April 18, 2015 - Tony (1st person I approached)
I love this time of year. The flowers, the perfumed air, the warmer days and the trees all surging forth with new leaves. It’s a time of renewal, and optimism. I left the house yesterday fairly certain I’d head to a park or two looking for a story. Tony was sitting on a bench just off of the main road. A good vantage point for watching people. I’ve heard a number of stories sitting at this bench.
When I told Tony what I’m doing and asked if he’d talk with me, he replied, “I’ve got all the time in the world. I’ll talk with you, why not. I’m just sitting here taking in the sights and watching all the people go by. Getting used to the feel of the city.”
Tony was born on a First Nation reserve in Bella Coola, BC (British Columbia).
“I have two brothers and two half brothers. But one of my brothers died,” he said.
“I went to school, a white school, but I didn’t really like it. I only went until grade eight. I remember coming home one day, my Dad had been away in camp. He and my mother were drinking some Canadian Club. He told me I should go to the store and buy some cork boots, and some work clothes. I was confused. He showed me my report card, and said ‘It doesn’t look like you’re enjoying school too much,' which I wasn’t. My Dad said ‘If you’re not liking school, you’re going to work instead.’ And that’s when I started working. I was sixteen,” Tony told me.
“My brother was my best friend. We did everything together. He committed suicide when he was fifteen. They say he shot himself, but I don’t know about that. We would go hunting and fishing together. We spent most of our time together. I think something happened to him. That’s what I think. I don’t believe he shot himself,” said Tony.
“I started working as a rigger, in forestry, making $4.30 an hour,” he said. Within two years, Tony had made his way to falling lumber.
“I wanted to be a faller. I would watch the guys who did that. I liked the look of what they did and seeing the tree fall exactly where they planned it to go down.”
By the age of 22, Tony was in a relationship with a woman from Bella Coola.
“She had two kids when we got together. Then we had two kids together, a daughter and then my son,” he said. Tony felled lumber from his reservation to build his house.
“I selected it, felled it, bucked it, cut it. I did everything to build the frame of the house with wood I felled. I got used windows and doors. I picked up some bits and pieces from demolition sites. I built the house until it was sixty percent completed. I’m not a carpenter, but my brothers are. They helped me finish the house,” he told me. Tony built his house on the same reserve he was born on.
“My son committed suicide. He was fifteen. Shot himself,” he said. It was a repeat of Tony’s childhood.
“He was a good kid. We had a great relationship. I’d sit him down and tell him that now he was a young man, he could still come to me to talk about anything. He had been drinking a little bit, and smoking marijuana occasionally. But he was a good kid. It was hard as fuck man. I drank. And I drank. And I fucking drank. I did acid (LSD, a psychedelic drug). Anything to try and numb the pain. I didn’t want to feel the way I was feeling. But it never goes away. I spent the better part of a year drinking,” Tony said.
“I’m an alcoholic. I do everything full on. I work hard, and don't drink. Then I’ll drink hard. I do everything in spurts. But the drinking has been going on for years. About a year after my son died, I started going for walks in the woods, on my own. I’d talk to myself, to find a way to deal with it, the pain. He was dead and there was nothing I could do about it. He’s gone. I was able to pull myself together. I still drink, and I’m still an alcoholic,” he told me.
Tony’s common-law relationship lasted off and on for twelve years.
“I had worked in forestry for about twenty years. I had gone out into the woods by myself to cut some firewood. I was drinking and fell asleep at the wheel. My car went off the road. It was a new-to-me ’76 New Yorker. Damn I liked that car. Fortunately, there was a couple of guys driving not that far behind me. They came around the corner, and couldn’t figure why the car they were behind was nowhere to be seen. They turned their vehicle around and came back to look for me. I probably would have died if they hadn’t found me,” he said. Tony was flown to Vancouver General Hospital, where he stayed for two weeks. He had broken a vertebrae in his back, broke his leg and seven ribs.
“That accident really slowed me down at work, that’s for sure.”
Eighteen months later, Tony had just purchased a new motorbike.
“I was out for a ride about a month after buying it, and drove right into the back of my buddy’s truck. I was all messed up again. But I went to the bar first. I got drunk and then went to the local hospital. I broke another vertebrae, this time in my neck, broke my shoulder and my wrist. The two accidents brought me to a crawl with falling lumber. I started making money by cutting lumber for firewood and selling it. That’s what I’m still doing,” he said.
Tony has spent the majority of his life living on the same reservation he was born on.
“I went to Edmonton for a little while when I was thinking of becoming a Mormon. And I spent some time in foster care as a kid, but otherwise I’ve been in Bella Coola all my life,” he says. I sensed that Tony didn’t want to talk about either of those subjects. I remained quiet and just listened.
“Except the time I did a trip with my buddy. There was a big parcel of land that had been sold to an American company, for logging. It pissed me off, it was taken away from my people, with no information or anything. Just sold. So my buddy and I got a claims map, and plotted where the land was. We went in during February. No one’s around in winter. No one on the claim, no one on the roads and no planes in the sky,” he told me, a wry smile on his face.
“We logged the shit out of that claim. Selective logging of course, we weren’t going in to clear cut. But we took out the best lumber. Made several thousand dollars. Took it right back from those fuckers!”
“My buddy and I went down through the States and then flew to Korea. We made our way down to the Philippines and travelled around there for about a month. Another month in Thailand and than back to Korea. We were gone for almost four months before heading home again. It was such a great trip,” he said.
I asked Tony what brought him to Vancouver this time.
“Cancer. I’ve got cancer and I’m here for treatment. I’m getting radiation. It doesn’t take long, only about ten minutes. But I’m here for another twenty-one sessions. So that means staying in Vancouver for about five weeks. I got here last week. That’s why I’m sitting right here. Just taking in the view. I was here the other morning, real early, and sat here watching the city wake up,” he said.
“But I’m looking forward to getting back home. I’ve got to get on with the firewood. My firewood for myself. It takes time to prep it all so it will be ready for next year.” #notastranger