|Chapter II |
I sit on
the wagon, excited, watching all the sights
as they pass by. Here, near to
home, I will call to
every dog we pass, by name. Some raise their ears
and turn their heads. Some, bored by their city life,
pursue a pace or two.
We jolt and bounce along the lanes. Something
wonderful is about to happen
around every comer, for at last, after a hundred
necessary interruptions, the game of games begins.
. . . Clothes! . . . Bottles! Rags! . . ,
Clothes! . . . Bottles!" Grandpa
and I shout, sing,
cry the streets, our voices ringing a joyous hymn to
life to fill and empty the back lanes of my city.
Sunday, unless it rained, we would go out
to play the game. Always the same.
Grandpa and me smoothing the final turns of the
devolution. Tidying the clutter. Shifting
the narrow gullies between the galleried
tenements, we clip-clop clatter.
Sometimes a face
looks out of a window to watch us pass. People come
go on the galleried balconies, pursuing their
separate lives. The sun brings
their lives to commune
in the streets, though most bustle by, and we seldom
meet. Men group on corners, sometimes with bon-
homie. The children run, scatter,
play everywhere. A
thousand ways to paint the day.
on a gallery, above and before us, a sad-look-
ing little man watches our
approach. He ducks down,
picks up and holds out some bottles. Milk and soda.
Grandpa reins up. He hands me a few pennies,
should I need
change. I pocket the pennies, leap
down from the wagon. I've always time to
a greeting with Ferdeleh. I run into the backyard and
the strange steps, full of lights and shadows.
Even this is a mystery and
part of the wonderful
game, going into these strange and sometimes scary
Sunday's first client is just an ordinary man, no
prince or wizard, who holds out the bottles. There
cent a bottle," he states.
I relay the price to Grandpa,
too old now to run
after every improbable nickel. "He wants a cent a
"I get two cents for four bottles. He
can have one
Our client shakes his head disapprovingly.
Grandpa too is unmoved.
"Take it to the bottle
company yourself, mister. They'll give you two
for four bottles, and you won't have to help feed
my horse. Come,
Our client sighs, acknowledging defeat. "Give
I gather the bottles, an awkward
make my way down the stairs. A bottle escapes me,
clatters. I watch in alarm. Maybe . . . But
it splinters and spreads on the
stairs. Wince to the
The confirmed expectations
of the sad little man
produce a shallow glee. "There goes your profit."
Quickly, carefully I run down the stairways, run-
Grandpa to bring the remaining bottles to
the wagon, and to leave my defeat
"Thank you," he says, and soothes me,
kindly, matter-of-fact, man-to-man.
sorry. Grandpa. It slipped."
"Don't worry about
I place the bottles in the wagon and move to
Ferdeleh's head, walk beside him as horse and wagon
continue their way up
the unpaved street.
In those days of our game, half the
back lanes of
the city were still unpaved. It was 1921. As I sit
Grandpa, chanting, "Rags! . . . Clothes! . . .
Bottles!" so everyone
would know of our passage. I
muse and give thanks that today the roadway is
that Ferdeleh does not have to drag through the mud.
knows, Ferdeleh seemed to like the
mud. Whether the going was firm or soft,
seemed to progress at the slow selfsame pace. I of-
at our one-speed horse. I guess the mud
salved and pleased his feet
From another backyard a magic
tipsy-drunk, I'd guess, from her lilt. Red hair, long
dress, and beautiful in a strange way that suits the
wonder of our day. She
holds up a tattered dress and
hands it up to Grandpa.
much will you give me for this?" She smiles
Grandpa examines the cloth. A woman's dress,
shining green velvet, deep-sea
luster, once a wonder,
now in shreds.
do you think you should get for this,
"For a dollar I can buy a new wedding
"A quarter, then."
inspects the dress more closely. Very
worn velvet. Threadbare.
isn't worth more than a penny, missus. May-
be you could make wash rags out
of it and use them."
The woman takes back the dress,
her forlorn arm-
ful of yesterday. She looks at the old man, begging an
easy resolution of the encounter.
"So make me an oner."
Grandpa sighs, and looks at me, and then back to
"I don't want to hurt your feelings. You might
a sentimental attachment."
In the woman is
growing the need to rid herself
both of the rags and of the encounter. Still
not leave the urge, grown instinctive, to bargain.
cents," she says.
Mr. Elias stares at her with his
eyes. Silently he seems to be blessing her.
Two cents," she concedes.
Grandpa reaches into his
vest pocket for some cop-
''Here's three cents."
He throws the rags into the
back of the wagon.
turns his head back to see what's going
on, wanting to know if it's time to
gives him the go-ahead sign. I take Grandpa's derby
and massively cover my head, as we start to shout
in unison again, "Rags!
. . . Clothes! . . . Bottles!"
and drift willingly on through another
Drift down another dreamway lane.
A jolly potbellied man on a balcony, standing be-
looks like half of an old bathtub, shouts
out to us. "Combien
pour cette trash? Alors? How
much for this junk?"
Grandpa gets off the wagon, nods for me to follow.
the stairs through the litter of another
backyard. Grandpa spots a shiny bottle
and picks it
up, recouping my earlier breakage. He hands it to
mount the stairs to the balcony.
I had no words like "surreal."
Half of a bathtub on
a balcony, sitting there, like our lives, in transit
ridiculous and magic. Grandpa stares at it and at its
"What happened to the other half?"
client's face wrinkles, and he speaks in
French. "Il se rend compte
que le grandpere ne le
comprend pas, et..." He starts again, more
ly, in heavily accented English. "It's too long a
How much is this worth to you?" he asks.
sell it as scrap. Twenty-five cents," says
client is not pleased at all, and starts to bar-
want une piece, one dollar."
"I can tell
you where the scrap-iron yard is, and
you can bring it there yourself. Theyll
give you thirty-
five, maybe fifty cents."
suspicious is the urban cave dweller. This old
man, with his laughing eyes-will
he steal away half
"So you give
me fifty cents."
Grandpa turns toward me. "Now,
that is a reason-
My infant candor misses
"But if he only pays you fifty cents,
we're carrying it for nothing."
nods, and turns back to our client. "And
he's only six,"
he says. "How old are you?"
Our client, embarrassed:
"Okay, okay, a quarter."
Grandpa moves close to
the half bathtub, stretches
but his arms, and bends. "You'll have to
lift together. At the stairs they pause, and
Zaideh studies the man a moment.
"I'll give you thirty cents ... tell us what hap-
to the other half."
"You got a deal." Our
client laughs. Chuckling,
he explains in French and English how he was trying
to get the tub out of the bathroom, cracked it, grew
so infuriated that he
attacked it with a hammer, and
the other half stuck firmly, immovably in the
"You can plant flowers in it," says Grandpa.
"I''ll tell my wife," says our man, the humor of his
Davie and Zaideh are chanting again,
"Rags! . . .
Clothes! ... Bottles!" as the half-filled wagon creaks
along through the back-lane warrens of east-end
Montreal. I'm examining the
trove - an old coal-oil
lamp, a broken gramophone - hold up a broken pic-
ture frame to look at the print. Two children in Sun-
day lace in a garden,
faces bright. The little girl, my
age, jumping up in delightful expectation.
tion: "Daddy's coming."
a broken-down stuffed chair with the
springs all out of it, and all over,
and carry it to the
wagon. Now I am on a balcony holding up a broken
Ferdeleh, my patient steed, bears us on-
ward at his one speed. We score an
old German hel-
-met. I wear it. It's much too big. Grandpa laughs.
wagon travels slowly with its growing moun-
tain of bottles, newspapers, magazines,
odds and ends: pipes-stove pipes, a cracked
pipe - jumble heaped with the
broken gramophone, the half tub, and the disintegrat-
ing chair. And me on the wagon studying the most
intriguing of treasures,
the workings of a broken
clock, looking at the whirligigs, a hint of
through the complexity and mystery of it all.
fluttering colors and shapes on the clotheslines
crisscrossing above our heads,
zigzagging and flap-
ping like fairy-tale flags. A blue cardigan's waving
me. The houses roll by. And suddenly there is
music rising to us.
A bareheaded man sits in his backyard and bows a
between his legs. Then it was simply
magic and music; now it is recognized
and labeled, a
cello playing Bach. The cellist's eyes are far away,
under the German war helmet I stare, my mouth
open as well as my ears. Delight
is in me, around me.
The music follows us down the lane. Follows me
Followed us along streets approaching the moun-
the green rising hill reveals itself above,
between the houses, and wild my
The game transcends itself.
the mountain a great stone statue, an iron
angel flying above it, stands awing
What was it there for? I didn't ask. Statues are there
to help you remember. Children are playing around
it. Women in large straw
hats are seated on the slop-
ing green. More children playing on the grass.
other horse and wagon, a buggy, with people in it,
enjoy the mountain.
Other buggies with festooned
horses wait by the big statue for customers,
driven, like us, to the top of the mountain, where
you can stop
at the lookout, and look down on the
miniaturized city below.
mountain road. Sun and trees. Ferdeleh snort-
ing. The greener smell mixes
with the dust rising
from his hoofbeats on the dirt road. The groaning
complaints of the wagon, how like the women's
voices that echo in our courtyard,
far away now.
Forget that now, now gone, now nothing, now
green, green mountain and my Grandpa, and my
horse. The sun making everything
and everyone hazy,
lazy, lovely. Grandpa is sleepy. I am wide awake.
hands me the reins, intensifying my excite-
ment. I take the reins. Hold them
"Shall we tell Ferdeleh to fly now. Grandpa?"
"He's too tired today, Davie. Another time."
well, another time. Come on, Ferdeleh.
Slowly, slowly we
ascend the winding dirt moun-
tain road. It must be admitted that Ferdeleh
old and tired, and finds any hill, no matter how small,
I have since climbed other mountains, but what
could other mountains give to someone who's had the
luck to climb the magic
slopes of Mount Royal with
Grandpa and Ferdeleh. A scampering squirrel, its
bounds circling, encapsuling little time bubbles. A
hopping sparrow zipping
time in dashes you can't see.
The sounds of summer-birds, crickets, wind in
I lead Ferdeleh along the edge of a
I am vigilant, alert, a six-year-old man. I am a patrol-
I lead my faithful steed along one side of
peering carefully in all directions to make sure no
threaten. I see something, and gesture to
Ferdeleh to be quiet. I crouch.
An ice-cream vendor
approaches but turns down a side road before he
us. The danger gone, I resume my patrol
leading my trusty steed up the other
side of the field. I
hear voices in the tall grass. Stealthily I approach,
pushing aside the long grasses to peek. A young cou-
ple seem to be
wrestling; the girl is giggling.
I lead Ferdeleh back toward
my sleeping grandpa,
and nudge Grandpa awake to report the develop-
"Spies," I whisper.
pushes back his hat and looks at me
warmly. He turns towards the sound of
gling beyond the tall grass, and turns back to me with
reassuring look. "They're from our side. Continue
And back he goes to sleep.
by my renewed contact with this sweet old
man, that everything is well, is
fine, is lovely, off I go,
pulling Ferdeleh by the reins, to continue my serious,
conscientious sentry duty, and breathe and see and
hear the mountain.
Now it is evening, and Ferdeleh and the wagon
down the mountain road. The horizon has
cut the sun in half, and my head is
on Zaideh's knee.
Grandpa is full of the sunset, and the mountain, and
his Ferdeleh. Grandpa is content.