. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . where ImagInatIon comes to play

Thursday, 17 January 2008

Histoires de la rivière aux rats//Stories From the Rat River

JACK JONES, part i:

His parents made their way to Dresden through the Underground Railroad. The escapees travelled only by night using the North Star of the Big Dipper as their guide to the land that the old spirituals called heaven. Destination, freedom. Jack Jones’s journey ended in Saint-Malo, Manitoba, by way of Alaska after years of labour on the northern pipeline. Nothing more is known of Jack’s past or how he came to find himself among people who did not speak his language and who had never before seen a black man, unless you counted Al Jolson. But then, making it to the big city movie houses sixty miles north was a rare excursion and a white man pretending to be black didn't quite compare.

While walking about the back roads of the small town one day, I took a last minute detour through the old cemetery behind the steepled church. And there it was - a life-sized statue of a man leaning against his hoe, his work day done, the gardener laying in rest just below. JACK JONES, R.I.P., the plaque announced. Though a bit askew, it seems the sculptor had tried his best to capture the facial traits of the African man. Jack had apparently remained here even after his death and was lying next to white French-Canadian Catholics, with the largest tombstone in sight. Even the Métis didn`t have such privileges unless they renounced all but their whiter half and remained quiet about certain things that needn't be talked about.

Roger and I sat above the Kenosee Lake Mini-Mart and Motel catching the remains of another hot and sun-filled day during our travels through remote Saskatchewan. Jose Cuervo seemed good company as I awaited a call from Dalmar. Dalmar had promised me a late day gallop through his mountain Reservation but the sun eventually faded and the tequila was dissapearing one shot at a time. Thus began a conversation that lasted into the night. Roger would tell me how he had come to know Mister Jones as a young boy...

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