Surviving Youth

Learning the Hard Way

When I was 10 years old, my parent started traveling on some long trips. They would go to Europe, or go down south. They would leave me at home under the care of my older siblings.  Although all of us liked having the freedom of no parents, their absence had some definite pros and cons.

For one thing, my brother Jim (who was three years) and I were useless when it came to cooking, which meant that my sister (who was six years older than me) had to take charge. For example, one time she was out with friends, and she gave us a call and told us to help get dinner going. We did not like that at all. She said that we should at least put the potatoes on. She had already peeled them, and they were sitting on the stove in a pot ready to go. All they needed was to be cooked.

We followed her instructions. We turned the stovetop on high. Eventually the potatoes started to boil. That seemed good. However, the potatoes began to boil over. Hmmmm, she did not mention anything about boiled over potatoes. Whatever shall we do? “Try lifting the pot for a second” one of us suggested. That worked, well at least temporarily. We resigned ourselves to the fact that the pot would need to be repeatedly lifted, to avoid the boil over, until my sister arrived home. It did not occur to us for one second that we should turn the temperature down, or better still, turn the element off.

By the time my sister got home, the potatoes were stuck to the bottom on the pan, there was no water left, as it had all boiled dry.  As I said, we were clueless.

Another time my folks were away, my brother Ken (who was nine years older than me) tried to make me lunch. I was at home for a lunch break from Seigniory Elementary School, which was right up the street. Ken decided to try to cook the perfect boiled egg for me. It was both humorous and disastrous. I will give him points for trying, but we went through about a dozen eggs before he got it “just right”. Now I will admit, I was quite fussy, and I did enjoy putting him through his paces. He eventually (on egg number 12) got the timing down just right. I flat out refused to eat the eggs that were too runny, and his approach of systematically adding 1 minute to the cook time for each attempt might not have been the best approach, especially since I only had an hour for lunch.

There was also a time when my folks were away in Europe, and my sister had a dental procedure done. When I got home from school, she was lying on the couch. She was not feeling well at all, in a scary sort of a way. We got my eldest brother on the phone, and he decided to phone the emergency at the hospital, which was not too far from our house. The doctor and my brother devised a plan, I was only about 11 years old, I was instructed to drive my bike up to the emergency to get some penicillin for my sister, (this was at 10:30 at night). I followed through with the plan, although I was very reluctant and nervous about it. It turned out that my sister had blood poisoning, so it was a good thing that we came up with a solution.

This situation with my sister would never happen now. First, nowadays people can call 911, but that service was not available back then. Secondly, a doctor would never prescribe medicine to someone based on a phone call from her brother, (I still do not know how he managed to sway the doctor that night). Thirdly, nobody in their right mind would send an 11 year old to the hospital by themselves at night to pick up medication. However, this is exactly what transpired and quite honestly if it were not for my brother, the doctor (and myself) coming to my sister’s aid that night, she might not have survived.

When my folks were travelling, there were also parties. As the youngest, I would be banished to the upstairs, while the older kids would have their friends over. However, I had my own mischief going on in the upstairs world. I would have a friend over, and we would light candles, and sneak cigarettes. We would blow the smoke out of the window, and spray “Love’s Fresh Lemon” to cover up the smell. We would feel ever so grown up.

I would have to say that the funniest memory that I have of my folks traveling was when I was in grade seven. I was about 12 years old, and had my friend Little Joe (short for Joanne) for a sleep over on a school night. We were in grade 7, our first year of high school. (We called her Little Joe because she was short.) My sister, who was in charge, was out partying. Little Joe and I looked after ourselves and were pretty much fine on our own. I was a bit nervous about the possibility of sleeping through the alarm clock in the morning. I woke up and saw the clock said 7:10, so I woke up Little Joe and told her to hurry up because we were going to be late for school. Little Joe did what she was told. She got up, got dressed, brushed her hair and her teeth and was ready to go in no time. We went down to the kitchen and made ourselves some cereal, and sat there having breakfast before we were to head out the door for school.

As we were finishing our breakfast, my sister arrived home from her party. She looked at us rather confused “what are you doing?” she asked. “What does it look like we are doing? We are getting ready for school.” I responded in a tone (with an attitude). “What time it is?” she asked. Now keep in mind that she had just arrived home after a night out partying, and was really quite perplexed, unsure if she had lost all track of time or had entered into the twilight zone. (She was feeling no pain, and was wearing a Santa Claus pin, and when you pulled a string, he kicked up his legs and arms and his nose lit up, this was a treasure from her party, and she was quite happy to demonstrate how it worked to us.)

As we spoke, and watched the Santa demo, I checked the time. It was at that point that I realized that I had misread the time. I had thought the clock said 7:10, however, it had actually said 1:35. In the darkness, and with my worry about sleeping in, I did not read the time properly. In today’s age of the digital clock, such a mistake would not happen. In any event, after we figured out the real time, the three of had a good chuckle, and we headed back to bed.

All of these experiences are an integral part of learning and growing up. However, I often wonder what would have happened had we marched off to school in the middle of the night.

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