Chantry Island lighthouse off Southampton Ontario
Did I lead a charmed life as an active, adventurous young boy?? Did I actually put enough preventive thought and safety planning into some of my more life-and-limb-threatening activities? Or is it just that what was, to a horrified adult retrospect, not really that dangerous?
How did some of us ever survive to grow up? Most (but not all) of my questionable young antics involved getting high – I loved to climb things. I have written of being 9 years old, and scrambling to the topmost branches of a mighty, old oak, located on the highest elevation in town.
When I entered my teens, a trusted friend and I often crossed the river on the arching steel support trusses, beneath the new bridge, ignoring the possible 50 foot plunge to the river below. In the summer by boat, and in the winter by walking across frozen lake ice, groups of us went to an island a mile offshore, and climbed to the top of the 100 foot lighthouse.
It is possible that large rocks, and chunks of logs got up the inner stairways, and accidently fell on the roof of the attached, unused, derelict, century-old storage shed. When the caretakers bricked up the entrance and added a steel door with a stout padlock, I went around the back, and used the 1 ½ inch copper lightning-ground cable to reach the observation level. Apparently, only to prove I could. These were reconnaissance missions only – no bombing runs. The view of a flat lake, whether liquid or frozen, isn’t really that spectacular.
In the early 1950s, what passed for the cognoscenti of our little town were all agog, waiting for the release of a book. A ‘famous writer’ from Toronto, 100 miles south, had researched 8 lighthouses in the north end of Lake Huron, including ours. When the book finally arrived at the General Store, I managed to sneak a copy off the shelf, and quickly read what he’d written.
He said that, after climbing the circular metal stairway inside the lighthouse, the view from the top was magnificent…. only; our lighthouse had solid wooden floors every ten feet, for storage, with unrailed wooden stairs ascending from level to level, East to West, then North to South, etc.
I don’t know if he ever actually set foot on the island, or just did his research from the pub. It was the first time I caught an author lying to me. Sadly, it wasn’t the last.
Alone, and with my friend’s help, I reached the top of many of the town’s public buildings. The arena was easy, but boring. I got to the roof of one church, and the top of the bell-tower of another. He and I sat on the roof of the three-storey bank building at the main intersection. When his mother was late, and he was locked out of the second floor apartment in the building next to it, we scampered up the front and went in the balcony door, or up to the roof and down through the skylight.
The view from the top of the 120 foot water tower, next to the oak on the hill, was worth it. The climb was simple. A steel ladder reached to within 10 feet of the ground, but was right beside the overflow pipe. A foot placed here, and a grab there, and soon we were at the top.
It was so easy that my girlfriend caught us lurking near it one evening, as she walked to the library, and wanted to know what we were up to. When we explained, she demanded to accompany us. With him pulling and me providing a shoulder, we all soon enjoyed the lights in the town 5 miles away. Crazy!
The day I fell down, I started with my feet firmly on the ground. I was in Grade 7, and returned to school after a September lunch break, to find a gaggle of boys surrounding a burly Grade 8 lad. Slowing to eavesdrop on the conversation, I heard that he was bragging that he knew a way to make someone unconscious. ‘Bet you don’t!’ ‘I bet I do!’
To prove his claim, he needed a victim willing volunteer. Why is everyone looking at me? “Now you need to take a deep breath and hold it. I’m gonna get behind you and give you a bear-hug, and squeeze you really, really hard. Don’t forget to hold your breath!”
….and I woke up with my face embedded in the blacktop. My nose was bloody. My lips, especially the top one, were swollen, and I’d lost a tiny chip off the corner of one front incisor. None of us, me included, really thought this thing through, did we?
“Why did you let me fall down?” “Well, you didn’t collapse.” “How could I? You were holding me up.” He’d set me down, but apparently my knees were locked. Instead of winding up in a limp pile at his feet, (would that have been any better?) I had pitched forward, like the mighty oak up the street, plowing a furrow with my face.
Nowadays, I ingest an OxyContin, and take along a pillow if I have to wind down a window in the car. Surely none of you readers were as foolish as me. Do you have a childhood escapade you wish to admit to? 😉