By Herb Moore
Special to the Chronicle
It was a squeak-snow morning, you know the type. It was minus 30 something; the dry frozen snow squeaked at every step. The early morning rush was over; it was a chance for me to try and locate a customer much in arrears with his account. No one seemed to know his exact address. Just somewhere out by Canim Lake.
I left the store and walked out to the shop truck . . . squeak, squeak, squeak. This was a Monday morning, the truck had been sitting there since Friday, not plugged in. Will it start? Rurrr, rurrr, rurrah, roomf, ruff, ruff, ruff, much shaking, but it’s running.
Now to find this slow-to-pay fella. The road to Canim Lake leads through the Canim Lake Indian Reserve and I had just cleared the reserve when I saw two people walking along the road and as I approached a hand came out in the universal request for a lift.
As I drew alongside it was apparent that it was two native women, and I’m thinking they’re walking away from the reserve and it’s several miles to the next area of homes, it’s 30 below, what gives?
“Hi, thanks for stopping,” the younger one said as they got in the truck. “This is my grandmother, Alice, and I’m Pamela.”
“What are you two ladies doing out here on this cold morning?”
“We’re going to the Canim Lake store,” the younger one replied. “The boys is out of tobacco, we have to get’ em some.”
“So you got the job, eh?”
We rode along in silence for a few miles then I asked if they knew the fella I was looking for?
Grandmother looked at me from inside her parka hood, her eyes kinda smiling. “You too, eh?”
It was the first words she had spoken. She then described where he lived. “Maybe you’ll be lucky and find him home.”
We had now reached the store and I prepared to let them out and go on my way when grandmother spoke up again.
“What’s your hurry, we have to go back you know?”
I knew this would happen, I always feel so dammed responsible for all the failures of past generations and how they dealt with our natives that they get to me all the time.
So there I sat waiting for them to get the tobacco, but it’s taking forever, and it wasn’t until they came back out to the truck that I figured out why. Now that they had a captive ride they were doing a good shopping.
I placed the shopping bags in the bed of the truck and got back in. Grandmother wasn’t through with this white boy yet. “Just wait, one of the boys is in there, he needs a ride back too.”
With four of us crammed in the cab I head back to the reserve. The “boy” appears to be in his late teens or early 20s.
“What do you do?” I ask, meaning does he have a job of some kind, or still in school, or studying a trade.
“Do?” he said, then grinned at me. “I’m Indian, I’m unemployable.”
I had no answer so I just grinned back.
By this time we were back at the reserve and I had slowed in preparation of stopping and unloading my passengers at the road leading into the village, but grandmother Alice wasn’t going to let me off that easy. She poked me with her elbow and pointed to a house some way down the road. “That’s where I live.”
I can still see her walking proudly ahead of me up to her home, neighbours looking on as I carried her shopping bags up to the door. “Thank you,” she said, a huge grin splitting her face.
I walked back to the truck, listening to peals of laughter from inside the house. Thinking to myself, you got me again.
That was not the end of the story. In the months and years following my stint as native taxi, the store noticed a marked increase in sales to the Canim Lake Band and to individuals from the band. By the time I had a chance to go out to look up the bad debt again I discovered he’d left the country.