by Oreen Scott
A rememberance from childhood. Short story.
|Mom, dad and my uncles carted all our worldly possessions into the back of a rented moving van, and when the task was complete the van was still half empty. “Our Miss Brooks” played on the radio while we stuffed ourselves into the front cab, my father in place behind the steering wheel, my mother next to him with my brother on her lap, and me pressed up against the passenger door holding the box that contained our family silverware, which was really stainless steel cutlery. My parents had managed to scrape together enough for a down payment, and we were on our way to our new home.
Our new home was in the hollow of two very steep hills. Lush lawns, fountains, ponds and flower beds trailed down the side of the hill that belonged to Forest Lawn Cemetery. One side of the other hill was wrapped in high chain link fences with barbed wire mounted on top, inside was a prison farm. Generally, the prison held petty thieves, drug addicts and prostitutes, but on occasion a convicted murderer was sent there to be hanged. For sixteen years Royal Oak would be our street, when we moved in it was a dirt road that connected the sparsely populated neighborhood with the major through fares at the top of the hills. Pheasants, ducks and neighborhood cows roamed our yard, in the back portion of the property there was a septic field where skunk cabbage and salmon berries grew in abundance.
The tiny house only had one bedroom, off the bathroom there was an alcove, which was where I slept. I had a problem with this arrangement because my father frequently got up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, and he’d stink up my bedroom. As the years went by he added to the house. Scrap lumber scrounged from wherever he could get it was his primary source of building material. The first addition was a much needed additional bedroom for my brother and me.
We were a strange community, definitely not the suburbs because we all owned large plots of land, but not farm land either because no one farmed. We were close to the city, yet in the country. Our entire neighborhood consisted of four families, the Normans, Johnsons, Ramsays, and us, the Scotts. The hills isolated us down there in skunk cabbage hollow.
The Normans, a large family in a small house, lived across the road. Gloria Norman, the youngest of the brood, was my playmate. Her much older brother, whose name was Jack, had a bird fixation. Stuffed birds of various breeds filled their house, some mounted on walls, others sitting on tables, and in the basement there were dead birds waiting to be stuffed. When I went to play with Gloria I feared the flying crow would crap on my head, and so we mostly played outside, which had it’s own dangers.
Jack’s baby ostrich lived in a backyard shed. One day our neighborhood gang, which consisted of four kids, were playing in the Norman backyard when the ostrich kicked open the shed door and began chasing us. We screamed as loud as we could, scurried up the shed roof, and sat on the peak waiting for it to be captured. Meanwhile the bird, free as a bird, circled the shed. Four children on top a shed can make one heck of a racket. It wasn’t long until we were rescued, the bird put back in the shed. We the three of us went home leaving Gloria to play alone.
The Johnson, big Bruce, Vi and little Bruce lived next door, but in our neighborhood next door was a fair distance. Little Bruce was two years younger than me, and although he would eventually become my brother’s buddy in the first year or two we lived on Royal Oak little Bruce and I were playmates.
Most families in our neighborhood raised a few farm animals. The Johnsons butchered, cooked, and ate a few pigs and chickens. Although I never saw big Bruce kill the pigs, I could hear their squeals as they met their demise. The squealing travelled from the Johnson yard to ours, into our house, and into the bathroom where my baby brother and I were taking a bath. It was a different story when big Bruce killed the chickens. I watched as their heads were chopped off with an exe, and headless chickens ran around the yard for a few moments before falling down. After the pigs and chickens the Johnson didn’t keep animals anymore, not even a pet dog or cat.
The Ramsays, Wendy Ramsay was my age, lived down by the creek close to the prison farm. Their house was a yellow two story in desperate need of a paint job.
The grass was never cut, there weren’t any flower beds, and a dilapidated model-T ford sat in the front yard. Every house in the neighborhood had a refrigerator, except the Ramsays. They had an ice box. They had huge four room chicken coop, feathers, chicken shit, mice, and an old wrought iron bed could all be found in that coop, but no chickens.
For no good reason, they believed themselves to be better than their neighbors. Our house had an apple tree, neighbor kids climbed the apple tree and were free to eat as many apples as they wanted. The Ramsays had a plum tree, but I never dared eat a single plum, even if it had fallen on the ground. Mr. Ramsay, a commercial fisher, wasn’t around much. Mrs. Ramsay spent her time painting and sketching rather than cooking and cleaning. She was a dreamy woman, not at all practical like my mom.
The summer after we moved in my dad bought a television set, the first in our neighborhood. It wasn’t new, my dad never bought anything brand new, but it was only six months old. The old black and white Addison, with it’s tubes and dial knobs, became our family’s primary entertainment. We could get only one channel, the CBC, the hills made reception of the American channels impossible, even when my father climbed the highest tree on our property to place an aerial.
Eventually the old Addison would be named Thumper because when it malfunction, which was often, we’d had thump our feet on the floor and the problem would be temporarily solved. I watched Maggie Muggins, Howdy Doody, My Little Margie, December Bride, and Our Miss Brooks. I don’t remember when old Thumper was replaced.