When I was a kid

If you’re like me, you sometimes get tired of discerning what’s ahead, planning and scheming.
It’s summertime. So forget that future stuff for today. Come, wallow in the past with me. I want to tell you about my brother, Gord.
You know Gainsborough’s famous painting, “The Blue Boy”? The anemic but sweet kid in a blue velvet suit? His pant legs reach mid-calf, where they meet white, skin-hugging socks. He wears pointy-toed, patent leather shoes.
That’s not my brother, Gord!
Gord was more like Huckleberry Finn. His pants were patched. A safety pin held his fly together. Shoes? Never, unless there was snow on the ground.
One day, Gord and I were sitting on the porch with our friend, Putch. We were doing a little economic development work–how to get money for the circus. As we sat there, Kenneth came out.
Poor Kenneth, he was so proper. He sang in the church choir, always first in class, never scrambled for frogs in the Dead River. How could a kid called Kenneth get respect among Third Street kids with names like Putch, Yuk, Gak, Jubba, Barley, Looney or Bidda?
But Kenneth’s ambition was to be one of the boys.
We watched Kenneth in his sparkling white shirt and freshly-pressed corduroy pants. FedNor Kenneth wasn’t, nor was he the Heritage Fund, but there were possibilities. We could kidnap him and demand tickets as ransom.
No, too risky.
Kenneth’s mom would tell our mom. The only ransom paid would make it difficult to sit for a while.
Just then, in its annual dust-fighting ritual, an oil spraying truck came down the street. Gord saw the fresh thick oil splashing into the dust.
“Click!” The entrepreneurial spirit flared, and a plot was born. Like young chimps, we flitted across the roof, jumped to the big maple tee, and shimmied to the ground.
Poor innocent Kenneth. He didn’t suspect he was to be the star in a Third Street circus act. Gord sidled up to him and started talking about being a circus star–for a small price. With his fierce hunger for attention, Kenneth didn’t stand a chance. As Gord wove word pictures of circus stardom, Kenneth’s eyes sparkled.
Gord had him.
The next part of the story isn’t politically correct these days but those were simpler times. Gord convinced Kenneth that the circus was looking for black-faced singers and Kenneth had one qualification. He could sing.
All he needed was the other–a black face. Gord convinced him that he could get that if he rolled in the fresh oil (kids are so mean).
At first, Kenneth was reluctant. But soon golden-tongued Gord had him standing spotlighted in the middle ring with thousands cheering. Kenneth was ready for his debut.
(Too bad Gord isn’t in politics today. He could convince Canadians to stick together just because it’s more fun than being apart).
Down Kenneth went into the fresh oil. For the first time in his life, he was dirty. He wallowed and rolled and hooted and hollered. He stood in the middle of the street singing “Oh Susanna” in his fine boy soprano.
The more we applauded, the more he sang.
Then a door slammed, a horrified shriek “Kenneth!” and poof–Gord, Putch and I were gone. Oblivious to his mom, Kenneth stood tall in the oil-drenched road. Hair matted with oil, hands and face glistening in black goo, it was Kenneth’s finest moment.
As he sang, his smile was radiant and his eyes shone joyously.
It didn’t last long. His mom was not impressed! She sloshed through the muck, grabbed Kenneth’s oil-slicked ear, and hustled him home.
Later that day, we saw Kenneth. He smelled faintly of turpentine, the only oil remover available. His circus-performer dream was over. After liberal applications of turpentine, instead of a black face, his was a ruddy red.
And Kenneth’s mom talked to our mom. Parts of our anatomy were also red.

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