Bottom of the First
A hapless young man uses a kids’ baseball team as a pawn in a desperate gamble to improve his life.
By Wayne Larsen
Previously published in WestmountMag.ca
It was the first time I’d ever stood on a real pitcher’s mound. The big lights were on and the crowd was buzzing. I could feel everyone’s eyes on me as I rubbed the brand new white ball, smelling the genuine horsehide and trying desperately to look professional — or at least worthy to play on such a ritzy field.
The first batter stepped up to the plate to a round of cheers from the crowd and flashed me a defiant leer, as if daring me to throw one up the middle. Behind him, James flicked two fingers across the palm of his catcher’s mitt, calling for a curveball. I took a deep breath and, making sure my right foot was planted firmly on the rubber, kicked high and delivered. My first pitch soared over everybody and got stuck in the mesh of the backstop. Ball one.
Uncle Charlie stepped down from the top stair of the empty dugout and began pacing. Behind me, Clayton smacked his glove and whistled his encouragement. The batter, a husky kid with a hawk nose and a peach-fuzz mustache, took a few practice swings and settled into his stance. James called for a fastball, so I wound up and threw as hard as I could. Right away I heard that nauseating crack of the bat and shrieks from the crowd. As the batter sprinted around the bases in a blur of blue and gold, little Frenchy Blanchard chased the bouncing ball into the shadowy depths of centre field. The batter crossed the plate with ease and disappeared into the crowd of teammates who had gathered at their dugout entrance to greet him.
This was our dream come true, but somehow it wasn’t quite working out. Here we were, finally playing in a real ballpark, with dugouts and everything, yet only five minutes into the game the writing was already on the wall — or in this case the big manual scoreboard behind first base.
. . .
Our team had been playing together for years. Every afternoon throughout those seemingly endless summers, weather permitting, we’d assemble out at Lambert’s Field on the outskirts of our little cottage community along Pine Lake. There were usually about a dozen of us, so we’d play five or six aside for a couple of hours until either it got too hot or the ball got hopelessly lost in the surrounding bush. We used scraps of plywood for bases and parked our bikes in a cluster behind home plate to serve as a semi-effective backstop. I usually pitched or played first base, Clayton could be counted on to stop anything hit between second and third, and James was always the catcher because he owned all the equipment and refused to share. He also loved to distract the batter with a barrage of wisecracks and insults. Some of the younger kids, like Peter Rabbit Corey and Frenchy Blanchard, were usually picked last and sent to the outfield, where they could do the least damage.
All in all, we were pretty good, but we were dying to play on a real diamond with chalk baselines and an infield that didn’t have a treacherous rabbit hole behind second base, where a simple Texas Leaguer could result in a trip up to the emergency room at Ste Agathe General.
Most days we had an umpire too. Uncle Charlie wasn’t related to any of us, but since he was in his mid-twenties — too young to be called Mr MacGregor but enough of an adult that calling him by his first name alone still seemed inappropriate — Uncle Charlie sounded right. He was a fat, sweaty guy with short, greasy hair and a high voice, but he could call balls, strikes, safes and outs with all the dramatic authority of the big-league umps we saw on TV. He knew the rulebook inside out and was always fair — often frustratingly so — in all his calls.
Uncle Charlie was the only child of Alexander MacGregor, a red-faced, arthritic old Scotsman whose explosive temper was matched only by his colourful vocabulary of obscenities. The senior MacGregor was an original settler on the lake, having spotted a sweet land deal as a young immigrant working on the Canadian Pacific Railway tracks that ran past our cottages. As a result, the MacGregor place stood on a prime piece of real estate with a view of steep green mountains on one side and sparkling blue water on the other. Having married late in life, Alexander found himself with a son nearly sixty years his junior. None of us ever knew Uncle Charlie’s mother. Some say she died, but my father always said she probably got one look at Charlie and took off back to the Highlands.
Uncle Charlie was the only child of Alexander MacGregor, a red-faced, arthritic old Scotsman whose explosive temper was matched only by his colourful vocabulary of obscenities.
. . .
The second batter I faced was a younger kid who couldn’t have been more than four feet tall, not much more than the Louisville Slugger he swung menacingly.
“Easy out, easy out!” Clayton chattered behind me as I wound up and threw. On anyone else it would have been a perfect strike, but this kid was so short that his strike zone was only about a square foot. Ball one. James called for another fastball, but that only got the same result. Ball two. The kid didn’t even bother to swing now. He knew he was going to walk. Two pitches later, that’s exactly what he did.
Uncle Charlie called time and came out to the mound. I could tell he was upset, but he tried to smile anyway. “How are you feeling?”
“I feel like shit. What have you gotten us into here?” I shot back, hoping he’d get pissed off and take the ball from me.
“Don’t worry, it’s only the bottom of the first. These Joes aren’t so hot.”
“Hot?!” I cried. “That huge first baseman one-handed one over the fence during their batting practice. We’re gonna get slaughtered here!”
“Just take it easy and do your best,” Uncle Charlie said through gritted teeth as he started back to the dugout.
. . .
Looking back, it couldn’t have been easy for Charlie. Alexander was more like a grandfather to him, and a very abusive one at that. My earliest memory of them was passing their place on my tricycle and seeing Charlie, who couldn’t have been more than sixteen at the time, balancing on the top of a ladder near the roof of their cottage. The old man stood on the ground below, swinging his cane in frustration and cursing at the top of his lungs in a high-pitched voice that sounded like a brace of bagpipes.
“Hurry up, ye stupid li’l bastarrd!”
“But I can’t get it, Dad!” Charlie pleaded, grunting as he tried to clear a soggy mess of dead pine needles from the rusty gutter, his belly jiggling and his white skin all shiny wet under the hot sun.
“Yer bloody useless!” Alexander screamed, swatting his cane at his son’s feet on the ladder. Charlie whimpered as he tried to keep from falling.
That was pretty much the way it as for him all the time. When he wasn’t over at Lambert’s Field umping our ballgames, Uncle Charlie was kept busy running errands and taking care of his old man. He did all the chores around the place, went grocery shopping in St. Ozias, and twice a week drove to the liquor commission in Ste Agathe to pick up a bottle of Alexander’s favourite whisky.
When everyone else his age was turning on to the hippie scene, wandering around the lake all long-haired and barefoot, in ragged jeans and love beads, Uncle Charlie kept his crewcut neatly greased and continued to wear his usual polyester slacks and stiff white T-shirts with permanent sweat stains under each armpit. At night, while the beach was alive with young people drinking beer and smoking dope around a bonfire beneath the big cedar up near the fence, with a transistor radio blasting the Doors and Rolling Stones, he would be sitting out on his front porch with his father’s old-fashioned round-top radio, listening through the static to Russ Taylor and Dave Van Horne’s play-by-play of the fledgling Expos live from Jarry Park.
Uncle Charlie lived for baseball. He could recite a mind-boggling stream of statistics off the top of his head and talk for hours about players who’d retired or died long before he was born. From Rogers Hornsby and Ty Cobb to Hank Aaron and Willie Mays, he knew all the batting averages, ERA’s and team records. Of course this made him the best umpire we could possibly hope for.
. . .
Thirty minutes into the bottom of the first inning, I was still on the mound. To say I was fading fast wasn’t just an understatement, it was a joke. Every batter I’d faced so far had either walked or belted a homer. By the time their pitcher came up at the bottom of the order, we were down 8-0 with nobody out. The home crowd was bubbling over with excitement, sensing the impending slaughter we’d resigned ourselves to the minute we stepped onto the field.
I looked over at Uncle Charlie in our dugout, and he gave me the sign to walk the guy intentionally. I couldn’t believe it! He probably would have walked anyhow, so I shrugged and obeyed. To a chorus of catcalls and chicken squawks from the opponents’ bench, I lobbed a few wide of the plate in a dubious attempt to save what little dignity I had left.
It turned out to be a good call on Uncle Charlie’s part, because that batter ended up as our first out of the game. After dancing to first, he promptly stole second on my next wild pitch and proceeded to take an insultingly big lead. He got so wrapped up in taunting me with raspberries and French gibberish that he tripped over his cleats when I whirled around and threw to Clayton waiting at the bag. That helped to quiet the crowd a bit, but they were back on their feet seconds later when their hawk-nosed lead-off hitter knocked my first pitch into the forest beyond the right field fence.
Before I knew it, Uncle Charlie was on his way out to the mound again. This time he was pretty abrupt. “What the fuck’s wrong with you? You can fan three guys in a row back in Lambert’s Field but you can’t even throw one goddamned strike here!”
“This isn’t Lambert’s Field,” was all I could say, a bit stunned at seeing him so mad for the first time.
He kicked the loose dirt on the mound and looked around pensively.
“Take me out,” I said. “Clayton can pitch…”
“Peter Rabbit Corey can pitch better than you!” he snarled, jerking his head toward the tiny figure sitting down on his glove in deep left, sifting blades of grass through his fingers. With that he turned and stormed back to the dugout. When he got inside, he picked up a bat and slammed it against the wall.
. . .
The big change in Uncle Charlie occurred the previous winter, taking us all by surprise when we arrived up at the lake that St. Jean Baptiste weekend. Our excitement after ten long months of school was temporarily dampened by the news that Alexander had passed away shortly before Christmas. Our parents were all gathered on the dirt road in front of the MacGregor place, shaking their heads and trying to find something nice to say about the old man, when there came the roar of a souped-up car engine. The crowd parted as Uncle Charlie pulled up in a cherry-red Mustang convertible with heavy rock music blasting from oversized speakers. He hopped out wearing a pair of faded jeans and a Black Sabbath T-shirt. Not only had he lost an amazing amount of weight, but his hair had grown into a shaggy mane complete with bushy sideburns. He laughed confidently as everyone gasped. “It’s really me!” he cried as he pulled off his mirror sunglasses, then topped off the effect by lighting a cigarette.
The crowd parted as Uncle Charlie pulled up in a cherry-red Mustang convertible with heavy rock music blasting from oversized speakers. He hopped out wearing a pair of faded jeans and a Black Sabbath T-shirt.
“We should be happy for him,” my father said that night over supper. “The old man’s death is the best thing that could’ve happened to that kid.”
Everyone was happy for Uncle Charlie — except us. With his new hip personality, he could no longer ump our ballgames. It just wasn’t cool for him to be seen calling balls and strikes or rolling around on the grass with a bunch of kids. Besides, he’d taken on a big project that took up all this time — renovating the old cottage he’d inherited. Soon the whole property was cluttered with growing heaps of old wood, neat piles of fresh lumber, sacks of cement, and all kinds of power tools. The sound of hammering and the piercing shriek of a circular saw could be heard all the way over in Lambert’s Field, serving as a constant reminder that we’d been abandoned.
My father, who knew a bit about support beams and two-by-fours, got into the habit of spending long afternoons over at Uncle Charlie’s, drinking beer and giving him a hand with the big project. He’d always come home shaking his head. “Dumb kid,” he’d mutter. “In way over his head.”
From overhearing my parents talking about it here and there, I learned that Uncle Charlie was full of elaborate plans to transform his simple country cottage into a hip bachelor pad where he could seduce the succession of beautiful women he’d bring up from the city in his flashy car for romantic weekends. The only problem was that he had no blueprints or any idea whatsoever of how to proceed. Against my father’s advice, he would demolish a wall, then change his mind and try putting it back. To make matters worse, everyone knew he stood as much of a chance of seducing a beautiful woman as I did — only I was twelve.
But he was determined to see his dream come true. Every couple of days a truck from J.J. Millette’s hardware in St. Ozias would pull up at the MacGregor place and unload more and more construction materials. “He must be running up one hell of a bill with that Millette sonofabitch,” my father would say whenever he saw the truck.
J.J. Millette practically owned St Ozias outright. Not only was he the town’s main employer with a modern supermarket, a hardware store and adjoining lumber yard, the Pine Lake Hotel and a bustling real estate business, he was also the mayor, the local MP, the postmaster and the manager of the little-league baseball team that was now in the process of humiliating us. My father said he was the biggest frog in a very small pond. Although rumour had it that Millette was the most notorious separatist in the Laurentians, he was always polite to us whenever we would run into him along the Rue Principale.
. . .
Right now J.J. Millette was sitting quietly in the home team’s dugout, all decked out in the same clean blue and gold uniform the boys were wearing, his company logo proudly emblazoned across the chest. From out on the mound I could see his perfect white teeth and slick grey hair.
The scoreboard had us down by twenty-two points, still in the bottom of the first with only one out. I glanced over at Uncle Charlie, who was pacing in our dugout with his head down. As the next batter stepped in, I couldn’t remember if this was the third or fourth time I’d faced him. But then, it didn’t matter. It was a nightmare. James had long since given up calling for pitches — now he just put up his mitt and hoped for the best. I kicked and delivered, and sure enough the next thing I saw was Peter Rabbit Corey tossing his glove into the air as the ball sailed way over his head.
. . .
Uncle Charlie’s obsession with his fancy love nest continued throughout most of the summer. He’d get up at dawn and be hammering and sawing all day, with or without my father’s help, until it got dark. Then he’s hop into his Mustang and roar around the lake to Millette’s hotel, where he’d sit in the Petit Voyageur Lounge until closing time.
Meanwhile, Lambert’s Field had been turned into a daily battleground where a shouting match or all-out fistfight was sure to break out every time someone checked his swing or slid into a close play at the plate. Finally, fed up with the chaos and bruises, Clayton and I took it upon ourselves to pay Uncle Charlie a visit to urge him to ump at least one of our games, if just for old times’ sake.
We found him on his front porch, tearing out some musty planks his father had carefully nailed in about fifty years earlier. “I don’t know, fellas,” he said when we put the big question to him. “I’m going to be pretty busy around here… You guys want to see the rest of the place?”
Defeated, Clayton and I looked at each other and shrugged. Why not? We followed him inside and he led us from room to room — or at least what was left of them. This was the first time we’d ever been inside the house, probably because old Alexander would never have stood for a bunch of loud kids tramping through his living room. The place was dark and practically empty. What few walls remained were bare, with wires jutting out from jagged holes and extension cords running all over the filthy floor. Everything smelled of sawdust and mothballs.
“Just wait till you see this place when I’m finished,” Uncle Charlie said when he saw our blank expressions.
“You mean like this?” I asked, pointing to an open magazine centerfold on the table. A nude woman was reclined across a bearskin rug in front of a rustic stone fireplace.
Clayton squealed with joy and turned the page. The same woman was now in a black marble bathtub with bubbles up to her neck, surrounded on all sides by mirrors. In the next shot, she sat naked on a barstool, holding a wine glass to her red lips and leaning against the bar seductively.
Uncle Charlie snatched the magazine away and rolled it up. “You get the idea,” he said quickly, his face burning red.
We got the idea alright. As we struggled to keep straight faces, he pointed to the empty wall where the fireplace was going to be, and the corner that would soon be dominated by a well-stocked, curved bar. Then he showed us the tiny bathroom that he was going to expand and install a sunk-in tub big enough for two. He said he still wasn’t sure if he was going to cover the walls and ceilings with mirrors, but that would come later anyway.
The weeks passed and the Millette truck kept showing up with more and more pieces of Uncle Charlie’s dream house. We’d long since resigned ourselves to wild afternoons of ump-less anarchy, until one day towards the end of August he surprised us by strolling out to Lambert’s Field. He casually took his old place behind home plate and called the rest of the inning, then waved us all in to make an announcement.
“How’d you guys like to play against the St Ozias team next Saturday night?” he asked, figuring we’d jump at the chance. “I was talking to Mr Millette at the hotel last night and we agreed to get a friendly game together. Whattya say?”
“They’ll smear us,” James said, pulling off his mask.
“I doubt that very much. I’ve seen them play and I think you guys have a fifty-fifty chance of whipping their asses.”
Of course that was all we needed to hear. There was nothing to lose — or so we thought — so what the hell? We’d all heard about the St Ozias Super Etoiles, which consisted of a dozen hearty farm kids our age who had little to do all day but practice — so it wasn’t surprising that they’d been all-Laurentian champs every year. They played on a full-sized field with dugouts, lights, official bases, a twenty-foot backstop, and a grandstand that could accommodate more than a hundred spectators. Beneath the seats was a concession stand that sold chips and Coke. It was no Jarry Park, to be sure, but compared to Lambert’s Field it was the Houston Astrodome. Sometimes, while fishing at night, we’d hear broken snippets of the distant loudspeaker drifting across the quiet lake.
But Uncle Charlie quickly put a damper on our excitement, pointing out that we had a lot of hard work ahead of us if we were going to beat them. He put his big renovation project on hold and spent the next few days working us out. From nine in the morning until six at night, with only two hours off for lunch and a swim in the lake, we went through baseball hell. Uncle Charlie would stand at home plate with a bat and a box of new balls, hitting towering pops and sizzling grounders at us. He made us do push-ups and sit-ups, run laps around Lambert’s Field, practice double plays and rundowns, and every other exercise he could think of.
“What the hell do you think we are — Marines?” James shouted from the outfield during one particularly gruelling session. “This is like goddamn boot camp!”
Uncle Charlie responded by narrowing his sweaty face into a scowl and whacking the ball even harder. “Shut up and work, work, work!”
Finally, by Friday afternoon, we were in tip-top condition — rock hard and eager to take on anybody. We ended with a quick practice game, and once we’d perfected that professional touch of whipping the ball around the bases after each strikeout, Uncle Charlie held up his hands and pronounced us ready. He invited us back to his place and handed out Cokes all around. “You could’ve at least sprung for beer after all that,” James said.
Fighting back butterflies, we all assembled at the St Ozias ballpark early the next evening while it was still deserted. Since the Pine Lake Expos didn’t have uniforms — we didn’t even have a name until that morning — Uncle Charlie had us all wear white T-shirts and jeans. We spent an hour tossing the ball around, warming up and trying to get used to our magnificent surroundings. Later, as Uncle Charlie was giving us a passionate pep talk in our dugout, the local groundskeeper showed up with a snorting old Clydesdale and they proceeded to drag some antique farm implement up and down the infield to smooth out the playing surface. People began arriving, some with picnic baskets, others with blue-and-gold banners and noisemakers. We sat on our bench in nervous silence, watching the chalk dispenser being wheeled down each baseline. The big lights flickered on, the PA system was tested, and finally our opponents started filtering into their dugout amidst much laughter and horseplay.
To a tremendous round of applause from the grandstand, the Super Etoiles took the field in an impressive blaze of blue and gold. The ball flew around the diamond like lightning while a twangy French country and western song crackled over the loudspeaker. Once they’d warmed up a bit, our opponents began showing off like some kind of young Harlem Globetrotters — catching pops behind their backs and throwing clear across the infield with a quick flip under their thighs. Clayton nearly choked on his Coke when he saw their shortstop catch a hot grounder by letting it roll up his leg. They juggled, bounced the ball off their elbows, and performed a whole repertoire of tricks — much to the delight of the hometown crowd.
Once they’d warmed up a bit, our opponents began showing off like some kind of young Harlem Globetrotters — catching pops behind their backs and throwing clear across the infield with a quick flip under their thighs.
But somehow Uncle Charlie appeared unimpressed. While I was considering faking some sudden, serious illness and making it back to the lake in time for the bass to start biting, he clapped his hands and patted our backs. “Let’s just see what they can do in a real game,” he said before trotting out to home plate to shake hands with J.J. Millette and give the heavily padded umpire our starting lineup.
Since we were the visiting team, we got to bat first. They announced Clayton’s name over the PA, pronouncing it as if English were as foreign as Swahili, and he took his place in the freshly chalked batter’s box while I tried to keep my knees from knocking together in the on-deck circle. The pitcher, a kid our age with bulging biceps and an old-fashioned pompadour haircut, wound up and threw one past Clayton so fast that we all thought the guy was kidding around and had faked it — until we heard the loud smack of the ball in the catcher’s mitt. The umpire called the first strike with more flair and theatrics than Uncle Charlie could ever have managed, and a great cheer went up from the crowd. Two more identical pitches followed, and Clayton was on his way back to the dugout. As we passed, he looked at me as if he were about to puke.
I was determined to swing for the fence on the very first pitch, but I jumped back when I saw the flash of white coming high and very inside. Through some miracle of physics, the ball ended up crossing the plate at waist level. Strike one.
I looked hopefully at the dugout for some reassuring sign from Uncle Charlie, but he was too busy pacing with his head down. The next pitch came zooming in right at my head. I hit the deck, not wanting to spend the rest of my life wearing a bib, but when the dust cleared the ball was in the catcher’s mitt right where he’d placed it. Strike two.
As the pitcher wound up to finish me off, I made up my mind to swing blindly at anything. I did, and nearly pulled every muscle in my upper body as the bat cut through the air a good foot away from the ducking and weaving ball. The crowd went wild and the umpire did a little dance before jerking a pudgy thumb in the air. Passing James on my way back to the dugout, I expected some witty barbed remark, but for once he was silent.
Uncle Charlie came alive at this point. “C’mon Jimmy-boy!” he shouted, clapping and leaning on the top stair. “Aim for the fence!” He pointed at the outfield wall, which was really one long billboard advertising local businesses — with J.J. Millette’s name featured prominently — a full two lengths of Lambert’s Field away. James just looked back at him and rolled his eyes.
Three more lightning pitches and I was on my way out to the mound. The umpire tossed me the ball, which was still pure white since it hadn’t touched the ground yet. My initial warm-up pitches went well, but as soon as their lead-off batter stepped in to a rousing introduction and a standing ovation, everything I had went out the window.
. . .
So there I was, nearly an hour later, still in the bottom of the first inning with only one out and the score so wildly out of control that the kid operating the scoreboard had taken to placing the second digit into the slot reserved for the next inning. Uncle Charlie came out to me again, something he’d done so often by now that I thought they would have to call back the Clydesdale to smooth out the rut he’d made between our dugout and the mound.
His Grateful Dead T-shirt was drenched with sweat and he twitched uncontrollably. He’d been smoking so much that I could actually smell him coming before he even crossed the baseline. He didn’t say a word at first. Instead, he just looked around hopelessly and shook himself on one leg.
“Take me out,” I urged. “My arm’s killing me.” This was true enough — after throwing with all my might for so long, my whole right side felt like it was about to fall off.
“To hell with it,” Uncle Charlie muttered, his eyes flashing on Millette in the other dugout.
“Why don’t we just call it? It’s only a game.”
He looked at me, clenching his fists. “Sure,” he snarled. “It’s only a fucking game.” With that, he put his head down and staggered off the field.
When the ump signalled me to continue, I wound up and winced. By now I was just lobbing them in, having long since given up hoping for the best. Another one sailed out of the park.
Just then we heard the slam of a car door out in the parking lot beyond the grandstand. As a souped-up engine roared to life, I looked over and saw our dugout empty — and Uncle Charlie’s Mustang shoot out from the row of cars with the scream of tires and a spray of gravel. We all looked at each other as the red taillights disappeared behind the trees, feeling abandoned all over again and more humiliated than ever. There was nothing left to do but call time.
Mercifully, J.J. Millette emerged from his dugout and spoke briefly to the umpire, who threw up his hands and declared the game over. Without bothering to glance at the scoreboard, we all tried to run off the field and get to our bikes as fast as we could — but Millette purposely blocked our way at the gate by the backstop. The Super Etoiles poured out of their dugout and surrounded us.
“Oh shit,” Clayton muttered.
“They’ll fucking kill us,” James groaned, slipping his catcher’s mask back on.
But the St Ozias players were smiling. They insisted on shaking our hands, and Mr Millette patted me on the shoulder. They were pretty cool about the whole thing, as it turned out, a few players saying in sincere if badly broken English that they had enjoyed playing with us.
“Yeah,” James replied. “I’m sure we helped you set a few records tonight!”
They herded us over to the concession stand, where Millette bought us all Cokes and chips. “Be sure to tell your parents that if you guys want to join our league next summer, we would be very happy to have you,” he said with no trace of a French accent.The next morning a few of us went over to Uncle Charlie’s, not sure if we were going to apologize for letting him down or demand an apology for his taking off on us. We found the place deserted. There were still piles of lumber and cement bags everywhere, but all his power tools were gone, along with his deck chairs and other personal things. The front door was wide open, so we went inside calling his name. Uncle Charlie’s clothes, stereo, food, and dirty magazines were all gone, leaving just the half-finished walls and the lingering smell of sawdust and mothballs.
That afternoon, the Millette truck backed right up onto the MacGregor property and workmen removed all the unused construction materials. They came back an hour later and carted away all the loose junk. The fridge, the woodstove — everything inside was hauled out and loaded up. When they showed up a third time, the workmen brought their own power tools and a bulldozer. They began demolishing the cottage piece by piece. We all stood out on the road, watching in disbelief as Uncle Charlie’s place was quickly and efficiently reduced to a mountain of rubble. The last thing to go was the old country mailbox with a faded A. MAC GREGOR hand-painted on the rusted tin. One of the workmen seemed to take cruel pleasure in kicking it until the wooden post snapped at the base.
When the Labour Day weekend rolled around a few days later, I helped my parents with the annual ritual of closing up our cottage and loading the car. We stopped as we passed the MacGregor place. The entire property as now one big empty lot, neatly cleared of any trace of old Alexander and Uncle Charlie. The only movement came from a yellow À VENDRE sign swinging in the early September breeze, urging any interested buyer to contact J.J. Millette in St Ozias.
My father sat quietly behind the wheel for a while, grinding his teeth. Then he stepped down hard on the gas, and with a squeal of tires we continued on our way toward another long winter.
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