The old home town is just not the same.
The apartment where my brother and I lived above the Bank of Commerce at 98 King St., W. in Brockville is still there. I stand across the street and stare up at the window where nearly fifty years ago I sat in my bedroom dreaming of someday, somehow, becoming a writer.
But further along King Street, the Recorder and Times where Managing Editor Sandy Runciman gave me my first daily newspaper job, is no more. It has been transformed into condominiums.
Next door, Ritchie’s the smoke shop with pool tables in the back where I wasted many hours of my youth, remains a smoke shop of sorts, but they’ve taken out the pool tables and now use the space for storage.
Across from the Recorder and Times the big Woolworth’s stands empty, a blighted eyesore on the street. I used to stare down into the front of the store from my desk in the newsroom, watching Sue Grant, the local beauty who worked summers as a cashier, plotting how I might somehow meet her.
(I finally persuaded City Editor Harry Painting to print a story about students working at summer jobs and hurried across to interview her. To no avail. Sue had more sense than to be interested in a tongue-tied teenage reporter.)
A lot has changed in Brockville. But the Brockville Boys haven’t changed at all.
Calvin Prescott and Dave “Batman” Cody and Gord Johnston, not to mention that tongue-tied reporter, look exactly the same as they did when they attended the Brockville Collegiate Institute. The stories of their exploits remain fresh and funny as if they happened yesterday–which, of course, they did.
The guys I knew in high school are still, after all this time, the guys I knew in high school. What we liked about each other then, we still like about each other today.
Other Brockville Boys are scattered about the country. Bob Johnston and Mac McLellan are in British Columbia while Rob Wilson practices law in St. Catharines. We all ended up on different journeys, experienced varying degrees of success and heartbreak, loved and lost, raised children, became grandfathers.
None of that makes much difference.
It is the past that brings us together, and when we are together that past is the present. Because it is, we discover all over again how special is our friendship and how enduring.
I doubt I could have survived high school without the Brockville Boys. Together we conspired to skip classes, launch midnight rambles, attend all-night horror movies (“Five Pic Horror Spectacs”) at the Capitol Theatre, searched out dates for Saturday nights at the Tiki Club, and shoveled endless amounts of Chinese food at the Happy Garden Restaurant.
We made weekly forays across the Canada-U.S.A. Bridge to Ogdensburg (or “the Burg” as everyone called it) where the minimum drinking age was eighteen (as opposed to twenty-one in Ontario).
Not to forget the drive-in porno movies in New York State; sex on a big outdoor screen seen for miles around, viewed by a carload full of wide-eyed innocents (“Get your goodies,” a strange foreign voice urged between shows over the not-so-loud speaker attached to the car window).
When I think back on our exploits, what I remember most is the laughter; the endless laughter (and perhaps a few beers). Those guys rescued me, and maybe we rescued each other, from what otherwise would have been a miserable teenage existence in a small town that at the time seemed cut off from the rest of the known world.
And just as they made life more bearable way back then, the Brockville Boys still make it bearable today.
Driving from Toronto, I found myself overwhelmed by the sadness of friends who have exited far too early this year. There has been too much sickness and death, fueling the gnawing suspicion that maybe, just maybe, we are getting old.
But sitting around on the porch at the welcoming old house Calvin and his wife Linda own,with night falling, bathed in friendship and memories, thoughts of death evaporated, and the years fell away.
We were young again. Life lay ahead of us, not behind. Possibilities were infinite. We laughed into the night. Wives looked at us blankly. But we knew. We knew. We were off on another midnight ramble. Old friends, together.
The way it has been. The way it will always be.