The Pool Episode: It was on “Dominion Day” in the first week of camp that the brainiacs that ran the place told us we were going swimming at an indoor pool in Sydney. Shows you how tame we Canucks are – still thought of ourselves as a Dominion of the British Empire. Now we still have an English Queen and are a Dominion of, er, you fill in the banks. There are several correct answers…
So we rode in sight-unseeing covered trucks to this city pool, without anyone having his head almost severed by a low hanging cable this time, and, as it turned out, without checking whether the pool would be open – on Dominion Day. You will doubtless be thinking, “Big deal, it was only a swim, for Pete’s sake!” but, for this thirteen-year-old camper-fish in 1958, swimming was a treat – as important as getting the newest Nintendo game or iWhatever. Sadly, the pool was closed. “More sadly,” I was thinking just now, “the Schulzes who ran this Stalag 17 were probably trying their best to show us a good time.” To think that the Avro Arrow, the first-ever-in-the-whole-world delta-winged Mach-2 capable supersonic fighter jet (b. 1953, d. 1959), could have been developed by people of genius in Canada who breathed the same air as the bumblers who ran the sea cadet school is to risk near-fatal embogglement of the mind.
Anyway, we did later get to go swimming outside in fresh water – really fresh, spring-fed, water in a local swimming hole. This gonad-shrinking event is described in my second letter home.
Our Lectures: The hour long, standing-room-only lectures on board the Quebec and the Wallusburg (sic) were beat-your-bleedin’-head-against-a-sharp-quartzite-rockface boring. To avoid what we expected would be another one of these mind-(and foot-)numbing periods of infinite torpor, Mike B suggested that he and I hide in a small, empty storeroom on board the Quebec. Sounded good to me, so in we ducked. We left the door slightly ajar so we would know when the ordeal was over. At one point Mike saw our buddy, Mike H, pass by, or so he thought. Mike called Mike repeatedly in a hoarse whisper, mouth against the slit, brain in park, until the door was opened by one of the able seamen who were holding us hostage on board. We did a ton of extra marching that afternoon… and evening…
Desertion: Let the reader think that I am exaggerating. My defence is in this section. The experience was so gruesome for some that a bunch of cadets decided to desert HMCS Acadia. I like to think of these poor sods actually making it somewhere, with a couple of them hiding out in the woods and eating berries and ants until 1966. I’m not even sure there were any woods to hide in; you’ll remember that we went everywhere in bloody covered trucks. The deserters must have been at their wits’ end, wits being an endangered species at HMCS Acadia as it was… How were these numbnuts to get home to Montréal, St. Boniface, Manitoba or Flin Flon, Saskatchewan without air fare? The desertion episode must have occurred in the second week because it was not reported in this letter dated July 2.
Notice the military arrangement of the letter pages? Left-right-left. I just did this very moment. It wasn’t planned, but may be some sort of residual instinct from back in those days. Eh bien, back to the story. On the ultimate or penultimate night of our two week stint in Nova Scotia a major event had been organized. Everybody, it seemed, had to do something manly at this talent showcase, even if it was just to show up and cheer as the boxers and other combatants did there stuff. If I performed at this Grand Spectacle de je ne sais quoi, I have repressed it in my memory. There’s nothing there about my own participation. Nada. I don’t think I could have carried off a recitation of McCrae’s In Flanders Fields before that teenage crowd.
Le Grand Spectacle: One thing sticks about that night. Maybe the top memory of the whole “holiday.” Mike B agreed, under coercion, maybe, to box. Mike H and I were looking forward to an event in which someone we knew was featured. At last, something we could get our screaming teenage hormones into… The three of us were there, eating Cracker Jacks or something and comparing the prizes found in the box. Simple pleasures in those halcyon days… We watched the events roll by. Lots of boxing. Can’t remember what else. The bouts proceeded in order of younger to older, it seemed. It was finally fun. Then Mike B went off somewhere to buy a Pepsi maybe. Mike H and I watched and munched some more. Then they announced the bout that Mike B was in. His opponent was already in the ring – all of 17 years old and hard as nails, with cauliflower ears. Mike had realized before we did what was going on. The fights were organized by weight class! Mike was big for his age but, in fact, still 13, inexperienced and, not to pull a punch, pudgy. Lots of baby fat that would disappear before he played football at university in, as luck would have it, a major football school in – Nova Scotia. Mike, to his credit, was way too smart to enter that ring on that night. He snuck up to us and said, Let’s get outta here.” We did.
Thanks, Mom and Dad, for saving these two letters home. Love ya.