Madaleine, Lorna and I are driving to northern Canada. This morning, confused by construction and poor google-phone directions, I got us lost in the agricultural plains outside of Edmonton, Alberta. On the roadside, fields of canola grew brilliant yellow in the morning sunshine. We were hot, frustrated and tired.
Almost out of gas and wishing we had a proper map, we pulled over in the hamlet of Calahoo. Cottonwoods shaded the street, and grass grew tall alongside the general store. Lorna and Madaleine walked inside, and a man with long, curly white hair and a beard held the door. A boy wearing a skateboard helmet rode up on a bike.
Lorna quickly re-emerged. “The woman who owns the store, Laurie, says she has some maps we can have at her house,” she said. She ran down the street and met the woman’s husband in their driveway.
I walked inside, where Madaleine was in close conversation with the wild-haired man. He directed her to fuel in Onoway, the next town.
I asked if he lived here, and he said yes. “Everyone calls me Fuzzy. I deliver the newspaper, and I have horses and llamas.” He laughed, and described being tricked into becoming a llama owner. “Where are you going, anyway?” he asked.
“We’re going rock climbing in the Cirque of the Unclimbables, in the Northwest Territories,” I said.
“Well, if I was five years younger, I’d come with you. But I’m about to have a great grandson. In fact, he may have been born already this morning.” He shrugged and laughed again.
Lorna reappeared with a fistful of maps. Fuzzy and Madaleine picked back up conversation. The interior of the store was cool, and we lingered. An older man with a crutch waiting for service by the counter asked me about our trip.
“Oh, that’s right near the old Tungsten mine,” he said. “Good luck.”
As I thanked the woman behind the counter, and her son returned on a third bike lap, still wearing his helmet.
We left Calahoo with a tabloid newspaper, maps, directions to a diesel station, and an appreciation for small town hospitality. In Onoway, the woman who pumped our gas said Fuzzy had called to say we’d forgotten him. Maybe he can come next time.