Unreasonable Expectations

There’s no sharp “point” to this post.  It’s just another gentle Remember When story about my growing up, although it does have a quiet comment at the end about how we sometimes dig our own trench to experience tunnel vision.

My little 1800-resident home town swelled to about 15,000 in July and August, with the influx of tourists.  They came in two basic types, the one- or two-week temporary vacationers, and the more affluent cottage-owners where mom and the kids came up as soon as school was out, and dad visited on weekends.

I don’t remember any townie–vs.-tourist rivalries, and my little circle got along with both batches well.  Perhaps it was because of the lack of size of the upper crust, but even the well-to-do group often associated with the commoners.

I was friends for years with mother and kids of the family who still run a large Kitchener wrecking yard.  I hung around with son and daughter of a couple who owned a well-known car customising/detailing shop in Oshawa.  Both these families were a bit unusual, in that they had hauled a small trailer to town, and permanently placed it in the tourist camp.

Our group was sometimes joined for bowling, or a bush party, by the daughter of the C.E.O. of a large Kitchener firm where, seven years later, the wife got her first job as a receptionist.  The summer I worked at the convenience store, I also had a two-month romance with the daughter of a minor scion of the family whose name graces a fourteen storey office building in downtown Uptown Waterloo, five floors of which constitute the City Hall, and where her uncle sat as Mayor.  Her “summer cottage” was probably worth five times what our year-round home was.

I/we also made many temporary, one-time friendships with kids from the cabin-renting crowd.  These folks paid good money to live in little wooden buildings that chickens would have rejected, just to be near tons of warm white sand and cool blue water.  Unlike the others who were around for two months each summer, these evanescent visitors were only with us for a week, or perhaps two.

And so I met Danny.  A first time visitor, he had not been in town an hour when I ran into him early Saturday afternoon on the main street, looking lost.  Probably to get him out from underfoot while his parents unpacked, he had been told to walk the four blocks to the retail area, to familiarize himself with the stores.  By the end of the day he was part of our pack.

He was thrilled.  You can only hit the beach so much.  He had envisioned two lonely weeks stuck with only his parents, but we included him in everything we did.  We got him rental skates and took him roller-skating.  We took him down to the river harbor to swim, and I taught him to dive off the fishing boats.  Despite the age limit of 18, I got him into the pool-room and taught him several games.  Where he was from, pool-rooms were dark, dirty and dangerous.  We took in a couple of movies.  All in all, the entire group spent more time and energy on him than we ever did with any other tourist.  He was a nice kid.

Sadly, all vacations must come to an end.  Two Saturdays later, he walked uptown while his parents packed, to say thanks, and good-bye.  The leaving was lonely enough but, as he got ready to walk away, I sensed something else, and asked what was bothering him.

He said, “Somebody told me that there was an Indian Reservation just outside town.”  “Yeah, so?”  “Well, in my entire two weeks here, I never saw an Indian.”  I was stunned!  “You’ve played pool with Donny Kewgeesik, and his older brother Ronny.  You roller-skated with Nathan Akiwenzie.  You swam and dived with Frank Shobadeez.  John Petoniquot took you fishing in his boat, and you took his sister Laura to a movie.”

Now it was his turn to be stunned.  “They’re Indians?”  “Of course!  Did you expect the Indians to ride into town on horses, wearing feather headdresses, and war paint, shaking spears?”  The empty expression on his face told me that that was exactly what he had been expecting.  In the entire two weeks, hardly anyone had used last names.  These “ordinary people” he had met didn’t meet his expectations of what Indians looked and acted like.

We said our last goodbyes, and I never saw him again.  I often wondered how much effort it was for him to re-integrate his understanding of what and who Indians are.  It’s occurrences like this that taught me early, not to judge a book by somebody else’s cover.

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