My childhood is full of memories. Some are good memories and some are bad, but generally speaking I would classify most of them as good. They vary in clarity, and are slowly becoming fuzzier and more distant as time goes by. Most of my childhood memories can be best described as miniature snapshots of time. I can generally recall specific instances (or very small durations) of time around which what I call my memories are wrapped. When I recall these instances, I'm taken back to the me of back then - my thoughts, feelings, perspectives, and indeed my entire mindset, at the time. It's unclear why I remember the particular instances that I do. Some of the time it's probably because the actual events themselves were interesting or exciting enough to be memorable. But in many cases I remember humdrum things with great clarity, while several events from my past that I figure I should remember are almost completely absent from my memory. In either case, either exciting or humdrum, it is through these snapshots that I maintain a hold on my past, on who I was, and by extension, on how I came to be who I am. These memories are uniquely personal, uniquely me, which is why I regard them so preciously (even the bad ones).
But alas, memories, like everything else, are ephemeral. I find that over the years they are slowly fading. More and more I feel that I'm losing the direct connection to the memories themselves, and instead am relying on memories of the memories. That, of course, is a fuzzy distinction, but it's an important one to me. I would love to somehow capture all of my memories in their entirety, every last nuance, so that I can forever have a clear connection to my past. But I realize that is impossible. My memories will continue to fade, until eventually I will only have memories of memories of memories of my childhood, and the rich hues and textures of what used to be richly detailed snapshots will be lost forever.
So what I have decided to do is try to capture, in words, the essence of a single collection of memories, a collection that I hope will stand as a representative for the myriad of memories that are the foundations of who I am. The particular collection of memories that I have decided to capture are those of my adventures with my childhood friend, Johnny Price, when we were growing up in Mount Pearl, Newfoundland. He lived three doors down and across the street from me - I lived at 4 Sycamore Place and he lived at 18 Sycamore Place. My family moved onto the street several years before his did, but I have very few memories of life on Sycamore Place before his arrival on the scene. I'm not even exactly sure what years we're talking about here. My guess is that our friendship lasted from about 1980 to about 1983. Even though that was a span of only about three or four years, it was during a very formative period of my childhood, and therefore it subjectively feels like it was a much longer period of time that I was calling him "my best friend".
This collection isn't in any particular order, chronologically or otherwise. It just happened to be the order in which my thoughts flowed as I wrote them. And they certainly don't completely capture the memories; to do that would take volumes.
Johnny and I used to sit in his parents' car (parked in the driveway or on the street) and listen to music (usually by means of cassette tape) on the car stereo. One thing that I clearly remember listening to was the "Grease" soundtrack. For some reason this memory is so powerful that even today when I hear a song from the "Grease" soundtrack it takes me back to being a little kid sitting in that car. It also triggers the related memory of sitting in that car while eating ketchup chips and sour candies (bought at Grants).
One day Johnny found a frog and decided to keep it, as some sort of pet I suppose. It didn't take long for his parents to convince him that that wasn't such a good idea, so Johnny decided it was best to let him go free. So we walked down to the bridge and let him go into the stream. We then stood on the bridge and watched him float downstream, wishing him the best of luck. As we did on many occasions while watching something that we released float downstream from that bridge, we hummed the "Aloha" song while waving the frog goodbye. (I think we picked this up from an episode of Gilligan's Island.) Unfortunately, a few meters downstream was the remains of an old mattress, and the frog got caught in the mattress coils. What's more, a couple of mean older kids were there, and thought it would be fun (perhaps because they knew we wouldn't like it) to throw rocks at the frog. Needless to say, the frog didn't survive.
One day Johnny and I found an injured bird (either in his back yard, or more likely in the woods behind his back yard). It looked like its wing was broken and therefore it couldn't fly. We felt sorry for the bird, and decided that we'd help it by giving it a comfortable, safe place to rest while it healed, which we figured would take a couple of days. Johnny had a birdhouse in his back yard, so we decided to put it in there. We put in a bit of straw and/or grass to make it comfortable, and perhaps put something in there for it to eat as well, and then covered the hole with tape so that it wouldn't escape. Satisfied that we'd done the best we could for the bird, we called it a night. The next morning we excitedly went to the birdhouse to see how the bird was doing. We peeled back the tape, peeked in, ... and it was dead.
Both of our sets of parents used to smoke cigarettes. And, being kids, we were naturally curious to try it ourselves. One day, Johnny managed to sneak a couple of cigarettes from his father, and we excitedly hid in the shed in his back yard and lit up one each. Of course we coughed out the first inhale, but then we laughed about it and tried again. We didn't get much further than that, because as luck would have it, my father chose this very moment to walk down and into Johnny's back yard to get me for something (supper perhaps). He caught us red-handed with the cigarettes, and needless to say he was angry. After that, both Johnny and I were grounded for a long time. Memory has me thinking "months", but in reality it was probably only a week or so.
I've never touched a cigarette since to this day. Johnny, however, is a smoker. I don't know how much influence, if any, this incident had on our respective ultimate smoking habits.
There were a few trees at the very back of my back yard, mostly evergreens and spruce. There were two trees in particular that Johnny and I liked, because they were perfect for climbing and they were right next to each other. We used to climb up the trees about as far as the trees would let us before bowing over with our weight. We'd often spend half an hour up there or more, swaying in the wind and pretending all sorts of things. We may have even stepped/jumped back and forth to each other's trees from time to time. Looking back now, I'm surprised my parents let us climb the trees like that. Perhaps they trusted us, perhaps they nervously decided to give us our "boys will be boys" freedom, or perhaps they didn't know we did this. All I know is that to this day I can feel the branches in my hand and feel my feet finding their grip while I shift my weight back and forth to make the tree sway towards, then away, towards, then away from the tree that Johnny is doing the same thing to.
For some reason we were involved in a lot of rock fights. It just seemed like the thing to do back then. It was our way of introducing drama and conflict to our affairs with others, I suppose. To the best of my memory, Johnny and I were always on the same side. The rock fights were almost always between the children of Sycamore Place, usually two or three boys per side. They were never planned. Quite often the way one started is that an argument breaks out between two kids, and one of them ends up picking up and throwing a rock at the other in frustration. Then there's a retaliation, and friends on both sides end up joining in. Sometimes it was between two back yards (with the rocks flying over the fence), and sometimes it was out on the open street.
There was at least one instance where a friendly snowball fight became a rock fight when someone (perhaps accidently) threw a snowball with an embedded rock. Another rock-centred snowball was thrown in retaliation, and before too long we weren't bothering with the snow any more. There was also another incident where we started out with a friendly water balloon fight (which started in Steven Rowsell's back yard if I remember correctly), and somehow or another that became a rock fight as well. During one particular rock fight, with Johnny and me in my back yard, and Steven Rowsell and Robbie Loder in Robbie's back yard (5 Sycamore Place), one of them hit me in the lower lip with a rock, and I started to bleed heavily. My parents took me to the hospital, and it turns out that the rock went right through my lip. The doctor had considered giving me stitches, but decided against it in the end. I still have a scar of this injury.
The kids on our street rarely interacted much with the kids on neighboring streets. But there was one incident where we got news (somehow) that the kids from Forest Avenue (I think) were planning on invading Sycamore Place. It was a declaration of war, and we prepared for it by gathering some rocks together and securing our places. We knew the day and the rough hour that they were planning on invading, so we were ready for them. I remember it being really exciting at the time - the anticipation of a real invasion and our readiness to defeat the invaders. What more could a group of twelve-year-old boys ask for? Well, sure enough, a group of them started marching up our street at the expected day and time. I can't remember how many of them there were, but my vague memory is telling me that there were somewhere between four and six of them. I even remember one of them carrying a flag, although that could easily be my memory embellishing things. We were on a lawn somewhere near the bottom of our cul-de-sac, and as soon as they got to within rock-throwing distance, we started throwing them. I think we were expecting a long, challenging rock fight, but Johnny, who generally had pretty good aim, managed to hit the leader of our rivals in the forehead, right between his eyes, on what I think was Johnny's first throw. This caused the leader to start crying, and they immediately retreated (i.e., ran away). We were victorious!
We loved winter. One of the things we loved about winter was having snowball fights. And of course, a snowball fight wouldn't be a snowball fight without a fortress wall to hide behind and call home base. So naturally, we used to spend a lot of time building snow forts, typically in front of Johnny's house. Our snow forts generally consisted of a wall, usually curved or with one obtuse or right angle, about a foot thick and about three to four feet high. We tried to accommodate one or two windows as well, so we could peek out at our enemies, as well as one or two seats. One issue we tended to face was the potential destruction of our fort by our enemies (i.e., the other kids on the street). We defended ourselves against this by occasionally spraying or pouring water over the fort and letting it harden overnight. We prided ourselves on the indestructibility of our forts.
Another thing we enjoyed about winter was sliding. My lawn was particularly good for sliding because it had a slope to it. It wasn't a big slope, but it was enough to have a good time. Quite often half a dozen or more kids from Sycamore Place would gather on my lawn for some sliding. Occasionally on the weekend one of our parents would drive us to Bowring Park where we had endless fun sliding down a big hill with dozens of other people.
One street over from ours was a family owned and operated convenience store called Grants. Also fairly close by was another convenience store called Fowlows, but because it was a bit further away we rarely went to Fowlows. But we went to Grants quite often. We'd go with some of our weekly allowance and buy ourselves some candy, bubble gum (excited over the various choices - Double Bubble, Hubba Bubba, Bubblicious, Bubble Burger, etc.), a bag of chips (often ketchup or barbecue flavour) or cheezies, and/or a Coke or Pepsi. Sour candy was always a favourite purchase of mine. Most small candies like that were one cent each, so fifty cents could go a long way, and we quite often walked out of the store with a bagful of fifty candies. I remember occasionally annoying the store clerk by asking for five of this candy, ten of that one, etc.
We'd often take our bikes to get to Grants. But when we walked, we almost never walked all the way down Sycamore Place and up Parsons Avenue to get there. Instead, we almost always took a shortcut that involved hopping over the fence in my neighbor's (the Loders') back yard.
Grants is now long gone, but it's still the site of a corner store. It has probably changed ownership and names several times, but I know that for a while it was a Red Circle, and now it's a Needs. Sadly, the days of little ma-and-pa shops are becoming a thing of the past.
A fairly common event for the kids of Sycamore Place was to run down Forest Avenue to the train tracks after hearing the train whistle from a distance, and watch it pass. I'm not sure exactly how often we did this, but I think it was a few times a week. Johnny and I used to especially have fun with this. One of the things we loved doing was putting a penny on the track so that the train would flatten it when it went by. Occasionally we felt rich enough to use nickels or dimes, but we usually used pennies. Occasionally we put small pebbles on the track to watch them get pulverized by the train. I remember us wondering whether or not we were risking causing a train derailment by doing this, which is why we never put anything larger than small rocks on the track.
Sometimes Johnny and I would challenge each other as to how close we were willing to stand next to the train as it whizzed by. In hindsight this was a bit dangerous. However, neither of us were stupid when it came to dares, so we never really got dangerously close. There was one time, though, when Johnny pushed the limits a bit by sitting on a rock that was right on the edge of what seemed to be the safe limits. When the train came by there was only a foot or two of clearance between him and the train. That was exciting, but it also marked the end of our how-close-can-you-get challenges; we knew that it would be suicide for either of us to try to top that.
The trains were always cargo trains, never passenger trains, so we felt that we could get away with some of these silly antics.
I have a distant memory (so it might have been from as far back as 1980) of a train car that had toppled over onto its side down at the small train station that was just a few hundred meters down from the Forest Avenue railway crossing. I don't know (or at least I don't remember) any of the other details pertaining to this event, other than that I remember it being exciting.
We spent a lot of time walking along the train tracks. We loved the thought of discovering and exploring new far-away lands, and the obvious way of doing this was by talking long walks along the train tracks, to boldly go where no man has gone before. Sometimes our train track walking adventures lasted all day and into the evening. No matter how far we went, in whatever direction, and no matter what we found or did during the walk, there always seemed to be a deep sense of adventure involved.
Sometimes we walked in the direction of Bowring Park. Sometimes Bowring Park was our destination, but sometimes it just happened to be where we ended up. Occasionally we'd even walk beyond Bowring Park, but that was rare because there was only so much time in a day.
It was while walking along the train tracks in this direction, looking for adventure, that we discovered a secluded island paradise, hidden from view from the railway tracks, and accessible only by following a barely-perceptible path through a thick covering of evergreen trees. What we found was a roaring waterfall (perhaps about ten feet high), at the base of which was a large pool of water with a stream carrying water away at the other end. In the middle of this pool of water was an island, perhaps about eight feet long by about five feet wide. The island was just close enough to the shore that we found we could get to it without getting our feet wet by taking a good running jump. This waterfall area, and the island itself, was just secluded and inaccessible enough that we felt it was our unique discovery. That was more fantasy than reality, of course, and we knew that because there was evidence nearby of a recent teenager bonfire party, but still, this place was our discovery and we were proud of it. After some deliberation, we decided to name the place "Pomak-Price". It was the Pomak-Price waterfall and the Pomak-Price island. After our initial discovery of Pomak-Price, we went back many times. Sometimes we dropped in on our way to Bowring Park, and sometimes it was our final destination. We wanted to explore the area more, so we found ways to get up and around the waterfall (including doing some, in hindsight, pretty dangerous jumping), and did some exploring both upstream and downstream. On more than one occasion we decided to have a picnic on the island, complete with picnic blankets which we brought for the occasion. While on the island we'd throw rocks at the waterfall, etc., for fun. For a while we entertained the notion of building up a rock bridge from the island to the further shore. We figured that if we just kept throwing rocks into the water in that direction, it would eventually build up to something that we could walk across. Needless to say that, even after rock-throwing sessions spanning several visits, we never did manage to build up a bridge.
Another one of our stops along that route on the railway tracks was a quarry where there were piles of gravel and sand perhaps twenty to thirty feet high. Even though it was probably considered trespassing, piles like that were irresistible for a couple of twelve-year-old boys, so we'd often scramble our way to the tops of these piles and slide down.
Once, when we were walking along the train tracks in that direction, we came across a large dog (a german shepherd, I believe) lying next to the tracks with its head severed off. A few seconds later we found its head, lying about fifteen feet away. Apparently the dog had an unfortunate encounter with a train. We were of course grossed out by it.
Another time, very near the same location, we saw a white plastic bag hanging from a tree, and it had something in it. Curious as to what it was, we managed to use a stick to get it down. When we opened it up, we discovered to our horror that the bag contained what we believed to be cat guts. I'm not sure if that's what it was, but I remember being pretty sure of it at the time.
Then there was the other direction. The other direction didn't have as clear a destination, so it seemed a bit more intriguing as far as what we might find if we kept walking. (It never occurred to us that we could just look at a map to see where it led.) I remember us on more than one occasion walking far into what we considered unknown territory, bringing with it all of the excitement and adventure that that entailed.
Once when we were walking along in that direction, I was telling Johnny about something I had recently learned (perhaps in cubs) that running water is safer to drink than still water. Shortly after telling him this, we came across a little babbling brook. I excitedly proclaimed that since it's running water, it's perfectly safe to drink. We figured that this brook was worthy of discovery status, and therefore needed a name. Since my name got first billing with the discovery of Pomak-Price, we decided to give Johnny's name first billing this time, and thus named it the "John-Kei" well. Johnny was hesitant to believe me at first that the water was safe to drink, but eventually I managed to convince him, and he knelt down and had a few sips. I can't remember whether or not I took any sips myself. Anyways, the next day, Johnny got sick. It's unclear as to whether or not his sips from the John-Kei well were responsible, but his mother certainly seemed to think so, and was angry at me (understandably, in hindsight) for convincing Johnny to drink from it.
On another occasion, after a long day of exploring the train tracks in that direction, we were on our way back home and it started getting dark. We noticed an orange construction light blinking a few feet from the train tracks. Intrigued, we walked up to it and discovered that it was half buried in the dirt. Figuring that it was accidently abandoned there for some reason, we decided to dig it up and take it home with us. Very shortly afterwards, we found another one, but it wasn't blinking. We decided to take that one too, and we continued our walk home. A few minutes later we discovered that there were several more of these construction lights scattered around, probably to indicate some sort of construction zone, and they were all starting to blink because it was getting darker. The second one that we had picked up started to blink too. We were faced with a moral dilemma - should we return the lights to where we found them (now that we realized that they were probably there for a purpose), or do we continue to take them home with us. Well, we figured that we probably wouldn't be able to figure out exactly where we got them from, and there were plenty of other lights around so having two fewer probably wouldn't be a big deal. Besides, owning a blinking orange construction light would be cool. So we decided to continue taking them home with us. As it got darker out, though, we realized how obvious our mischievous act was, since there we were, two boys, each carrying a brightly-blinking construction light down the train tracks (and then down the street). Nervously, we tried hiding them under our jackets in the hopes of making it less obvious. We eventually made it home with them. I remember keeping mine around for at least a few days. I don't recall how my parents felt about it. I'm pretty sure I told them that it was the only light around and that it was accidently abandoned (which is what we originally thought the situation was when we picked it up).
The train tracks are long gone now. Newfoundland decided to do away with its rail system several years ago, and some of the stretches of railway track, including this one, have since been converted into recreational pathways. Back in 1998 during my first visit back to Newfoundland in many years, I had the opportunity to walk down this pathway to take a trip down memory lane. Of course, I naturally wanted to pay a visit to Pomak-Price. I was first a bit concerned that I might not be able to remember and recognize where to enter the trees in order to get to it. But then I was shocked to discover that the whole Pomak-Price area had been developed as a recreational rest stop. There was a wide, well-marked path leading to and around the area, with a few park benches scattered here and there, and there was even a bridge over the waterfall. It's a bit silly, I know, but I actually felt a bit... violated... by this development. The kid in me was thinking "Johnny and I discovered this area, and were weren't even given any credit!".
Johnny and I knew that the stream that went under the bridge at the end of Forest Avenue was the same stream that fed into the Pomak-Price waterfall (and eventually all the way to Bowring Park), but one day we felt the urge to confirm this firsthand. So, mostly for the adventure of it, we decided to walk along the stream all the way from the bridge to the waterfall. I don't think we had planned from the beginning to get wet; we probably started off by walking along the shoreline. But as we walked along, there were places along the stream where we simply found it easier to wade through the water, so we started doing that. After discovering how fun that was, we decided to just stay in the water for the rest of the journey. After all, it was only up to our knees, and wasn't likely to get any deeper, right? Okay, well, it got up to our crotches at one point, and then up to our waists. But as the saying goes, in for a penny, in for a pound. Eventually we found ourselves almost armpit deep in the water. And what was worse, because the water was so deep at that point, it was mostly stagnant, and really had a horrible stench to it. Let's just say we weren't particularly enjoying ourselves at that point. But we stuck with it, and eventually the stream made it down to our knees again. Before too long we found ourselves staring down from the top of the Pomak-Price waterfall!
There was a little trail through a wooded area next to the newly-built Sobey's Square mall that we often walked along (usually as a shortcut to get to the mall), and along this trail was a little stream (which was barely more than a trickle in places). At one point this stream fed into a pool of water six or seven feet wide before continuing on. Along the trail in this area were several pine trees whose trunks had many sap bubbles. Johnny and I enjoyed finding a little stick each (usually between about three and six centimeters long), pop a sap bubble with one end of the stick, coat the end with a generous dose of sap, and then place the sticks onto the surface of the pool. When this is done, the sap interacts with the water in an interesting way - where the sap touches the surface of the water, a thin but steady film of sap is thrust outward from the stick, which, since the sap is only at one end, propels the stick forward and leaves a colorful trail behind it. The straighter the stick is and the more evenly coated the blob of sap is, the straighter the path the stick takes. Also, the lighter the stick is and the more contact the sap has with the surface of the water, the faster the stick is propelled. So Johnny and I would often have sap stick-boat races to see whose stick would make it to the other end of the pool first. It was an endless source of fun.
Generally speaking, Johnny and I were pretty tame and innocent with respect to our childhood activities. There were very few things we did that would classify us as "mean kids". However, there were exceptions. For some reason, we enjoyed scaring and angering the drivers of cars that were driving by. For example, Johnny had a Nerf gun that shot foam arrows. We used to hide in the bushes (usually along Municipal avenue at the base of Sycamore Place) and wait for a car to drive by that had the driver-side window open, and see if we could launch the arrow into the car. We were rarely successful, but when we did it usually caused the driver to startle, which we got a kick out of. Of course we'd lose the arrow, but it was a small price to pay for the fun it provided. (As a side note, sometimes we also used to try to shoot foam arrows straight through an open cargo car of a passing-by train, just for the challenge of it. I think we may have gotten it through once or twice, but generally the train would be moving too fast for us to be successful.)
Another thing we used to do is tie one end of a piece of string onto the street sign at the end of Sycamore place, about three feet up, and then hide in the bushes across the street (on Municipal Avenue) holding the other end of the string slack so that the string lay across the road unnoticeable. Then, whenever a car came by, when it got to within about two seconds of the string we'd pull it tight and frighten the driver. Quite often it would cause the driver to slam on the brakes for a second. On at least one occasion the driver got out of the car and started chasing us. He probably only chased us for a few seconds, but we ran as fast as we could all the way down Forest Avenue just to be sure. That was something we talked about for weeks afterwards.
On a couple of occasions I remember us collecting a dozen or so empty cola cans and lining them evenly spaced across a high-speed street right after a blind turn. Once again, this caused the drivers to be startled, and quite often slam on the brakes and swerve.
This mostly-benign havoc we were wreaking with cars occasionally escalated into something a little less benign. On at least one occasion (but I think we did it at least twice) we hid in the bushes on the side of the road, and whenever a car approached we'd lob a glass bottle in the air so that it would smash in the middle of the road a second or two in front of the car. In hindsight this was pretty dangerous, but fortunately we never got our timing wrong and never caused any injuries or damage. We did cause a lot of cars to screech to a stop, though!
Behind Johnny's side of the street was a patch of woods. You could actually get to it through his back yard, which was convenient. It wasn't a very big patch of woods, but at the time it seemed plenty big for adventure and exploration. Most of my memories of these woods are quite vague and clouded now, so we probably only played around in there during the early years. I remember playing hide and seek a lot in there. I also remember an area where there were a couple of blueberry patches. Near that area, if memory serves, was the charred remains of house foundation. I remember always being curious about that.
One morning, after a particularly powerful thunder and lightning storm the night before, we were excited to discover that a fairly large tree had fallen in the woods. The majority of its trunk was resting horizontally about five feet above the ground, making it a great place to climb upon and play around on. There was a small coniferous tree about five or six feet tall right next to this felled tree, and we had great fun using this tree as an "elevator" - by stepping or jumping from the felled tree onto the elevator tree and having it bow over with your weight to the point where it gently brings you to the ground.
Johnny had a little shed in his back yard that was perfect for playing in. We used to have endless fun in and around that shed. We'd let our imaginations run wild and pretend that the shed was all sorts of things. For example, one thing that we used to pretend, many times in fact, was that the shed was a tooth within the mouth of a witch. We, being in the shed, were faced with the predicament of being in a cavity within that tooth. I don't recall the back story we had for this, assuming we had one. But we'd play out various adventure scenarios within this imaginary world. Whenever the witch walked, the shed would shake from side to side. We could look down the witch's throat by looking out the door of the shed. Whenever we got hungry we had to lower ourselves (with an imaginary rope) down the witch's throat to her stomach to try to retrieve some food.
Another thing we used to pretend was that the shed was an airplane. We'd climb up onto the roof of the shed, take the controls of our airplane and fly through the clouds, darting this way and that.
At one point Johnny and I formed a club called "Square-Tangle", and the shed in Johnny's back yard became the Square-Tangle clubhouse. (The name was probably inspired by the name of a religious children's show on TV at the time called "Circle Square".) I think we had a logo for it and everything. I can't remember exactly what it looked like, but I think it was basically a square inscribed within a equilateral triangle. As far as I can recall, we were always the only active members of the club, with Johnny being the leader. We may have added other kids on the street to the membership list from time to time, but nobody else had any particular interest in the club. Not that we really cared; we were perfectly content with it being a two-member club. What did we actually do in this club? Well, nothing, from what I can recall, aside from the occasional club meeting, but perhaps some of our adventures were embarked upon in the name of Square-Tangle.
Not content being members of just one exclusive club, we eventually formed a second club called "Tangle-Square". The new shed that was recently built in my back yard, or at least a corner of the shed, became the Tangle-Square clubhouse, and I was the leader. (The real reason for the formation of the Tangle-Square was probably because I was envious of Johnny being the leader of the Square-Tangle, and wanted to form another club where I could be the leader.)
My intent was for Tangle-Square to be a more exclusive club than Square-Tangle (which was a bit of a silly notion, given that there was really just the two of us in both clubs). So I devised a set of initiation tests that a person must pass before becoming a member. There were four or five initiation tests, if I recall, but I only remember what two of them were. One was the ability to throw a rock over a particular power line (which I think evolved at one point to being able to throw a rock clear over my house from my back yard). Another test was called "silent-footing" (a term I was proud to have come up with). To become a member of Tangle-Square, one must prove his ability to walk at a standard walking speed without making any sound. To give the tests a sense of legitimacy, Johnny and I had to take them ourselves. We passed, of course.
I also recall coming up with a set of Tangle-Square club rules and posting them up on the wall in my shed. I don't remember what they were. I'd love to be able to see a copy of these rules now; it's too bad I never kept any of this stuff.
We loved flying kites, and we lived a few minutes walk from an experimental farm that had a wide open field that was perfect for kite flying. Not content with just the height that a single roll of kite string could achieve, we'd often buy two rolls of string. When the first roll was let out all the way, we'd tie the end to the start of the second roll and let that one out all the way too. Our kites tended to get so high that you could barely see them. On at least a couple of occasions we even used three rolls.
Occasionally a knot wouldn't be tied well enough and it would come undone, causing a loose rollful of string to come fluttering down. Where the kite ended up, who knew? We flew our kites so high that when we lost one in this way, we knew the chances of actually finding the kite were next to nil.
However, there was one incident that I clearly remember as being an exception. On this particular occasion there were three of us flying our kites - me, Johnny, and our friend Stephen Sutton. Stephen did something (I can't remember what) that caused Johnny to lose his kite. As usual, the kite, barely visible in the sky, drifted off into the distance until it disappeared from view. Johnny got really angry at Stephen for losing his kite, and decided to retaliate by making Stephen lose his kite too. They struggled with Stephen's kite-string roll for a few seconds (rolling on the ground, etc., trying to wrest control of the roll from each other), until Johnny got so angry that he broke Stephen's kite string by biting it off with his teeth. So off went Stephen's kite too, into the distance. I was the only person that returned home with a kite that evening. However, the next morning in school Stephen told me that when he got home from the experimental farm, he discovered that his kite had landed in his back yard!
One morning in early spring Johnny and I walked to Bowring Park via the train tracks as we often did. The surface of the duck pond was still mostly frozen, but there was a patch in the middle that wasn't. Johnny and I figured that the majority of the ice was still thick enough to hold our weight, and we tested that theory by walking out onto it. As we walked along, we got a bit braver and inched our way closer to the middle, until the inevitable happened. The ice gave way and Johnny fell through. Fortunately, the water wasn't very deep, so he only fell in up to his waist, but still, it was mighty cold water and Johnny wasn't happy about it. I inched closer to him to try to help him up, but when he grabbed hold of my hand, one of my feet went through too. With all the splashing about that we did trying to get out of the water, Johnny ended up getting soaked up to his chest. I think I managed to avoid falling in all the way, but was still mostly soaked as well. It was only a few degrees above zero, and we were both shivering like crazy. We must have called home to be picked up after this, because I think I remember us being driven home (and being given a lecture about how stupid we were for doing what we did).
Like every kid on our street, Johnny and I had bikes. They were the simple single-speed banana-seat pedal-backwards-to-brake kind of bike. We used to use them to get around, but, especially in the early days, we also just had fun with them on our street. I remember several skidding sessions where we would work up speed and then slam on our brakes to see how far we could skid on the gravelly pavement. We also tried our hands at the standard stunts like doing wheelies and biking with no hands, etc. I also remember one time when we tied our bikes together with about six feet of rope and tried biking side by side like that. Needless to say, that didn't work out very well (but it was fun to try).
I remember doing many longer bike rides as well (such as to the Avalon Mall, and whizzing down Signal Hill at top speed), but to be honest I can't remember whether I did these bike trips with Johnny or with another friend.
Johnny and I had fun doing a lot of things together, but we occasionally had our differences of opinion that would often escalate into yelling matches. I can't remember any of the things we had disagreements about, but whenever we did, and whatever they were about, it would often result in both of us walking away from each other in a huff and swearing to never talk to each other again. Of course, almost always, the next day one of us would call the other up as if nothing had happened.
However, after one particularly heated disagreement sometime in perhaps the summer or fall of 1983, we never did call each other back. Whatever it was we had argued over, it spelled the end of our friendship. I've often wondered what it was that mattered to us so much that we would part ways forever over it. It was probably something silly that only thirteen-year-old boys could get worked up over.
After Johnny and I parted ways, we still co-existed on the street for about three years before my family moved away to a different neighborhood. I don't recall us specifically having to avoid each other when we were out and about, though. It was about this time that I got a Commodore 64 computer, so I started spending less time outside anyways, opting to geek away on my computer instead. Also, Johnny and I went to different schools, and so branched out our friendships through our respective schools. Johnny and I were in the same karate class together for a few months, but other than that we barely saw each other again.
I remember bumping into him once in the cafeteria of Mount Pearl Central High school during a high school dance in 1987 or 1988. We exchanged hellos, and I gave him a printout of the list of all the games I had for my Commodore 64 (I was such a geek!). That was it for many years.
Much more recently, over 20 years later in the summer of 2009, Johnny and I had the opportunity to get together for an afternoon and talk about old times. We met up in Shibuya, Japan, of all places. He had moved to Japan a few years ago to teach english, and is now married to someone there. (He's also a black belt in karate there.) My wife and I were visiting Japan with our two young children so that my wife could perform in a taiko concert and so our children could meet their great grandmother. Thanks to facebook and SMS messaging, we were able to hook up with Johnny for an afternoon during our trip. It was a great get-together, but altogether too short. It would have been nice to reminisce some more.