Tag Archives: Neighbors

Growing Up, Pt. 2

[Part one is here.]

I may have started out as a wee fellow, but as the years went by, I moved on up the food chain. I became a pre-teen, then a teen. I got things like insecurity, hormones and a driver’s license. Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves, though.

I had a paper route that defined much of my after-school experience for a couple years. Those were the years when my dad sat at home every day with a few beers, waiting for me to return with the collection money. Wait- sorry, that’s the plan I have for my boys. Only with them I think I’m going to go for modelling. They’re really quite striking lads.

The whole thing could take me up to a couple of hours. I got to know a lot of my neighbors this way, and really enjoyed doing so. People seem to like their newspaper carrier- or at least, they seemed to like me. I think one of the reasons for that was my passivity when it came to collections. Every week, on Friday, I collected mandatory delivery fees. Only with me, they were more like subjective delivery fees: subjective as to how much I was actually paid, and subjective as to whether they ever got paid at all.

Let me just add one more thing: my daily round was extra special because I had a big old crush on one of my customers. Well, I guess it’d be more accurate to call her the daughter of one of my customers- the real customer, her dad, I was vaguely terrified of. These things go hand in hand.

Whenever I came by her house, I would look up to see if she was in her window. Sometimes she was, and she would wave at me. That turned me into a little puddle of Dan every time. I felt as though all the inky fingers and unpaid fees in the world were worth it for that wave. Occasionally she even talked to me. To what extent I sounded like a bumbling idiot in my responses, we will not go into detail. One February I even snuck a valentine into her paper, hoping she would find it. I expect she did. In any case, a friend of hers emailed me soon afterwards and I denied everything.

In that line of thought, I once got a call from a girl who I went to class with in grade five or six. As I recall, she had with her another girl from my class- and naturally, this other girl was the one who I had a crush on. Girls know these things, I don’t know how. I guess it may have been the way I blushed like crazy every time she looked in my direction.

The conversation went something like this:

“Hi, Daniel, It’s Sam!”

“Hi, Sam.”

Pause.

“So, Jenny’s here with me…”

“Oh! That’s neat.” Dan’s mind becomes more frozen than ever as he contemplates the reality of being one person and a telephone away from Jenny.

“What are you doing?”

“I’m just… watching Alice in Wonderland. It’s on TV.” A this point the conversation becomes a little strained.

“Cool… are you watching it with anybody?” Because that’s what girls like to know. Naturally.

“Yeah, my… mom.” There sure are a lot of ellipses in this conversation, aren’t there?

“Uh, cool. Well, did you want to talk to Jenny?”

“Looks like the commercials are almost over. I’d better get back to the movie.”

“Oh… alright. Well, have fun watching the movie!”

“Thanks! Bye!” And in desperation, I hang up the phone.

Boy, were those some stellar years for dealing with the fairer sex. I would say that they were, in fact, more than fair with me, considering the way I dealt with them. Which is to say, not at all well.

I was a big league babysitter not too long after the paper route days, too. All around the neighborhood, I was the go-to guy for childcare, at least until my sister came onto the scene. The bitterness I held in my heart over her usurpation lasted for years. Maybe I exaggerate. In any case, these were golden days for me. I’ve always loved being with kids. It probably says something or other about my undeveloped personality, but it does remain true. It’s stood me in good stead in recent years.

I babysat, more than anyone, the two little gals who lived in the same house as Rupert. For several years they were the darlings of my heart, although I certainly didn’t have the words to say so. We horsed around playing Pokemon, or watched movies, or went to the park. I believe I had as good a time as they did. And there were several other families who meant a lot to me as well, as well as a few who terrified me.

Through all this babysitting stuff I feel as though I was able to share the sweetness of childhood that much longer. My peers were one thing, and I had my share of older folks at church, but my affection always lay most strongly with the small ones in my life.

I guess it all makes sense. Through many of my years as a young adult, I struggled to part ways from my inner child. I felt, in some respects, as though I were doing a rotten job of growing up. I looked at my friends and I thought, “Man, they’re so much more mature than me.” Maybe they were. But it was in finally embracing that child within that I found my feet- both in the ability to decide what I wanted, and in acting upon it. Instead of languishing in self-consciousness and indecisive thought, I learned to disconnect from my over-analytical mind when it came time to act and interact. Not that we- my child and I- don’t still get separated sometimes.

You know, I’m still growing up- but it’s a lot easier to chuckle about old foolishness than to look in the mirror and let out a belly laugh. So wait a few years, and I’ll tell you about all the ridiculous things I’ve done lately. Until then, do continue to take me seriously.

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Quebec

Today we are driving to the Eastern Townships of Quebec. By the time you read this, we may even be there. It’s a summer holiday, sure, but it’s also just loaded with significance to me. It’s not just a place where I go to get lost and then struggle to get directions in French. It’s not only fields of cows chewing cud, rivers through rural towns, hills or forests or hay bales. It’s home.

We used to go to Quebec every summer, and some Christmases- me, Julianne and Michael, Mom and Dad. It’s an eight hour drive, with stops, from Peterborough to Sherbrooke, the nearest real city to my grandparents’. As kids, it might as well have been a week in that car. As parents to three busy and impatient kids, it must have been closer to a month.

I can see the road now. Down to the 401 and East for the longest leg of the trip, but the easiest. In the pilot’s seat, now, I practise for Quebec’s drivers by attempting to aggressively cut off every other vehicle on the way there. By the time I reach Montreal, the fantasy has become a reality, and we struggle to remain on track and in one piece, horns going off like the voices of angry herd animals all around us. It’s survival of the Frenchest, and I only took it at school.

Of course it was Dad driving. After the concrete madness of Montreal, our station wagon proceeded yet further East, seeking refuge in the long green roadways of the Townships. Mountains- Orford the greatest among them- would rise and fall before us, and the tall trees of Quebec would rise to greet us as we approached our goal. Steadily the towns grew smaller- Sherbrooke, East Angus, Cookshire, Sawyerville.

An abandoned sugar camp lies outside Sawyerville on the way to Chemin Riviere du Nord. Closed in on two sides and overhead by the darkest old trees, the fabled Wolf House- a tree fort built by who knows what now-elderly Quebecois children- came and went on our left. Now we were close, so very close- road weariness fell away and blossomed into anticipation.

Now, as I take my kids to my grandparents’ place for the second time in their lives, I once again feel the old familiar flush. My heart rises in my chest and I know that after crossing over six hundred fifty kilometers, I am nevertheless back home.

Gordon and Audrey Bowker are my grandpa and grandma. For the boys, they are great-grandpa and grandma. It is my intense pleasure to be able to share this. Aura has no living grandparents, so I love that I can provide her with a couple as well.

Grandma- whose middle name is Mabel, which she despises- rules the kitchen. From it come forth the fruit of flour, sugar and oil; it flowers with pea soup and boiled beans and homemade mayonnaise. Cookies dance behind Grandma’s eyes and on her counters.

It’s Grandpa, however, who works the earth. His gardens spill out across the enormous back yard. A greenhouse sits well back, full of tomatoes. Potatoes wait silently in their places beneath the surface, and blueberries climb skyward in their wide bushes.

We used to go hunting for pyrite in a shale deposit nearby. I don’t think the deposit is there anymore, although I have yet to revisit the site. I’ll have to have a look this time. There was an endless supply of those deceptive treasures- Fool’s Gold- when we went out with our hammers in years gone by.

The neighbors are nice folks, too. As a matter of fact, Grandpa and Grandma’s youngest child never moved away, and Jeff lives there now with his family- his wife Carolyn and his boys James, Tim and Josh. I am waiting to find out when James starts going by Jim- that will mark the ultimate exit from childhood for me. My little cousins are so big now- not boys, but young men. We all do that sooner or later, though.

The old house is built on the site of its corresponding farm. Jeff runs the farm, now, and the grandfolks have moved next door to watch. Cows come to the edge of their field, just across the road, to mooch apples from suckers like us city folk. The boys had a ball last year, feeding these big goofy-looking animals. You just have to be careful not to lean onto the electric fence, something that drove me nuts as a kid.

When I was a boy I would bury myself in the basement for hours, losing all track of time in the pages of a vast trove of Reader’s Digests that reside there. These magazines date back to the seventies, if I remember correctly, and I never got tired of the feature pages of jokes and anecdotes. I used to devour the thriller contributions- stories about plane crash survivors, mountain climbers, encounters of the bloody variety with nature’s denizens. I still check on the collection whenever I stop by.

There are so many aspects of this visit I value. Sugar on snow in the middle of summer, thanks to snow kept in a freezer for months on end. Rows on rows of canned food, pickles and sauces from Grandma’s kitchen. Grandpa slaving away over his geneology research. Doing small jobs around the farm with Jeff.

What I really want to draw your attention to, though, is the tradition of love and the security of persistence that exists in this material dream. Violence can move down through the generations, spreading its rot through hearts that did nothing to instigate it. We hear about that sort of perpetuation all the time. But the propagation of love across time is also real, and my grandparents embody that. The reason I’m so happy to take my boys there is not just a nostalgic thing, but one that stems from my desire to continue this precious tradition.

Grandpa and Grandma are living much closer to the triple digit years than to their youth. Sooner or later, I will not have the substance of this dream to cling to. I want to be ready, when the time comes, to provide the same environment of affection and dependability to my own. Eight hours away is my second home- but I don’t need to go that far to feel the love.

My family rocks.


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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