Monday, June 7, 2010

The Brightest of Lights

The brightest of lights. Six doors down, east 75 metres.

Shaughnessy Heights was in the boonies. The trolleys didn’t reach us, so we had to transfer at McPhillips to get home. The thought of walking from there never crossed our minds. It was over a mile. We had the loud and stinky diesel busses up and down the street, but in the winter, they were the biggest fun. Yeah, for bumper rides. The roads were ploughed, but got narrower and narrower as the winter unfolded. Our street had the bus and was cleared first, but the grader never seemed to get right down to the cement so there always was a super slick layer of hard and shiny snow. Maybe it was Mayor Juba’s policy to protect the new cement. If so, thanks, Steve. It was perfect. You’d just gather in a group of five or six kids and pretend you were waiting to cross the street as the bus approached. Then we let the bus stop for passengers, cross as a group behind it, but fewer kids would come out the other side of the bus. I was always the decoy, never the daredevil. Usually they would bumper ride in pairs, so they would have someone to walk back with. They would hang on to the bumper for the big ride and the long walk back. Sometimes one of the bumper riders would hit dry pavement and go rolling down the street. That was a laugh.

The streets of Shaughnessy Heights were a proving ground, but bumper rides weren’t the most foolish excitement. Lawrence and his brother Ulysse had special prowess on that front. That winter they decided to fulfil their dream of flying.

Anyone who has ever seen a neighbourhood of wartime houses knows about the back shed.

Inevitably, the back shed was renovated and improved to some level, but in those early years, they were just plain old lean-tos attached to the main part of the house. The roofline of the shed was maybe twenty degrees above horizontal, while the roofline of the story-and-a-half house was pretty steep, possibly forty-five degrees.

It was the perfect launch pad.

Lawrence and Ulysse were not at the top of their class. They were French, and in their defense the science curriculum in those days was weak on physics. What they did know was that “What goes up must come down.” Among the Scammells and the Sarvesses and the LaFerriers was a group of big boys on our block setting out the dares. This one started with an imaginative “I betcha” and was quickly converted into a double dare, so there was no backing out.

It was winter and the winds had blown across the flat landscape and had surrounded the little houses on the northwest edge of the city with rock hard snowdrifts, higher than any fences and taller than most of the kids.

Climbing on the roofs  of these houses was no biggy. Jumping off was no biggy. Kids would hang ropes out the upstairs windows and climb down without an ooh or an aww. Hauling up the bicycle onto the roof had been a bit more of a challenge. In the end, they dragged it up by using the chimney to create a make-shift rope pulley. The idea was that Lawrence would fly the bike down the roof into the snow bank.

Shaughnessy Heights invented pissing-your-pants laughing that day. Lawrence didn’t die but the bike was totaled and maybe a couple of bones were broken. He never overcame his reputation for stupidity and disappeared from the neighbourhood long before he finished high school. He probably moved back to St. Boniface where the kids were less demanding, or maybe to one of the towns in the flood zone south of the city.

Next week: Front Room TV

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