‘How old are you now?’

From April 23, 2009:

“How old are you now?” Grandma asked loudly, for the fourth time.

“Thirty-seven,” I yelled back, for the fourth time, because she’s almost deaf and, you know, has some trouble remembering. I’d been with her for about fifteen minutes.

“Oh, wow,” she said. “How old am I?”

“Ninety-five next week,” I yelled.

“That’s old,” she said in shock.

My grandpa smiled. “The only thing around here older than you is the hills.”

“Herb, I can’t hear you,” she snarked.

“Probably just as well,” he mumbled. Then, in the car, he turned around to me and said, “So, how old are you again?” I really hope that sense of humour isn’t hereditary. (Aw, shut up.)

The Aunts and I dropped off Grandpa (it is a tragedy that my grandparents, who will celebrate their 70th anniversary this year, live a few miles apart) and started our trip south, to Kalispell, Mt. Aunt V, who was driving, produced two one-hundred-dollar bills. “One for you,” she said to Aunt L, then, handing me one: “And one for you. The only rule is that you must spend at least half of it on yourself.”

The First and Last bar, just a few feet from the U.S.-Canada border.

We had weather adventures all the way through the prairie and forest and mountains: Snow and rain and ice pellets and fog and a dust storm. We also saw hundreds of deer and thousands of cattle and scores of mountain goats and a jackrabbit. And that was just in the four hours to the border, where we stopped at duty free (three cartons of smokes and a bottle of scotch) before hitting the “first and last” bar about 100 feet inside the United States.

“Jesus Christ,” said Aunt L, “this is my first beer of the day and it’s already 3 o’clock. Jesus Christ.”

She then put $20 into the nearest VLT and won $100.

Two miles down the road, we stopped to gas up the pickup. While Aunt V pumped, Aunt L and I went into the store to pick up an 18-pack of Kootenay. We weren’t back on the road for five minutes before Aunt V said to me, who was sitting next to the beer, “Well, open ’em up.”

“Uh … are you serious?” I asked in my little-girl voice.

“Of course!” said Aunt L. “It’s the only reason we gassed up!”

And so we drove to Kalispell with beers in our laps (this is legal in Montana if you’re not driving, they told me) and one helluva lot of laughing. We stopped to shop a little and I spent some of that $100 on me (a bathing suit, because Aunt V has a hot tub). Our next stop was for pizza and – this will shock you – another beer, at Moose’s. Four generations of our family have been going to Moose’s, a saloon and pizza joint with sawdust on the floor and strangers’ names carved into the tables and walls and seats and everywhere else names can be carved or scribbled. It’s an amazing place.

We had the beer there, but took the pizza to go. I mean, really, the beer we were drinking in the car was already starting to get warm, so we had to hurry.

I’m curled up in bed now in Big Fork, Mt. I have a third of a pizza in me and … I dunno … six beer? I’m very tired and I don’t know how I’m going to keep up with these women for an entire week.

It’s a zoo out there

At a yard sale in Calgary, we meet a guy who moved here from Point St. Charles. Kendra is especially pleased, as that’s where she grew up.

“So I guess it’s okay that I’ve got a Habs bumper sticker,” I say.

“They tore down my Canadiens flag,” he says indignantly, waving toward his neighbours. Then a sly grin forms. “So when the Habs were playing the Flames, I went out and put a big H on their flag. So we know who’s on top.”

A family can spend at least one full day at the Calgary Zoo. By the end of our trip there, we were numbed by the cuteness of babies. They have a baby giraffe, baby elephant and baby gorilla who crawled around entertaining masses of its genetic cousins on a hot Sunday afternoon.

Calgary zoo, 2008