Walsh Family (mis)Adventures

READ SHORT STORY BELOW (about 1650 words)

Putting aside a proclivity for speaking with his cherished stuffed beaver, Sir Fluffington (think teddy bear), Jimmy was as likable and friendly as any adult you might hope to meet.

A point of family pride was their ancestor, James Morrow Walsh. He was a North-West Mounted Police officer (later named the Royal Canadian Mounted Police) and the first commissioner of Yukon. Old Walsh was an important personality in several of the most dramatic episodes that marked the development of Western Canada. One notable legacy was being a friend and translator for Sioux and Lakota leader, Sitting Bull, during the four years they settled in Walsh’s territory after they left the United States.

“He was an accomplished man.” Their grandmother would recall the long-deceased icon every year at family get-togethers. Jimmy interpreted that as not only a point of pride but even more a hope that someone else might be inspired by that heritage.

But all of that was back in the 1800s. Since then, and especially here in the 21st century, the Walsh family lived less adventurous lives. Jimmy wanted to change that. At least for himself.

At 19, with money saved from working as a waiter, he spent much of a summer traveling through Europe by train with Sir Fluffington, mostly staying in youth hostels. No one in his family had ever done that. Heck, even those ancestors who originally lived in Europe probably didn’t have such an opportunity. (With or without a toy animal).

Sir Fluffington even encouraged him to keep in touch with a girl he met in Paris, which would later prove fortuitous.

Although he made a habit of memorizing several local phrases, Jimmy primarily learned that most people are helpful and he could get by with a warm smile and some friendly gestures. (Although he dearly relied on his language guidebooks).

Back in British Columbia, he started a landscaping business and failed. (Who knew permits, licenses, and insurance were necessary?) He started another business sealing driveways. (Too messy for Sir Fluffington). He tried promoting handyman services but learned he was nowhere near as handy as customers hoped.

After three years of failed business ventures, Jimmy was left questioning life in general, as well as his own. He contemplated whether he might be better suited to the responsibilities of panhandling and vagabond homelessness. After lengthy discussions with Sir Fluffington, Jimmy concluded that he might excel at it, due to his friendly disposition and flare for promotion.

His grandmother, however, had a different perspective.

Grandma was the family lodestar. No matter how good, bad, busy, crazy or conflicted anyone’s life got, she was always there with a kind word. And a reminder of their shared history as a point of familial cohesion.

She sent Jimmy scouring through her dusty and over-cluttered attic in search of James Morrow Walsh – or at least his memorabilia. He found newspaper clippings, a photo of military medals, a rusty knife, an old map, and a letter by Walsh, detailing a hidden stash of items gifted to him by Sitting Bull.

His grandmother spoke about the elder Walsh, his founding of Walsh Fort in southwestern Saskatchewan and his 19th-century renown as a friend of Sitting Bull. She relayed his haphazard early years and numerous jobs before joining the military and through notable successes in service to his country, became prominent in Western Canadian history.

After further deliberations with Sir Fluffington, Jimmy reconvened with his grandmother to confirm that he was putting his ambitions as a positive panhandler on hold. Instead, he would seek what their famous ancestor had hidden when he was re-assigned away from Walsh Fort with an unfriendly undertone. (The government thought his association was too friendly with the Native Americans who had taken part in the decimation of General Custard and his 7th Cavalry Regiment.)

Armed with outdated maps, camping gear he didn’t yet know how to use, and Sir Fluffington, he set off from the British Columbian coast for the wilderness near Walsh Fort, over 1400 kilometers away.

Once he got off the bus, the backcountry adventure began with more mishaps than serendipity. Jimmy tripped over anything and everything that was not a floor or paved. He mistook a ruminating moose for a bear (how do you do that?). But he made friends with a chatty squirrel he named Squeaky Steve. (Who might you befriend while confined to a small tent in the rainy woods for days?)

In one of his longer conversations with Squeaky, Jimmy conceded that his capacity to survive in the wilderness, let alone find a hidden chest, was less auspicious than his prowess as a businessman. He recognized that for the many skills he lacked, the only thing he could reasonably count on was his ability to communicate, whether to stuffed beavers, chatty squirrels, a lugubrious moose or any kind of human. But there weren’t any humans near his tent.

Jimmy made his way to the closest rural community in search of an inexpensive base of operations and found his first good fortune: a place he could afford. It was a converted tool shed with an outhouse near the remains of a cabin that had burned down years ago. Actually, it’s not that the toolshed was converted, it’s just that it no longer had tools. But it did have a cot and a dirt floor. And it was dry. It was so dry that the running water was outside. In a pump. From a well. At least he had his own propane camping stove to cook. But he didn’t cook. He mostly ate sandwiches from the local grocery store and cafe, only two miles away – an easy walk.

Jimmy chatted up anyone and everyone in the hamlet who would listen. Even if there were only so many who frequented the store. Yet, word spread about the “City Slicker on a Quest,” and soon, several locals were in on the adventure. Although “in on the adventure” really meant folks would listen to what he had to say while peering over an old map he kept displayed on the tiny cafe table.

His conversations eventually resulted in more good news. One of the locals brought in an old man who studied the map and the annotations made by the elder Walsh so long ago. He spoke a language Jimmy didn’t understand, but his grandson provided translations and made new notations on a modern map. Most importantly, the new map presented roads that would get him closer to the trail he was seeking.

After two days of hiking, Jimmy and Sir Fluffington found a “square-shaped boulder, big enough to sleep on,” indicated as a landmark on the new map. The square boulder referenced a hill across a tributary, which featured five other boulders, the only such grouping around. The smallest of which was abutted directly against the hillside. Jimmy wasn’t able to move the smallest with his strength alone, which was about three feet high. But with the help of a large branch as a lever and a grapefruit-size stone he placed as a fulcrum, he was able to dislodge the rock which was supposed to reveal a horizontal hole.

But it did not.

Jimmy was distraught. How could this ‘not’ be the right place?

Sir Fluffington sat on the nearest boulder and patiently awaited the predictable soliloquy. After twenty minutes of emotional discourse, Jimmy thanked his friend and agreed that he should poke around the dirt in the newly exposed hillside. His foldable camp shovel was soon brought to bear on the location and sure enough, once many inches of erosion had been dug and cleared away, a small hole was revealed. He continued to dig at its edges until it enlarged to some eighteen inches or so as the remaining dirt caved in upon itself. At the same time, his shovel encountered an object about two feet inside and out of sight.

Almost exactly three months after he left home, Jimmy returned, eager to share his find. He used his promotional skills to generate publicity, including an endearing photo of his grandmother holding a dreamcatcher. (Sir Fluffington was in the background of the image, intended as a somewhat modern, if not well-worn guardian, overlooking a narrow drum and rattles, a traditional peace pipe, a beaded vest, a beaded medicine bag, buffalo horn spoons, star bead necklaces, and a ceremonial headdress, all laid over a star quilt.)

The photo and article were published in the local newspaper. Over time the online version garnered routine views. Eventually, a Native American Indian museum reached out, expressing interest in showcasing the Sioux Indian treasures in their collection. Jimmy gladly agreed, and the previously undocumented but later verified artifacts were credited to the Walsh family for their discovery.

Jimmy was quoted, “I had a lot of help along the way, including some furry friends, a Native American translator, my mentor Sir Fluffington and especially my grandmother, without who, you know, this just wouldn’t have happened.”

In turn, his grandmother proclaimed, “Jimmy may not have found gold on his treasure hunt, but he found something far more precious – a piece of our family’s history and a bridge to the Native American heritage our own James Morrow Walsh cherished.” (She had a better knack for media phrasing).

Inspired by the discovery and community interest, Jimmy worked with a nonprofit to foster ongoing education about the combined legacies of Native American history, as well as his family’s connection.

When his grandmother passed, Jimmy was profoundly moved. How does one honor the most important influence of their life? He bestowed what he cherished the most to accompany her on her next adventures: his own Sir Fluffington.

The last conversation he had with his beloved beaver, just before turning him over to the great beyond, resulted in a final mutual agreement: It was time to revisit the girl in Paris.

by George Alger


Subscribe to LIMINAL STORIES (free) for more short stories and flash fiction.

more info