Burgeoning Beard

The summer of ’76 I was a hippie wannabe staying at a Christian commune outside Kenora, a small city in northwest Ontario close to the Manitoba border. A friend, Hans, who had spent the previous summer in Pauingassi, a northern Manitoba Ojibway community, arrived for the weekend and said there was a powwow happening in town, so we went. The MC started with a joke about three elders in a canoe. Waves were up and they were scared. First one says, “We should pray.” Second one says, “I am not sure how.” Third one says, “I’ve been to church, repeat after me: Under the B, 5 . . .” As we stood next to a tier of semi-empty bleachers watching a display of ceremonial dancing, an Aboriginal boy, three or four years old, snuck along a row toward us. He got close, ran up and slid his hand along the underside of my chin to feel my somewhat burgeoning beard. I turned to him and he bolted back to his parents. We all laughed. I asked Hans what the deal was. He said facial hair wasn’t that common on the reserve. I looked over at the family and they were still smiling.