'60 Minutes' gets hornswoggled again

Norman Gallant called me on the telephone the other week and wanted to know if I remembered him. "Yes," I said, "You're the boy with three ears that played goalie on the girls' team."

"No," he said, "that was my brother, Louise."

I said, "I hope you've got the wrong number," and he said, "I got a special today on used ketchup bottles; you can make your own insulators."

"Oh," said I, "it's you!"

He said, "What number are you calling, please?"

I've never had a conversation with Norm but it was rewarding, so I was glad to hear his voice again. I asked him when he thought he might pay back the money he borrowed so he could get married, and he asked me if I watched the television show called "60 Minutes."

I replied that I did not.

He wanted to know why I did not, and I said "60 Minutes" was the longest four hours I ever spent except the time I waited in Nashville for the train to St. Louis. What I'm trying to say, if you'll stop interrupting, is that Norm said I should watch "60 Minutes" that night because it had something he thought I might like to see.

I said I'd been waiting for years, hoping TV would have something like that, and what was it? Norm said some guy had invented a wheelchair that would go up and down stairs. I said, "I take it CBS got hornswoggled again?"

Norman Gallant was born of Canadian-French parents on Prince Edward Island. His native French is so pure he'll drop in words not used since the days of Montesquieu. His people were in America before the Bastille was built, let alone torn down, and in the Maritimes before Colomb organized his Chevaliers du.

Norm moved to the Boston States, mastered English, and became an announcer on radio WCOU back when radio was young and good, and WCOU was doing programs in both French and English because it had a mixed audience. Then Norm moved to radio WFAU in our capital city of Augusta, Maine, where he became a radio owner and continued to do both English and French programs. I'm pretty sure Norm had one of the first call-in talk shows.

So, relying on Norm to know the airwaves, I did watch "60 Minutes." I saw the wheelchair that climbs stairs, and CBS did get hornswoggled again. I returned Norm's call the next morning and told him this was old stuff. I said my Great Aunt Cementine had a wheelchair that would climb stairs a good 100 years ago, and Norm said he didn't know that.

I said, "You watch too much television. You'll never learn anything that way." I told him if he'd bother to go to Hazelbrook on The Island, he'd find Aunt Cementine's old wheelchair in the loft over the piggery, behind the barn. That was where she left it when she gave up performing in public.

Norm said, "Let me get a pen and I'll set this down."

I told him Auntie Cementine invented the thing, but she didn't make it. She drew a picture, and Wall Ross and Wesley Acorn made it in their machine shop, where they ironed buggy wheels, made tinware, and fixed water pumps.

Aunt Cementine didn't use a wheelchair herself, but could walk miles upon miles as she piped with the Caledonian Band from Montague. She also did a specialty act at the annual Orangemen's strawberry festival, which is why she wanted a trick chair.

Hers was not at all like the one "60 Minutes" had, with wheels. Hers had legs like a grasshopper and reclining lounges that adjusted one way for going upstairs and the other way for coming down.

When Auntie Cementine introduced her wheelchair act, the crowd was astonished. Starting from Tignish, P.E.I., she came down through Summerside and Burlington at a good clip, jumping fences and flocks of sheep, and arrived in Charlottetown at the advertised time. The great front door on Confederation Hall was opened for her by the Royal Mounted Police, and the crowd could see the magnificent marble staircase leading up to the historical chamber above. In she went and took the steps two at a time to disappear, wheelchair and all, into the upper floor.

Realizing they were seeing for the first time a wheelchair that could climb stairs, the crowd shouted over and over, "Long live Cementine!"

Next, the wheelchair reappeared, poised in a fourth-floor window to the rear, and Auntie Cementine stood a moment to wave and take a bow. The cheering persisted.

Then she sat down, touched the control, and the wheelchair jumped into the magnificent blue sky of the lovely June day, and Auntie Cementine was borne to the town of Crapaud, where she took another hop and went over the Strait of Northumberland to land in the New Brunswick community of Shediac. There a beef barbecue had been prepared, and the governor general had a speech ready.

There was also the customary congratulatory cablegram from Queen Victoria. In her acceptance speech, Auntie Cementine said, "All I had in mind was just to prove that you can do about anything once you set your mind to it."

So Norm Gallant and I are working on something like that to brighten "60 Minutes" and astonish everybody. How about a rerun of the play-by-play of the St. Dom's hockey game Norm did in both languages simultaneously?

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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