East Side Story

When I was a child, neighborhoods in Flin Flon commanded great loyalty from their smaller citizens. I grew up in East Birchview, and happily defended its honour against the slights of older, more established areas, like Willowvale. There was something almost gang-like in our devotion. Not like the Los Angeles Crips and Bloods, or the Jets and Sharks from West Side Story. We were more like the ‘na na boo boo’ gang.

We didn’t glide elegantly down the back alley of Norma Avenue, snapping our fingers and throwing down badass lyrics. The Hanson sisters would have liked that, but brother Bill and the Bryson boys, not so much. Belting out a few lyrics would have been awesome, too. Again, no support.  I guess it only works in a musical.

In the absence of singing and dancing, the neighborhood kids on my street formed a tight if sometimes uneasy alliance. This was especially true in summer when children were allowed to run free. On a typical day, most would duck out after breakfast, taking nothing more than a white bread sandwich, a jar of freshie, and a head full of crazy ideas. Generally we were expected to return for supper, bring our shoes home, and try not to kill ourselves.

The best thing about East Birchview was our proximity to the bush. Every day of the summer we roamed its paths, making wildly improbable plans while chasing down the two horses and one cow that were often seen ambling through the trees. I think they belonged to Mr. Stevens, though why he had them, I’m not sure. Still, it was kind of heartstopping to see a horse pounding along the path behind you. We’d give chase, picturing ourselves riding bareback through town, like Tonto. We never caught them, but it was thrilling, nonetheless.

The sand pit was also a great place to hang out. The whole neighborhood would show up for a game of steal the flag or king of the mountain. The sun would beat down, bleaching our hair and burning our skin. We’d return home covered in sand fly bites. There was no sun screen in those days, and we never seemed to bother wearing hats or applying bugspray.

One memorable summer, our next door neighbors, the Edwards, kept chickens in their back yard. Whenever we climbed the fence and called out to them, the hens would come running. We’d get scolded, but it didn’t stop us for long. Having a close encounter with chickens was crazy fun, and slightly scary for town kids. Eventually Mr. Edwards got rid of them, but it was thrilling while it lasted.

 I don’t remember much fighting, but there was a lot of name calling and general put downs. For some reason, it didn’t feel like bullying, though you had to know your place in the hierarchy. I sucked at marbles, wasn’t great at cricket either. But I had a good imagination. I was the one who came up with the idea for a circus in our back yard. It was more of a fair, really, with crazy rides made out of boards, barrels and rope. We placed the planks over the barrels so a child could stand, one at each end, surfing and teeter tottering their way across the yard. I don’t know that anything was ever that much fun again.

We went blueberry picking and played hide and seek. Crossed small lakes on make shift rafts and hauled our comics from house to house, peddling our wares with loud and voracious enthusiasm. An endless number of children’s voices would echo throughout the neighborhood, carried aloft on the hot summer air. At the end of the day, we’d answer our mothers call, trudging home with sunburnt faces and dirty feet. Tired soldiers at the end of a long campaign, we could hardly wait for the next day to begin so we could do it all over again. 

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