Alex and Betty Kinnear at the house on the hill- 1947.
Last week I walked over the Virgelle Sandstone ridge that my present house is set up against to revisit the old house I grew up in on the other side of the hill. The Virgelle is the same sandstone that forms the step at Lundbreck Falls and remarkably is fault repeated here in Coleman with the highway cutting right through it. I grew up playing on the hill above my old house, one that has probably the finest panorama view of the Pass that one can find. To the west is the Flathead Range in all its splendour, to the south Bushtown is spread out below and to the east the view is unobstructed all the way to East Blairmore.
Marion Amell has lived in the house since we left it in 1959 and she and I shared some wonderful stories that day of living on this remarkable piece of real estate. As we sat and talked and looked out her kitchen window west over the town the stories came back to me of some hilarious misadventures at the hill house.
The first memory to come to mind involved the old clothes line that ran south from the house to the edge of the hill towards Bushtown. The story goes that Mom had told my sister Betty they were going out for a few hours and that it would be nice if the house got a good cleaning. Betty set about scrubbing and polishing and when she was done picked a bouquet of wild honeysuckle from the hill pulled down a red ruby vase (wedding gift) and filled it with water. Enter then my brother Alex who walks in and notices an assortment of bills floating in the vase's water. Alex sent my sister into a panic by saying, "the dye will run and the money will be useless". At that time, miners were paid in cash, so the bills in the vase represented my fathers salary, no small matter! It was then that he hatched a plan that the money should be dried as quickly as possible and that could be achieved by hanging them out on the clothes line. This they did using double clothes pegs on each bill and Alex was given the job of watching this currency display on probably one of the windiest places to live in Coleman. As it was getting near dark Betty brought him a pillow, blanket and a flashlight which he played back and forth across the line of bills.
As dusk settled in our Uncle Bobby Blake dropped by for a visit and decided that he should call Mom and Dad (Marie and John) and tell them what was going on! What I would have given to be there to see my mother's face!
As I said, the clothes line hung from the most prominent windswept spot in Coleman but boy could you dry clothes on it. On one occasion Marie had hung my father's coveralls on the line by the shoulders and was just finishing up the hanging when she turned and was met by the spectre of those coveralls brought to life by the wind with arms and legs flailing about. She let out a blood curdling scream and ran into the house in terror.
That same clothes line played a role in another mishap on the hill that involved the infamous July 1st celebration in town.
Back in the early fifties this was the place to be that weekend with a full blown circuit rodeo, massive parade, hose laying competition and a big Saturday night dance at the old Crystal arena downtown. The arena still stands today and at one time was one of the largest indoor arenas in Alberta and a proud accomplishment for a small town like Coleman.
All the festivities that weekend were set to wrap up that Saturday night at the Crystal and were to start with a spectacular (for its time) fireworks display. My father, who was town foreman at the time, had been given the go ahead by the local town council to spend an unprecedented $1000 on the display. Given that we lived in the absolute perfect spot for setting off pyrotechnics he decided to set up the launch tubes in our yard, directing them towards the Crystal. I recall helping set the tubes in the ground at a slight angle and the excitement for this small town boy that day was almost overwhelming.
So when dusk finally came that night and the huge crowd stood outside the arena with a pipe band playing and dozens of fire fighter teams lined up in anticipation, my father stepped up to the first launch tube. It seems though that dad had neglected to check the flight path of that first mortar of color and when it was touched off it took the clothes line, pulleys and all, up into the air with it and showered the yard and hillside in sparks. The laughing from far below was audible to my stunned father and I as we stood in our now brightly lit hill house yard!
Directly below this clothesline a couple of years later I helped my father dig a cesspool. One of those rock lined sewage storage holes that mercifully and hopefully have long since been filled in throughout the Pass. Before sewer lines they were the order of the day and most were covered with wooden platforms and had some sort of drain pipe off the top of them. Yikes!
At any rate our cesspool seemed to not be working very well a couple years later and my father who was always one to be innovative decided that what it needed was a good stirring up. Given that he still had his mine fire boss ticket and was very familiar with explosives he opted to use a quarter stick of dynamite on a long stick to massage, so to speak, this contrary pit of sludge. This event occurred in 1957 the year that the Russians had launched the first ever satellite into space. Back then the skies were not cursed with dozens of moving lights and that amazing satellite could be spotted in the sky at night as it sped over the Pass beeping its way around the earth. Things did not go that well for the cesspool stimulation that day and my mother was wont to say some years later: "The Russians had sputnik that year and we had shitnik".