Nothing Happened in Coronation
I lived in Coronation an Alberta village in Canada, until I was 18. “Paradise Found” is the 1st of 25
Coronation stories & essays.
They say nothing happened in Coronation. But maybe that was before our little family arrived.
I was born in 1942 in a Calgary parking lot. In those days, it was the General Hospital. But now it’s just a parking lot. Heck, anyone can be born in a hospital, it takes a special baby to survive a parking lot. And I think you’ll agree I’m a special baby.
We lost most of my baby pictures, but Dad said I looked like a monkey when I was born. Mother claimed this was hurtful.
My mother, Pearl, and my father, Jack, had met in an Edmonton boarding house in the early 30s while mother was manager of the Beauty Parlor at the Hudson’s Bay Company and my father was finishing dentistry at the University of Alberta.
They were married in secret, had me a few years later, and spent a short time in Coleman, a mining town, then we shifted to another small town, Didsbury, and from there to Victoria, the garden spot of Canada on Vancouver Island. (The secret wedding is a story we do not have time for here. Later.)
Their wedding was such a secret that my mother refused to have her photo taken. To be safe, this photo is not even Dad.
My father, a prairie boy accustomed to the great vistas of Canada, developed island fever. Mother said that was silly, everyone knew Vancouver Island was 75% the size of Switzerland.
Dad said that didn’t matter an owl’s hoot because our family didn’t need cuckoo clocks. We needed money, and besides Vancouver Island was only 3/10th of one percent of the size of Canada.
Mother said she was sure that a smart man like a dentist could find better excuses for drinking than that.
Not wanting to disappointment Mother, my father came up with endless reasons to drink.
They bickered and when it got too much for him, Dad would nail the windows and doors shut, then warn Mother he would not be responsible if she continued to nag.
Mother would say nothing.
Dad would say, “I may not have love but I will will have respect.”
“Careful or you will end up with neither.”
And so it went.
On the plus side the winter weather was mild and we didn’t have to shovel snow.
Dad made terrific dentures and since there were a lot of retired people in Victoria he soon had more patients than he could handle.
Dad never asked for money in his office. He did the dentistry for you, made certain you were happy and eventually sent you a bill. The majority of his patients paid him within a year.
The residents of Victoria in 1950s were pensioners, guarding their every penny. One old lady, enormously pleased with her new dentures, promised Dad she would come in every Friday and pay a portion of her bill.
The total Dad charged for extractions and a set of dentures was $100. That was a laborer’s earnings for a month. But people were always happy with his work.
True to her word, the old lady toddled in the next Friday and handed my father twenty-five cents and again registered delight with her new teeth.
This was the last straw financially for Dad, and that night my father got in his Oldsmobile, a Rocket 98, drove it onto the ferry, disembarked near Vancouver and continued at breakneck speed through the Rocky Mountains.
He was returning to Alberta, back to his roots and his childhood.
Nine hundred miles later he reached Coronation.
There were two things Dad was looking for in the community where he would set up his new practice.
First, it had to have running water. That sounds crazy but there were many places in the mid 1950s that did not have running water in Canada.
Of course, all water ran (as long as it was not frozen), but my Dad did not want to pump it by hand from a well as he did in Didsbury.
Second, the town where he would set up his new practice had to need a dentist — so for this reason Dad wanted to find an out-of-the-way place.
He was looking for a town he could call home. A place were he could say, “these are my people.”
He drove into Coronation in the early evening dusk, the prairie breeze felt good and there, lurking beyond a grain elevator was a silver water tower. Little did he suspect the thousands of gallons of water it held was a metaphor for what Coronation was all about. Ominous pressures.
In the summer the volunteer firefighters would have horrendous water fights — and their battles would result in broken noses and busted arms.
My father checked into the Royal Crown Hotel.
It had several floors, and on each level a single bathroom.
The town was about two hundred miles by mostly mud roads from both Edmonton and Calgary.
Coronation boasted running water, and soon sewer pipes would be laid. Things were looking up for the farming community.
That evening my father talked to the town secretary, an affable fellow named Jack Noonan.
The two Jacks hit it off and Mr. Noonan told my father that Coronation and all of the surrounding area would give their eye teeth for a dentist.
My father said if everyone gave up their eye teeth, they would certainly need a dentist and the two man laughed in the warm July evening.
Jack Noonan’s son, Mickey, later became my lifelong friend.
He is now in jail in Australia for arson, having attempted to set his former wife’s home and father-in-law’s residents afire. Earlier he was incarcerated in Australia for murder but he beat that rap when the real murderer confessed. That is another story.
Jack Noonan told my father that the mayor of the town would like to take him out for lunch the next day.
My father bought a bottle of Scotch and went back to the Royal Crown Hotel and chatted with the desk clerk, Sam. Sam was so taken with my father he gave him the drain plug for one of the three bathtubs in the hotel.
Sam said that the owner did not want guests to waste water or spend too long in the bathrooms.
Later Sam’s older daughter tried to seduce me but I foolishly rejected her advances. That is another story.
The next morning while my father was having breakfast in the hotel, Mr. Andrew Kortgaard, a farmer in dire pain,approached my father and said he had a toothache.
My father took Mr. Kortgaard to the local doctor’s office, borrowed some forceps and extracted Andy’s tooth.
Andy’s stepson, Brent and I became lifelong friends. That is another story.
The morning quickly passed and my father put on his suit and waited in front of the Royal Crown Hotel to meet the town’s mayor. The man’s name was James Stewart.In the movie Harvey, the actor James Stewart was a pleasant drunk with a large white rabbit. In Coronation, our mayor lived up to the hard drinking image of his namesake.
Many people in the town were named after famous movie stars. There was Roland Coleman who later became the mayor and a good friend of mine. That is another story.
Anyway, at high noon, my father looked east, past the Toronto Dominion bank. The bank was run by a man named Gordon Hunter who had a beautiful daughter. I liked her but she would have nothing to do with me.
That is another, but much shorter, story than the others.The head belonged to James Stewart who was peering around the corner of an alley, studying my father.
Since there was no one else around and it was high noon, my father waved to the discombobulated head.
Coronation’s very own Johnny Stewart, a rather rotund man in his 40s, busted out of the alley as fast as his stubby legs could carry him.
He covered the half block like a gazelle and then fell flat on his face at my father’s feet. He reeked of booze.
“Welcome to Coronation, Dr. Summers,” he said. “I believe we have a luncheon engagement.”
Later my father said it was the most charming meeting he had ever had with a mayor of any town.
My mother bit back tears when my father talked that way.
Mayor Stewart took my father by the arm and led him to a dimly lit Chinese café run by an old Chinese with a fly swatter and a black mole on his nose.
He bowed and seated Dad and the mayor.
Mayor Stewart said he would order for both of them. “Chang, my fat yellow friend, bring the town’s new dentist your finest chop suey. Chop-chop.”
The Chinese had been preparing the dish, and within seconds served them both.
He poured them cups of tea with a good slug of whiskey.
They toasted each other and the future of Coronation, then went to work on their chop suey.
The hot July sun was blazing and the café had no air conditioning.
Mayor Stewart removed his tie and unbuttoned his shirt.
He lifted the chop suey to his lips and tipped the bowl.
The contents spilled down his chin and disappeared into his open shirt.
The mayor stared at his empty bowl, then screamed: “Goddamn it, you deceitful yellow creature, you brought me an empty bowl.”
“So sorry, Your Honor,” said the old Chinese who was standing by with a replacement bowl, apparently having gone through the drill before.
After drinking endless quantities of Chang’s spiked tea, dad and the soggy mayor left the café a few hours later .
“Please visit us again, Dr. Summers,” said Chang. “Apologies that Coronation has driven all to drink and His Honor has driven this worthless yellow man back to his opium pipe.”
My father telephoned my mother that night in Victoria to report he had found paradise, a paradise in which to begin our new life. “Are you sure, Jack?”
“Yes,” my father said. “These are my people.”
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