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  Ellen Davignon: Lives of Quiet Desperation

“Goin’ to the Ronny-Boo…”

February 15, 2003

“…and Chris says that anyone who goes ‘on the floor’ at all, must be wearing a Rendezvous costume.”

“Yeah but, I work mostly with the freight, Jan, so I that wouldn’t apply to me, would it?  Those couple times I answer the bell in Special Orders wouldn’t count as being ‘on the floor’, would they?”  My question was rhetorical, I was pretty confident I didn’t have to go out and rent a costume for the coming week of festivities.  Jeez, that’s all I need, I thought, to be throwing freight around, pulling books, hoiking parcels up for mailing, emptying trash, all the while dressed up like a dog’s breakfast.

“Oh yes, Ellen, you too.  All the rest have to.  And  so do you.”

“But gee, I’m hardly…”

Jan cut me off in mid-whine.  “You’re here on Rendezvous Monday in costume.  Chris says everyone and that means no exceptions.”

I subsided, sulking as I rifled through my stockpile, looking for the perfect box for the order I was shipping.  Boy, talk about sartorial harassment, first my beloved baggy old jeans had to go and now this.  I brightened.  Hey, no one had said I had to gussy up in a dress; maybe I could come in shoe packs and a parka.   Yeah, right.   Can’t even wear my favourite jeans, boots and a beat up miner’s outfit would make me REAL popular with the boss.  Ah well, s’gotta be, s’gotta be… being duded up with few feathers and a bit of lace won’t be the end of the world and besides, if we’re all dressed up, what the heck, it’ll be kind of fun….

And that got me thinking of a long time ago when we lived at Johnson’s Crossing.  We didn’t often get  to come to town for the Rendezvous, not because it was so busy, just that we didn’t have enough help in the winter to fill in if we were away.  But we did participate, in a manner of speaking, following the contests on the radio and listening to the dog races.  I’d make a big pot of clam chowder and we’d sit around the kitchen table slurping it down as Pam Buckway and Terry Delaney and Ron McFadyen took us out on the trail and gave us a blow by blow description of the teams as they came into view down river by the dump and again as they rounded the corner down below the old Yukon Laundry and baled into the home stretch.  They made it sound so real and so exciting, we didn’t feel we were missing a thing. 

At least some of us didn’t.

Several of the younger members of our little group were not that captivated by the CBC commentators and spent Rendezvous week in a fretful state, agitating to go town to watch their friend Joe Loutchan win the fiddle contest, maybe get dressed up and go see the Cancan dancers and the crowning of the Queen.  One year, all the stars and constellations were in a proper configuration, the weather was a balmy 15 degrees F. and my parents in an expansive frame of mind.  Late Friday afternoon my father called from their home in Whitehorse. “Get the kids ready, we’re coming out to get them and bring them to town for the weekend.”

Toby and Jo came down in record time,  packed and rarin’ to go.  Their younger sister, Lise, took a little longer and when she finally made an appearance, she arrived in full dress-up regalia, complete with her Granny’s musty old muskrat muff, a swath of grimy tulle wrapped around her narrow shoulders and a bedraggled turquoise ostrich feather wedged behind her ear.  “Whoa Nellie!” exclaimed her Dad with a grin. “And where do you think you’re going, all dressed up like that?”

Lise answered Phil’s grin with a delighted little giggle of her own.  “Well, doncha know?  Granny and Grampa are coming to get us and this what you wear when you’re goin’ to the Ronny-boo!”

That was the same year that my father decided to go all out for the occasion.

My parents, Bob and Elly Porsild, loved a good party and to them, the Sourdough Rendezvous week was a great excuse to get out and have a good time. They were front and center for the Flour Packing and Corporate Challenge, took in the Queen’s tea and the Fiddle Contest, the dog races and the One-Dog Pull.  Ma, dressed in a turn-of-the-century costume, sold tickets, handed out brochures and helped out in the concession stands.  Dad let his  lent his presence, stature, and strong right arm where ever it was needed, his usual concession to the style of the day a black Derby tipped elegantly over one blue eye.

But that year, in addition to the Derby, Dad sported a beard and moustache.  Neatly trimmed.  Tidily clipped to follow the contour of his long upper lip.  And a lovely rose pink, to match the hair on his head, but with some darker rosettes.  Very fetching. 

The thing was, of course, that over the years, the thick auburn curls of Dad’s youth had thinned considerably and faded, leaving a rim and small top thatch that was well-combed for maximum, if limited, coverage, of purest silver.  Unfortunately, his beard had not aged as evenly and had grown in a variety of colours, rust and white and orange, much like a patchwork quilt. Dad had been somewhat less than pleased with the overall effect but Ma had convinced him to leave it.  “It’s fine, Bubi,” she told him.  “You look like you did when you were a boy.”  She laughed, kissed him, and hurried off to help at the Rendezvous office, leaving Dad glowering at the image in his shaving mirror.

Now, my father was impulsive and intrepid man, his motto a line from the love theme of the old movie State Fair: “I know what I like and I liked what I saw and I said to myself: That’s for me!”

And once he got an idea into his head, it was pretty much a given that he would not rest until he had pursued it down all the avenues open to him. 

So it was that fifteen minutes after my mother left the house that morning, so did my Dad, the light of adventure in his eye, headed for the drugstore.

“I need a package of dye,” he informed the young clerk.

“Certainly sir.  Here we have a great variety of colours, which would you like?”

My colour-blind father regarded the chart that she handed him.   “Red,” he told her. 

“It’s red,” he told my mother later as she stared at him in shock. 

Ma picked up the small box that read Rit on the front.  “You used this, Bubi?  But it’s clothing dye, how did you….?”  Her voice faded at she regarded her unrepentant husband, the one with the lovely pink hair.  “Well, it said to use boiling water and of course I didn’t, I let it cool and then just poured it over and over.  And now look,” he said proudly, glancing at his mirror.  “Just like when I was a boy…”

After the Rendezvous was over, Dad shaved off the beard. Eventually, the colour washed out of his hair, Mom stopped walking two step behind him and resumed her place by his side and we all stopped privately referring to him as Pinky.  “He did look pretty rosy, though,” I chortled a short time later as I regarded a snapshot I’d taken when they had come to pick up the kids.  Lise came over to have a look.  “I liked the way he looked with his pretty hair.  And he like my muff and my oshtrich feather.”  She looked at the picture with obvious pleasure.  “Me and Grampa, we looked nice…”

So now, thirty-five years later, I’ve been over to Riverdale to visit the nice lady who rents out costumes and I’ve got a vest and a hat with feathers and a garter.  With my black slacks and a white shirt and my hair dyed close to its original colour, that will have to do.   Lise, on the other hand, will be all tricked out in green satin and braid and marabou feathers and big earrings and all that fun stuff.  For her, there was no discussion.  ‘Cause after all, doncha know?  That’s what you wear when you’re goin’ to the Ronny-boo…

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