“Here, hold the gate so the mama won’t get out.” Netty throws the words behind and I pick them up as I go, holding onto the metal gate that keeps the goats and the sheep inside their yard. If I didn’t know any better I’d say we’ve done this before the two of us, feeding the animals and chatting about life.
I just met Netty, she’s one of the interpreters here at Fort Langley and a happy person by all counts. The boys and I bumped into her in the big house where she showed us around and told us about the proclamation of the Crown colony of British Columbia in 1858, by James Douglas, the first governor. Talk about tingly, when you stand on the very spot where the province you live in was born. The boys are speechless and I can’t claim to be any different. i ask for her name. Netty, she says. And yours? Netty asks us if we like animals and invites us to follow her outside to the farm. We already went there, I told her, but will gladly revisit. She gives us a quick overview of the animals there and then starts feeding them. The two of us chat about farms and real life and I told her about my dream of living in a place where roosters can wake you up in the morning, tomatoes are not just grown for the fun of it and birthday cakes don’t have blue in them. She points her finger at me nodding a big yes, and then heads over to the chickens coop to let them out. In the meantime the boys take my camera and engage in a friendly chase and pixel immortalizing of the hens and their mighty rooster. Netty and I chat a few minutes and then she excuses herself for a bit. a couple of minutes later she makes her way back holding two fresh eggs. “These are for you, I just washed them. I hope your dream will come true. You should head out to the Kootenays, you’d love it there.” The eggs become the focal point of Sasha’s attention. He checks on them every five minutes, taking breaks only to run over to the sheep and goats. Definition of simple joy. We bid goodbye to the cheeky nanny goat and her two kids, the pigs and burping sheep and try as I may, I cannot convince Sasha that although it sounds like loud burping, the sound those sheep make is, well, bleating. That’s how they talk, I tell him. “They burp a lot mom. That’s burping, it’s from the food they eat.” An expert if I’ve ever seen one.
Tony declares proudly that he managed to hold a chicken – yes, chased, seized and held, that is – and Netty laughs “Well, you’re the first to do so.” What better place to set a trend, I’m thinking. I tell Netty I’ll return for some more stories and chat, and she smiles “I really hope you will.”
We head to the blacksmith once again and he’s just finished making some nice hooks. A man of few words, he looks around with a mix of frown and smile “Any questions, aside from ‘Can I have that’?”. Puzzled looks spring from people around and then he offers help. “Have anything to trade for it?”. A woman offers a band-aid, a man dangles some candy, another one a cheese stick. The blacksmith looks at the hooks, he needs nothing of what he’s offered, he says, but reluctantly exchanges the two hooks for the band-aid and the cheese stick. Tony asks a few times “Mom, do you have anything precious in your backpack?” Well, I do, but I am not ready to trade with the blacksmith. Finally, I hand Tony my red erasable pen and he gets the blacksmith’s attention. He beams with the coveted hook in his hand as if it’s pure gold he’s holding. People leave and we’re still there for Sasha has a fascination for the man and his magic tools that bend that orange soft metal toffee into whatever his heart desires. The blacksmith searches for another hook, a smaller one. He hands it to Sasha with a smile. Sasha will be holding it until bedtime. One end is sharp as sharp can be – the blacksmith’s safety standards match the ones of the times he’s dressed up for, and I cannot fault him at all – but I do not dare ask sasha to put it away. A mother knows precious when she sees that in her kids’ eyes.
We eat bannock which I made over the fire on a stick while the boys waited patiently sitting on the grass. Can we make some for dinner, Mom? Four eyes beg, two smile back in quiet consent. We visit more buildings and the “bateau” which Sasha pronounces with such aplomb that I am ready to go see it again and again just to hear him say it one more time.
I look around and my eyes and heart take big gulps of the place. Can’t tell you all about it though, go see for yourself…
We leave the fort and head into town for treats. Small colorful shops are lined up like clothes on a line and some lively old music spills into the street from the saloon. We hit a candy shop and I get to see the enactment of the “like a kid in a candy shop.” The boys bounce from giant rainbow lollipops and Wonka chocolate bars to thick slabs of fudge and “look, Mom, giant candy legs!”. High-pitched “Mom!” bounce like ping-pong balls all over the room. I think of mice in a cheese parlour. The shop keeper has seen it all. Tony’s eyes sparkle “This is heaven, Mom.” ‘Tis day of proclamations indeed. The lady laughs, more so because she knows for a fact now that we will not leave the store empty-handed. Chocolate fudge and some old-fashioned, aspartame-free chewing gum make a good loot. Sugar hounds that we are we go to the town’s old diner for some ice cream cones. The diner is plastered with photos of the old days, advertisements for Coca Cola and hamburgers. My mind struggles with some food politics issues but I choose to drown them for now with Elvis’s “Only you” playing in the background.
Sasha falls asleep on our way back and rightfully so. Car snoozing after a trip makes a good childhood hobby. Big milky clouds streaked with golden and blue drape lazily over the green farm fields. Tony reads and the car hums a good houmebound hum.
A few kilometers later the landscape changes as we drive through a giant sprawl of megastores and car dealerships lining the highway and screaming advertisements at us. A big colorful sign reads “The future lives here.” No kidding. If this is what the future looks like, well, I know U-turns are illegal but I’m ready to risk one anyway.
at home I make bannock for dinner and we talk about the day. The boys require no urging to go to bed. They are exhausted like after a long trip. In all fairness, we traveled as far as one can travel. Wouldn’t you agree?