Great to be Alive

…The incident with the confessional was a weird experience for sure but this next rule was really weird and was pure unadulterated stupidity of the highest order.  As good Catholic children we could not walk past a Protestant school under fear of religious persecution from these protestant ungulates or face eternal damnation, perhaps excommunication, from our Catholic hierarchy – or worse. Damn, what to do.  Hard choices.  For me this was a conundrum for a Protestant school was right along my path home. It was part of the shortest possible route without cutting through the hydro field, which would be next to impossible during the winter months. This was especially important for the adventures of Superman came on at 4pm every Wednesday.  We  had to get home quickly.

We went way out of our way to circumvent that school.  At least for one day.  More black spots! On top of that, the Protestants knew the score. They lay in wait for us Catholics to run the religious gauntlet.  In winter this equated to snowball Armageddon and the second coming. In the warmer months, bloodied noses and bruised egos.  We never won and they always lost. Stupidity ruled the intolerant roost.

It was also on one of those winter school days that I met another one of my life long friends. Sean O’Grady, or O’Grunts for short. I was in grade one at the time.  So was he but we never really knew each other in school.  I met him while walking along the road that ran parallel to the Protestant school yard. This was especially perilous for Sean as his home was adjacent to the Protestant schoolyard so he was damned twenty four and seven. And no matter what he did he couldn’t erase those pesky black spots.

He came up to me and asked, ever so politely but in a high pitched squeaky, weasely voice.

“Can I be your friend”

Being winter Sean had one of those Yukon Hats on. The ones with those unflappable ear muffs.  Only his hat was too small so those ear flaps flapped outwards at right angles to his flappable ears. His gloves, or mitts, were pinned to his snowsuit, which was also a tad small for his lanky frame. The waist was cinched, but at an angle that spoke volumes about his personal regularity. His boots, or galoshes, were of the black rubber type with the orange band at the top – cheap and barely capable of keeping the feet toasty. When you took them off you were left in bare feet as your socks always, always came off in those damn boots.

“Sure” I said

Sean looked sheepish. Funny at this stage of life as Sean would grow up to be one of the most self assured guys that I have ever known. But now, as he looked at me with his coke bottled glasses, clear snot running down from both nostrils, with the viscosity and the fluidity of water just over his upper lip, he queried:

“My name is Sean. What is yours?” he appeared to lisp

“John” I mumbled somewhat with annoyance and impatience. Don’t know why but Sean looked just a tad goofy to me then.  I wasn’t exactly sure how this would turn out.

As it turned out, we became good, no great friends that day. Life long, for ever and ever, for eternity or until one of us was dead.  Sean was lucky because, coming from a good Irish Catholic family, he was one of eight children. Eight children! They must have had a riot in their post war bungalow. Seven boys and one girl. How on earth did they survive without granite countertops? I loved going over to their place. Such chaos, but fun nevertheless.  I only had two older sisters and a younger brother to play with while he had six, of varying ages of course, but at least one older and one younger brother to hang out with.

His house backed on to a park, which backed on to the Protestant Schoolyard. So, in my mind’s religious eye Sean was doomed by proxy. I felt so sorry for him because he could never get rid of those pesky black spots. I didn’t voice my concerns of course and I was tempted by eternal damnation because that park became our world of play.  From the large swing-sets; the huge and grand maple climbing trees; and the baseball diamonds and fields that went on and on forever and were reamed, it seemed, with soft and freshly cut green grass that was darkly pungent, especially after a good trim.  

It was great to be alive, to be a kid and to have a park like this one to play in: to play and to play all day long and well into the evening only stopping for meals or running home the minute the street lights began to flicker on signally the days end and the beginning of a good nights rest, relaxation and sweet dreams.  In those heady days our horizons were only limited by our active imaginations, the soles of our dirty feet and the aroma of our smelly socks…