Episode 3: Living in a Tent & My Father

Anita describes living in a tent on an isolated beach with her first baby, in British Columbia, and what she did if we needed medical attention.

Listen:

 

Table of Contents for Episode 3

Part One: Living in a Tent, 13 Mile Beach, British Columbia, circa 1974. Cim interviews Anita, audio only, photos below.

Part Two: Things I Knew About My Father.
Short Story written by Cimminnee Holt, text only, photo below.

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Part One: Living in a Tent, 13 Mile Beach, British Columbia, circa 1974

Listen: Cim interview’s her mother Anita.

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Notes:

  1. The campsite was somewhere near Sombrio, called 13 Mile Beach, which was inaccessible at the time.
  2. Anita reference’s a First Nations’ village of Wuikinuxv people (formerly known as the “Northern Kwakiutl”) near River’s Inlet.
  3. Yarrow has many healing properties.

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Part Two: Things I Knew About My Father

Written by Cimminnee Holt

Scans

He is a musician.

There is a scratchy sounding cassette tape that I play occasionally. Adult voices are heard talking casually at a party; kids play in the background (am I one of them?); a dish clanks against another; a guitar gets being tuned; someone bangs a drum (but with a hand, not a drumstick). When the music starts it’s just a few chords strummed, then quickly gains momentum until everyone joins in. The jam lasts the whole side A, continuous music, the tempo and intensity rise and fall, but my curiosity only increases with each listen.
This is what I know about my father, that he is one of these male voices.

He is very tall.

We have traveled to Chicago to meet him at his parents’ house. I am eight years old. My father approaches me. He is a giraffe, casting his shadow over my face. This is not my father, who is supposed to have long wild and unruly hair, not this clean cut and shaven man, dressed in casual jeans and a sports jacket. My father wears dashikis, doesn’t he? He’s a musician. Who is this person?

This month, this person is a restaurant manager. Before that, he did some construction. And last year, he worked for a lumber company climbing up the tall trees with a harness and a chainsaw to chop the tip off, a ‘topper’ they call it. This job is usually reserved for young men with no families, he tells me, as the top of the tree may catch your safety belt as it falls, bringing you down with it.

This person speaks funny.

I’ve never met anyone who pronounces the words insurance and Italian like “eensurance” and “eyetalian.” And he doesn’t speak French either. “A southern man,” he calls himself, “A Renaissance Man” at others. Oh, I think, he knows some French after all. He thinks he is rejuvenated.

He was born in a small town in Tennessee, fifty miles out of Memphis. He dropped out of school early, to run the streets and have sex with his girlfriend. No, he doesn’t have any other children besides us, that he’s aware of.

In the early days he divided his time between Chicago and Tennessee, and between civilian freedom and juvenile detention. Eventually, as a young adult, after getting in trouble yet again, the authorities offered him a choice; would you rather go back to jail, an adult jail this time, or enlist in the army?

Stationed in Korea, my father tells me that he could buy a woman for two dollars. He ate rice everyday, and does not know or care much about the politics that sent him there. After a couple of years, he is sent on leave back in the states. He steals a car—a pink cadillac—and comes to Canada.

He met my mother at a party. They move in together the next week. “He had good pot,” she shrugs, remembering.

He has scars on his fingers.

“The army removed my tattoos so I couldn’t be easily identified from the wrist down,” he tells me, “My knuckles used to read ‘Good’ and ‘Evil.’” He laughs, shaking his head, “All the boys did that, with a needle and a pen.”

I think the knurly skin looks funny. It’s as if his hands were sculpted from clay, but just before they dried properly, someone came along and smudged his knuckles. They have a smooth surface with rumpled ridges, where the skin gathered, then healed.

My grandmother is also here, but I am not permitted to call her that. My father calls her “Chicken Butt” because of the shape of her nose. “It was broken in too many bar fights,” my father teases, nodding in my grandmother’s direction.

“Oh don’t tell her those things,” she chastises in her raspy voice, blue cigarette smoke wafting out of mouth and nostrils as she speaks.

She had my father at fifteen, and my uncle a year or so later. “It wasn’t so unusual back in those days,” she informs. Then states, “Hillbillies don’t care.” I have never seen her without a cigarette.

Years later, when I am in my twenties, a rare visit from my father reveals that his mother was an alcoholic for most of her life. Then she got cancer, and part of her throat removed. She doesn’t like the electronic voice, so she speaks with hoarse croaks. “She still smokes, though,” he says, resigned. “She holds the cigarette up to the hole in her throat to inhale,” he mimes the action. 

He shows me a picture of a shack. “This is where we lived in Tennessee.” It had no plumbing, so you had to pump water from the well everyday, and haul it to the house. Him and his brother washed up outside, one pumping water while the other scrubbed under the stream, in a makeshift shower. The outhouse stood a good distance from the pump, to avoid contamination. 

The shack looks exactly like places I’d live in when I was young.  

 

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Episode 2: Daniel’s Cabin and Rocky’s Hill

Introduction

Welcome to the second episode of High School Dropout, a podcast about family mythologies. These are stories, embellished, moderated, even fabricated tales. We wield family stories as weapons during fights, reexamine them to understand our compulsions, continually rewriting them in memory, in a perpetual negotiating with the past.

My name is Cimminnee Holt, and this is my podcast. It is a narrative ethnographic work on my family. No attempt at verifying or debunking claims has been made; facts are irrelevant. These are fictional stories because memory is a poor historian. When we record events in the sinews of our brains they are warped by our own insecurities and ecstasy.

All storytelling is biased revisionism of the truth.

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As this podcast evolves, I’ve switched the format a little bit. The audio will be an interview with a family member, usually with my mother Anita, as we chronicle events and compare memories. The written texts are short narrative stories, sometimes inspired by real events but mostly creative retellings of fictional characters. Members of my family will also contribute their own short stories in the future.

The photos and written fiction are available on the website.

Table of Contents for Episode 2:

  1. Part One: Interview with Anita (Cim’s mother), audio only, see photos below.
  2. Part Two: Rocky’s Hill, written by Cimminnee Holt, text only.

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Episode 2: Daniel’s Cabin and Rocky’s Hill

Part One: Anita Living in Daniel’s Cabin

Anita recounts living with two young children in an isolated cabin with no running water or electricity.

Listen to Part One:

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Part Two: Rocky’s Hill

Small Town Nowhere, Age 9

I wake up that winter morning and tuck my feet further into the weighty, second-hand army surplus blanket. Protected by the feathered down, I am reluctant to wait until mum makes a fire in the wood stove, warming up the old house.

Impatient, I poke my head out, uncover my nose, and look towards the window. It is brighter than usual. That could mean…oh I could not even think of what I wanted, that could jinx it. Unable to see the ground from my bed—my room is on the second floor—I cannot wait to look.

It is cold outside my cocoon of warmth! Still, pancakes are waiting. Maybe mum splurged and got real maple syrup. As extra incentive to get ambulatory, if I get to the television before my Older Brother it ensures first choice of programming for an hour.
I flung back the covers, swung my legs to the side of the bed, and stood up.

Oh! Many aged layers of cold paint on top of old wood floors freeze the bottom of my feet. I rush to the window. Snow! Several feet of soft rolling lumps of fresh snow. The early morning sun casts long shadows through the birch trees, they creep across the pristine yard like bony fingers. The lit strips of bright snow hurt my eyes. Pulling on wool socks from my dresser drawer, I then grab my cozy blanket and run downstairs.

Pancakes, cartoons, and sledding: the promise of fun wells up in my chest.

***

Georgina quietly stands up from the breakfast table. She carefully scrapes the few frosted flakes left in the bowl into the garbage bin underneath the sink. Turning on the tap water just a little, so it would not jet, she rinses the milk out of the bowl, opens the dishwasher door, and brings it down slowly so as does not bounce, and places the bowl in the first row on the top rack. She closes the door while holding the lock open so it won’t click when it shuts. Gently pushing the door closed, she slowly releases the handle.

In the bathroom, Georgina removes her pants, undergarments, and socks and steps into the tub, squatting to pee. Best not to risk flushing the toilet. Taking the cup on the counter, she fills it with water from the toilet, and gently pours it into the bathtub, watching the water and urine circle and go down the drain. She dry rubs her teeth with a face cloth, and silently surveys the room, verifying nothing is out of place.

At the front door she gets dressed for winter fun: pink snowsuit, pink boots, purple hat, and gloves with pink and purple stripes. She creeps to the basement to get her sled. It is hanging on a hook she cannot reach. She jumps, once, to try and unhook it. It comes loose and clangs on the floor.

Georgina hears her step-mother thump out of bed and stomp to the stair landing above her. “Git out of the house before I throw ya out! We can’t get any sleep with you making all sorts of hullabaloo! Giiit out! And don’t come back before lunch!”

Georgina leaves, her face hot and flushed with anger and embarrassment, dragging the sled behind her. “AND DON’T GO DRAGGING YER FEET! THEM’S NEW BOOTS!” Georgina jerks her chin up and marches, knees high and deliberate, to the sledding hill on that first good snowfall day. She waits an hour before other kids arrive.

***

My older brother is almost a teenager and almost six feet tall.
He hangs out at the dump with his friends. They poke burning sticks into piles of garbage and shoot the escaping rats with BB guns. On his next birthday he wants a gun of his own.

My mother adamantly refuses.

Instead, he asks for an electric guitar. As a compromise, my mother bargains that if he begins to play her acoustic one, then she’ll buy him the electric instrument. Within two weeks my brother has learned all of my mother’s songs, and then surpasses her skill quickly thereafter. She begins to save the money for his birthday.

My older brother has begun to be very annoyed with me. He rams my head into the wall when he passes me in the hallway. He doesn’t allow me to play with him after school. He never reads me stories anymore.

This Saturday morning, I join him on the couch watching cartoons only to have him immediately stand up to switch the channel to the French news.

I huff. Then plead with him to return to my exalted animation.
He shushes me, “I’m trying to hear the news!”

I cross my arms. I fume at him. I stare at the television. “C’mon! I’m missing my shows!” I finally yell, impatient.

“Shut up!” he shouts and throws a pillow at my face. It catches me eyes open. My eyeball rubs against the rough upholstery. Tears poor down my incensed, red face.

“Fine! I’ll go make pancakes and you won’t get any!” I threaten, shrieking with indignation.

He laughs. As I leave the living room he gets up to change the channel back to the cartoons. I run to the couch and plop down, happy to have a return to sensible viewing choices.

Silently, he gets up again to switch the channel back to the news.

AAAHHHHH!!!!” I emit a high-pitched frustrated howl, futilely swinging my arms, fingers flexed like talons, ready to claw my way to programming sovereignty. He easily catches my forearms, blocking my assault.

We are then startled by the distinctive thump coming from the living room ceiling. Footsteps stomp to the top of the stairs.

My mother yells at me from the landing, “Stop screaming! What is going on down there?!” 

My older brother smirks. The grimace of pre-teen gloating is a face worthy of being skinned, then dipped in vinegar and salt. My return sneer is much less effective as mine is tainted with guilt. He knows my shame; I have disturbed my mother on her sacred Saturday morning. Before noon.

“Sorry,” I say loud enough for her to hear upstairs. Her footsteps retreat back to the temporary shelter of her bedroom.

Depleted from the conflict and chastisement, I retreat to the kitchen and set about making pancakes.

***

Rocky’s Hill was on Lee Rocher’s property, a gorge between two slopes; one side lined with trees and the other a smooth incline. A small creek flowed between them. In order to access the hill, the kids of the neighborhood must walk around the corner, because Rocky’s dog loudly and valiantly guards the short cut through the yard.

This year, the boys are impressed because I am the only girl unafraid to slide down the steepest part of the hill. We’ve built a pile of show at the base of the hill, and if you hit it just right, the momentum will send you and your sled into the trees across the creek: the Ball Breaker, it’s called. The boys and I are busy proving our machismo on the precipitous banks while the other girls are sometimes sledding, mostly building snow kitchens and playing house.

I deliberate. Joining the girls would mean I forfeit this newfound status of recognition from the boys. Instead, I tell the boys to build the bump higher, I can make it across, I can make it further than anyone. They pile on more snow and pat it in down, hardening the surface so as the sled glides over, not through the obstacle.

On the sled, feet perched to each side, I kick my legs for one last shove as I lift my limbs and quickly tuck them inside the toboggan. Hurtling down the hill, the sled hits the jump, and swooshes over and up, right into the trees. Landing causes a fast expelling of the air in my lungs. I can’t breathe! There is pressure in my temples and as I try and fail at inhaling. I’m doubled over, red-faced. I’m going to die, I think.

“Ssstttthhhhhh…” is the garbled sound between my lips as finally my body allows for a sharp intake of breath. After a quick moment for composure recovery, I stand and survey my success. I have gone farther than any other kid. We leave markers to prove it, and I ram a stick into the ground to mark my new record.

The boys shout congratulations; my grin hides the silent pain in my back and one leg. I wave to them from across the small frozen creek.