Family and Love

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                                                       Chapter Excerpts:

                                       Chapter One: Bristol, England, 1945-53

  What I remember most favorably about my early days in England, are the times I spent with my dear granny on my mother’s side of the family.
   Granny used to take me out for walks, and amazing walks they were, up and down the roads of Henleaze, the Bristol neighborhood where we lived.
   We always ended up going along streets which were lined on both sides with all sorts of small shops, amongst which were several candy shops and  toy shops. Sooner or later, we inevitably wandered into these stores.
   The candy stores were usually sort of dark inside. All around me, on the counter-tops, were huge glass jars containing various sweets of every color and flavor. Behind the glass display counters were rows of chocolate bars, amongst which Mars and Crunchie were my favorites.
I also recall having an affinity for sherbet, a powdery substance which you sucked up through a liquorice straw, which could itself be devoured after the sherbet was all gone.
   When we invaded the toy shops, it was nearly always for the purpose of obtaining some new soldier or cowboy for my small army of metal troops. Or we might purchase a few tiny animals for a toy farm which I can vaguely remember owning. And there would also be the occasional Dinky Toy, a little metal steam-roller, or a double-decker bus, or a garbage truck, on those special days when granny had a little more money.
   Thus, with these assorted tokens of love from my granny, I spent many a contented hour playing by myself in that private, beautiful, inviolable world of innocence, the child’s mind. 


                                        Chapter Two: Alberta, 1953-54       

The coming of Spring brought another new seasonal event to my attention.
   Roadside ditches which had been deep and empty during Winter suddenly became raging rivers. They moved with such rapidity and power that I was quite afraid of them.
   Upon their brown and frothy surfaces, it was common practice for the youngsters of Stockton to sail small sticks, or little plastic boats purchased from the local ‘five and dime’ store.
   Naturally I too had my little plastic boats, two of them, which I treasured very much. One had a blue top and a red bottom, and was modeled after a fancy motor boat. The other was more like a small sailboat, only it had no mast or sail. Perhaps it did have them when I first got the boat, but they were not a part of it when I lost it. The bottom part of this second boat was yellow, while the top was red.
   Whenever these raging streams came to a crossroads, their torrents would disappear into long dark pipes which carried their force beneath the intersecting roadway, and spewed it forth again on the other side.
   At the point where the water would come gushing out of these pipes, there was always a relatively small calm backwater, just to each side of the pipe.
   It was from these little swirling bays that I would launch my tiny boats.
   Once they had been carried out into the main current, I then ran along the bank of the stream beside my fast-moving boats until the current brought them to another pipe opening.
   Here, where the river narrowed and the current increased accordingly, I would reach out and retrieve my fleet of two ships.

                             CHAPTER 3: QUEBEC, SPRING & SUMMER, 1954
    Besides our trip to the candy store, there was another event of major importance which occurred every Saturday morning. This other one took place at the bottom of the street where the railroad tracks passed.
   There were three sets of tracks there. One was a rust-coated old sidetrack which was hardly ever used. Another was the mainline, along which all the regular traffic moved. The third, which lay between the other two, was a siding that was used whenever two trains had to pass one another while going through Harding in opposite directions.
   Every Saturday morning, the schedule of an east-bound freight train and a west-bound passenger train coincided in the town. Naturally the diesel driven passenger train had priority over the freight, which was pulled over onto the side-track by one of those amazing steam engines.
So once a week, at ten-thirty every Saturday morning, all the kids on the block would gather  at the bottom of the street to watch the freight train slowly move onto the siding, where it would then wait until the passenger train had passed through.
   The passenger train would slow down quite a bit on its’ journey through town.  We could see all the people inside the train, eating their breakfast in the dining car or relaxing in the other cars.
   As the engine rolled by, the engineer always had a wave for us, which was the great thing about train drivers that unfortunately didn’t happen a lot with other people. Those train drivers always had time to smile and wave at a kid.
   After the trains and the trip to the candy store, it was off to the park nearby where hours would slowly float by as we tried to see who could swing the highest, who could spin the merry-go-round fastest, who could come down the slide in the craziest position, or who could bounce highest on the teeter-totters. 


                               CHAPTER 4: SCHOOL IN HARDING, 1954-57
     Oh bubble-gum cards! Oh beautiful bubble-gum cards, two complete sets of which I still have today. Still you smell strongly of those thin pink strips of powder-coated bubble-gum with four perforations so the entire slab could be broken into five equal parts.
     So many sets that I tried to collect, rolling nickel after nickel over the candy counters of the various stores in Harding, in an effort to satisfy my craving for some sort of accomplishment.
     Davy Crockett cards…I got the whole set! Wild West cards…I got all of Calamity Jane, all of Buffalo Bill, missed one Wild Bill Hickok, and three Jesse James!
     Hockey cards! HOCKEY CARDS! The first year that I tried, all six NHL teams were in the same series of one hundred cards. I ended in the low nineties. Not bad for a beginner. Next year the teams were split into two sets, one for the Canadian teams, and another for the American teams.
     Since my loyalties had become affixed to the Chicago Black Hawks by the time of my second season of noticeable exposure to the sport of hockey, I dedicated my efforts to completing the American teams’ series. Which I did for three consecutive seasons! Two of these sets are the ones I still have with me today.   

                                  CHAPTER  5: SUMMER OF GRADE SIX, 1957
     What a great day we had too, roaming about the country-side, exploring, playing hide-n-seek and just living, just really living.
     One of the boys who came with us was another good friend and classmate of mine. I haven’t mentioned him before now for the simple reason that he was closer to others than to me, and I was closer to others than to him. But we’d been classmates for three years, and he was easily the greatest all-round kid in the class.
     Michael Corbett was also a great athlete. He was far and away the best player in little league baseball, an area where I had met a fate similar to the one I experienced in hockey.
     But Michael always had time to play scrub, or give other kids some of his time and help them in any way he could. He was a great swimmer too. Hell, Michael was great all-round athlete and a great human being too. He could have gone a long way. He could have been something else.
     Besides being together in the same class at school for three years, Michael and I also met quite frequently at the parish church, because we were both altar boys. Since we had to go to church anyway, serving mass was a far more interesting way of spending our time there than sitting in the pews with the rest of the congregation. Aside from serving mass on Sundays, each altar boy had to come to the church once every two weeks to serve at an early morning mass. It wasn’t too bad getting up early for those masses during the summer. It usually gave you an early start on a long leisurely day of fun and enjoyment. But serving mass during the Winter was a whole different proposition.
     How unnatural it always felt to me as I was roused from my warm bed at six o’clock by my mother on a cold Winter morning.
     It was pitch black outside, and often a light snow would be falling as I trudged through the deserted streets of Harding. There were never more than half a dozen people at those early masses either, just a couple of nuns and one or two elderly people in an otherwise deserted church. The voice of the priest’s incantations would echo mournfully down the empty pews, past the tall pillars, and up into the choir loft.
    I always went to those masses on an empty stomach too, so that I could receive communion.
    Summer wasn’t nearly so bad though.  During Summer the sun was well up before even the earliest mass. I often rose quickly and had something to eat before leaving the house. Those masses were a whole lot easier to take on a full stomach.
     I remember very clearly getting up for one of those early masses on a bright Summer morning after grade six, the Summer that Michael died.
He and I were scheduled to serve together at seven o’clock. 
     My mother had called me for breakfast at six-thirty. When I went outside after eating, there was Michael, waiting by the road with his bicycle. He had thought of knocking at the door, but then decided against it in case everyone was asleep.
     Such is my most vivid recollection of Michael, full of life at quarter to seven on a Summer morning, leaning against his bike, grinning with the sunlight pouring down on his tousled hair.
     Other incidents that I shared with Michael also stand out, but in none of them can I recall his face being so clear and bright. That day we shared together at Rigaud with Randy and a few other close friends was the last time I ever saw Michael alive.
     He was out walking with his grandfather a few days later, when he began to complain of a headache. Back at his house he went straight to bed. A few days after that he went to the hospital, and in another week he was dead from spinal meningitis. Understandably my mother was more than glad that she had let me go on the bicycle trip with Michael and the others.

                 CHAPTER 6: SCHOOL IN DORVAL, GRADES 8-10, 1958-61
      One of the things that quite held my interest in grade eight was a big field that lay between our school and the nearby highway. It was a large field, covered with tall grass and surrounded by a few strips of trees.
During the warm days of September and October, and again in May and June, quite a few couples from the older grades at school could be seen wandering about in the fields during lunch-hour. They occasionally disappeared below the level of the high grass to indulge in some sort of intimacies which were as yet unexplored by me.   


                          Chapter Seven: Grade Eleven, Summer of '61

    Just those with nowhere else to go ended up at Ben’s, and if you’ve got no place to go

at all, Ben’s isn’t such a bad place to end up. 

    It was kind of a family living room for the youths of the village. 

    In all the years after I eventually left Harding, I never found another place quite like Ben’s, where I could hang out all day, not spend a cent, and not be thrown out or hassled for not buying anything.

    The store was owned by two brothers, Billy and Ted, and if I had a dollar for every

hour I’d spent there, I could stock one hell of a good library. You could always get credit

there too, for a meal or a pack of cigarettes, or anything else they sold. Ted and Billy

knew everybody in town, and everybody knew them. 

    Even after I moved away from Harding, whenever I occasionally returned they’d always have a few friendly words for me, inquiring as to how I was making out and so on.


                  CHAPTER 8: GRADE 12, POINTE CLAIRE, 61-62
      I had four different teachers that year, three of whom were completely useless. The fourth was Miles Torpin, who taught English Literature.
     It was only during Miles’ classes that I would abandon our back-row sanctuary to Sid, and take up a new position in the front-row centre seat of the class. Something very special was happening in those English classes, and I was making sure that I took it all in.  
     Over the months, under Miles’ leadership, we explored Pygmalion, Canterbury Tales, The Fairie Queen, Shadows on the Rock, Hamlet, liberal heapings of E.J. Pratt, Gerard Manley Hopkins, T.S. Eliot, and much more.
     I kept all the notes that I took during Miles’ lectures for a long time after I had left the school. On re-reading them at a much later date I could see that they were but a scant record of all the wisdom and knowledge we received from him.
    But I took down all I could at the time, and the rest of it all entered my mind and still resides there somewhere.
    Miles was my first professional role-model. The love of literature which he gave me would last for the rest of my life.
     Though I only got sixty-six percent on the final exam that year, the mark itself was far from indicative of how much Miles had helped to shape the course of my life in years to come.


                                  CHAPTER 9: $UM DEATH, 1963-64
     For the greater part of my first year there, only one event stands out amidst all that happened. But I guess that no matter where I would have been for the year, that same incident would have been the only one to really remember…..the murder of John Kennedy in Dallas.
     I was sitting at my desk, shuffling some useless papers around, when one of the girls who worked near me went to answer a phone call at our boss’s desk. My eyes followed her as she eagerly picked up the phone. She spoke first, and then began to listen.
     Suddenly she paled, and said loudly, “Oh god, no”. 
     She called over to a few of her friends. I heard her say that President Kennedy had been shot and was in hospital.
     I felt the blood draining out of my head, and a wave of nausea swept over me.
     The girl was still listening and getting more information. Soon other people began to come around from other parts of the building, each with his or her own version of the story, each running about for their own personal reasons.
     I sat still. Then the final bit of news came in. He was dead. I felt so different. I wanted to do something, anything, but there was nothing to do. 
     At that point in my life I held quite a high regard for the United States. In fact, I was quite strongly pro-American, because in nineteen sixty three, I felt there was something for which to be pro-American.
     Later research on early American Indian policy, showed me a different perspective on ‘America the Beautiful’. In times to come I would be less enthusiastic about some aspects of the American nation than I was on that dark November twenty-second.
     The Vietnam War was yet to come, and lots more. 
     I really can’t remember anything else of importance that happened to me between the time of John Kennedy’s death and the Summer of the following year.
     But there would be no forgetting that next Summer, not ever. That was the Summer when I met  Nancy, who lived over at Oka.

    One of the most beautiful things about our relationship was the way in which Nancy

taught me so much about her people. We had many long talks about her tribe and its’

history, and what was happening to the Indians today.

    It felt strangely beautiful and sacred on certain afternoons, to be sitting with her on the small beach behind her house.

    Alone we would sit there while the Ottawa River flowed silently past us, as it had

flowed by the villages of her ancestors for thousands of years.

    My vision of her home is still crystal clear today. Tall shady trees surrounded it, shafts

of sunlight filtered down and danced on the deep rich green lawn. A white picket fence

ran along both sides and the front of the property. A porch went all the way around the

house. There was a beautiful sandy strip of beach that ran from the end of the lawn to the water, with reeds in the shallows just off-shore, gently moving in the wind.

    A breeze always blew across the yard from over the river’s cool water. That soft wind

had a way of cooling you, getting right in underneath your clothes and passing its’ cold

fingers over your warm Summer skin. The wind rustled in the leaves that shaded us,

while we talked away seemingly endless late Summer afternoons

    The sinking sun reflected on the dark rippling waters of the river.

    Yes Nancy, I have been faithful to you, in my fashion.


                                              BOOK TWO: "AND LOVE"

                                           CHAPTER 10: MONTREAL, 1964-65
     Another really great thing Dave did for me was to introduce me to a couple of girls he knew from back home who were also staying in Montreal. They were both a couple of years older than I was, and so was Dave.
    Jeannie Winters was twenty, and Carol Bryant was twenty-three. They were both something else.
    So, evenings and weekends whenever I got to feeling lonely while hanging around in my room at the “Y“, I’d head over to their place.
    They’d invite me in as if I was their brother. We’d spend the evening talking, listening to records, smoking cigarettes, and drinking coffee. Then, if a nice weekend came along, we’d all go for a walk together on Mount Royal, a beautiful natural park in the middle of the city.
    We made such a great trio whenever we went anywhere together for a walk. I’d be in the middle wearing my beat-up old suede jacket, my hands stuffed deep down inside the pockets of my blue jeans, Carol hanging onto one arm while Jeannie hung onto the other.
    Those were beautiful simple times that we shared….a quiet oasis in the desert of life.


                                      CHAPTER 11: BACK TO HARDING ‘65-66
     We’d ride slowly through the forests with trees towering over our heads. They were mostly deciduous trees. Up above the cool shadowed area of the forest canopy, we could see the sun shining down from behind the highest leaves of the tallest trees. When we rode with the sun behind us, we could see its’ beams pouring down through the leafy ceiling and stopping among the roots of the trees and ferns which were scattered liberally throughout the forest all around us.
     There were lots of open areas too, where we could cantor or gallop the horses as we wished. One long straight stretch of smooth hard gravel road in particular was always a really spectacular place for racing the horses. The forest was off to one side and a large quarry was off to the other.
      I rode Velvet along that stretch of road flat out, urging her to go faster and faster. I’d barely be touching the saddle after a while, just sort of balancing on it, as Velvet’s huge powerful body moved beneath me. My eyes would be watering like crazy. The air rushed past my face so fast that it carried away the tears before they could collect sufficiently to blur my vision. If I opened my mouth, it was all I could do to close it again against the force of the wind. What an experience it was! What an important part of living life to its’ fullest. 


                                   CHAPTER 12: COLLEGE & DINA
     I was away from Dina just once during the course of the weekend. It happened on the Friday night between six and twelve pm. 

     My absence was due to the Rolling Stones third concert appearance in Montreal. 

     I couldn’t have afforded to take Dina to the show, even if she’d wanted to go, but there was no way I was going to miss it myself.
     It was a religious pilgrimage to the highest of altars, where the mightiest of Druids would be distributing all their powerful magic to the faithful crowd.  


                                         Chapter 13: Kurt

    My job was just a job, nothing more, nothing less. I was naturally grateful to Ron for

getting it for me, but I was sure glad I only had to do it for a year.

    It was a white-collar job in a blue-collar factory, involving my supervising a group of

men in the aircraft manufacturing plant, reporting on their progress and delays in relation to production schedules. When I went for the initial interview with Ron’s boss, I knew it was going to be more of an endurance test than anything else. But the guys I ended up working with were really alright.

    We were a small group of six, with our headquarters in a small office up on a catwalk.

We met in our office at various times during the day, to turn in our reports and shoot the

shit. There was ample time to wander around the plant looking at airplanes, and a liberal

scattering of washrooms in various corners of the plant, where I eventually spent literally hours every day reading or writing. But, as I said, I needed the job, the guys I worked with were a great bunch, and the money was good too. So I really have no long term complaints to make about it.


    Within a week or so, we had a visit from Belinda

    She brought over a guy she’d been going around with since she stopped seeing Dave back in September.

    She’d met this guy, John Walkman, at a college dance in October. 

    John was an alright guy. He soon became a good and lasting friend. He was working

in an office for Northern Epileptic, another downtown big business firm like $um Death,

when we first got to know him. 

    He hated his job with a vengeance. He quit it a few weeks after Belinda brought him over to meet us, and then remained unemployed for the next two years.

    John was to be the first of a number of people whom Belinda would bring round to

meet us during the year. She had always professed great faith in me as a human being

who might just someday do something of worth. Perhaps write a book or something.

     She had more than once introduced me to people by saying, “This is one guy who’s

going to be famous one day.”


                                         CHAPTER 14: SUMMER OF ’67

     At one point as we were sitting on the balcony with the record player in the doorway, sipping on cold beers, I got up saying to Pete, “There’s Kurt crying for something.”
     I went in to check on him and Pete followed, surprised because he hadn’t heard a thing. It was only when we were in Kurt’s room that he could discern audibly the faint whimper that had caught my attention.
     Nothing was wrong. Kurt had just turned over and woken up in doing so. A word of reassurance and a tucked in blanket closed his eyes again, and he went back to sleep.
     Pete was amazed at how I had been able to hear him, but I explained it as Nature’s way of protecting her young.
     At this point, with all my other involvements in his daily life, my sense of hearing was tuned up to catch every sound he made. Even during the night when I slept, the slightest sound on his part would wake me, and I’d go in to check on him.
     We stood there looking down on him, five months old, sleeping peacefully.
     “Whatever it takes, I’ll go through it for him,” I told Pete. “He’s far more important than anything else. As long as I have him I’ll make out somehow.”
     Then we went back out onto the balcony and talked on into the night.
                                  CHAPTER 15: BACK TO COLLEGE, AUTUMN ’67
     By now it was the middle of September. I was finally back at college again.
     Registration day came along, and while I was going through all the procedures that constitute registration, I noticed  a guy who looked around my age or a bit older. He wore glasses and was attired in a faded brown corduroy suit.
     That was Ray Hargrave. He was in fact two years older than I, and we were both considerably older than most of the other second year students. We naturally sought each other out on the grounds of that alone, and then discovered that we also shared other mutual interests.
     Like me, Ray was majoring in English. He had spent the last five years since grade twelve at a variety of jobs, while devoting his spare time to theater work with various amateur and professional groups around Montreal.
     Besides starting my friendship with Ray, I also came into contact quite quickly with two other students at the college. They were sisters, one in second year, and the other in third, and together they were easily two of the greatest people in the place.
     Becky and Sam Grumly, together with Ray and me, helped form a foursome that became my main grip on reality throughout the year.
     We were all somehow different, somehow beyond most of the other kids. So we became a group unto ourselves, though we did mix with quite a few other kids too.
     But it always seemed to come back to the four of us, sitting around a table in one corner of the cafeteria, rapping away for hours.
                                      CHAPTER 16: WINTER ’67 THROUGH SUMMER ’68
     During this time, I was keeping a close watch on the build-up to the Canadian federal elections, to be held at the end of June. I also had an eye on Bobby Kennedy’s progress in the American primaries.
     I dared to hope that he might become the next president and somehow bring back some part of his brother’s reign, which was now becoming a dim and faded memory.
     On the night of June fifth, I stayed up late watching the results of the California primary coming in. I went to bed when it seemed certain that Bobby had beaten Gene McCarthy.
     It was with numbed shock that I sat bolt upright in bed the next morning when Dina, who had been up before me and was getting ready for work, came running into the room saying, “They’ve shot him, they’ve shot him! Bobby Kennedy’s been shot!”
     So the nightmare came back, and the horror of Dallas became the horror of Los Angeles. I felt again as I had felt back in nineteen sixty-three. It was a feeling that can’t otherwise be described except by referring to it as the feeling I had when I heard of the Kennedys’ assassinations.  
     I turned on the TV and began to watch it all. Replays of Bobby’s victory speech, ending with his fingers raised in a ‘V’ as he said, “And now it’s on to Chicago and let’s win there.”
     Then the gunfire, the screams, and the panic……….
     Dina left for work and I sat there on the floor, watching the television and holding Kurt in my arms, wondering in what sort of a world he was going to grow up.
     No, not really wondering, just more certain than ever before that it was all just a big piece of shit. We were all expendable numbers to the powers that called the shots.
     Invisible powers that no-one could put their fingers on, but powers big enough to set up the execution of a president and a civil rights leader.
    With those two deaths on the consciences of two hundred million people, and Life magazine turning every mass murder into a Hollywood spectacular, it almost seemed inevitable that Bobby would be shot if he reached out for the presidency.
     There had to be some maniac somewhere, some lonely idiot who would be willing to risk his life just so he could go down in history as the man who killed Bobby Kennedy, instead of just living and dying as a nobody.
     So began the long wait, hanging on to hope, yet knowing but refusing to admit that it was hopeless.
     I stayed up late that night, but finally fell asleep, only to wake up the following morning when Dina came into the bedroom once again, this time to say, “He’s dead.”
     I wondered what it was that Bobby had been running for. What had he believed in? What did he die for? I didn’t have any answers. I didn’t have any answers at all.




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