When Life Was As Simple As a Peanut Butter Sandwich

There was no internet, or iphone or i-anything. We had jump ropes and played hide-and-seek. Lunches were packed in paper bags or plastic lunchpales. We had milk tickets and rarely drank pop. We played games outside like tag and dodgeball and tether ball. We went to the park and organized softball games or climbed the monkey bars. We played Red Rover in the space that belonged to the person who had the biggest back yard. We went swimming at Jaycee pool and walked a mile or more to get there. We rode our bikes, skinned out our knees (and in my case, my face), and threw a ball against a brick wall when we got bored. We climbed trees, made forts outside and chased butterflies. We went tobogganing in the winter, threw snowballs and built snowmen. We sucked on icicles (nature’s popsicles), chewed bubblegum until our jaws ached and dared somebody to eat a worm. We went fishing, threw rocks in the river and played truth or dare. We had sleepovers, went to drive-in movies and knocked on our friends’ doors to come outside. We ate dinner in under ten seconds, had summer jobs and after school ones, too. We walked or took the bus everywhere and hung out at the mall.
That is what childhood looked like.
Now it looks like this:
Talking is through a cell phone and it isn’t with your mouth, it’s with your fingers. Video games are played indoors. Jump ropes are for the ladies at the gym. Bike riding is for the people on TV or for people who don’t have cars and need to get to work. Organizing outdoor games is unheard of. What’s Red Rover? Climbing trees is illegal, I think. Balls are a part of a guy’s anatomy. Lunch is going to McDonald’s and coffee at Starbucks. A bagged lunch means you don’t have any money and it basically sucks to be you. Fishing is for dads on the weekend. Outside in the cold?! Maybe if there’s snowboarding or somebody has an ice rink in the backyard. Icicles are frozen acid rain. Snowmen are too heavy to build. Tobogganing means climbing back UP the hill. Ugh. Walking anywhere is dangerous. Throwing a snowball means you have aggressive tendencies and anger management issues and will require counselling. Truth or dare is played on the internet and is called Facebook. Hanging out at the mall still happens and the crew you hang with is the Bloods. Selling a ‘pip’ is not candy. After school jobs require a curriculum vitae and a multitude of references. A young person working through University or College gets a disparaging look from the instructor.
Generation gaps aside, there’s a big one here. We are to blame, but let’s not discount the kids just yet.
They work hard to get good grades, they work their part-time jobs in spite of adults barraging them with complaints and cynicism, they do their volunteer work, play team sports, take music lessons, and drive mom’s car to pick up the siblings at the after school tutoring program. They take out the garbage, do their own laundry, buy their books, pay for their gas, clean their rooms and feed the dog. They battle peer shit, try to side-step the drugs and the alcohol, tone down the drama on Facebook and keep their wits about them. They spend their money on i-tunes and at Starbucks, buy Christmas presents for their friends and remember birthdays. They know about the bullies and try to steer clear, defend their friends in the face of that mean kid in math and learn that as much as life sucks sometimes, they’ll always have that guy on Youtube to make them laugh. They love their parents and think they’re lame sometimes and they have no sense of humour at all. Home is a great place to hang out and eat everything in the fridge. Their bed is their refuge. They know a lot about fashion. They think they’re invincible.
So did we.
We are raising a totally different generation of beings. In spite of, or despite all the technological advances these kids are still producing ideas and generating a whole new set of problems…but maybe solutions too. Let’s not judge too harshly. Sure our childhoods were completely different, but so were the times we lived in.
They’re alright…
We three

Over the Fence

A wooden fence bordered the frayed sandy path that ran along the property lines in the backyards of the row of townhouses where I lived. Beyond our back fence, there lay a barbed wire fence, laden with greenery and big overhanging trees. From where I stood in my backyard in the burgeoning twilight, the greenery took on an ominous presence. They seemed beckoning to me; mocking our lack of yardage and lush vegetation. Teasing me with open handed limbs knowing I could not pass the rusted barbed wire placed on the top. I wanted so much to hop the fence and wander aimlessly in that backyard. To touch the overhanging tree branches, to feel the cold leaves of the green ferns, to walk barefoot in the cushion of the grass, luxurious and cool under my warm feet. I yearned to explore the secrets the big maple tree stood to protect, the dark spaces under its trunk a haven for hidden treasures and buried dreams. The rooftop of the house owning the backyard was a grey shingle that sloped on an angle to the yard as if leaning over it protectively, ensuring I was aware of its masterdom over the lawn I yearned to grasp and explore. It warned me of impending doom lest I fall to the temptation and crawl through the hole in the bottom of the thick chain link I knew was there. I had watched neighbouring kids bend and crawl, their t-shirts snagged from the jagged edge of the cut steel link then scurry atop that opulent grass, their feet barely touching as they went. I’m sure the owners had some idea as to the hole, but no one ever made any attempt to fix it. The fence served to keep us out, however, allowed the smaller few into the domain. I remained an admirer; a true patron of the green ferns lending their hands to mine across the dusty path.
I watched that backyard grow for eighteen years, its owners changing hands, the green ferns more lush with each passing year, until finally, I could only see the rooftop. The overgrowth finally enveloped the barbed wire fence, barring my vision of the green lawn I was confident was still there. The green lawn I still yearn to wander barefoot across.

chain link night
I dream of standing in my faraway backyard at twilight, looking out at those green ferns and the dark shadows hovering over the grass; that yard that harbored so much of my childhood and longing for greener surroundings.

The Double Dutch Tragedy of 1975

Falling, tripping and losing my balance has all led to my face kissing cement, parking barriers, random walls, rubber balls and softballs at some point in my life.  It’s not that I’m totally inept with the art of walking, it’s just that I’m too preoccupied with other variances occurring within my plane of vision to be particularly careful.

My experience with aptly titled ‘face plants’ started early on in my young life.  Ever the classic klutz, I managed to pull off some of the most infamous and awkward moments which invariably involved sports.  So, basically I suck at all sports.  Okay, and walking is tough, too.

To those of you who know me, my ineptitude for any and all sporting activities became glaringly obvious to you only after observing a phys ed class with me.  Or witnessing when I tried to play volleyball, or ever attempted to catch a basketball, or swing a bat, or throw a ball, or kick a soccer ball or stand on skates (both the roller kind…what?  I’m old enough…and ice)  Clearly, a painful experience for everyone.

My initial experience with falling causing any major bodily harm was probably a lot sooner than the one I am about to describe, however, since memories are only accessible to the human mind normally at or after the age of three,  I can only assume that the infamous Double Dutch Tragedy of 1975 was just one that I could remember out of a possible one hundred.

It was a hot summer day.  The sun was blazing down from a periwinkle sky and school had been out for a few weeks. The air was thick with humidity and the abundant energy of the pre-pubescent boys and girls anxious for fun, activity and the ring of the Dickie Dee truck. (those of you not familiar, Dickie Dee was most famous guy in the ‘hood bringing ice cream treats for every kid lucky enough to score a quarter)   The kids from my neighbourhood congregated in the parking lot where the cars were scant and enough room remained available for double dutch tournaments for the girls on one end and ball hockey games for the boys at the opposite end.  The townhouses we occupied were situated in a semi-circle, the parking at the centre, the houses facing the lot.  I somehow managed to participate in both these sports, albeit in the ill-fated ball hockey game as a bystander/participant/ball catcher-gone-horribly-awry, but that’s another story.

The skipping game of double dutch required skilled timing, lightening fast reflexes and athletic ability akin to an Olympic gymnast in order to pull off the tricks and jumps all the girls were doing. You can see how that drew me to this game.

The rope turners were usually either two girls who, sadly, were at the bottom of the pecking order and who were just tall enough to make sure the rope just skimmed the ground when it was turned, or jumpers who were out by missing a jump and forced to take a turn at the ropes.  A toddler old enough to stand and turn ropes would have made due, but for some reason the mothers refused to put them out in a parking lot with a bunch of over obsessed double dutch enthusiasts and pre-teen ball hockey boys.  Go figure.  The jumpers were usually the girls who were so consumed with getting all the tricks and quick jumpy moves just perfect, that they usually took most of the skipping time.  And then there were girls like me.  Oh, sure we could jump and maybe even do a one foot at a time jump, but as for turning or touching the ground whilst jumping, that was a near impossibility.  We were lucky we were given a chance to participate at all.

We had to watch out for the cranky rope turners.  These were girls who wanted to be the jumpers but were relegated to have their turn doing rope duty and none too pleased about it.  You didn’t want to risk taking a turn jumping in between the ropes of these girls.  The perpetual whipping from the one hundred mile an hour lines proved detrimental to anyone brave enough to step foot in between.  This is where the lightening fast reflexes came into play.  One had to be quick so as not to get one’s face whipped or feet pulled out from under by the cranky rope turners, who if they happened to catch one unsuspecting jumper, just smiled an evil sort of grin then dropped their ropes declaring it was their turn to jump.

We sorted out who was turning and who was jumping first by taking orders from the bossy ones, then assuming our rightful place at the turner position.  After an hour of turning, I wanted a chance to jump.  Since it was an exceptionally humid day, some of the jumpers were getting hot and tired, so they took the opportunity to cool down and let one of the lame younger turners take a jump.  Gleefully, I took my stance and waited for the girls to start turning.  The ropes whipped by my face, the breeze tickling my nose as I closed my eyes and launched into a perfect entrance.  I opened my eyes and was jumping.  I did it!  I survived the initial rope peeling and managed to get in between the wildly swinging lines.  I jumped and soared and was about to exit for the next jumper to have a turn when things went horribly wrong.  My foot became twisted in one of the ropes and instead of sailing elegantly out onto the side to watch the other jumper, I went crashing down onto the hard cement. I opened my eyes to hear the screams of the other girls coming to my rescue.  I attempted to get up, but felt an awful stinging in my knee.  I looked down at my raw red palms, then at the skin hanging from my knee as the blood trickled down and I began to cry.  As my face crumpled into shocked pain, I felt an awkward stinging from my chin and forehead.

That's what I would have been doing had my face not decided to go before my hands....

That’s what I would have been doing had my face not decided to go before my hands….

The girls saw the blood streaming from my face, my leg and my knee and immediately went into Florence Nightingale mode.  Somebody yelled for my mother, somebody else went knocking on some random neighbour’s door and one girl tried to soothe my pain by saying “Ewwww…you’re bleeding from your face!”  She’s now a Therapeutic Counselor for accident victims of double dutch tragedies.

I remember getting up, the blood streaming from my face and my knee and my mother running out to see what all the commotion was about.  One look at my bloodied and scraped face and the exclamation of “OH MY GOODNESS WHAT HAPPENED!”  sent all the girls running for the hills.  My mom snagged me from under the arm and I was taken inside.  A while later, after sponging off the stinging parts with warm washcloths then sending me into fits of throbbing pain with the hydrogen peroxide to ‘clean it out’  I managed to see my reflection. It wasn’t pretty.  I looked more like a monster from a horror movie than the freckled face jumper of a mere half an hour ago. The red patches of dried blood were quite the contrast to my usually pale face, and my chin was swollen and sore after the beating it took smacking the cement.  After the blood had dried, scabs formed in a line from my forehead, along the bridge of my nose and all down my chin.  My thigh and my knee were not great, either.  Essentially, I had flown from the inner sanctions of the whipping ropes and belly flopped directly onto the pavement that had been baked in one hundred degree heat.

 My older brothers were very helpful and supportive with their “Nice face” remarks and “Gee, that looks like it hurt. Are you sure you were just skipping?  It looks like you were attacked by a rabid dog”.  I kinda wish I was.  Older brothers are awesome, really.

 “Well, at least you don’t have to go to school looking like that”.

Thanks, Mom.

Sadly, there have been many more incidents involving possible head injuries, bruising and even stitches once…but no broken bones which is a miracle, really.  Maybe I’ll tell the Ball Hockey Incident next.  It’s a classic.

The Dikes

As a slang term, ‘dyke’ is the euphemism for a lesbian woman, thus ‘the dikes’ may imply a pair of lesbian women.  Not in this instance.  The dikes referred to a land mass located on the south side of town that served as a hedge for the Steele Park which was a short walk from my house, and the expanse of land on the opposite side, that served no particular purpose during the years of my childhood.  Steele Park had one lowly swing set, a hut that was used for the parks and recreation staff for arts and crafts in the summer, a picnic table, a tether ball pole and later a playground ensemble that no one could decipher or by what force of nature had put it there.  It was so convoluted an engineer would need instructions to figure it out. The summer park recreational program was fraught with arts and crafts sessions or latent walks to tour the local police station.  Touring the Chatham city police was always a highlight for the summer programs and it was especially great for those of us situated on the other side of those dikes.  Far enough to want a bus but close enough to force the kids to walk.  We were shown real jail cells with steel bars and given the speeches of crossing the street safely on a green light.  The highlight was always some kid getting invariably locked in a cell while the rest of us taunted him and debated his future prospects as aninmate.

 The park and rec staff took pity on us who attended the Steele park afternoon arts and crafts sessions, as our reputation for the ‘bad’ part of town preceded us.  Their activities were usually poorly organized since staff kept refusing to attend to our park out of fear or loathing or both. Those who did show up were ill prepared and we found them particularly boring, but they tried to engage as many of the smaller ones as possible.  Their ‘hut’ was a focus point for break-ins and more than once their supplies depleted by the wayward teens who found alternate uses for craft glue.

Filled with lush grass and large maple trees on the boundaries between the park and the adjacent houses, the park was a great sanctuary in the summer and a tobogganing heaven in the winter.  The dikes served as a nemesis for toboggan gods looking for the next big hill to conquer and conquer it we all tried. 

  Feathered with trees and spots of grass, the dikes was the perfect sledding haven with its slopey side rising at the end of the park, then reaching a steep pinnacle, only to incline haphazardly down the other side that, in the seventies, was inhabited by nothing but solid clay ground and dirt underneath a few feet of snow that had turned to a solid sheen of ice by the time the hundredth kid had taken his turn. The city later found that land as a perfect site to build a housing development.  New and upscale homes began to populate our favorite tobogganing hill.  Soon, instead of our sleds, inner tubes and crazy carpets sliding downhill to an empty expanse of hard land, if left unmanned or steered improperly, they now headed straight into some person’s backyard and newly constructed deck.  I’m not sure what housing developer saw large cash rewards for this stroke of genius, but I’m guessing his pie in the sky idea never took to the fruition he had hoped.  Those kids with the sleds landing in the upscale backyards of the new land owners, surely put a damper on the whole “paradise” idea.  Especially if a wayward kid had inexplicably managed to detach a fence post or garner a concussion from a flying Christmas decoration. 

One afternoon, a young friend who did not live in our neighbourhood asked to go tobogganing down the dikes with me.  Shy and new to outside invitations, I eagerly accepted.  I was wearing my quite unfashionable bright orange snow pants my mother had just bought that severely clashed with my dark brown long nylon coat that ‘covered your bum to keep you warm’.  As if I was worried about ass-warmth at the age of eleven. I was quite conscientious about my attire, and swore under my breath as I walked down to the park to meet her.  She was waiting for me when I arrived and I immediately noticed her matching skiing ensemble and the color rose in my cheeks.  Afraid she would notice my lack of fashion sense I steeled myself for a sarcastic remark.  She made no attempts at humor at my expense nor did she seem too concerned with the temperature of my ass.

The girl and I took to the hill with crazy carpets in hand.  Using a crazy carpet on a hill made of ice that sloped severely and littered with rocks and tree stumps, was something of a daredevil escapade about which we would later contemplate our sanity.  This journey into sledding horror proved a rite of passage, as it were, for the faint of heart and junior Evel Knievel among us.   It was also an excellent training ground for future emergency room medical staff and those destined to treat head traumas.

We made the journey to the edge of the park and tackled the dikes.  Our initial runs down the hill proved exhilarating and exhausting.  The long walk back up (which really, wasn’t that long it just seemed like forever with all that clothing on, which did keep my ass warm in case you were wondering) was taking an eternity and we decided to move to another portion of the hill to get more of an exciting and steeper ride, because nothing says ‘temporary paralysis’ better than flying down a hill at the speed of light with a slick sheet of bendable plastic under your ass and the wayward tree stump making you airborne for what seemed like minutes, then landing with a tailbone-crushing thump on a boulder the size of Quebec.   My friend took her turn and I watched first in joy, that later turned to horror as her crazy carpet hit a sheen of ice, propelling her down the hill at an alarming rate of speed,  beating her off a tree stump and soaring her out of my range of vision.  I took to my carpet and tried my best to keep my eyes open for the ride, but most of it was a blur.  I made it in one piece down to the other side of the hill to find her gasping for breath and crawling on her hands and knees. 

In school, we had taken some first aid lessons and learned the new procedure of the Heimlich maneuver.  A technique that was designed to assist a person severely choking on her ham sandwich or chicken bone and anything else she had erroneously decided to attempt to swallow.  This newfound life-saving technique was supposed to dislodge a wayward object from the victim’s throat by performing intrusive stomach-pumping motions with your fists as you bear-hug the victim from behind, whispering sweet-you’ll-be-all-rights in their ear as you pummel the shit out of them, thus, allowing them the ability to breathe freely once again.  Quite simple, really.

Seeing my friend crawling and gasping for breath, I suddenly remembered she had been chewing gum when we began tobogganing.  With the Heimlich presentation still fresh in my mind and thinking I could rescue my new friend with the greatest technique ever known to mankind, I took it upon myself to be her heroine. Rescue the would-be daredevil with precision medical attention and expert execution of a brand new technique.  I would be lauded as saving a young girl’s life.  Wait ‘til her mother finds out she was near-death, but with the life-saving Heimlich, I brought her precious daughter back to life and saved her from inevitable brain-damage or worse, death from the dikes.

I quickly darted for her and wrapped my arms around her so my fists were securely in her stomach and began thrusting in urgent motions.  She tore away from me and started yelling at me.  “WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING?!!!”  Shocked, I backed away on the crunching snow and stared.  “I was saving you.  I thought you were choking” I replied a bit miffed that she didn’t appreciate my life-saving and quick-thinking first aid.  “I WASN’T CHOKING YOU DOPE!!  I GOT THE BLOODY WIND KNOCKED OUT OF ME.  STAY AWAY FROM ME!”  And with that, she took her crazy carpet and stomped back to the park.  I wandered home defeated, but still convinced the Heimlich could have saved her, if only she had let me.  No appreciation for the would-be life-saving first-aider in her midst.  We never went tobogganing together again.  I guess she was afraid of the whole ‘crazy girl with the orange pants thinks everybody is choking’ thing.  I hope somebody knew what he was doing when she found herself choking on her chicken wings one Friday night and I wasn’t there to put my mad stomach-pummeling fist-thrusting Heimlich-Maneuver skills to work to save her ass.  Meanwhile, my orange pants took a sabbatical and my crazy carpet was in the garbage the next day.  

I should point out Steele Park now looks nothing like it did when I was a kid.  Everything is gone but a climbing apparatus. The dikes look like a little incline with trees and a cemented path running through it and the ‘housing development’ spared the better part of the clay ground.  Instead, they covered it in sod and kept a field of green to have something pretty to look at instead of screaming daredevils careening towards their flower gardens.  Everything seemed so much more mountainous when I was four feet tall.   

 

 

  

The Barn

white-wood-black-barn-old-wooden-grass-hi-274116

I remember being in the presence of an old barn.  This was back in the seventies when the summers were hot and seemed to last a whole year, not a mere few months.  We with nothing more to do but to wander aimless and reckless, our shorts hiked up and our faces flushed from the heat, trudging through yards and barren forest looking for adventure.  Or shade.

There stood before me a large black structure, the wood rotted and the inside dilapidated. The tall A-frame of the roof pointing skyward as if noting the direction of heaven.  The window at the top was gone; replaced with just a wooden bi-fold door hanging off its hinges.  The wood was split and left hanging, the wind blowing the shards innocently, as if afraid to blow too hard and break them. The grass lay brown and dry, the summer quickly turning into fall the leaves having fallen, dried up brown and withered away.  The dirt road was dry and gravelly, the stones crunching when we walked upon them.  There was a gaggle of us, the kids.  We were dispersed in age, the older ones herding the younger ones around the barn discovering it’s secrets and noting its dangerous allure. We were alone out in the country. Of course, near Chatham the country is everywhere around the outskirts of town.  I couldn’t have been far from where I lived.  I can’t imagine my mother ever allowing me to stray too far from her sight.   The attraction to the old building was in its mystique.  The rotting wood that once housed what exactly?  Animals?  Hay?  Corn?

   I’m not sure I was ever inside the barn.  The large looming face stands resolutely in my memory, however, any ideas of lofts or ropes or any items deemed ‘barn materials’ seems out of reach to me.  Was it a dream I had and I thought it was a memory?  Maybe, as the motives for attending the scene secretly remain hidden within the black rotting wood.

My brother seemed to have been the catalyst for my presence at the site.  My cousins were there as well, but more as outlying extras in a movie set.  Their milky dreamlike movements float through my mind and I can see their smiling faces looking down at me, mocking my existence among the big kids.

My memory of the old barn ends there.  I have no idea how we managed to travel so far outside of town, or even if it was that far out.  I just remember the feeling of freely walking about and curious as to its existence.  I know it’s no longer standing out in the country, but it’s nice to visit from time to time….