Friday, March 24, 2017

Here Are The News

I woke this morning with a head like a fermenting pumpkin, ready to explode.

No, I do not have a late winter cold. It’s just that I’m stuffed to the sinuses with unhappy news overload.

The UK is leaving the EU. Scotland is leaving the UK. The Dutch and the Turks keep yelling at each other. Bad Vlad, the new leader of the modern world, is busily sowing evil seeds in everyone else’s garden.

Forrest Trump, the nutbar president, ran out of people to insult this week so had more time to spend at his Florida golf course making America great again.

The only cure for bad news overload is to let the mind drift back to days long passed when the daily news was more fun, certainly a lot less threatening.

Many folks who collected and wrote the news back then did so outside the corridors of huge populations and power. They were a lot closer to real people living real lives.

I always enjoyed reading Margaret ‘Ma’ Murray’s (Aug. 3, 1888 – Sept. 25, 1982) writings in the Bridge River-Lillooet News from the B.C. interior. Her stuff was earthy and loaded with acid that peeled the pretentions off people who thought they were much smarter than the rest of us.

She told it like she saw it (“that’s fur damshur!”) enraging politicians and others, who often threatened her with legal actions or lickings. She rolled with the criticism saying:

“It’s a poor turkey who can’t pack a few lice.”

Then there was Edith Josie who wrote a column about life in the remote Yukon community of Old Crow, a place you’ll never hear about these days unless some calamity or tragedy occurs there.

Josie (Dec. 8, 1921–Jan. 31, 2010) was a Gwich’in whose Here Are The News column appeared in the Whitehorse Star for 40 years. It told of the comings and goings of life in the isolated village above the Arctic Circle.

She was single woman who had three children and wrote about giving birth to one.

“At 8:30 p.m. I had baby boy and he’s 6 lb. . . . . I give it to Mrs. Ellen Abel to have him for his little boy. She was very glad to have him cause he’s boy. I was in nurse station and Miss Youngs sure treat me nice. Myself and baby I  really thanks her very much for her good kindness to me.

Her writing was in broken English and ungrammatical but it gave the outside world clear pictures of life in that place, and presumably places like it.

Neither Ma Murray nor Miss Edith had much formal education. Ma left school at age 13, Miss Josie at 14. They didn’t know many rules of writing, but that did not matter. What mattered was the story.

You don’t hear many stories these days from tiny, tucked away communities like Lillooet and Old Crow. That’s a shame because the news of those places can tell us a lot about Canada and Canadians.

And these places produced stories that often brought you laughter. One of my favourites was about a famous parrot in Carcross, Yukon and was written by my talented Canadian Press colleague, Dennis Bell, who has since passed.

 “The world famous Carcross parrot is probably the oldest, meanest, ugliest, dirtiest bird north of the 60th parallel,” Bell wrote.

“He hates everybody. Which is understandable, because the damned old buzzard has resided within spitting distance of a beer parlour since 1919 and has had to endure 64 years of beer fumes, drunks who mash soggy crackers through the bars of his cage, and phantom, feather pluckers.”

Bar patrons amused themselves by feeding the parrot beer and shots of booze. Sometimes it got  so drunk it fell off its perch. But then someone taught it to sing Onward Christian Soldiers and it found religion and quit drinking.

One day in the 1970s it was found drumsticks up on its cage floor. It apparently died of old age. A public funeral was held, which included a procession down the hamlet’s main street. After the burial everyone went back to the hotel for drinks.


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