Peter Plays in the Past

This week I am going to write about some of the encounters I had while playing over by the Leacock Home. Having shared my column with 3 Orillia Facebook groups, I was pleased with the positive feedback. I appreciated the “great column” remarks a) but also the comments about reawakening long forgotten memories. Especially nice was reading the reactions of old friends. It was also interesting to read of at least one “dodgy character” whom I didn’t run into. (Maybe those people are cyclical in nature.)

The Leacock Home

Some of you might ask where my parents were while all this was going on. As my friends and I grew up and demonstrated that we could be trusted, we were given greater latitude in our daily explorations. The first few times that we went to “the bush” b) , we would go in a group, with a couple of older boys. As we got more comfortable with the land, we  would venture out as a group of 5 or 6. That way, if someone got hurt, we would have someone to go for help and a group to provide physical and moral support to the injured party.

More importantly, we learned the importance of being aware of our surroundings, that “situational awareness” which I wrote of last week. Again, it’s not “living in fear”, it’s being aware that not everyone you meet wants to be your friend.( I used these lessons learned frequently during my lengthy career interviewing unemployed people, teaching me the value of preparation,)

I mentioned last week that I rarely walked the third path, although it was beautiful. The vegetation was heavy, I couldn’t see very clearly and I got surprised there one day by 3 kids I didn’t recognize. Two were in front of me, one behind me, so I turned and dodged the single and was able to evade him and get home safely, on the run. The point is that I hadn’t even known they were there until they stepped out of the bush. I escaped, but it was a narrow escape indeed.

I want to tell you about a couple of encounters I had that were frankly pretty scary, but taught me valuable lessons that I still use.

One day I joined some of my friends after lunch. I walked up and heard one friend say “They call him ‘Nature Boy'” My curiosity piqued, I asked for clarification. Apparently “Nature Boy” was a young man who went into the bush, undressed and then walked around “au naturel” c) I giggled, because I knew there were areas in the bush where there were mosquitos big enough that they could have borne registrations, and walking through those areas was perilous enough wearing a short sleeved shirt, let alone being naked. Rather than listen to the rest of the details about “Nature Boy”, like what areas he frequented, I turned my attention to another friend who had a cousin coming to visit who also liked aircraft.

A few days later I was in an area I didn’t normally visit, because the undergrowth was very thick, which gave you both poor visibility and restricted movement. To top it all off, I was 8 feet off the ground picking apples. All I was missing was the “kick me “sign. I heard a male voice say “Hey kid!” Looking down, I saw a bare chested young man standing behind a bush. It was a hot day, so that made some sense. I climbed down with my bag full of apples and as I did so, he stepped out from behind the bush. I stared as his bare leg emerged from behind the shrub, and as it dawned on me that he was, indeed, naked, I averted my gaze to his eyes, and held them there. My mind raced. I was in a quandary. Obviously it would be impolite to stare 😉, but I realized that I had to quickly find a balance between too timid a look and a stare that challenged him.

It was a difficult situation. I had no idea what might set him off or even what his intentions were. The possibility of assault, either physical or sexual, hovered at the back of my mind. I kept still and silent and decided that when I moved, it would be slowly, very slowly. I have no idea how long we faced each other, but at length he grunted that I could go. I nervously edged past him. As I passed him, he grabbed the trunk of the nearest tree and began to pull himself towards it. I turned my head away and concentrated on leaving silently.

I got out to Forest Avenue and I took off. (I figured that it was unlikely that he would chase me, and even more unlikely that he would chase me naked up Forest Avenue. Of course, if he did so, I was cooked.)

So, once beyond the range of immediate danger, I “beat feet” and 10 minutes later was home drinking grape Freshie. I don’t recall mentioning the episode to my parents, although I did pass it on to my little buddies for future reference. I realized that I had been at fault, I had gone alone into an area which was tactically unsuitable for me. Obviously I had to smarten up.

A few weeks later, one of my buddies caught up with our gang out of breath and agitated. He had been accosted by an older kid and had narrowly escaped. We shivered nervously as our buddy related what had happened. The kid he spoke of was about 6 months older than us, 6 inches taller and about 80 pounds heavier. He could move like a cobra and displayed psychopathic tendencies. We had friends who went to school with him and told us stories of his behaviour on the playground. I make no secret of the fact that we feared him and never travelled alone when there was any chance he could be encountered.

Hubris is a funny thing. Feeling “ten feet tall and bulletproof” is wonderful, except when Fate comes knocking. Thus it was a few days later that we found Mrs Montreuil’s Little Boy in another rarely explored area, picking apples in a tree surrounded by  dense, nearly impassible brush. As I descended the tree, strangely, I was thinking about this human monster. I was wondering what drove him to act as he did. I put my trail foot on the ground and turned 90 degrees to depart…

…and almost ran into him! There he was, larger than life, not two metres from me. (Of course, he was blocking the path.) My heart sank as an icy dread corkscrewed up my back. Quite plainly, it appeared that my day had just gone into the wastebasket. I felt absolute terror, I had no idea what he was going to do, or if he was still seething about the abortive run in he had had with my friend a few days earlier. Again, I was absolutely silent, and I gazed into his eyes, desperately trying to find that elusive balanced attitude which would not trigger him into any kind of reaction.

Again, Loyal Reader, I have no idea how long we looked at each other. I truly feared getting hurt d), but at length, he too said I could go. Note that the path was so narrow that he had to turn to the side so I could get past him. Again I walked slowly, careful not to make physical contact with him while maintaining very delicate eye contact with him.

Once I was clear of the bush, I did the “Forest Avenue Dash” again and was horrifying my friends with my harrowing adventure within 15 minutes.

Now I began to formulate some general rules of life at around that time which I still employ. One of these is that I am frequently my harshest critic. I had had two very narrow escapes from untold peril in about a month. Clearly something had be done. It chilled me to realize that I had put myself into the position of having a total stranger decide my fate. In both situations it could have gone either way, and it was only by Madame Fortune smiling on me that I has avoided God only knows what.

So I began to take more stock of my surroundings, everywhere. I stopped “shambling” when I walked, I looked around me. I worked on my Situational Awareness and developed this useful skill to a fine pitch, and have found it extremely useful. More than once, as an example, I have been somewhere, but left, as things didn’t feel right to me. Shortly thereafter trouble would break out, and believe me, it’s a lot more fun to read about it in the paper.

Like I say, Life can be scary, but if you stay alert, misfortune will pass you by more often than not.

Now encounters in that bush weren’t always scary. I would often run into schoolmates and the like.

To finish off this week, here’s a rather more pleasant memory.

Picture Mrs Montreuil’s Little Boy in shorts and a tee shirt which had an orange Freshie stain on it from lunch. (I had been able to slip out of the house before my long suffering mother caught my fashion faux pas I had untied running shoes and no socks on. I was picking apples in a tree when I was hailed generically by a middle aged couple in the road. I clambered down, e) and was asked by the man if I would pick them each an apple. He would give me a quarter! My eyes bulged in astonishment. “A whole quarter!”, I thought. Now the female misinterpreted my look, or maybe she thought that I was bargaining f). Anyway, she cleared her throat pointedly, and he hastily added “Apiece!”

Damned right I was up that tree and got the two biggest apples I could reach. I returned to the ground and the transfer was made. Those quarters looked the size of cartwheels, which is what I did on my way to converting them into “Pixie Sticks” “Bazooka Joe Gum”, “Popeye Candy Cigarettes” and “Twizzlers Red Licorice”

I spent the rest of the month in a sugar rush. I will be writing about more of my adventures growing up in Orillia in future columns. As always, I appreciate your feedback and your interest.

See you soon.

  1. a) Writers don’t get many standing ovations. They even usually have to buy their own drinks 😉
  2. b) We all called it “the bush”, even our parents, when they spoke about it.
  3. c) Loyal Reader, I have no idea why either.
  4. d) By way of illustration, the next time I felt such terror was when a teenager stuck a pistol in my face.  I reacted exactly the same way and got the same result.
  5. e) Because it was 1962 and a kid jumped when an adult talked.
  6. f) The fact that my apparel made me look like a poster child for Foster Parent’s Plan probably helped.
=PJM=

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