TALES OF HOCKEY, THE NORTH AND LOVED ONES LOST

Regina Leader-Post - - WEEKEND - BILL ROBERT­SON

Now that Christ­mas mu­sic has been play­ing in the stores the past cou­ple of months, it’s time to look at a few sug­ges­tions for books un­der the tree.

First off is Saskatchewan Hockey: The Game of Our Lives (Macin­tyre Pur­cell; $19.95), edited by Dun­durn denizen Al­lan Sa­farik. A hockey book?! In Saskatchewan?! In time for Christ­mas?! What an idea. Well, Sa­farik has packed this col­lec­tion full of short sto­ries, es­says, poems (full dis­clo­sure, a few are mine), and news sto­ries, all wrapped up with an Allen Sapp paint­ing on the cover.

High­lights in­clude Rudy Thauberger’s Goalie, about the in­ten­sity and lone­li­ness of com­mit­ted net­min­ders and how no one knows their fear or pain. It re­minded me of Ran­dall Maggs’s ex­cel­lent po­etry col­lec­tion Night Work: The Sawchuk Poems. These peo­ple are a breed apart.

And it wouldn’t be hockey in Saskatchewan with­out some­thing from the hockey poet him­self, Stephen Scriver. My fave is Stanis­lowski Vs. Gren­fell about the night “the world’s fore­most vi­o­lin­ist/ played in Gren­fell” but was shut out by the lo­cal hockey game. That’s what hap­pens in a town with “more agri­cul­ture/ Than cul­ture, and Art/ Is the guy who runs the Paterson el­e­va­tor.”

Randy Lundy of Regina writes a har­row­ing piece called Au­tumn 1972 in which a 10-year-old First Nations boy liv­ing in Flin Flon re­calls how in the fa­mous hockey sum­mit of that year, the Cana­di­ans lost. What!!! How can any­one tam­per with that iconic win? Well, Lundy does, mir­ror­ing the dev­as­ta­tion in a young boy’s life with a glo­ri­ous and gut-wrench­ing metaphor for loss. You’ll want to Google the game to be sure Team Canada ac­tu­ally won.

Then there’s Brenda Ze­man’s nice bit of in­ves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ism, The Re­luc­tant Black Hawk, about Fred Sasakamoose, “the In­dian guy who walked out on the Chicago Black Hawks 30 years ago.” It’s a great story from mul­ti­ple points of view. Also watch for Robert Cur­rie’s Max Bent­ley and the Hockey Pants, Bill Boyd’s Bien­fait, Saskatchewan, and Don Kerr’s Gordie’s Flo­ral Sky.

On a com­pletely dif­fer­ent note is Dear Me: The Widow Let­ters (Driver Works; $14.95), com­piled by Dianne Young. You may think this is bit of a de­press­ing sub­ject for a sea­sonal book gath­er­ing, but then you prob­a­bly haven’t had to spend your first Christ­mas alone, your life partner hav­ing re­cently died.

Young, of Martensville and a widow her­self, says in her preface to The Widow Let­ters that it is “an at­tempt to give a voice” to that one per­son who knows ex­actly what it feels like to have re­cently lost a partner.

So, she asked a num­ber of women, most here in Saskatchewan, what they would write to their re­cently be­reaved selves from the van­tage point of a few years af­ter. The re­sults are poignant, but also taut with hard­earned lessons about what re­ally counts now that be­ing alone is the re­al­ity.

Con­densed, the gen­tle but firm ad­vice is, don’t try to do any­thing by the books on grief, do what feels right for you. Ask for help for the first time in your life. And one that stood out as it came up sev­eral times was, many peo­ple have no idea what to say, as we’re to­tally un­ac­quainted with death in our so­ci­ety, so they ei­ther veer away, or they say some­thing com­pletely in­ap­pro­pri­ate like “he’s in a bet­ter place now.” Be pre­pared to see old friends slide away, but have new ones come into view.

I’ll leave the rest to these im­por­tant and in­spired let­ters.

As long as there are in­ter­est­ing and in­trigu­ing sub­jects out there, and clever peo­ple to no­tice them, there will al­ways be A-B-C books. Here’s Never Rub Noses with a Nar­whal, An Al­lit­er­a­tive Arc­tic ABC Book (Friesenpress; $21.95), by Saska­toon ed­u­ca­tor Ruth Well­born and her son Mor­gan on the colour il­lus­tra­tions.

When it comes to Canada’s north, Well­born, to quote the im­mor­tal Hank Snow, has been ev­ery­where, and she’s got the al­lit­er­a­tive po­etry to prove it.

Not only does she take us to such places as Hootal­in­qua with huskies and Ketchikan in a kayak, she also tells us about Isaac’s igaak’s (sun­glasses made of bone) and how quviut is “quite a bit co­zier than cash­mere.” It’s the un­der­fur of a musk-ox.

Be­sides colour­ful paint­ings of flea­bane daisies and xan­tho­ria el­e­gans (an orange lichen), Well­born in­cludes a glos­sary of pe­cu­liarly Arc­tic words, a map of the en­tire area she cov­ers, and a cou­ple of pages of facts about the north. So cozy up with a nar­whal and learn about al­lit­er­a­tion and our north.

Fi­nally, I was hop­ing to learn more about Ura­nium City, or min­ing, or get a broader pic­ture of what it was like to live this far north in the min­ing boom of the ’60s and ’70s, but 100 Days in Ura­nium City (Co­nun­drum Press; $18), by Ari­ane Denomme, is more per­sonal than that. Denomme, a Mon­treal artist and writer, has taken the sto­ries her fa­ther told her of life in a min­ing camp and turned it into this graphic novel.

A young guy from east­ern Canada named Daniel faces the peren­nial prob­lem of no work, so he fol­lows the tales of big money to Ura­nium City where men work 100 days in and two weeks out, and on that in­hu­mane but well-paid sched­ule try to hold on to some sem­blance of fam­ily life. Daniel meets and falls in love with a woman back home and spends his days in camp work­ing, dream­ing of home, and drink­ing. Lots of that.

What Denomme con­cen­trates on, likely be­cause of what her fa­ther told her, is hard work — though we don’t get many specifics of what the men do, even in il­lus­tra­tion — nights in the bar, and ten­sions among co-work­ers and room­mates.

It’s not a pretty scene, and Denomme’s pen­cil il­lus­tra­tions only en­sure the grim na­ture of the work and life.

Now that Ura­nium City is pretty much a ghost town, I’d have liked to learn a lit­tle more about what was go­ing on there when it boomed.

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