Friday, 6 August 2010
Lucky Gord. Poor Hilly. Renfrew Tales
Renfrew. The luckiest town in the Ottawa Valley
The unfortunate love story of Lucky Gord and Hilly.
By Stephen Weir
a rare unpublished fiction short-story based on fact/family history
DeMoss, the hired hand who spent his winters in the lean-to barn at the end of our unpaved lane, said I was lucky that I lived in Renfrew. The clean Ottawa Valley air. The good huntin'. Best of all, an arena that let you play full contact hockey without havin' to wear sissy protective gear.
DeMoss never thought to talk to me about the women. Didn't say anything about the men either. He was blissfully unaware of Renfrew mating practices.
The young males and females in Renfrew had no trouble finding each other, but they were really lucky if they could find a place to be alone together. Priests. Neighbours. Fathers. Mothers. Noisy brothers and sisters. You know the drill.
My 17-year old sister Hilly and her 30-year old fiancée, Gord Ford, took to parking his Dodge (no kidding) in a field near our home every Friday night. There was a huge sycamore bush that Gord could hide his '59 Dodge behind.
It was a piece of junk. The bumper was held onto the frame with binder twine (these were pre-Duct Tape days). He had covered up the bigger rust holes in the trunk with stick-on letters that he bought from Canadian Tire. G-O-R-D on the driver's side and H-I-L-L-Y on the right -- because that is where Hilly sat when they drove past our house (the rest of the time she was pretty well on his lap).
Gord was a "Stash" grad. In Renfrew that was the term given to kids who never made it into high school. The principal let the perennially failing male students stay in Grade School until such a time as their moustache grew longer than that of the gym teacher, one Weiner Waite.
Gord was lucky that the Weiner sported a Clark Gable style pencil moustache under his oft broken nose. He only had to repeat Grade-8 a couple of times before the Stash Rule was invoked and he was set free into the working world.
His first job (and only job) was working in the Renfrew Foundry making manhole covers. True fact, there are Renfrew-made manhole covers on streets in every city in Canada, and, most of them were made by Gord Ford.
The money he saved from working in the Foundry went into the Ford Dodge. We all knew when Hilly was going out on a date; that noisy backfiring beast could be heard 10-minutes before it came to a shuddering gasping stop outside our home. Gord was lucky that my father preferred to stay in the basement whenever he heard the Dodge’s death rattle. If he had taken a close look at it he would have forbade sis from climbing in. It was the Friday Fright Night Ride and Hilly lived for it.
One cold fall evening I was on my way home and I happen to amble by the sycamore stand. I could see the glow of the Ford Dodge taillights through the foliage. The engine was running, the headlights were out, and two small purple passion lights blazed under the dash.
Gord is afraid of ghosts. I thought I would put a scare into him. I crawled on the ground beside the car and then jumped up and yelled Boo! No reaction from Gord. His head was against the window; Hilly had her head leaning against his chest.
I rattled the door handle, rocked the car and yelled some more.
I looked in. Gord and Hilly were both mouth-open unconscious.
I pulled them out. I gave mouth-to-mouth to my sister (and it is indeed like getting a tie in hockey) and booted Harvey a few times in the ribs to get his heart going.
They lived. Lucky thing too ... the rag that Gord had tied around the muffler had slipped and the exhaust had found its way into the car – not a mean feat considering the porous car floor.
Nursing his sore ribs Gord said he sure was lucky and swore he would never forget what I had done and promised to reward me. Hilly made me promise I wouldn't tell.
Yes he was lucky. Shortly after that he won the lottery. I bought the ticket for him. Wintario. He also won my sister's hand. Gord never noticed my hand out at the wedding reception nor heard me muttering about saving his life.
The new couple bought a modest bungalow in town near the Legion Hall (Gord's home away from home). It had running water but no fridge. Had a Renfrew ceiling; pull the tarp off the roof when it isn't raining and you get direct sunlight down into the kitchen!
Hilly was lucky if she saw her hubby once a week. Making manhole covers is a dirty thirsty business and thanks to his change in fortunes, Gord had a means of quenching that thirst (too bad he didn’t fix the dirt problem while he was at it).
I was working at Butson's Bar on the edge of town. I was locally famous because I invented a drink I called Renfrew's Lucky Red Eye. It was a mug of Brador malt liquor (over-proof beer from Quebec) and Heinz tomato juice. At the bottom of the mug was an upside down shot glass filled with Seagram's whisky, which oozed into the beer as you tipped the stein up to your mouth. What was so lucky about my concoction? You were, if you could drink three glasses and still be able to find your pickup truck in the parking lot.
Gord had had four Lucky Red Eyes before closing time. I told him that if he drove like the wind he could make it to Club Riviere in Portage-du-Fort on the other side of the Ottawa River. The Quebec bar closed one hour later than us.
Gord was fortunate to make it over to the Riviere in time. In fact he was able to down two quick Oeil Rouge Chanceux (they stole my recipe). He also bought the house a round (remember he won the lottery).
On the way home to Hilly he decided he would have to stop and answer nature's call. He pulled over halfway across the Chenaux Bridge that traversed high over the mighty Ottawa River. Standing on the edge of the structure, in the still of a very cold night, he looked up to see dancing green lights in the black sky. "Lucky to see the Northern Lights this far south" he said to himself.
It was then that he lost his balance and tumbled over the bridge. It was a 90 ft fall into the half-frozen river below. The Rescue Team said he was really lucky that he was able to make it ashore with two broken legs. He was also lucky they only dropped him twice as they climbed up the slippery hill to the waiting ambulance.
Hilly was some mad. But Gord won her back by buying their first fridge once the casts came off. She loved that refrigerator. Gord kept opening the door to see if the light was still on.
One warm day when the tarp was off, a raven flew in through the hole and into the kitchen. Gord thought it was a bad omen. He grabbed his 22 from under the bed and fired off a round or two at the black bird. Untouched the startled raven escaped back through the roof opening.
Gord missed the bird but hit the fridge. Lucky he aimed high, he destroyed the meat freezer but the beer in the vegetable crisper was only shaken but not stirred (by the bullets).
That was about when Hilly left him. Lucky for Gord my sister didn't know about support payments.
I didn't see him all that next winter. In the spring he dragged himself up to my bar and asked for another Renfrew Lucky Red Eye. I told him I wouldn't serve him because he owed my sister half of his assets, and, “by-the-way you owed me something for saving your life.”
He pulled out his wallet and handed me a $5 bill. Said he’d been saving it since that night in the field. He swore that it was his lucky sawbuck and told me to split it with Hilly, because it was also the last money he had left in the world.
The next day I bought a lottery ticket.
Cutline: Gord Ford's lucky day - His Wintario number comes up
Picture of downtown Renfrew's post office