Oak Street — Chapter 1

IMGP6205That was the day that I moved out of Oak Street, but I was there, off and on for six years. These years saw me through public school and into my first year of high school. By grade 10 I was too far away to walk to high school, but from Oak Street, the high school was only a couple of blocks away.

One of the advantages of living that close to the school is that you can go home for lunch. It was expected in grade school. We got out at 11:50 a.m. so that we could observe the proper time for lunch, which was 12 noon exactly. Then, we did not have to be back to school until 1:20 p.m. This meant that you could finish up your meal, help clear the table and do the dishes and then return to school.

Nowadays most children stay at school over the lunch. It is a necessity of the working family that is not in the house to supervise a meal, much less prepare it. My mother took advantage of this great expanse of time by having us deliver something for her during our lunch hours. I remember phone books, dessert samples, plastic bags with soap or shampoo samples in them and a bunch of other things.

There was no question that my mother had ambition that she was trying to tamp down or find an outlet for. Before we had left the A-frame she was trying to collect enough points to win some sort of contest. In order to do this you had to buy a certain cat food, a type of puffed wheat that came in huge bags and some other items. We had excessive amounts of these things in the house. Another peculiar thing to remember. My mother used to mass buy products.

Unfortunately for me, the cat food gave my cat diarrhea. And everyone knows what happens to a cat that has diarrhea for an extended period of time, they get taken to the farm. This alleged farm visit occurred at a very similar time to our move to the new house. It would be consistent with the facts, as I understand them now, that my cat was simply left at the A-frame house. She probably just had no idea where we were or where we went.

I have clear and vivid memories of my cat Squirt. When I got her she was just a handful of a kitten even for a young child. I don’t know how old I was but I do remember walking home with her in my arms. I walked right through the round piece of grass in our neighbourhood and every child from the crescent came out to get a look at Squirt. I was very protective of her. My mother had told me stories of cats that had simply been mauled to death, so I was very careful to not let many people handle her. I felt a deep love for this kitten. She was a soft, short hair, tabby cat that was grey, black and white. She may have had a little brown in her. The pattern of her fur formed an “M” on her forehead, which happened to be my last initial.

But I digress, my mother seemed to have a lot of ambition that she couldn’t direct in a way that she found satisfying. In addition to all of these deliveries, she also took a job at a new start up classified add newspaper. These were a new idea at the time and had yet to become truly viable businesses. She worked hard at this newspaper.

By the time that I was ten I was no longer getting picked up at school to work for my mother. At this time, grade five, I was able to come home and make myself some lunch. One of the things I remember making was Kraft Dinner. This is not the same KD that you can buy nowadays. The flavours were balanced when this KD was reconstituted with margarine. It also had a firm noodle, not the kind that can be microwaved and always gives you the feeling that you’ve slightly overcooked it. These were real noodles.

I had boiled the water, added the noodles and set the timer. When the noodles were done I took the pot over to the sink to drain it into a strainer. I poured too fast and the water splashed up over my left hand scalding it. The skin bubbled up and filled with water. I did not try to call anyone. I did not tell anyone that it had happened. I knew that I was supposed to pull my sleeve down over the burnt part of my hand in order to protect it and I went back to school.

I was in Mrs. Walkers grade five class. I always admired this teacher. She had a calm respect about her. No one misbehaved when she left the room. We all knew how we were supposed to act and it was just expected. I sat behind this large guy who felt like a well of peace and calmness. I told him about my hand after he understood that he was not allowed to tell anyone.

When I got home that night, and my mother returned, she first wanted to “pop” the skin and let the water out. I wouldn’t let her do it. Then, she was concerned that I had called her mother and forbade me from telling her mother that I was cooking my own lunch. Then,…she decided to have a doctor look at it. Essentially, they put a light cast over the area and sent me home. There is no scar.

In hind site it is remarkable that I knew how to take care of my hand. I was protective of it and covered it so that it would not get damaged. It was probably the first memory I have of being taken care of, in the larger sense. The knowledge I needed was available to me when I needed it.

Keep Reading: Absence of Parents

Read the entire book, now available
Read the entire book, now available

 

www.wendypowell.ca

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