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Gayle Nichol's picture

It was better before

Fri, 06/30/2017 - 15:49 -- Gayle Nichol

Forty odd years ago from my writing this, I would be exiting the hallowed halls of Emily Carr Public School with squeals and shouts of pent up excitement following a year of dedicated learning.

I was lucky to enjoy school. I was pretty good at the reading and writing. Arithmetic was a chore. Social and extra curricular activities were in balance, but oh, I lived for the last day of school, knowing what lay before me was the magical gift of time -- long days filled with unstructured adventure once I had put in one week of intense child labour mandated by my mother. She had a thing about washing walls prior to the start of “running the roads”. With four student workers scrubbing at a three-bedroom bungalow it shouldn’t have taken long, and it didn’t once we moved past the two days of whining about how we didn’t want to do it.

But then we were free, and all roads were open to our Raleigh bikes with banana seats and ape hangers, the clip-clip-clip-clip-clip noise of a playing card clothes-pinned to the rear wheel that played a steady song as it clipped along the spokes.

We would race down to the playground where the whole neighbourhood would rally, playing games of tag or keep-away until someone organized teams that would head to the back field for a physically challenging game of Red Rover when we would lock arms and hold our boundaries strong.

Recouping in the breeze at the top of the monkey bars, a band of summer brothers would chat and challenge, talk and tell tales until the next great idea came: a trip to the ravine where we drank cold water and predicted we would probably die from the effects of acid rain or the beating that would surely come if our mother’s knew what we were doing. It was just a little exciting to be so daring.

Back on our bikes and a trip to someone’s house to watch a rerun of Brady Bunch or Gilligan’s Island – the program found by standing in front of the mammoth tube TV and turning the dial slowly and waiting that fraction of a second for the static to clear. My friend Cindy was the first on our street to have a “brown box” connected to the television with a thick brown cable that allowed you to sit while depressing each button on the box thereby “remotely” turning that channel. That was slick.

Thirty minutes of sitting was enough for our motley crew, and we were out the door and back on our bikes in search of another group who would be up for a game of four square, or marbles, or a double dutch marathon.

It was better then.

Today, on this last day of school, I am sitting at a local coffee shop. I’m waiting for a friend with whom I will share some challenges. Something more brutal than Red Rover, with none of the camaraderie.

I watch an elderly couple sit together, each of them on their tablets. He’s surfing eBay finds while she pulls up her knitting pattern for reference while she works the needles of her project. They sip and chat and surf. I am far closer to their reality now than what was before.

I miss playing marbles.

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