McReady – by Lorne Finlayson

Finn

You will remember Finn from previous posts. All grown up from his prairie town adventures, Finn’s fascination with the local characters who clashed with the “milk and cookies” lifestyle of this young farmboy, has inspired him to write about some of these rough guys. Here is a snippet from his work in progress, about the seedy sod, McReady. You must understand that once in a while the language slips up. We can’t expect a character like McReady  to use words like “Oops-a-daisy” when the F word is more on the mark. I apologize in advance on behalf of McReady, the lout!

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Excerpt:

Jesus, my head was pounding. I just had to get out of bed and get a drink of water and some aspirin or something. Maybe a shot of gin would do it. Oh, I hate Saturday mornings. I always have a hangover. Before I rolled out I looked over at the other side of the bed. No one there. Damn. Struck out again. And she was so friendly in the bar, too.

I got my feet on the floor and heaved myself upright. Major accomplishment. No clean shirt, but yesterday’s was all right, so I put it on, pulled on my pants and jacket and fumbled around for my shoes. There were socks in them. I gave them the sniff test. They weren’t too ripe so I put them back on again, stuffed my wallet into my pocket, and jammed a brown hat onto my throbbing head. “Off to the coffee shop, Pal,” I ordered myself.

The landlady was already up. I could hear her scuffling around upstairs. Then, all went quiet and I knew she was listening to see if I was home so she could come down and bug my sorry butt about the overdue rent. Christ, I’m only a couple of weeks late, not like it’s any big deal. The old bag needs to get laid, that’s what I think. I stopped and considered the possibility, but, no, not now. A man had to have some standards and porking a 200-pound granny is a bit much, even for me. So, I planned my getaway. First, I rattled my back door lock, like I’m undoing it and getting ready to leave. Then, I stood real quiet and listened. I knew she heard me, and I heard her open her back door and head down the stairs to cut me off. So, I scooted out the front door and I was on my way, quick as Bob’s your uncle. Hardy har har. We’d played this game for years and I always won.

The sky was all grey, low clouds and the sun was up there but I couldn’t quite tell where. A cold breeze was swirling down the street, picking up the chocolate bar wrappers, cigarette packages and pieces of yesterday’s local newsrag and piling them all together in heaps along the curb between the parked cars. I could feel sand and some farmer’s topsoil gritting under my shoes. Normal morning in a prairie town. Just needed a few tumbleweeds and a couple of six guns and we could shoot a western. I figured as soon as I could get a stake together I was getting the hell out of here. Take the bus to the Coast. Some of my pals told me there’s good pickings in Prince George.

The Do-Drop-Inn was a greaseball joint with a half dozen or so round tables, a counter and a surly Yugoslav to run it. The door squealed as I walked in, asshole being too cheap to oil the fucking thing. His coffee was obscene, but it did the job on a dead body like mine. So, I poured one and looked around.

Over in the corner this other rounder, Moose, was having a greasy breakfast of ham, eggs and some slimy mush that resembled hash browns. He was sitting real close to his daughter Allie, a delightful little thing that he was trying to protect from us horse players and card sharks. I walked over and sat down and he looked up, a bit of egg on his porky chin. The sweetie looked up at me shyly and smiled, but said nothing and went back to her toast and jam.

“Christ, Moose,” I said, “kid can’t make out on toast and jam. Feed her some real food.”

That got his attention and he growled, “Hey, watch your mouth.”

Allie just giggled.

*****

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Have you met any “seedy sod” characters? I’m sure they’re all around us but they seem to stand out more in the healthy prairie environment. They make wonderful resource material for writers.

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Christmas Interview – Lorne Finlayson

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Are you wishing for the old days? Read Finn’s interview and see if you share some of his nostalgic longings for the Christmases of days gone by.Finn

Christmas Interview with Finn, of “Muck and Finn” Fame

1. Do you celebrate Christmas?

Yes

2. Have you ever spent Christmas alone?

I certainly have, more than once

3. What are your thoughts on gift giving?

People just overdo it. The last time we went to the gift opening someone’s place we sat for an hour or more as their child opened gift after gift. It was a gross display of overwhelming the kid with stuff.

4. Do you have stockings either at Christmas, or on St. Nicholas Day?

Christmas. St. Nicholas Day?

5. What was the best gift you ever received at Christmas?

A selection of really yummy goodies from my late sister.

6. What was the worst gift you ever received at Christmas?

A stuffed raccoon

7 What was the best homemade gift you ever received?

Perhaps a pair of mittens that my mom knit for me?

8. Have you ever given a homemade gift? Tell about it.

Back in the day, I made a tool tote for someone. I put a lot of time and effort to make it as good as I could but it just got chucked out. I don’t make things for anyone now.

9. What would you change about Christmas?

I would eliminate the need to give stuff and just enjoy the company of friends.

10. What would you keep the same if you could?

The songs and decorations that one encounters in stores in the lead up to Christmas.

11. What is your favourite Christmas music or song?

I love it all, the traditional carols and the schmaltyz made up songs.

12. Any additional thoughts about Christmas?

What may have been, or could have been is a time to get together and enjoy a feast and good cheer. Increasingly it is just another time of  year to buy junk . There are lessons to be learned by watching the “Returns” line ups at large stores the day after Christmas as folks deal with stuff they have been given.

snow on the woodpile

Real Winter – A Muck and Finn Adventure

You may recognize these two hellions who always tried hard, though unsuccessfully, to keep out of “trouble.”

Muck

This is Muck, good buddy of Finn.

Finn

This is Finn, good buddy of Muck.

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Here is another episode of The Adventures of Muck and Finn, by guest writer, Lorne Finlayson.

Real Winter

Winters were colder when Muck and Finn were kids. Colder than they are now. I mean the Real Winter, the part that started after New Year’s, when kids had to go back to school. That was when smoke from wood stoves went straight up into the air. That was when it seemed like the sun came up, only to go right back down again. Houses had poor insulation and some had none at all. In the Real Winter it was often possible to see frost on the nails inside of the house. Finn’s cousin, Bob, had a room on the cold north side of his house. Sometimes, during the dregs of January or early February, not only could one see frost on the nails that held the drywall but there would be frost on the wall itself. On super cold days Bob’s blankets would be frozen to the wall. Now, that’s cold. And Bob lived in one of the better houses in the whole district. That was Real Winter for you.

Real Winter was the time of year when little boys got their tongues stuck to things like steel flagpoles and skate runners. One time Finn was playing outside and was really thirsty so he licked some ice frozen to a shovel. The first lick was great, but on the second he licked right up onto the bare steel. His tongue was caught and just would not come loose. Finn was trapped and started to cry. He didn’t want his tongue to be ripped to pieces on the frozen shovel.

Holding up the shovel, stuck tongue and all, he ran into the house. Finn’s Dad saw what had happened and poured warm water on the shovel beside his tongue until the steel warmed and the tongue popped free. He didn’t even get into trouble. His dad must have figured he had been in enough trouble already, glued to the frozen shovel and all.

Up until Christmas holidays, winter was lots of fun for kids. The first cold weather would freeze the little creek that ran below town. Kids could skate for miles on its glassy coat, all the way from the bottom of the hill beside the road leading out of town, around all the corners and straight stretches to the Second Beaver Dam. That was a very long way away, in kid measure. At first, the ice would crack and they would have to skate really fast so as not to fall in. Often they could see the crack as it shot ahead, zig-zagging way faster than they could skate. Flounder might be a better word because their hand-me-down skates always needed sharpening and were usually too big or too small.

Some years the lake outside of town would freeze over before the snow fell. The big kids would skate for miles on it. At night they would build bonfires on shore and then skate off into the darkness. If a person stood really still the sound of their skates would ring Ka-ching, ka-ching, ka-ching, as they powered across the mirror smooth surface.

Real Winter could be very busy. Late November or early December would usually bring a nice snowfall, maybe a foot or so deep. That would put an end to skating on the river and the lake but the snowfall meant it was time for the men to go out into the bush and cut firewood. In those days firewood was really important. All the houses were heated by wood. In Real Winter the sap would hide in the roots of the trees, so there would be less of it in the trunks to gum up the chimneys. This soot could build up and then catch on fire right in the chimney. A chimney fire could get so hot that it would catch the roof or ceiling on fire and burn the house down. It happened every year. Wood cut during Real Winter would sit over the summer to dry and be burned the following winter. Most of the firewood came from poplar trees, for there were lots of them and they grew quickly. Good thing, too, because they did not give much heat so it took a big pile of poplar wood to keep a house warm.

 Finn’s dad and mom burned wood in the cookstove all day to cook and keep warm. At bedtime his dad would put coal in atop the wood, for it burned slowly and gave good heat to save them from getting cold before morning. Finn’s dad only used Drumheller coal, from Drumheller, Alberta. He said it was the best and it left very few ashes and “clinkers.” Finn wasn’t sure what clinkers were, but he knew they weren’t good.

Before anyone knew about gas-powered chainsaws the men would go out and cut down the poplars with axes. Then they put the logs into neat piles. When enough had been cut they would head out with a team of horses and a sleigh, load the logs and bring them home. The logs had to be sawn up into blocks, about 18 inches long. If the block was too big around to make good stove wood it would later be split in half, or more, until it would go into the stove to keep folks warm.

Sawing up those poplar logs was quite an operation. Farmers would mount a big, round saw onto the front of a tractor where it could be driven by a wide belt attached to a pulley near the engine. Usually a crew of three or four men would do the sawing. If there were four, three of them would work together to lift the log and put it onto a ledge in front of the saw blade. The fourth man would be on the other side of the saw. He and the man nearest to the saw would slide the log into the saw. When the block was sawn free the fourth man would pitch it into a pile. Then the men holding the log would move ahead so that another block could be sawn off. When the log had been all sawn up they would go back, get another log, and start over again. It was pleasant work, not very difficult and if the crew worked together they could cut a lot of wood in a day.

For little kids, like Muck and Finn , it was the time of year to go sliding. There was a nice hill behind Muck’s house where all the town kids got together, bringing sleds, toboggans, sheets of tin, skis or anything that would slide down that hill. It wasn’t a really big hill so it took only a smidgeon of time for the kids to shoot down, hearts in their throats, then climb back up to go again.

In that happy year before Muck had to start school Muck and Finn had the hill to themselves while the other kids were in class. Muck had a really fast sleigh, with steel runners and just enough room for two little boys to sit as they whizzed down the slope.

One sunny but cold day Finn’s mom dressed him up in his warm winter snow clothes and away he went, over to Muck’s house. Muck was all ready to go. Before they got out the door, Muck’s mom said , “You boys be careful, now. Daddy and the men are going to be sawing wood close to the house at the bottom of the hill. I don’t want you to slide into that saw. Did you hear what I said?”

“Yes, we’ll be careful,” they said, nodding like a pair of bobble heads. They could already hear the noise of the tractor and the whine of the saw as it cut through the poplar logs. When they got outside and went around the house they could see the men at work. Muck’s dad had a John Deere tractor that huffed and puffed as it worked away. He was throwing the blocks as the screaming saw chopped them off. They watched for a few minutes until the lure of the hill overtook them, then they raced up to the top to get ready for that first run.

Oh, it was such fun, shooting off, almost out of control, just a little bit scared at how fast they were going. Down the hill, then up again as fast as their little legs could carry them. Sometimes Muck would sit in front and steer, sometimes it would be Finn’s turn. As the morning went on and the sun got warmer the snow was more and more slippery. Each run took them nearer to the house, nearer to the men sawing wood. They were so excited and so happy that they just didn’t notice.

Near noon they figured out that if they held onto the sleigh, ran really hard and then jumped aboard they could go even farther and faster. It took some practice. At first they couldn’t do it together and fell all over the place, rolling down the hill, then getting up and chasing after the runaway sleigh. Soon they got it right, and Muck held onto the front part of the sleigh and Finn leapt on behind.

Down, down, down the hill they went, the wind cutting into their eyes, making them water so much they could hardly see. They had never gone so fast. At the bottom of the hill was a little bump that threw them into the air, screaming for joy. But, they kept on going, faster and faster.

The boys were so excited that they didn’t hear the chugging tractor and screaming saw as they got closer and closer. When they opened their eyes that shining, whining saw was right dead ahead. Its hungry teeth were just about the same level as their little toqued heads.

Muck yelled, “Duck!” and they did, shooting under the saw past the startled faces of the sawing crew.

They came to a stop by bumping into the house and falling off the sleigh. Muck’s dad was there about the same time, and he was not pleased. He said, “You boys! You could have cut your heads off! Leave that sleigh right where it is and get into the house. You’re finished sliding until I say so.”

He was more scared than angry. And, he was right. Heads down, Muck and Finn went into the house and sat down at the kitchen table. Muck’s mom asked, “What have you boys done now?”

Muck stuttered, “Um…we were sliding and we went under the saw and Daddy said for us to go into the house because we can’t go sliding any more.”

Her face went a bit pale at those words. She spoke slowly and softly. “ Oh, my goodness. Finn, you go home and tell your parents what happened and you, Muck, you go up to your bedroom and stay there. You boys can’t play together anymore today.”

Clearly, she was really upset because she didn’t give the boys any milk and cookies like she usually did. When Finn got home and told his mom and dad they were not pleased, either. It was the first time Muck and Finn were ever in “trouble,” that word that terrifies all little kids.

The next day the wood was all sawed, the tractor and crew were off somewhere else and they were allowed to slide down the hill once more.

But never again was it as exciting as that time when they went under the saw!

Muck and Finn are Bored

Two little boys who grew up in Saskatchewan spend a typical summer trying to entertain themselves.

Here is another episode of The Adventures of Muck and Finn, by guest writer, Lorne Finlayson.

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Muck on the left, Finn on the right.

Muck and Finn were bored. It was summer holidays and it seemed like all the other kids had left town. The boys thought if they found enough kids they could get a game of scrub softball going. They rode their bikes all over town but no one was to be found.

“Well, what are we going to do,” asked Muck, “’cause if I go home my mom will make me work and I don’t feel like pulling weeds.”

“The only things I can think of right now is playing catch or going to the lake,” said Finn.

“ Swimming! Ha! You swim like that big rock over there,” taunted Muck.

“Better than you. All you can do is dog paddle. I’ll bet you don’t dare go out over your head.” Finn laughed.

“Betcha I would!”

“Betcha you’d be too chicken!”

Muck glared at Finn. No one called him chicken, not even Finn. Not even his big sisters. Not even the big kids because he would just beat them up.

“OK, Finn. Let’s go down to the lake and I’ll show you who’s chicken—and it ain’t me.”

“Big talk, Muck. I’m going home to get my trunks and towel and then I”m going down to the lake. Come along if you’re brave enough. Dog paddler! Ha, ha.” Finn laughed as he jumped on his bike and pedaled home fast, keeping ahead of Muck.

At the lake, they changed clothes and ran to the shore to dive in, but the adults there told them not to go in. There was “itch” in the water. The itch came in late summer. It would make little red dots on a kid’s skin that were so itchy that they almost drove a person crazy. No one really knew where the itch came from but once it was in the lake, well, that was the end of swimming for that year. By the time the itch went away school was about to start and the kids figured it was too cold to go swimming anyway.

All that tough talk about who could swim the best was forgotten when they tried making sandcastles. The sand was so dry it couldn’t be sculpted into anything. Neither of the boys had thought of bringing a pail to haul water from the lake to wet the sand piles. Reluctantly they took off their swimming trunks, got dressed and then sat down in the shack that was used as a change room. What could they do for the rest of the day?

They parted company a few minutes later and each went home to see if their moms had made lunch. They were in luck. It was just lunch time and each of the moms had made a plate of sandwiches; some salmon, some baloney and some deviled egg and the boys ate their fill, then polished the feast off with cookies and cold milk.

After they had helped to clean off the table they sat down and waited for the orders. Weed the garden was the worst, but cleaning up ones room came close. In his house, Muck thought he would have to sweep all the floors and dust the many porcelain ornaments that his mom had collected and displayed.

Meanwhile, over at his house, Finn awaited his fate. If it did not include toiling in the boiling afternoon sun pulling weeds it would probably be something worse like shelling peas. First, one had to go out and pick the peas off the vines, then bring them into the house, open each pod, and push out the peas. Finn liked peas, but that job seemed to take forever. Moms were great at finding horrible chores to keep little boys out of trouble when they were bored during those last days of summer holidays.

But, to their great surprise, each of the moms said, “Okay, now that you’ve helped clean up the kitchen you can go back outside and play.”

What! No weeding! No dusting! No pea shelling! They couldn’t believe their good fortune and hightailed it out of the house just in case a mom changed her mind. Muck ran over to Finn’s house and they sat down in the cool shade on the north side of the house. The boys reached into their pockets to see how much money they had so they could go to the café and have an ice cream sundae.

When they put all the nickels and dimes together they had over a whole dollar. As they walked down to get some ice cream the thought struck them. “Let’s get some cigarettes and have a smoke. All the cool older kids smoked so why not them?’

The problem was to get someone to go into the Pool Hall and get a pack. Muck and Finn were too little to be allowed into the Pool Hall. That was for older kids and adults because parents knew that in the Pool Hall billiards was played, not for fun, but for real money. Sometimes rude words could be heard from inside the Pool Hall if one held an ear to the windows.

The boys hung around the Pool Hall waiting for a big kid to show up who would buy the cigarettes.

One big kid to come along was known only as Nimbo Stratus. “Hey, Nimbo,” said Muck, “how about getting us a pack of Black Cat Cork Tips if we give you the money?”

“You guys are too young to smoke,” said Nimbo. “That’s for grownups, like me.”

“We smoke all the time,” said the boys. Neither had ever so much as taken a puff.

“OK, then,” said Nimbo.“Do you have the 50 cents for a pack?”

“Of course,” they said, reaching into their pockets for the money.

“And,” Nimbo added, “another 50 cents for my trouble.”

“What!!” they cried. “That’s highway robbery!!”

“Suit yourself,” said Nimbo, turning to go into the Pool Hall.

“Well, OK then,” they conceded, giving him the whole dollar.

Nimbo was in and out of the Pool Hall in a flash. He brought out the pack of Black Cat Cork Tip cigarettes and a packet of penny matches, just to show what a good guy he was.

Muck and Finn ran to Muck’s place and hid behind the outhouse. Muck opened the pack of cigarettes and each boy took one. Oh, those cigarettes smelled so fragrant, so rich and musky. But when they lit up it was a different story. The smoke got into their noses and made them sneeze. To really smoke they had to inhale, like real grownup smokers. That made them cough and wheeze. After a few minutes of that each boy felt like the world was going around in circles. Then their stomachs rebelled!

“I have to go, really go!” said Muck. He dove into the outhouse and sat on the seat just in time.

“Oooh, me too,” whined Finn and he took off to his own outhouse across the street. He got there in time, but it was a close call.

The boys felt ill for the rest of the day. Their moms figured it was just a one-day summer flu until they got close and smelled the unmistakable odour of tobacco smoke. Then each got a lecture about the evils of smoking and were marched off to their rooms for the rest of the afternoon.

The next day they searched around until they found Nimbo. They told him they had decided to quit smoking, and asked if he wanted to buy the rest of the pack of Black Cat Cork Tip cigarettes. Nimbo had a great laugh at their expense, but gave them their 50 cents for the smokes.

That was 25 cents each, just enough for an ice cream sundae. They ran to the café and in no time were enjoying the cold treat. After that, they decided that smoking was not all that great. Ice cream was much better!