Boys’ Club

When I entered Grade 7, I was still only ten years old.  My 11th birthday didn’t occur till the end of September.  There was a boy in my class who was more than a year older than me, because, back then, they failed students who did not achieve scholastically.  Early in November, as we were both hanging our coats up, he dug into his pocket, and showed me something.  It was a bright, brass, expended .22 caliber shell.  Gun nut that I was, it was as if he’d showed me the Holy Grail.  Where had he got it?

It seemed that there was a group of boys who got together every Tuesday night, to fire 10 target practice shots, but you had to be 12 years old!  The range was in the basement of a business on the main street.  It had been a lumber supply and woodworking shop, and the range was in the concrete-lined trough where the saw and planer shavings had been dumped.  With no external lighting, it was accessed from a dark alley which ran behind the stores, not the kind of place you’d want 12/14 year old boys to be today, especially in bigger cities.

I told the men running the show that I was “almost 12”, conveniently ignoring the missing 10 months.  In a school class of 15+ boys, I was usually the third shortest.  Still, there was a boy a year older, who was even shorter.  He and I had to stand on a block of wood to get up to the firing window, where we shot standing up.  After about a year, the building changed owners, and we moved to the basement gym of the now-unused high school.  This was accessed through a rear entrance with no lights until an adult with a key came to unlock a door, invisible in the darkness.  Not much of an improvement.

I didn’t think about it at the time, but there was a lot of time and energy volunteered by a succession of adult men.  The local Game Warden’s wife couldn’t have children, so we were his surrogates for years.  The president of the men’s handgun club, as well as the vice-president and the secretary, at different times, and a police chief, and later a constable, all gave of their time.

Wooden boxes with quilt pads were provided for prone shooting, and a new target holder/bullet catcher was built.  Every meeting night started off with a lecture on firearm handling and safety.  In seven years with the club, I amassed almost 350 hours of gun responsibility training.

As social awareness and political correctness began to flower in the mid-fifties, someone must have decided that there needed to be more to our little group, than just a bunch of boys firing target rifles.  Behind the high school was a city-block sized small lake.  The town had created a pathway around it, with a couple of bridges over incoming creeks, and a couple of lookout/picnic areas, but didn’t have the finances to maintain it.  It was decided that our little club would adopt it, care for it and improve it.

We mowed the grass, raked the path, cut back weeds and branches, and helped our menfolk to mend the bridges.  We put on tag-days in the summers, when the town was full of wealthy tourists, and solicited donations from local businesses.  The shoreline moved in and out because the level of the lake varied with the seasons.  We got a concrete contractor to install, at greatly reduced charge, a small dam with a controllable spillway on the drainage stream.

We cleaned out and expanded one lookout/picnic area, and got a stone supply company to build a wishing-well, with a little spray fountain.  The coins from the fountain went for further improvements.  We bought a bunch of birds to put into the lake, including a pair of swans, four farm-type geese, and some Muscovy ducks, to attract coin-tossers to our little park.

The first summer, we lost a few birds, and some of the rest lost a foot or leg.  There were lots of scenic little mud turtles in the lake, but apparently there were also some snapping turtles with a taste for fowl.  No wonder there had been no floating natives.  Someone designed and built a snapper-trapper from heavy wire and chicken screen.  I and another lad, whose father was a commercial fisherman, were given a rowboat, and the responsibility to check the traps daily.  Turtles caught were shot by the constable and sold to a Chinese restaurant which made them into turtle soup.  We finally caught the old Grand-daddy, which was as big as a washtub.  We cleared the lake and ensured safety for our birds.

The birds’ wings were clipped so that they wouldn’t fly away, although, with daily feedings, they probably wouldn’t have strayed.  During the winters, we rented space in a farmer’s barn at the edge of town.  Pairs of us were allocated two-week periods when we stopped in daily to feed and water our feathered charges.  Fisher-boy and I would get off the school bus, do our farm chores and walk home afterwards.

A couple of years after I left home to get a job, the club dissolved.  There was just not the interest from the younger lads in town anymore, and the adults had more responsibilities and less free time.  The town took back responsibility for the lake, and replaces aging waterfowl.  They have even added a floating spray fountain a hundred feet off-shore.

This was an enjoyable part of my life, when I learned co-operation and pay-it-forward type social responsibility.  I look back on it with great fondness and pride.  I helped make a difference.

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Learner’s Permit

In an unchanging small town, I went to elementary school with pretty much the same thirty-some students for eight years.  When we got bused to high school, we were blended in with other area students, now in four different classes of thirty-some students.

Provincial law insisted that students could not leave school until they were sixteen.  There was a local girl whose birthday was in the spring, as opposed to mine, in late September.  She had an older friend who worked in the local beauty parlor, who would train her to be a hair-dresser.  She finished grade eleven, and quit school to take the job.

She quickly established a clientele and made decent money, some of which she saved, to buy a car.  Her house was on the street behind my sister’s.  When she got off the school-bus, she cut through the property, sometimes stopping to talk.  She was a very mature young lady, unlike my immature, scatterbrained sister.  Despite the ten-year difference in ages, they got along well.  When 21 was the legal drinking age, my 26-year-old sister and her just-as-silly husband, used to take her to hotel bars.  My sister drove her to the county seat, to get her learner’s permit.

The next spring, she bought a small car, and practiced her driving skills.  By this time, I had turned 16, and owned a car I couldn’t legally drive.  It was time to get my learners permit.  I spoke to my sister about it.  She said that my ex-classmate had an appointment to take her road test, and if I wanted to come along, I could write my learners exam.

On a lovely, warm, sunny, June day, we set off, the two gals in the front and me in the backseat.  Imagine a triangle of roads, each side 25 miles long.  From our town to the county seat was 25 miles from A to B.  We got to the edge of town, where the road to the county seat split off the main highway.  Instead of taking the A/B road, we continued on the A/C side of the triangle.  I thought we had to pick up something, or someone.

As we entered the next town, five miles on, I asked where we were going.  To the county seat.  But the road back there takes us to the county seat.  We’ve never been that way.  We’re afraid of getting lost, so we’re taking this route.  Oh well, I’ve got all day.  Sure enough, we drove 25 miles south before turning left to drive 25 miles east, on the C/B side of the triangle.

We got about halfway across, when we had a flat tire.  Not a sudden blowout, we must have run over something.  Just a steady TTtthhhh, lub, lub, lub, and the left, rear tire was flat.  The driver pulled the car well off the paved road, and we got out to look at the problem.

Long before Japanese cars reached North America, hers was smaller than any Detroit iron.  It was probably a Taunus or Vauxhall, imported from England.  Two females and me, guess who got volunteered to change the tire!?  Neither of them knew how.  “Where’s the spare tire and jack?”  “I don’t know.  I’ve only owned it a little while, and I’ve never needed them.”

I pulled crap out of the trunk, and finally found what I needed.  North American cars had bumper jacks, because the cars still had bumpers.  I was faced with a scissors jack I’d never seen before, and had to figure where to place it under the car.  Impact-wrench-installed, rusted-on lug nuts finally surrendered, and I got one wheel off, and the replacement on, and at last we were on our merry way again.  Well, they were merry.  I was rust and grease stained, with bloody knuckles.

Of course, she was late for her scheduled road-test.  She tried to convince the examiner to fit her in, but he had a full day.  She had to rebook for another day.  While she was doing this, I wrote my little test and was awarded my learner’s permit.

After a couple of months’ legal driving practice, I drove my Dad to work, took the family car, and my Mom accompanied me as the licensed driver when I went for my road test.  At least we took the short way there.  The capital of the neighboring county was the same distance away, but it was the little city with the big hills.  Tales circulated of testees getting half-way up the cliff road, when the examiner would reach over and turn off the ignition, to see how you dealt with the problem.  I preferred the flatter city, and managed to get my full license on the first try, something that not every teenager accomplished.

The winner loser in that competition was a British woman who took 49 tries, over 22 years, to finally get a driving licence.  Ah, the freedom of the open road.  While I’ve not driven as much as others, like my brother, I’ve been able to visit some picturesque and interesting places.  I’m not sure Detroit qualifies, but that’s where I’m going next month.  Feel free to tag along.  Right now, I’m going to drive over to SightNBytes place, and pick up my most recent blogging award.

Multicultural Festival

The family all had a big, interesting, informative day on Saturday.  The son worked all night, and stopped off at the downtown Kitchener market to pick up some eggs and bread.  The social engineers have pretty much ruined, what used to be a great experience.

The market used to be inside a warehouse-type building and outside, in what was a parking lot during the week.  The city could only realize income for two days a week on this building, so they sold it to a developer, and moved the market to the bottom level and meeting room of a new parking garage.

After twenty years, their contract with the owner ran out, and the space was required for parking for a 24/7 call center.  They designed and built a new market building, a couple of blocks down the street.  This monstrosity has all the glamour of an airplane hangar, and they are having trouble getting shoppers to come, and vendors to stay.  The number of parking spaces, underground, is limited, and auto paint and scrapes on almost every concrete pillar, indicate why people won’t come back.

The son got home about ten to eight and turned the car over to us.  We picked the daughter up and headed for the (Mennonite) farmers’ market at the northern edge of our twin city.  With acres of parking and outdoor vendors, this market has thrived, partly from the failure of the downtown market.  We bought some fresh meat and produce, had coffee and doughnuts, and then hit a half a dozen stores in that area, dropped the daughter and her stuff off, and were home just before two.

Kitchener holds a yearly multicultural festival, and we all wanted to attend.  They started it on the July First weekend, but that is Canada Day, a holiday, and many people wanted to go camping, or to a cottage, so they moved it back to the weekend before.  The son was supposed to have gone to bed early and got a few hours sleep, but he was up when we got home.  Nothing unusual in that.  The wife and I went to bed after three AM and were back up at seven.

The festival is held in a big park, right downtown.  It’s three blocks by three blocks, with streams and a lake with fish and wildfowl.  I dropped the wife and her crutches, along with the son, at the front gate.  You couldn’t get a parking spot within a half mile, with a gun, and they are frowned on.  A city trail, which used to be a railroad line, runs through the back end of it.  The daughter lives just off that trail, three blocks away.  I drove to her place, parked, and the two of us returned, her on her power wheelchair.

The City probably intends it as a social bonding and cultural acceptance exercise, but the unifying force I see among the licensed attendees, is commerce and capitalism.  It’s almost amusing to see a meditating Buddhist monk, hoping you’ll pay money to learn how he achieves Nirvana.  With your money, that’s how!

Many local ethnic groups set up food tents, so that you can sample their cuisine.  They use the profits to finance various groups and projects.  At the front of the park was the city’s tent, handing out information and site maps.  Then there were two mobile ATMs and, down both sides of the field were food tents representing Pakistani, Indian/Sri Lankan, Jamaican, Filipino, Turkish, Ethiopian, Zambia/Tanzanian, Vietnamese, Salvadoran, Greek Cypriot, Turkish Cypriot, Chinese, The Islamic Council, Muslim Women and Vietnamese Buddhists.  I started with a Gyro plate from the Turkish tent, and later tried a sample plate from the ZamTan folks.  Gyro is actually a Greek term.  The Turks should call it doner, but, whatever sells.

It’s a good thing we learned how to make Salvadoran pupusas after last year’s visit.  There was a huge line-up there.  The pupusas are really popular, but their service staff were the least organized.

Many of these groups also had commercial/information booths further back.  You could buy carvings, clothing, henna tattoos, jewellery, toys and other assorted gewgaws, too numerous to mention.  Aside from the blatantly ethnic, there were a lot of social-awareness groups.

The Regional Police had a shop.  The local publicly funded radio station had a remote broadcast booth.  There was an organization called Unlearn, an anti-violence, anti-bigotry, anti-the usual suspects way of doing things, group.  Sort of an Occupy For Intellectuals.  The Free Thinkers, whose meetings the daughter and I occasionally attend, had a booth.

There were also; The Art Gallery, the Symphony, African/Caribbean Awareness, Non-Violence Council, the local Transit Authority, English as a Second Language, Falun Gong, Injured Workers Support, the Library, a geo-caching group, all three major political parties, Hare Krishnas, ice-cream cranked out by a tiny, one-cylinder motor, a coffee-house for adults to relax and Tales For Children, who would watch kids and entertain them for busy parents.

A fourteen year-old girl, who gets let off a school bus several miles out in the country, had a speeding garbage truck bank off the back corner of her stopped bus, and smash her into a field, recently.  She’s an hour away, in a specialty hospital.  The entire local Mennonite community is backing her and her parents.  There was a booth selling ribbons, rubber bracelets and shirts to help finance anticipated huge care fees, if she survives.  We got our bracelet at a Mennonite meat store that morning.  I just hope the entry fee was waived for them.

The native-Canadian Indians held a pow-wow.  The Lutheran Church was there.  The Catholic Church was represented by five Jesuit priests in long black cassocks.  They looked as warm as the Arab women.  I saw one Arab female….well, actually I didn’t.  An amorphous, mobile, little black mass with a half-inch slit at eye level, covered with Dolce and Gabbana sunglasses.  Clothing ranged from there down to hot, (mostly) young things wearing so little fabric, there was barely enough room to hang the for-rent sign.

We got home about seven PM.  By that time the son had been up for 24 hours.  He immediately headed for bed and the wife and I had a two-hour nap before I started this post.  I can hardly wait for next year.