Ape

So that was the nickname I acquired early in my grade eight school year at David Stoddart. It was initially anointed upon me by Jackie Collins, a longer time resident in Clinton. He was known as an excellent hockey player and outstanding athlete but a bully and not very bright. He was one of a number of boys in my grade that seemed to be a year or two older. He pronounced that my arms were too long and made me look like an ape and henceforth I would be known as Ape. I viewed this as derogatory at first but after a short while everybody called me by this name, with no mocking or ill intent.

There were a few bullies at the start of that school year. Harlan and David Gentry made snide comments and I called them infantile. Then they chided me for knowing ‘big words’. They were friends with Jackie Cherry and egged him on to try to have a fight with me on the soccer field. Never happened and Jackie and I became pretty good friends. The Gentry brothers became inconsequential quickly and never bothered me after that. I supposed they had their own challenges, being native, as was Jackie Cherry, though that didn’t occur to me at the time, they were just bullies, the same as white Jackie Collins.

Bully problems were pretty fleeting and I got on quite well with most everybody, had lots of friends and had lots of fun times. I may have been something of a target at first because I was fairly small at that time, a newcomer to Clinton and stood out a bit because my school grades were in the high nineties and most of the kids were academically quite average or worse. I was not a teachers pet or favored in class, I was just interested, paid attention and found most of the work quite easy. That would change later, after moving from Clinton. That story is coming up in a while.

Because I was the boy brainiac of the eighth grade there seemed to be an expectation that I would side up with Diane Seneschal, who was the girl brainiac of the eighth grade. She was very nice and seemed to like me but there was not really a spark. I was thirteen and more interested in hanging out with the guys. And besides there were a couple girls I thought were more fun than Diane, though she was pleasant and smart, but we were 13.

After a while I didn’t mind the nickname and it was even a bit welcome, since many of the guys had nicknames, so I got to be one of them. Like my buddy Bernie who was well known as Rocky.

Life happens to us all eventually. Jackie Collins moved away at 16, had a hard working life as a carpenter and heavy equipment operator and died in his early sixties. His wife died when she was forty-nine and they lost a son as well. I don’t know what happened to Harlan and David Gentry nor Jackie Cherry. I do remember learning that one of my classmates, David Wernbacher, lost his brother Rudy on July 1st, just before we moved to Clinton. David sat at the back of our grade eight classroom and though he never showed sorrow in his face he had a look of emptiness about him. Rudy was 19, died in or near Banff and I heard it was a car accident. He is buried in the Pioneer Cemetery.

There was a fellow at David Stoddart that drove his very red and shiny Mustang Coupe to school. No doubt a grade twelve student. If I recall, he had a goatee and drove a bit fast, as if his Mustang was a race car. I wondered if Rudy Wernbacher had been his friend. His name was Dick Titford, a name which may have drawn bullies upon him when he was younger. Pretty sure he would go by Richard now.

I saw Rocky in 2003. Connected after 37 years and it was like we had just seen each other last week. He remembered me as Ape.

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