Of course, my Dad found out. He always found out everything I was up to, and he always gave me a chance to own up to it, relating the dirty deed to me in a manner designed to make me believe he really didn’t know who had done it. You know, in case I wanted to get it off my chest. Which I never did. Even though *I* knew that he knew…. nope. Wouldn’t admit to it. Never.
Like that time when I was five, and the kids up the street and I set fire to the empty field behind my house. Somehow we managed to stomp it out before it got away from us, and we all went home for supper, absolutely certain we were in the clear.
And then, my Dad read the “Police Report” out of the newspaper (yeah, the one that had been printed before we found the matches, but I was five and that was beyond my scope) out loud….
“…The POLICE are VERY worried about the three children, 2 boys and a little girl, who were playing with matches in the long grass, today. They are VERY worried that these three children don’t know any better and could have been BURNED TO DEATH, because they don’t seem to understand that fires can very quickly get OUT OF CONTROL and BURN CHILDREN TO DEATH before their parents can get to them. ESPECIALLY if their parents believe their children SHOULD KNOW BETTER. The POLICE hope these three children, 2 boys and a little girl, have LEARNED THEIR LESSON, and NEVER DO SUCH A STUPID THING AGAIN…”
And he turned to me and gave me that chance to own up: “Do you know who those three children are…?”
“Well what do you think of what those three children did …?”
Me: “I think they’re very lucky they didn’t get caught and go to jail.”
Right up into my teens, I would stubbornly stick to the “Wasn’t Me” defense, even when handed unequivocal evidence that it was so me.
Like that time when I was 16, and was accused of stealing a magnum of Champagne out of the wine-cellar, drinking it, and hiding the empty bottle under my bed, I said, “Wasn’t me.” Even though the evidence was found under my bed… with the date of the crime etched on the label… along with the signatures of myself and the friends I passed it back and forth with.
But about that tree….
When I was growing up, we spent almost the entire summer on the boat. We traveled all over the Great Lakes on one boat or another – at first, sleeping on the boat, which was cool, but then my parents built their camp on Cockburn Island (That’s pronounced “Co-Burn”, remember. Suzi, stop laughing.).
By the way, a “camp” is what Northern Ontarians call “The Cottage” – for those of you who might picture tents, or a lumber camp. The “camp” is now owned by my sister Tootie and her family, and it’s a bona-fide second home. It ain’t “camping” by any stretch of the imagination.
It was a slow build, though. The first year, we lived in the woodshed (huge by woodshed standards) while the main house was being built. We had an outhouse, kerosene lamps, and a woodstove. The refrigerator was a propane unit, and my Dad built a pump system for the water that pulled it from a cream can under the sink with the push of a button. He didn’t think my mom should have to lift a pail to the sink. He was a nice guy, my Dad.
Everybody on Cockburn drove old beat-up trucks and cars. When you bought a vehicle for “The Camp”, you either had it ferried over on a barge in the summer, or drove it across the ice in the winter. These old things could live forever over there, it seemed. Didn’t need a safety, either, although that was still illegal, but since nobody was gonna check…
And it was on Cockburn Island that everybody learned to drive. The unspoken rule seemed to state that once you hit the age of fourteen, you could drive on Cockburn. Everybody did it. That was my argument to my parents, anyway, when they wouldn’t let me drive over there. Their return argument was… well… inarguable: “Well, YOU’RE not gonna.”
But I was determined to be like everybody else and drive, dammit.
So, I went to the camp across the road and lamented to the Neighbour-Lady all my woes. Neighbour-Lady was a nice gal. She always had her long blonde hair wrapped around her head with pins in the mornings after she washed it, because she didn’t like the natural curl it had. She always wore green eyeshadow. And she always had a beer open.
Neighbour-Lady had cancer, but wouldn’t take treatment. Much of the time, she was “tight”, as my mom would say – not “falling down drunk”, but she generally had a buzz on. I guess it was one way to deal with cancer.
Anyway, I was over there complaining to Neighbour-Lady, and smoking her cigarettes. She wouldn’t give me a beer, but she gave me cigarettes all the time. And that day, she solved my “can’t drive” problem for me, by loaning me a car.
Now, to this day, everybody in my family thinks I stole that car. I did not. Neighbour-Lady loaned me that car. Never mind that the car did not belong to her. Or that I didn’t have a license. Or parental permission to drive. She handed me the keys and said, “Take it. Don’t smash it up.”
I was half-way up the road while she was still popping open her next beer.
Ahh…. the freedom! I drove up the long side road and turned right on the “main” road that would take me down to the Government Dock. There was a guy on the Island that summer, that I had a crush on. On the Mainland, this guy ran in a different circle, and wouldn’t give me the time of day, but on Cockburn he would talk to me. Probably because there weren’t many teenagers on the Island at a time. And I was there. So…
I decided to go to the dock, because he would likely be swimming there. I had to sort of “happen to run into him”, of course, so he wouldn’t know I had that crush, you see, or I would have gone to his camp to find out where he was.
As I came up the road, it was fairly obvious that the dock was deserted, so I decided to make a left, and go to the other side of the Island to the sand beach. Maybe he’d be there. And I could drive there, because I had a car. I was cool.
I was so cool that I could light a cigarette while negotiating a left turn, having never driven a car before, and not end up in the ditch.
It worked out okay, though, because the ditch was adjacent to a government building where large logging machines and road-maintenance equipment was stored. I found a guy with a grader that yanked me out of the ditch, and promised not to tell anybody. Oddly, I don’t think he did, either, because no one has ever brought the ditch portion of this story up to me.
So, on the road again, I re-lit my smoke without incident, and drove to the beach. And, oh joy! My crush was there! With his entire family and then some.
We swam for a bit. Talked for a bit. And then I tried to convince him to let me drive him back home. Because I had a car. I was cool.
But he would not get in that car. I think his reasons included the phrase, “death wish”, and the fact that he didn’t have one.
I’m not sure how I finally convinced him, but he did reluctantly agree to a lift. Apparently, it was just so he could wax derisive of my driving skills, though, because he wouldn’t stop wincing, advising, and clinging to the dashboard.
I finally got tired of the exaggerated terror he was exuding and decided I’d show him what scared was, and floored it. Of course, I chose to do such a thing while going up a steep hill, forgetting about the curve in the road on the other side of it.
For the record, I missed the tree the car was trying to hit. But I over-corrected, and hit a tree on the other side of the road, dead on. Very hard. Poor tree.
And poor car! The front end was smushed in. The driver’s door wouldn’t open. I still have a faded scar on one elbow – the only injury sustained in the accident – unless you count the car. Or the tree. And I’m sure my crush didn’t speak to me for years after that. He probably felt bad, because it was his fault I hit that tree. I mean, if he hadn’t been putting down my driving in the first place…
And what are the chances that the first vehicle to drive up that lonely road to happen upon us would be my father’s truck…?
Pretty good, as it turns out. He didn’t speak to me for a while, either.
When I turned 16, though, the first thing Dad did, was register me in Driver’s Ed. I passed, and got my license. And not once would my father loan me his car – not even when I was grown and on my own, and had a perfect driving record.
Except for the tree incident.
Which happened on Cockburn.
And what happens on Cockburn is supposed to stay on Cockburn, dammit!
But still my Dad always said no. Followed by, “Remember that tree you hit on Cockburn…?”
It’s the only time I couldn’t get the nerve up to try “Wasn’t me.”
Random Song-for-the-Day: “Cannonball” – Damien Rice