Monday, 28 March 2016

I Want to be a Gang Member

A five-year-old living her dream - as a beautiful butterfly
Imagine this:

You are five years old and standing on your back porch, staring out across your backyard. What do you see? Manicured lawn? Rolling pastures? An orchard?

When I was five, and I stood on my back porch I saw: a huge wood pile used to fuel my father's big bakery ovens all year long; my sandbox nestled up to an unpainted fence; weeds intermingled with the tall green grasses in the vacant lot I called home; and, near the back lane, a burning barrel, rusted and red and brown with an outhouse nearby.

That was what I saw that summer of 1955. The summer before I turned five. And here, starts my story......

I want to be a gang member.

My world was the back lanes of a small prairie town. The gang I so wanted to belong to - the Back Alley Gang - were the children who lived above or behind the businesses that lined Railway Avenue and Main Street. They wandered at will, running in and out of back doors, climbing stairs to the hidden apartments and big storage rooms of the businesses that made the town tick.

At the age of five, I was finally on the cusp of becoming a bonafide gang member. I am not sure if it was because I was one year older or if it was because my mother now had my little sister crying for attention in between the bread making and cake decorating of the family bakeshop, but, I had been unleashed from the encumbrances of the sandbox and given the key to the back alleys - both directions, out of her sight although never out of the range of her voice.  All the way to the United Church one block down the road.

Every five year old knows that you don't belong in a gang until you can ride a bike. My problem was THE BIKE. The family bike passed down from kid to kid - a big, balloon-tired monstrosity sized for an adult. That quiet early morning in June when the big kids were at school it was ME and THE bike.
The black paint was chipped and there was a scratch on the front fender. I stepped over the bike as it lay on the ground, and straddled the front bars. Standing on the ground, my nose level with the handlebars, I shuffled and lurched the bike around until it faced west on the graveled alley. My left knee almost reached my chest as I struggled to balance the bike and put my weight on the left pedal.
I aimed, I stood up hard and the bike inched forward, wobbled and down I went. 

I had dirt in my mouth, a scrape on my arm and a bruise already appearing on my left shoulder.
I  wailed in frustration and pain to an empty alleyway. Standing up, I peered down the lane, looking for a sympathetic adultInstead, I spied something that made my little heart speed up - a bright red bike leaning against the triple-hole outhouse for the Rainbow Cafe - Keith's bright red bike. It was small with skinny tires. 

With all the stealth I could muster, I scooted down the lane and put my hands on that beautiful shiny machine. I guided the bike out into the alley and stood poised for take-off. Balancing with both feet firmly on the ground, I raised my left foot and threw my weight onto the left pedal.  I wobbled and then I gained momentum. I looked up and bang - I hit the garbage can and laid the bike down with a crash. I hastily stood up and brushed the gravel off my hands. When I lifted my eyes, I was nose to nose with Keith. Keith, a little younger, but able to look eyeball to eyeball as I stood holding his bike.

 "Hey, that's my bike." 

I turned to run. Seemed like a good idea even though I was bigger than him. My instincts told me my mother would probably side with Keith.

"Wait," he called. "Wanna play?"

I turned slowly and nodded. Keith let me take turns all afternoon.   By supper time. I was able to ride a bike. By the weekend, I was a Back Alley Gang Member.

Fast Forward 2 years - 

I want to be a writer:

I was sitting in Mrs. Sinclair's class. Mrs. Sinclair was a rotund, short woman with curly copper-coloured hair. I now realize it was dyed. But her secret was safe with me! She was stern and often peered over her tortoiseshell glasses, quietly hunting the wild ones. That day, she had handed out foolscap paper to each of us and invited us to write our own story. Something fun we had done or wanted to do. I sat, pencil in hand with my first real story to write. I chewed on my pencil and then,  I grinned with delight as a memory passed through my mind. I wrote the title of my story in bold letters across the top of the page. MY RED BIKE.

It was not just a story about that summer when I was five. I didn't just ride that bike to the United Church and back. I took off on that bike, flew into the air, circled the church steeple and then glided to a landing in front of the cheering Back Alley Gang.

Somehow, in that Grade 2 class, a burning desire ignited and I knew I wanted to be a writer.

I believe Everyone is already what they want to be. It is engrained in your soul, a seed of desire that will permeate your life, sometimes obviously asserting itself and sometimes just on the edge but always there.  My Grade 2 epiphany lit the fire in a recognizable glow. I knew I wanted to be a writer. What I didn't know was that I  already was a writer.

Did I dream I would be a writer someday? At every stage of my life, I have dreamt about being a writer. It has been a long journey but each step brought me closer to my goal. Writing played a big part in much of what I have done: sharing my love of books with my children, writing articles about the SAIT training and sharing inspirational stories about student successes that reached beyond employment in my reports to the government, and now, in my retirement, writing stories and even a column for a local newspaper.

I was a child who loved to create, read, write and hang out with a few special friends.  I am again that child - just a little wiser and freer to pursue all of this and more!