nine years earlier in what had once been Annie Craig’s Grocery Store and Post Office, kitty corner from the Victoria Playhouse.

“As kids my brother and I were always helping, doing stuff at the restaurant, washing dishes, running to the freezers for ice cream,” said Rachel.

Her father’s entrepreneurship rubbed off on her.

“I sat out front at a picnic table and sold stuff,” she said. “ I was 11, 12-years-old.”

She sold wood figurines, creating faces and outfits for them. She sold bootleg Anne of Green Gables straw hats with red braids. She sold wax jewelry that she and a friend designed and molded out of leftover wax from the café.

“We had a problem with it, though, because the wax would melt in the sun. We put it in boxes so it wouldn’t start melting until the tourists had left the village.”

The family has worked together at the Landmark from the word go.

Shortly after Doug and Rachel had gone from an encounter to a thing together, the restaurant posted a “Help Wanted” for the summer season sign.

Once Doug got the parameters of the back dining room’s ceiling right, he went from busboy to server to integral part of the roster, picking up vittles in the morning, working long into the night cleaning up and closing down.

“It goes back to growing up and playing on teams,” he said. “I’ve played on good ones. I’ve played on bad ones. I’ve always prided myself on being a team player. The Landmark is the kind of place, you’re either going to swim or you’re going to sink.”

“You either do the dance or you don’t do the dance,” said Rachel.

Working for a family business is a dynamic unlike other work. Your mom and dad or grandparents started it from scratch and you’re never going to be one of the founding fathers. Sometimes it’s one big happy family at the dinner table, but sometimes it’s like the Mafia. Whatever the big cheese says is what goes, and you have to come to grips with it.

Doug spent four years at the Landmark Café.

“I was actually the tallest server east of Montreal,” said Doug. “I didn’t want to just serve anywhere, except the Landmark.”

Their lives took a turn toward the end of last winter when they came to a fork in the road and took it. They had just come back to Prince Edward Island from several weeks in Cuba. “That was our last hurrah before the summer,” said Rachel. But once at home, instead of going back to work at the Landmark Café, Doug and Rachel took jobs with Fairholm Inn and Properties.

The collection of archetypal inns in downtown Charlottetown, including the eponymous Fairholm Inn, the Hillhurst Inn, and the Cranford House, share the same grounds, gardens, and outdoor fire-pit. The Fairholm Inn is a National Historic Site, originally a large family home built in 1838 for Thomas Haviland, a many times mayor of the capitol city.

Doug and Rachel are the Jack and Jill of all trades at Fairholm.

“I do the front desk, maintenance work, a little bit of everything,” said Doug.

“They wanted me to learn how to edit websites,” sad Rachel. “Now I know how to edit websites.”

“After Rachel got hired, they needed more help on their team, and thought I could help them out,” said Doug.

“He’s been building cabinets there,” said Rachel.

“It’s awesome working together,” said Doug “We’ve found that even when we’re not working, we go golfing together, go places on the island, have adventures.”

Fairholm Properties schedules most of their days off at the same time.

“It’s evolved into us realizing we work well together. After five years we’re at a spot where we’re trying to figure out our next life,” said Rachel.

“Our next play,” said Doug. “I’m adding stuff to my tool belt, but at the same time, we want to work for ourselves.”

“It might be a tabletop, food truck, catering, something,” said Rachel. “We’re lucky on this island. We have the best local seafood and meat. I can’t see myself being out of that line of work. My dad taught me. All my cooking skills are from him. I’ve got his cooking style in my blood.”

Her father and his Landmark Café have long made the list in the independent guide ‘Where to Eat in Canada’. He is known for his fusion of Asian, Cajun, and native PEI foods, and was once known as a pioneer for his never fried and healthy fare. He is still known for his tasty healthy never fried fare.

Doug’s mother had been a manager at Myron’s in Charlottetown, which was one of eastern Canada’s biggest and most popular sports bar restaurant nightclub concert venues of its time.

“I grew up in the industry without even realizing it,” said Doug.

There isn’t much needed to make your life. It’s all within you, in your way of thinking, in knowing what you want. Being an entrepreneur is a mindset. What it takes is taking the plunge, putting everything you’ve got into being your own boss, exploiting your opportunities when you get them.

It’s jumping off the Confederation Bridge to catch a flying fish. You might go splat in the Northumberland Straight. It will test your risk aversion, but it is, at least, one way to start swimming. You might, on the other hand, land in the fish market, show you’re worth your salt, because you saw something and built your wings on the way down.

No risk no reward.

“We have ideas for our own food venue,” said Rachel, “We’re not chefs, but we’re both great cooks.”

“We eat like kings at home,” said Doug.

“I want the lifestyle, the lifestyle I’ve been living all my life,” said Rachel.

“I’ve gotten to love it, too,” said Doug. “Grind all summer and then find summer somewhere else.”

“I’m not going to sit at a desk,” said Rachel. “That’s not going to happen.”

Whatever does happen, the two of them are undeniably hand to the plow. When they were with the Landmark Café they often worked seven days a week, twelve and fourteen hours a day, most of those hours on their feet. Restaurant work is hard enough, but seasonal restaurant work is getting down to business, not a moment to lose.

“We know many people in the food industry on the island, and some of them want us to work for them, but we want to have our own thing,” said Rachel.

Although raising capital is always a problem for new ventures, especially those related to food enterprises, Rachel Sauve and Doug McKinney are willing to work steadfast persevering to achieve their ends.

“I’m not too good to wash dishes, to do whatever it takes,“ said Doug. “There are a lot of opportunities to capitalize on the food scene on Prince Edward Island in the summertime.”

“When I do a post-up of something we’re cooking at home at night, and I see the reaction, I know it’s something I should be doing,” said Rachel. “We’re trying to mold our future.”

Rachel and Doug may be on a small team at the moment, since it is only the two of them on the roster, far from first place in the standings, but they are on one another’s side, both of them no ifs buts or maybes, their minds made up to make it happen.

“That’s the difference maker,” said Doug. “When you know what you want, you can make a difference.”

Everything’s on the front burner, pots and pans, the kitchen sink, plans goals around the corner, their feet to the bright side of the fire.

Ed Staskus posts feature stories on Red Island http://www.redislandpei.com Paperback Yoga http://www.paperbackyoga.com 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Lithuanian Journal http://www.lithuanianjournal.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

Walking Tall

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By Ed Staskus

“Waiting for an invitation to arrive, goin’ to a party where no one’s still alive.” Dead Man’s Party, Oingo Boingo  

Barron Cannon laughed and made loop de loops at the side of his head with his index finger.

“Orange Julius has a screw loose,” he said. “But, since he’s at the top, he can take his crazy visions and turn them into reality. He’s like a saint from the Dark Ages who ate a moldy loaf of rye and saw God. It makes you wonder, am I or they round the bend?” He made a fist, raised his thumb, extended two fingers parallel to each other, and blew on the fingers. “Where there’s smoke there’s fire.”

Smoke signals and mirrors. Lipstick sour looks lapel flag pins and soapboxes in the halls of power. Men and women in ten thousand dollar suits slowing down when they see a mirror.

We were sitting in the only place there are any chairs in Barron’s small neighborhood yoga studio, at the front by the windows facing the parking lot. The Quiet Mind is on Clifton Boulevard on the Lakewood side of West 117th Street. Across the street is Cleveland, Ohio. He was drinking homemade Kombucha out of a Starbucks travel mug and I was drinking McCafe drive-thru coffee.

Barron had an Apple laptop in his lap. He was updating a Facebook post he had made offering yoga classes in return for turning in your guns. I chewed on my pencil. He was making like Wyatt Earp.

In 1881, when Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday were running things in Tombstone, you could bring your gun into town, but you couldn’t keep it while in town. You had to check it into the sheriff’s office. There was stricter gun control in the Wild West than there is today. Nowadays in Tombstone, Arizona, anyone can carry a Ruger semi-automatic pistol in a fancy holster on his rattlesnake belt. There is no Wyatt Earp anymore with a Colt Peacemaker telling you to stash your gun in the sheriff’s office for the duration.

Barron Cannon’s amnesty program was in response to the massacre of 26 churchgoers in a small Texas town on November 5th, on a suddenly not quiet Sunday morning. President Donald Trump, kowtowing to the gun lobby, said after the shooting, “I think that mental health is your problem here.”

“I mean, when I say a loose screw, he signed a bill that Congress, the Republicans, the lunatics running the asylum, earlier in the year voted through that made it easier for crazy people to buy guns legally. I should probably say mentally ill, but if you’re buying six-shooters for protection, you’re crazier than the mentally ill. The horse is out of the barn. It’s blasting time, AR-15’s all around!”

Barron was working both sides of the street, as is his wont, but he had a point. One of Donald Trump’s first reactions in the White House was to roll back an Obama-era law that made it harder for people with mental illnesses to buy firearms. He made it easier, no trouble, a piece of cake.

“It is the height of hypocrisy for President Trump – who called the latest tragic mass shooting ‘a mental health problem at the highest level’ – to have rolled back a rule specifically designed to prevent some gun violence deaths,” said Senator Richard Blumental of Connecticut.

“Blaming mental health is a tactic straight out of the gun lobby’s playbook,” said Peter Ambler, executive director of Giffords, the gun control group started by former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in 2011, along with 18 other people, at a constituent meeting in Arizona.

“Maybe it’s more like crazy as a fox,” I said.

“The United States used to be a safe place, but not anymore. This year it ranked 114th on the Global Peace Index. It ranks lower every year. We’re edging towards Iraq and Syria. Maybe the Republicans are right. Maybe what we need are more not less guns.”

“Nope, wrong,” he said.

Barron Cannon can be abrupt high-hat holier-than-thou. He is not a sensitive, bias-free, politically correct man. Even though he has a Master’s Degree in Comparative Philosophy and is in his early 30s, he often behaves and speaks as though he grew up in the 1930s. He is as blunt barefaced austere as anybody from back in the Depression.

Barron Cannon is, however, hardly ever depressed. He says happiness doesn’t depend on the external, but rather on our mental attitude. The free flow yoga he teaches is as much about mental health as it is about physical health.

“The reason the United States is getting more dangerous is because there are more and more guns, not less,” he said. “Canada, Japan, and Australia are some of the safest places to live in the world, while here it’s every man for himself and God against all. Conservative Christians have more guns than anybody else.”

An American is 300 times more likely to be killed by a gun than a Japanese.

“There are hardly any guns in those countries,” he said. “All the guns are here.”

“They can’t all be here,” I said.

“Right you are, Jocko,” he said. My name isn’t Jocko, but Barron often fixes nicknames to people, like Shorty for a tall man and Train Track for someone wearing braces. His nickname for himself is Dazzy.

All of the White House men have had nicknames, from Father of the Country to Give ‘Em Hell Harry to No Drama Obama. Barron’s nickname for Donald Trump is Orange Julius.

“Not all the guns in the world are here, just most of them. There are fewer than 5% of the people on the planet here in the USA, but we have almost 50% of the guns in the world. Nobody messes with us. The Senate and the House, and now Trump World, they have their noses snagged in the NRA money clip. It stinks, but they can’t smell anything beyond the stench of fresh new one hundred dollar bills.”

A gun buyback program is a program to purchase privately owned guns, reducing how many guns there are in general among the general population. In 2003 and again in 2009 Brazil bought and destroyed more than a million guns. Firearm related mortality was reduced.

Gun amnesty programs involve handing in guns you shouldn’t have without being prosecuted for having them. In July 2017 Australia announced a national firearms amnesty. Anyone with an illegal firearm could turn it over to the police. Otherwise, they faced a quarter-million dollar fine. More than 50,000 guns were turned in.

In 1996 a gunman killed 35 tourists in Australia. It was the worst mass murder in the country’s history. By the end of the year, led by a conservative Prime Minister, sweeping gun control laws were put in place. A buyback resulted in more than 600,000 semi-automatic weapons being destroyed. There hasn’t been a mass shooting in Australia since.

In this country, more men, women, and children have been killed by gunfire in the past 50 years than have been killed on all the battlefields in all the wars America has ever fought. Gun control laws in the United States are, in general, laughable.

“I have a very strict gun control policy,” said Clint Eastwood, play acting being a bounty hunter dressed up as a rodeo clown in the caper movie “Pink Cadillac”.

“If there’s a gun around, I want to be in control of it.”

That is the state of gun control in the United States.

After the Las Vegas bloodbath on the night of October 1st in which 59 people were killed and more than 500 injured by a lone gunman with an army squad kettle of semi-automatic weapons fitted with bump stocks, Malcom Turnbull, the current Australian Prime Minister, said the politics of gun ownership in America was “almost beyond comprehension.”

He pointed out the intractable problem guns pose in the United States.

“There is a ferociously strong political lobby and the National Rifle Association, and millions of Americans who own guns and cherish their constitutional right to bear arms, But, of course, the right to bear arms was an 18th century concept, long before automatic weapons were even thought of, let alone invented.”

Americans are crazy about their guns. They often claim they need them for home security, which begs the question, how many enemies do they have? However, they rarely, if ever, go to home security trade shows and conventions. They go to gun trade shows and conventions, swap meets online purveyors private sellers, no background checks required. They love their guns.

What’s crazy is that after Sandy Hook, where 20 children and 6 teachers were killed in an elementary school, nothing changed, except that more guns have been sold in the past five years. It has become the new normal to massacre concertgoers, churchgoers, and kids going to school.

“Aren’t mass murderers crazy?” I asked.

“Nope, no matter what Orange Julius says,” said Barron Cannon. “It’s about one in five who are delusional or psychotic. Neither the Orlando nightclub shooter nor the Las Vegas killer had any apparent mental illnesses, unless you believe shooting people in and of itself is a mental illness. What they were was angry and disgruntled.”

“That’s not what the White House says,” I said.

“I know, but that’s what the Department of Justice says, which knows better than Orange Julius, who only knows blowhard bluster on Twitter. Most mass murderers are injustice collectors with gun collections. When you have a paranoid streak, that’s a personal problem. When you have a paranoid streak and a boatload of guns, then that becomes everybody’s problem. That’s what Orange Julius doesn’t want to talk about. ”

The NRA and gun enthusiasts are fond of saying guns don’t kill people, people kill people. They oppose regulations protecting American citizens from crazy malevolent gun violence. They never talk about Jayne Mansfield or Tylenol, since it would make everybody dizzy at NRA headquarters.

In 1967, when the Hollywood sexpot Jayne Mansfield rear-ended a tractor-trailer, ramming her car underneath it and dying as a result, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration immediately made it mandatory for all semi- truck trailers to be fitted with under-ride bars. In 1982, when 7 people in Chicago died from poisoned Tylenol, federal anti-tampering laws were immediately put in place. Bottles of everything medical have been hellishly hard to open ever since.

Between 1968 and 2015 the total deaths caused by firearms in the United States were 1,516,863. Getting shot is an immediate experience, since bullets travel on average 1,7000 MPH. Since 1968 it has gotten easier, not harder, to buy all the bigger badder faster-blasting guns you want. The pace of writing common sense gun laws has stayed at ZERO MPH.

“When it come to guns everyone’s got their reason, the 2nd Amendment, target shooting, recreation, whatever that means, hunting, and personal protection,” said Barron. “The NRA and Orange Julius gush about the 2nd Amendment as an argument against gun control, but almost no one cares about that.”

The Gallup Poll consistently shows that about 5% of people who own guns cite the amendment as their reason.

“Personal safety is the reason most people own a gun,” he said.

The Gallup Poll has always shown that protecting themselves has been, by a wide margin, the number one reason people buy guns.

Whenever there is a mass murder, like the recent mass murders in Las Vegas and Texas, support for stricter gun laws spikes. After a month-or-so, even though more than 80% of Americans consider gun violence a big problem, interest fades until the next mass murder. In the meantime, Congress and the White House do nothing, except mouth platitudes about their thoughts and prayers being with the dead the wounded and their families.

They never actually get off their NRA-bought-and-paid-for bottoms and buy into 21st century gun control. “It’s time for Congress to get off its ass and do something,” said Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut. The chances of that happening are close to ZERO.

“Sometimes the notion that American society is inherently violent is floated as a reason there’s so much gun violence,” said Barron. ”Or it’s video games or racism or poverty. Conservative Christians say Satan is to blame. Orange Julius and Congress spearhead the notion that only crazy people are mass murderers. They propagate it being a nut case problem, not a gun problem.”

He looked down at his laptop and finished editing his Facebook post. When Barron Cannon has a great notion it’s best to wait him out.

“That’s all wrong,” he said. “It’s essentially about the astronomical number of guns in this country. That’s the problem. The other problem is that no wise man ever took a handgun to a gunfight. The times change and technology changes. You always take bigger and better ordinance.”

The more guns the more shooting.

“Yemen and Serbia have the next-highest rate of gun ownership in the world, next to the United States,” said Barron. “The United States has the highest rate of mass shootings in the world. It’s Boot Hill all over again, writ large.”

In the United States the homicide rate is 33 per million people, greater than any other developed country in the world. In Canada it is 0.7 per million. You are 50 times more likely to be shot and killed on the American side of Niagara Falls than you are on the Canadian side.

When the front door opened both Barron Cannon and I looked up. The tall young man stopped in the doorway, the late morning light silhouetting him. He had a Glock “Safe Action” Sig Sauer stuffed into the waistband of his black Levi’s.

Ohio is an open carry state.

“What can we do for you, partner?” asked Barron.

“Are you the outfit that’s doing the gun amnesty?”

“Sure are.”

“Well, this is what I’ve got for you,” said the lanky stranger. He pointed down at the bulge in his pants. “I can’t shoot straight, anyways.” He tugged the gun out of his waistband and handed it butt first to Barron.

“It’s not loaded.”

“That’s neighborly of you.”

“So I get 20 yoga classes for it?”

“That’s right,” said Barron. He flipped open his laptop. “Let’s get you signed up.”

Afterwards, after we had delivered the Glock to the Lakewood Police Department, during lunch at Melt Bar and Grill up the street, over a whiskey on ice in a lowball glass that I insisted Barron buy me to settle my nerves, I asked him if he thought his gun amnesty program would make any difference.

“There’s no energy in death,” he said. “There’s only life energy. If the White House and Congress won’t pull the trigger on gun control, then what we need is more breath control. That’s where yoga comes in. You can learn to be breathless without getting the breath knocked out of you by a bullet.”

Mao Zedong, the Communist Chinese dictator, was notorious for saying, “In order to get rid of the gun it is necessary to take up the gun.”

“He’s long gone,” said Barron. “Good riddance. I say it’s necessary to take up yoga.”

“I’ll drink to that,” I said.

Ed Staskus posts feature stories on Red Island http://www.redislandpei.com Paperback Yoga http://www.paperbackyoga.com 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Lithuanian Journal http://www.lithuanianjournal.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

Let ‘Er Rip

louise-et-Jonathan

By Ed Staskus

“J’aurais quelque chose a dire.”  Barachois

The Sterling Women’s Institute is the Stanley Bridge Hall on the corner of Route 6 and Rattenbury Road on the north-central coast of Prince Edward Island. The small town of Stanley Bridge spreads out in all directions.

A new traffic circle at the old intersection keeps the traffic moving. On one corner is the Race Trac gas station and farther down is the farmer’s market. Where the road flattens out at the river is the actual bridge that kids spend the summer jumping off down into the channel flowing out to the New London Bay.

The Women’s Institute is a yellow two-story clapboard building with white trim and a fair-sized deck. From the vantage of the front deck is a solitary house across the street, a cropland spread out wide and long, and the Atlantic Ocean. It is a quiet building on rising ground, except when six nights a week ceilidhs fill the hall with Irish Scottish Acadian fiddles guitars pianos and step dancing.

The hall holds close to 150 if every seat and bench along the side is taken. The night the Arsenault Trio – Helene Arsenault Bergeron, Jonathan Arsenault, and his mother Louise Arsenault – joined by Gary Chipman, played their first show of the summer in Stanley Bridge on a Wednesday night, there were upwards of a hundred ready to go.

“It’s great to see you all, thanks for coming,” said Marsha Weeks, the host of the show.

“All set?” asked Gary Chipman.

“All set,” said Louise Arsenault.

Ceilidhs are concerts, but more like musical gatherings, often staged at small halls in the Canadian Maritimes. Not so long ago, and sometimes even today, they were more along the lines of a kitchen party, a kind of jam session at home with the neighbors. Whoever could play a fiddle or a guitar or belt out a song at the top of their lungs would inevitably find themselves in the kitchen with everyone else. In the middle of January a case of beer might be close at hand in the snow just outside one of the windows.

The word itself comes from the Old Irish for companion.

“On long, dark winter nights it is still the custom in small villages for friends to collect in a house,” Donald Mackenzie wrote explaining ceilidhs more than a hundred years ago. “Some sing old songs set to old music or new music composed in the manner of the old.”

The music at Prince Edward Island ceilidhs is alert animate full of life, mainly jigs and reels, with a mix of waltzes and country songs. There are occasional vignettes about life on the island, some island humor, and stories about islanders making the music. Most of the shows are set in community centers, churches, town halls, and Lion’s clubs.

The Arsenault Trio ripped into the ‘Acadian Reel,’ an Evangeline Region tune in the Cape Breton style played in 4/4 time, in other words, on the fast side. From kitchen parties to laser-lit techno dance floors, the same rhythm pattern is part and parcel of the carousing. The signature style of Acadian fiddling is down home rhythmic drive with sawstroke syncopation, sometimes called shuffles.

“When you do the shuffle,” said Louise Arsenault, “it’s like two up bows in a row. That was dad’s style.”

The Evangeline Region of PEI is the land west of Summerside, from Miscouche to Mont Carmel to Abrams Village. Flags in blue, white, and red with a single gold star fly from front porches and front yards. Mailboxes are painted in the Acadian colors. The annual Agricultural Exhibition and Acadian Festival features boot throwing, horse pulling, and a big music and dance party at the end.

The communities are about co-operatives, farming and fishing, vittles and fiddling.

“Where’s everybody from?” Marsha asked the crowd.

Ontario, Quebec, Alberta, Ohio, Florida, and Australia were some of the answers.

“Massachusetts,” a man called out.

“Whatever you said,” said Marsha. “I can’t pronounce that.”

“Wellington,” another man called out.

Several in the audience, probably all from Prince Edward Island, laughed. Wellington is a small town on PEI. It is home to the head office of College Acadie as well as the Bottle Houses, which are three fantasy-like buildings made of approximately 30,000 recycled glass bottles.

Most of the year islanders have the island to themselves. In the summer ten times as many people as live on PEI visit there for a week-or-two.

“They gave it 150% and we could feel it down to our tappin’ toes,” said a man from Amherst, Massachusetts.

The Aussies in the audience thought it was an “all there bonzer” show.

“The energy was amazing,” said a woman from New South Wales, Australia. “We all clapped and stamped our feet.”

Gary Chipman announced he was going to sing a song.

“I’ve been told I have a great voice, but that I’m going to ruin it by singing,” he said. Still and all, he has been singing for many years. He sang ‘Prince Edward Island Is Heaven To Me,’ a country song penned in 1951 by Hal Lone Pine and recorded with his Lone Pine Mountaineers.  

“The air is so pure, and the people so gay, Prince Edward Island, I’m coming to stay, there’s swimming and hunting and fishing galore, the sun shines so bright on its long golden shore, a touch of God’s great hand this island must be, Prince Edward Island is heaven to me.” 

“Yes, sir!” somebody rang out at the end of the song.

Somebody else called out a request for the ‘Arkansas Traveler.’

“It was some hot day today,” said Louise Arsenault. “You can go from your fur coat to your bikini just like that here on this island.” A few days earlier it had rained eighteen hours straight and never reached fifty degrees. The day of the show it was a breezy sunny 74 degrees.

“Arkansas Traveler!”

“Has anybody got a drink in his car?” asked Gary Chipman, to keep his singing voice well-oiled. He told a joke about a young woman in a tight skirt trying to board a bus.

“Arkansas Traveler!”

The ‘Arkansas Traveler’ is a plantation fiddle tune, a quick reel, from the early 19thcentury, one of the most famous of American fiddle tunes. Back in the day it was a barn raiser, meant to tear the audience up. The band tore into it, followed by ‘The Maid Behind the Bar’ and ‘Farmer’s Daughter.’

Jonathan Arsenault played ‘Cottonwood’ on his guitar. In the second half of the show he played ‘Jerry’s Breakdown.’ Written by Jerry Reed, a Nashville guitarist and country singer, the song is played finger-style on guitar in a similar way to the banjo.

“It’s a wicked hard tune to play, but Jonathan makes it look easy,” said Gary.

“When I was a boy, mom bought a little guitar at a flea market,” said Jonathan. “That was her only guitar back then. She sat me at a table, put the fiddle in her lap, and played a set. I learned to flat top pick from my mom, from the fiddle, since she didn’t have a second guitar to show me what a fret was.”

Step dancing is a part of most, if not all, ceilidhs on Prince Edward Island.

“Louise and I are from Acadian backgrounds,” said Helene Arsenault Bergeron. “We grew up with fathers playing the fiddle. In those days they didn’t have a lot of accompaniment, so they accompanied themselves with their feet. That way they always had their accompanists with them.”

She and Louise Arsenault stepped to the front of the stage.

“When you hear that every day, you learn how to play and dance and you don’t even remember learning it. We saw our fathers, aunts and uncles, and grandfathers, and it was just kind of always there, and so we’re going to do a dance for you now.”

The dancing was sparkling high-spirited swashbuckling.

“I was waiting all night for that,” said Jonathan.

Step dancing descends from traditional Irish dancing. Tap dancing is a modern form of it. It is a looser form. The arms move along with the feet. Step dancers keep their upper bodies still with their arms at their sides, except when they don’t, when they’re fiddling at the same time.

Creating your own melody by using your feet is challenging enough, but fiddling a reel at the same time as step dancing like the Arsenault’s do is gnarly, time to sit up and take notice. Louise and Helene do it like a walk in the park, no matter the large front tap on one of Helene’s shoes secured with black electrical tape.

Louise grew up down the road from Helene and Albert Arsenault, who she would later collaborate with in a roots music band. Her father, Alyre Gallant, played music, too. “I grew up in a musical family,” she said. “My father played the fiddle and my mother played the pump organ. I started playing when I was seven. I learned a lot of tunes from my dad.”

At a time in the 1960s when few Prince County girls picked up the fiddle, her father jigged tunes when she was a girl so she could find them on her instrument.

The first half of the show ended with a series of reels. “Whoop, whoop,” someone in the audience shouted. Someone else stamped their feet. It was getting dark on the other side of the windows. It was still fired up inside the hall.

The second half opened the same way as the first half, with the ‘Acadian Reel.’ The song is the work of Eddy Arsenault, a carpenter and fisherman and one of the hands-down best fiddlers on PEI for more than 70 years. Helene Bergeron’s father, he blended local Acadian fiddling with the Scottish approach.

“Is this a new tune,” asked Marie Gallant Arsenault the first time she heard the song a few minutes after its composition. “It is lively.”

“Yes, it is,” said Eddy Arsenault. “What are we going to call it?”

“That sounds right like Acadian music,” said Marie. “Why don’t you call it the Acadian Reel?”

The name stuck.

Even though Eddy Arsenault wrote it, it’s the kind of song that was never new and never gets old.

Gary Chipman strolled into ‘You Are My Sunshine,’ inviting everyone to join in, which many did, some of their voices uncommonly good.

“You are my sunshine, my only sunshine, you make me happy when skies are gray, you’ll never know dear, how much I love you, please don’t take my sunshine away.”

After Gary put his guitar down to the side, Helene stepped around her piano to the front of the stage, and brought some perspective to the sunshine song that had brought a warm glow to the hall.

“Louise and I used to be in a band called Barachois,” she said.

Helene Arsenault Bergeron got her start as a fledgling in a barn putting on step dancing shows set to old records scratching out fiddle tunes. She watched her elders. “The kitchen parties we had at my grandfather’s and at our house, everybody was always jumping up to dance because the fiddling, the music was so lively.” By her 30s she was one of the best step dancers on Prince Edward Island. She took up the piano, taking on the Cape Breton style, with lift, syncopated, marked by step dancing rhythms.

“Jonathan would come on tour with us when he was a small boy, and he just loved this song we’re going to do for you. Some of the older generation, they used to compose songs as a way of keeping track of local events. It’s a song about an old maid, an old girl, whose neighbor, a young girl, asks for advice about getting married, but the old girl is disillusioned, so it’s not a very encouraging song.”

Louise threw her head back and laughed zestfully full-mouthed.

“It’s called ‘The Family Song,’” said Helene.

Later in the summer Gary might tell a joke about a RCMP officer who calls his station from a crime scene.

“I have an interesting case here,” he says. “A woman shot her husband for stepping on the floor she just mopped.”

“Have you arrested her?” asks his sergeant.

“No, not yet, the floor’s still wet.”

After more hoedowning by the band, Helene and Louise brought two chairs to the center front of the stage.

“Helene and I are going to do a sit down dance,” said Louise. “It’s not because we’re lazy. We can dance standing, we can dance sitting, so here we go!”

Their arms at their sides, their hands gripping the sides of their seats, able-bodied, their feet a breakdown blur, seeming to never leave the floor no matter the tapping, they chair danced up a storm.

Marsha Weeks walked out from the wings with her fiddle.

“You know it’s a great show when the host comes back on stage,” said Jonathan.

Gary, who taught Marsha how to play, picked up his fiddle, as did Helene and Louise.

Gary Chipman has been playing the fiddle since he was five-years-old. He says it was “about a hundred years ago.” Later in life he picked up the guitar and vocals, when “Elvis Presley and the boys came along and the fiddle was out.” With the revival of PEI fiddling in the 1990s, he rosined up his bow again. He earned a degree in clinical psychology, but says it “only made me a smarter fiddle player.”

A hundred years later he concedes, “I’m going to keep playing until I can’t play anymore.”

They played an arrangement of the ‘Tennessee Waltz,’ a tune from the 1940s whose lyrics were first written down on the back of a matchbox and whose music by Pee Wee King remains sad and lively to this day, tracing a man and a woman turning around and around a dance floor.

“I was dancing with my darling to the Tennessee Waltz, when an old friend I happened to see, I introduced her to my loved one, and while they were dancing, my friend stole my sweetheart from me.”

They played a pretty arrangement on four fiddles of the pastoral melody ‘The Rosebud of Allenvale.’

Although they had been letting it rip all along, at the last Gary and the Arsenault’s let it rip. “We’re going to end with the fastest tune of the night, I’m pretty sure,” said Marsha. They dove headlong into an instrumental version of the ‘Orange Blossom Special.’

Laisse les aller!

The tune is for raising high the roof beam. It is sometimes just called ‘The Special’ and is known as the fiddle player’s national anthem. For a long time fiddle players needed to know how to play that one song before being able to join any bluegrass band.

“It is a vehicle to exhibit the fiddler’s pyrotechnic virtuosity,” wrote Norm Cohen in his book about railroads in folksongs. “It is guaranteed to bring the blood of all but the most jaded listeners to a quick, rolling boil.”

No one at the Stanley Bridge ceilidh was left jaded as the last notes of the ‘The Special’ steamed away into the night.

“She’s the fastest train on the line, it’s that Orange Blossom Special, rollin’ down the seaboard line.”

The show ended with hootin’ and hollerin’ and a big round of applause.

“If you had a great time, please tell everybody at your cottage and campgrounds,” said Marsha as the lights came up. “If you didn’t have a good time, you can just see Gary in the kitchen after the show.”

It wouldn’t be a kitchen party if something lively wasn’t going on in the kitchen.

Ed Staskus posts feature stories on Red Island http://www.redislandpei.com Paperback Yoga http://www.paperbackyoga.com 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Lithuanian Journal http://www.lithuanianjournal.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

Do-Dah Man

 By Ed Staskus

“Keep truckin’, like the do-dah man, together, more or less in line, just keep truckin’ on.”  Grateful Dead

Before there was the Sacred Mounds, before there was Christoph Eize, before there was the server at Moby Dick’s on Route 6 in Wellfleet who knows all the lyrics to all the Sacred Mounds songs, there was Christopher Manulla.

“I don’t even know all the lyrics myself,” said Christopher Manulla, aka Christoph Eize, the singer songwriter lead man on the guitar of the band.

The Sacred Mounds are an eclectic go-your-own-way group as well known on Cape Cod as they are little known elsewhere, even though they have toured the East Coast, Rocky Mountain High, and Ireland.

“They are out of sight,” said Tony Pasquale on his ‘Helltown City Limits’ show on Provincetown’s radio station WOMR. When they are in sight, they are an original undertaking, an agile funky soul-spirited sometime psychedelic sound, sonic on the move, cosmic funny, hardly a cover to be heard, at heart all their own songs from start to finish.

They aren’t live copycats of the Billboard Top 100 Golden Oldies, not when Christoph Eize has more than three hundred songs of his own in his scrapbook.

“You are one hell of a prolific songwriter,” said Tony Pasquale, interviewing Christopher, and Luke Massouh, the drummer, anchor of the band. “You have a ton of stuff.”

“I have to tell myself, no more new songs,” said Christopher. “I’ve got thirty or forty in my head I’m still trying to get a grasp on.”

If time moves in one direction, and memory in another, a question begs an answer. Where is the Moby Dick man on Route 6 going with his storehouse of verse and chorus? Maybe there’s nothing to be all-over about. Like Aeschylus said so far back nobody remembers, “Memory is the mother of all wisdom.”

“When we first saw the Sacred Mounds we were astonished to see such a good band at a small club,” wrote Brian Tarcy in Cape Cod Wave Magazine. “It is as if Neil Young joined the Grateful Dead and incorporated a little bit of jazz. It is quite an original.”

”Am I a man that you recognize – when you see me, I’m a dreamer, and I’ll be what I want to be.”

“The original music being made on Cape Cod, if you take the time to look, will astonish you,” added Brian Tarcy.

Many musicians and bands on Cape Cod, from Crooked Coast to The Ticks to the Incredible Casuals, are originals because, like Yogi Berra said, when you come to a fork in the road, take it. Even when they play covers, it’s often songs few have ever heard of. The Ticks say they only know their own songs. There’s no original sin on the sleeveless arm-shaped peninsula. Since they are writing and singing from the inside out, they can’t help being for real first hand prototypal.

Just like every natural pearl from every wild oyster is an original.

Before and after he morphs into Christoph Eize of Sacred Mounds, his alter ego on stage, Christopher Manulla was and still is Wellfleet’s Deputy Shellfish Constable. The Shellfish Department manages the town’s oysters, quahogs, clams, and bay scallops within a three-mile limit, issues permits, promotes crustacea and mollusk propagation, and monitors water quality.

The old whaling town on the seashore on the Outer Cape is a federal no-discharge area, clean as a whistle.

“It’s a complex job, mixing some law enforcement with public education, keeping tabs on our three-acre farm, talking to fishermen every day,” said Christopher. “There’s a little bit of psychology and therapy involved with that. It’s a 90% wake up happy going to work kind of job.”

Except for when he first came to the fair land on the seaboard.

After getting a degree in Park Management and Recreation, he was working at a nature center. On his way to a wedding, at his girlfriend’s friend’s grandmother’s daughter’s house, he was introduced to someone who at the end of the day offered him a job in Cape Cod with the Wellfleet Shellfish Department. However, the work was only part-time.

“I told him, I’m not going to move to Cape Cod for 19 hours a week. That’s crazy. He told me he’d get me full-time sooner than later. I got the job, but then found out the guy didn’t even work for the town. It was like Great Expectations.”

It took him four years to get steady real time full time.

“I just had to hold out. The Grateful Dead taught me how to survive on absolutely nothing, on peanut butter and jelly and pasta.”

In an earlier life Christopher Manulla grew up in Thomaston, Connecticut.

“That’s where I spent my growing pain years, until my parents bought my grandfather’s old place in New Hartford.” The new family home was a half hour north of his birthplace.

“It was a beautiful area.”

“Like a dream I drive on past, the spots where my childhood roamed, like a field seed blowing.”

His father, Randy, worked for the Hartford Courant, the local newspaper, and his mother, Virginia, taught grade school.

“She taught for forty years,” said Christopher.

In his spare time his father sang with Liederkranz, a German choral group, and his mother was in the Thomaston Ladies Choral Group. “Their singing was an influence on me, even though their semi-annual concerts weren’t exactly what a young kid wants to go see. Even still, I could always pick out their voices.”

Singing in a choir or choral group is a kind of therapy bought for a song. There’s a lot of harmony. It’s a sound raising high the roof beams that can heal the heart. It’s healthier than bending an elbow all evening or slouching in front of the boob tube that’s now the dazzling flat screen.

“In the end, for me, singing has become a way of releasing energy, a method of healing.”

By the time he got to 6thgrade he was playing the trombone and being fast-forwarded into the high school band. He quit in the 8thgrade. “At that point I could read and understand music, but the music I was being introduced to was boring. No jazz, or anything. That would have been great.”

“If you quit now, you’re going to lose everything,” his teacher told him.

“If I’m meant to play music, I’ll find it again,” he told his teacher.

He lay low in high school, at least until his senior year. “They were cloudy times,” he said. “I was very shy, until my senior year, when I started to get a little nuts and spread my wings.”

He bought a guitar. He graduated from high school. He attended Northwestern Connecticut Community College, on and off, finally earning his sheepskin eight years later. “I laugh at that, but it was fun. I spent most of my time at school playing chess and having conversations with psychology professors about how the brain works.”

In the meantime, he became a Deadhead, joining the fans of the Grateful Dead, followers who from the mid-70s traveled to see as many of the band’s shows and venues as they could. It was following a siren call. It was 1994 and he was twenty years old.

Jerry Garcia had a year-and-a-half left to live.

‘Dead Freaks Unite! Who are you? Where are you? How are you?’ was the catchphrase of the blues folk country rock jazz psychadelia hippie subculture counterculture movement.

“I’m feelin’ so confused, well, it’s hard, so hard to let it go.”

“I didn’t like my life at that moment. It was a leap of faith. I went with a sleeping bag, a change of clothes, and fifty bucks in my hand,” said Christopher. “I didn’t even know much about the Grateful Dead, but I felt like it was a calling. It was an adventure and I survived most happily for a whole tour.”

He and the friend who had made bold with him worked side jobs. He joined the Falafel Mafia, feeding the faithful from a food truck, the crew sometimes passing a deep-fried doughnut of ground chickpeas along when somebody asked to ‘kick down a kind falafel’, which meant a free falafel.

“It was inspirational for the music, for sure,” he said. ”The music was healing, dancing, and clearing the cobwebs of your mind away.”

Fronting the Sacred Mounds he mainly plays guitar.

“I don’t know theory anymore, I don’t know scales, like my school teacher said would happen. I call it playing blind. I’ve been doing mostly acoustic since 2006.”

His guitars are Martin’s from C. F. Martin & Company, established in 1833, known for their steel-string acoustic models, and led to this day by the great-great-great-grandson of the founding father. If melody imposes continuity, Martin’s are a kind of continuity you can always come back to. They don’t need any history lessons.

“I once got two guitar lessons,” said Christopher.

“You’ll learn faster by yourself,” the instructor said after the second lesson. “I will just keep you behind.”

“He kicked me out.”

When Christopher left Connecticut behind and moved to Wellfleet nearly twenty years ago, at the tail end of the summer season, he moved into a small spare room. He later moved on up, to an apartment of his own.

“It was the size of three pick-up trucks put together,” he said. “It was horrible. It was rough.”

“Remember what I say, why erase the truth, when it already happened?”

He still lives in Wellfleet, his adopted hometown, in a house with a studio attachment, living quarters more than sufferable.

“It is great.”

The Sacred Mounds – the duo of Christoph Eize and Luke Massouh – were almost a sacred mound themselves before they got off the ground. Christopher was in Hobo Village, a local band, playing at a restaurant where Luke was the bar manager. The band’s mandolin player and Luke got into it.

“I only heard his side of the story, so I thought Luke was an asshole,” said Christopher. “After that, every time we played that restaurant, we had it so that he wouldn’t be working that night. We were being assholes, too, I guess.”

One weekend, invited to shuck oysters and croon for a party in New Hampshire, he was surprised to see Luke there. Unbeknown, he had been invited, likewise. It’s a small world when it’s a turn of the cards. They got to talking over cold ones and crustaceans.

“Broken hearts are for assholes,” said Luke about the brouhaha.

“He used a Frank Zappa reference,” said Christopher. It put him in good stead. Christopher not only cites the Grateful Dead, but Chopin, Neil Young, and Frank Zappa as influences on his music making. ”I found out he didn’t mean any harm, was funny and intelligent, a good guy.”

He also found out Luke Massouh played drums.

“I threw songs at him and he played them as perfect as you can, hearing them for the first time.”

They have been the Sacred Mounds ever since.

Finding a bandmate on the 70-mile headland is no mean feat. Even though there is an abundance of talent on Cape Cod, there is a scarcity of people, especially in the off-season. “It’s like Jamaica four months of the year and like Russia the rest of the year,” said John Beninghof of Falmouth’s Old Silver Band.

It’s the sound of silence on the streets in the winter, muffled, chilled to the bone, nearly empty shore towns. Seawater freezes in the goose-bumpy sand dunes.

“This place turns into a ghost town,” said Christopher. “When I first came to Cape Cod I was pretty much a recluse. I didn’t mind being alone. Mostly everything is closed, but we find ways to socialize. Nobody can hide anything, anyway, because people here find out quick what you do. It’s when they don’t that rumors fly.”

Staying the course is no mean feat, either. The duo has been making music together – abetted by Matt Brundett, Jonathan Huge, Floyd Kellogg, and Kevin O’Rourke – for eight years running. “We’re basically two people, playing together, traveling, doing all sorts of fun adventures in the music world.“

They spend their summers on Cape Cod. “We’re the crew that doesn’t leave port,” said Christopher. “Everyone comes here, so instead of touring, we just drive five minutes and get paid, probably five times what we would on tour.” The lawnmower stays broken most of the summer. ”We used to beg to play, but now more often than not we get asked.”

If Christopher Manulla is the long arm of shellfish laws and regulations, on stage Christoph Eize learned his lessons by trial and error. “In the beginning it was scary.” Some performers suffer stage fright, sweating up a storm, blubbering midway through performances, stopping dead, their minds gone blank.

“You’ve got to learn through the falters,” he said.

He learned to get up on stage just the damp side of stone cold sober.

“You learn about what not to do, one of them being don’t be too crazy loud and don’t drink too much. I once early on watched eighty people leave the room. As my ego and heart were being destroyed, I realized it was a huge lesson about not being sloppy.”

“I was singin’ all day, thinkin’ about it all night, when things went wrong, when things went right.”

Sloppy is like a cafeteria tray of fast and loose food nobody cares about. Who wants to listen to an amateur missing the target? Better the professional who is ready to ready-aim-fire.

“I’m confident in our music and I’m confident with the band,” said Christopher. “Being on stage wasn’t always my safety place, but now it’s the most comfortable place for me to be. The minute it starts, I’m erupted with as much energy as possible. It’s a high, even sober.”

Some of his favorite stages are at the Lighthouse, the Harvest Gallery Wine Bar, and the small intimate stage under an old disco ball at the Beachcomber bar club restaurant on top of a dune as fat as a duck on Cahoon Hollow Beach. “It’s for people who figured out it was really cool to make it up into God’s country in Wellfleet,’ said Todd LeBart, one of the owners.

Last summer, as summer was breaking out of its shell on the Memorial Day weekend, and the Incredible Casuals, in some respects the house band, were finishing their first gig at the Beachcomber, Chandler Travis of the band was having a good time.

“That’s my job,” said Chandler. “God, what a great job.”

“Always our favorite summer night party,” said Christopher.

“I think it is fair to say that your life will not be complete until you have witnessed the sheer brilliance demonstrated by the Sacred Mounds,” said Chris Blood, the man who engineers the music at the nearby Payomet Performing Arts Center in Truro.

Although nothing beats seeing them live, the alternative is the new recording ‘Mirror’ by the Sacred Mounds, featuring Christoph Eize and Luke Massouh and Floyd Kellogg on bass guitar, the latter recording and mixing the work, as well.

“In the beginning I wrote poetry and put music to it,” said Christopher. “Then I wrote music and added the words. Now I hit record, play what comes out, I kind of black out, and the next thing you know, there’s a song, pure from the source.”

It’s a short step from the sacred to the profane. One day at Wellfleet’s town dump, the Transfer Station and Recycling Center, dropping off trash, Christopher was beckoned to the nearby Swap Shop.

“Check this out,” said the man who had waved him over. “A CD changer.”

“What am I supposed to do with that?” he asked. “Horrible sound. Everyone’s doing MP3’s, anyway. Besides, I’m thinking of going back to vinyl.”

He checked himself.

“Do I sound like a grandpa now?”

‘Mirror’ is available as a CD, or download, and streams on Bandcamp. It is not available on vinyl. It is available straight from the horse’s mouth all summer long on Cape Cod.

Whether Christopher Manulla is old-fashioned or new-fashioned, plugged in or a grandpa, quiet or gabby, is an open question. “When I first meet people I’m kind of shy stand-offish. When I get to know you, you can’t shut me up.” Whether he is able to shift seamlessly from shellfish constable to musical mastermind is not open for question.

“If neo-pagan, psychedelic, shamanistic fuzz is your thing, look no further than the new Sacred Mounds album,” said Tony Pasquale, aka Tony Scungilli, on WOMR-FM. “Chock full of rock ‘em sock ‘em hooks and sonic soma. It will realign your karma.”

It’s like balancing your tires for the long strange trip ahead.

The getting it done side of the coin of karma is dharma. If karma is the good or bad payoff resulting from good or bad actions, dharma is the choices we make. Making wrong choices, or adharma, leads to bad karma. Making right choices, right action known as dharma, leads to good karma.

What downbeat side or highlight of karma does realignment lead you to if you cue up the rock ‘em sock ‘em of the Sacred Mounds? It’s hard to say. The only way to find out is to get to the starting time of the do-dah man’s show and truck on down to the finish line.

Photograph by Tony Pasquale.

Ed Staskus posts feature stories on Red Island http://www.redislandpei.com Paperback Yoga http://www.paperbackyoga.com 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Lithuanian Journal http://www.lithuanianjournal.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

Moving Day

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By Ed Staskus

“To live is to keep moving.”  Jerry Seinfeld

“My grandfather had a 16mm camera,” said Julia Sauve. “He walked around taking home movies of everyone, all the family, our real relatives and our adopted relatives, all the kids. Everybody would come, it was like a party house, their house in Brooklyn.”

While visiting New York City recently and at a family reunion, she had a look-see at film footage, transferred to a DVD, of her childhood. “I watched myself as a baby, a toddler, and a little kid.  I was an active child, always running around, very physical. I thought, oh, yeah, that’s why I am the way I am.”

Coming around the corner from her house in the small town of Victoria on the south shore of Canada’s Prince Edward Island the block-or-so down Howard Street to the family-owned Landmark Cafe, where in the summer season she works with her son, daughter, and ex-husband, she is the easiest person on her feet on the walk.

She is footloose over the cracks in the pavement.

“I started ballet when I was 7-years-old,” she said. “I took my first modern dance class when I was 16.”

She ‘s been an artist dancer performer choreographer and teacher ever since. Dancing might be the only walk of life whose aim isn’t to get anywhere, but is rather a process of the steps along the way. It’s not a discipline whose ambition is to be better than anyone else, either, but one whose purpose is simply to dance better. It’s a kind of solitary self-mastery nevertheless done in public.

“Dance is the only art of which we ourselves are the stuff of which it is made,” said Ted Shawn, one of the pioneers of modern dance. There may be abstract art, but there is no such thing as abstract dance.

Growing up in Spring Valley, just west of the Hudson River and just northwest of New York City, Julia Lachow grew up in a family invested in the arts.

“My parents were both artsy,” she said. Her father Stan was involved with community theaters and was in the original cast of “On Golden Pond” at the Apollo Theatre on Broadway in 1979. Her mother Barbara transitioned from stay-at-home mom to dance teacher to psychologist, still practicing in NYC.

“They were always supportive of my brothers and me in the arts.” One of her brothers is a musician and the other one is a filmmaker. “They never pushed us about how much money we were going to make.” Never mind that Andy Warhol once slyly said, “Making money is art and the best art is good business.” When it comes to Andy Warhol, however, sometimes it’s better to simply believe in his art, not necessarily his bank account.

She was on the swim team at Suffern High School when she saw the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. The company, a troupe of 32 dancers founded in 1958, first performed at the New York Young Men’s Hebrew Association, otherwise known as the 92nd Street Y. They are credited with popularizing modern dance in the United States. Their signature choreographic work “Revelations” is the best-known and most often seen in contemporary dance.

“The lights went on,” she said. “That was it. That’s what I want to do.”

She started taking modern dance classes at a local studio. She kept it up at a nearby community college. When she transferred to the State College of New York she majored in dance. After graduation she moved to New York City.

“That was where you were going to get the best training.”

For the next nearly four years she got the best training.

She studied with Joyce Trisler, who was keen on the technique of Lester Horton, the West Coast dancer whose demanding style featured fast small steps and spirited ups and downs, combining elements of jazz and ballet and contemporary hoofing. Alvin Alley once described Joyce Trisler as “just a crazy floppy girl from down the street.”

She studied with Milton Myers, who since the early 90s has been the director of the modern program at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival. He routinely stole shows in the 70s and 80s coming out of corkscrew actions with quick vertical jumps, always active, always strong. He subscribed to the Horton technique of training, describing it “like physical therapy in its approach to creating a balanced body, training and freeing the body through constant movement.”

She studied with Matthew Diamond, who at the time was with Jennifer Muller and the Works, and went on to become the director of the TV show “So You Think You Can Dance”, which has since won seven Primetime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Choreography.

“It was great when he got that gig,” she said. “Dance is hard to film since it’s so fast, and he was a dancer.”

In late 1977, while working with the New Dance Group in Manhattan, she took a few minutes to talk to a fellow dancer

“I just got back from Prince Edward Island,” said Cathy Cahoon. “I danced with a fellow from there.”

“Wow, if you ever go back, I’d love to go with you,” said Julia, even though she barely knew Prince Edward Island from the man in the moon.

The next year the two of them joined Don Burnett and formed the Montage Dance Theatre. They wrangled free space at Trinity United Church in Charlottetown, the provincial capital. They stayed for five weeks. “We danced 25 hours a day, no kidding,” she said. They put on a show at the end of their residency.

“I fell in love with the place when I first came here,” she said. “There was so much space here.”

The next summer she went back for the whole summer. “We danced, gave demonstrations, and did a series of lectures. Don was cast in the Charlottetown Festival and we performed in the Maud Whitmore show.”

In the fall she went back to New York City.

“I was sad.”

The following January she got a call from Don.

“Meet us in Charlottetown,” he said.

“Yay!” she said, happy.

She packed a suitcase and moved to Prince Edward Island in February 1980. When she left New York City she moved from where there were 27,000 people per square mile to where there were fewer than 70 people per square mile.

Artists may starve for their art, but there’s no starving for space on PEI.

She moved to Charlottetown, working with the Montage Dance Theatre, teaching and performing in their studio theater, and soon met her husband-to-be.

Eugene Sauve, recently arrived from Montreal, was helping the troupe as their technical director. Julia and he hit it off. She even got him on stage, dancing, once or twice. “He was so nervous,” she said. “He’s got good rhythm, but I was leading, so all he had to do was rock back and forth.

Two-stepping led to high-stepping. They got married, Julia light on her feet, Gene trying not to rock back and forth. They soon had a son, Olivier. They started looking for something bigger than their cramped apartment in Charlottetown. Gene was working at a new theater in Victoria, on the Northumberland Strait 20 miles away. Julia drove out to the small town.

“I’ve lived here before,” she thought. “There’s something here, a past life regression. It was fun and creepy. I felt like I needed to live here again.” They bought a house across the street from the fire hall and moved in on June 1st. Two weeks later her daughter Rachel was born.

“Everybody tells you never move when you’re about to have a child,” she said.

Some people say, now that you’re eight-and-a-half months pregnant, you’re going to give up the house-moving thing, right? Some women say, I’m not crippled, I’m only having a baby.

“We did it box by box.”

She has lived in Victoria ever since, except for two years teaching at a boarding school in New Hampshire. “The kids grew up in that house.”

When the family moved from the capital city to greener pastures in the mid-80s they moved from where there were 15 thousand-some residents to where there were about 150 residents. Even though in the biggest cities everybody still lives in a neighborhood, Victoria is so small the whole town is the neighborhood.

Julia Sauve had moved from the jam-packed Big Apple to a minor-key metropolis to a seaside village.

The next year Montage Dance Theatre’s building burned down. “That changed everything,” she said. In the meantime, she, a modern dancer, met Peggy Reddin, whose background was ballet. They started getting together, “in a secretive way, in coffee shops,” talking about starting a dance school. “It was all just talk.” Several months later the secret was out. They decided to become business partners.

“We just did it.”

Their business venture, dance umbrella, opened its doors in 1989 in a second story rented space above Froggie’s, a used clothing store somewhere in Charlottetown. Since then they have become one of the best and brightest dance schools in the Maritimes.

“We are not a ‘line ‘em up and shuffle ’em through’ school,” said Peggy, while Julia added, “We’re proud of our students. They are getting to be very good dancers.”

In 2006 dance umbrella merged with the Confederation Centre of the Arts, expanding their programming, and last year rounded out their 28thseason with their annual end-of-the-year showcase in the Homburg Theatre. “We had everything from a Tragically Hip tribute to ‘Dance of the Snowflakes,’” said Peggy Reddin.

Juia Sauve has long been involved with Act Community Theatre, helping stage their showcase shows, worked with the Colonel Gray High School for two decades choreographing their school musicals, and has taught at Holland College School of Performing Arts. She founded the Luminosity Black Light Theatre, the only black light performing company in Atlantic Canada.

Many of Luminosity’s themes were environmental. “Water is a life force that is in us and all around us,” she explained. “Water has no sense of itself. It just is. It doesn’t sit still.” You dive into the water, but most of the time you can’t tell how deep it is.

“I used to pretty much take every gig I could get,” she said.

“There’s no escaping it. I was the person in my grandfather’s home movies who had to be a performer and a teacher. That’s not so off from who I am now.” She even attempted the improbable back in the day, trying to teach ballet steps to her two young brothers. It was a daring if doomed effort.

Although she hasn’t settled back into a rocking chair on the back deck of her house, she has recently retrenched.

“When did I stop teaching like a crazy person?” she asked herself. “It was maybe five years ago.” She continues to teach a class at dance umbrella. “But I let the younger dancers do the heavy work.”

Rocking chairs may give you something to do, but they don’t get you anywhere. Where she has gone the past three years is where many stroke survivors have trouble going, which is getting out of their chairs. What she has done is rolled up her sleeves on a project of helping restore some liveliness to lives that have been impacted by a cerebrovascular accident.

“How do you take someone that is so compromised, where maybe one side of the body is just not working, and help people feel better in their bodies,” she asked. “How can I get these people moving?”

A stroke is a brain attack. It happens when blood flow to a part of the brain is cut off. When cells lose oxygen they start to die and whatever the affected parts of the brain control, like memory or muscles, are then bewildered, or lost. It can happen to anyone at any time. It can be catastrophic. Most survivors suffer from some kind of disability.

Some survivors turn the disability to their advantage.

“When you have a stroke you must talk slowly to be understood,” said Kirk Douglas, the actor who appeared in more than 90 movies and won Academy Awards, Golden Globes, and Emmys, and who suffered a severe stroke in 1996. “I’ve discovered that when I talk slowly, people listen. They think I’m going to say something important.”

He wrote a book about his experiences, calling it “My Stroke of Luck”.

It was a book called “Move Into Life” that got Julia Sauve going. She was volunteering at the Omega Institute for Holistic Studies, an educational retreat center in New York north of Poughkeepsie, when she met the author. Anat Baniel, a former dancer and clinical psychologist, developed her method of treating chronic pain and physical limitations by emphasizing activity and becoming aware of the entire body, how it feels and moves, so that the brain can map the body anew and evolve a person’s ability to feel and move again.

Back home in Victoria her life partner Reg Ballagh suggested she talk to his brother-in-law, the head of the stroke unit at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Charlottetown. He in turn introduced her to Trish Helm-Neima, the Provincial Stroke Coordinator for Health PEI. They started working together at community centers.

“We did our first session near the end of 2015,” said Julia. “It was just a once-a-week thing.” Once a week clears away the rust of the rest of the week.

“We do 75 minutes, a combination of seated and standing exercises. Everyone spends time in a circle after that integrating what we’ve done. I pass around handouts. It’s when people work at home that you really see results.”

Her goal is to help stroke survivors help themselves rewire their bodies and brains. “It’s about creating plasticity, developing the neural activity in your brain,” she said. “These people had big lives. Stroke just knocked them over the head. Our goal is for them to have success. From a teacher’s standpoint it can be very rewarding.”

Except when it isn’t.

“Some people will give up,” she explained. “One of our participants, she was doing well, and then I heard through the grapevine she succumbed. She succumbed to where she was, succumbed to the idea that she was just going to sit around.”

One of the reasons efforts like Julia Sauve’s efforts are important is because it’s not just about exercise or therapy. Stroke support groups challenge survivors to get past society-imposed doctor-imposed self-imposed limitations. It’s about feeling connected, about being in the same boat with others, about having a can-do attitude, sailing the waves, no matter how storm-tossed.

In time Julia Sauve created a program called “Moving Life Forward with Movement and Music” with funding from a PEI Wellness Strategy grant. One week, while the Festival of Small Halls, a series of music venues, was ongoing on Prince Edward Island, she played jigs and reels during class.

“Wow,” I told them. “You’re doing really good. That is awesome.”

“That’s because the music is so good,” said one man.

“It’s because the music is so familiar,” she thought. “You’ve been going to ceilidhs your whole life. You’ve been listening to fiddle music all your life.”

“In rehab we talk about the repetition of movement and the pattern of movement is what’s going to make you learn that movement,” said Trish Helm-Neima. “So if you can find a fun way to do that you are more likely to continue doing that repetition and gain that function back.”

Getting up in the morning is only the half of it. Having fun is the other half. It’s always fun to do what might seem the impossible.

The next week Julia cued the fiddle music again. “They did it so good,” she said. “I ask our participants all the time, what’s the first part of your body that dances?”

“Legs, arms, feet,” they say.

“No, it’s your ears,” she tells them. “You hear the music you get the beat. I haven’t had a stroke survivor yet who wasn’t able to key the beat to the music.

“Sometimes we have them do a kick line holding onto chairs. They astound me.”

Even though Julia Sauve has slowed down she has no plans of slowing down.

“There’s something you’re put on earth to do,” she said. “That might sound woo-woo, but we’re put here for a purpose. Where I’m coming from now is, I want to learn more and help people more.”

When you’re always coming or going somewhere, at the family’s eatery dishing out some of the best meat pies on the island, on the no-stopping dance studio floor, or unfolding a folding chair helping a stroke survivor get a groove on, every day is moving day.

Ed Staskus posts feature stories on Red Island http://www.redislandpei.com Paperback Yoga http://www.paperbackyoga.com 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Lithuanian Journal http://www.lithuanianjournal.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”