I grew up in the country. My family lived on twenty acres about seven miles west of a little village named Irricana. By 1909 the little establishment had a post office, a hotel and a general store. Its “creative” name was a conjunction of the two words irrigation and canal. There were a lot of irrigation projects in the area at the time the village was established. Talk about the creative work of a copy genius, LOL. Ironically, all of those unlined irrigation canals were abandoned by the time I grew up.
Despite all that you might hear to the contrary, most of the farmers I knew growing up were pretty well off. As a collective they liked to complain about how hard it was to be a farmer, long hours in the tractor, and combine, neglecting to talk about all the time at the hockey and curling rinks. In contrast, I grew up in the modest home of immigrants, who had come over across the pond from Denmark after WWII. My mom came with her family when she was eighteen and my dad in his twenties with his brother Bill. My mom followed the norm of the day, and worked in the home, and my dad in 1981 was still a crane operator for Stirling Cranes in Calgary. He would soon lose his job, and become the printing press operator for the local rag, the Five Village Weekly.
Almost all of my friends in 1981 had a motor bike. What self respecting, parent financed kid didn’t? I too wanted a motor bike in 1981, in fact, I had wanted a motor bike long before that summer. I had often ridden my friend Bill’s bike, and my cousin Gunnar’s bike, and I wanted nothing more at the age of twelve than my own powered steed. Unlike most of my friends, ? I was not self respecting, nor parent financed.
Selling my first 4H steer in the following Spring had yielded a tidy sum of cash, and I found myself with around $900 to spend. A more responsible youth, a more enterprising youth, would have saved a good portion of those funds and reinvested them into the next year’s 4H project, and maybe even bought a few more animals on the side. Many of my friends at the time already had small herds of their own cattle. I had no herds, nor a motor bike. But with what must have felt like a small fortune to me then, I could remedy at least one of those problems.
I don’t remember how much pestering it took to cajole my dad into taking me to Blackfoot Motorcycles. I remember the shop pretty well, it was a Honda dealership located just off of Blackfoot Trail in Calgary. It must have been a Saturday or Sunday when we visited the store looking for a used motor bike. I remember walking through the rows of all of the new models, wistfully dreaming of owning one of them. I used to go to the motor bike shows at the Stampede Grounds with my cousin Steve and uncle Mike as a kid, and as a result,I had become a die hard fan of the Honda brand.
It was my lucky day, in the back of the shop, amongst a number of used bikes, was a Honda XL100. It was, in my mind, the perfect bike. A four stroke engine, full suspension, and just the right size. Well, perhaps it was a little big, but I knew I could handle it. I knew at once it was the motor bike for me. Little did I know that as I was fawning over my soon to be dirt bike, my dad was busy eyeing another motor bike, a 1970 Honda ST90. This was a green street legal commuter with headlights, signal lights, a helmet lock, and a three speed automatic transmission. He thought that the ST90 was a much better option for me. I was mortified with his notion, and worked hard (probably a foreshadow of my legal training was at work that day) to convince him that the XL100 was the smart choice. We lived in the country, there was no need for little street bike, when all I was going to be riding was dirt and gravel roads, and launching myself over jumps. Besides, I was paying for this bike, so it ought to be my decision. After some haggling (I can’t remember how long it went on) we finalized the sale of the bike, and for some reason, I can’t actually remember why, we couldn’t take the bike home that day. Perhaps it needed a final check up and inspection before it left the shop. Who knows. It was arranged that my dad would pop over after work (Stirling Cranes was close by) early in the week to pick it up and bring it out to our acreage. I was ecstatic.
I remember counting down the minutes of the day my dad was bringing home my new to me motor bike. I was beside myself with excitement and anticipation (I see the same level of excitement in my son now in situations like these). Finally I saw the orange Chevy half ton truck turning into the driveway. I scrambled outside to greet him and my new motor bike. What I saw at that moment, shattered me. In the back of the box was not the red and black XL100 bike which I had bought, but the green ST90 in its place. I was heartbroken, I was furious, I was confused. My dad made the decision to exchange the bikes when he went to do the pick up. I think, although I wasn’t listening to any of the words coming out of his mouth at the time, that his rationale was that this was a safer bike, a better bike. I think in his mind he was making a wise decision for his kid. All I saw was an object of scorn strapped to the box of the truck. At some point I calmed down, and the bike was unloaded. I put on a geeky white helmet, stood on the kickstarter, rev’d the bike into life and silently drove around our little turnaround on my inaugural ride. Even now, I remember the vow I made riding down our back lane towards the white barn. I was going to destroy the green ST90, do everything I could to abuse it, and in the process prove to my dad how unsafe it was and how big a mistake he had made. Within days both back signal lights were broken. I rode that bike in ways it was never designed to be ridden, jumped it off features that even my daredevil kid would be proud of. If the Honda engineers had seen how much abuse that bike survived they would have been impressed. More importantly, something fundamentally broke inside of me that day. And a chasm was ripped open between me and my dad that never was repaired.
I think it was around that time we started to attend a little church on top of a hill not far from where we lived. The Irricana United church, was located almost halfway between Irricana and Airdrie. It was already a designated historical site at that time, as it was a community project founded in 1919. The story goes that people set out from Airdire and Irricana one Sunday morning in their horses and buggies; where-ever they met, they would build a church. My parents decided that it would be better if we went to church with people living in our community, including a number of kids I went to school with.
Remember the summer night late in August 1981 at the Billy Graham crusade? That night, under the lights, I had been moved. I am not sure if it was the words spoken by the Rev. Graham, or the movement of the spirit, or as the sociologist Emil Durkheim named it, the social effervescence of the crowd being serenaded by the Billy Graham crusade classic “just as I am”. But whatever it was, I found myself answering “the call” walking down the long flight of concrete stairs, making my way out on the playing surface of the Calgary Stampeders, to stand alone, despite the crowd around me, all at the age of twelve. I don’t remember if this event was a contributing factor in my parents decision to start attending the local church, but it may have been. As I said, 1981 was the beginning of significant transition for me. The trip down the rabbit hole didn’t get any easier, I had after all, taken the red pill.