A great dad and granddad, I think I’m free to say, is how Lynn and Clare characterize Magellan. He’s generous, patient, witty and understanding. Skilled in teaching you how to ride a bike, drive a car, build a fire, barbecue a chicken, drill into a plaster wall… Brilliant in analyzing a situation, figuring out a strategy, making the best of setbacks, encouraging success. But untalented, those who have heard him sing would agree, in music. Judge for yourself after you hear his “Grasslands Gig at Don’s Place.”
Magellan’s dad Ed often broke into song, his good voice and memory for lyrics could be quite entertaining. His mother Glynn had her grade-eight piano, learned to play the ukulele in her 80s and exhibited a flourish for showmanship, a jazz-singer’s panache. His youngest sister Colleen strums the guitar and squeezes the accordion. Maybe Magellan’s lack of musical expertise can be faulted to his grade-three teacher who asked him to “mouth the words” instead of singing in the Christmas concert. Harsh and unwelcome advice with lasting effect.
So, I was a little surprised when he sat down at a pump organ.
Not just any pump organ. A relic in an oddball place we stayed at in Val Marie, Saskatchewan, next door to Grasslands National Park. Don’s Place.
But wait, I’m getting ahead of myself.
Last autumn we went to Grasslands in Rove-Inn, planning to camp for a few nights. But on our way, a sudden and fierce downpour of pounding rain in North Battleford nearly swept us away. Taking the advice of another vacation property owner in the area who was full-up, we called ahead to Don’s Place, gave him our credit card number and said we’d be there by 5pm that Sunday night.
It was Don Brown himself who greeted us when we arrived at his place on the outskirts of the small village of Val Marie, the prairie sun shining brightly. “I’m gonna move you to another suite,” Don said. “To suite one. For the same price.” Wow, lucky us.
Don rents by the night, the week or the month. From BC, where he still spends the winters, years ago Don was attracted to Grasslands for its outstanding opportunities for photography.
Furnished eclectically, our suite had beds in every corner, prairie scenes on every wall. The kitchen was equipped with the remains of the benign generosity of other guests. Tea bags, instant coffee, packets of noodles, ketchup packets and almost-empty bottles of soy sauce, vinegar and olive oil.
At the brown Formica kitchen table, we ate our dinner, the screen door open to the evening sunlight, chastising ourselves for being impatient with prairie weather.
I could hear Magellan rooting around as I sat at the table catching up with my diary.
And then came a piercing sound from the “parlor,” like a deep-throated accordion, bellows gasping for air as Magellan pumped the pedal-boards with all his footly force. Inheriting Glynn’s flare, he banged the pump-organ keys in a ragtime rhythm, my laughter only encouraging him to continue the show. And to agree to turning the parlor into a recording studio!
It’s been said that pump organs are “particularly sensitive to inaccuracies of intonation.” Luckily, Don’s residence was walls away and his TV blared loudly we had noticed when we checked in. And the only other guests overnighting at Don’s were in the suite at the opposite end.
Never mind. Magellan’s one-night mini-gig in Saskatchewan’s deep south turned the evening into a giggle that amuses us still.
Check out Don’s Place here.