Trips around South America were quite popular among CUSO volunteers in the West Indies and South America back in 1967. Several people I knew had already done the trip the previous summer. They were generous in giving us lists of special sights, hotels, trains, planes and buses and friends they had made who would be happy to show us around.
At the tender age of 13 I was in the Royal Canadian Sea Cadets. Hated it, basically. We did diddley squat. I had two good school buddies in our local Corps. Found out later that other Corps had actual boats and taught cadets how to sail them. That’s apparently what Navy trainees are s’posed to do. Our town had a big lake about 100 metres from where we cadets met in our school gym. Maybe 100 metres was too far…
Anyway, what we did learn was how to march and salute and hold a rifle straight out from your shoulders until told to stop or until you collapsed in pain. Our leader seemed to specialize in punishment. My friends and I specialized in attracting it.
We were going to quit until we found out that they were going to fly us to camp in Nova Scotia in late June after school finished. I had never flown in a plane, which was par for the course back then in 1958 for most teenagers. The chance to fly in a plane and see the Atlantic Ocean kept me enrolled for the balance of that school year. My rifle holding muscles grew grotesquely over-developed.
So, at the end June we flew out to Sydney, N.S. Two Mikes and a Bob with a bunch of other cadets on a Trans Canada Airlines plane. We were driven to H.M.C.S. Acadia, on the Atlantic Ocean, sitting on wooden benches in a tarp-covered truck. One tall cadet, curious to observe the countryside through which we were traveling, stood on a bench and stuck his head out through a hole in the tarp. He got hit on the back of the head by a low hanging cable that stretched across the road. Lucky he was looking backward. Real lucky, I remember thinking…
H.M.C.S. Acadia was on the ocean in a protected bay. No visible ocean waves. We never got out in a dinghy in the two weeks we were there. I caught starfish in the still, salty water for amusement and worked towards earning a signaling badge. My friend Mike B. was so bored that he challenged me to a daily game of chess for money – 25 cents a game. He never won, which shows you just how bored poor Mike was. We slept and rested in bunk beds in the barracks. Mike was in the lower bunk. One day he amused himself by kicking me up in the air until I got so pissed that I leaned over to demand that he stop and, in mid-yell, found myself sailing ass-first (fortunately) onto the concrete floor. I chased the bugger all over the base until we both ran out of leg muscles and air.
The best thing about our two diabolical Maritime weeks, spent mostly on our stiff-booted feet, was finding out about Mad Magazine from older, and wiser, cadets. The second best thing was coming home with more money than I left with.
The second worst thing was lining up in the sun for an hour for meals, many of which being so bad that we survived largely on sliced white bread and (thankfully) real butter for two weeks.
The absolute worst thing (people much younger than I probably will have trouble believing me) was thinking I was going to go to hell for listening to an endless stream of dirty jokes my tender ears had never been exposed to before. Looking back now, I realize how masterful the Catholic Church was in messing with a sensitive young person’s mind. In those days I lived in what seemed like fairly constant fear of dying in a “state of mortal sin” and spending eternity surrounded by Satan’s unquenchable fire licking at my tender nether parts. Talk about manipulating one’s imagination for evil purposes. (See previous post.) My parents, my sister and I learned later, were quite liberal. I wish they’d explained to us how full of B.S. that twisted, authoritarian system really was. I’m sure they didn’t know the effect it had on me at the time.
Episode two to come if you like episode one…