JAIMIE VERNON – 40 SUMMERS AGO
The end of the school year is fast approaching. As I take my son back and forth on what will be his final year in high school, I find myself drifting back in time to when we looked forward to summer break. My childhood was filled with great ones. In 1975 I took a two week trip west across Canada with my grandmother in her 1972 Skylark which changed my life, and my world view, for the better. That was almost completely undone when my parents attempted to take my sister and I on a similar trip to Canada’s East Coast in 1977. It was a study in stark contrasts on how not to travel with one’s family.
Between these events was the Summer of 1976. The year itself was one of settling into a new life after we’d left our old low rental apartment to the promise of suburban splendour in the untapped backwoods of northern Scarborough. I entered middle school – well, I entered middle school’s Grade 7 at Berner Trail P.S. in the newly growing Malvern community (two decades before gangs, guns and drugs turned it into a punchline on the evening news).
I also got myself a newspaper route so I could earn some money; 122 Scarborough Mirror newspapers to be delivered before 6.30 AM every Wednesday making for dysfunctional school attendance on any given Wednesday thereafter. But I had cash. Enough to indulge my hobbies.
As a pre-teen I was being bombarded by all matter of stimuli not the least of which was comic books and television. There was no social media. No video games. It was all organic and visceral. The telephone was our lifeline – or we looked out our front windows to see who was playing street hockey or hanging out in someone’s garage engaged in ping pong or board games. It was this summer that we kept a Monopoly game “live” beginning in the final week of June right through until Labour Day.
My friends Gord and his brother Brad and a third friend, transplanted Floridian John Shuler, kept atop of the latest musical trends all year. My Dad had done dances and parties when he and my Mom were younger and still maintained a sizeable collection of 45s. I followed his lead having bought my first singles as far back as 1971 (“Ben” by Michael Jackson was my first). Our townhouse had a walk-out basement. My Dad had built a massive stereo system in the recreation room. With sliding doors open, he’d blast tunes into the backyards of several neighbours. We’d often hang out back there playing tag or badminton or what have you just so we could listen to the tunes in glorious stereo. The June 5, 1976 RPM Top 50 in Canada looked like this:
1) Silly Love Songs – WINGS
2) Welcome Back Kotter – JOHN SEBASTIAN
3) Shannon – HENRY GROSS
4) Get Up And Boogies – SILVER CONVENTION
5) Rhiannon – FLEETWOOD MAC
6) Happy Days – PRATT & McCLAIN
7) Rock and Roll Love Letter – BAY CITY ROLLERS
8) The Whole World’s Goin’ Crazy – APRIL WINE
9) Shout It Out Loud – KISS
10) Love Hangover – DIANA ROSS
11) Boogie Fever – THE SYLVERS
12) Shop Around – CAPTAIN & TENNILLE
13) Bohemian Rhapsody – QUEEN
14) Disco Lady – JOHNNIE TAYLOR
15) More More More – ANDREA TRUE CONNECTION
16) Roxy Roller – SWEENEY TODD
17) Sweet Love – THE COMMODORES
18) Love Is the Drug – ROXY MUSIC
19) Tryin’ To Get the Feeling Again – BARRY MANILOW
20) Lorelei – STYX
21) Love Really Hurts Without You – BILLY OCEAN
22) Show Me the Way – PETER FRAMPTON
23) Give a Little Love – KEN TOBIAS
24) Playing In the Band – STAMPEDERS
25) Fool To Cry – ROLLING STONES
26) Love In the Shadows – NEIL SEDAKA
27) Lonely Night – CAPTAIN & TENNILLE
28) Dream Weaver – GARY WRIGHT
29) Never Gonna Fall In Love Again – ERIC CARMEN
30) Dolly – LIVERPOOL
31) Young Blood – BAD COMPANY
32) Misty Blue – DOROTHY MOORE
33) Let Your Love Flow – BELLAMY BROTHERS
34) Late Night Lovin’ Man – HAMMERSMITH
35) Linda Write Me a Letter – CHOYA
36) There’s a Kind of a Hush – CARPENTERS
37) Takin’ It To the Street – DOOBIE BROTHERS
38) Love Is Alive – GARY WRIGHT
39) Anyway You Want It – CHARITY BROWN
40) Sara Smile – HALL & OATES
41) I Do, I Do, I Do – ABBA
42) December 1963 (Oh What A Night) – FOUR SEASONS
43) Liars – IAN THOMAS
44) Dream On – AEROSMITH
45) It’s Alright (This Feeling) – CRACK OF DAWN
46) Fooled Around and Fell In Love – ELVIN BISHOP
47) One Piece At a Time – JOHNNY CASH
48) Lookin’ Out For #1 – BTO
49) I.O.U. – JIMMY DEAN
50) Moonlight Feels Right – STARBUCK
The kids in the area came to hear the latest tunes as my Dad and I bought what we liked from the CHUM-AM TOP 40 chart at the local record store (The Disc Shop at Cedarbrae Mall). That listership included the neighourhood girls. Both of them. The sister of our immediate neighbour had come down from Parry Sound for the summer. Her name was Debbie and she was big and blonde and 14. Directly across from our side yard was another strip of townhouses and another 14 year old, Sonia, lived there.
Sonia became my obsession, er, muse. I laughed at her jokes. I flirted. I made inappropriate juvenile comments. I was 12. I had no moxie. No sex appeal (though my wife says my eyes were killer). Did I already mention that I was short and nerdy? I was also NOT self-aware and had no filter. It never occurred to me until years later that I was a pest and a cling-on and she painfully endured my infatuation like a tick on a dog. We attended the same high school in 1977 where she remained until graduation after which I lost track of her but in 1976 she tolerated me and we hung out. Looking at it now, it was more like a brother and sister relationship.
I usually woke up early during weekdays in the summer – pining, Cyrano-like, outside her back window (which was the window to her kitchen, not her bedroom). Even when she was in the house I could watch her talk on the phone. She never phoned me, of course. Those days play back in slow motion now in my mind’s eye like a more PG version of the Phoebe Cates pool scene from ‘Fast Time At Ridgemont High‘.
But I was about to forget all about my unrequited love when my parents shipped me off on a camping trip with my Aunt Linda and Uncle Jimmy and cousin Danny – who was only a few months younger than me. He and I were tight as kids as we only lived 20 minutes away from them in Pickering, Ontario. I had never been camping before. I dreaded the idea of being away from my warm bed and my Beatles themed bedroom. We headed to Lakefield, Ontario and a camping ground on Katchewanooka Lake that was frequented by hundreds of other city-escaping summer refugees. I was not entirely sure I’d survive the week. My uncle patiently tried to teach me how to row a canoe. To his credit, I did learn how to do it – despite my complaining about it the entire time.
On the second day my cousin got the stomach flu and was confined to the tent we shared. It was suggested that I try and make friends with the kids at some of the other campsites to make the best of the week on my own. It didn’t take long. I followed the music. A few trailers from our campsite was a guy named Gord who had music blasting from speakers on posts on each side of his trailer. He had two turntables on a picnic table and was spinning 7″ singles – ALL. DAY. LONG. At another table was a horde of teenagers. I introduced myself and was welcomed in. Most of the kids were annuals – that is, they came with their families every year like my aunt and uncle did. Because I was the nephew of someone the campers already knew they took me under their wing.
The other kids dragged me along to the lake, or to the stores, or the French fry stand in the park. One of them was a ginger blonde named Sharon Partridge. I was smitten and promptly forgot about my other crush ‘back home’. She had a smoky voice that was pretty deep for a 12-year old. Like Lindsay Lohan’s, in fact. She also wore jeans and a T-shirt and could kick ass in touch football; Tom-boy material for sure but she clearly liked me as she’d stop by our campsite each morning and scoop me up for a day’s adventure. By dinner time we were all back at Gord’s trailer listening the latest tunes he’d gotten at the Sam the Record Man store in Peterborough. One such tune was “Dance” by Canada’s Deja Vu. It’s the song that still reminds me of Sharon to this day.
By the wrap-up of our week there my cousin was feeling much better and I introduced him to my new friends. He already knew Sharon from the previous summer. I badgered him all day to find out if she actually liked me. The answer was a definite yes. But he warned me that I needed to make a move soon as we were heading back to Toronto in the next two days.
That night he and I ended up back at Sharon’s trailer with two of her gal pals. Her Mom was in Lakefield playing bingo and we were all alone. The evening started innocently enough until someone suggested we play Truth or Dare. I took ‘truth’ and admitted I like Sharon in front of all her friends. It was met with snickers and an impish “oooooooooo”. Sharon picked dare and her friends demanded she kiss me. Gulp.
She agreed but insisted that the trailer lights be turned off. She sat directly across from me at the breakfast nook, pulled me toward her by the shoulders and planted her lips right on mine. It was cold and wet and I was freaking out. OMG. A cute girl is kissing me! Holy shit, dear mother of God. In my head it lasted an eternity. Sharon was only supposed to kiss me for ten seconds. Her friends counted down from Ten Mississippi. She wasn’t letting go. I had been holding my breath. I was turning purple in the dark. Finally she let go. I fell back onto the nook seat and was embarrassed to be wiping my mouth as the lights went up. Sharon and I smiled at each other. Her friends burst into hysterics. Everyone rolled out of the trailer ahead of us. We exited holding hands which we continued to do until I had to leave on Sunday with my aunt and uncle and cousin.
Sharon’s family remained in Lakefield for the remainder of the summer, but I had a phone number for her place in Scarborough. I called and she was glad to hear from me. I trekked a good 15 miles to her place by bicycle. Once. Grade 8 started shortly thereafter and we drifted into our own social universes never to make contact again. Here’s hoping she still has as good a memory of that summer as I do.
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Jaimie “Captain CanCon” Vernon has been president of the on again/off-again Bullseye Records of Canada since 1985. He wrote and published Great White Noise magazine in the ‘90s, has been a musician for 33 years, and recently discovered he’s been happily married for 16 years. He is also the author of the recently released Canadian Pop Music Encyclopedia and a collection of his most popular ‘Don’t Believe A Word I Say’ columns called ‘Life’s A Canadian…BLOG’ is now available at Amazon.com http://gwntertainment.wix.com/jaimievernon