Growing Up

[This post I dedicate to Tom, who reminds me of childhood- and to his dad, Jim, who I quietly idolised.]

When I was maybe seven, even eight, I used to climb up into the trees on my front lawn and watch people walk by. Middle aged women would jog by in pairs and I would try to hear their breathless conversation. Old men would whistle while they walked past, on their way down the street to get the mail from our community mailbox. I especially liked Don, who was always hollering hello at someone in a way that could make them jump out of their pants if they weren’t expecting it. Other kids went by, too, but I was so absorbed in my game that I wouldn’t call out. I was a ninja, or a spy, or an Indian scout. Really, though, I just liked to watch.

I was born in Ottawa in December of 1988. Back there my folks attended a little church where they called me The Judge. The grey-haired set liked to pinch my little cheeks and give me sweets, cracking up when I just solemnly stared back. It might be a stretch, but it seems to me that even from that time I was lost in my own world, an observer in a world of participators. I suspect I enjoyed those candies all the same.

We moved to Peterborough when I was two- just me and my parents at the time. Eventually I would wind up with a sister, then a brother: Julianne and Michael. One of my earliest memories is the terrific fear I carried through childhood of the bathtub drain. I couldn’t bear to stay in the tub when the plug was pulled; a persistent vision of swarms of lobsters or crayfish coming up out of that black sucking hole troubled me to my soul.

Dad brought Lego into my life sometime in that dark stage, conquering the crayfish with the sweet distraction of construction. He had saved a quantity of the precious bricks from a time that predated the dial-up connection. I can’t express just how many hours I sank into those and the others that gradually expanded my collection. It’s a habit that has remained with me to the present, where I can and do share the same passion with my boys. Kieran became a solid convert just months after I met him nearly three years ago, and Emery is of late going down the same way. I couldn’t be more pleased; the Lego calls to its own with little need for encouragement.

I spent as much time outdoors as I did in back then. I miss that. There was, and is, a small woods down the street from my folks’ place. When I was eight, though, it was not a small woods. At that time it was still enormous, a deep and dangerous mystery that only the kids dared explore. Some of my older peers went there and left their parents’ bottles and butts. My friends liked better to see how far we could get into the swampy areas before turning chicken. I had heard very often- and this was like some legend of a holy grail- that there was a couch somewhere on the far side of the forest. I doubted, sometimes, if there was another side. I did reach it once, though, years after I started my excursions. Who was it that was with me on the big day? I can’t remember anymore. We didn’t find a couch, but we did emerge in the back field of someone’s farm. I guess that’s what it was, anyways.

My dad had a real time of it trying to get me to ride a bike. I’m experiencing the same thing now with Kieran, and am thankful that I was as stubborn and apprehensive: it grants me a measure of patience. I understand. I was dead certain that I’d fall off and tear up my limbs- the awful thing is, I was totally right! Dad finally forced the subject and took me on that final afternoon of thrills and torments. I was drunk with the new sensation, and showed off my new ability to anyone who would watch thereafter. Many trees hold little scars of which I was the perpetrator, but they have nothing to complain about next to me (not me in the link!).

What did I read back then? The Hardy Boys, mostly, I guess. They were always exclaiming over something, maybe Chet’s souped-up jalopy, or Biff’s washboard abs. Joe and Frank’s mom was always nearby with a pie. Their dad was always working a big case that they absolutely had to stay away from, and which they inevitably solved themselves. I loved them from the first motorcycle chase to the last kidnapping. I was also into Brian Jacques– talking mice who lived in an abbey, strangely enough, and badgers with axes twice their size, always coming head to head with the nasty stoats and weasels. It definitely gave me an early impression of the moral character of British woodland animals.

I didn’t always go in for the tame world of books, by the way. Video games played a major part of my formation of hobbies. I used to call Nathan, my pal directly across the street, just about every day the moment I came off the bus and got my backpack off. His telephone number is engraved indelibly on my mind. Then it was Red Alert, and Metal Gear Solid, and the many other cryptic things that yong boys do on a television screen. When I wanted to go in for a real bad boy sort of activity, it was down to Andrew’s to play Mortal Kombat. Remember the controversy? You used to get to pop your enemy’s head right off, spine and everything. Sometimes they would fall on the spikes below. That was hard stuff. Sorry, Mom and Dad, but you had to find out sometime.

When I was maybe eight, maybe nine, I went up to my parents’ room one day and opened the box where they kept money for babysitters. I took out a loonie- was the toonie even around yet?- and brought it outside. I actually buried it under the soil in my tree fort, then dug it back up. Then I brought it in and showed Mom. I raved about how lucky I was to have found a dollar in the ground. Looking back, I don’t see how she could have believed this. She probably didn’t. But she let me get away with it, and I’m grateful still.

I have lot more buried back there in the tree forts and the parks and my friends’ basements. There’s more to the present than the past, of course, but it seemed suitable for me to give you a window into that old world of mine. I hope, once again, that you got a kick out of this. Feel free to share your own kid stories if you get the urge. Until next time–!

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