Born in Welland, Ontario. Lived in Australia & backpacked the world. Survived the 1979 Grenada. Spent 32 years with Edmonton Fire Rescue. First author to write Canadian firefighter novels. He swam with a marlin in Honduras, climbed the Great Wall of China, was accused of throwing eggs at an Aussie PM, and survived the Grenada revolution. "Ponos Road" is in Short Circuit #14, Short Édition's quarterly review.

Image of Short Circuit - Short Circuit #14
PONOS ROAD 
PONOS was the personified Greek spirit of hard labor and toil.
 
The wide, gravel path snaked through a scrub meadow joining two working-class neighborhoods. Every kid in the neighborhood walked it, back and forth to school. It was shared with men heading to smokestacks visible on the near horizon.
 
The men funneled onto the path like clockwork, as though gripped by a great magnet—a cycle as precise as the movement of the sun. Some walked alone, others in groups, talking boisterously, occasionally laughing. Their black or stainless-steel lunch buckets, heavy with sandwiches and thermoses, swayed lightly from their hands. My father walked among them.
 
In the summer, my friends and I played in the meadow bordering the path—a landscape dotted with frog-filled ponds and stunted trees. When the factory men marched past, we'd crawl on our bellies through the tall grass playing army, pretending to spy on the enemy. Their faded blue or green work pants and shirts were clean and ready, a spirit in their step. They were our watches during lazy summer days, only appearing between to and from shifts.
 
Another parade of men trudged; alone and silent, vacant-eyed. Blackened streaks smudged every face, their clothes dirty and rumpled. The empty lunch buckets seemed to weigh them down and were kept secure under their arms as if they'd drop from tired hands. Their day was done.
 
It seemed the entire neighborhood—my world—worked at the factories. The men would occasionally smile or nod at me in the field or on my way home from school. "That's Andy's boy," they'd say, many of them knowing my father. It was my time to wear a halo at that precise time of day. Their acknowledgment of my presence would embarrass me and my friends as we did our best to hide from—and stalk—"the enemy."
 
From time to time, we'd see older boys—some brothers of my friends—join the procession. Many of them had dropped out of school, eager to pick up a lunch bucket and a paycheck.
 
The eagerness did not last long, and soon they too had become smeared with the black grime of labor in a new world, a far different place than they imagined.
 
I often wondered if someday I, too, would make this walk. I had never seen inside a factory, and I didn't understand how the grime came to smear every man's face. I knew only that my father would come home dirty, tired, beaten; often cursing his foreman or raging at some incident. It took some time to purge the demons before he'd cooled off enough to grab a nap or—if he was coming off a night shift—plunge into a morning sleep like a bat.
 
By his ramblings, I thought the factory to be a horrible place to work, imagining it full of men no better than cruel prison guards. I believed every factory man had a similar temperament. I didn't care to be the object of their fury.
 
I only ever saw the factory up-close one time. Dad was working overtime and needed food. I was very young, and Mom took my older sister and me along, down Ponos Road and up to the high wire fence straddling the factory.
 
Heaps of long pipe surrounded a long gray building. Skinny pipe and fat pipe were stacked like black matchsticks their ends coated with colored paint. Some were large enough for me to walk inside standing erect.
 
In the growing darkness, dim orange bulbs cast eerie pools of light against the massive building. Floodlights bathed the pipe stacks in white as bright as a baseball field.
 
Sharp clangs and clanks, like out-of-tune bells, hurt my ears, frightening me. Diesel rail cranes roared back and forth. Men shouted vague instructions. Late evening shadows gave the factory an ominous appearance—the place my dad got dirty and cursed.
 
Behind the fence, a group of men sat on large timbers at the base of a mountain of pipe. The men tore at their food like animals feeding, drinking from steaming paper cups. Their unshaven faces were dirty and sweaty as if they'd emerged from the earth's core.
 
One stood—my father—barely recognizable in his welder's skull cap, face filthy behind safety glasses. Mom beckoned me to say hello, but I couldn't bring myself to speak to this strange man. He didn't look at all like my dad.
 
The clanging of pipe and carbon smells overwhelmed my senses. I gripped my mother's thigh, staring at this vaguely familiar man. Mom handed him a lunch bag over the fence and pulled us away.
 
Sometimes Dad returned home with a half-empty lunch bucket. I wondered what had happened that he'd left food behind—that he hadn't devoured it like the men I'd seen. Raiding his lunch bucket was a special treat, devouring a peanut butter and jam or baloney sandwich.
 
My friend's father came home every day at five, his suit and tie clean, unruffled like he'd just left for work. My friend didn't know what his dad did at work, but he knew that his father didn't curse and rail at the world like mine did.
 
I asked my dad what he did at the factory. He sat at the table in a sleeveless white T-shirt, the stubbled hairs on his face, a dark shadow.
 
"I make pipe . . . for the world."
 
My father's hands had fashioned them all at the end of Ponos Road.

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