In the late eighties Bill Dobson decided to hold a one day antique show in a small town just south of Montreal. I’ve been on Google map, and for the life of me can’t figure out what town it was. It may have been Napierville but I wouldn’t lay money on it. In any case, it struck us as a good prospect and fit our agenda so we signed up. First time shows are a toss of the dice, but Bill kept the rent reasonable so even if it was a wash you were not out much. We also liked the fact that after the show we could make the two hour drive to Victoriaville to check out if anything great had arrived recently at the picker’s barns there. Cassandra was out of school so she came along and so we also made it a bit of a working vacation. Which is about the only kind of vacation we were taking in those days.
It was already a glorious day when we pulled in to the quaint small town fair grounds at 7 a.m. on that Saturday morning. There was about forty dealers arranged in two back to back aisles along the race track between the community hall and the bandstand. We spotted many of the usual suspects, especially among the Eastern Ontario and Quebec dealers who did Bill’s other shows, but there were also a lot of dealers we had never seen before. We did some good picking after setting up in those first couple of hours before the show opened.
When we pulled into our spot I noticed that a Quebec dealer I had never met was set up behind us and he had some wonderful things. We made our acquaintance and did a little business. Ah, that wonderful feeling of optimism that sets in just before starting an outdoor show on a beautiful day when bad weather is not a worry. I noticed that there was a very old lady sitting in the shade behind his truck already starting to cane chairs, while chain smoking. She was the dealer’s mother and was well into her eighties. He said she loved caning chairs and it was a good part of his business. I enjoyed meeting her in spite of the fact that she barely spoke and continued to smoke one hand-rolled cigarette after another. I noticed she threw her butts on the ground and there was already a little circle of them around her, but didn’t think much of it.
The day preceded to be fun and profitable. Many Montrealer’s made the drive and we also recognized lots of eastern Ontario collectors. At 5 o’clock shows end we were happy with our day both from a buying and selling perspective. It didn’t take long for us to pack up, and the last thing I loaded was a stack of packing blankets that had been sitting by the back door of the truck, and were no longer needed as the pieces they were protecting had been sold and were gone. I picked up the whole bunch and stuffed them in a space in the left, back corner just at the base of a wonderful old one piece cupboard in original red paint that in spite of it’s attributes had failed to attract a buyer. We hopped in, turned east and started the two hour drive to the Motel Marie-Dan in St. Eulalie where we had a reservation. This motel was clean and friendly and inexpensive and situated near the pickers barns so it was were many dealers stayed. It has a nice little pool too which Cassandra liked. We arrived without incident, got our key which was to an upstairs room, and unloaded our luggage. We switched on the air conditioning because it was and continued to be a stifling hot day; had ourselves a cool beverage, and proceeded to relax and count the loot we had taken in. At the end of a good day of selling this is the best part. Cassandra who was about 8 at the time watched a few late afternoon cartoons and just as I was starting to nod off in my chair, looked over and said “ how about a swim ,Dad?” To be honest a quick nap in a cool room after such a long day of unloading, selling, and loading again was more appealing, but Cassandra had been such a trouper, helping out with packing and keeping herself occupied over the long hours in the hot sun, that I was not about to deny her this simple pleasure. Plus, I knew that a little dip would do wonders to restore my energy. So I put on my bathing suit and ten minutes later we were happily floating, and jumping and otherwise enjoying the little pool which had grown almost warm in the summer sun. It was quite idyllic. The sun starting to lower behind the forest which ran behind the motel bringing that beautiful evening light which softens the contrast and pushes the red end of the colour spectrum that film makers call the “golden hour”. I remember floating peacefully while hanging off the edge of the pool by my ankles, which is a favourite trick of mine. I loved watching Cassandra jump in over and over and otherwise enjoying herself. We were the only ones there. As I lay there thinking how fortunate, content and grateful I felt, I was at one with the world. And it was about then that I faintly detected the beautiful smell of burning wood. I remember thinking, “That’s funny. Someone is burning wood on this hot summer day.” Almost as quickly I thought “ well it must be someone burning up old surplus wood to get rid of it.” And that’s when I looked over towards the parking lot and noticed smoke billowing from the back door of my truck.
You’ve never seen someone exit a pool, and cross a parking lot as fast as I did that day. I ran to the back door of the truck which was hot, but of course it was locked and I quickly realized the keys were upstairs. I raced upstairs, pounded frantically on the door until Jeanine who was coming out of the shower answered with a ‘hold your horses, I’m coming, where’s the fire.” “In the truck” I fairly shouted, “the truck’s on fire. Quick get me the keys.” It seemed like an hour but it was probably just a few minutes before I was again at the back door of the truck. As soon as I unlocked and opened it, of course the rush of air hit the flames and the blankets were truly ablaze. I grabbed them out and dumped them on the parking lot, and could see that the fire had also connected to the bottom of that big red cupboard which was laying on it’s side in front of the blankets. I looked around wildly assessing my next move. My first instinct at seeing open flame was to run, but I recovered my senses and noticed a long hose hooked up to a faucet by the garden so I raced over and was relieved to find that water came out when I cranked it and also that the hose was long enough to reach my truck. It only took a couple of minutes to put the small fire out on the bottom of the cupboard, and extinguish the large pile of burning blankets by now safely away from the other vehicles parked in the lot. Cassandra was there beside me all along but there was little for her to do but watch and shout encouragement. When it had cooled, we dug through the blankets and sure enough there was the smoldering butt of a hand rolled cigarette.
Thanks to Cassandra’s insistence on a swim, I had discovered the fire in time, that surely would have otherwise escalated within that truck filed with 100 year old pine to the point where I imagined the headline would read “Truck explodes on motel parking lot causing massive damage”. The bottom board of the cupboard had to be replaced due to the smoky smell that would always inhabit it, but otherwise we just lost a pile of old blankets. A close call.