CHARLES TUPPER & ME
|I went down to Wesley United Church on Burrard in Vancouver to hear Dr. Helen Caldicott, the Australian doctor who keeps check on these crazy men and their atomic bombs—and who I consider the smartest woman in the world.Suddenly a 6’3” tall, dark handsome man in a green Tilley hat walked down the aisle. My friend Velma Paige, who protests against Bush—even when she is alone at the Court House—was talking to him. I nudged my way in. With a smile (she found it funny) she said, “Nellie McClung, this is Charles Tupper.” I said: “Tupper? Tupper? Doesn’t that have something to do with Upper or Lower Canada?” “Yes,” smiled this handsome man, “My great, great grandfather was Prime Minister of Canada.”“Well, you certainly are good looking,” I went on blithely, “but I have a boyfriend.” He just smiled. “Where have you been?” I continued, relentlessly zooming in on the target. “Oh, I’ve been around,” he drawled.
Later when we were standing by the books at the back of the room, I went up and said “Ming Jung Li, the beautiful Korean girl who gives the news on Global TV, asked me the most interesting question I ever had in my life when we met at an art show. She asked me, if I liked being Nellie McClung? The answer is yes.” I asked, “How do you feel about being Charles Tupper?” “I like it too,” he said. “Let’s get together and tell funny stories about our families.” “OK”, he said.
And that’s how Charles Tupper and I became friends.
I discovered he lives alone in a small house at 13th and Cambie, is completely at home with himself (private schools do this for you). He greets you at his home in his Bali sarong, silver Haida bracelet and clay pendant. He’s 51. His place is called “Skeldale House” after the British television series “All Creatures Great and Small”. He is a computer analyst and his family dates back to 829 A.D. They have a coat of arms, a knight’s helmet, a whippet on top a greyhound and three clam shells. The family motto is “Hope is My Strength”. Tupper means a keeper of the rams and “pile driver”.
He has a sister Julia who lives in Vancouver, Washington, and she assures me Charles is “sweet” which is a nice thing for a sister to say about a brother. He is always on the phone giving advice to his friends and I tell him he should charge, set up a business.
He tells me the first Charles Tupper was a doctor and a lawyer and generally credited with bringing Nova Scotia into Confederation. He supported the building of the railway and is responsible with bringing MacDonald on board. I phoned the library and they told me Tupper used to like to tell little jokes, which no one found funny, but everyone encouraged him because he was such a nice guy. He was something like Kim Campbell because he was only in office for three months.
Charles, the descendant, has political ambitions and works as a strategist for the Conservative party. He is currently working for Vancouver Centre candidate Gary Mitchell.
Anyway, one thing I forgot to tell you is he drives a Landrover (right hand drive), and likes going out to Van Dusen Gardens where they have an auto show, have tea, and chat about his car. He tells me 80% of Landrovers are still on the road.
Charles is very good about calming me down when I phone and tell him I’m giving up Andy, my boyfriend, 79, after a fracas. He tells me Andy is very good for me, that I’m lucky to have him, which I suppose on reflection I already knew.
I should add Charles has a wing at St. George’s Boys School named after him, a street, and the Sir Charles Tupper School. We’re going there sometime to have a picture taken with all of us under the name, Tupper. Yes, Tupper Ware is a branch too.
He also owns an island in Howe Sound. I have plans to go to Hermit Island next summer, but when I mention it Charles just smiles.
Sonnet for Peter
I hung my poem
& you said it was good
not knowing what to do
I thought of Chekhov’s story we shared
& again of Li Po who put his poems
and sent them out to sea in the dark
Poetry’s Finest Hour
when I was twenty
I would say blue
I would come in tired of all this
she turned to me one night
I haven’t read much I said,
a strange look came into her eyes
& then all of a sudden she could
I was a guard at Belsen, she said
for Irving Layton
arrived in Vancouver
we discussed the war
she told me there was a man
who was employed by the Germans
through the doors to the gas ovens
he took pity on one young little
the back of the line
until the Germans noticed
I’m not too much
I thought I’d like
is standing on the back
as the train sped across
throwing flower seeds
to both sides of the track
so that next spring
passengers in trains would
look out the window
& see a profusion of flowers
daffodils, fireweed, red poppies
delphiniums, butter cups
along the train-tracks…
as far as the eyes can see
I am five
Kim, the old spaniel
I am eating red licorice
the first breeze
where are all the
Bird in the City
Just two inches long. In a circular
Slaughter in March
The baby seal
But the baby seal
It is the mother seal
Only to see her beautiful
She is trapped by
Repeat victims in this
(And do not tell me
Save your tears
Newfoundland Arm Pie
Knock one cruel and old Newfoundlander /
on the head / Leave rest of body / skinned alive /
taking arms only leaving red carcasses on the innocent
snow-white ice-field / like wounds. / Boil until blubber /
top with whipped cream and cherry
Serve at state functions / of joyous baby seal gatherings
in St. Anthony’s.
On the Old Silk Road
on the silk road
twist them into circles
many never returned
Ten thousand butter-lamps are burning
the country that
Goddess of Freedom
when Richard Burton
& his wish was
who set her stamp
A doctor’s daughter
La divine’s public resented
Her I want to be alone
the modern poet: a little talent,
CHARLES TUPPER & ME © Nellie McClung, 2004, 2012