Great Canadian Wallpaper Festival
by Tempus Peregrinator
Without the slightest odour of dung, there I was…
It all began on the Wednesday of pre-War Week. I was doing my usual effort, standing around and looking pretty near the Coopers’ store at Pennsic, as is my wont, being the sort of garb-horse with a penchant or propensity or something like that for off-showing. Out of the South appears this pretty young thing.
“I hear you’re from Canada,” she said, nudging me with her elbow and winking one eye. “And I hear you gots a lot of snow up there, eh?” she continued with a slight but noticeable Southern drawl or accent, an accent I would later find out was from South Carolina. But that’s not important…yet.
Upon hearing this, my heart soared. Saying to myself, “Thank you God, I really need this,” I smiled at her and said, “Why, yes. You know it ends at the border, don’t you?”
With a whimsically astonished gasp, she said, “Really?”
“Oh, yes,” I assured her. “A long time ago, on the hottest day of the year, they walked the entire border and said where there was snow, that would be Canada. And where there was no snow, that would be the United States.”
Puzzled and bemused, she wrinkled her brow and said, “Really?” to which I replied, “Yes!”
Sensing an opportunity for more fun, I added that we all ride around on dogsled teams, for there is too much snow for wheels to work effectively. In the animated silence, I also added, “Why, just to get here (Pennsic) I had to drive my dogsled team for two days, just to get to the border, and move everything from my dogsled to my car which I keep in storage at the border leaving my dogsled team with a friend there, and then driving on for two hours to get to Pennsic.”
Wide eyed and thoroughly impressed, she exclaimed that that sounded incredible. (I wouldn’t believe it for a second.) At this point, I thought perhaps she was having me on as much as I was having her on, but I didn’t really think about it too much, as I often do this sort of thing to Americans, and don’t really think much of it. Still, if she was, I’m sure we both had a lot of fun.
As is the nature of this sort of conversation at Pennsic, we were interrupted as other people came along wanting to ask questions about garb and this and that and the other thing. And so, the lady and I were separated, and I figured that was the end of it, and nothing more would come of it.
Two days later, this pretty young thing appears before my eyes, sporting a big grin, and says, “How are your dogs?”
I looked down at my feet, back at her, and said, “My who?”
By explanation, she said, “You know, your dogsled team that you left with your friend at the border.”
“Ohhhh, them!” I said in recognition. I shrugged my shoulders and said, “How should I know?”
She continued, “You could phone your friend and ask.”
“Phone?” I said, as if searching my memory for some long-lost concept. “Oh! You’re talking about the telly-phone!” Pointing at her, I smiled. “We don’t have telly-phones in Canada. It gets too cold, and the phone lines freeze and break.”
“How do you talk to people over long distances?” she asked.
Reassuringly, I clapped her on the shoulder, and in a calm voice, I said, “Oh, quite simply. We use smoke signals. They may be kind of slow, but the message always gets there. Sometimes it may take a week to get a message across the country, but it does the job well.” Again, I was thinking that she was having me on., but there was always the glimmer of faith in her eyes, and this did nothing but encourage me to continue. We talked more about snow. I told her we had several hundred words for different kinds of snow. Generally, I laid it on pretty thick.
Once again, we were separated.
That night, as with the first night, I went back down to the lake where I was camped, and visited over at Ealdormere Royal (then Principality) and shared with my fellow Ealdormerians the stories of my good fortune in encountering this lady… We laughed a lot. A very lot. After all, having fun with American minds is the Canadian National Pastime. Several of my friends came up with some very good ideas I might have used to expand on my fiction, but I felt that many of them were just too blatantly obviously fallacious. More on that, tomorrow night (the operative word perhaps being “moron”).
Early in the afternoon the next day, others of my friends with whom I was camped (Americans), who had also heard the story, came to me pointing to the horizon in the south-east asking what they were saying. Looking where they were pointing, I saw dark smoke billowing up from beyond the trees. Realizing the humour of what they were asking, and the probable truth of what they were saying, I squinted my eyes and slowly, as if reading from a distance, said, “Help…help…my…car…is…on…fire.” Impressed all to hell my friends were when, later that night, we found out that someone’s car had caught fire on the highway, and that that was most probably it.
However, long before discovering that, up in the market area, I was visited once again by the Pretty Young Thing From The South. She said to me that she’d been telling her friends with whom she was camped about all the Canadian things I was telling her and that they were equally as impressed, for none of them had been as far or further from South Carolina as Pennsic. Thinking to myself, I just had to say, “Lady, your friends are not your friends.” But I also thought that she was pulling my leg too. So, without anything to lose and years of fun to gain I continued.
Since she wanted to know more I said, “I’ve told you about the snow, and all the names we have, and the dogs, but I haven’t told you anything about the summer yet. We do have summer, you know. Two weeks!” I exclaimed, holding up two fingers. “Three weeks in a good year!” (Adding another finger.) “And Lord Tunderin Murphy, but it gets geezly hot, bye. Sometimes it gets up to 35, 36 degrees.”
A little taken aback, she said, “My God, that’s cold!”
As quick as greased lightning, I said, “Yeah, but it’s hot enough to melt your igloo.” and stroked my beard whimsically as if remembering.
“I suppose so,” she said.
“Sure,” I reply. “And as soon as your igloo starts to melt,” I continue with a dead serious look on my face, “you have to get your wallpaper out immediately or it’s ruined.” I looked back at her with an honest smile, and she nodded her head as if it made perfect sense to her. So I went on, driven by this innocent, gullible face. “So everybody takes out their wallpaper, and hangs it on the trees, and the fences, and the dogsleds, and the dogs,” I said, trying to make it sound somewhat credible. I put my hand on her shoulder, waved my other hand across the sky, and exclaimed, “And, my God, you’ve never seen anything so beautiful as the The Great Canadian Wallpaper Festival! You really must try to get up there some summer. Oh, the colours. Oh, it’s just fantastic. Everywhere is light and colour. You really won’t find anything like it in the world.” (Especially in Canada.)
She gazed back at me with a face that was definitely too full right then…so I continued. Nothing is better done to excess than excess, that’s my motto. “Yes… This is also the time of year when all the young eligible bachelors tie their dogsled teams to their sleds and go cruising around town to see whose old man has got new wallpaper, and what kinds of dower rights you can get. These kinds of things really matter up North, because you really have to know where your wallpaper is. In Canada, wallpaper is almost everything.”
Quite dumbfounded, she just stood there and nodded slowly. Fortunately for her, some people came by with garb-related questions and anxious faces, and we were separated once more. Again I thought that that was it, that she would catch on, and there would be no more. But what great fun I had!
Now, at this point I must acknowledge the assistance of others. There were many people gathered around. Some would occasionally put their hands on their mouths, withdraw from the circle, run off and laugh somewhere else. Most people seemed to make a good effort not to spoil my fun, and I really appreciate their efforts.
That night, back at Ealdormere Royal, there were many excellent suggestions for further story embellishment. Probably the most famous (or infamous) came from Kess, who came up with the idea of snow ants. Snow ants, which are of course snow white, and travel in huge packs, are quite invisible against the snow. Usually, the only way to know they’re nearby is when moose disappear in a puff of white with a little spattering of red. There is so much more, but I will not bore you with it now. Suffice it to say that we laughed ourselves silly, well past the point where our sides had split. How fortunate were those who were wearing corsets! Of course, they couldn’t inhale enough to laugh properly anyway.
I think it was two days later, I ran into the lady again. She recognized me, and wanted to know more. So, I got my shovel ready and started to go. In response to her continued queries, I said, “Well, I’ve told you about the short summer, the snows, the igloos, the Wallpaper Festival. There isn’t much left. Oh, yes.” I said, with a glimmer of recollection, “we do have some permanent wooden structures. There are of course the Parliament Buildings, large wooden box buildings with pyramid roofs and shingles, but they’re uninteresting and nothing ever really happens there. However, there are always the moose hatcheries. Probably they’re the most remarkable structures in all of Canada.” (This is where it gets laid on really thick.) I decided not to tell her about the snow ants, but instead to go with something slightly more plausible, like the idea that moose lay eggs. “Now, a moose hatchery is a truly remarkable building. It’s a large, squat, conical building rising up over the horizon like a great, shingled breast with a big door at one end, and a huge pile of sand inside. Some towns have many, some towns only have one, but every Canadian has seen dozens of moose hatcheries and very few have ever been inside one. For that’s where the highest-paid civil servants in all the land work.
“Once in awhile a moose will walk in from the wilds, usually to the same hatchery in which it was born, walk in the big doors, climb around on the sand pile until it finds the spot that feels right, squat down and pop out an egg the size of a football and then leaves. Moose are terrible parents, unfeeling and unkind.” I looked at her and said, “You should be very glad you weren’t raised by moose. You’d be a much different person today if you were.” (Maybe a bit smarter.) “But anyway, then the hatchery attendants rush in and bury the egg. They turn it every now and then, make sure other moose don’t step on it, and after 17 months, the egg hatches. Out comes a medium-cat-sized moose with little one inch antlers. And over the next few months, it gets bigger and stronger, and starts to feel the call of the wild. By the time it’s the size of a German Shepherd (with longer legs) it walks up to the door and wanders off into the wild. Most likely, never to be seen again until it comes back to lay its own eggs.
“We don’t know a lot about what they do, but we do know that they live out the rest of the season eating what they eat, and at the end of the season they drop their antlers and overwinter in a huge pack, all huddled together, waiting for the new season, when they get to grow the next set of antlers.” My face filled with the look of nostalgia. I’m sure I looked as though I was about to wipe a tear from my eye, when she stopped me and said, “Woah, woah, wait, wait. Are you tellin’ me that moose drop their antlers and grow new ones every year?”
“Well, yeah,” I said. “That is why we call them antlers and not horns, after all.”
To this perfectly reasonable assertion on my part, she said, “No, no, you lie. You are lying to me.” Just for the record, I’d like to say that this is basically the first true thing I’d told this woman in a whole week, and for some reason, she didn’t believe it. Also, though, I was afraid that I was gonna lose my fun, so I tried to rescue the situation, and go off on a ten-minute dissertation on the difference between horns and a
ntlers, and that moose have antlers and that’s how they work. But she just wouldn’t believe me, no way, nohow. And then, in a flash of insight, she said, “Wait a minute, I remember from high school that moose are mammals.”
Thinking that that may have been the only thing she remembered from high school, I quickly replied, “The platypus is a mammal. It lays eggs.” But she was not to be persuaded but I still tried for a few more minutes. Then, sensing that all was lost, I thought the least I could do was set her straight on everything. So I told her the truth about all of it. But she still would not believe that moose antlers drop off and grow back every year.
Well, I like to think there’s a moral to this story. Otherwise, why would I keep telling it to people? (Hee hee hee…) I’m sure you can come up with one or two yourself, but my personal fave is “Sometimes the truth is even more fantastic than a lie.” But I hope your moral to this story is not, “Never trust a Tempus, ;)” because most of the time, if you catch it unawares, a Tempus will be good to you.