Sunday, May 31, 2020

The Curious Case of Marshmallow Wine

I just phoned my sister Norma to ask if she remembered when our older brother Tom introduced the Carter household to marshmallow wine. She didn't but added she wasn't surprised to hear it.
Huena with her brother Alex. (I'm pretty sure)

In the house that Norma, me, and the rest of the Carters grew up in, a lot of stuff got drunk.

The marshmallow wine appeared when I was pretty little; under 14 for sure if Tom was still living at home. Somebody was visiting, Tom offered them a glass of wine, went to the kitchen and returned with something dark and winey-looking.

Afterwards, my mom--her first name was Huena-- asked Tom what he'd served the guest. He said the marshmallow wine was the only thing he could find. She'd never heard of marshmallow wine.

Tom got the bottle to show Huena and turns out what he actually served was some sort of medicine that had to be kept refrigerated and started with m and had some a's and some l's in the name.  I'd phoned Norma to see if she remembered the actual name of the medicine.

The point is, marshmallow wine, in Huena's universe, could have been a thing. Huena tried to brew everything, at least once.

Regular beer, root beer, ginger beer -- Huena was a craft brewer a half century before they got trendy. She also made--Norma just reminded me--something called banana champagne, two words that when typed right beside each other actually made me laugh.

It was the unscheduled popping-off of banana-champagne corks that scared the crap out of a workman my dad had hired.

My father Tom was a one-man combination welfare office/John Howard society, hiring all kinds of guys right out of jail or off the bus from the east coast, and many of them ended up sleeping in our basement.

somebody actually does make marshmallow wine!
The day of the great banana-champagne explosion, one of my dad's recent hires was napping in the cellar when something went terribly wrong with mom's batch of home-brewed banana-champagne and all the corks blasted out of the bottles. The hired man, recently arrived from Ireland or maybe Newfoundland, jumped awake, hightailed it upstairs and out the door, only to explain to Huena later he thought it was gunfire that woke him up.

More frequently than champagne, Huena brewed root beer. I remember it being sort of flat and, rooty tasting.  Huena's root beer shared as much DNA with A&W's delicious product as I do with Joe Carter the pro baseball player.

Ditto ginger beer. I think I was in grade 12 when I first tasted store-bought ginger beer and thinking, "Wow! This stuff 's delicious! How can that be?!"

Then there was Huena's signature brew: Dandelion wine.

And although I was technically too young I'd be lying if I said I didn't try it and a question just occurred to me: Might Huena have concocted her dandelion wine to look and taste the way it did in an effort to have all her kids swear off drinking for life?

Oh well. E for effort.

Finally, I bet you're dying to know where she got all the dandelions.

GREY MATTER NEVER SLEEPS: Huena was always brewing something
Our house was on a north-south hilly street called Eyre. Two and a half blocks south of our place, at the end of Eyre, is the protestant graveyard. (The property marked the end of another Eyre, too. The land was once part of the farm belonging to Frederick Eyre, who our street was named after. The cemetery is Fred's final resting place.)

That graveyard was where a lot of the dandelions for mom's wine came from.

I used to wonder if the wine would have turned out better if it was Catholics that were buried there.

One more lovable thing about Huena and dandelions.

She once pointed out that a lawn full of dandelions after they'd gone to seed looks like a grassy field full of little old ladies.

Think about it.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Welcome to Pete's house of noise

I'm pretty sure I've never lived in a house that didn't make a lot of noise. 
SQUEAK FOR YOURSELF: Ikea wood is silent because
it's pining for the fjords.

Some people, I've heard, spend their lives in quiet buildings. 

In fact a few years ago, I was in a new house in Mississauga; the owners had just taken possession of the home so the lovely place was still under warranty. (Who knew?) 

One of the hardwood floors squeaked and the new owner told me he'd lodged a complaint with the developer who apparently said a repair person would be by to fix it sometime.  I never did follow up with the guy.

I wonder if he's like, calmer. Or maybe they have a happier marriage or something. I bet not.

Every building I've ever lived in has been really really noisy. Floors crackle and squeak, pipes whine and moan. When I walk by our piano and get up to where the  high notes are, some of the Hummel figures in the china cabinet rub against each other and rattle. The upstairs bathroom door grinds when it shuts and if you listen closely you can hear the living room light dimmer hum. 
a slender chance the writer took the photo only
because he thought of the pun. 

We've a high-efficiency furnace that competes with Iris the cat's purring and there's something else noisy in the basement that I think is a hot water heater, to which my brother Ed would say "why would you want a hot water heater? Isn't it cold water that needs heating?"

Our house is busy.

But none of those sounds are as important as the noise the stairs make. Almost all stairs not only make sound, they tell stories: Adventure tales that can get a person into or out of trouble.

Consider the one-and-a-half-storey home we dozen Carters lived in, in Sudbury, Ontario. I seem to recall there were 13 steps, all told, if you counted the top and/or bottom, joining the first floor to the second.

By the time I was 15, I knew that if you came home late and didn't want anybody to hear you go up to bed, you had to tread really softly on the first stair but then skip the second and third altogether and when you put your foot on step four, you had to just use your toe and stay to the right. One miss-put step and the ratfink stair would yell to everybody in the place: "It's really late and Pete's trying to sneak in to bed!" 
case to be made for stairs testifying in court. A stair case.

Those -- and the stairs in the old Toronto house where we've been living for the past 18 years -- were actually more polygraph than stairwell. 

And even after all the years of being in this century-old building, I have yet to master a silent ascent.

Full marks to our own three kids, Ewa, Ria and Michel--all in their 20s and living on their own now--for cracking the stairwell code in this joint early on.

I'm sure there were  nights (and early mornings) when my kids played those stairs like Tom Hanks did the giant keyboard in "Big" and therefore got away with lots of stuff I still don't want to know about.

Silent stairclimbing is a lifeskill worth honing.

Plus it's not just stairs.

About 30 minutes ago, I was telling my wife Helena that a certain home-repair contractor had made an appointment for a visit to our place (for a non-stair-related matter); and while I was sharing the information, I was on the move. 

I started the sentence in the living room but by the time I'd reached the actionable part of the story, I'd turned the corner into the front hall. 

When Helena asked when the appointment was, she got the following: "The guy on the phone said they'd be here on on Friday..."

Floorboards drowning me out:  "Squeak, rattle, squeak."
Helena: "What?" (As my pal Richard says, "Nobody warns you that so much of marriage is going to be, simply, yelling, from one room to the next, 'what?'".)

Me: "Sorry. The floor squeaked. Friday, June twelfth at eight a.m."

No harm done, right? 

At other times? That loquacious old hardwood saves my hide.

Two weeks ago, we took delivery of an assemble-yourself Ikea picnic table.

While putting Ikea furniture together is way easier than, like, building something from scratch, it's never either fun or rewarding. I'd rather mow the lawn. (Spoiler alert. I eventually got the assembly done, and with such finesse that I afterwards phoned my sister Charlene to brag: "Chuck I actually just assembled an Ikea picnic table and get this: There are no parts left over!" She didn't believe me.)

A few days after Ikea delivered the unassembled table, Helena mentioned that it'd be nice to get the damn thing together before the good weather.

As I responded, I was heading to the front door, so what I sort of mumbled was  "I'll start work on that table when..."

Floorboards: "..squeak rattle squeak squeak squeak."

Helena: "What?"

Me, quickly reassembling my answer: "I'll start work on that table when I get my shoes on!"   

I'm sitting at the Ikea table as I write this. I love my noisy house. 

Friday, May 1, 2020

A Ed of His Time

Today is my older brother Ed’s 65th birthday. Here’s an A-to-ZEd guide to what it’s like to grow up in his wake.
Opening act for ecdysiasts at the Belton Hotel

Alice Cooper. When I was in, I believe, grade eight, Ed managed to score two tickets to a New Year’s Eve concert at Toronto’s Maple Leaf Gardens. Alice Cooper was the headliner, following a roster that included  Edgar Winter, Chilliwack, Crowbar and a few others. Many years later I met the drummer from Crowbar; he was in charge of parking facilities at Pearson Airport. 

Breault. As in Linda Breault, Sudbury Secondary School music teacher. She liked Ed. I remember being in the audience at a Sudbury Secondary School high school band concert that featured a blues guitar solo by Ed, on his Fender Music Maker. Breault introduced him thusly: “Ed may be a kid from the west end of Sudbury but he’s got the soul of a Louisiana bluesman.”

Chapleau. I’m not sure how old he was when Eddie hitchhiked up highway 129 from the village of Thessalon, to Chapleau, Ontario, to visit his best childhood friend Johnny Cosgrove but I’m thinking 12 or 13. My dad drove him to Thessalon whence Ed could thumb. Dad had more confidence in Ed than Ed did, sometimes.

Dad. By the time Dad was done dealing with Ed, he was too tired to deal with me.

FISHIN' WITH ED: Hale and hearty Indoorsmen, roughing it.
Ed my uncle. James Edward, in fact. Unbelievably, his very last words were spoken to his namesake,  my brother James Edward. True, terrific story: Here’s how I remember the event. Ed, dad’s business partner and only brother, was visiting our house; I was in grade seven; Eddie was in nine. At one point in the evening, it was just the three of us in the living room; and Ed Sr. asked Ed. Jr. to play a little tune on the guitar. Brother Ed deferred but of course he couldn’t do so without trying to be funny. Channeling an old Peanuts cartoon, Eddie was like, “No I better not play; I don’t want to get a swat. S-W-A-T. Swat” and he pronounced the “a” like the a in “that.” You had to be there. But what happened next was unforgettable. My uncle Ed said “No Ed, you won’t get a swat tonight,” pronouncing it the same goofy way and then, uncle Ed had a massive coronary and died. Right there. In the chair. With only me and Ed looking on. In that same chair that’s in this photo!

Fly. Something Eddie would never harm. Ditto a person.

Guitar. Ed’s first professional gig? He played bass in a strip club in Sudbury as, I think, a 15-year-old, with my late brother Tom’s good friend Moe Sauve.

Hendrix. Here’s the thing: A very attractive female high-school classmate of Ed’s engaged him in a bit of flirtatious banter about who was the best guitarist. She said Hendrix. Eddie insisted it was Jeff Beck.  Back and forth they went until finally, she got fed up, decided Ed was being dumb and left. Ed knows now that had he lied and pretended Hendrix was the better of the two, his high school years would have been a lot more fun. But hes Ed. He stood his ground. And hes right about Beck.

Indians was the name of the Little League Baseball team that both Eddie and our brother Alex played on.  I was too young and was slightly jealous but remember going to watch them play at O’Connor Playground in our hometown of Sudbury.  Because we weren’t a big sports family, Ed was furnished with a baseball glove that he inherited from one of our uncles who’d probably used it to play cricket before the Second World War. Knowing it was a valuable antique, Ed didn’t risk marring its surface by letting it come into contact with anything as grimy as, say, a baseball.

Joe Cocker shirts. I think Cocker liked them because he wanted to be like Ed. Joe’s dead. Ed’s not. We win!

Killing Fields the movie came out when I was between jobs and in Sudbury. Eddie and I went to see it then repaired to the Nickel City tavern to discuss. Killing Fields is about a foreign correspondent in Southeast Asia. Over draft beer, Eddie and I decided that we, too, could go on an adventure like that and Ed said he had enough money saved up to pay for both our passages. We toasted the idea and the next morning, I wussed out and took a job at a local newspaper but Ed headed out solo on a few-years long adventure that took him to among other places, Acapulco, Bangkok and Korea. Many things happened on that trek that I don’t want to ask him about.

Luck.  Ed was perhaps the only Carter before my son Michel to have ever taken something called “shop” in high school. And in that shop, I remember Ed built a little wooden box that he gave to my mom probably for Mother’s Day, with a note that read a version of “there’s an ancient Indian belief that says if a piece of furniture has flaws in it, it brings good fortune. So this is a very very lucky box.”

My uncle Ed again. It’s hard to believe that story about him dying right there in the chair. He didn’t hold his chest or make any sound. First thing I noticed was he spilled his drink. Then he was gone. I’d sure be mad if my brother Ed did that when he is visiting me. Not spilling the drink. Dying.

Nehru shirts. We’re all glad photography hadn’t been invented yet when we were in high school. But Ed was the first on the block to have one.

Owen Hughes? Huh? What’s he doing on this list? Here’s what: My late mom used to sing to us, a lot, and she’d put our names into the songs.  One of the songs to Eddie went like this “Eddie my love, I love you only only only”  But down the street from us was a kid named Owen Hughes whose mom and dad called “Onie” and we teased Ed that what Mom was really singing was “Eddie my love I love you Onie, Onie  Onie.”

Pot: When Ed and I returned to Sudbury after the Alice Cooper concert my mom who read everything—she knew about the  Sex Pistols before I did — said, “Globe and Mail says that you could smell marijuana smoke everywhere at that concert that you boys went to.”

Queen. So, I introduced Ed to somebody at Carleton University and I said my brother can come up with a joke on any subject and she says “how about the queen” and Ed says “the queen’s not a subject.” One time my dad, who wanted us all to have good posture, told Ed to throw his chest out and Ed was like, “but it’s the only one I got.”

Richard Nixon. During the late 60s and early 70s, Ed was telling me about a crook in the White house and of course I, knowing better, was sure such a thing couldn’t be true.  That’s the story of my life. I’m like, “Ed you have no idea what you’re talking about” then it turn out he does.
Do you think Im 60?

Speeding without a licence. When I was 13 and Ed was 15, my dad let him take our Chevy Impala for a drive. Our father always said if you were a good driver, you didn’t need a licence because a good driver would never have any interaction with the police. Unless you’re Ed, who, at 15, arrived at the bottom of Regent Street Hill, and said “let’s see what this baby will do” before putting his foot to the mat. We got pulled over, Ed got a talking to and the cop sent us on our way.

Traffic (the band). For one of my birthdays, Ed gave me one of the best rock albums ever made: John Barleycorn Must Die, by Traffic. The thing is, I’d never heard anything by the band but immediately fell in love with the sound. He did the same with the Eagles. Ditto Jethro Tull. Eddie knows my musical tastes better than I do.

University. As a mature student, Ed killed his degree in philosophy. He’s a specialist in Kant. My theory is that it was because he knew all the words to the Monty Python’s eponymous hit.

Vegetables, Ed says, “are what food eats”

Weed: That Alice Cooper concert was the first time I ever met pot.

X his heart and hope to die. Eddie knows pretty much all my secrets. So Ed? Like Dad used to say, “I hope you don’t die ’til I kill ya.”

our 60th birthday party, Ed, was so memorable. It might have had something to do with how much people like you and associate you with parties but also probably because nobody expected you to live this long.

Zappa. As I write this;  I’m listening to a true rock masterpiece Frank Zappa’s, Peaches en Regalia. Ed introduced me to this ingenious music, and every carefully chosen note reminds me that it’s Ed’s birthday and I owe him the world and really, I should have, instead of having written this free list, bought him a gift. But this was cheaper.