The Backyard Kids

I wrote the following story last year. I thought with all of the CoVid-19 chaos, a story would be a great escape. It’s not long. Enjoy and take care, xxoo

Growing up in the seventies, our only responsibility was to be occupied outside until dinner without ample blood loss or missing a limb.  An old apple tree situated on a backyard lot gave us cool shade from the searing pavement of our parking lot playground and enough activity to ensure we met that responsibility.  There were no monkey bars or climbing walls unless we trekked down to Steele Avenue Park.  Even then we had to have an older sibling or an adult accompany us to make our way.  No older sibling would be caught dead dragging his kid sister down an open street where actual people could see him.   We lived in a complex of townhouses that had been developed on an old apple orchard.  Some of the trees were saved, but the majority were destroyed to make room for the townhouses.  One backyard still had one of the old trees and it served as a gathering place for the kids in the neighborhood. It creaked and swayed in the wind, the tenuous branches daring us to climb and sit upon them, our bare legs scraping against the dry bark.   Summer days were spent climbing, making forts and playing around the trunk until dusk set in.  The tree was expansive with wide enveloping arms that stretched to the sky, inviting us to linger.  The crab apples became ammunition as the screams of innocent kids who wandered by the tree unaware of its silent occupants, echoed throughout the adjoining backyards.  These cries of pain elicited concerned adults to venture out onto their back steps to protest the unprovoked assaults.

An older kid nailed a two by floor across the middle branches of the tree making a perfect lookout spot.  If a kid got to the tree early enough he could sit on the plank with another kid and keep watch over the backyards, ammunition at the ready.  Kids who were good at climbing would clamber up around the crow’s nest to the top of the tree calling names and daring others to climb higher.  The tree was abandoned in the darkening night save for a few brave souls who remained hidden in her shadowy leaves determined to claim a spot on the plank.   I always had a sense of comfort sitting up in that tree, secreted away from the noise of the other kids’ roughhousing, the revving of car engines and slamming of screen doors.  My eyes closed I would raise my face into the cool leaves allowing the tree to wrap me in her false sense of security.  My feet would dangle precariously from the plank, the cold smooth wood underneath me, my hands clenched onto the encroaching branches.   I was directed not to ‘let go’ by my brother.   He was the only reason I was sitting up on the plank in the first place.  His fate was clenched in my fist as tight as those branches had I fallen.  I’m sure the phrase “Watch out for your sister and don’t let her climb that tree,” was said on more than one occasion.  Much to my delight my brother would pay no heed and would only allow me to get to the plank if he was there.  Otherwise, I was on my own.  I dared not climb without him, and usually, he would knock a kid or two out of the way just so I could get a chance to sit up there.  It was a glorious accomplishment and I relished every second.  I would sit and view the world, a queen on her pedestal overlooking her court.  The jostling and screams of wrestling boys and girls playing tag as several kids tried to climb the chain-link fence without getting their shorts stuck on the links that jutted out on the top.  It was an active and chaotic yard. 

 No one tried to kick anyone out of the crow’s nest or push anyone off.  If a kid got to the spot first, he owned it.  Plain and simple.  I wasn’t a very good climber.  My brother would make sure no one tried to knock me down or take my post, but he would climb up and ask me to move claiming it was his ‘turn’ on the plank.  I was obligated to climb down and gaze upwards at the kids higher than the plank seat as the crab apples tumbled to my feet; the damp earth trampled and worn from our sneakers’ incessant pounding.  The chain-link fence that surrounded the back yard sequestered the tree as if attempting to cage it from the adjacent parking lot of the businesses that it bunkered.   There was a hole in the fence just across the tree that provided a short cut to the variety store parking lot where it was twenty-five cents for a bottle of pop if it was drunk inside the store, and thirty cents if it was ported outside its doors.  I spent many days hovering around the pop machine inside the store trying to drink as fast as humanly possible to catch up to the other kids who were already down the path back to the tree.  Just like the crab apples, it didn’t make for very good stomachs afterward.  For most of that summer, we managed to skirt trouble and broken limbs with only sporadic blood loss.  Until one fateful day when we didn’t.  

That hot day in July started like any other.  The sun blistered the pavement sending kids for multiple requests to parents for change for popsicles and ice cream treats from the Dickie Dee truck.  We could hear his bell jingle from around the last housing development and the ensuing pandemonium resulted in chaotic line organizations for a chance to buy the first treat.   We gathered under the shade of the apple tree, our popsicles dripping down our bare legs making them sticky orange masses.  Blades of grass and dirt would stick to us making it look as if we rolled in glue and fresh grass cuttings, sending our mothers running for wet washcloths and exclamations of “What a mess!”  After the mass cleanup, we again pandered for the crow’s nest resulting in shrieks of dismay and more wrestling for branches still waiting for eager occupants.  Some kids trotted off to the nearby Thames River to throw rocks under the cool bridge or to watch the Americans moor their boats for the weekend.  The rest of us sat under the tree, relishing the shade and quiet rustle of the leaves.  A few boys sauntered by the tree, my brother among them giggling in hushed excitement at their new toy.

 A pellet gun had been presented.  I spotted the black handle and the fervor the boys expressed as they encased it in their small hands.  They took turns holding it, impressed with its power they perceived it held.  They ogled over its smooth finish and weighty trigger.  They practiced holding it in two hands and then in one hand, pointing it at the fence and then at the trunk of the tree.  They searched the branches for a wayward squirrel or latent wren that they could shoot.    Appalled that an innocent squirrel or bird could be maimed, the girls retreated to the parking lot to skip and dance among sprays of the water hose on a front lawn, leaving the boys to their prey.   Lunch turned into the late afternoon and once again we made our way back to the tree.  The boys were still hunched around the trunk.  I could see the black gun barrel protruding from my brother’s shaky hand.  He aimed intently at a bird perched on a high branch as it sang to the sky.  In horror, a young girl screamed out scaring the bird and obliterating my brother’s concentration.   A blast fragmented the quiet summer day.  The pellet had missed its intended target.  The little girl who had protested the impending slaughter of a bird slumped into a heap a few feet in front of me.  Blood seeped from her chest as her face contorted into a scowl.  I screamed in horror.  I stared into my brother’s ashen face, his eyes staring at the girl lying limp at my feet.  He dropped the gun and ran.  The other boys were quick to scream and run, one scurrying to the girl, one clamoring to a neighbor’s door pounding in panic.  I stood frozen in my spot, crying and sobbing in terror.  With the chaotic movements of parents and kids running and screaming, there was no time to think nor any time to move.  The ground reverberated with desperate feet.  Questions and demands were hurled through the humid air as the mother of the girl lifted her daughter’s sweat-soaked head checking for consciousness, blood soaking her hands.  I stared up at the apple tree.  Its quiet branches seemed less inviting, the leaves remained still in the weight of the afternoon heat.  It absorbed the chaos, the cries, and the blood.  The bird had flown away.  The tree stood steadfast and waited in stoic silence as the child was picked up and hoisted to a car to be transported to the hospital.  We were all ordered home at once, parents questioning kids, reprimanding the carelessness and providing as much comfort to other parents as possible.

We stayed inside for the rest of the day.  Few words were spoken as dinner was placed on the table, the heavy absence of my brother felt throughout the house.  Despite my mother’s searches he was nowhere to be found.  The police car was still outside even after my father had returned from work, a panic phone call urging him home at once.  He remained outside with the officer as dusk descended and games of hide and seek were long forbidden.  He stormed through the house snatching my brother’s grade five picture from the photo album.  It was the one with his half-smile and a straight bowl cut.  He shoved it into the police officer’s hand.  My mother paced in the hallway as we waited for news of him and the girl he shot, the evening growing darker with every step my mother took.   My eyelids grew heavy with sleep but I was determined to wait out the night and to see my brother home.  “He’s small,” I heard my father plead to the police officer.   Weeks passed, the summer retreated into fall and the neighborhood fell in step with the march of time.  The girl’s family moved, too distraught by her death to remain.  My parents’ guilt became too much and I watched my father pack a suitcase and leave without a “goodbye.”  My mother’s morning ritual of retching away her worry yet another sound I was forced to tune out.   My brother had flown away like the bird who escaped the intended pellet.  I still wait for his return.  

The following summer, we went back to the apple tree.  The crow’s nest remained and we continued to dare each other to climb up to reach it.  With my brother no longer there to knock kids out of the way for my ascent to the perch, I conceded to sitting beneath its expansive branches.  The leaves were in full bloom and the crab apples tumbled around me as I closed my eyes and listened to the echoes of the backyard kids.  They climbed higher up the tree, the limbs creaking beneath their weight and the leaves rustling with movement.   A tear slid down my face as I opened my eyes and clutched a crab apple from the ground.  A robin flew and perched on the chain-link fence in front of me, its head darting side to side.  It stayed despite the commotion and I clutched the crab apple tighter, ready to throw.  I raised my hand to strike and the robin gazed into my face as if daring me to follow through.  For a moment, I stared back.  The apple sailed from my grasp launching the robin skyward, its wings whipping the humid air.  I watched it as it flew high above the apple tree and out into the summer sky.     

My Mother's Chair

Last night, I dreamed I was sitting in my mother’s chair.  The one in which she sat during the day and drank her coffee and smoked her cigarettes.  The wooden chair at the kitchen table where she could look out the window at the goings on of the neighbourhood.  I dreamed I was sitting in that chair, seeing from her eyes. 

It was an odd dream.  I remember the kitchen well.  Small with a cube freezer sitting in the corner by the wall telephone.  She would put knick-knacks on top for a bit of decoration.  The table sat in the centre of the window and the refrigerator and stove sat to the left, the sink and counter across from the appliances.  It was small but big enough. 

I had lived there all my life.  The little townhouse in the back of the row of townhouses, hidden from plain view of the parking lot.  The window sat facing a brick wall from the adjacent row, but if she sat diagonally to the window, she could see up the small sidewalk.  She could see who was walking towards our door as we were the last row house on the end.  One couldn’t go any further.  There was a fence that blocked foot traffic from treading past our place to the side of our townhouse where there was a green space.  It led to another parking area for the duplex units situated there.  That’s where we would play tag and red rover until well after dark. 

The dream was as dreams usually go.  Brief, milky and hauntingly real.  I was sitting in the chair, looking out the window at the grey sky.  I could see the parking lot and the cars idly parked.  I looked around the empty kitchen and remember seeing the small curtains on the window.  At one point I got up and went to the sink.  There was water in it with dishes floating around waiting to be washed.  Instead of getting at them, I just looked and decided to go back and sit in the chair.  Even dreaming, I’m too lazy to do up a few dishes.

It was unsettling sitting in my mother’s chair.  She’s been gone eight years now and I can still hear her in my ear.  Especially when I’m talking to one of my not-so-much-a-kid-anymore kids.  Funny how now, I go back to that old town house to look out the window.  I sit at the old kitchen table in the precarious wooden chair.  I see what she may have seen.  A neighbourhood full of families and children.  Green grass in the summer with her marigolds sprouting from the garden.  The old fence a good backdrop for her tomatoes and morning glories.  The sprinklers spraying in the searing summer sun.  The lamp post on the corner beaten by hands of kids using it as a base for hide and seek.  I wonder what she may have thought as she sat drinking her coffee and smoking her cigarettes.  Would she have thought we would have made it out into the big bad world to have kids of our own and sit in chairs that belong to us?  Would we be sitting drinking our coffee looking out at our neighbourhoods wishing the same for our kids?

Maybe.  My life is very different than my mother’s.  My chair is a little sturdier and my behind a little larger (hence the sturdier chair), but I think we share the same hope for our children; that they will have a chair in which to sit, a cup to drink their coffee and a window for which to look out at their neighbourhoods to hear the children, see the flowers and wonder about the future. 

Snowmageddon 2020

The Blizzard of the Century.  The storm to end all storms.  We’ve never seen anything like this.  The mountains and walls of snow that enveloped the city are as tall as small houses.  The banks overflow into the streets.  Plows and snow-blowing machines are having a difficult time trying to keep up.  A state of emergency has been put in place and remains for seven straight days.  People are getting impatient and want out.  Grocery store lines are arduous and people have to endure long waits just to get inside.  No Tim Horton’s coffee?  What??  No restaurants nor bars are open.  Small businesses are suffering.  People are trapped in their homes.  The military arrives to shovel folks out and to give some reassurances that we will be okay.  Power outages were rampant at the onset of the storm, but have since been restored.  If people haven’t begun wondering why they live on an Island seemingly so destitute and removed from the rest of the world, this storm will certainly have them thinking, what are we doing here?  The downtown area was buried in a mass of snow but is seeing some restoration.  The narrow streets and hills were impassible, dangerous and overwhelmed with snow.  A snowboarder’s paradise that has now begun to look more pedestrian-friendly, dare I say?

Based on everything that has happened over the past week, one would think complaints would be widespread; that people would be sick and tired of the state of emergency to the point of protests and rioting; that there would be more looting of businesses and crime would be on the upswing.  Boredom breeds malevolence, bad-temperament, and unbridled nastiness; the urge to remain aloof and uncaring; the inclination for ego-centric acts of ‘every person for him/herself’.  I’ve not witnessed any of this. 

Downtown St. John’s, NL

The stories that have emerged over Facebook tell tales of acts of selflessness.  People helping to buy groceries for those who can’t.  Neighbours shoveling out neighbours and digging out buried vehicles.  Others creating tunneled paths to lead from a door to the street.  Food being bartered and shared.  Snow forts being erected and decorated with lights and bonfires being lit.  A drink here, a barbeque there.  Everyone making the best of an almost impossible situation.  And then, the sun arrived.

The end of our street

I strolled my neighbourhood a couple of days after the storm.  The sun came out for three straight days.  People were out walking their dogs, taking sleds and pulling their children along the streets, digging out the snowshoes and traversing the trails.  Having a laugh at the big bad storm that tried to break the spirit of a province that couldn’t be broken.  It’s been a rough week but we survived it all in Newfoundland style.  We made light of the monstrous snowbanks and decorated them with snarky phrases instead of cursing their existence.  We posted signs and made snow-people instead of complaining we would never see our lawns.  We assured the downtowners we would visit when they opened, that their pleas have not fallen on deaf ears.  Who doesn’t want a beer and a meal after all of that shoveling? 

In a country where winter defines us, we have set an example for other provinces and other cities that will no doubt be faced with its own version of Snowmageddon.  The world stood still and watched as people treated others with humanity and compassion.  People offered food, strained muscles, worked tireless hours without complaint, offered free rides, gave without the expectation of anything in return all in the name of helping each other endure an impossible circumstance.  Not only did we survive, but we also demonstrated what a lot of heart, an indelible sense of humour and a few helping hands from our military can do when faced with ‘a bit of snow’.   

There is a house out there…somewhere.

If another snowstorm the size and ferociousness of this blizzard happens to darken our doorway again, I imagine we would react much the same.  “Get out the shovels, b’ys she’s blowin’ a gale.  Youngsters, put your hoods up, we goes.” 

And we will.   

Son, after shoveling our front step. He’s 5’10”

The Sound A Clock Makes

Like anything worth doing, it’s worth doing well.  And doing something ‘well’ is quite relative a term.  And I hate starting sentences with ‘and’.  Ugh.    

As I’m feverishly writing my next entry into the anthology of ‘Books People Will Read After I’m Dead’ I’ve been missing events and goings on to which I really should have been paying more attention.   As I was downing my glass of wine the other night, someone mentioned something about Tik Tok.  I’m thinking Nanny’s noisy clock that is currently hanging in her kitchen and dings every BLESSED HOUR ON THE HOUR, but no.  Tik Tok is an app for lip-syncing and karaoke-gone-awry.   It’s a social media app that lets a person download a video of someone singing badly to N’Sync or the Backstreet Boys or maybe amore current musician like the Biebs.  I’m thinking of doing ‘Bye-Bye’ ala JT with the curls and the baggy jeans and the fancy-dancy moves. 

 

I could join Tik Tok and connect with the peeps who are jammin’ to NKOTB and IT’S BRITTANY, BITCH.  Maybe somebody singin’ some Alanis…Yeah.  “Isn’t it Ironic?  Don’t ya think?”  I could so NOT do that.  Well.  Not well.  At all.  

 Maybe I’ll do a video of Mags when she borks at the ‘hood dogs.  She could be the next big thing!  Add some music and BAM she’s the four-legged Madonna of the doggo-world.  Maybe she could do a whole rap-thing. Instead of ‘Lose Yourself’ she could do ‘Poo Yo’self’.    EPIC.  

I’ll keep brain-storming some ideas whilst desperately trying to stay on-trend.  Do we still say ‘whilst’?   Ugh.  

 

The Visitor. A Remembrance Day Story

Every year on this day, I post this story as a reminder of the sacrifice of so many for our freedoms.  I wrote this a few years ago hoping to pay homage to those brave men and women who continue to fight for us every day. 

Lest we forget. 

New-Poppy-Flowers-Free-HD-Wallpaper-03

The Visitor

I watched as the plane landed with a thunderous roar, the engines coming to an abrupt halt as if the pilot had simply turned the switch to the ‘off’ position.  I stood with my back hard against the biting wind, wondering if I should prepare a salute or simply stand at attention.  I waited for some direction from my superior officer, but none came.  I believe the shock of the arrival and the excitement of having such a prolific visitor come adrift upon our rocky shores had sent us all into a wave of silent awe.

It was November 1942.  The world was engulfed in the biggest conflict known to man, the classic battle between good and evil personified by the leaders of European nations struggling to define the world on their own terms, ignoring the plight and suffering of those they plundered into despair.  Leaders who were so enmeshed in their own agendas they took no notice of the people being tortured and beaten or of children being left to die on the streets with explosions and gunfire rattling their souls, shattering lives and dreams without a second thought.   Our little part of the world seemed so distant and removed from such gross atrocities against humanity, save the work our army was doing to assist our allies.  Our shores were vulnerable and England knew the possibility of oncoming attacks, sending reinforcements to protect our rocky cliffs by setting up battlements to keep constant watch over our ocean.  I say ‘our ocean’ as if we, the country of Newfoundland, could even suggest possessing such a thing.  This living, breathing entity entrusted to us by God to forever protect and nurture, and in return permission to fish her open blue waters.  She bestowed food in abundance to feed our families, nourish a growing country and sustain our people through long harsh winters, all the while, the stars beckoning fishermen to take to their boats and sail beneath their watchful gazes, enrapturing them in the ocean’s song of freedom and peace. The salty water blowing upon our land giving weight to the wet laundry strung out to dry on the tenuous lines, the gale force winds blowing it skyward.  Salt we could taste upon our lips, and feel the sting in our eyes after waiting and watching for our husbands, fathers, brothers and uncles to return home from months at sea.  Our lives hung in limbo, much like the laundry blowing haphazardly across the blue horizon. We were left to protect our waters, land and people with nothing more than a few strong men and the good sense God had granted us to outlast the evil dictators who were waging war against England.  We watched as our men and women departed for lands far out reaching our own, with the ever present knowledge that they may never return.  We applauded their bravery, mocked the suggestions of indignant retreats and prayed for their eventual safe return to Newfoundland’s humble embrace.

The wind blew out like a blast from God as I blindly stood, tears streaming down my face with my hands frozen by my side.  The Botwood air base was abuzz with excitement, people milling about in the cold waiting for the slightest chance of catching a glimpse of his surly expression, most likely with a lit cigar firmly planted between his teeth as ashes trailed his every step.  This was the man who held the fate of England in his hands although promising years of struggle and grief, he never wavered in his belief that we could withstand the loss of lives brought upon us by Hitler’s egocentric views that embraced the inane and contemptible.

The entire world watched as England waged war against the tyranny of this dictator. The population poured passionate and all-encompassing faith into a beloved and respected Prime Minister, believing he could lead the world to victory over the malevolent force spreading across Europe.   I was excited by the prospect of meeting the leader of almighty England, but nervous he may look upon me as subservient.  His stellar military career had ignited my own aspirations of service, however I knew that I was not his equal.  His brilliance was far beyond my capacities and I was quickly daunted by the challenges of such a life during this tumultuous time. It was as if people knew this was an era of change and historic will; nations rose together in allegiance to restore peace, hope and the conviction that all people should live without having to witness death and destruction in their backyards. It was a time where the future seemed uncertain, the constant news of battles and resulting casualties the topic of every radio broadcast, but when he took to the airwaves, we rose in unison to hope the end of such senseless slaughter would soon be upon us.  I recalled hearing the warnings from the Prime Minister years before this terrible outbreak regarding Hitler’s rampant greed for superiority and his assembling of armies in the name of ‘white supremacy’.  Although he was politely ignored, Churchill could see Europe’s demise propelling forward and he was prepared to rally a nation to stand tall and fight.  His inspiring words sprang intense patriotism that only war time mentality could comprehend, and years later as he took his seat as Prime Minister, he became England’s savior as well as our guide into the dark abyss of war.

I watched in wonder as the man of whom I had been inspired emerged from the plane, the propellers slowing as the engines died.  He stood, his long trench billowing about his ankles and lit his cigar surreptitiously beside the plane’s engines.  I smiled as I watched, seeing the horrified looks from my superiors at Churchill’s disregard for such trivialities as an impending explosion from a lighter in proximity to the plane’s fuselage.  They hurriedly escorted him away from the danger zone and into a path leading directly to where I was standing.  The smile must have still been securely glued upon my face as he approached and smiled back at me.  His hat had almost succumbed to a violent gust of wind and he forcefully replaced it upon his head.  He looked me up and down as if inspecting my presence in such a desolate and isolated place and said loudly, “Hello, Sergeant!  So, how do you like it up here in Newfoundland?”  I was momentarily stunned staring into his bright blue eyes and the energy and warmth behind them tempted a reply from my gaping frozen lips. “Fine, sir” I sputtered, “I like it fine.”

KJ