The Good Old Days
Nothing Happened in Coronation
I lived in Coronation, an Alberta village in Canada, until I was 18. This is the 2nd of 25
Coronation stories & essays.
They say nothing happens in Coronation. I have news for you.
Many things that have just happened in the world, happened decades ago in Coronation.
For example, yesterday I read about a couple of wolf boys with a traveling circus.
The kids were from Mexico. There was also a story about a computer glitch generating wayward e-mail. And there was a news brief concerning Malaysian kids who will be flogged if they’re caught smoking at school.
The stories reminded me of the good old days in my hometown, Coronation. Coronation is in eastern Alberta, near the Saskatchewan border.
We had our own wolf boy. He was a big guy named Willie and he never shaved. As far as us kids could tell his entire face was covered with hair. He always wore the same plaid shirt.
We were certain he was all hair … or scales under his clothing.
Willie looked like a vampire and people said he was “touched in his head.” I think he was more cunning than touched. He never seemed to work, except for a few odd jobs such as unloading beer at the government liquor store on Wednesdays.
The rest of the time Willie shuffled around with a big dirty shopping bag. In the bag he carried an old Brownie camera and directions on how to use it, even though he could not read.
He would hide about a block away and when you weren’t looking he’d take your picture. A week later you would be walking past the seed house, late at night, and Willie would suddenly step out of the shadows.
Willie timed his encounters for the full moon and in its haze he looked more like a wolf boy than those two from Mexico. Anyway, Willie would say: “I got a pretty good picture of you.”
If I squinted I might see a figure about the size of a match head in his photo.
“Is that me?” I’d ask Willie.
“It’s you,” he’d say. “I would have used a telescope lens except I don’t have one. As you know I get four dimes for a picture like that.”
I always gave the giant wolf boy four dimes. That was a lot of money in the late 50s. Forty cents would buy you a movie and a Coke. Some of my friends didn’t pay for their pictures. Willie bumped one of them down the stairs at the skating rink. He said he was real sorry. Said it was an accident. Right.
(Years later the druggist told me that usually Willie ordered thirty prints of one negative. That way the wolf boy could pass off any photo as a picture of anyone. No one dared argue with him. The touched wolf boy collected a whole lot of dimes.)
When I saw the article about wayward e-mail — namely the wrong parties getting messages — I couldn’t help but recall Coronation’s first electronic communications system.
Past the town’s only movie theater was a brick building that housed the telephone exchange. Our phone number was 51. I think there were about 200 phones in the Coronation area. You’d contact the exchange by cranking your phone.
Bess Lamrock, the head operator, would ask you what number you wanted, then she’d plug you into the correct line.
Bess was reliable but quite often some of her assistants would patch you into the wrong “party.” Sometimes there would be overlaps and on certain lines you could make out all sorts of people talking.
Lifelong enemies were made by overhearing gossip due to these faulty connections.
This brings me to the story of smoking students being flogged in Malaysia.
When I was a kid some of my pals smoked in Coronation. But never in our school. My pals were tough farm kids who could lift horses but every one was terrified of our teachers.
Take Mrs. Noonan. She was our math teacher, a rather small woman. One day she walked into our class room and thought I was talking. (Actually I was talking.) Mrs. N. rushed at me, and knocked me senseless with an arithmetic book. If you’ve ever been book whipped, you’ll know what I’m talking about.
I was the smallest kid in the class and doing my best to impress Ruth, the prettiest girl. After Mrs. N. struck me a second time (full force) with the math book I broke down and wept.
Ruth didn’t laugh but she never dated me. I would have preferred a public flogging to a book whipping. With a public flogging you can at least prepare against spontaneous tears.
After Mrs. N. nailed me with the math book, my best friend called me a bawl baby. I felt awful and ran all the way home.
On the way, Willie took my picture. (A week later I purchased a photo from him that showed me about the size of a pin head, which was how I felt for months.)
The day of the book whipping, the entire town knew that I was a bawl baby thanks to the numerous party lines that were buzzing with the information.
Coronation had it all. A wolf boy. Wayward communications systems. And the kind of discipline that would have warmed the hearts of the Malaysian school boards.
The good old days.
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