Grand­par­ents’ teach­ings, and skills live on in mem­o­ries

The Daily Press (Timmins) - - OPINION - Xavier Kataquapit

I en­joy car­pen­try, wood­work­ing and con­struc­tion. I like build­ing things, ren­o­vat­ing my home and learn­ing how to use new tools. I like to think that I have a knack for fig­ur­ing out build­ing or con­struc­tion prob­lems on my own. I be­lieve it is some­thing that is in my blood and a skill that has been passed down to me from gen­er­a­tions of builders, sur­vivors and crafts­men that had to learn to live on their own in the wilder­ness.

One of the first peo­ple I looked up to as a car­pen­ter was my Mooshoom, my grand­fa­ther Xavier Paul­martin on my mother’s side of the fam­ily. I can re­mem­ber vis­it­ing him and his wife when I was very young. They lived down by the river­side in At­tawapiskat close to the wa­ter’s edge. They had a small ply­wood cov­ered home painted white.

My grand­par­ents made sure that it was well main­tained, reg­u­larly painted and tidy. There was a large stock­pile of clean split pine in front of their home. Nearby was a chop­ping block that was well used and sur­rounded by mounds of fresh bright pine chips and bark. Back in those days, wood was still the main heat source.

A wide path be­tween the front door and the wood pile led to a small shed next to the house. I re­call when I stepped in­side how or­ga­nized ev­ery­thing was, all of his tools were stored in their place hung on the walls, set on shelv­ing and kept in wood box con­tain­ers hand-made by my Mooshoom. The space had the scent of pine.

On one wall hung sev­eral Kwah-pah-eh-kah-nah or snow shov­els that had al­ways cap­ti­vated me. They were large wooden scoops. The big­gest had a scoop head about a foot round and fea­tured a han­dle that was a foot long. There were three such scoops of vary­ing sizes and each one had been carved from a solid piece of pine. I can re­mem­ber think­ing how much time, ef­fort and skill it must have taken to carve out each one of these scoops.

Mooshoom died be­fore I was 10 and I can re­call that his lit­tle shed didn’t change much for sev­eral years af­ter he passed. Any time I had the chance to visit the shed, I did so with the thought of Mooshoom on my mind. It al­most seemed like he was still around and would be ar­riv­ing any minute to start an­other project in the shed.

In the 1980s in At­tawapiskat, we didn’t have run­ning wa­ter in our homes so it was a nor­mal thing in our lives to have to gather drink­ing wa­ter on a reg­u­lar ba­sis.

In the win­ter time, this meant ei­ther fetch­ing wa­ter from a hole in the ice on the river, chop­ping blocks of ice from the heav­ing frozen shore­line or head­ing out along the many lakes and rivers nearby to fetch clear, clean, fresh crys­talline snow.

Gath­er­ing snow for wa­ter was eas­ier and more con­ve­nient than any other means. Snow was eas­ier to get, melted faster and pro­vided cleaner wa­ter. I can re­mem­ber go­ing out on the land with Kookoom, my grand­mother Louise on her lit­tle Yamaha Bravo snow­ma­chine. It was her pride and joy and she used it to pull her wooden sleigh in treks out on to the land into her 70s.

We never went far and she showed me how to seek out the high deep snow drifts along a lake or river shore­line. Us­ing Mooshoom’s snow shovel in one hand, she demon­strated how to scrape away the top layer of snow to get at a mid­dle sec­tion that was filled with pure white crys­tals. Over the years, like many peo­ple in the com­mu­nity, she had col­lected sev­eral blue cloth mail bags that were reg­u­larly dis­posed of by Canada Post. They were large enough to carry a good amount of snow and small enough for us to lift and heave onto the sled.

As I grew older and stronger, Kookoom of­ten gave me the task of go­ing out on my own with her prized Yamaha Bravo and Mooshoom’s hand-made snow shov­els. I usu­ally filled three or four large bags as full as I could to en­sure that Kookoom could make plenty of wa­ter. I al­ways felt good han­dling Mooshoom’s shovel. I felt like there was still part of him ex­ist­ing that I could con­nect with.

I don’t know where Mooshoom’s scoop even­tu­ally ended up. It was long gone by the time I left for high school in the south. How­ever, I al­ways felt com­forted by the fact that I at least held onto to a piece of Mooshoom’s mem­ory for sev­eral years af­ter he was gone. I miss Mooshoom and I miss his hand­i­work and Kookoom and her teach­ings.

Hap­pily I have you the reader to thank for giv­ing me the mo­ti­va­tion to re­mem­ber them again and to pass on a glimpse of their lives.

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