I grew up in Grand Falls on a street that was littered with children all about the same age. That would be in the fifties and sixties. We were a happy bunch. We would play kick the can, spotlight, cowboys and Indians , stretch, and later spin the bottle, for hours on end until we heard our mothers singing out our names because it was becoming dark. Reluctantly we would trudge home and more often than not we’d beg to stay out a little while longer. And sometimes our wish would be granted. No parents feared their children coming to harm in our little world. It was a mill town and we knew everyone.
Our house was located between two Catholic families which would probably not mean anything today but was notable then. We were protestant. And though we could play together, we could not attend the same schools, nor think about ever dating anyone who was not protestant.
But my best friend was Catholic and she lived on the east side of my house. We were the same age and we played together our whole childhood and we fought each other too. There was one occasion we both stood at the end of our driveway holding brick sized rocks in our hands and taunting each other . Each of us wondered who would throw her rock first and both of us feared that we had bitten off more than we could chew. Our biggest problem was how to save face. And to this day I don’t know how we decided that the only way out of our predicament was to actually throw the rocks . So we took aim at each other, drew back our arms and with ferocious lethal force threw our weapons with all our might . A pity our aim was so poor . The rocks landed very short of the targets . But neither of us could be accused of backing down. And thus we learned a lesson about saving face.
There were similar incidents of discord in out relationship. She had the ability to convince me that trolls lived in the ditch out by Hawcos , a family that lived on the old Station Road. We would often pass by their house when we went for a walk out across the tracks to the town of Windsor. Needless to say my fear of trolls necessitated having a buddy any time I travelled that way.
Another story of hers was about old man Tremblett who lived behind our houses and along the back lane that served as a short cut to Mercer’s store. According to Marchita, my friend , the old fellow was always in his shed and would chase people with a hatchet , knife or some other deadly weapon. I don’t know if I ever did see him with or without hatchet. He probably didn’t even exist. But I trod that lane with great trepidation from that point on.
And we went swimming in the town pool which seemed gigantic to us then but which was in fact just adequate. The pool was located within sight of the Exploits River and was a modern concrete one with wire fencing surrounding it. At one end were the diving boards and behind them a wooden building that housed the changing areas. My memory is of wooden benches that bordered the sides of the room and hooks for hanging bags , towels or what not about every couple of feet apart and above the benches. The wooden floor was always slippery and slimy from the constant water that pooled on it.
It was a major feat to change and retain our modesty. The towels we had were the worst of our mother’s collection. No need to risk losing a good towel. So rather than trying to wrap ourselves in towels that were not large enough we would solicit our friends to hold the towel up while we changed. And who was I foolish enough to ask? You guessed it. I don’t know why I trusted her at all. She had the uncanny ability to detect ,without even looking , the moment I was at my most vulnerable. And then the towel would drop. Amidst my own shrieking and wailing I would try to preserve my dignity by hiding the private areas of my body while she would laugh and tell me how I lacked a sense of humour.
And in the pool she was no better. We were dare devils and loved to jump off the diving boards into the deep end even though we were unable to swim. But we arrange it so that we would jump towards the side of the pool and the one who was not diving would grip the side and stretch out an arm to rescue the diver should she be too far away from the edge. I was very diligent and would follow our plan exactly. But she? She would let me sink and rise a few times till I was sputtering and then stretch far enough to save me.
When we were in our 40’s I told her how she had terrorized me as a child. Did she apologize? No way. True to form, she laughed. “,You were always gullible.” she said. It says something for my saintliness that we remained friends despite this abuse . And when we were married we ended up standing for each other,the rock incident,the near drowning and the horror stories practically forgotten. She was my best friend after all.
On the western side of my house lived another friend. He was one of six or seven children and was very slight in stature. His head was topped with curly red hair and he was blessed or cursed with freckles. The blessing or curse depended on whether you had them or someone else did.
But he was my friend and often we would sit and chat. I was very impressed by his knowledge of world affairs which he would explain at great length to the point where I thought |I ought to persuade my father of the necessity of building a bomb shelter in the event of nuclear attack. We were acutely aware in the late 60’s of the threat of nuclear war particularly during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
But despite the imminence of annihilation, my red head friend still had an optimistic outlook because he had dreams. Yes, dreams. Here was I trying to convince my mother that the world was soon coming to an end and consequently it was foolish of me to continue going to school. It would be better for me to spend my time in prayer. I was very holy then.
I should explain that my mother believed in the literal interpretation of the Bible and through the constant reminders of the pastors she became convinced that we were living in the ‘last days” . Therefore it was necessary to be vigilant and prayerful lest we be” left behind during the tribulation”. It was indeed a time of great doubt and fear in my world.
But to get back to my friend. He was optimistic. He would sit in his father’s car, in the driveway , and drive back and forth, back and forth, anticipating the day he would have his licence. And I would jump in with him …. Back and forth back and forth ….. a distance of no more than four tire revolutions. But we were driving and that was exhilarating.
He spoke of his ambition. It wasn’t clear what he would work at but it would not be for someone else. He would be his own boss. He would make lots of money, travel the world and be someone. And me? I would be an angel in heaven or a missionary in Africa. Whatever it was would most certainly be a holy endeavour.
I don’t think I talked much about my goals but kept them to myself. Perhaps I was fearful that I would quite rightly be considered weird. But he , he would go on and on. And I would nod and ooh and ahh. I liked him so anything he said was ok with me. I believed he would do just as he said.
Well we grew up , got our driver’s licenses, and headed off to university in St. john’s at the ripe old age of seventeen. Things changed. Ocassionally we would bump into one another but the chats in the old car had come to an end. We were involved in our studies and new social lives . He pursued the sciences and I went into the arts.
My path was towards teaching. For several years his was undecided. There was a time when dentistry seemed to beckon but he forgot about teeth and sought to find out more about eyes. After several years in Wales and later in Houston he finished his studies in optometry. By then he’d married as I had too. And it was somewhere in the child rearing days and career building years that we drifted apart rarely seeing one another . I would probably get a call around Christmas Eve and we would do the catch up conversation. And then came a number of years with no contact. Life got in the way.
But last year I picked up my phone and heard the old familiar voice. “He’d had a mild heart attack a year earlier and in addition was awaiting a kidney transplant.
We arranged to get together at my place where I put on dinner for him. We talked about everything just as we had when we were 15 in that old ’65 tan Dodge that went back and forth in the rugged dirt driveway.
I looked at him . He was no longer thin , the hair had greyed, lines were chiselled around the eyes but I saw the boy .
He had become his own boss, owned some of the toys he had wanted, was as successful a man as he had wanted to be and was blessed with a family that he loved deeply.
And I was a a senior ,a retired teacher, divorced, neither wealthy nor poor but no longer holy .
And my dreams had given way to an acceptance of what is. And that I found comforting.
My dreams now are for my grand children and my hope is that they will look back on their lives and see the humour and the nostalgia in the relationships that they develop while they too are young. Because in the end that is what will bring them the most joy.