I recently attended yet another family reunion. I don’t care much for these family events. My cousins and I grew apart a long time ago. They’re all from the Lacombe area. They went to school together. They hung out together. They were a nice little clique. Then, at these functions, they would naturally group together and do what it is they do on a daily basis. I was often left out, tending to the campfire, reading a book, or just doing what I do on a daily basis. They would always see another excuse to hang out with friends. I would always see another school dance where I’d be sitting by myself in the corner. Now that I’m this 24-year old, I’m mature enough to send an RSVP in the negative whenever I hear that one of these events is on the horizon. Except this time.
By its very nature, this reunion was different. It was being organized by my father and a cousin of his. This reunion was to focus on a different facet of the family. It was going to focus on all the descendants of the siblings of my grandmother. We were talking about third and fourth cousins who hadn’t seen me since I was probably about six weeks old. Since this event was scheduled to take place on my birthday, I was hoping to weasel out of this function and spend a day in Edmonton partying with friends. But, as previously mentioned, one very important fact made this different. It was being organized by my father. And since my siblings had already beaten me to RSVP-ing in the negative, I knew one of us kids had to go to throw support behind the family. Since I am living in the parents’ basement, the duty fell to me. No birthday movie. No intellectual discussions with friends about Junkyard Wars and the hilariously-imploding Alliance Party. Just sitting by myself in the corner at the school dance. I was looking more forward to the drive to the campground than the weekend.
I arrived at the site with little fanfare. I pulled up the car next to my parents’ truck and sought out my folks. Dad was already catching up with some long-lost uncles. Mom was doing similar at the other end of the campground. It also didn’t help that a lot of these people were significantly older than me. Most were middle-aged. Most hadn’t seen each other in a long time. I found my corner and prepared to sit. But I was intrigued.
For a campground so close to the Saskatchewan border, it was rather hilly area. The campground itself was situated in a valley. As I drove in, I was astonished by what I saw. There was this marvelous old steel bridge over the North Saskatchewan River. I knew I had to get a closer look at it. And the most startling part of the landscape was this hill that stood over the campground. True, by all definitions it was a hill, but in geometry it looked like a mountain. A scaled down mountain. It was rather unique. I knew that if nothing there was one thing I could do at this campground. Explore.
After I found my parents and they introduced me to a few people, it was time to go sit in my corner. The old uncles and not-so-old distant cousins got into their cliques and began visiting with each other. I was starting to get bored. I was starting to get really bored. It was time to do some of this exploring. I grabbed my camera (you never know if you’re going to find something photogenic when exploring) and started walking.
My first trek was to get a closer look at this bridge that had me spellbound. I started following the many roads of the campground to get back out to the highway. It was a clear sunny day in this little valley. The sun was beating down, as though it were trying to force me back into my shady corner. But not today. That bridge had captivated me, and I wanted to get a closer look. There weren’t a lot of trees along my chosen route, so I just tried to enjoy the sun as best I could. Soon, I was passing the rodeo grounds. This campground was built as part of the local rodeo grounds, so it dominated the majority of the camp’s parkland. The locals kept saying it was a world-renowned rodeo, but I had never heard of it. I kept my eyes forward and kept walking.
After about twenty minutes or so, I had made it back out to the highway. I turned left, and started marching towards the bridge. It was starting to get even hotter, as the sun reflected up from the asphalt onto my bare legs. But I kept marching. When I was halfway towards the bridge, I stopped and turned around. I was amazed at how far I had come. I’m always amazed at how much distance I can cover just by simply walking. I turned my back to what was behind me, and kept going towards that bridge.
When I got there, I was amazed. Fortunately, I was at the side with the dedication plaque. This bridge, spanning the North Saskatchewan River, was built by an ironworks company from Winnipeg. It was opened in the mid-50’s, and the plaque even gave a file number. No doubt, were I to look up that file in the provincial archives, I could get a wealth of information on that bridge. What just impressed me, though, was its length. It was one of the longest bridges I had ever seen. From what I could tell, it had five distinct spans. I had this urge to keep walking. I wanted to walk across this monster bridge. But, as it was a highway bridge, there wasn’t much of a shoulder to walk on. What finally convinced me to not cross it was the gravel truck that passed me by inches. I decided to head back to camp.
The evening came, and all the various families grouped together and went back to their individual camps for supper. There, in our little trailer, my parents presented me with my birthday presents. Yay! I got clothes and Chicken Run on DVD. We had some birthday cake, and then the inevitable truth came. I was 24. Wee-ha. After dinner, more visiting happened, and I was once again in my corner.
The next morning was when it was instrumental I be around. See, my father and his cousin couldn’t hold this event without financial support from viewers like you. So, we were going to politely charge these relatives $1 at breakfast to cover the pancake batter and $5 at supper to cover the steaks. Since I am a cashier in a grocery store and I wind up working the door at every Liberal fund-raiser, my Dad volunteered me to work the door. My corner was moved to a little table by the front door in our communal hall, and I had a little Tupperware container to use as a cashbox. I sat there, politely smiling and saying, “Yes, you can pay for your steaks here at breakfast.” At least working political fund-raisers, I learned how to smile and thank you when I take you for all your worth. Breakfast soon came to a close, and I was relieved of duty until supper. Time for more exploring.
This mini-mountain that stood over the campground had a viewpoint at the top. A lot of the kids under 10 who were dragged along to this event had taken to climbing the mini-mountain to this viewpoint. Dad suggested that perhaps Mom climb to the top and take a picture of our campsite from above. Mom, in her polite and political way, said that Dad was out of his gourd. Showing an unusual display of ambition, I volunteered to do it. It was then that Dad pointed out that there was a road up to the viewpoint. I hopped in the car and went for a drive. I arrived at the viewpoint, and was met with a spectacular view. Directly in front of me was the campground. The collection of trucks, cars and trailers looked like a collection of Hot Wheels. To my left was a view of the North Saskatchewan, rolling continuously in the direction it had rolled for centuries. To my right I could see pretty much the entire golf course that bordered our campground. I took a moment to snap a few pictures, and another moment to take it all in. It was then back into the car, but I didn’t head straight back to the campground. I headed out to highway, and drove across that bridge that had captivated me so. On the other side, I noticed the high riverbank that formed one of the walls of the valley the campground was in. I conjectured that there must be a great view of the bridge from the top of that bank. I drove back across the bridge and headed back to camp. My next trek was planned.
After a few more hours of sitting in the corner, I grabbed my camera and once again went trekking. I headed the route I had went yesterday, until I arrived at the turn-off into the campground. To my right was the highway. To my left was a gravel road that headed to parts unknown. Straight ahead of me was the gentlest slope to the top of the valley. I was going straight. There was only one obstacle in front of me: a barbed-wire fence. I hadn’t needed to crawl under a barbed-wire fence since I played out at McDougall’s farm when I was a kid. It was a skill that quickly came back to me. On the other side of the fence, I checked my camera to make sure that I hadn’t crushed it by rolling on top of it, and then started climbing. Halfway up the climb, I began passing the rocks. The name of the campground was spelled out on the side of this hill in large rocks, painted white. You quite often see signs like this, but when you’re driving at 80-km/h along a highway, you can never tell how large the rocks are. Now that I was a stone’s throw away from them, they were boulders. How they got them up this hill I’ll never know. I continued climbing. Off in the distance, I could hear the moos of cows. I began to wonder if this sign was ever obstructed by grazing cattle.
At long last, I reached the summit. I looked back at the bottom of the valley and the now-distant campground. It’s always good to look back once in a while, just to see how far you’ve come. I turned around, and gazed at what was in front of me. The ground in front of me gently sloped down to some grazing land, and then the North Saskatchewan River. I was right. There was a great view of the bridge from up here. I pulled out my camera, and took a few pictures of the bridge. Then, mission accomplished, it was time to head back to camp.
When I arrived, it was getting near suppertime, and I knew it was time to head back to my post. But first, my parents had another job for me. The barbeque was all fired up, and I was to sample the first steak. Using a tiny plastic picnic knife and a tiny plastic picnic fork, I began sawing my way through the steak. A tiny plastic picnic knife is not the optimal tool to use to cut a steak. After five minutes of sawing, I was finally able to make a cut large enough for my Dad to see that he had in fact made a perfectly well done steak. I continued sawing so I could get a piece off and tell him it tasted good. With Dad satisfied that he would be an OK cook tonight, I got myself a baked potato, headed to my station, and continued collecting money while eating my steak. The evening was the followed by more uneventful visiting.
It was during this evening visiting that I looked at my dog. I felt sorry for her. Every other dog was running around free, but not my Buck. My parents, being the sticklers for the rules that they are, were the only ones who kept their dog on a leash. Buck would walk to the extreme end of her chain, and look at us, just 10 feet away, laughing and talking. I knew it was time for her to have a little freedom. I unchained Buck, put on her leash, and took her for a walk down on the golf course. There, we marveled at how cool this valley got when the sun went down. We wandered around a bit on the first green. We crossed the bridge over the creek and walked into the rough for a little bit. We were both grateful for our freedom. But, it had to end, and we headed back to the camp.
The next morning, the reunion broke up pretty quickly. By noon, my folks and I were the only ones left. It was getting time for me to head out, as well. I took out my camera and snapped a picture of that mini-mountain. I can hardly wait to finish that roll so I can get the pictures developed. I took one last moment to take it all in. It’s funny to be the outsider looking in. You get so used to that perspective that, most times, you force yourself into it. When you reach the age of 24, you’re supposed to be past cliques, and in a place where you can be sociable with those who are different. But, when you’re on your own for so long, it grows comfortable. Sometimes, you amaze yourself at what you can do on a daily basis. Perhaps sitting by yourself in the corner isn’t as bad as some make it out to be. With my parents’ assurance that they didn’t need myself to help break camp, I got in my car, and headed for home.