Monday, January 11, 2016

Full Spud Ahead

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Full Spud Ahead
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, places, or actual events is purely coincidental.

It was a hot day in July, the day of the Grand Beach annual picnic.

Out in the sand dunes, the town officials had set up makeshift barbecues and khaki-coloured canvas tents, under which a bevy of ageing beach beauties sat in unfolding lawn chairs and sold cookies and cup cakes by the dozens to the hordes of city folk who had arrived for the day's festivities. On the hour, there were races and contests of great skill, such as horseshoe throwing, yo-yo twirling, soap carving, and hula hoop spinning. Even a couple of beauty contests drew large crowds of white-chested onlookers who watched the crowning of both the summer's best looking baby and the new Grand Beach Beauty Queen.

For a change, people of all shapes and sizes from the usually sleepy beach community left their tropically coloured towels on the sand, and became animated with excitement at the prospect of winning a small trophy or a season's pass to ride one of the nightmarish-looking horses on the carousel, an ancient, groaning contraption from the '30s that still spun wildly on the other side of the boardwalk. Laughter and music filled the air. Kids with stick-em-up hair sprayed mustard and ketchup at one another, and for this day only, they were left to be wild things while their parents huddled around shady trees and drank frothy beer.

None of this mattered to me.

I had come for the sole purpose of meeting Marcy, a freckled girl who might vaguely have been called my girlfriend, except that we had kissed only once behind the arcade out by Lou's Groceteria, and never again. On this day, however, romance was the furthest thought from my mind. The only thing that mattered was that we would manage to find the essential rhythm of two bodies with legs entwined as one, in our ardent desire to win the couples' potato sack race.

The couples' potato sack race joined a man and a woman literally at the hip, by having each insert one leg in a potato sack that tied them together and joined the two into a single sprinter. This was the one event that had captured my imagination every summer since I was five years old. The sight of couples tumbling and twisting along in a burlap sack would send me reeling into laughter as they pulled and crashed their way down a thirty yard course. It was slapstick comedy at its best as most of the racers had no idea what to expect and would alternately fall over one another, rise in hope, and then fall again in despair. At the end of it all, the triumph of the winning couple affirmed something strangely wonderful, a kind of victory over human fallibility and a celebration of the bizarre that had almost mythological proportions.

Harvey Jiggerstrom dragged a stick through the sand and no less than twenty other couples joined Marcy and me at the starting line of the race. In the distance, a red streamer danced in the bright sun to mark the finish line. Harvey crooned through a bullhorn that the couples' potato sack race was about to begin, and curious onlookers joined the loved ones of the contestants to form a human wall along each side of the course. Harvey shouted the customary, "Geeeet ready ... Geeeet set ... GO!" and the race was on.

Marcy and I burst away from the pack of racers with practiced precision. We had trained for this moment every day for the last two weeks, so the balance required to run on three legs came almost naturally now. Across from us, a young couple, seemingly newlyweds, became our only real rivals as they also sped in perfect unison down the course. Shouts of encouragement mixed with derisive catcalls from the crowd of spectators grew in volume as Marcy and I battled the newlyweds past the halfway point of the race and into the home stretch. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see our opponents pulling slightly ahead, and I wheezed a few words of encouragement to Marcy. She said nothing in return, but I could feel her hold on my shirt tighten, and her leg against mine rippled in a renewed urgency. She wanted this as much as I did. We pulled each other along that day, pulled and pushed and pulled until it seemed our separate bodies had melted into a three-legged beast that would not be denied its day in the sun.

I saw Marcy only once after that day. It was nearing the end of summer vacation, and she was walking along the boardwalk with one of her younger sisters. She stopped to say that she was leaving for the city in a day or two. I suppose the moment was awkward, or maybe I was awkward, but I remember saying nothing in return, I simply nodded and let my eyes drift far away, across the sand and into the horizon where the lake met the sky.

Years later, I heard that she had married after high school and left for Calgary, but had returned to Winnipeg after an unpleasant divorce to live with her parents in East Kildonan. I considered calling her up and asking her to meet me for coffee, but I didn't. It seems to me that second chances in matters of the heart are about as rewarding as coming in second place in a potato sack race.



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