The Lavoie family has a history of rescuing waifs.
It may have started forty-five years ago, in Dryden, when there was a knock on our door. It was a dark and stormy night (I’m not kidding). A man and a woman stood there, the woman cradling an infant. Could we put them up for the night?
I looked at Olga. Well, of course. They were travelling across Canada, had a car but no money for food or shelter. We made up a bed in the living room. Fed them. In the morning we sent them off with breakfast.
Since then it’s become a Lavoie tradition. Honoured more in the breach, et cetera. We’ve picked up hitchhikers ourselves; the more pitiful they look, the better their chances. We don’t do it often and we don’t do it foolishly. We have a screening process. Sorta.
There was a time, for a few years, when my favoured mode of transportation was hitchhiking. I had a wife and two children and had been through teachers’ college and had taught four years before we could afford a car. And before you ask, no, I did not hitchhike with my family. I hiked alone. I sent them off by bus or rail.
I know what it’s like to brave the elements, to be standing on the edge of a highway at four o’clock in the morning, praying that the next headlights will pull over.
And we pick up animals. A neighbour moves away: Would we be interested in their dog? I look at Olga. Well, of course. Our grown son Rob finds a cat in the bush, just skin and bones, brings it home. Would we take it? Well, of course.
You might think we run a hostel for dogs and cats. You might be wrong. We have ruthlessly turned down many a waif. As I write there’s a cat in our neighbourhood , a raggedy orange tabby. We saw it last fall, came to our door, refused to be petted, scooted off. We have heard it lately, this spring, prowling outside, yowling. It is now feral. It will not be tamed. We do not leave food out. God feeds sparrows and feral cats. It’s his responsibility now.
Our household now has two once-feral cats and a dog that no one else wanted. It was the last of the litter to be picked. The dog is a beautiful animal, huge, a mix of Labrador retriever, collie, and German shepherd. Everyone loves Shiloh. We will not be adopting any more animals, though. Because, they are likely to outlive us.
The other day I picked up a hitchhiker and brought him home. When I went to town in the evening, he was squatting on the side of the highway. It was spitting rain. When I was coming home two hours later, he was still there, huddled in a long coat against the spits of rain and the cold. He flashed a cardboard sign that said “THUNDER BAY”.
Where was he headed? I asked. I suspected he was going farther than Thunder Bay. To Dryden, he said. Had landed a job there, tree planting. Would make two thousand dollars a week. So I asked, Would he be interested in a bed for the night? He came alive. Sure! he said.
I said he could check my bona fides with the gas jockey just a few metres away. Nah, he said. You look honest.
When I ushered him into the house, Rob was there, visiting with Olga and our nephew Terry. Nick – that was his name – Nick said he had a sleeping bag. I asked Rob, Could he stay in your trailer? (Rob has a camp a little ways down from us.) Well, alright, said Rob.
Could you rustle up something to eat? I asked Olga. Well, of course. Nick joined the family circle. That day he had been hitching for fifteen hours and rode for only two. He had been a bike messenger in Toronto. Had gotten hurt. Now he was hoping to work his fourth season as a tree planter, probably a six-week gig.
We heard later that Rob put a heater in the trailer, so Nick spent a comfortable night. Rob gave him breakfast and a lift out to the highway to a straight stretch where westbound traffic could see him for half a kilometre and make a decision about stopping. When he got back to camp, Rob found that Nick had forgotten his THUNDER BAY sign, so he ran it out to him.
When I went to town a few hours later, there was no sign of Nick.
Someone else picks up waifs