“My father spent most of his life in jail,” Darrell confided to me over a club sandwich at the Quality Suites Inn Restaurant in Etobicoke, Ontario. Only it didn’t seem so confidential in the matter-of-fact way Darrell said it. He was as nonchalant as I would be commenting on the bacon and eggs that I had eaten for breakfast. There was a little grin at the corners of his mouth. “I’m the only one of the five kids who hasn’t spent time in jail.” He took a swig of his Coke. It was only noon, after all, too early to start in on the beers.
“No, that’s not right,” he frowned and corrected himself. “My sister hasn’t been in prison yet.”
Another smile came to his face as he recounted his father’s funeral. It was an open casket and one of the grieving attendees, just recently released and on parole, had placed a full glass of whiskey in the coffin so that the old man could better enjoy his final send-off. The parolee looked around the funeral home. “There’s more criminals in here than in some maximum security penitentiaries I’ve been in,” he observed with a cackle.
Darrell was from Winnipeg, but not the notorious north end of town. “We moved around quite a lot,” he remembered, “as Dad didn’t want to make it too easy for the police to keep surveillance on the place. As it was, even in the summer and you know what the mosquitoes were like in Winnipeg, there was never a screen on my brother’s bedroom window in the back so that my father could just jump out and disappear when the police came to the door.”
Darrell has never found himself in the same predicament. Now fifty-seven years old, he has worked as a medic and for the Winnipeg Fire Department for twenty-five years before moving to Whitehorse in the Yukon and putting in his final four years as a dispatcher for the medical services in that northern community. He’d had three kids in Winnipeg and met his current wife, Karen, who is in the military, while in Whitehorse. He is the step-father to Karen’s daughter, who is the goalie on my daughter’s hockey team. I’ve known him for the past four years and he is wholly, indisputably normal. Well, as normal as I am. Okay, your comments aren’t necessary.
Darrell’s parents went by the normal-sounding names of Dave and Adele. Apparently Adele did not have to work as Dave kept the family afloat with a number of activities that were outrightly criminal. As Darrell tells it, Adele would spend most of her time at the kitchen table surrounded by a cloud of cigarette smoke. She only left it to chase and assault her husband when he would do such things as steal the money she would be saving to buy say, a new set of dishes. One time she chased her unsavoury partner around the neighbourhood with a salad fork and spoon, beating him over the head with the salad spoon and stabbing him with the fork whenever she could catch up to him. Dave felt the need to explain Adele’s behaviour to the bewildered and bemused neighbours. “My wife thinks I’m a tossed salad,” he shouted, as he covered up in self-defence.
For awhile in the sixties they had a pet rabbit who distinguished himself mainly by defecating all over the rugs spread throughout the house. “If that rabbit craps one more time, I’m sending him to rabbit heaven,” Dave announced to his family. Adele was having nothing of the sort. “You son-of-a-bitch, you keep your filthy hands off Peter,” she shouted from behind a cloud of smoke. Inevitably, the carpets were soiled the next day. “Alright men,” Dave announced to his sons. Apparently he always addressed them in this way. “That rabbit is on its way to rabbit heaven.” He grabbed Peter by the ears and scooped his wailing sons off to witness the rodent’s inevitable demise. They went in their Lincoln, as Dave never drove anything else, and stopped at the neighbourhood grocery store. There Dave threw the rabbit onto the shelf containing the lettuceheads. “That rabbit is now in heaven,” he announced, but he was not quite done the day’s shenanigans. “Watch this men,” he shouted as he made his way to a female customer bent over a low shelf examining some produce. He leapfrogged onto the poor unsuspecting soul’s shoulders and farted loudly. “Let’s go men,” were his last instructions as he and his four sons hurried to the exits.
Both Darrell and his wife Karen are avid fishermen, one reason why they both found their separate ways to the Yukon for four years. Darrell remembers a similar trip he took with his father.Dave would often sing to himself as he made his way around the corridors of his home. He made up the words as he went along. “Dave and Darrell are off Alaska, and a-fishing they will go,” he would sing tunelessly. Adele wasn’t buying in. “You asshole, you’re not taking Darrell anywhere,” she would shout in return. But it was the sixties and men had not yet had their consciousness raised. Two days later, before dawn, Dave and Darrell were off on their excellent adventure, hitchhiking to Alaska from Winnipeg. They camped out on their way, of, course, surviving mostly on hot dogs cooked over an open fire.
Not all adventures were so benign, however. Dave decided to go straight at one time, having had enough of prison time. He started a discount women’s clothing store and built it into a prosperous enterprise, ultimately employing twenty six workers, full-time. But alas, the straight-and-narrow had no permanent appeal when compared to a life lived in the underworld. Dave torched his own place in a bid for the insurance money and disappeared for two years.
We concluded our lunch of true confessions with Darrell describing the life of his brothers, living on the fringes of society but mostly outside Canada’s penal institutions. I’d only been hoping for a quick sandwich and some idle chit-chat about the upcoming girls’ game.
Anyone else with a story to tell ?