Friday, July 22, 2005

The House on the Mountain, Part I: The Story, 1974-78

Or, When Skirts were Long, Tempers were Short, and Both were Flared*

Long, long ago, in a land up North, a family decided, in the fashion of the times, to forsake their suburban professional lives and go Back to the Land. The parents explained to their 12-year-old daughter, Renaissance Girl, that they'd be leaving Toronto and moving to the wilds of rural British Columbia to build their own house. Not that they had any idea of how to do such a thing, mind you.

After a couple of years in rented houses on various islands, the family bought some land way up on a mountainside, on the edge of a small town near a bigger town called (let's say) Molson, near the Canadian Rockies. Molson was mainly a dying mill town, though there was beginning to be an influx of hippies around the fringes. Those hippies were Renaissance Parents' friends, but mostly they were a bit younger, and their kids were a lot younger than Renaissance Girl, so she went to high school as the only weirdo hippie kid around a bunch of mill kids. She was used to that sort of thing, as she'd always been a nerd wherever she was. And eventually she did find a few friends, outsiders in their own hometown. They formed their own little band, passing notes in class in Elvish and hanging out at each others' houses baking cookies.

Renaissance Girl had to hike a couple of miles down the hill to get to the school bus ten miles into town. There was no electricity and no hot water, actually no running water at all, except what dripped off the roof into the rain barrel. So she shoveled paths to the outhouse, and poured water heated on a Coleman stove into a dishtub to stand on her head to wash her long hair, or took showers at the public swimming pool. Winters were very cold and snowy and isolated. She did have a sweet little room, though, with a view of the mountains, and a lovely skylight through which she could see hundreds of stars at night: Cassiopia’s Chair on the Fall Equinox, the Big Dipper on the Spring. There was a romantic appeal to living so far off the grid; she felt it as much as her parents.

After a couple of years, the big project and the romantic appeal weren't enough to keep her parents' marriage going, and her mom left for Vancouver. Renaissance Girl, who was 15 by then, got the flu that winter while her dad was out of town, and couldn’t get down the mountain to go to school. She decided it would be easier to live on her own in town than to depend on her dad, who was having a hard time just keeping it together. So her parents chipped in for the rent on a tiny apartment in town, only two miles from her best friend Skaterboy.

Skaterboy's mom didn't totally approve of RG; she didn't like hippies, and especially after RG got her own apartment Skatermom worried that Skaterboy and RG would make her a grandma way before she wanted to be one. Renaissance Girl was often tempted to reassure her: "Don't worry, Mrs. Skater, we're just smoking pot," but wisely refrained.

But Skatermom was also concerned about RG, and often ended up inviting her to dinner, after conversations that went something like this: Skatermom: "What are you having for dinner tonight, RG?" Renaissance Girl, with vague innocent look: "Oh, peanut butter..." Skatermom, briskly: "No, you're not. You're staying here and having chicken with us." RG, brightly and just as disingenuously: “Okay!”

Living on her own didn't work out so well either, in the long run, and eventually Renaissance Girl joined her mom in Vancouver to finish out high school. She went to college in the States, moved to Seattle, and--just like someone in an old story, or a Bruce Springsteen song--never went back to that dying mill town.

To Be Continued.

*This subtitle courtesy of Renaissance Woman, who also contributed her able editorial advice and fact-checking, not to mention generous permission to post a big chunk of her life story. Thanks, RW!


Blogger Udge said...

What a great start, I'm looking forward to part 2.

1:39 AM  
Blogger Jo said...

It's like Heidi, but with hippies! What a great story.

8:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You know, "Heidi" was my mother's favourite story, back when she was a child in flat flat Denmark. Maybe that's why she was so inexorably drawn to the mountains; thanks, Jo, I never thought of that before! Now she lives in Jaxin Whole, next to the Great Big Teatons, so you see what too much "Heidi" at a tender age lead to...
- Renaissance Woman

6:12 PM  

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