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“You Just Might Have To Hardnose The Highway”

Posted by Somebody's Mother on 4:51 PM
On the way to the shopping centre today, I put on Van Morrison’s album, Hardnose the Highway on the car stereo. As the chorus came in on Snow in San Anselmo, I was instantly transported back to our living room in Lachine in the 1970’s. You were in it as soon as you opened the door. Five steps later, you’d be in our kitchen with the oil furnace to your left and the stairs going up to the bedroom and bathroom. On cold days, I’d have my coat off and I would practically hug the furnace with my dog, Shy-Ann, at my heels and three other cats meowing for food or an open door to get back out of the house.

Hardnose the Highway brings back my university days when Richard worked at the furniture factory next door and I would take the 191 and 78 buses to McGill, working on my B.A. in Sociology. On warm days, we would drink our coffee on our front steps and feud with the new neighbour across the street who had the audacity to cut down all the beautiful lilac trees that old Mrs. Murray kept by the white picket fence.

Our original neighbour, Mrs. Murray, was the quintessential sweet little old lady who had a romantic and old fashioned garden in her backyard and who fed every cat in the neighbourhood, including ours. We could barely keep them home. Her yard was like a scene from a 1940s movie. Mrs. Murray sold the place and our new neighbour was an extremely obese woman with a very ugly and perpetually barking Chihuahua. Her sons tore down the lilac trees and parked their cars which were the size of great whacking boats on the lawn. Along with her excessive weight, this woman distinguished herself by yelling out in the whiniest of tones “Taber-n-a-a-a-c!” at all times of day or night. It didn’t take long for us to imitate her.

Needless to say, she and her family had done everything possible to make us detest them but we kept our distance. It was a small dead end street and life could be made much worse by fighting with the people who live right across from you. Dogs and cats, however, have very different ideas when it comes to neighbourly relations. The animal kingdom knows nothing about mutual tolerance. The first conflict arose when our street-wise cat, Peg-Leg was hanging out on a summer day…and now the story is put on hold as I give you a description of the inimitable Peg-Leg.

Peg-Leg moved in with Richard as a kitten and it was weeks before I met the two of them. He had one paw in which he couldn’t control his claws. When he walked on carpet, you would hear pad-pad-pad-rip and that rip would be poor Peg-Leg pulling his claws out of the threads of the carpet. He had been in innumerable cat fights so that his face was a mass of scars and his ears were completely chewed up. He was very affectionate with people and I have seen quite a few of my friends taken aback when this massively ugly black cat jumped in his or her lap and began to purr loudly with much mucous resonating in his nose. Repulsion was the most usual reaction. Richard and I adored that cat and though we have had many wonderful cats over the last twenty-five years, Peg-Leg was a standout for his heroic personality.

So back to that summer day in what might be 1975 or ’76. Peg-Leg strayed out into the middle of the street with a kind of lazy I-own-the-street swagger. All of a sudden the neighbour’s Chihuahua zipped out of their yard after Peg-Leg. That’s when our dog Shy-Ann sprang into action. Shy-Ann was a small German Shepherd mix and towered over the little mongrel. She grabbed the Chihuahua by the neck and began to shake him left and right so that the Chihuahua was swinging in the air. She shook him like a dirty wet rag. Peg-Leg escaped unharmed.

The usual “Taber-na-a-ac” rang out from her neighbour with a torrent of curses and threats to call the police. Richard quickly broke up the dog fight but our gargantuan neighbour continued to abuse him. Well! We gave back as good as she did and we threatened to call the police because her dog attacked our cat. Anybody who was around was out on the street watching the show. It was like being back in New York City!!

Finally, both sides retreated to their respective porches with their respective pets none the worse for wear. The stony silence remained and within another year, we packed up and went off to Europe and one of our friends bought the house that we rented and the adjoining one too, turning it into a sprawling home.

It takes only a few lines of Van Morrison’s Snow in San Anselmo to make me think of those days when we were in our twenties and our life seemed to be stretching out before us. Some people say that scent revives memory. Agatha Christie used that device in her mysteries all the time but for me, it’s music. Play a certain album and the movie replays in my mind. It’s a blessing and unfortunately, it’s a curse too.

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