25 Slices
Medium 9781927068304

No Biscuit Blues

Lloyd Ratzlaff Thistledown Press ePub

NO BISCUIT BLUES

One Sunday afternoon when I was ten or twelve years old, in an upstairs bedroom of my uncle’s farmhouse I found a blood-red booklet titled The Lake of Fire, which nearly impaired forever my capacity to trust. The cover showed contorted bodies leaping and falling back into a lake of molten sulphurous bubbles, and a man at the head of a long line flailing at hell’s brink with eyes bulging and fists grabbing the air. The text told how the doomed would try to escape, how they would be driven down nevertheless by the order of the Judge: “Away!” I tried to fathom this Jekyll-and-Hyde Christ, who was said to be compassionate and forgiving though we have sinned against Him, yet who would come with a sword in His mouth to smite the nations and tread the winepress of the fierce wrath of Almighty God.

About that time I also received a monthly magazine from a well-known evangelical organization. One especially vivid issue showed a great stone pyramid with a legion of steps mounting to a platform at its top, where Jesus or God sat on a resplendent and awful throne. On judgment day, the writer said, I would be summoned from an ocean of people to mount those steps, to hear my life reviewed in the presence of celestial, terrestrial, and infernal powers — and what chance would I have there, shrivelled up before Omnipotence unleashed? Like the Rev. Sprague in Tom Sawyer, my tradition “dealt in limitless fire and brimstone and thinned the predestined elect down to a company so small as to be hardly worth the saving.”

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Medium 9781927068304

The Bush on the Grave

Lloyd Ratzlaff Thistledown Press ePub

THE BUSH ON THE GRAVE

In the pioneer cemetery beside Diefenbaker Park near my home in Saskatoon, there is a grave on which a chokecherry bush is growing, hanging heavily some autumns with ripe black fruit. Vandals often desecrate other graves in that place, but as far as I know, they’ve never damaged this one. Beside the South Saskatchewan River, in the middle of a patch of prairie, in the centre of a grave, the bush stands over the remains of a little boy named Vernon Leo Kuhn, who lived in this world for six months in 1902 and 1903. It’s the only bush of its kind in the cemetery. I have often thought that, if it were done respectfully, those dangling clusters of cherries could be made into a unique wine. But no one ever seems to pick them; perhaps people are too superstitious to do it, or perhaps some fluke of nature allows them to ripen there until a person such as I comes along, ripe himself for the kind of experience which befell me there one afternoon of the first of September.

I don’t say I would have felt free to pick those chokecherries if I had intended simply to make a drinking wine. For wine and its related spirits have sometimes caused me more trouble than they were worth; but when I set out for the cemetery with a plastic pail in the late afternoon sun, I pondered the untidy leave I had taken of my family’s Christian fundamentalism — affirming the leave-taking, but regretting the pain — and hoped for a sacramental wine to come of my day’s endeavour.

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The Champion

Lloyd Ratzlaff Thistledown Press ePub

THE CHAMPION

First let me get the devilry out of the way. He was a formidable six-year-old obstacle, a runny-nosed waif with dark, suspicious eyes and something weasel-like in his face, who drove his first-grade teacher to distraction. He whined and snarled, he pestered and annoyed, he fought and he lied. Many times a day he flopped out of his desk and crawled on the floor among the legs of kids who were working obediently. He picked his nose and rolled the snot into a ball and flicked it at the teacher, then sat silently as she disintegrated, looking up through big eyes from under a growth of wiry unkempt hair. He fantasized excessively, or lied (often nobody knew which), he ate erasers, he threw things around the room and tantrums at the teacher. And once in awhile he worked a little.

There was more; but let’s just say he was an impedance to the flow of all educational currents. He was so exceptional at so young an age, that no official labels had yet been hung on him — TMH, ADHD, LD, BD, ED, and no DSM diagnosis either. He was Kent (an invented name), an exception to many rules, somewhere out near the first or ninety-ninth percentile of things, and something in me found that appealing.

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O Wheel

Lloyd Ratzlaff Thistledown Press ePub

O WHEEL

The mayor of Dachau takes for granted we are not here to see the town. “Dear Guests,” the brochure begins, “You have come to Dachau to visit the memorial site in the former Concentration Camp. Innumerable crimes were committed. Like you, the citizens of Dachau bow their heads before the victims of this camp. After your visit, you will be horror-stricken. But we sincerely hope you will not transfer your indignation to the ancient 1200-year-old Bavarian town of Dachau, which was not consulted when the concentration camp was built and whose citizens voted quite decisively against the rise of National Socialism . . . ”

There are photos, then, of footpaths beside the Muehlbach River, and distant Alps as seen from the Dachau Palace. There are paintings of old mills and taverns and smithies, and of harvests and peat bogs, of the place as it was before the years of infamy.

“I extend a cordial invitation to you to visit the old town of Dachau,” the mayor says. “We would be pleased to greet you within our walls and to welcome you as friends.”

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Willy Becker and the South Church

Lloyd Ratzlaff Thistledown Press ePub

WILLY BECKER AND THE SOUTH CHURCH

The name of Little Willy Becker’s village, Adair, Saskatchewan, may seem kind of funny at first when you think how many Mennonites live here. You would have expected, maybe, something like Blumenheim or Schnetjedarp. But those villages are all quite far away, twenty or thirty miles, places Willy has only heard about here in Adair where he lives.

You are probably wondering why is the village called Adair, and not one of those other names that, as I say, maybe you expected? Well, Pete Hamm he explained it to me once, the Pete Hamm that works in the Village Office and goes to the North Church. He said Adair was the back name of a certain politician who was quite famous at one time when this part of the country was still the Northwest Territories. Pete couldn’t remember the front name, but this Mr. Adair had done some quite important things. It’s just escaped me now what they were, or maybe Pete never got around to telling me, but as I say, they were such important things that Adair got a village named after him, and this is that village, with more than three hundred people, where Willy Becker has lived all his eleven years.

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