“That’s funny. Someone’s burning wood on this hot summer day.”

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.

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“Your Cat is on Fire” – adventures with Albert

Our adjoining shed workshops

Our adjoining shed workshops

We were just on the phone with our daughter Cassandra, and she reminded me it’s Friday.  Somehow with the jet lag I was thinking it’s still Thursday.  It always takes me a couple of days to get back in to swing of things.  So as not to tax my tired brain too much, rather than going into something more serious, I turn to a little tale of barely averted disaster from back in the days when we lived and worked at the old church in Wyecombe Ontario.  Back in the days when we were called Old Church Trading.

albert

Albert

This story involves our faithful, for the past thirty years, assistant Albert.  Albert is a wonderful guy.  We continue to be good friends.  He is actually more a member of the family at this point,  and at 70 years old he is still happy as a clam to come over from time to time to help us with the garden or whatever, and  he can still out work a man half his age.  We met him early on after moving to the church when we bought some children’s yard chairs that he was making and selling from his trailer home in nearby Courtland.  During the conversation over the chair purchase he became aware that we had lots of work to do on the property and asked if we would be interested in hiring him.  He seemed like a nice fellow and his price was right so we said “sure let’s give it a try.’  Well Albert turned out to be a real blessing.  He would come on time very morning and work hard with enthusiasm and dedication, without ever a complaint.  I have always been more likely to say to Albert to slow down and take it a little easy, rather than to hurry up and get on with it.  Salt of the earth kind of guy.  We soon noticed that he never brought or ate a lunch, and so asked him why, and expressed our concern as to his well being.  He said, “oh I eat a good breakfast and then have dinner when I get home so it’s o.k.  That’s when Albert started having lunch with us.   Albert we came to find out, was a ward of the court and had never learned to read or write. He had lived almost as a slave on a nearby farm until he was 18 and legally able to leave.  I will not denigrate him by suggesting that he is unintelligent because  in spite of his lack of education he is very creative in finding ways to do things his own way, and very capable at many things.  Let’s just say that he is an original thinker, and because he is always working so hard to please, everything is great as long as you don’t leave him too long unattended, because sometimes he is a bit overzealous.  So understanding this, we come to our story.

It was an unusually hot, and windy spring morning, and I had spent it working indoors, while Albert on instruction raked up the leaves and limbs that had fallen on the yard over the winter.  At noon Jeanine had prepared some delicious soup and so we called Albert in for lunch.  As usual we had enjoyed our lunch together and conversation and was just  finishing a cup of coffee when there came a frantic knock on the door.  We opened it to find a local farmer shouting “your cats on fire, your cat’s on fire”.  We looked across the room and saw our cat Elvis sleeping there so we were puzzled to say the least.  “He’s  o.k. he’s right over there.”  We had misunderstood.  “Oh, our shack is on fire” What the…?

We ran out and indeed one of our three little out buildings was indeed engulfed in flames along one wall.  It didn’t take long to realize that Albert had piled up the refuse at the edge of the property, and had taken the initiative to light it.  Then when called him he had then come in for lunch, assuming I guess that it would be fine. Well the wind had picked up and it wasn’t fine. The fire had run along the dry weeds and caught under the edge of the little building. The dry hot wind had fanned it, and it was already burning pretty convincingly all along the wood siding.  Yikes! Crap.  Albert get out the hose and shovels and get over here pronto.  Albert is pretty darn fast when he needs to be so within seconds he was back and we were throwing dirt on the fire and spraying the side of the building with all the water that our little well pump could muster.  It didn’t take a minute to realize it was a losing battle so  Jeanine ran in and phoned the fire department.   Albert and I continued to fight the blaze as best we could but it had now jumped on to the pile of one hundred year old pine barn planks which we had stacked neatly with two inch spacers in between so they would not rot.  Well let me tell you, when that hot dry wind blew the flames across that dry stacked wood, whoosh, up she went like a match shooting flames into the sky. Holy Crap!  Our main effort at this point was to just stop the flames from reaching our two adjoined work shop buildings which were a mere three feet away. All we could do was to spray the walls to try to keep it from igniting.  Of course the work shop was full of valuable antiques and combustible chemicals, and also was just a few feet away from the church so things were beginning to look pretty bad. Just when it seemed hopeless the entire Langton volunteer fire department arrived with both their trucks because they had understood from Jeanine’s frantic call that the whole church was on fire.  They got out one of their big hoses and within five minutes extinguished the burning pile of boards and the burning shack, and left us with a cautionary note and a bill for $175.  Whew, thanks fellows for coming out so quickly and getting this situation back in control. I lost my two big pile of pine boards and we had to restore one side of our little shack but we were so grateful that things had not been worse that we just took a moment to thank our lucky stars and the brave men who volunteer to fight fires.   Albert, of course felt bad enough as it was without reprimanding him further, so we just got on with cleaning up the mess.  However, we all learned a valuable lesson that day.