Friday, June 18, 2004

it's a beautiful day, eh?

I immersed myself in the culture of my home island in much the same manner as I might do overseas: today I worked at the Advance Poll. The country, as I've already said, is having an election in a week's time, and for three days beforehand they hold special polls to give folks a chance to vote who can't on June 28th. So, this afternoon I went in for eleven, set up the folding tables and chairs with Keith Maceachern, opened the pre-sealed ballot box and pulled out what seemed an endless supply of manila envelopes and tally sheets, all ready with blank spaces to be filled and re-filled. There were rulers and more forms and some little sharpened pencils. We opened the poll on time (noon sharp, by the town clock just out the window) and sat down with our phone-book sized stack of yellow pages, the voter's list. And at another table, the "registration officer", Peter MacNeil sat with his forms and manual and little sharpened pencil.

Over the course of the day, we allowed 35 people to vote, registered one, (that's your job, Peter!) drank a fair amount of Tim Horton's coffee and ate a few doughnuts between the three of us (Keith said tomorrow he'd bring in some 'good' stuff, the Just Us fairly traded coffee, his girlfriend Earlene runs an inn and they serve it there), commiserated with voters about the beautiful day out there (that we weren't able to enjoy fully), and covered topics amongst ourselves like marijuana's legalization, suicide, what it's like to be a miner, government inefficiency, so-and-so's alcoholic son, and fire hall dances. Every now and again the two of them would go out for a smoke and come back: "What did you do with the rush?" "Oh, I turned 'em away! Told 'em to come back in half an hour." I'd say.

At the end of the day, we saw a few nice cars turning at the corner, the drivers about 18 and wearing tuxedos, with prom dates in the passenger seat. They would invariably squeal the tires, just a little. Tonight is Friday night, the traditional Grand March is being held, the 'rite of passage' for Nova Scotian high school students, the night you dress in finery and parade around the gymnasium in front of the most of the town, then going on to Prom and then a party. It's more than a personal thing in our town, everyone goes, to check out everyone else's kids and relations. A lot of money and energy and tears are spent at this yearly event. Mum and I, missing it entirely, drove home along all the bay road, the colors all pastel and pretty, the clouds reflecting the set sun, the corner at the head of the bay chock-a-block with apple trees, all blossoming. It's enough to cause an accident, we said, slowing a little on this dulcet evening.

Tomorrow, another 8-hour shift at the polls. I'll read more of Canadian women's essays in the book "Dropped Threads", I'll talk to some more locals, some who might ask me who my father is in order to place me in their universe, one with names like Baddeck Inlet, Gold Brook and Middle River. I was talking to Keith tonight (Keith who is brother to Duncan MacEachern, who is husband to Chrissy, who not only works with Janice, but lives in North River and is great friends with Deanie, my potter boss) about the old dances they used to have at the North River hall. (This hall still stands and is now being used for square dances, someone's revived the old tradition and now the old-timers come from all over to play fiddle alongside the hippies from the 70's, and the tourists who stay at Earlene's inn come down to see history alive and dancing.)

"Oh yeah," he said, when I asked him what the dances used to be like, "they had the dances there." "Was there a bar?" "Oh, no, no...the band would take a break and everyone would go out the back--well, not everyone, some would stay--and you'd hear trunks opening, back doors [of cars] opening, getting the liquor out. And boys from Englishtown [about 20 minutes drive away, now] would come over to pick a fight, and when Englishtown held a dance the boys from North River would go over there!" I can almost put myself back 30 years, to when Chrissy was a girlish 25, or maybe 30, and I'm sure the sweet early-summer air smelled just as strong, that the apple blossoms were just as heady, imagine the vivacity of a community with 45 of its young people still living within 5 miles, the word 'economy' not yet a bleak sound.

I biked along Beinn Breagh road this evening, to the gate where the land of an old dead inventor begins and public domain ends. The sun was long gone and the last orange shreds of its light were on the western horizon. I thought about Australia and the sun rising there, imagined the earth with a dark patch laid on it and where the sun was lying. I waited a minute for my heart and throat to settle, I'd biked so fiercely they were harsh and I was spitting from the effort. Got back on the seat and slowly pedaled back down the road, thought about Irish lilts in accents and missing travel, with accuracy. I missed the specific excitement of the unknown so close to each day.

This morning in the post office, dear Donna Campbell (after selling me two international stamps) said, "You'll have to put your wanderlust in check, going to university in the fall!" I made a face. "I know!" Or maybe, I'll be able to put it to different uses. Time will tell. Now, wha's your father's name?

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