“There are indeed certain Liquors, which being applied to our Passions, or to Fire, produce Effects the very Reverse of those produced by Water… Among these the generous Liquor called Punch is one.” Henry Fielding: Tom Jones ~ 1749
My Friend Barb Wire Johnny kept a 1940 Chevrolet pickup at the home ranch. I don’t think he ever drove or had a license, but his mother drove before her dementia began to set-in. After that, Johnny couldn’t trust her alone while he trained horses or went out on the trap line; Johnny was forced to have her committed to the old folks home in Dawson Creek.
I inherited the job of chauffeur; a fourteen year old, unpaid, and unlicensed (no driver’s license, it was a different era) chauffeur. Every three or four months, I would drive Johnny to mile One O One on the Alaska Highway, turn South towards Fort St John and continue South on the Alaska Highway to Mile Zero at Dawson Creek, so Johnny could visit his mother.
Each trip was like an exciting adventure. Johnny was my hero; a magician with a horse, he taught me many of the mystical and spiritual relationships that can exist between men and horses, techniques I still use on a daily basis.
My dad, a taciturn man who seldom showed emotion, had a soft spot for Johnny and his mother. They were handsome people who had wandered off the Reservation years earlier. I often wondered whether my departed mother, a beautiful Indian Princess type, who caused men to stumble over each other and push each other out-of-the-way for the privilege of opening a door for her, was related to Johnny and his mother. All the local natives called each other cousin and they probably were; after I got kicked in the head, by a rodeo bull, I couldn’t make sense of native family relationships.
The soft black flowing hair, the eyes and complexion were similar among Johnny, his mother, and my mother. Most natives in the area had coarse straight hair. When you considered the physical similarities and the fact that my dad would have the battery charged, the tires pumped up with a couple of spares and rims in the back with a full tank of gas, I figured Johnny and I were probably real cousins. My dad didn’t maintain a vehicle for me or anyone else; this truck was a special deal, for Johnny and his mother.
It was the season for Johnny’s Christmas visit, I made my specialty, Captain’s Punch, and had it stored behind the seat in three Mason jars. My dad gave me $50.00 and specific instructions: don’t drive over 40 mph, don’t let Johnny get too drunk, stop by the junk yard and see if they have any good tires for the truck or any of the other trucks on the ranch, and don’t pay over three dollars for a tire without a rim, stay at the Mile Zero Hotel and make sure none of the oil field roughnecks beat Johnny up.
He knew I would only have a glass or two of the Captain’s Punch. Liquor has never been a part of my life, unlike the rest of my family. Even today, I like a glass or two of red wine with dinner, but only for medicinal purposes.
Soon, Johnny and I were off like a herd of turtles. The old truck would pull some of the hills at 20 mph, going down I’d pump the brakes and keep us under 40 mph. On the down hill grades, Johnny would pull his Western hat down with his right hand and flash a big grin, like he was going for a fast gallop on a colt. We were laughing and having a great time when Johnny saw an Indian woman walking along the road about a mile ahead. He pointed to her and said, “It’s Clarice my cousin, pull over and we’ll give her a ride.”
I never doubted Johnny’s instincts with a horse or his tracking ability in the bush, but this woman was just a speck on the horizon, how could he know who it was?
We pulled up along side of her and Johnny jumped out and said, “Clarice, hop in, we’re going to town, where ya headed?”
In the thick native brogue, she replied, “Goin Licka Storr.”
She was glad to see Johnny, the native women all thought Johnny was pretty special, even the ones who were three times bigger than him. Let’s say Johnny never lacked for female companionship; especially, when he needed attention or a new suit of clothes.
She climbed in between us and Johnny said, “Clarice this is Skook, he’s Ida Faye’s boy.” She looked at me in disbelief with her head held back and said, “Heard, Ida had boy.”
You see, her shocked expression was understandable, when the genetic dice were thrown, I came up with auburn hair, a white hide, and green eyes. Consequently, I have been able to witness bigotry and racism through a special prism; a prism viewed from two directions.
Johnny decided that he should break out the Captain’s Punch so that he and Clarice could have a drink for the old times. They rattled on in three languages, English, French, and their Native tongue, while I concentrated on the gravel road.
After three drinks from the Punch Jar, Johnny fell asleep, and it was just Clarice and myself. Suddenly, Clarice grabbed the inside of my thigh, turned and from a few inches away, with a gravelly voice and breath like kerosene, said, “You passionate!” My right foot nearly pushed the throttle through the rusty floorboard. The engine was roaring, but thankfully, the truck wasn’t going any faster.
I stammered in desperation, “I don’t think I am, uh, interested, no, I don’t want too.”
Clarice leaned hard against me, grabbed my thigh harder and higher. This time her deep breathy voice was louder, and betraying her frustration, she said, “You passionate!”
This time I jumped off the seat and hit my head on the roof of the cab. In a high-pitched voice, I lied and yelled out that I had a girl friend.
In desperation, she yelled out, “You Pashin Damn Likka Storr!”
I made a ‘U’ turn on the Alaska Highway and felt an enormous sense of relief as I pulled up to the liquor store.
It was still against the law to sell liquor to Indians, but at 14, I could walk in and buy a bottle of whiskey. Johnny and Clarice probably had no more Native blood than me, but they looked the part.
Johnny asked Clarice if she wanted to go to Dawson Creek with us. She said, “Hell no, need no blanket in Hell, that Skook boy, him damn bad driver.”
Now this story would be just another forgotten anecdote, if I’d been listening and understood the Native patois a little better. In life, we must listen and observe in our own perspective, true enough, but if we learn to observe through the perspective of others, we will be more successful
The Captain’s Punch
Makes three quarts
3/8 cup sugar
1 ½ cup white wine
1 750 ml of cognac
6 cups chilled water
Peel lemons, removing little of the white pith, and put peels in a bowl, save the lemons. Add sugar and crush peels and sugar with wooden spoon, until the sugar turns yellow and slushy.
Juice the lemons and add the juice to the bowl. Stir until the sugar dissolves, use cheesecloth to strain into punch bowl or Mason Jars. Pour in wine and cognac and chill. Serve with a large block of ice in center to slow dilution with melting ice. Will disappear fairly quickly at parties. Use good cognac for a better punch, Cheers!