The shine on the Canada side
The fall foliage, better than usual this year, was tarnished a mite by a brief moment that dulled the shine. It is always about the time of our first frost, when I have the garden cleanup under control, that my spouseperson proposes a ride. We never send ahead for reservations because we don't know where we'll be going, but we always have a fine outing and give the autumn colors a full inspection. Our own dooryard is always aflame with magnificence, so we don't really need to go anywhere, but it's good to be away for a few days and always good to be home again. This time we went up the state of Maine, observing that the Aroostook potato harvest was well along, and came to the international bridge from Fort Kent over the St. John River to Clair, New Brunswick. So far the vistas had been adequate and pleasing, but we had in mind a peek at Quebec - Clair is not far from the Quebec line.
At Canadian customs a fine-looking young man greeted us with a warm Acadian bonjour, welcomed us to Canada with enthusiasm, and inquired for our health. I told him we were always the same, and he asked our names. Now, there are ways and ways to do that. He said, ''Your names?'' with a rising inflection that suggested this was more than an official interrogation - that perhaps he remembered us from another time and was personally curious. Then he ran a finger over our road map and suggested we go by way of Lake Long and Estcourt to the St. Lawrence River - the scenery would be prodigious and we could arrive at a good hour in Riviere du Loup, where Bertrand Levesque would greet us with amiable hospitality. He wished us a pleasant visit, and we au'voired and drove along. We thus entered Canada in pleasant mood, and found he was correct. The scenery was rich in the riotous profusion of maple beauty, and M. Levesque assured us his chef had been awaiting us eagerly. Our room at Motel Levesque gave directly on the St. Lawrence River, and on the far north shore the Laurentian Mountains were beginning to blue in approaching twilight. As I made ready my shirt and tie for supper, I pushed the TV button and found myself in Winnipeg for the visit of Queen Elizabeth II.
Here in the United States, if television finds anything worth an hour's program, we usually get 10 minutes of pictures and 50 minutes of Howard Cosell. It was therefore gratifying to find that Canadian television has more respect for its viewers. There were a man and woman who commented, but they didn't intrude. They had been well briefed, and they made use of syntax and grammar. Mostly, we heard them, if they spoke, behind the pictures, and we saw the Queen arrive, take part in the official exercises, and then do her ''walk-around.'' Leisurely and with pleasure at this chance to meet her subjects (she is still Queen of Canada), she shook hands, lingering to chat here and there, and accepting countless bouquets handed up by bobbing girls. With some royal legerdemain she was able to pass these along to her retainers, so she always had about the same number of flowers on her arm. Having just escaped from our US presidential campaign, we were fascinated at the dignity of this other kind of politics - there were not 30 and 40 microphones shoved in Her Majesty's face, as we shove at our president in, perhaps, hopes that he will say something he shouldn't. This was explained by the commentator later when a small boy was asked if he had managed to speak to Her Majesty. ''Oh, yes!'' he said.
''And just what did you say to the The Queen?''
''I said, 'Hi!' ''
And the commentator said that the remarks made by the Queen to her subjects were personal, which was why there were no microphones at the walk-around, and which is why they didn't ask the small boy what she said to his hi.
So we moved along, pausing at St. Louis du Ha! Ha! to mail our picture cards to friends. The pretty young woman in the post office at St. Louis du Ha! Ha! adds fillip to the pause there, as if a postmark from St. Louis du Ha! Ha! needs that. It was when we came to cross the border back into Maine that some of the shine dulled upon the autumnal colors. I won't say our customs man was brusque or dour; I will say he was rude and abusive. He had his disposition on back to front, and that was the day he should have stayed at home. If he cares not for his own image, and that of his country, can't his superiors help him understand? This is my own, my native land, must I be uncomfortable upon returning from that foreign strand? We rode many miles of Maine in silence.