Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Rudy and Me: An Essay on Romantic Nostalgia, Railroad Trains, and Rudy Wiebe

We are all caught in webs of life and to extricate ourselves from such entanglements we sometimes rely on romantic nostalgia. I woke up this morning thinking about a Christmastime on the train in the 70’s. That was the Christmas I spent with Rudy Wiebe and his family, quite by happenchance.

In those days, each white Christmas my wanderlust would prevail, and I would board the CPR passenger train, my skis on my back, and head to Todd Mountain, British Columbia. At that time, not only did Todd Mountain have the second longest chairlift in North America, it also had ski runs up to seven miles long! (It still has such runs and presently operates under the resort name of Sun Peaks).

In those days a train ride was, indeed, a train ride. Trains were staffed with porters and conductors, who were more than eager to serve all passengers on board. I can remember the porters in their whites and the conductors in their navies. I especially remember the conductors, their with gold stripes on their navy hats, their red-striped navy blue ties, their blue jackets trimmed with silver buttons, their perfectly pressed pants, and their very polished black leather walking shoes. And I certainly remember their golden watch fobs dangling from their vest pockets.

I remember their service with a smile everywhere on the train and I remember being seated in the one and only available space left in the dining car – it was at the same table where Rudy Wiebe and his family had gathered and, I with their gracious permission, was invited to join them for a CPR Christmas dinner.

I remember Rudy and his very pleasant wife and I remember two daughters (I think … and I think perhaps seven and ten years old? Or maybe five and eight, not yet at that adolescent age.)

That is about it. That is all I remember. And I only remember these people because they were, after all, Rudy Wiebe and his family. Rudy Wiebe, the famous Canadian author/editor/English professor from the University of Alberta. Oh yes, I remember that they were headed back to Edmonton, and now I’m sure that is all I remember.

I was a university student (English major) and actually knew who Rudy Wiebe was. I had even studied some of his stuff, both his original writings and some anthologies he’d edited. Man oh man oh man -- an English major having a chance Christmas dinner with Rudy Wiebe and his family! Just the idea of such Christmas company would have been to die for at the time.

Obviously it is still important to me -- because this morning I woke up thinking about it.

And I've just finished writing this busking song about it:

Turkey With Rudy

D Em F#m G I ran into Rudy on the Christmas train

D Em F#m G He was his family, I was ridin’ west to ski

A With nobody.

D Em F#m G Well I’d read all about him and so I kinda knew him

D Em F#m G He’s a real Canadian icon and I was a real nowhere man

A With nobody


D Em Together we had turkey

D Em Together we had mashed potatoes

D Em Together we had gravy

D Em Together we had mixed vegetables

F#m We had each other (X2)

A D For Christmas company

D Em F#m G Rudy was headin’ back to Edmonton

D Em F#m G He was a professor of English Literature

D Em F#m G I was a student headin’ to Todd Mountain

A With nobody


D Em F#m G Rudy’s still a famous writer

D Em F#m G I’m not a famous blogger busker

D Em F#m G I dedicate this song to Rudy and his family

D Em F#m G Even though he really never knew me

A Or ever wrote about me


Why am I writing this Yuletide tale and song in the middle of summer? Why am I telling this story to people in 107 different countries (at last count) when neither my wife nor any of my children have ever heard it? Why would this story be so important to me today?

And the answer to all of the above is simply: I do not know. I do know, though, that today, despite my hazed memory, I am striving to be the best version of myself.

(Rudy, if ever you are reading this and looking at your picture top left corner, you must know that it seems you've not aged much since the last and only time we chatted. Rudy, too, perhaps if you squinny into your train passages in the 70's you will remember me, sort of. And last, Rudy, my song was meant to be rather light, even amusing, for some street corner singing -- After all, I am striving to be the best version of my busker self.)

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