The Welcomer of Deep Creek
When I was growing up, we lived in a log cabin on a large parcel of land in northern British Columbia.
We lived next to Deep Creek which wound its way under Highway 16, across our land and down to the Bulkley River, perhaps a mile in length.
A gravel access road left the highway, crossed the creek over a little wooden bridge with a barn on one side and a corral on the other which hosted a really nasty bull for a while, and kept on going past the driveway to our place and up the hill a ways to our closest neighbours.
At the entrance to our driveway my brothers constructed a figure out of driftwood and remnant moose horns. Draped with clothes and a hat, it sat on three or four old tires like an oldtimer watching the world go by.
Our gravel driveway rose gently through poplar trees on one side, and past my homemade boxing ring and high jump stand on the other side, running 50 yards to the large clearing where stood our cabin: three rooms, with an additional upstairs area accessible by ladder. My parents, and then my mother alone, slept in one small end of the cabin, with the living area filling up the rest of the original cabin space, and then the larger kitchen and dining area added by my father took up the end away from the driveway. Upstairs was where my two younger brothers and I slept.
I lived there from the time I was 11, when we moved up from Washington State, until after I finished with my first couple years of university.
My mother, whose given name was Lucille, who called herself Lu, and whom her many friends called Lulubelle half in jest, half in celebration, raised her three sons, after my father died of a stroke, without much money but always enough food.
We managed to survive on the death benefits of my father through the GI Bill (he fought as a U.S. Marine in the Pacific in World War II), until eventually Ma went to work in a neighbouring town as a receptionist for a couple of doctors. She was a smart woman and managed to get a government job as a financial assistance worker for welfare cases. Then she found a job as one of the first paralegals in the north.
This was a provincial government initiative to provide non-lawyer assistance in the local courts especially for people without money or knowledge of the legal system.
Ma stood about 5′ 6″, and tended towards the overweight all her life. She liked to wear slacks and men’s and women’s dress shirts, occasionally tie-dyed, worn outside her pants, often with a light decorative scarf around her neck. On one wrist she wore a heavy looking man’s wristwatch and on the other various silver and aluminum bracelets. She knew how to get dressed up, but preferred her usual attire.
I remember how she used to stand, man’s tie-dyed dress shirt sleeves rolled part way up her forearms, her arms dangling at her side, heavy bracelets fallen down at the top of her hands. The palms of her hands, and this is what speaks to me so strongly of her, did not face her polyester panted legs, but rotated around much more so that the knuckles of her index fingers would touch her legs while her palms faced backwards. There was a kind of relaxation and comfort with herself in the way she stood.
She loved big, chunky, sensual abstract paintings and aspired to be an artist herself at different times.
She was very sociable. She thoroughly enjoyed meeting new people and going to parties, visiting her many friends and having them visit her. Sometimes she drank a little too much, which made her loudly charming, and even more sociable. She never remarried but had a number of men friends over the years. She liked to invite large groups of people to our place for get-togethers.
Our cabin overlooked Deep Creek which lay just beyond the edge of the large clearing, almost a meadow, on which the cabin stood.
From the front door of our place ran a path out and down a natural terrace to the creek. That was where I went to bring up the buckets of water we used for drinking and cooking. Ma used to joke that we had running water. That was me.
On one side of that path and over to a copse of trees on the bank overlooking the creek was an area in the grass where we laid out a large rough square of planks on tree rounds and the occasional broken down chair.
In the center of that was a large cast iron receptacle of uncertain source. I suspect it was part of an old boiler once upon a time. Open at one end, it was perfect for building a fire in and pushing logs into as they burned and shortened. On top, it had enough of a frame to prop a grill over the fire if you wanted.
On many summer weekends there would be a gathering around the fire which often extended late into the night. Ma was at the centre of it, greeting, chatting, joking and carrying on with everybody.
There would be people from the circles she frequented in town: lawyers, other paralegals, social workers, a judge, and their wives or relatives. Or Ma’s hairdresser or a woman who ran a restaurant in town or a potter she met. There might be our neighbours or the good friends of our family from down the road, kids running around and wrestling while the adults talked earnestly or cracked jokes while avoiding the shifting smoke and smacking mosquitoes under the stars. There would often be our friends, my brothers and mine, coming by and as we got older, having a beer or two.
Up north, the nights in the summer would have light until 10 pm or so. People would make their leave and drive out, and others would come by, car tires crunching on the gravel driveway. There were willow switches with hotdogs and marshmallows catching on fire.
I like to remember my mother in those times. Many years later, when my brothers and I were privileged to be with her while she died after passing into coma in the late stages of multiple sclerosis, I could still see the woman who welcomed whoever came.
I struggled with the title of this post. The Queenbee of Deep Creek. No, Ma wasn’t quite like that. The Mayor of Deep Creek… yikes, no way. The Conductor of Deep Creek. No, too formal. The Convenor of Deep Creek, the Hostess… no, too purposeful or superficial in their meaning.
I’m reading a book now called Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software, by Steven Johnson. It’s about self-organizing systems. There’s a quote: “Certain shapes and patterns hover over different moments in time…” He’s talking about larger, historical moments of course but it struck me so forcibly that smaller moments may also share in these patterns of self-organization.
After a time, and for a time, our gatherings at Deep Creek took on a life of their own, arising almost spontaneously, it seemed, on many warm summer nights, the fire crackling and the sparks flying, while Ma hurried to welcome the next one who arrived.