by Kellie Underhill
Sticks and Stones May Break Your Bones
The Scottish Festival was being held on the Miramichi Agricultural Exhibition grounds. Sammy wondered how he would look in a tartan kilt. He’d never seen a man in a skirt before, but here it seemed normal.
“Oh, there you are!” a woman exclaimed as she grabbed him by the shoulders and steered him through the crowd. “The games have started. Hurry!”
“Wait!” Sammy hollered. “I think you’ve made a mistake!”
“Nonsense!” the woman shushed, as she shoved him onto the field. The crowd applauded as a name and a school were announced. Hesitantly, Sammy stepped up to take his turn. The object was to grasp the rounded stone and hurl it as far as you could. It looked easy. Sammy spun round and round winding himself up before tossing the stone. He spun for so long he got disoriented and let the stone fly into the crowd of spectators. While he fell down dizzy, the crowd screamed and scattered, but luckily nobody was hit.
He wandered off and saw a group of girls in brightly coloured kilts performing quick steps and kicks to the bag pipes. Quickly he scurried in the other direction not willing to risk accidentally being drawn into this dance.
At the Scottish Tea Tent he asked what was good.
“Well my fine lad, we’ve got oatcakes, scotch cookies, sandwiches, soup, chilli, and biscuits, but you can’t come to Miramichi’s Scottish Festival and not try the haggis!”
Sammy didn’t know what that was but if it was a Scottish delicacy he wanted to give it a try. The haggis looked like a huge sausage. It had an odd nutty texture and a very strong taste. Blech! He spit it out, gagging. Everyone in the Tea Tent gave him disapproving looks. He smiled feebly and left.
Outside, watching the highland dancers from a safe distance and feeling the pipe’s pull, Sammy felt melancholy. As much as he loved Miramichi soon he would have to face facts and realize he didn’t belong here.
“James!” a woman called through cupped hands as she passed Sammy. “James! Honey! We’re leaving! Going to the historic site at Wilson’s Point!” A young boy bounded up to his mother. “Come on, your father’s in the car already.”
“Excuse me,” Sammy said. “I couldn’t help but overhear. I wondered if I might get a ride with you to this historic site.”
The woman eyeballed Sammy from head to toe then shrugged and said, “Well, you don’t look so bad. I suppose.”
Sammy sat with James in the backseat as they crossed the river to Wilson’s Point. When they arrived he thanked the family and set out on his own. Some of the Miramichi’s first Scottish settlers had erected a Presbyterian church here in the 18th century. Though the original church was gone, replaced by a replica used as an interpretation centre, the graveyard remained. Sammy wandered from gravestone to gravestone hoping something would trigger a memory. But nothing seemed familiar.
It was all over. He had to face facts; he just wasn’t a Miramichier, no matter how badly he wanted to be. Luckily Wilson’s Point was located in the Enclosure Campground, so he could make camp and get some rest. He had seen a restaurant by the campground office and he headed there to get some grub.
Inside Flo’s Hideaway he ordered chicken wings and potato skins. Many people were there to perform or support their favourite performers in a singing competition called Maritime Idol. They put on an entertaining show.
A girl sat down across from Sammy. “Hiya,” she said.
“Hi,” Sammy said.
“Me and my friends noticed you from across the room, and they dared me to come over and say hello.” She giggled.
“Hello,” Sammy said.
“You certainly are one hunka hunka burning love!” she purred.
“Okay . . .” Sammy said.
“I mean you’re so tall, dark and handsome, you could be Elvis,” she squealed.
“Elvis?” Sammy asked. “Am I Elvis?”
“Well no, duh.” She frowned as she snapped her gum. “I saw Elvis downtown Newcastle today though; you could be his twin brother or something.”
Sammy couldn’t believe his luck. Finally someone with a clue. He could be Elvis! Or at least a relative of this Elvis guy. He had to find him and see for sure.
“Hey!” the girl yelled. “Where you going? Me and my friends are only in town for one night!” But Sammy was gone. He had a date with a guy named Elvis.
Rock ‘n Roll is here to Stay
Heading downtown in a taxi, Sammy heard explosions and watched as the sky lit up with fireworks.
“This is as close as I can get you,” the driver said. “Everyone and their dog is here tonight.”
Sammy walked around the square, through a side alley, and into a back parking lot. Everywhere one wanted to look there were antique automobiles and people. Fireworks showered the sky. Old time rock ‘n roll music blared. Girls in poodle skirts and guys with their hair slicked back danced. He had arrived at Miramichi’s Rock ‘n Roll Festival. A tall woman with platinum blonde hair wearing a white halter dress and silver strappy-sandals glided past blowing him a kiss from her bright red lips. Sammy was not distracted. He needed to find Elvis. He walked up to a policeman.
“Excuse me,” Sammy said. “I’m looking for a fellow named Elvis.”
“Oh, you are, are you?” the policeman chuckled. “What can the King do for you tonight?”
“He’s a king?” Sammy could barely contain his excitement.
“Of rock ‘n roll, my friend, yes.”
“Do I look like him?”
The policeman’s forehead wrinkled. “I don’t know, maybe, in a certain light.”
“Could I be him?”
The policeman guffawed. “No, I don’t think so.”
“Are you sure?” Sammy pressed. “These girls seemed to think I could be.”
“Yes sir, I’m sure,” said the policeman. “He’d have to be in his 70’s now.” Sammy’s face fell. One thing he knew for sure was that he was nowhere near his 70’s.
“Well, maybe I could be his brother or a cousin or something,” Sammy said. “Can you help me find him so I can ask him?”
“Just what kind of game are you playing anyway?” The policeman eyed him suspiciously.
“I’m not playing any game!” Sammy said. “I just need to find Elvis and see if he knows me.”
“Son, I hate to be the one to break this to you,” the policeman began, “but Elvis has been dead since 1977. There is an Elvis impersonator around here somewhere, but he is in no way related to the real Elvis, and you’re not either.”
Sammy should have known better than to get his hopes up. He assured the policeman that he could get home and walked back through the alley to the square. He wanted nothing more than to find a soft seat and drown his sorrows.
The Bartender Listens
The Boulevard Pub was a place Miramichiers could be proud of, cozy with a long wooden bar, red brick wall, copper ceiling, a big-screen TV, and high tables and chairs. Sammy sat at the bar and a pretty blonde bartender immediately said hello. “What can I get you?” she asked.
“Oh, I don’t know. Something cold and refreshing. Surprise me.”
“I can do that!” The bartender skipped away to mix a special concoction. She soon set a mint green frosty drink in front of him. “Try that,” she said. “On me, you look like a guy down on his luck.”
“Thanks,” Sammy said taking a sip. The drink was indeed cold and refreshing. “This is really good. Thanks.”
“No problem,” she said, wiping the bar with a damp cloth. “So, are you?” she asked. “Are you down on your luck?”
Sammy liked this girl. Her big eyes and sparkling face reminded him of Rachel in Neguac and Gladys of Escuminac. He couldn’t keep it all inside any longer and as the bartender pulled up a stool and listened intently Sammy told his entire story. “So, now I don’t know what to do or where to go next,” he concluded. “I’m all mixed up.”
“Wow!” she said. “That is an amazing story.”
“Yeah,” Sammy agreed. They sat silent for a few minutes and then the bartender got an idea. “Well, you still haven’t actually talked to the mayor, so maybe you need to do that. I mean, he’s the mayor! He’s got his finger on the pulse of the city, if anybody will know who you are, it’ll be him.”
“Sure, I do!” she said. “I think you need to drink up and head down the street to the Beaverbrook Kin Centre where the annual Folk Song Festival is happening. The mayor might be there, and even if he isn’t you might meet some people you haven’t yet who can help you out. It’s worth a shot!”
Sammy thought it over. The Beaverbrook Kin Centre was just a few steps away. He guessed it couldn’t hurt. “Okay, I’ll go.”
“That’s the spirit!” the bartender said. “If it doesn’t work out, come back here and we’ll think of something else, okay?” Sammy agreed, thanked the girl and left.
Leader of the Band
The music was underway when he got to the Folk Song Festival. Not really knowing what the mayor looked like, Sammy worked his way through the crowd to see if he recognized any of the men from the Irish Festival stage. He came from the back of the audience to the front and found himself standing with the musicians just as they finished their tune and the crowd applauded.
“You’re gonna give us a step then, lad,” a fiddler said. Sammy shrugged, uncertain. “Close to the floor boys,” the fiddler said. “Young lad’s gonna driver!” They picked up with a lively tune, the crowd started clapping time and everyone looked expectantly at Sammy. Oh-oh, he thought, I think I’m supposed to dance again. He circled around, bobbing and dipping, like the girls had done at the Irish Festival. Jaws dropped in the audience and the applause faltered. Wrong dance, Sammy thought and tried a different tactic. He arched his arms over his head, leaped on his toes with high graceful kicks like he had seen the Scottish dancers do. The music stopped and the crowd went completely silent.
The fiddler scratched his head, perplexed. “Oh, why didn’t you say something, young feller,” the man said, snapping his fingers. “Give that boy a fiddle! He’s come to play!” And before Sammy could protest, a fiddle was shoved into his hands and the band started up again.
Again the audience started clapping time and everyone looked at him expectantly. “Take ‘er away, my son!” the fiddler said, and Sammy put the bow to the strings and tried his best. The fiddle screeched like a wounded cat and the audience cringed and moaned. The band stopped playing.
“Well, if you don’t step dance and you don’t play, you must tell stories,” the fiddler said. “Come on then, let’s hear it.” Sammy gulped. He didn’t know any stories. With all eyes on him he took a deep breath and did the only thing he knew to do—he started at the beginning and told his whole ordeal from the minute he woke up in the boat in Tabusintac until he met the nice bartender just down the street.
“And so, the only reason I’m here is that I wanted to see the mayor,” he concluded. The enraptured audience took to their feet and applauded heartily.
The fiddler rubbed his stubbly chin. “Well, you missed him lad, he ain’t here,” he said. “You might want to try the Farmer’s Market at the Civic Centre tomorrow morning. The market is the place to be on a Friday morning.” Sammy thanked the man and left before the audience asked him to tell another story. He walked across the street to the Miramichi Hotel and took a room for the night.
… to be continued …