We head to the plains of Alberta for this installment of the Magpie Tales
Even here on the beach, Melvin Eberhard knew that religion, that odd system that always contends that there is something waiting just beyond the curtain, would always define him. Having grown up in a Hutterite colony in southern Alberta, his belief was always that there was something beyond the curtain, but that was his faith in a life beyond the Canadian prairie and beneath the confines of the tight knit commune that others saw as the only possible reality.
“Dreams only damage a boy, like too much starch or sugar in the diet,” his mother would say as she prepared plain meals free of starch and sugar. Sugar was a concept that Melvin could only dream about since it was never allowed in the colony. He found reference to it in only one text book as a child when he was growing up in the Dariusleut Colony. Sugar, the book claimed, had led to many wars and as pacifists Hutterites saw sugar as a drug leading to lust, violence and self abuse. In some Biblical trainings at the colony, it was said that the asp tempted Eve not with an apple but with sugar cane.
Melvin had no idea where he was headed that day in March on his 15th birthday when he rose two hours before dawn and began walking east, a decadently pink and purple horizon made the path easier to follow as the dawn slowly arrived. For the first time he understood what faith was — a belief that there was something beyond the colony, that sugar was not just an evil concept but something that would touch and seduce his tongue, that water was not just the communal pond where the livestock drank or the copper tub where he took his Saturday night bath. Water, he would soon discover, was something that could be so vast that it could be not only the complete horizon but could continue thousands of miles beyond it, as infinite as the morning sky where he saw no margin, no limit.
The word sailor was another like sugar that Melvin had read in a book but could only imagine what he meant. It was a glorious marriage of two of his favorite words — “sail”, that elegant verb that suggested effortless, elegant movement and “or”, that word or possibility and alternatives. Melvin’s slight defiance of his father was embodied by his use of that word when his father shared Biblical readings as absolute truths and Melvin would respond, “Or…or…or.” Not “No” but “Or”, not absolute defiance or denial, but the belief that there might be other options. To Melvin it was not a question of there being something behind the curtain but that there might be something in front of it or someplace no one had ever thought to look before.
“Or…or…or…” Melvin was now shouting into the vacant prairie when, by noon, he approached the tracks of the Trans-Canadian Railway, something he had never seen or thought about but would serve as the key to taking him further eastward where the reality of being a sailor would come to fruition.