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Friday, December 28, 2007

Journey to the Edge of Nowhere, Part IV: All My Fading Yesterdays

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

As we drove northeast, I scanned the horizon for the smokestack I knew awaited us, a silent herald of the tiny mining town where I was born. And just before 5, there it was, belching smoke as it had for decades, as it might for decades more:

I don’t remember much about Flin Flon; I was very young when we moved north to Thompson. But I do have one memory, perhaps false: my earliest one.

In that memory – less real than any dream – I’m sitting on the kitchen counter, looking out the window, and there’s a cherry tree covered with blossoms. It’s sunset. I have a vague feeling that mom or dad or perhaps both of them were standing just behind me.
A road carved through Canadian Shield bedrock, approaching downtown Flin Flon.

And that is all. I may as well never have lived in Flin Flon, for all the impact it’s had on my personal development.

But I am illogically proud of having been born there, simply because the name is so unusual, and because the origins of that name are stranger still.

Here’s the explanation, posted on a sign next to the huge statue of the community’s namesake:

I guess it makes sense that I come from a town named for a fictional character, since I’ve often felt like one myself.

Earl poses with Flinty.
A caged canoe, close to the statue.

We stopped in Flin Flon only to gas up take a few pictures. Once that was accomplished, we took a short hop south to Cranberry Portage, home of my paternal grandmother and her longtime friend, Val Head.

Here’s a recent addition to the town, a plaque explaining the community’s origins:

I have more memories of Cranberry than of Flin Flon, mainly because we visited Grandma from time to time while living in Leaf Rapids, and of course after we moved to Alberta. Grandma had an old sewing machine with a drawer that had little toys in it. There were plastic pigs, cows, some vehicles, and little ceramic houses that I later learned were Red Rose Tea premiums. These trinkets, the books I habitually carried around on such trips and comics purchased (for 35 cents!) at drugstores kept me occupied for hours; I was rarely bored, except when forced to go fishing, and sometimes not even then.

(On one occasion, we were on the lake when a severe storm hit, forcing us to land on a little island. Sean, an infant at the time, was placed underneath the boat.)

Family Food Town in Cranberry, still open for business.

I had no idea where Grandma and Val’s house was located, but Cranberry Portage is so tiny that I only had to drive around for a couple of minutes before stumbling across it. And I discovered once again that time hadn’t waited for me. Not only had many of the town’s businesses closed, Grandma’s yard was much larger than I remember; as Val opened the gate for us so I could park, he explained that they’d bought the property next door and erected a new storage bay.

Grandma and Val.
Dad had warned me that Grandma was suffering from Alzheimer’s, but to my relief she was very lucid and very pleased to see me and meet Sylvia (particularly, I think, since I introduced her as my fiancĂ©e.) In fact, I thought she was quite sharp, something I remembered from my childhood; Grandma was always pretty witty. We chatted for a while, and as the evening wound down Val set up the guest house for us, a small but comfy converted shack in the back yard.

Camping with Dad, Mom and Grandma, Suwannee River campground?
We slept surrounded by kitschy but strangely comforting knickknacks, and I drifted off to sleep knowing that come the dawn, we’d be on our way to our ultimate destination. So far, nothing was exactly as I remembered it. Would Leaf Rapids, or at least the sinkhole, be immune to time’s relentless onslaught? Would I find what I was looking for?

What was I looking for?

Click here to read Part V.


Sean Woods said...

Good stuff.

I have fond memories of Grandma's sewing machine stuffed with toys.

I also remember searching her cupboards for delicious candy.

Sean Woods said...

However, I don't have any recollection of being stuffed under a boat.

Perhaps that's for the best...