We moved a great deal. I didn’t know or care why, at the time. It meant changing schools most times. The first school years were lucky. I got to do kindergarten, grade one and part of grade two all at Machray School. You make friends. I still remember mine. Bobby Cowie, who burnt his feet stepping onto a hot kitchen stove while trying to reach cookies in the overhead cupboard, Ronnie Stachursky (he is in a later story), Allan Burns, Terry Matvichuk, Sheldon Lipton, Tommy Pundyk, Harvey Z, who had a bad heart and probably died before he was twelve and Marshall Gardner, whose dad was a musician and whose mom used to let Marshall bring me home for lunch. The first time he brought me home he told his mom that I was his best friend. I hadn’t thought of him in many years and then out of the blue on December 13th, 2013 he popped into my mind. I Googled his name, just to see if anything would come up and I learned that he had died four days earlier. As we travel through time, we touch so many people, so briefly. Some provide such genuine human contact that even though we are like ships passing in the night, we remember them all our life. He turned out to be a good-looking man, just like me.
After the sandstone apartment and the upper duplex on Redwood we moved to Selkirk Avenue. For the first time, of many times that would follow, I had to change schools and meet new kids. It was the middle of the school year, I was in grade two. I don’t think Mrs. Hunter, my Machray School teacher was sad to see me go. Miss Anderson, my new Aberdeen School teacher was young and tried to make the best of it. The area we moved to on Selkirk Avenue was a commercial district. Our new residence was built on to the back of a small building that was a restaurant. It was a two story house. From one of the upstairs bedrooms you could get out onto the flat roof above the restaurant and look up and down Selkirk.
There was construction happening on the corner of Flora and Power, right near the school. Big holes were being dug in the ground and a few houses were boarded up and readied to be hauled away. While exploring the site one day, a grade three boy, who was supposed to be my friend, encouraged me to climb through a window opening into one of the derelict houses. It was a spooky place, tilted, already off its foundation and I’m sure was unsafe. Once inside, alone, my ‘friend’ covered the window opening back up and I was trapped in the pitch dark of the ghost house. We were not friends after that.
Across the street huge piles of dirt were dumped from the construction site. One day I climbed the mountain and jumped off. As I braced myself for landing, I sliced through a pinky finger, to the bone, on shards of broken glass. I ran home with a dangling bloody finger and it was determined that hydrogen peroxide, iodine and a band aid would be sufficient treatment. All of the cures were more painful than the wound. I still carry the scar. Six years later that same pinky was crushed under John Wrens foot while playing basketball in gym class. That finger is much flatter and broader than its counterpart on the other hand.
On the corner across from the dirt pile was a small neighborhood store, the kind you don’t find anymore. They sold firecrackers. Our friend Lance, from across the back alley, bought a little firebox schoolhouse, that when lit, shot off like a Roman candle and then burned into ashes. Perhaps it was a concession for those kids that would have been happy to see their real school burn down. We used to challenge each others courage by seeing who could hold an exploding Lady Finger in their hand through detonation. But poor Lance had a string of firecrackers go off inside his clothing one time and was badly burnt.
Here we are standing on the stoop of our Selkirk house. This was at the back of the house, even though it was our front door. You can see that we are smartly dressed, likely readied for our first day at the new school. Lil still lived with us. I continued to suffer the humiliation of my father’s hair cutting. My expression shows how excited I am about getting to go to a strange new school. The Evil Sister is digging her fingernails into my spine, trying to make me smile for the camera and the Angel Monster is inside continuing to poop in his pants.
The best thing about Selkirk were the stores. Right across the street was a small 5 and dime store where I got to buy a Civil War hat for $2, which was the fashion for young boys at the time. A block down was a movie theater where I saw 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, in full technicolor, but missed the solar eclipse that happened outside while I was at the afternoon matinee. Across the street from Aberdeen School was the Dairy Dell, where you could get the best soft ice-cream that was ever made on planet Earth.
But, in the basement of our house was a stairwell shaft, behind a closed door. It was never used, in a state of halted construction. I looked in there once. It was black as night and bottomless. I imagined that we had a stairway to hell, right there in our basement.
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