1974. I remember Burkandt, my Turkish friend with legs that barely worked. His eyebrows, far too bushy for a kid of ten, swept upward in a wave, not unlike his thick, brown, curly hair. It was as though his facial hair just wanted to point us to God. The accent was only an obstacle if someone wasn’t really interested in talking to him. Despite his physical handicap, he was remarkably fast and shockingly strong. I laugh to myself as I recall the piss poor way he’d stumble through telling jokes. He never did understand that a joke is best told with the punch line at the end. At least he tried. He was fascinating. He was my friend.
Jamie-Lee Andrews (pseudonym) cowered in a smelly corner of the schoolyard. She thought herself safer there from the abuse she suffered at the hands of my schoolmates. An only child, she lived with her parents in a house even tinier than the 900 square foot bungalow we called home. Whenever an unholy hoard would surround her with arrowed words and painful jabs, I’d hide away like a coward so as to protect my “conscience” from involvement. If I hadn’t been so horrified of the potential social fallout, she too could have been my friend. Not a soul seemed to like, let alone befriend, her. I ached for her.
My sister’s First Nations friend, Olive Redfoot (also a pseudonym) lived between worlds, caught on an unenviable tightrope of a predominantly white professional community in which her father was a lawyer, and no life at all on the reservation where the other unmentionables were stowed. It was not uncommon for either natives or non-natives to egg their house, showering them in sticky disapproval. She was a beautiful girl with long double-braided hair that flowed, wild but disciplined, past her derrière. My sister loved her. I kind of did, too.
Saturday mornings were best. It was a time I looked forward to with stomach-rumbling anticipation every week. My parents would drive me the fifteen miles from our home for bagpipe lessons. At the time it was in the town of Midnapore, well beyond the extreme south end of my home town of Calgary, where we lived. Nowadays, the entire journey is one elongated shopping extravaganza with hardly a green space to be found. We would pass at least half a dozen grain elevators, innumerable cattle, and a train station (it used to run within a stone’s throw of our home). From 9:00 a.m. until noon, the smell of elk-hide pipe bags, cobbler’s wax, cane reeds, Mr. Reed’s coffee, and a room full of young boys would map themselves into my nasal memory.
Dana was my best friend. He lived four houses down from me. We used to pretend we were WWF wrestlers, dinosaurs or superheroes, and trade NHL hockey cards. Fights were inevitable given his insistence upon championing the Black Hawks when the Montreal Canadiens were the betting man’s choice. We’d walk to school with my other friend, Darrell, who lived across the street from us, and just be troublesome, generally speaking. One day we were lighting farts behind his house and a flame came out of Dana’s flaming air-trap that burned the paint off the side of his parent’s trailer. We were a classy lot.
I wish these were more than just a random collection of disparate memories in a middle-aged guy’s sketchy recall. Sometimes, they push their way to the front of a crowded reminiscence and I can still touch their faces, like bricks in my wall; walls not meant to guard, but to support and frame.
Picture found here