(George F. Walker, one of Canada’s most prolific and popular playwrights, pens an elegy to his father in seven parts. Esoterica will syndicate one part each day leading up to Father’s Day. Read Part One, Two, Three, Four and Five here.)
By George F. Walker.
I don’t know if my father had a gambling problem. I think that probably depended on how much he won or lost in any given week. But I know for sure that he played the horses and that he had a bookie because he took me along to the bookie’s “office” once.
It was in a four-storey building somewhere around River and Queen. We drove down an alley to the back of the building. He left me in the car while he climbed up the fire escape and crawled in through an open window on the top floor. Was this normal? I was maybe 12 and I kind of knew what bookies did, but I didn’t know they broke the law by doing it. I guess I thought it wasn’t just totally okay.
So going up the fire escape and crawling through an open window was a little worrying. Not nearly as worrying as what happened just a little while later though. It began with the yelling. Lots of it. All from inside that open window. Then there were the men. Several of them, including my father, crawling out the window and hurrying down the fire escape while one of them threw pieces of paper into the air. Those were the betting slips. And this was a police raid.
Not a good thing, right? But my father seemed to be enjoying it. He reached the ground, jumped into our old car with a smile on his face, told me not to worry, that it happened all the time. Then he backed the car down the alley. And we drove off. With him laughing most of the way home. Asking me first: “Was that fun?”
“I don’t know. Was it?”
“Sure, it was. It’s just something the police do to make it look like they care.”
“And they really don’t?”
“Not much anyway. But there are people in this city who are against anyone having fun. I think they got the wrong message at their church.”
“No! The church goers!”
Church. My dad and church. It’s complicated. He never went. But twice he made me go to Sunday school. The first time I quit soon after the young fellow in charge started telling stories from the Bible. I just stood up and left. I told my parents I thought the stories and the fellow telling them were both kind of nuts.
A couple of months later he put me in another church. Same thing. But this time I promised I’d stay until the end of class. Which I did. Because the stories were interesting. They were about Jesus and all the good stuff he did. But I made a case for not going back by saying if I wanted to find out more about Jesus, I could just read my grandmother’s Bible.
I asked my mother to get my dad to back off the church thing.
“He never goes. Why is he making me go?”
“In case he’s wrong.”
My parents made me laugh. But sometimes they worried me too. They were always getting lost. Especially in the county on drives.
“Mac, do you know where we are?”
And we were always late. For just about everything. Once we were very late getting to my cousin’s wedding. We rushed up the steps to the church just as they were closing the doors. The church was packed. There was only room for us in the last pew.
My mother looked around.
“I don’t see any of my family, Mac.”
“They’re probably all down front.”
Sounded reasonable. Until the doors opened, and the bride appeared.
My mum looked both shocked and deeply confused.
“That’s not Adele.”
No, it wasn’t. Because of course we were in the wrong church.
My dad thought we should just leave. But the service had started, and my mum said that would be too rude. So we stayed. We stayed and watched two total strangers get married to each other while a couple hundred other strangers watched and became very moved. Including my mother, who actually had tears in her eyes by the end.
This incident became legendary in our extended family because of what happened next. We were first out of that church and quickly noticed a group of people outside another church just ACROSS THE STREET. They were waving and laughing at us. Doubling up with laughter actually.
As we started our walk of shame towards them, my mother saw the bride whose wedding we’d just missed exiting the church we should have been in. So still a bit teary eyed from the wedding we’d just attended, she exclaimed to my father, “There’s Adele! Ahh. She looks so pretty, doesn’t she! My father just laughed. He seemed to be looking forward to the ribbing we were about to take.
(To be continued…)·
George F. Walker is one of Canada’s most prolific and popular playwrights. Since beginning his theatre career in the early 1970s, Walker has written more than 30 plays and has created screenplays for several award-winning Canadian television series. Part Kafka, part Lewis Carroll, Walker’s distinctive, gritty, fast-paced tragicomedies illuminate and satirize the selfishness, greed, and aggression of contemporary urban culture.