Legends of Myself 95

Posted on August 17, 2014

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95.  Prince Rupert. 1961: Milk Cans and Dinky Toys

carnation milkWhen they came to town, Marylou was 12, scheduled to turn 13 that November, and Irene was 15.  Irene was a little too much older than me to bond with as a peer, and I was too snobby intellectually to accept her in a motherly, elder-sisterly role, although she certainly tried to assume that position.  If she ever had an intention to make a good intellectual impression on me, she took the wrong tack by insisting on religion—we were officially atheist in this family, thank you—and telling me, for instance, that it was bad luck to open the milk can upside-down.  Really?

I’ve since heard that particular superstition elsewhere, although nowhere but among fisherfolk.  My brother Aleck mentioned it.  You could get in trouble on a fishboat by opening a can with the label topsy-turvy.

Well, those who are often at the mercy of nature and the elements for their lives and living can get to conjuring even milk cans to settle their souls about it, I suppose.  But rational 11 year olds just laugh, mock and satirize, especially when hearing about it for the first time from silly superstitious older sisters.

With Marylou, my connection was more immediate.  We were closer in age, of course, and otherwise closer as well.  We shared the same grandparents (I had only two in common with Irene) and genetics is an aid to sympathy as science has observed.  Like recognizes like.  Marylou and I bonded by washing our feet together in a bathtub—a famous scene that tied us together as much as shared blood tied any pair of movie blood brothers.

I of course found it necessary to also challenge Marylou’s religion, being then, as I was for some time in my life, an evangelical atheist.

I’ve since surrendered evangelism.  So long as folk don’t use religion as an excuse to toss folk in gas chambers or re-education camps, steal their land, steal their children, persecute women, Jews, Gypsies, Aboriginal people, communists or atheists, persecute consenting adults for their sexual orientation, justify wars and invasions, and so on, and as long they don’t insist on it for me and mine in school or try to substitute it for science, why then I’m willing to keep my opinions to myself.  Didn’t Gerard Manley Hopkins teach me poetry?  Haven’t I walked in cathedrals, temples and tombs and heard ten thousand sacred songs and gospel harmonies?  Haven’t I sung them myself?  I can no longer dismiss what religion means to some people.

Not that I believe, regardless, that I could change any opinions, whatever I said.  The sacred and the rational occupy distinctly different territories in the human brain.  I have no idea what effect my atheistic proselytization had on my sisters in 1961.  They’d learned religion at home and at residential school, lived their lives with it, while they’d only just met (after a seven year hiatus) their smart-aleck little brother.  My main advantage in the discussion was that I was talking the official family line.  That may have been a strong advantage.

My family came together in a boisterous joining, and I think our mischief and laughter and our noise in the hallways disturbed the other tenants in the Grand.  They weren’t used to children and families there.  In short order, we had to move out.  We didn’t know at the time (and no landlord has ever learned) that being kicked out for high spirits and loud laughter has consequences sometimes to the children to whom it happens.

But the consequences didn’t show up right away.  Meanwhile we all moved to a motel a couple of blocks away where the rents, I suspect, were much higher.

In September I went back to school.  I suppose my sisters did too, although I paid no attention at the time.  I was technically returning to Roosevelt School for my new school year.  Returning was something new to me.  I had never attended a school for two grades running.

But I don’t remember it particularly as a continuation.  I had been out of town in the Boneyard all summer, after all.  Only my friend David from the Grand connected Grade Five to Grade Six for me.

I wasn’t back at Roosevelt for very long, either.  I recall September from only a few scenes, none of them in a classroom.

I remember walking to school with one of my shoes going flop-flop with every step, the top of it detached from the bottom.  After that day, I switched to boots and they became everyday wear.

strike zoneI remember being chosen by the P.E. teacher to ump a baseball game, probably the most comfortable I’d felt in baseball—my childhood bête noir—since playing Old Tom in Port Essington.  I used knowledge gained from one of David’s mail orders—the official rules of baseball—to decide on balls and strikes.

Finally, I remember the gravity races we had with Dinky Toys on the clay slopes in back of the school.  I suppose they weren’t actually races.  The winner was he whose toy car went furthest down the track without stalling.

I got my Dinky Toy at the Variety Store on 3rd Avenue, which was as good as Prince Rupert’s official supplier.  You could also buy sets of new rubber wheels there, to replace those that got lost.

dinky toyFor the contests, we created tracks in the clay slopes with the bottoms of our shoes.  The tracks tended to change configuration from day to day.  Gravity pulled the cars down the slopes and the banks of the tracks steered them.  On my last day of school at Roosevelt, my racer won the contest.  I imagine somebody beat my record the very next day, because that’s the way it went, but I wasn’t there to see it.  I was able to depart Roosevelt in triumph.

On the other hand, and schoolyard triumphs aside, I was by then officially homeless.  We all were.