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Authors: Katherine Holubitsky

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BOOK: Hippie House
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ONCE SCHOOL STARTED
, The Rectifiers continued to practice, but the practices were sporadic and rarely did all the band members show up. There were now too many other things to do. Malcolm played hockey, Miles had a steady girlfriend and Jimmy took a part-time job at the Texaco station on the edge of town. Only Eric seemed interested in continuing the band.

And then on the eighteenth of September, Jimi Hendrix died. When Eric did not pick up his guitar for a week, Dad remarked that there was a chill in the air. Perhaps it was time to rescue the equipment from the Hippie House before it was damaged by frost. If Eric wanted, Dad would help him set up a room in the basement where he could continue to practice.

Eric's mood was complaisant as we drove down the gravel road on our way to the Hippie House. He was enrolled in ground lessons over the winter and he was now looking forward to getting his pilot's license. My father had coached him in the cockpit since he was young, but in the spring he would take control on his own.

The wind sock was blowing south and my ears stung in the cool air as I bumped up and down in the trailer behind the tractor. A flock of Canada geese shouted overhead, but they were not ours. Dad would wait until the pond froze before he herded our domestic flock into the barn. I turned and looked backward toward the Frasers' fields. In the distance I could see they were erecting a new building. I wondered what Mr. Fraser was up to now.

Perhaps ten years younger than my parents, he'd inherited the land from his father. His father and grandfather had been well-respected farmers in the area, but this Mr. Fraser had never been content to just farm. He did run a modestly successful cattle and chicken operation. But I think it was always his hope that one of his many other business ventures would take off and someday get him off the farm. He'd dabbled in many things including importing toys from the Far East and raising chinchillas for fur. On occasion he'd approach my father to invest in one of his interests. Dad might contribute “a neighborly amount.” He called them Grant Fraser's entrepreneurial adventures. My mother had another name for them—she called them pipe dreams. But it was true that none of them had met with
much success. The Frasers had no children. Mrs. Fraser had no time, my mother informed me. She worked hard to support her husband's numerous schemes.

I turned around. Eric drove the tractor past the duck house. He turned into the woods where large patches of gray sky were now visible through naked branches, and the soft hum of insect life had disappeared with the summer heat. Wet from an early morning frost, crimson leaves adhered to the tractor tires, and partially frozen clumps of earth turned soft beneath our weight.

Our mission was to clean the Hippie House before it snowed. Even before we entered the shed we retrieved swollen cigarette packages and bottles filled with dirt, trapped in the masses of roots along Fiddlehead Creek. Following Eric along the short path, I pointed to the spot where wild strawberries had once flourished. Along with the blackberry bushes, they had been trampled flat. Eric merely shrugged. We reached the shed, where I saw that someone had painted a large peace sign on the upper half of the door. Eric pushed it open.

I was astonished. The once purple walls were all but obliterated by graffiti: band sets, pictures and slogans, idle musings. The word
War
was scrawled in black ash across half a wall.

What is it good for
?

Absolutely nothing
!

The band equipment had all been removed and so what was left was general trash which we stuffed in the bags we had brought along. While Eric brushed ashes from the workbenches and coiled the remaining extension cords, I swept up broken guitar strings, a couple of roach clips, and withered French fries from the floor. I had not worn gloves, and with my fingers aching from the cold I did not do a very thorough job.

Eric's breath came in small clouds as he told me it was a bit of a drag, but probably just as well. When it came right down to
it, their styles were so different they probably never would have been tight as a band. I didn't know whether to believe this; my brother's words were always chosen to cover what he was truly feeling. Only lately, when he picked up his guitar, did I think I may have seen a glimpse of what was going on inside.

I stood in the doorway and took a final look around. The curtain I had sewn for the window facing Fiddlehead Creek had been replaced by a Canadian flag. The one covering the window facing the road drooped in the center. The pocket for the curtain rod was coming apart. It needed to be stitched up again, but it would now have to wait until spring. I glanced at my jeans and pulled a needle from where I'd stowed it in the denim just above my knee. It was normal for me to have a few pins and needles embedded in my jeans. I'd discovered that as I was sewing they made a convenient pincushion. I wove the needle into the corner of the curtain to hold the fabric in place.

When we closed the door of the Hippie House for what was to be the last time that fall, we left only the idle musings of the summer scrawled across the walls—and the tattered reminders of my grade eight graduation dance stapled to the center post.

2

B
Y THE END
of the second week of October, the leaves of the American elms lining the lane had turned yellow, and many had already fallen. The rest waited to be set free with the next breath of wind from the north. It had snowed twice and melted twice. A week earlier, the plowed and rumpled earth still held enough warmth to absorb a light snow, but a thin collar of ice had formed on the perimeter of the pond now, and with the temperature sinking as the week wore on, it was doubtful it would leave.

Thanksgiving dinner was held at Ruddy Duck that autumn. My mother had started her campaign early. It was back in August, in conversation with Aunt Alice, that I had heard her glibly toss in a bid to hold the dinner at our house that year. Accustomed to my mother's not-so-subtle ways, my aunt had immediately countered that Mom had held dinner at Easter—Thanksgiving would be her turn, it was only fair. But even she must have known that she was wasting her breath. When given a chance to pull out all her finery, my mother was a defiant adversary. Not even Aunt Alice had the muscle to disarm her.

My father was in a grand mood, as he always was when standing at the head of the table before a Canadian goose that he himself had shot. He whistled softly as he sharpened his carving knife on the steel. Mom sat at the opposite end with the vegetables in their chafing dishes gathered before her, waiting for him to pass the first plate to be filled. Carl sat to her right, with Aunt Alice between him and Megan. Eric, Uncle Pat and I sat on the other side.

This arrangement did not suit Megan, who would have preferred not to sit in the dining room at all. In fact, she had asked for permission to eat in the kitchen. She didn't care that she would be by herself. She would eat dinner in the barn—where she would risk having her eyes pecked out by the geese for the murder of one of their own—as long as she didn't have to look at her brother's face.

Uncle Pat and Aunt Alice were not making much of an effort to talk. The truth was, they were not in very good humor. They had dealt with the crisis Megan was raging about shortly before leaving home. It seemed that Megan had used the washroom immediately after Carl, and in doing so she had found a pornographic magazine he had left behind. She was disgusted beyond words and Carl had crossed the line. Not only was he an imbecile, but now, after hanging around with those so-called friends, he was a pervert! Were her parents not going to do anything about the moral fabric of their son?

“Apparently not,” she'd told me just before we sat down to eat. “They tell me it's normal. That I should be more tolerant and Carl should use more discretion. Can you believe it? My parents are as perverted as him!”

As we waited for our plates, I looked between Uncle Pat, whose attention seemed fixed on the light switch and Aunt Alice, who sighed every now and again while her hands lay folded primly in her lap. They still appeared quite respectable to me. Although, at that precise moment, they did strike me as two
people who were hoping that if they ignored us long enough, we might all just go away.

“A little of everything, Alice?” Smiling brightly, Mom held Aunt Alice's plate in limbo while waiting for her reply.

“Huh?”

“Sweet potato? Brussels sprouts? Dressing?”

“Uh-huh,” Aunt Alice answered, before returning to her thoughts again. My mother passed the plate to Carl, who set the food before her. “Oh, yes, thank you, dear.”

Dad handed me Megan's plate with its specified “tad” of goose. After passing it down to my mother for the vegetables to be added, I looked across at Megan, who watched the proceedings closely.

“Megan—sweet potato?”

“No.”

Megan's lack of manners seemed to rally Aunt Alice. “No, thank you,” she interjected.

“No, thank you.”

“Brussels sprouts?”

Megan shook her head. “Uh-uh.”

Aunt Alice sighed. “Not uh-uh. No,
thank
you. Megan, where are your manners tonight?”


My
manners? My bedroom's next door to a psychopath's and you're worried about whether I use the word please?”

Throughout the meal, Eric had a very difficult time trying not to laugh. He focused on his plate, looking up only now and again. When he was not chewing, his lips were pressed tightly together, and when he did look up, I noticed his dewy eyes avoided mine. It had certainly happened in the past, during a solemn occasion, that just a glimpse of humor smoldering on one another's faces was all we needed to make us laugh out loud.

But Eric was already in a particularly buoyant mood. He had a new girlfriend that fall and by Thanksgiving he was in love.
She had been over to the house several times and I had often seen him standing with his arms around her, pressed against her in the courtyard at school. She was very pretty with blond, waist-length hair, hazel eyes and a wide smile. And she had so many gorgeous sweaters—it was the sweaters that Megan and I noticed the most.

“She just looks so good in them,” Megan told me. “And she's just the perfect height, not too short, as in your case, or too tall, as in mine. She reminds me of Peggy Lipton in
The Mod Squad
. If I could look like anyone at school, I'd like to look like her. Wouldn't you?”

Her name was Angie Lucas, and after a week or so I decided I didn't like her very much at all.

For one thing, she got in my way. She would be sitting on the chesterfield, purring close to Eric, making me uncomfortable when I wanted to watch TV. I would try to sew, but I could hear them laughing in his room with the door closed, then long silences broken only by the start and stop of my machine.

She wasn't Eric's first girlfriend; he'd had a few, particularly since joining the band. But none had made him go stupid the way that Angie did. I hadn't heard him pick up his guitar in a month. He had missed two ground lessons, and because he began to go to Angie's after school, as a favor I'd done his chores for him four days in a row. And now, if I would continue to do them, he said he would pay me.

Eric had no time to play Risk or Monopoly or drive down to Brampton and see a Saturday matinee. He never wore a T-shirt a second day in a row and he spent hours in the bathroom perfecting his face and hair. Should he leave the sideburns or trim them back a bit?

“I don't know,” I told him. “And what do you care what I think anyway? Ask Angie. Now would you give someone else a chance in the bathroom? You're not the only one who has a bus to catch.”

Angie was good at gymnastics; she'd won provincial competitions. And she was good at complimenting Mom on her cooking and the way she set the table with “such class.”

“What a delightful young lady,” Mom commented to Eric at dinner one night. “And the manners. She certainly has been brought up right. Emma, you would think, by now, that you would know that is your dessert fork. You should be using the one to the left of your dinner fork. No, put it above the plate—above the plate with the tines pointing to the right.”

Angie played the piano beautifully, and that fall she earned her grade ten Royal Conservatory of Music standing. On the day she passed the practical exam, she blushed a soft sunrise pink following Eric's announcement at the farm.

“Isn't that wonderful,” Mom congratulated her. “I've often thought Emma should learn to play the piano. What do you think? Would you like Angie to teach you to play, dear?”

“No,” I said, gritting my teeth, “I would not like Angie to teach me to play the piano. I don't have time.” My eyes drilled into Eric. “My life has become one great big long chore.”

When dinner was over, I took the stairs two at a time. Once in my room I fell across my bed, where I began to cry so deeply and so wrenchingly that if I'd walked into the room, I would have felt sorry for myself. I was convinced that there was no chance in this world that I would ever be even half as ravishingly beautiful and talented as Angie. That I would never make a boy go stupid the way that Eric had. That I would never turn a boy's head as I walked by, the way I had seen some of the girls at school do. That I was too short and that, when I ate, my manners were so vulgar and offensive that even a cow would be embarrassed to take me out on a date.

BOOK: Hippie House
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