Booze makes the heart grow fonder

Dear Uma; The book you so kindly mailed to me was much appreciated but, sorry to say, more for the gesture and intent than the tome itself.

Dear Uma;

The book you so kindly mailed to me was much appreciated but, sorry to say, more for the gesture and intent than the tome itself.

I tried, I really did, but I found it too much to chew.

To put it simply, the covers were too far apart for what is a fairly basic concept; it could’ve been said in an inch of book instead of three.

Maybe in the spring I’ll tackle it again, when I am not so immersed in the novelty of my surroundings.

Recently I had the good fortune to spend an afternoon in a local pub, or bar, as they are called here. What riches! Some of the best stories I’ve heard since I arrived, all courtesy of a talkative few (fueled by beer) who have lived here for a long, long time and have witnessed many changes in Watson Lake.

They were waxing nostalgic and I encouraged them with my rapt attention and willingness to pay for a round. Or three.

There is an old log hotel here (the Watson Lake Hotel; what else?) that’s been closed for years but in its heyday was the scene of local colour being painted into local legend.

It was staffed by a collection of profligate and wildly creative folk, and most of the local customers were their match and more from the tales I heard on this memorable afternoon.

The veracity of these stories need not concern us; just sit back and enjoy.

One of the daily occupants of a bar stool in the hotel’s pub was a fellow named Tom. 

Tom had made it his task to befriend and educate any of the numerous summertime tourists who wandered into the bar for a drink.

And Tom was friendly, especially in the evening when the liquor had accumulated in his system and brightened every aspect of his character.

Bus tours were the bread-and-butter business of the Watson Lake Hotel, and on this particular evening, two of the bar stools beside Tom were occupied by a couple of women from a tour.

In sitting at the bar, these two middle-aged, slightly stout females were declaring themselves in search of more in the way of northern adventure than the tour itself was offering and when Tom struck up a conversation with them, they were thrilled.

Their pleasure only intensified as Tom, white-haired and charming, regaled them with Yukon tales.

Tom’s pleasure in their appreciation of his efforts also intensified, and added to it was a deepening awareness of the fact that they were of the female persuasion.

In the midst of talk that now was about birds, he obviously felt he could take their burgeoning relationship to a more intimate plane when he declared, “This morning I had a hard on that would’ve hurt a chickadee’s feet to stand on it.”

I learned that in Watson Lake people don’t get drunk, their vehicles do. This is determined by noticing whose truck is in the parking lot early in the morning:

“I see that John’s truck got drunk at the Belvedere last night.”

Good to know they aren’t driving, isn’t it?

Most of the stories involved massive amounts of liquor, but some did not, and these two showed another side of the community – what gets talked about and remembered:

A cab driver here is known to perform acts of kindness and generosity, all without exhibiting any desire to be recognized or rewarded.

For instance, one of the First Nations elders was hospitalized for a lengthy time and the cabbie was seen to be leaving his room, with a guitar in hand.

He visited this man often, it was learned, to chat and play music for him. 

A local businessman rescued a young family whose vehicle had broken down. It was Christmas; nothing was open and the little family had little money.

Our local hero took them to his home where they were fed and warmed while he fixed their vehicle — all free of charge.

Then, the teasers:

A woman who reputedly saves her menstrual blood; no other information to accompany this startling bit, which was delivered in hushed tones.

No one at the table, when questioned, had the tiniest clue as to why she would do this, or what she might do with the savings.

An atmosphere of discomfort began to be felt; clearly this was one story they regretted telling.

I knew better than to ask why it was considered remarkable.

Another woman who thoroughly trashed a trailer interior thinking it was the home of her husband’s mistress.

It turned out to be the home of a young woman and her two small children, all arriving home just as the irate woman was taking the door off the hinges on her way out.

A dog who drove a truck into a building, taking out one of the railings at the entryway and coming perilously close to damaging a person standing there.

A dog starting a fire in the cab of a truck.

A woman scorned, revenging herself by throwing a gallon of paint all over the interior of the ex’s new truck. No one said what the repercussions were and I was not about to ask.

The Watson Lake Hotel was also the scene of an annual Academy Awards night. 

Everyone who was anyone would attend, suitably gowned and tuxedoed; the attendance was huge, not only for the sheer fun of it, but for the rare opportunity to get really, really dressed up.

In order to be eligible for a nomination, one had to have performed some remarkable act, almost always associated with the aforementioned massive amounts of booze.

A lot of the performances were general knowledge, but some were a surprise; a man and his mistress nominated for their passionate love affair — his wife was in the audience.

It sounded to me like a tremendous catharsis for the community.

I would’ve loved more details, but at this point the sanguine nature of the gathering began to climb into the inevitable next stage of drinking where each individual reveals intimacies about himself or herself regardless of the level of interest on the part of his or her fellow celebrants.

It is said that booze is for raising the temperature of the brain room and dope is for re-arranging the furniture.

This crowd, strictly on booze at this occasion, exemplified that with exchanges of undying love for each other ascending rapidly into lugubrious tales of personal disasters and daily tribulations mostly involving money or relationships, or both, and all confided loudly and passionately. 

No one was listening to anyone else any more and there were no more stories.

Following the tradition, world-wide, it seems, there would be a heated argument, possible feeble attempts at violence, followed by some weeping (there’s always a weeper), and coming full circle with hot remorse and renewed declarations of love for each other.

Being of a naturally serene and sunny disposition, I am made quite ill at ease when people get to this stage, and unless one is indulging to the same extent, it is very like being shot full of Novocain — numbingly boring.

I hung on for a while, imagining what it would have been like had everyone gotten stoned instead of drunk.

Ideally, neither state provides real joy; both substances are best utilized moderately.

With pot, the lack of ego can lead to such intricacies of imaginings!

There would be rapt attention to minutest detail, endless speculation on each minute detail, a vast profundity of thought, outbreaks of hysterical and inexplicable laughter, and of course — food.

That last thought precipitated my escape; I realized I had not eaten for hours and hours and Archie’s was not far away.

I was gratified to hear Jason enjoyed his visit with us as much as we did and my hope is that you and Andrew will also brave the cold and come to the Yukon in winter.



Heather Bennett is a writer who lives in Watson Lake.

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