jaron summers (c) 2014
When I was twelve my father bought a deep freezer that was bigger than a coffin.
Some of his patients (he was the only dentist for a hundred miles) paid him with sides of beef. He showed me how to cut up a quarter into steaks and roasts and we froze them in that freezer.
The year was 1954 and we lived in Coronation, Alberta.
Below is a recent photo of the house my father built in Coronation. My cousin, Ken Summers, took photos. The first one a few years ago. You will note that the house has a pitched roof.
Ken sanpped the the second photo half a century earlier in 1955.
Originally, Dad built our home with a flat roof. He envisioned playing shuffle board on it. It looked like this.
That never came to be because in the summer the tar roof was so sticky you would have been caught like Brer Rabbit.
In the winter the tar was as hard as obsidian and if you walked on it, the roof would have cracked and then leaked in the spring.
The house was a big square box, wrapped in tar paper and that was covered with chicken wire. The plan was to stucco it. After three years it remained unstuccoed.
Mother was upset about this but my father said that due to seismic activity the house had “to settle,” otherwise the stucco would crack.
My mother pointed out that there had been no seismic activity in that area of Alberta since the Jurassic Era. My father said that just meant we were ready for a big one, any day.
After ten years, after much of the tar paper had blown away, my dad finally relented and had the house covered with aluminum siding.
But that was long after the huge deep freezer arrived. It took four men to carry it down our basement.
After they left, my father plugged it in and opened the cavernous contraption.
“I’ve heard,” said Dad, “that kids have gotten into things like this, closed the lid and perished.”
“Oh, yeah?” I asked. I caught a hint of whiskey on his breath and sensed that something might go wrong.
“Why don’t you climb into it and see if I can hear you yell?” he asked.
“Why don’t you hop into it and we’ll close the lid and see if I can hear you yell,” I said. “After all, you can scream louder than me.”
“That’s an idea but if something went wrong and the lid stuck, you might not be able to open it and you’d do in your old man.”
“If it gets stuck, how are you going to get me out of it?” I asked.
“We don’t have an ax,” I said.
“There’s one out in the garage,” he said.
“I’ll go get it,” I said, planning my escape.
“Oh, forget it if you’re that big of a sissy,” he said.
“OK, I’ll get in but don’t leave the lid shut too long.”
My mother who was upstairs and always sensed when things were amiss, yelled down. “What are you two doing?”
“Dad is going to lock your sole heir in the deep freezer,” I said, standing in the steel sarcophagus that was growing colder, its compressor humming away.
“What?” asked my mother.
“Don’t worry about it,” said my father. “It’s just a little experiment.”
“Like the stucco?” asked my mother and I heard her (thank God) racing down the stairs.
“Duck down before she gets here,” said my father.
I ducked. My father lowered the lid and said, “Start screaming.”
Thud, the lid closed.
I screamed for what seemed like about three days.
Then the lid opened and there was my father, standing by my mother.
“Good Lord,” said my mother. “You could have killed our only child.”
“We could have gotten another one,” said my father.
“How long was I in there?” I asked.
“A few seconds,” said my father.
“More like five minutes,” said mother.
“We were conducting a test to see if you could hear a kid inside a freezer,” said my father.
“Were you yelling?” my mother asked me.
“No more deep freezer experiments, you understand?” It was not a question to my father. It was an ultimatum.
For the rest of my life, about two or three times a week, I have a nightmare about being buried alive in an icy coffin. I understand this is a fairly common nightmare, still I think it could have been triggered by the deep freezer incident.
The story is not finished.
We moved to Edmonton and the deep freezer came with us. It took a moving crew of five large men to wrestle the huge freezer into the furnace room in our new basement.
Time passed and my father died, then ten years ago, my mother. My wife and I kept the house.
And with it that deep freezer.
Today we rent the house to grad students who go to the U of A.
An old friend of the family is rebuilding the furnace room to accommodate a laundry room.
The deep freezer had to go. It had not been turned on for five years and it took up precious space.
Our friend is Bob Tessier and he is 79 years old. He can do construction jobs of any kind. Plumbing. Electrical. Dry walling. Anything. Heck, he could build a city. He said the deep freeze was in the way.
So, about three weeks ago, I rounded up several large friends and with the help of the grad students in our house we undertook to move the deep freezer upstairs and onto the lawn so it could be taken to a recycling plant.
There were two problems.
The first was that we had done some additional building in the house so that the deep freezer would not fit up the stairs.
The second was that another friend of mine (Terry Willox), who was there to help lug out the freezer, said that it could not be done and told Bob to give up.
Terry said he thought we would lose control of the deep freezer and one or two us would be squashed by the half ton monster. It made sense to me.
But you don’t tell Bob he can’t do something.
So over the next two days he attacked the deep freezer with all sorts of weapons – chisels, power saws, grinders and sledge hammers.
Don’t forget this is a former Edmonton city cop who once worked out with pro wrestlers such as Stu Hartman.
The freezer lost the battle. Although I must say it put up a tremendous fight. Its metal sides looked like they could withstand a surface to air missile.
But Bob was relentless and he removed the compressor, the lid, and then sawed the deep freezer in half.
He rigged a ramp up the stairs that would have impressed the pharoahs.
Then this 79 year old man, my wife and Claudia, a gal who lives in our house, lugged the remnants of the freezer out onto the lawn. (I would have helped but someone had to document the death of the freezer.)
As I watched the end of the deep freezer and realized how tough it was, I could not help but wonder how my slightly tipsy father could have opened it in time to get me out of its depths if something had gone wrong with me in that iron coffin over half a century ago.
Here is Bob and the gals after their successful mission.
The next day we loaded the pieces onto Bob’s truck and drove to the landfill.
I no longer have nightmares about being buried alive.
A new nightmare has surfaced. Telling Bob, who will soon be 80, he can’t do something.
On March 30, 2012, Robert Joseph Tessier of Edmonton passed away at the age of 81 years. Robert is survived by four sons and four daughters, Robert (Arlene), Corinne (Robert), Michael, Joanne (Richard), Timothy (Nattalle), Suzanne, Paul, and Sandy (Charan); eleven grandchildren; three great-grandchildren; three brothers and two sisters, Jack, Ray (Betty), Lorraine, Terry, and Richard (Jo).
Memorial Service Wednesday, April 4 at 11:00 a.m. at Park Memorial Chapel, 9709 – 111 Avenue.
In lieu of other tributes, donations may be made to the Stollery Children’s Hospital Foundation, 1502 College Plaza, 8215 – 112 Street, Edmonton, AB T6G 2C8 or to the Cross Cancer Institute, Alberta Cancer Foundation, 11560 University Avenue, Edmonton, AB T6G 1Z2.