Legends of Myself 29

Posted on October 1, 2011


Continued from Legends of Myself 28

29.  Vancouver, Clark Drive, 1958

Scooter.  Some time early in 1958, I temporarily gave up the use of one of my feet.  It’s not that there was anything wrong with the foot.  It simply had a permanent place on my scooter deck, while the other foot took over the entire job of locomotion.  Two wheels, handlebars, one foot, that’s all I needed to travel.

I remember, while still living in the house of Georgina in New Westminster, prowling the streets nearby on my scooter.  But New Westminster is hilly practically everywhere, and hills scooted down have to be reclimbed, a two-footed effort.  I could not move about freely until I moved into a more horizontal neighbourhood.  That happened with the move to Vancouver.

“Can’t you push with the other foot sometimes?” my father asked.

I’m sure I tried, and managed with the other foot for about five or ten minutes.  Until I forgot.

My father was a little confounded, I guess, at having to replace two shoes when only one shoe required it.  Scooter travel wore down the shoe leather unevenly.

But I couldn’t really unbind from the habit of pushing with my preferred foot.  Apparently Richard II was styled a hunchback simply because he practiced with his sword so obsessively that one shoulder grew huge.  What preserved Teddy from having one calf like Popeye and the other like Olive Oyl was the demise of the scooter itself.

The wheels of solid rubber eventually eroded to the rims, and the foot-brake didn’t work, having nothing to catch on.  Repair of the solid rubber rims wasn’t possible, yet no replacement wheel available seemed to fit.  For a while I remember looking hungrily at other wheels, wagons, tricycles, baby carriages passing by me on the sidewalk, and fitting them in my mind to my derelict scooter.  But it was never whole again.

Moon Face.  My move to Vancouver parked me at either end of the Strathcona neighbourhood, east and west of it in quick succession.  At first I lived east of the neighbourhood, on Adanac Street where it meets Clark Drive on what was then the second lot from the corner.  The city lot where I lived has since been swallowed by the expanding business frontage on Clark Drive.  When I lived there, I remember there was a wooden fence on the edge of our lot keeping back the business frontage, and a path between that fence and the house which led to the door of the basement suite where my father and I lived.  Our front door faced on an alley where I sometimes played with a gang of local kids presided over by a smart-alecky girl who I think was at least a grade senior to me.

I think after what must have been my first encounter with that gang, I came running in the door to my father.

“That girl called me moon-face,” I complained to him.

(I might in fact have been moon-faced at the time.)

“Well, then, call her pie face,” my father said.

I paused and laughed.

It wasn’t long before that gang of kids I encountered in the alley became the gang I hung with.  We drew hopscotch patterns on the sidewalk with chalk.  We recited rhymes while playing skip rope.  (I think I detect now a cultural influence from our smart-alecky leader in our choice of games.)  And I don’t think Teddy ever called anyone ‘pieface.’

Grade Thirty.  It was in fact from this time that I start to recollect actual conversations with my father.

“How old are you, Daddy?”

“When you’re thirty, I’ll be twice as old as you,” he said.

I solved that puzzle after a little thinking.

“What grade are you in, Daddy?”

“Grade thirty,” my father said, “I learning all the time, so I’m always in school.”

Grade thirty was impressive.  I don’t think I ever took it literally.  And the way I did take it was always true enough for me, then and now.  In spite of a formal education that ended at grade eight, I never saw my father stop learning, or even take a rest from it.  To the last years of his life he was capable of surprising me with insights into unpredictable subjects.  But once in a while a flash of naiveté would show through which exposed some of the limits of self-education, especially a self-education founded on such modest, back-country beginnings.

I remember during our stay in that basement I was a little constipated one time.  My father bought some Ex-Lax, which I then couldn’t help thinking of as a chocolate bar and which my father didn’t fully understand either.  He wound up giving me too much, and my problem after that was no longer constipation.

Such incidents weren’t chronic or usual by any means—and everybody contributes their share of dumb mistakes—but simple things could sometimes puzzle or trip my father up, and part of that inevitably happened because the world and circumstances my father grew up out of were so narrow.  On the other hand, and this was the more important observation, it was unwise to underestimate him in anything.

The Fizzle of Ripple Rock.  As I have said, hardly any news from the larger world penetrated to my consciousness in those days.  But I do remember one specific date from my stay on Adanac Street:  April 5th, 1958.  That was the day they blew up Ripple Rock.  It was a famous maritime hazard, easily the worst on British Columbia’s Inside Passage, which had sunk 120 ships and drowned 114 sailors.  On April 5th, amid great hullabaloo, it was bound for glory courtesy of 1375 tons of explosives and the biggest non-nuclear bang up to that time.  On the morning of April 5th, having caught wind of said hullabaloo, I awaited the wondrous event.

And there was nothing.  The popgun I carried in my holster was a thousand times more impressive than the Great Fizzle of Ripple Rock.

Pop!  See that?  Ripple Rock!

It was Easter weekend too, the first I remember, and the first chocolate bunny I remember.  I remember discovering the bunny was hollow, its ears were hollow, and being a little shocked.

I guess—come to think of it, and let’s be honest—I’m still a little shocked.


Continued @ Legends of Myself 30

Posted in: autobiography