CATAWBA IS CHEAP WINE: TED IS DEAD
(38TH ROVER CREW, WINTER 1956)
Those were grand years, the 1950’s. I thought they would never end, as the song goes. But they did and as near as I can see they have not been repeated. The innocence, sense of adventure, opportunities, simplicity, thrift, tight friendships of those years are difficult to replicate today. This picture for instance, was taken on one of our winter camping trips with the 38th Rover Scout troop led by Ed Hisson (right) where we tramped into a huge log cabin built by a group of older WW2 veterans deep in the Canadian Boreal wilderness north of Parry Sound. They shared it with us for some reason I cannot fathom…perhaps just the Rover Scout bonds. That’s Big Red Stevenson in the foreground, one of my lifetimes friends and me in the background. Our coats come from the War Surplus stores of which there were many in the 1950s.
My behaviour on this trip was not something of which I am proud. I was 18 years old and experimenting with alcohol. Rot gut…red wine. Bought a bottle of Four Aces for 69 cents ssnd took good slugs of the stuff as we slogged into the cabin on a dark winter night. Cold. Wind. Deep snow. Seemed a good idea to warm myself up with cheap wine. I shared it with the guys but kept the bottle in the cavernous pocket of my WW 1 Great Cost. Which meant I had too easy access. We had several miles to slog. And my the wine tasted good. I was not a drinker…this was the first bottle of wine I ever purchased. Foolish, I know, but young men can be really foolish.
I remember the moon punching a hole in the winter clouds and lighting up our bush trail. Then everything went dark. Black dark. And I was immobile…could not move. The wine did it. I fell over into a deep snowbank…head first with snowshoes flapping in the moonlight and my head rammed into the snow. Red or Ed or Don Strathdee or Doug Mason or Jim Garde Jr or Ted Christiansen…I remember them all. They pulled me free. Little good that did. I was wobbly…could not keep on the trail. Needed support but there was still a long way to go. So Ed and Red noticed smoke coming from another cabin … mid way to the lodge. A cabin built by the same war vets. They pulled and directed me in that direction.
“Can you take this guy for the night>”
“Sure but why?”
“Cheap bottle of Catawba or Four Aces Red have done him in…drunk”
“Just a kid.”
“His first experiment with booze sand snowshoes…bad combination it seems.”
“Sure flop him into the bedroom…he can sleep there in his clothes.”
I remember the wall of heat that greeted us as we opened the door to thst cabin. The cherry red embers of a maple cordwood fire in the Quebec heater … all I remember because everything seemed to be moving…cold not tell up from down…east farm west…bed from floor. But I was conscious enough to know I was a poor example of a Rover Scout snd to notice everybody was laughing at me. Then came the sensation I was about to vomit. Fine thing. Vomit in the cabin of my rescuers. I held it down snd thst was not easy. Eventually I passed out. The sensation that the world around me was in motion was terrible. Anyone who has drunk too much liquor knows the feeling. But this was my first experiment with the evil liquid. And nearly my last. Once in the Yukon … at s bar in the tiny villager of Mayo Landing when
I was temporary chief of a geophysical crew our client got the best of me.
“Here Alan, bought you as ‘Double OP’, suck it down.”
A Double OP is s double shot of overproof rum…80% rum…that kind of rum was sent to the Yukon to save transport costs of normal rum. I think it was expected to be watered down. But that did not happen. OP rum had the force of a 2 x 4 slapping to the back of my head. But only once.
The spinning of that rover trip was a one time ting too. Net morning I was treated as a goof. The vets served me breakfast as a kind of joke. just looking at slabs of bacon slithering in fried eggs was enough to get the vomit moving. And they knew that. Around 9 that morning, Red snd Ed arrived to escort me up the frozen lake to our winter camp. I was gas to leave. Being laughed at i bad enough. Feeling like s fool is worse.
Never did that again…never drank Catawba or Four Aces, that is. Yes, it cost me 69 cents for the full bottled. Now thst is cheap wine. i think Red put the empty bottle up on one of the beams in the lodge as a reminder.
Suppose I was alone that night? Someone would find me, dead, with my snowshoes in the air as a grave marker.
Those of you reading this and laughing make me sick.
Memory is selective. Reading this story might give the impression we were a lot wilder than we really were. Most of our camping trips were chances to get away from our urban lives. We revelled in the outdoors. Loved sleeping on the ground in Spring summer snd Fell. Estingbarely digestible food made with thee minimum of sanitary food prep conditions. We really enjoyed being together. When Marjorie came along a few years later he became part of the Rover Crew as did the girlfriends and eventually the wives of the other guys. It was s good life. Oh are, there were badges snd ribbons that provide something to other Rover Crews. We never bothered with that stuff.
And there weer crisis. Like when Ted Christiansen got killed. He became s motorcycle cop on the Toronto Force. A great guy.
“Hey, Alan, come on over the station snd see my motorcycle…revd up like a tank.”
“Do all cops have these things?”
“No, just some of us…the new guys.”
“How long will you be driving the cycle?”
“Not long, I have applied to join the mounted cops?”
“The horses….we have sa bunch of them down sat the CNE stables”
“Does everyone get s horse?”
“Nope. I am lucky. Join the horses patrol next month.”
Ted never made it. just a few days after he showed me his motorcycle, I got the bad needs.
“Ted was killed last night Alan”
“Drunk driver at the Keeler Street underpass….drove right over him and his cycle…killed him .”
“Think so… got arrested…charged…but it won’t go anywhere…nothing will be done.”
“You must be kidding?”
“No witnesses….he claims Ted did not make a left turn signal.”
“is he the only witness.”
“His word stands….only witness…gets off … maybe he is right…
“What about the drunk charge?”
“Not sure…measured… but later…maybe not really drunk.”
“Jesus…Ted is gone…a hole in our lives.”
No one mentioned my Catawba incident but I am sure it was on their minds. It was certainly on mine.