The Irvine Tartan ē My monthly column in The New Brunswick Anglican
Since my Motherís death I have begun to share in many more ways the inevitable advance of time that has been experienced by so many others. You might know of what I speak.
Iím thinking about the grief process that is worked out in so many small ways. Now I canít remember if itís God or Satan in the details; but what Iíve found in the details has been redemptive.
Let me begin with my discovery of my black leather double holster set I found in a cedar chest. Smelling of cedar, the authentic Hopalong Cassidy nickel-plated, ivory-handled pistols I discovered hidden by knitted woollens and family albums of Kodak moments long past transported me to the winter of 1952. It was snowing and I was pressing myself against the plate glass window of Duvalís Hardware Store on Waterloo Street. They had one of the best Toylands in the city and in their display window I saw (and coveted) a wonderful double-holster setÖ and in black leatherÖ with nickel-plated pistols and handles of ivory!
The following month would bring my seventh birthdayÖ and I hoped that it would bring me this wonderful prize as well! And it did!
I made good use of the pistols.
Every Saturday two or three of my playmates (doesnít that date me!) would coax out enough change to take in a matinee. There was always a western playing in the city. Randolph Scott was a regular headliner at the Kent Odeon. Stomachs filled with popcorn and imaginations filled with images that came to life on the silver screen, weíd head home to re-enact the movie over and over and over again. We might be the cowboys, or we might be the Indians, it didnít matter really. We admired them both. Indians, I recall, were strong, and full of valour. Their courage was well known, and respected.
As I held the pistol now in my hand, a hand grown too large really to hold it properly, the tape holding the ivory handles -- did I tell you that they were really made of plastic? -- my mind swept back to the present and a time out of joint with my youth.
The prevailing cultural myths of the indigenous peoples of this land reminded me of drunkenness and sloth. Natives, Iíve heard are aimless drifters of no account. When youíve seen a drunken Indian and you just know how all Indians cannot tolerate alcohol, then you just know that they are all drunks and wasted lives.
Now where do you suppose I got that idea?
I didnít pick it up in my youth. In my youth, in the driveways and backyards of Bayside Drive, I would come forward to emulate the strengths seen in the native. And so would my playmates come forward as well.
If one Indian drinks, they all are drunkards. Thatís what Iím left with.
Itís like the residential school scandal. While I listened to the pain of memory recollected at the Native Convocation held in Miniaki, I learned of terrible, terrible indignities suffered at the hands of churchmen. Story succeeded story as a community demonstrated the courage to seek catharsis at the cost of tremendous pain.
But Iím quickly reminded that there were good schools, and that there were good teachers and that there were happy memories. A quick response to displace the sinfulness that broke young lives. Itís as though for sin to be recognized and allowed every school and every student would need to be violated.
In one instance we paint with a broad brush; in the other we paint with a narrow one.
Such is the element of corruption and defilement.
Looking reminiscently at the double-holster set I began to see where innocence was defiled.
My attitude was learned and in the learning, I too was defiled as certainly were countless other youths in residential schools too numerous to count.
Jesusí words are plain enough. We corrupt; we defile one another by what we say, and by what we do. Oh, itís not like eating Kosher, or fish on Friday or abstaining from chocolate in Lent. No, itís the ability each of us has to corrupt another. "Nothing that goes into a man from outside can defile him; no, it is the things that come out of him that defile a man," says Jesus. We do not defile ourselves. The indefinite article is deliberate. Others have defiled us, and we, in turn, take it upon ourselves to defile another. Feeding anotherís fears, insecurities, phobias may be quite accidental, but sometimes it is wilful.
Burnt Church and the firewalls of commerce challenge us. The stories are an embarrassment and they wonít go away. They leave us with youthful memories in hand, cracked as certain as ivory handles taped for continued use. The call is to acknowledge our defilement, to own it, to repent of it Ö and to try with Godís grace not to defile another.
Copyright © 2000 James T. Irvine
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