Jackie Flanagan's Grass Castles

by Shaun Hunter

Calgary Through the Eyes of Writers

Game of chance, Calgary Stampede midway (Photo: Shelagh McHugh Cherak)

Game of chance, Calgary Stampede midway (Photo: Shelagh McHugh Cherak)

Maureen’s family is barely making ends meet. It’s the 1950s and they’re living in a new house at the edge of Bowness, a small town beyond the western edge of Calgary. In the evenings, Maureen’s mother pores over her budget book. With five children to raise, there is never enough money. Her father squanders his pay on booze and loses his job. When her mother goes to work, Maureen and her father set out in his old green Pontiac. Wilf Carter croons the bluebird song on the radio as they drive into Calgary. They make the rounds, visiting her father’s friends, letting the summer day play out as it will.

It was about closing time so we all head down to the Stampede.

Marcel and Dad worked the nickel slot machines – Gold Diggers. Dad won some money. They played the Roulette Wheel. I made patterns in the sawdust at my feet. When it was very dark Dad bought me a corn-on-the-cob.

At midnight he put me on his shoulders above the noise and smells of the Midway and I looked up at the clear clean sky, so calm, and fireworks exploded breaking its smooth blue skin.

Dad lifted me out of the car cradling me in his arms like a baby.

“This beats everything, John,” Mom hissed. “You’ve pulled some real stunts in your time but this beats them all.”

Jackie Flanagan, Grass Castles (Bayeux Arts, 1998)