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Eagalic Music

Copyright (c) Baba Farid 1999

Table of Contents

Chapter One

Meadowlark

We begin this story in time and space somewhere in the mid-1950's where a nine year old boy is waking from sleep in a second story bedroom on the outskirts of Winnipeg. His window looks out over a field of wild grasses stretching out as far as he can see to a distant line of trees which he knows is the cemetery. If one looked out the opposite window of the house, one would see only houses, row upon row, street after street but from this side of the house, except for the road that ran below the window, one might believe oneself to be in the countryside.

The boy is lying in bed and a curious mixture of feelings is percolating through him. He experiences a kind of lazy, joyous sense of well-being combined with the anxiety that although this is Saturday morning and there is no school, he will have to face his father over the breakfast table. He will be wanting to go out and to run across that field to the creek that runs near the cemetery but his father, suffering the effects of a hangover, will have a different agenda. He will want to see his son doing some meaningful work such as stacking the old, rotting lumber that is lying all over the yard, left by a previous tenant of the house. Of course the nails will first have to be removed. There is so much of this lumber, that even after two years of residing in this house, the job is still far from complete. Also, both the slop bucket under the drainless kitchen sink and the toilet pail with its nightly, acrid contents will have to be lugged through the back yard to the outhouse and emptied.

The boy does not want to have to face this work. He knows that his house is the only house in the nearby neighborhood which does not have indoor plumbing and toilet. He dreads any of his school friends showing up to see him doing this work and when he does it, he feels a mixture of disgust and anxiety. But it is his life and there are certain things that have to be done, like it or not.

Outside, perched on a fence post across the road, a meadowlark sings. Its song is unmistakable and the sound of its warble fills him with a warm delight, a sense of familiarity, of belonging. He hears this song nearly every morning during the summer months. His father had told him what kind of bird it was and had taught him a whistle that emulated its song. His father was not always angry or punishing him but he could be like that too, every once in a while, walking in the fields with him and pointing out chamomile buds, shepherd's purse, cutgrass or sitting out on the back steps at night pointing out the different constellations. But usually his father was drunk or unhappy and when he was in this mood, he was to be avoided because then he was like another person, a very dangerous person who would, at the least provocation, reach over and slap you in the head or shout angrily at you, going over your faults and weaknesses. Making you do things you did not want to, like going to the corner grocery on Sunday morning for a bottle of Coca-Cola and some vanilla extract to mix into it, a hair of the dog remedy when the beerparlours were closed and the bootlegger was not yet out of bed.

Downstairs he can hear his father talking. He is preparing to go off to work. He is complaining to mother about something but he can't quite make out the words. He listens for the tone of his voice. Yes, he's in a bad mood again. Better not to go downstairs until he leaves and hope that he doesn't remember to call him downstairs before he goes. That meadowlark's song is so sweet, so relaxing. Ah, he can hear his father leaving, the final familiar shut of the door! Now he can get up and enjoy his day!

He gets out of bed, dresses and looks out his bedroom window. It 's a warm, fresh summer morning and the smells of wild grasses drift from the open fields across the highway. He is not thinking of anything in particular. He is not even daydreaming. He is just listening, looking, just being there. At this moment there are no demands. The voices from downstairs echo distantly up the staircase and he is alone with himself and he feels good. Full of possibilities, strength, untapped powers, magical energies, wisdom. The day is spread out before him like a blank page, not the future but this very day. And the presence of the day is enough to satisfy him. He is too young too think of futures, careers, securities monetary or emotional. What fills him with happiness is simply this early morning feeling. There is no complexity in it and yet it is deep, it is all.

He knows this feeling is his, something that can not be taken away from him no matter what the day might bring. It is something he owns, something he can instantly recognize as familiar, something special. And it is this feeling he will take out with him into the day, this young boy, that will make his day so full of zest and zip and energy and life.

As he grows older, the question will be asked of him, "What are you going to be, to do with your life?" He will tell his mother, especially, that he is going to be a priest and this will seem to make both him and her happy. He loves to see her happy. And in the future, in his high school shops class, when he is failing so miserably in his woodworking projects, the bigger, more athletic of the boys will laugh at him and in front of everyone present address him haughtily by his last name and ask him "What good are you? What are you going to be able to do when you finish school?" He will answer without a flicker of hesitation and although he knows he is only a mediocre draughtsman, "I'm going to be an artist." And amazingly, this statement will introduce a level of silence and calm into the criticisms of his peers, a moment of apparent reflection and finally a grudging but universal assent among them. It is, even then, his way out, his path to success in a world that seems to demand some kind of proof of one's inherent worth and abilities.

Whenever and wherever he measures himself against others, he will come up short. Others are more talented, stronger, better looking or better dressed, more athletic, wealthier, luckier, smarter or just plain better. He is the weak, the lonely, the misjudged, the misfit, the homely and the poor,at least when he looks out of himself to the world outside. The physical circumstances of poverty his family live in will only seem to underscore the fact. But in himself, when he is alone on a day like today, he knows better. He knows he has something, something which he really can not define but which covers him like an invisible cloak and protects him from the criticisms and barbs of the outside world where skill in competition reigns supreme. And it is not an idea. It is an inner knowledge, a knowingness about something within him. Something he is a part of, that is a part of him, that is good, whole, strong, life-giving, nourishing, protecting and loving. This inner happiness is his lifeline, his survival mechanism and it is something to be cherished and guarded like a precious secret.

Downstairs, his mother is cooking oatmeal. Most of the other six children are already up and the kitchen is buzzing with activity. His mother is still in her housecoat, her hair disheveled, making that curious clicking sound in the back of her throat that she does when she is not fully awake but even then her smile is always warm. She has no agenda except the care of the children, the chores and the single minded perseverance that will get her through another day in the face of circumstances that would create despair in most; an ongoing poverty, a husband who returns home drunk and broke most days and a house in such a state of chaos that it is no longer possible to organize it completely.

Her housework proceeds in pieces, a little bit here and there, a kind of surface tidying and ordering of the cardboard boxes full of second hand and worn out clothing, the sprung, scuffed and rickety furniture and the buckled, worn linoleum with its missing chunks, swept, swept and reswept and washed only once every few months. The house itself is a miracle of disrepair, things falling apart everywhere and yet patched where necessary by hammer and nail, glue and tape and showing the ongoing scars of battle with its occupants like a weary war veteran hobbling on crutches and living on charity.

The boy sits down to eat his oatmeal and notices his mothers legs, swollen and bulging with varicose veins and feels that familiar twinge of disgust, remorse and sadness well up within him. Here is a woman who gives everything she has to her family with little or nothing in return and yet somehow remains confident and happy, loving and giving. It fills him with a sense of deep wonder. She always has a hug and kiss for her children. She rarely questions their motives while encouraging them in their pursuits. She manages to look radiant and young despite the condition of her legs, her face softly lined and smiling, her dark brown hair well-kept, her clear hazel eyes filled with compassion and hope. Even at such a young age the boy sees all this although he doesn't weigh the knowledge of it. He holds it in his heart, deeply, a growing uncomfortable burden that he accepts as one of the conditions of life.

He will not have to do chores this morning after all, at least not the yard chores his father would rather see him do than play. His mother encourages him to go outside and have a good time. After all, it is Saturday and she seems well in agreement with claiming the precious joys of simple freedoms. He will spend the day combing the ditches for empty beer and pop bottles which he will later cash in for the price of a ticket to the Rialto Theater where 20 cartoons, a Blackhawk serial and a double bill are featured for small change. He hops on his old Douglass bicycle, an antique that weighs a ton, but which to him is a jet plane ride into the wild blue yonder. He is the Durango Kid, Superman, Zorro (the fox so cunning and free), Wild Bill Hickock, Roy Rogers, the Crimson Ghost, Hopalong Cassidy and he is soon to find a role that will echo his own abilities, the day he goes to the movies to see Sal Mineo in "The Gene Krupa Story". Here, finally is a role he can really play.

Day and night, with table knife drumsticks he sits by the radio, singing along and drumming on the seat of a kitchen chair. He is perfecting his craft although he doesn't know it yet. He is following an instinct of self-preservation that goes way down deep. He is forging a life-line to the future. He is saving himself from despair. He is practicing his art.