Hi, my name is Murray Fuhrer - founding member of Writers' Ink - The Red Deer & District Writer's Club. I have always believed that a writers' club - if they are to be taken seriously - should be involved in the promotion and publishing of local writers. When I started Writers' Ink in the fall of 1992, it was a personal goal of mine to edit and publish a collection of short stories and poetry by area writers. Having been a long time member of The Medicine Hat Writers' Club, I knew my first and greatest challenge was to find funding for the project.
I sought the assistance of The Alberta Foundation for the Arts and set about immediately preparing a grant application. As the first WINK publication would promote "Central Alberta" writers - I chose the area from Olds to Wetaskiwin and Stettler to Rocky Mountain House. I was already familiar with Friesen Printers - the renowned History Book Printer - and chose them as our printer. Meetings were set up with Jim Beckle - the local Friesen Representative and quotes were collected. After many hours of work and calls to the AFA - the grant application was in the mail. Hard work was rewarded when our grant application was approved and we were "cut" a cheque for $2000. My game plan was simple. If we could get funding for the first book - resulting book sales would cover future publishing ventures. Though I wasn't new to the publishing game - having helped publish two paperback editions in Medicine Hat and a special commemorative hardcover edition for Health & Welfare Canada - the task did prove daunting. The Club chose to have a contest with publication in Alberta Lifestyles as the reward. Deadlines came and went with the number of entries surprisingly low. I appeared on the local cable station, approached local newspapers, and radio stations. I also approached the Writers' Guild of Alberta and called every writer friend I had. The entries began to trickle in and by our third and final deadline, we had enough submissions for the book. Then began the task of editing and processing the book. Finally, a camera ready copy was complete and sent to Jim Beckle at Friesen's. True to his word, Jim was fast and friendly. The book came back to us in the fall of 1994 and was thoroughly professional in all aspects. The book is a fine collection of short stories and poetry with a true Central Alberta flavour. Alberta Lifestyles was well received and sale of the book provided us with enough money to complete a second collection - Journey's in 1996. (But that's another story). I hope you'll read on and discover some of the wonderful works contained within the covers. Discover what sets Alberta writers apart and enjoy!
Alberta Lifestyles is 80 percent sold out and available for just $4.95 from Writers' Club members. (1994)
BY MURRAY M. FUHRER (Taken from Alberta Lifestyles)
The dust came in through the metal floorboards of the old truck - through a rusted hole the size of a silver dollar. It danced in the air - mingled with the cigarette smoke Father exhaled from the corner of his mouth. I moved the toe of my sneaker across the hole and watched the grey dancer drift silently, effortlessly to the floor.
I looked up and out of the windshield; it was like standing in front of an open oven. The heat poured through the fractured glass, washed over me - consumed me. A white plastic jug, half filled with water, bumped against my ankle. I reached for the jug, removed the lid, and tipped it back. I felt the wetness move through me. I couldn't recall actually feeling water before. It had simply been a case of thirst and relief. Since the heat wave began even the simple act of drinking carried with it a special reaction.
Father didn't talk much about the heat. "Why talk about things you can't change?" he'd say. "It's like talking politics. All you get is mad." He drove with one hand on the wheel. The left arm resting on the window ledge, a "roll yer own" planted between his thumb and forefinger. I watched as he drew the remaining life from the cigarette - held the smoke inside for a moment, savored it, then exhaled it through his nostrils. He flicked the dead butt onto the floor and crushed it beneath his huge work boot.
In the distance, Mystery Lake General Store loomed into view. Its image vague and diffused by the silver waves of heat. The boot moved to the clutch pedal and engine groaned. A column of dust, unaware that we'd slowed, tumbled past and disappeared down the road. We lumbered through the intersection, past the pumps and stopped between the store and a small oil shed next to it.
Clutch in, key off, the familiar cough and a final groan from the engine as it wound down and stopped in the total quiet of July 1967. Father stepped out, pulled a handkerchief from his hip pocket, and mopped his face and the back of his neck. His hand moved involuntarily to his breast pocket where he kept his tobacco pouch. The pouch was empty. Father grunted with annoyance.
The front door opened with a welcomed ease. A bell overhead tinkled. A strange yet familiar odour greeted us - a potpourri of smells; percolating coffee, diesel fuel, binder twine and spice, cigarettes enjoyed over conversation. Father strode into the centre of the room - the oiled floor complained beneath his weight. I shuffled in behind. The store was empty.
A counter skirted the room on two sides. Shelves lined the walls - each level neatly filled with cans and bottles of every size. Displayed on the far wall, where the shelving ended - shovels, brooms, an ax and pitch fork, a kerosene lantern. A cast iron stove squatted in the corner, covered in a thin layer of dust, three lumps of unused coal in the pail next to it. An archway, draped with heavy brown curtain, separated the store from the living area beyond. The only sound - the breathless howl of a weary fan that rattled on the counter.
A glass display case at the end of one counter captured my attention. I approached the glass - pressed my face against its coolness - marveled at the treasures within; chocolate bars and Juicy Fruit gum - licorice pipes with red candy fire. I closed my eyes and imagined how each would smell and taste. A sound drifted across the room and into my dream - the wings of a bumblebee against a windowpane, the purr of a kitten - neither and both. I opened my eyes and followed the sound. It led me to a red and white metal box with a hinged top parked in the corner of the room.
"Anybody home?" Father bellowed. His voice resounded through the store. He pulled mother's grocery list from his shirt pocket and began unfolding it.
"Hold yer horses!" came a voice from beyond the draped archway. A door closed somewhere and the "slip-slap" of loose fitting shoes grew louder. The curtain parted and out stepped Julius "JJ" Wesenberg - store owner. A tall, rawboned man with thinning silver hair - his expressive face sporting a two-day growth of grey stubble. He wore a white T-shirt tucked into loose fitting green trousers. He slipped one loose suspender over his shoulder.
"Albert," he said, holding out his hand. "How the hell are you?"
"Good," replied Father grasping Julius' right hand and giving it a firm shake. "Real good."
"She's doin' fine."
"What about you, son?" Julius inquired with a wink.
"Fine," I replied, suddenly aware of the question.
"Mother wrote a list up here," Father continued. "Just a few groceries."
"All right," said Julius, accepting the list from Father. "Let's see what she needs." He trudged toward the counter, patting me on the shoulder on his way by. "Gonna rain?"
"Who knows?" Father replied. "Sure could use some - fields are real dry."
"Guess they got some rain in Sangudo last night," Julius said, as he pulled his glasses from his breast pocket and perched them on the end of his nose. He held the list at arms length. "Coffee, sugar, flour - just enough to settle the dust, I hear?"
"Rain. Just enough to settle the dust."
"Oh," answered Father, reaching again for his empty tobacco pouch. "Toss in a can of Sportsman, too and some papers."
"Need some fuel?" Julius lowered a tin of tobacco from the top shelf.
"Yeah," said Father, taking the tin from Julius and removing the lid. "Got a gas barrel needs fillin'. Need a couple pails of oil, too - ten W thirty. I parked the pickup next to the oil shed." He dipped his fingers into the tin, pulled out a tender wad of tobacco, and stuffed it into his pouch. He screwed the lid back on and handed the tin to Julius. "Ran out this afternoon."
My attention had returned to the metal box. It burped and gurgled at me. I glanced at Father. He was rolling a cigarette paper between his fingers. The box began to moan. A high, hollow and empty moan like wind through a barbed wire fence. Without effort or thought I moved toward the machine - drawn as if by a magnet. I raised my hand and reached toward the device. The moaning stopped. I yanked my hand back, embarrassed. Father struck a match on his jeans and puffed smoke from his fresh "roll yer own" while Julius packed a bag of Robin Hood flour from the back room. I turned again to the machine.
Determined now, I raised my hand and touched its red and white body. It felt cool - strangely refreshing to the touch. The machine giggled as if I'd tickled it. I reached for the lid, grasped the grey metal handle, and pulled. The lid resisted then opened. A breeze, cool as a fall morning, touched my face. I leaned forward and peered inside. There, asleep beneath the surface of the chilled water, were six rows of glass bottles. Their image whispered and swayed as the water washed over them.
It was Julius. The question startled me and I let go of the lid. It dropped shut - tight like a cellar door.
"I'm sorry, Mr. Wesenberg." The words tumbled from my mouth. "I didn't mean nothing." The smile returned to Julius' face and he began to laugh.
"Don't be sorry," he said, as he dropped a tin of coffee into the grocery bag. "Have one."
"One?" I asked dumbfounded.
"One what?" asked Father, disappearing for the moment behind a cloud of blue smoke. Julius skirted the counter and strode over to the machine. He raised the lid, reached in, and pulled out a bottle.
"It's a soda pop machine," Father declared with a chuckle.
"My way of beating the heat," said Julius, beaming. "Ten ounce bottles of Coca Cola. Cold as January and only ten cents each." He dipped his hand back into the machine and pulled out two more bottles. I watched the water drip onto the oiled floor. The machine began to purr again. He reached around the side of the machine where an opener dangled on a string. Three bottle caps danced across the floor. He passed one bottle to me and the other to Father.
"A toast," he said, hoisting the bottle into the air. "To rain."
He raised the bottle to his lips and tipped it back. The dark contents turned a deliciously frothy brown as it swirled, twirled, and disappeared down the neck of the bottle. Julius let out a long sigh, stifled a belch, and winked at me. I winked back and tipped up the bottle, the coolness move through me.
For the moment, the heat seemed to subside and outside - in the eastern sky - I could have sworn I saw the beginnings of a rain cloud.