This story is part of the Caring Community project.
When I think back to my childhood in the 1970’s I remember myself alone in a big backyard, snacking on tart red currants, smokey black currants, sour rhubarb and snap peas. I liked to sneak behind the Chinese Elm hedge to day dream and avoid weeding the garden.
On a good day in Scarborough, Ontario the wind blew from the direction of Dad’s Cookie Factory. Most days we could see the plume of smoke from Atlantic Packaging fill the sky, less than a mile away. Though we lived close to the factories, our backyard still had fruit trees from the old orchard and the original farmhouse was just a few yards away. One street over was the ravine, still forested, our little patch of wild.
I couldn’t have been alone that much- my sister is only 2 years younger and we roamed the neighbourhood with dozens of children. All of us had the same basic safety rules:
Stick together and take care of the younger kids.
Don’t talk to strangers.
If you need help and you are far from home, find a Block Parent.
Come home when the street lights go on.
Mostly we came to no harm. But one day my little sister Danna got her foot caught in the spoke of her bike down the other end of our street. Bonnie was a little older than us and helped me carry her home. The other kids brought our bikes. Together we dripped blood up the street. Once home Mom patched her up but her toe nail never did grow back in straight.
In the winter we headed to the steep banks of the ravine to toboggan after school. Danna was so light she flew right into the creek. The water was pretty polluted in the 1970’s so even when it was really cold, it didn’t freeze. A young man told me he could remember fishing there but we never saw anything living. I tromped into the slushy water to pluck her out. I felt like a super-hero: a combination ice queen and toxic avenger.
Even as a child I liked to remember how I had mixed Danna’s pablum when she was 2 and I only 4. I took such pride in my ability to care for her, just like mom.
But even so, one night I stole her soother from her while she slept in peace. My parents had decided that it was time for me to sleep without my much beloved pink blanket. It was nothing but a rag. But to me the hole in the middle made it a perfect poncho. Instead of sleeping at night I stayed up imagining myself galloping across the pampas fields in Argentina.
I was embarrassed by my raw need of my blanket so I kept quiet and made plans in the dark. I crept down the ladder of our bunk-bed and carefully plucked the soother from her open mouth. Then I climbed back up and hid it inside my pillow-case.
When she woke and started screaming I denied knowing anything about it. I could tell mom and dad didn’t really believe me. They even checked under my pillow- but not inside the case. I got away with it and they found another soother for Danna. When they went back to bed, I sucked on hers like a baby.
It’s like this with these compassion stories. First a trickle of disconnected memories then a flood- of giving, and receiving when least expected.
Stitched into the underside is the final remnant of my pink blanket. I sleep with it every night.