The Spirit of Cochrane

by Jean Johnson pg 210 More Big Hill Country 2009

When Guy Gibson fell heir to an old Model A Ford he sold me his Model T. I had often cast envious eyes at the little car. It was in excellent shape having been abandoned in a garage for years before Guy got it. The radiator cap was missing but that had been replaced by a small can that once held the milk from contented cows. The car had belonged to a plumber who converted it into a truck with angle irons on the side for holding pipes. 

Although we had lived west of Cochrane for the fifteen years since our marriage, I had rarely been to the village and did not know the people there. By car, Morley was much farther away so I set out one day to shop at Cochrane. For ten miles the trail was deep in mud wherever it was not almost solid rock. When I hit better going on the Banff Trail, I pulled Lizzie’s ear down and was going like all get out with my wits away woolgathering. Suddenly I snapped out of it and was about to careen into the Texaco Service Station on two wheels when I was hit by a long, shiny, green car. Lizzy took a nimble jump to the right side of the road; the car with the strange license plates went about fifty yards before stopping. A man got out and looked at the long gash in the side of his car. Then he saw me, where I stood in the middle of the street, mud-bespattered and apprehensive With the expression of a mad bull he came at me, white with fury and shaking his fist. Immediately a chorus arose from three men who were standing in front of the gas pumps, “She put out her hand: She put out her hand.” Seeing that he was outnumbered the stranger got back into his car, drove down the street, and stopped in front of the hotel. 

“He’s asking directions to the police barracks”, said one of my defenders. “Hurry up and get there before him and tell your story first.” 

I drove there as fast as I could go, walked in, and faced a Mountie whom I had never seen before. I told him that I had had a small accident. 

“Let me see your driver’s license”, he said. 

“I have none”, I replied. “Quick,” he said, “go to the Post Office and get one.” When my little Lizzie was warm you didn’t have to crank it. I jumped in, turned on the ignition and we were off. At the Post Office, someone was dawdling over getting a money order. Mrs. Chapman, the Postmistress, noticed my distress, but when I asked for a driver’s license she said, “You have to be recommended by the RCMP.” 

“He sent me”, I said. 

With a startled look and shaking hand she wrote it out hastily. I drove back to the barracks. The man had been there. The Mountie looked up. “Let me see your driver’s license”, he said quietly. 

He wrote something down. Then he told me that the man had reported me and said that I did not signal that I was about to make a left turn. I told him three witnesses said that I did put out my hand. 

“But did you put out your hand?” he asked. 

“Well”, I said, “I can’t remember signaling. It is a sort of reflex action. But they all said that I did.” He kept writing without looking at me. 

“Anyway”, I said, “he was exceeding the speed limit”. 

“Have you a speedometer on your car?” 

“No, I haven’t.” 

“Then how do you know that he was exceeding the speed limit?” 

“If he could pass me, he had to be exceeding the speed limit”. 

His face was expressionless. I had no idea what he was writing or what would happen to me. He said. “Let’s look at your car”. We went out. There was not a mark on the car. Not even a touch of green paint. 

“Now, listen to me”, he said. “In about two weeks you will get a letter from that man’s lawyer demanding that you pay damages. Don’t answer it. About three weeks later you will get a letter that will scare you half to death. They are going to take it to court. They are going to throw the book at you. Don’t answer it. You will never hear from them again” 

About two months later I met the Mountie on the street. He asked me how it turned out. 

“Exactly as you said,” I told him. 

Then he said, “You know, sometimes when I am driving around Cochrane, I don’t put out my hand either”.

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