Sunday, October 7, 2007

La Beaupré

Like most subcultures, my family has its own dialect. The phases in our dialect convey upon certain historic moments in our family life more weight than they probably deserve. For example, when my husband and I linger in town over dinner longer than we’d promised, a child will call my cel phone and say, simply, "Anderson’s party, Mom," referencing a time when they were younger and we left them home alone too long. We forgo dessert and ask for the check. We have a dozen others, most of which are too peculiar to our family life to explain in under 500 words.

A recent addition is "La Beaupré."

A couple of years ago we took our young twin sons to Mont Sainte Anne, a ski area north of Quebec City. One foggy afternoon I skied a slope called La Beaupré alone. It was a little steep but since I could only see about 20 feet ahead, hey, it wasn’t so bad.

Late the following afternoon we were ready for the last run of the day.

"How about La Beaupré?" I suggested in a lively manner.

Because my husband and children trust me implicitly, or did, to that point, they agreed. A third of the way down the children started to complain. When we reached the top of a viscous headwall, the howls of protest began. We stopped dead in the snow.

"Oops," I whispered, staring over the edge. My husband, who was with Colin about 30 feet below me, looked up with a look that said, "What in God’s name were you thinking?" What he then actually shouted at me was a little less polite.

But fortunately for him, Colin has the brand of humor that can be wooed by lines like, "Boy, your Mom really owes us, doesn’t she? She owes you two ice creams and she owes me several beers at the bar." So between howls of misery and laughter, they snaked down the headwall to easier terrain and disappeared around a bend in the trail.

Our son Martin, however, is a tougher customer. He took this breach of trust very personally. He insisted on making me hold his skis and sliding down the headwall on his bottom. Slowly. I stood bracing him with my skis perpendicular to the mountain, step after step. What made it worse was when this gorgeous Quebecois man Suzy-Chapsticked over to us, pulled the cigarette our of his mouth and said something like, "I could take him down on my shoulders."

I wanted to say, "Listen, Francois, if your plan doesn’t involve taking ME down on your shoulders, I’m not interested." Instead, I smiled and gave him the "We’re OK" sign. He shrugged and skied beautifully out of my life, forever.

Finally, interminably, Martin and I got to the bottom of the wall and skied back to our hotel, both sniffling and muttering along the way.

Since then, of course, whenever we’re riding in the car and I make an innocent suggestion like, "You know, if you turn left here, it’s a shortcut to the restaurant," three heads swivel toward me and say in unison, "La Beaupré, Mom." Obviously I’m not to be trusted.

Earlier this year we were at Mont Sainte Anne again. Over the course of the week the boys, now ten, talked me into going through the rough forest glades and the black diamond moguls. I still feel it in my knees.

One night Martin and I were skiing alone. On the last run of the evening, we stood at the summit deciding what to do. "Let’s take La Beaupré down," he suggested.

"Okay." Martin skied off ahead of me. At the top of the headwall he executed a perfect hockey stop, the snow spraying into the trees. I stopped a few feet below him. The moon was out and the snow glistened. He had stopped to rest on our ancient battlefield without noticing.

"It’s beautiful, isn’t it?" he said. The dark void of the frozen St. Lawrence lay beyond the lights of the village far below. He was right, but before I could say so he pushed off and glided down the steepest part of the headwall before me.

"Every part of this moment is beautiful," I said to myself as I planted my poles to follow him. And suddenly La Beaupré took on a whole new meaning."

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