As I approach the middle stretch of my 67th year of life, I am reminded how much my precious mother meant to me. Actually, all of us within her domain, husband and four siblings owed her much. This dear lady, Mildred, now rests somewhere in the great expanse of Heaven, I am sure, since we must meet again.
Now she knows, surely, of how much this once young lad spent many a day in adventures not spoken about around the kitchen table. If only she knew at the time. Thank goodness and all that. Oh yes, mothers, if you only knew then what I and my other dear friends learned to do without the intrusion of parental rules.
Oh, children of today, you miss so much with your lives programmed like little robots, surrounded with do's and don'ts, your bodies chafing under the protection of well-meaning parents who worry so much you will hurt yourself. I speak from the point of view of a survivor. My limbs are intact and am of sound mind.
Ages 9-11 were special to those of us who still remember the early 1950s. For those of us who enjoyed a boyhood in Scouting, Cubs meant testing our early stages of testosterone, pitting our exuberance against one another for a week of summer fun. Jostling each other in King of the Castle meant risking being flung off a hillside onto brambles and ravines of smelly leaves where snakes coiled in waiting.
Thankfully our bruises mended by the time we returned home with clean underwear, washed the day before after a week's usage at Cub camp. Of course we had to rush into the washroom to clean our hands before an accumulation of germs overtook our dear mom. And being thrown into the lake the day before by other friends meant bath finally arrived.
For some strange reason, bugs and other insects were an attraction. Capturing them was a challenge. How many of us played with grasshoppers, held stinky snakes, got chased by hornets whose nest we bombarded with chunks of mud, and climbed trees until there was only sky left to hold onto?
During our Boy Scout days, a little older should have meant wiser. But our antics at the same summer place grew in daring. Now we tried to lure innocent friends close to the hornets nests so when discovered we could observe the pace at which they ran screaming into the lake. All of us raced closely behind jumping into the lake fully clothed followed by a frenzy of wrestling and horsy-back jousting.
Mind you, there was adult leadership around and definitely some rules to behold, like arriving at the table on time and no swearing in front of adults. Some of us dared try the nasty vocabulary in private sessions with our peer group.
Boys had a code, never to be broken under pain of loss of friendship. If one wet the bed, it was taboo to speak of it openly. Being called "Pissy Pants" was simply too much of a burden for a young fellow to endure. And friends never intruded on what went on at home, should there have been any rebukes for missed homework, or being lax in household chores. Those were subjects not only taboo for discussion but remained in the domain of family privacy.
Spending time with younger brothers, talking to girls, or being seen in your underwear was also a no-no. And if you cried in front of friends, you would be barred from all social engagements such as wrestling, climbing trees or mud fights, since everyone fretted about causing any thin-skinned kid to be brought to tears. Yes, masking tears at all costs, was a password into proper boyhood.
I remember the pain endured when during a recess in grade one, I tried to punch a boy my age in the stomach. When he quickly stepped aside, my little fist smacked into the school wall causing four of my knuckles to get quite bloody, with strands of skin hanging. No way would anyone report me, nor I of this occasion and returning home I had to hide my continuing tears and aching knuckles. To this day, small scars remain on two knuckles.
And the time friends and I were chasing each other something we often did, either through tag or simply trying to punch each other on the shoulder, I fell down. My right hand landed on top of a nail sticking upwards from a board and pierced my hand. With all my bravado, I simply pulled my numb hand upwards from the nail, which had punched through from the flat side to knuckle, and rushed home shouting "Lockjaw!" and my friends joining the procession to my apartment. Mom rushed me off to the doctors for a 'shot' of prevention.
I even tried being a doctor myself those early days, while under the supervision of my eight year old sister. She recently reminded me I would cut open festering wounds on our huge cat, Whiskers, who liked to remind neighbourhood strays, he was King of the heap. I would slather his cuts with Iodine, and he would roar out into the night not returning for several days until the healing was done, and the pain too. But then, tens of years later, someone decided Iodine was not safe. I'm still around, in spite of Iodine marking up many sections of my legs, arms and feet with colourful smears.
Oh memories. How they attach themselves like a bandana around our necks as we played Gene Autry and Roy Rogers, cap guns blazing, noise revolting in the apartment, until we were chased outside. We built forts, more like teepees, and chased each other from one side of the hill to another, even to the forbidden territory of the Boutour farm. It was there where someone might grab you, and feed you to the pigs, which roamed at will in a large fenced in area.
When we finally returned home after the adventures of summer camp, or simply being outside, mother was waiting with a hot meal. Whatever it was, we ate it, all of it, whether it was porridge, beans and toast, hamburg or wieners, or soup. We ate it, all of it, or else. Thankfully we were always so hungry we never did find out what the 'or else' was.
Now that I am older, I grow fonder for those young memories, of a day when rules and do's and don'ts were far and far away. I still remember my fondness for walking the pipeline which carried refuse from Noranda Copper Mine in our hometown of Rouyn-Noranda, Quebec. It extended several miles into the countryside and expelled into a huge lagoon of waste product. I, and others dared each other to tip toe across this pipeline approximately two feet in diameter and ten feet above the lagoon.
We did this many times unaware of what would happen if we fell into the slop. Often I would shout aloud, "Look mom, no hands!" And she would have screamed and fainted at the sight. Oh mother, I can see you now chortling as I retell those moments. But, at the time, they were a private part of my life and perhaps helped me to become the man you loved. You 'sleep tight' too mom. Goodnight from your son, Richard.
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Richard L. Provencher 2009
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