Family gatherings and the sweet sounds of the road

Striking up a conversation about current affairs with family members or new acquaintances can be a tricky business.

The drive south from Calgary through the foothills of the Rockies is grand on a sunny day. The hills along the highway are contained by the sharp blue sky, but the mountains looming to the west are untamed.

After a rainy early summer, the region looks particularly fat and satisfied this year. The fields are stuffed with big wheels of baled hay and the pick-up trucks and tractors are shiny and new.

Down towards Highway 3 the crisp air of the high plains is muted by smoke drifting up from the south. The gleaming windmills turn steadily in the stiff breeze but cannot clear the air.

The faded former mining towns of the Crowsnest Pass  are more like our West Kootenay home than the gleaming city we are leaving behind.  In Calgary, everything looks new, even the older neighbourhoods like Mount Royal.

This region appears tired, in part because its children have joined the throng relentlessly driving the “trails” of Cowtown in pursuit of jobs and the latest goods. Two newly-pensioned Trail residents seem old there.

Vehicles speed past us, sometimes honking at our inept small town driving, or perhaps it’s the British Columbia licence plates. Who needs to be suspicious of foreigners when the residents of neighbouring provinces can seem as if they come from different planets.

Striking up a conversation about current affairs with family members or new acquaintances can be a tricky business. Oil – manna from heaven or the blood of Satan? Government – the problem, or part of the solution?

At a family wedding, the feeling of being an outsider is more a sign of the times than of being a visitor. Weddings, at least in my limited recent sampling, aren’t about families any more, they are all about the kids getting hitched and their friends.

The bridal parties have continued to expand in numbers to the point where they could now field a mixed softball team with considerable bench and bullpen strength.

Proud parents must limit their after-dinner remarks to leave time for feature-film-length multi-media presentations that include every baby picture ever snapped of the bride and groom. Then there are the highs and lows of grade school, the teen years and college vacation trips.

Thankfully, the music at these affairs doesn’t sound anything like what comes blasting out of open car windows on a sunny day, or that used to shake the Times building when a carload of kids pulled up at the ATM next door for some fast cash.

At weddings, rap and techno beat are out, and the Golden Oldies of the Boomer years just keep on coming. I don’t know whether this is because you can’t dance or celebrate to rap (“Get off the floor you whor’, it’s time to go rob the stor’.”), or the newlyweds graciously save their stuff for the late shift, but you can actually enjoy shaking your bootie. But ballroom enthusiasts are still out of step with this music (“That’s not dancing,” according to my eldest brother.)

Loading up the car for the trip home, I am wondering what to put on the stereo. Although many motorists of my era seem to like hard-driving rockers or upbeat Motown hits to accompany their travels, I prefer the late days of the folk revival that are some of my earliest musical memories.

The Alberta foothills always make me think of Ian and Sylvia’s greatest hits, and not just because Ian Tyson now lives among them and occasionally shows up at the local bars.

“Four Strong Winds” is, of course, a Canadian and Alberta anthem. (“Think I’ll go out to Alberta, weather’s good there in the fall.”) But so many of their songs resonate while riding Western Canada’s lightly-traveled highways, whether they are originals such as “Someday Soon” (“So blow you old blue Northern, blow my love to me; He’s driving in tonight, from California”) or covers (“Where the Walker runs down to the Carson Valley plain, there lives a maiden, Darcy Farrow is her name”).

Arriving back in Trail, I pick up the papers that have gathered in the front hallway and I discover fodder for the next family visit. The Eastern relatives can never get enough bear stories, and on this trip I related several instances where the big black beasts have broken into homes.

Next time I will be able sing of the hungry cougar who attacked a woman as she sat on her living room sofa in Sunningdale.

Priceless.

Raymond Masleck is a retired Trail Times reporter.

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