Saturday, 16 February 2013


JC married late in life. Into his early thirties anyways. When he did enter into that (back then) act of lunacy the greater majority was left wondering just what the heck he was thinking of. Actually no one thought that marriage was wrong for JC; they just thought his choice of companion left something to be desired. Like, she clearly wasn't a match for JC and she had a couple of kids who were no doubt victims of a turbulent past. Consequently they had problems of their own, the worst, thinking that the world owed them a living. Although his then better-half initially attempted to keep a peaceful co-existance, things soon fell to pieces.

Surprisingly enough, it did last almost fifteen years which was quite an achievement as previous attempts (for her) hadn't made it past five. Of course that could also mean that the first family patriarchs were smarter. Anyways, the marriage from hell was over and JC was quite content to live the rest of his days on his own.

That is, until the cupid shot a real arrow (this time) and JC suddenly found himself in a romance that would forever change his life.

Mattie was the type of woman that JC only dreamed of sharing his life with, but that was as far as it went. It seemed that JC's friends were the ones who were lucky enough to find a woman like Mattie. So when the real Mattie came into his life, JC found himself wondering if this was really happening to him, or if it was some sort of a mirage.

But Mattie was (and still is) JC's devoted wife and JC became her foremost priority, as Mattie became JC's.

Well, to back up a bit, JC hit the half century mark alone. He would be closing in on 51 by the time he met Mattie. 'I didn't mind hitting 50,'  he told Mattie one time, 'I just didn't want to celebrate it by myself. But it looks like I did, and I survived.' That comment got Mattie thinking and what she came up with was something no one is likely to forget for a long time.

It was nearing the end of September. JC's brother was coming up from Montana and his sister was headed down from Edmonton. Since Max and his lady friend were never far away, and the weather was nice, JC and Mattie thought it would be a good idea to have everyone come over to their house for a barbecue.

They planned it for the Friday when everyone would be in town and little else was said. Of course Mattie was into it full throttle, buying groceries and doing up a large kettle full of chili, not to mention salads and everything else that goes with an outdoor barbecue party. They had picked up a couple of beef tenderloins, chicken breasts, weiners and hamburgers, and JC, who had become quite skilled at grilling anything non-vegetarian, cut up steaks and prepared everything for the grill.

Surprising how JC never clued in on things like that tremendous pot of chili, or when he and daughter, Kammi, sampled it for lunch one day, only to have Mattie get after them for not saving the chili for the get-together on Friday. However, she simply made up another batch, added it to the existing one and nothing more was said.

I guess in retrospect, JC did think it was a little strange as to why there was such a gigantic kettle of chili when there was just Max and Shirley, LB, his brother, who brought Sara, his daughter. JC's sister, Dana, and her husband, Grant, rounded off the guest list with the rest being Mattie, Kammi, and JC. There was going to be a lot of chili left over for lunches...

Friday came around soon enough. JC came home from work and found Mattie, other than being glad to see him, spiriting him off to the bedroom to at least change his shirt that perpetually reeked of diesel fumes. JC did as he was told and came out clad in a clean work shirt. Mattie scooted him right back into the bedroom with instructions to put on more of a party shirt. 'You're home now, wear a nice Hawiian shirt; save those drab old gray work shirts for work.'

JC did as he was told and came out, clad in a loud golf shirt. No comment to the contrary so he headed out to the deck and fired up the grill, allowing it time to warm up before the guests arrived.

Max and Shirley were the first on the scene and JC kept up a lively dialogue with them whilst checking the grill to make sure that it was ready for the meat. Dana and Grant showed up soon afterwards and since they'd be staying in the spare room downstairs, they stashed their luggage in the room and came right upstairs to join the rest.

Somewhere between trips out to the deck, a couple of local friends, AJ and Olga, showed up. 'We were driving by,' AJ said, 'we just decided to stop in.'

JC was more than happy to see them; they had been there when JC's life had derailed a few years before and were still there when JC and Mattie were getting together. 'We're just about to barbecue some steaks,' he said. 'Stick around and I'll get them on.'

Back out to the deck. The grill was ready and JC came back in for the meat. The doorbell rang just then. 'JC, would you mind getting that?' Mattie asked sweetly. 'I'm busy with this salad.'

JC muttered something about having to get the meat on the grill but went to the door without much complaining. He opened it to find lifelong friend, Dennie, and his wife, Dolores, along with Gord, who had been JC's classmate/co-class clown from first grade right through till high school graduation, standing on the step.

JC was caught completely off guard. Dumfounded would be a more suitable term. Here were three of his best friends from his old home town, people he hadn't seen for years, showing up right in the middle of a family party. Is this a bad time? Gord asked.

Now I have to interject right here and let everyone know that there is a difference of opinion as to exactly what happened next. JC claims one thing and Mattie insists that it went somewhat differently. I suppose they'll never completely agree on it but either version is bizarre to say the least. Let's start with JC's version:

'Uh,' JC stammered, 'uh--we're just having a family get-together and... Aw, hell! I don't send my friends away--ever! Come on in.'

JC and Mattie hadn't been together all that long and he wasn't sure if Mattie was all that interested in seeing JC's friends, especially those showing up unannounced like this. In a previous life JC's friends (and his family for that matter) though they were always welcome at any time in as far as JC was concerned, to his former spouse, they were about as welcome as a tax audit. There had been occasions when his former had simply locked herself in the bedroom leaving JC to entertain his friends alone. Then he got the third degree for days afterwards. Consequently JC was nervous at the sight of his friends. The ultimate question: Would Mattie be upset if JC invited his friends who were fifty miles away from home, standing on his doorstep at suppertime no less, in for supper and a visit? JC made a decision and that was for his friends to stay...

Now for Mattie's version:

'Uh, JC stammered, 'uh...'

'JC,' Mattie said. 'This is a party...'

'I know,' JC responded as if he was in a trance.

'This is a surprise party...'

'I know,' JC repeated himself, still being the deer in the headlights.

'This is a surprise party for you; I invited all your friends.'

Upon hearing that, JC turned around. He saw the decorations that had suddenly sprung up everywhere in the house. Dana had put them up on the walls, the bannister, the furniture and almost on the people who were already there. 'For me?' he said almost incredulously. 'Oh my god!' To his friends, he said: 'Come on in. I never turn my friends away.'

JC insists that whichever version is used, he said: 'I never turn my friends away.'

Some claim that Mattie's version is funnier but JC is still pretty sure his version is more accurate. However, it seems that those who were there tend to favor Mattie's story...

The guests continued to stream in until the house was almost bursting. Mattie's sister, Jill, showed up with her family. Her son, Jonas, took over the grilling chores thus preventing JC from hiding his embarrassed self from the rest of the crowd.

Val, Gord's wife, showed up with a gigantic birthday card she had made for JC and backdated it to his fiftieth birthday (JC had a reputation of not being a hurry for anything anyways). Using numerous candybars for props the card told a funny but true story about JC's life and how it intertwined with his friends. Everyone enjoyed it.

The food was dished up and quickly consumed, including the chili. Mattie brought out a cake, the frosting of which bore a picture of JC. How she had managed to keep that out of sight, JC will never know.

The party went on till late that night. Everyone had a good time although JC was still in a state of shock, which, I might add, he is still in to this day. Afterall, no one ever threw a party for him.

Until then...

JC kept the giant card and even though the candy has long since been consumed, the wrappers remain in place to tell the story just the way Val wrote it. To this day, he still endures the occasional dig about the time he almost sent his special friends away from his own surprise party. And, to this day, he still argues about it.

But on the other hand, it was a surprise party, and there's nothing better than a party that surprises everyone.


In pre 80s small town America, cafeterias were nonexistant and lunchboxes/lunchbags were mandatory, unless the student could go the entire day without something to eat. Starting somewhere in middle school, then progressing into high school, the usual corps of lunch thieves established itself then grew into a perpetual machine all its own. Keeping a watchful eye for the most likely sources of goodies, the squad of vultures (usually 2 to 3 in number) scanned the lunchboxes as they were secured into the lockers then, at the most opportune moment (i.e. when the victim was out of sight), they swooped down devouring everything, leaving only the wax paper and the paint on the lunchbox. Lunch thieves were a fact of life and most got dealt with in one way or another. JC once caught a guy, red-handed, rummaging through his lunchbox. He promptly showed the thief the error of his ways by making a dent in the locker door with the thief's head.

Cross JC off the list of possibles; he's too dangerous...

About ten miles up the road was another community which contained a school complete with all the things to ensure the usual pecking order within the student ranks. And that included the gang of lunch thieves.

Monte was a little small for his age but lots of hard work on the farm made him tough and wiry beyond most of his peers. He didn't stand for any fooling around but, like so many others, he was powerless to stop the rampaging lunch thieves as they, being the cowards they were, struck when no one else was around. Bette, Monte's mother, was a good cook and baker and always supplemented her boys' lunches with fresh baking in the form of cake, cookies, butterhorns and brownies. Unfortunately that made the boys' lunches, especially Monte's, a prime target. Sometimes Monte would come home ravenous because the thieves had stolen his entire lunch.

One could assume that Monte was a tough kid but one of the worst mistakes that the thieves made was underestimating Bette.

Bette came from a large family of tough, hard-working kids and she also went to school where she learned what it was like to have her lunch stolen. When her treats repeatedly disappeared, her mother made some blueberry tarts then got word to the teacher and principal, telling them that there was a problem, adding how to identify the perps. Like everything else the tarts were stolen but the teacher simply made all the kids stand up and smile.

Blue smiles--busted...

What do for her own kid? Bette smiled as an idea began to formulate. She went into the kitchen, clad herself in full battle regalia (apron and spatula) and got to work. She got out the mixing bowls, the pans, the ingredients and started mixing. Eggs, butter, white sugar, cocoa powder, vanilla extract, all purpose flour, a dash of salt and even some chopped walnuts went in to make this the best batch of brownies ever. While the oven was preheating, Bette went into the bedroom and emerged with that special ingredient that would make this batch stand out like no other. She unwrapped the foil packages and dropped the dark cubes into a saucepan, heated them until they were completely melted and folded them into the mix, stirring it well, then poured everything into the pans which were promptly put into the oven. While the batch was baking she even mixed up a chocolat frosting into which was mixed more of that extra special ingredient.

The boys came home from school and were immediately greeted with the smell of fresh baking. They ran to the brownies and were told not to touch them as that batch was for a special occasion in town. They were then directed to a batch that was just emerging from the oven.

Brownies one day, Toll-house cookies the next; chocolate cake after that. Over the next three days Bette packed Monte's lunch and cautioned him not to eat the treats and that she'd bring in some fresher ones before lunchtime. When Monte questioned her she just told him that the batch already in his lunch was to identify the thieves once and for all. Well, each time Monte went for his lunchbox the brownies were gone but the perps had at least left his sandwiches. But Mom came to the rescue because just as the kids were leaving for lunch break, she was there with a package for Monte.

A few days later, Bette was in the supermarket. She ran into some other housewives/mothers from her home town and it was interesting how the conversations went.

'I had to keep Dennis home for two days so far. He's got Diarrhea so bad...' '...I'm going to have to take Trent to the doctor. He woke up in the middle of the night with the Hershey Squirts; he couldn't even make it out of bed before his system erupted. Now he's so dehydrated...' '...Kristen won't come out of the bathroom; she's so sick...' 'Well, Justin couldn't even make it from the bus to the house; was running down his legs...'


Bette just kept as straight a face as she could. 'My boys are fine but I just keep telling them not to accept any food from anyone else; you just never know what ailments kids might be bringing from home.'

As the old saying goes: Exlax cleans like a white tornado. Maybe Bette should've used only one packet instead of the whole box. But then, if kids don't remember the consequences of their actions, they are forced to repeat them.