While scrounging through the bowels of my writing folders, looking for old Moe Gorman song lyrics or poems, I stumbled upon this script from Year Four of Annekenstein. That was the summer we were at The Carriage House at Beaconsfield. I really enjoyed that venue and was disappointed that we couldn’t return the following year, despite putting on a successful show. I don’t think the neighbours enjoyed the parking situation on the streets.
Anyway, I thought it’d be interesting to post this script, as I believe it illustrates a defining moment in my writing/performing career. This is, I believe, the first time I explored that bond between performer and audience, breaking the fourth wall, and expressing truths about myself that are masqueraded as “material” and leave people wondering “Is this Real Life, or a Bit?”
I’m not sure that this sketch lasted the entirety of our run at The Carriage House. I think it confused too many of the audience and left too many people thinking “Is Rob okay?” I thoroughly enjoyed performing this, and through it discovered my love of playing with the audience’s expectations and even my own.
Rob’s Matthew Monologue
Rob enters the stage, exaggeratedly walking as an old man. He makes his way to center stage, fully involved in his “old man smile” face, and is about to speak his lines. Then he stops, looks at the audience, and contemplates. He makes a decision and takes off his old man wig or hat.
Rob: Hey everyone, it’s not beloved old Matthew from Anne of Green Gables who stands before you right now. It’s me. Rob MacDonald.
I’m supposed to be out here now doing a monologue as Matthew Cuthbert, exploring the reasons why he’s as shy as he is, climaxing in him discovering that the basis of his shyness was when, as a child, he saw his father and mother making out. Ha Ha, good laugh, the show continues.
But I’ve decided to forego that bit of comedy for a rather serious announcement that I’d like to make.
He looks to the sides of the stage to make sure the coast is clear.
I’ve been in this theatre business now for almost 10 years. The past four years, it’s been my living, supplemented by odd jobs. The past two of those four years, it’s been my sole source of income, believe it or not. Needless to say, I’m not a rich man. No, I’m a freelance writer and an actor.
And I’m sick of it.
Oh, I still love the performing and rehearsing side of my theatre life – the writing, the casting, the acting. But love I less the “moving the theatre once or twice a year” side of theatre life. Less so the “scared to answer the phone because it may be our King Street landlord of four years ago still looking for the rest of his rent money”. Less so the “here’s a hundred dollar honorarium for your two months of work, Rob, I know it’s not much, but maybe someday” side of theatre life.
“Maybe someday”. The poor actor’s mantra. Maybe someday I’ll be rich and famous. That’s what all actors dream about, you know. Rich and famous. I guess I’m getting the “more famous” all the time, but not so “the rich”. And the fame is a local fame, a small fame, helped along by the few CBC TV commercials that I do, thanks to David Moses hiring me occasionally. He works at the CBC now. Yeah. But lately, I’ve been getting real tired of waiting for that “maybe someday when I’m rich and famous”. Now I’d settle for rich, or more to the point – “not so poor”. So I’m considering giving up theatre as a career. Oh, I’ll still dabble in it, I’m sure. I mean, it’s in my blood now, but I’m gonna try joining the real world – that of the actively unemployed.
Now, in thinking about my theatre career, I like to think that over the years, that maybe, in a small way, I’ve helped some of you. Maybe at times, some of you weren’t feeling your spunkiest self. Maybe you, too, were wondering “how in the world do I pay my mortgage this month?” or “my rent”. Or my Mastercard bill, which, by the way, I used last month to pay that mortgage.
So, in your blue funk, you decided to come to one of the many Off Stage productions we’ve done. Maybe you’re even here tonight, feeling blue, hoping to see one of my funny faces, or the funny faces of any of my equally talented and comical colleagues. Or hear a funny line or skit. And you momentarily feel better. For a while you even forget your problems, and you laugh.
In that way, I like to think that I, indeed, helped. I did my job. I didn’t solve anything. Oh no. Troubles don’t just disappear, no matter how hard you wish them away. I know that. But in a small way, I helped you, maybe. I made you laugh.
Well, I thought about this idea for a while. The idea that I am a healer through laughter. That I help you. That I employ all of my energies to make you feel good for an hour and a half. And I work damn hard at it. I’m sweatin’ by the end of it. That’s the kind of guy I am. Once I commit to something, I give it a hundred and ten percent. I’m a team player and all that.
But then I got to thinkin’ “Yeah, but what do I get out of all this?” A sense of accomplishment? That of a doctor who heals his cancerous patient? Hardly.
(starts to get worked up, a bit agressive)
Oh sure, you may laugh at my mugging. Yeah, I mug. I make funny faces trying to steal a scene. I admit it. Gladly. Because I know it’s only to make you laugh. It’s all to make you laugh. So YOU will feel better. Meanwhile, I got a truckload of debts to pay. A baby that Won’t Stop Eating, a house that’s slowly falling apart, a car that’s falling apart a lot faster…. And all you give me is your ten lousy bucks. Of which I’ll see, what, maybe, 20 cents.
Well, laugh it up, fuzzballs! Here’s your friggin’ 20 cents back!!
(tosses two dimes into the audience)
I think you owe me something more than that!!
He’s starting to sound a bit desperate.
I want a job. A real job. Not a great job. Just a job. At least five figures though. Maybe 15 thousand a year. Yeah, that’s all I need. 15 thousand. Surely there’s someone here tonight who’s got the power, the influence, to get me a job. Especially when I think of all I do for you!
Now, I’m serious. I got experience. Computers. I’ve had desk jobs. Inside jobs. Outside jobs. Um, I, uh, pumped gas. I’d do that again, if I got 15 thousand. I’d prefer a nice desk job though. Something like my friend Dave Stewart has. In an office. Suit and tie sort of thing.
Dave Moses comes out
Dave: Rob. Rob. Robert!!
Rob: Hi, Dave.
Dave: What are you doing?
Rob: Oh, I’m just… I’m… um… finishing up my Matthew monologue (puts on wig, backwards) “And then I saw them NEEEKED!!”
Dave: No you’re not. You’re begging for a job again.
Dave: I expressly asked you not to do that. These people didn’t pay 10 dollars to come here just so you could exploit your position.
Rob: Exploit? What exploit? I’m not exploiting.
Dave: Yes. You are. You’re taking advantage of the fact that they have to sit there, in the dark, facing you, while you talk. And you’re doing it for personal gain.
Rob: Oh, Heaven forbid I ever do anything for myself on this bloody stage!!
Dave: Well, it’s wrong.
Rob: No, I’ll tell you what’s wrong! What’s wrong is me being broke all the time!!
Dave: Come on, let’s go. Sorry about this, folks.
Dave tries to grab Rob’s arm. Rob pulls away.
Rob: Oh, you’ve changed, Dave. Ever since you got that big CBC job. You used to be like me. Remember? No, all that CBC money is clouding your memory. And Dave Stewart, he’s the same. Big GST Man now. Money bags, the both of you. Remember the three of us? None with a job. Not really caring. Just helping each other out. Well I remember! I remember the cheap breakfasts at Kelly’s you’d eat, then you’d say “Say Rob, can you loan me five dollars till my pogey comes in?” And of course I would! But all that’s past now! Now it’s stocks and bonds and paint for your house!!
Dave: Are you finished?
Rob: I haven’t even begun!!
Ed runs out,they take Rob off as he resists.
Rob: Hey you people! I’m serious! Anybody need a dedicated worker? PIck me! I’m serious!! Think of the prestige of having an actual actor working for you! Leave your name at the door when you leave if you have a position for me! I’m serious! I need a job!!
Fade to black
My name is Jean Hume MacDonald. On July 29th 2000 Brooklyn school had their first school reunion, and I started thinking of my Parents, sister, and all the school friends and Good times, memories of those years when I attended school and lived in Brooklyn.
This is for my Grandchildren and Great-grandchildren.
I offer you my memories / So that you will know / Your Grandmother was a little girl / Not so long ago.
I was born on December 7, 1928 at Brooklyn, Kings Co. P.E.I. My mother was Annie Bears, born Jan. 1898. She was the daughter of James ‘Red Jim’ Bears and Katherine ‘Katie’ MacEachern. Red Jim was a shoe maker in Kilmuir. My Grand-Mother Katie died young and left three girls – my Mother Annie, and her sisters Margaret and Jane were placed in different homes in Kilmuir and Brooklyn. My Grandmother Katie died in 1905, and my Grand-father Red Jim died in 1915.
When my mother was young she would visit my father’s parents in Brooklyn. When the three girls got older they all left for the United States to find work, but my mother would always come back to Brooklyn and stay at my father’s parents farm on her vacation. When she went back to the States they would write letters to each other. Soon love bloomed and she came home to Brooklyn to get married. Her sisters in Boston didn’t think very much of her decision to be a farmer’s wife.
My Father was Earl Upton Hume, born Aug. 1898. He lived on a farm in Brooklyn with his parents and 14 brothers and sisters. Dad’s Parents were George Hill Hume and Emily Compton Hume. They farmed and also had a tannery, where they made leather from skins of animals. My parents were married in July 1926, and on June 3rd 1927 my sister Thelma was born. In the spring of 1928, my grandfather George Hume died. On Dec. 7th 1928, I was born. When I was six years old my grandmother Emily died.
We had a lovely big farm house, large kitchen, dining room, parlor and bedrooms, lots of pretty dishes; it was a happy place to be living. My sister Thelma and I loved each other, and had lots of good times together. In the parlor we had an Organ. We learned to play it and sing and we had lots of sing songs with our young school friends, sometimes grownups would come in the evenings for sing songs. We had lots of sing songs in that parlor. The parlor was usually just used for special occasions. I remember most of the words from the old Hymn books we used.
Our Aunt Margaret, who lived in Attleboro, Mass. was awfully good to us. Every Christmas she would send us clothes and dolls. She loved to send us presents. I can still feel the excitement of going to meet the mailman, Aeneas McGuigan, at the road. We would be watching for him to come driving his horse and wagon, or sleigh, and he would have the parcel from the States for us. What excitement. My mother kept the clothes and dolls for us, for when we got married and have children, she would say.
My Aunt Margaret and Uncle Ernest had one child who died in childbirth, they never had any more. And my Aunt Jane died when she was forty, so I never got to know her as I would have liked to. My Mother looked after my Grand-Parents, George and Emily, and also Thelma and me. She worked hard at farm life. We had lots of kerosene lamps back then, and at our big table in the kitchen, we would clean the lamp chimneys. It was a big job , so Thelma and I would help. In every bedroom there was a commode, with a basin, water pitcher, towels, soap, face cloths, chamber pots, and covers. When we had guests, it was Thelma’s and my job to bring hot water to them to wash in their rooms. My Mother would always attend to the chamber pots which she washed after being used by the guests. We had lots of guests that would stay over night.
We had a big dining room with a big table that would seat at least 10 people. We had big chairs and a side board where we kept our pretty dishes. We would have our breakfast there sometimes when we had company. Porridge, bread, eggs, cooked in their shell, and tea. We had really good times on the farm.
When battery radios came on the scene, Dad had the first one in Brooklyn. People would come and sit around the big dining room table, waiting to hear a fight from Madison Square Gardens or singing from W.W.V.A. West Virginia. Some nights when the weather was bad, all you would hear was static. It wasn’t very nice when people would walk miles to hear the radio. We could get the Lone Ranger and Tonto. When we were going to school we would run home as soon as school was out, to hear Ma Perkins, and Pepper Young’s family, they were daytime serials. The batteries never lasted very long either.
My Father had a car. My Mother would get us dressed up and on Sunday afternoon we would go for a drive, we would be dressed up in clothes Aunt Margaret sent us. One Sunday a drive was planned, so we got all dressed up, and Thelma and I went into the garage and got into a pan of oil. We were sure dirty, and got a spanking that day I remember.
We had a big orchard, with lots of nice apples, two of which were yellow transparent, and a winter apple called king. I can remember going to the cellar in the evenings to get a bowl of apples to eat. Sometimes my Father would ask us to pick wild mustard, a yellow weed that grew in the grain fields. If it was left it would choke out the grain that was trying to grow. Anyway, we got paid 10 cents for this task, then we would walk to McGowans [3 miles] store to buy candy.
It was my sister Thelma’s and my job to gather the eggs . Every morning we would feed the hens, we’d talk to them and they would cluck cluck back to us. We had geese too, and a real cross gander who thought he owned the yard. If we would be walking through the yard he would chase us. We would have to jump into a driving wagon to get away from him, and stay there until he left, or our Mother would chase him with a broom. We had a nice dog called Teddy, who was very smart. It was our job to bring the cows home too, we’d tell Teddy to go get the cows, and he would go to the field, and get the cow with the bell on started and the rest would follow. We’d wait at the gate to open and close it. Teddy would always bring the cows home.
Another time when we were little, we decided to go for a ride on the pig’s back. There were about 20 pigs in this large pen, and Dad heard the pigs squealing. Another spanking. They were more scared for us than mad.
We would pick wild strawberries, and raspberries, and one day in the summer, Dad would take us in the car, and we would go to Mt. Vernon to pick wild blueberries. Mom would pack a lunch. Back then we would can our own pork, beef and chicken. Boy, would those sandwiches taste good! We would pick buckets of berries, and then we would help make the jam for the winter.
Another job we had was picking potatoes. I think we got a dollar or two a day Oh those frosty mornings in mid October. Back then, school was let out for two weeks in the fall for potato picking. School started the middle of August for this purpose. In “potato vacation” we would rise early, put on the oldest clothes we owned, and head for the potato field. Back and forth the tractor went, digging one row at a time, as the “beater” at the end of the digger, threw the potatoes into our path. Bent over, we moved along, grabbing handfuls of potatoes, as our baskets became heavier and heavier to pull along.
At some places, the wife of the farmer would come out to the field at mid morning with hot biscuits and cookies. Then at noon, we’d go to the house for a hot dinner of meat, mashed potatoes, turnip, and gravy – it tasted so good! Then back to the field to work some more. We would have aching backs, and caked on dirt, hangnails, all associated with potato picking vacation.
But on pay day, how excited we’d be, searching through the Eaton’s catalogue, or go to the ‘Metropolitan’ store in Charlottetown, where we could get 3 outfits for twenty dollars.
After potato picking, we would go back to school, proud of our accomplishments. Today, when I drive past a farm and see those new-fangled machines, it takes me back to another time, spent on your knees, with a big potato basket by your side, waiting to be filled.
We would attend the Church of Scotland that was at the crossroads about half a mile away. We would usually walk, and after church in the summertime, we would eat together under our big horse chestnut tree. The minister who preached then was Rev. Harvey Bishop. He died in Charlottetown, in the year 2008. He was born in 1909. Thelma and I used to attend Sunday school too, at Caledonia, which was about 5 miles away. We did a lot of walking back then, to school and Church and Sunday school.
We would sing all the new songs we heard on the radio. This was back in 1938 and early forties. When we would sing, the walk didn’t seem so long. Another day Thelma, our cousin Sadie, and I went to Caledonia with our horse and wagon. Louise Stewart was making a coat for Sadie and needed a fitting for her new coat. Coming home, we decided to give the horse a drink of water. We drove down this path to the brook, with the three of us sitting in the wagon. When we reached the brook, one wheel went into a hole and the three of us tumbled out into the stream. We were all soaking wet, and the horse was scared. The shaft of the wagon was broken, so it ended up we had to push the wagon up the hills all the way home to Brooklyn. We still remember that trip to Caledonia.
We had an out door toilet called an outhouse – a whitewashed little building with two seats, and hinged covers, also Eatons catalogue, no soft toilet paper back then.
One day, Dad and Mom took the driving wagon to the store, and Thelma and I decided to bake a cake. The cake called for a half cup of cornstarch, all we could find was the hard pieces that you boiled up back then to starch men’s shirts, doilies and other things. So we put in a half cup of the cornstarch pieces. The cake looked good for supper, so, when Dad took a piece of cake he said it felt like he got a mouthful of stones. We all laughed over our baking experience.
When Thelma and I started to school, we walked across the fields to our one room school house where the teacher taught the ten grades. In the middle of the room, there was a large wood stove. In the winter time we would heat up our cocoa, with our peanut butter sandwiches. It tasted really good. The boys would bring in a bucket of water from the pump. We had a “tinny” – a tin mug with a long handle on it to get a drink of water, and of course, outdoor toilets with the Eaton’s catalogue.
Two people sat together at a desk. I can still remember the posters on the wall, one which read: If you cough or sneeze or sniff, be sure to use your handkerchief. And the big maps of the world. If you thought about the year 2008 back then, it seemed so far far away, and now, here we are, in the year 2008.
There were great days and years in Brooklyn school, but the best was practicing for our Christmas concert. All the people of the community would help with the readings and singing. Shirley Bears, Thelma and I would always sing Silent Night. And, of course, Santa would always show up with his bag of goodies. Santa’s goodies were an apple, orange, & hard mixture candies donated by the Women’s Institute.
As School was over for the Christmas holidays, the next thing was to get our Christmas tree. We would go to the woods with Dad and cut one, and put our lovely tree in the Parlor. It was decorated with red and green rope, beautiful ornaments, and silver tinsel. Thelma and I never slept very much on Christmas Eve, but at some point, Santa sneaked in and left gifts for all – just like he said on “sleepy time express”.
The gifts were so pretty in red and green tissue paper, and always Presents of dolls, and clothes from Aunt Margaret from USA. Christmas dinner was sometimes at Aunt Marjorie MacKinnon’s, (Dad’s Sister) – chicken, vegetables, plum pudding, home made fudge. In the afternoon, Arthur, Sadie, Thelma & I would coast on the hill, and sometimes we would skate on the ponds. Those were great times in Brooklyn, powerful smells and feelings that lasted over the years.
We had real bad snow storms back then. We would get a blizzard pretty quick. Then our Fathers would come to school with the horse and box sleigh to get us. We would snuggle up in the sleigh with the buffalo rug over us, and be home before we knew it, safe and sound. We had great friends in Brooklyn school. Blanch Hume and I walked to Montague, (about 6 miles) and we would say, the faster we walk the faster we get there. Sadie would spend nights at our house, then we would go to Bruce Yeo’s theatre in Montague to see a show. It would cost 25 cents then, and a nickel for a chocolate bar.
One day, Donald Campbell, aged 5, came running into the schoolroom all out of breath. The teacher asked him what was wrong. He said “Fire! Fire!” The teacher asked him where, and he said “Earl Hume’s house.”
So we all ran to the top of the hill and saw the flames everywhere. We all ran across the fields to help. My mother was home alone. Dad and the hired man were in the woods cutting wood. The mailman, Aeneas McGuigan, was driving by on his route when he saw the flames, so he helped my mother. I don’t know where they got the strength, but they carried out the organ and writing desk, and some smaller things. Just the two of them. Aeneas was not a big man, and he only had one arm. Mom was a small woman, barely over 5 foot tall, I have the organ and a desk that they saved. The desk is now over 100 years old.
Up the road, at Simon Campbell’s, a bunch of men were sawing wood. When the engine quit, one man looked up and saw the smoke. They all ran down the road to help, but the house burned to the ground. Luckily no one was hurt or burned.
It was a sad time for us. The dolls and clothes Aunt Margaret sent us were all gone. We fixed up a building we had on the property and made it into a home. With our organ saved, we still had lots of evening sing songs over the years.
We were getting older, and sometimes boys would walk us home from a party. One night, Shirley Bears, Thelma and I were sitting in a car at the gate. Shirley had this friend, Duncan MacPherson who owned the car. I can’t remember who else was in the car, but they were two boys, anyway. Dad came walking out to the driveway, opened the car door, and said, “You girls get out of that car and get in the house this minute”, which we did. When we got in the house, Mom and Dad kept lecturing us about sitting in cars with boys. At one point, there was a lull in the conversation, and I said, “We will now take up the collection.” And everyone laughed. No more was said, but we still laugh about it.
A bunch of us from school, boys and girls, would go swimming after school, at the local swimming hole. One day we were there after school, the people living close by had planted a vegetable garden on the side of the hill near the swimming hole. I asked my friends if they would like a carrot or two, and they all said yes. So I went to get them. It was then the people saw me and started hollering, “She’s steeling our carrots!” I started running back and when I reached the swimming hole I walked right across the water, I was going so fast. Years later, at a get together, they all remembered the day ‘Jean walked on the water’. (just like Jesus).
In the summer we would all go on the back of a truck to the exhibition in Charlottetown (old home week now). I remember my first chocolate dip. My neighbor, Alex Beaton, bought it for me.
In 1939 the King and Queen came to Charlottetown, so we all piled on the back of the truck to go to Charlottetown to see them. That was King George the sixth, and Queen Mother Elizabeth.
One summer my Aunt Margaret and her husband Ernest came to the farm for a visit. He had a nice car and took Thelma and me to Montague for our very first ice cream sundae. It was at Mabons drug store. We were pretty proud to be sitting in there eating ice cream.
I remember two men in particular who used to visit us sometimes, one was a little man called Herby Beaton. He would go around the country, carrying two boxes tied with string, and had a wooden handle at the top of each. He would sell spools of thread, soap, spices, gum ,candy, etc. So we always liked to see him coming if we had money for gum or candy. One day he came, and some girls were visiting us. So Blanch and I got him to have his picture taken with us. He was very protective of his boxes. He let us hold them to get his picture with us. Blanche, Herby, Jean,
Another man was Philip Bears, a preacher of sorts, and he would usually stay a few days. He wrote poetry, so one day I gave him my autograph book to write in. He picked out a yellow colored page and wrote:
Upon this little book I’ll write/ A line with a borrowed pen/ Before the year is past and gone/ I’ll try it once again/ I never wrote a note before/ Upon a yellow page./ But there is always a first time/ For us in every age.
In January, 1947, my Mother died. Maybe it was hard for her on the farm with the animals, as she had asthma. She was a tiny woman and had red hair. We missed her very much.
I worked at McGowan’s grocery store in Kilmuir. Back then you had to weigh sugar, count eggs, pump molasses, pump gas, and get what the customer wanted off the shelves. They had no plastic shopping bags back then. At the counter there were 3 different width’s of paper on rolls. You would tear off some paper, depending on the size of the order, place the purchases on the paper, wrap it up, and tie it up with a string that came down from a large spool that was attached above.
If a customer wanted molasses, they would take their own jug from home. A 90 gallon “puncheon” was in the basement with a pump up to the store. In the back part of the store there would be kerosene and naptha gas in barrels fitted with pumps where you would fill the customer’s can. Cheese came only in round blocks about 16 inches by 4 inches high, which was placed in a special glass case with a large cleaver/knife, so we could cut off a piece for the customer. It was sold by the weight.
If a customer wanted some rope, big bales, or bundles of rope were stored in the basement, there would be a hole in the floor where the rope would be ‘threaded’ up to the store. The rope would be measured to whatever length the customer wanted. If a car pulled up to the gas pumps outside, the clerk would have to go out and attend to that also. Bobby Whiteway, who lived a mile from us in Brooklyn, worked at McGowan’s too. So every day he’d pick me up with his horse and wagon, since he would be going by our place anyway.
In 1947 I started going with Preston MacDonald. He lived about a mile from us, but in a different district. He owned a truck at that time, hauling gravel, pit props, and general trucking. We would go to a movie in Montague once a week; sometimes we would come to Charlottetown for a movie.
I remember one time a movie called “A Man Called Peter” was playing in Charlottetown so we decided to come in and see it.
Some of our friends wanted to see it too, so we took them on the back of the truck. At that time, Polio, a crippling disease, was in some communities. We had to drive through one of those districts to get to town. So Preston told them the only way he would take them was if they would hold their noses going through that area. Sure enough, when we looked out the back window, everyone was holding their nose. I’m happy to say, no one caught polio that night. But we did know some friends who died from it or were left crippled. It was a scary time for everyone. Then a man called Jonas Salk discovered a vaccine for it.
On March 17, 1948, Preston and I were married.
I wore a blue dress, and carried red roses. My sister Thelma, and Preston’s brother Gordon stood with us. We had a wedding supper and dance at my Aunt Marjorie’s in Brooklyn for our wedding guests. We lived in lower Montague after that, on the 3rd floor, outdoor toilets, no running water – just running up and down 2 flights of stairs with it.
On Jan 17, 1949, Earl was born. On Oct. 7th 1950 David was born. By this time Preston was driving a bus for SMT. We had moved to Georgetown, where we lived for 12 years. On Jan.5th 1954, Johnny was born, and Kenny arrived April 2, 1958. In 1962 we moved to Charlottetown, where Preston worked for Imperial Oil. Then on Sept. 19th, 1965, Robert was born.
My Dad died in 1975. My Dad was a kind man who would give you the shirt off his back. I don’t remember ever hearing him say anything mean about anyone. He was a nice singer too, and I’m glad to have a few songs on tape that he sang. He used to say, “You best learn to live your life in your heart. Be careful what you put in your heart. If you fill it with revenge and hate there will be no room left for love, laughter, and tears, and your heart will rot.”
My Sister Thelma died in April 1998. Things have certainly changed since I was a little girl, now we have computers, E-mail and www.
We have 8 grandchildren, and 7 great grandchildren.
On March 17 1998, we had our 50th anniversary at Park Royal United Church with family and friends. On our 60th, in 2008, we just had family at home.
A month or two ago, Cameron mentioned to me how much he enjoyed a chicken burger.
He said, in fact, it was one of the best burgers he’s ever eaten. High praise from a guy who enjoys a great burger. He takes his burgers seriously. He’s a quality over quantity guy, for instance, when it comes to the atrociously-successful Burger Love madness that descends upon PEI every April.
But, you know, it was a chicken burger. How great could it really be? I have no scientific statistics (are there any other kind, really?) to back this up, but he belongs to a generation that is prone to extreme exaggeration to make a point. Every single one of them, far as I can tell, has no ability to gauge a median quality. Everything is either “the best ever” or “the worst possible”. That’s probably why they don’t vote.
He had it, he said, at Sneaky Cheats, a pop-up restaurant that, well, pops up here and there around Charlottetown (and the Island, I presume?). I was, of course, aware of Sneaky Cheats, because of social media I am aware of things. It’s also how I became aware of the Lobster Fetishists Group, PEI Chapter, on Facebook. But I had never tried Sneaky Cheats, nor many of the new crop of food offerings around the city, because a) I am set in my ways, and b) it’s taken me far too long to accept that I have to pay $12 for a food item that doesn’t even include a side.
So, yeah, a good chicken burger. (See, I wrote “good” – my generation is, if nothing else, attuned to always seek the median in things.) Big deal.
Here is a short explanation of my experiences with chicken burgers, just so you know where I’m coming from. I’ve eaten more Junior Chickens from McDonald’s than any other type of chicken burger. I think they’re okay. A good (see, not “great”), quick piece of heated meat to gobble into my belly, without causing me too much upset. I’ve bought and cooked a fair share of frozen breaded chicken burgers to know I do not like them very much. I mean, they are no Junior Chicken. And I have always assumed that I will likely cook my fair share of frozen breaded chicken burgers in the future and I’ve been okay with that. I’ve had – I’m going to say fewer than the number of fingers on both my hands – a few grilled chicken burger type dealies, from all the types of food places – fast, medium, and slow – and, honestly, none of them really thrilled me. None that were too memorable, most that were okay. I am not going to say they were either the best or the worst things ever, because that’s not the way my generation rolls.
So, Monday past, Cameron texts me and says Sneaky Cheats is having a pop-up above the fire-hall downtown, and they are offering a chicken burger similar to the one he dubbed the best ever, and would we like to accompany him. Catching me in a youthful mood, I agree, and we all three – Cameron, me, and Karyn – head off to the popped up Sneaky Cheats. We each order the chicken burger and an order of potato salad each. Catching me in a paternal mood, I pay. And then we go and wait for our names to be called, to come and get our food.
While we wait, Cameron cannot help but be of his generation, and goes to great lengths to describe his experience with the last Sneaky Cheats chicken burger he had. It’s a dangerous story he weaves, in that every expression of amazement in the food he utters only works to tamp down my expectations about the assumed slightly-above-good chicken burger I’m about to eat. Still, he does know good food, and so, as he went on, more and more of me was, admittedly, hoping for something special.
First surprise is this: We didn’t have to go up and get our food. The lady who takes the orders brought it to us. Second surprise is this: she also brought us an order of the kale salad, for all of us, because, she said, the chef noticed this was our first time at Sneaky Cheats. I’m not sure how he knew this. Speculation by the other two at the table was that he recognized me as an entity that sometimes gets noticed as an entity. I don’t know if that is so, but So, yeah, and yeah, that was nice!
The burger was there, in front of me. Because of Cameron’s exhortations, I was won over to his side, now brain-washed into believing this was going to be something generationally-special. The first thing I noticed was how dark and crispy the breading on the chicken looked. The whole burger looked great (I know!) and I especially liked the fact that it didn’t look like one of those Burger Love monstrosities that include all the sides on top of the burger, including soup. It looked like a burger. A chicken burger.
I did not take a picture of it. I don’t do that. I tend not to photographically document the moments, people and foods in my life very much.
I saw a part of the breading that was jutting out a bit, begging to be picked off. It was perhaps the size of a newborn baby’s baby-finger fingernail. Very small. I picked it off and put it in my mouth.
And with that baby’s fingernail of deep-fried breadcrumb, my whole world changed forever.
I can only describe it as a Big Bang sized explosion of flavour. With that one small breadcrumb entering my mouth, I am sure that whole universes have now been created in my insides. Where once there was nothing, now, somewhere inside me, there is a microscopic planet its inhabitants call Earth, and somewhere on that planet inside me there is a man of a certain generation who has yet to experience that planet’s version of a Sneaky Cheats Chicken Burger. I both pity that man for what he doesn’t know, and am envious for the enjoyment of that life-changing experience hopefully still to come for him.
I forget what philosopher said “For it is the entirety of human existence that is contained within one tiny morsel of breaded chicken burger that awaits those who choose to see it”, but I now know what he was getting at.
Words cannot do justice to just how damn great that small crumb was. Not even poetical words like “ere” or “forsooth” or “wheelbarrow” can approach.
I was instantly a changed man, I knew that. An eternity of happiness experienced in that crumb. I will always have that. I will. However, just as instantly, I became aware of a tragic truth: from that pinnacle of pleasure I experienced, every moment afterwards would only mean I am that moment farther from it. I suddenly understood just how cruel the dissipation of pleasure can be. Already, micro-seconds after that initial flavour burst, I had already forgotten what that experience was like. I knew I would never get that moment back. And, therefore, I could never be truly, ultimately, happy again.
Not even with an almost complete Sneaky Cheats Chicken Burger sitting in front of me, would I experience the utopia of taste – what copywriters from any generation might call a “tastetopia” – that I had just experienced. With the burger in front of me, I knew I would come close, but I also knew that close might as well be universes of taste away. What copywriters might call “tastieverses” away. I became aware at a quantum level, that I was dealing in instantaneous half-lives of taste – whatever the smallest intervals of time that exist, between each instance the memory of the exquisiteness of that initial taste was being halved. I would never get it back.
I had to think. I spent maybe 30 seconds, just staring at the table in front of me. Part of me was still enjoying – oh, how I was enjoying – the flavour. I concentrated so hard on experiencing that enjoyment, half-lifing as it was away from memory, moment to moment. Part of me was in a sort of ecstasy of anticipation at the wonderful flavours and experiences I was about to engage with. And yet, part of me, was in mourning. And it was this mourning that I was afraid would take over.
Then, a wonderful thing happened. Perhaps, in those 30 seconds or so, I motored through all the stages of grief. I can’t say for sure what it was, but I am thankful, beyond thankful, that it happened. What did happen was this:
I accepted it.
I accepted that I would never get to that place again. Once accepted, I became fine with it. I came to understand peace.
It was only then that I dared to look at the Sneaky Cheats Chicken Burger again. A calmness washed over me, and joy took over. Not the ultimate joy, I understood, but a wondrous joy nonetheless. The joy was this: I had, but for that perfect baby fingernail sized crumb, an entire chicken burger that I knew I as going to enjoy so very much.
And so, I dug in. Bite after bite, the tsunami-sized waves of pleasure washed over me. Even as I came to the last few bites, knowing this all was soon to end, and that memories would not do it justice, I was able to experience nothing but this amazing chicken burger.
It was life-changing, it was that good. It allowed me to discover Absolute Truths. I will forever be indebted to that first Sneaky Cheats Chicken Burger for what it gave me.
After I was done, and after I finished the potato salad, which was also amazing – more like mashed potatoes than potato salad – and my portion of the kale salad, which was also terrific, I sat there contemplating things.
One thing I contemplated is one of which I am not proud. I noticed that Cameron had, smartly, left a final, bite-sized portion of chicken burger to finish with. As I pondered my empty dish, my contentedness, my peace with never again experiencing perfection… I looked at Cameron’s last bite of chicken burger, I looked at Cameron, then back to the burger, and realized, without doubt, that I would kill him just to take that final piece.
But I didn’t kill him. What happened instead, I think, is that the little man on the little Earth in the little universe that was just created inside me, finished his Sneaky Cheats Chicken Burger, and HE killed the little Cameron that was sitting with him. I don’t know what happened to the little Karyn, but I hope she’s doing well.
So, what I’m saying, I guess, is: I liked the Sneaky Cheats Chicken Burger. It was good.