Bygone days flow all from a simple hello

I recently had a quick visit to Fort Frances, a very quick trip.
There was not enough time to hug all the people I love. But I was able to share coffee with the Ward clan, and that event always warms my heart to be witness to a family that loves one another so easily and so completely.
I may not have seen the pals I had hoped to see, but I did collide with Billy Hammond. Oh, I’m pretty sure Billy has grown into a “Bill” and has long ago left the “Billy” behind, but to me and for all time, Billy Hammond will be Billy.
I was getting coffee at one of the local hang-outs, and throwing my arms around my relatives, when I heard someone call my name. My head spun around and there he was: Billy, my friend from Alberton Central School days.
I put my hands on either side of Billy’s precious face that looks exactly like it did in the ’60s when we were young children and I instantly was transported back in time—back to marbles and Red Rover and crack-the-whip and dodge ball, running at recess until our legs nearly fell off, track-and-field meets, catching frogs in the ditch behind the ball diamond, building snow forts, and jumping leap-frog over the posts that lined the school’s driveway (an activity that was prohibited so one had to be quick about it).
In that very second of Billy’s hello, a collage of memories flooded over me and the freedom and perfection of childhood tugged at my heart.
After Billy and I shared our respective stories and I sat down, I felt blessed that an old friend recognized me and took the time to call out my name. I felt blessed to have had Alberton Central and Crozier to call home; blessed that after 42 years I was recognizable, or at least a reasonable resemblance to my child self.
I walked with a little more of a bounce to my step for the rest of that day. And because of Billy, I closed my eyes and remembered trying desperately to run faster than Rita Sieders’ speedy legs, and learning to skip double-dutch with Sherry Doucette, whose birthday was and is April 17, the same as Terry Jewell’s, and riding my pony as fast as I could but never being able to outrun Earl Vandetti’s pony, “Prince.”
I remembered wishing I had a “Secret Sam” spy kit like Duane Peters and the artistic wizardry of John Jankiewicz and his superb brain, and remembered wishing my name was Susie like Susie Peltonen with whom I shared a desk at the old one-room school, the predecessor of Alberton Central, when I was invited by my mother, the teacher, before I officially began school.
I remembered birthday cakes at the Sieders’ home with nickels and dimes wrapped up in wax paper inside the cake and appearing like magic, and thinking that Paula and Nancy Lengyel were the coolest twins ever and Tyler’s Reinson’s dimples.
I remembered planning to run away with Ruth Gerber when we were eight to live in the forest and surviving indefinitely on the orange and two slices of bread we packed.
I remembered buying Todd Lowey a wallet to profess my admiration and devotion at Christmas, to which he responded by pulling out his own perfectly good wallet and handing me a dollar, which seems completely hilarious now but romantically tragic at the time.
I remembered the sense of community that one has a child, without defining it or giving it a name. We just belong, with all our flaws and wounds and imperfections.
We are just kids, playing and imagining and dreaming, and never knowing our lives will change; thankfully never having any notion of what lies ahead.
It is living in the moment in its most pure form.
All that from a hello. Thank you, Billy Hammond.
wendistewart@live.ca

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