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.

*****

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.

*****

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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