My memories of Winnipeg circa 1974 are very sketchy to say the least. I was not yet three years old, so my mind had not yet mastered the ability to remember. Nevertheless, I do remember some things: how the house we lived in had these big sliding pocket doors to the living room; how there was a bathroom right off the kitchen and a very grandmotherly woman named Mrs. Sutherland who lived just a few doors down and whose house burnt down one winter night. I can still remember the red flash of the lights from the fire engine and the loud sirens waking me up that night as they raced toward her house to put out the fire.
However, one thing I do remember vividly was my disdain for clothing. I think that at that age, my Aspie sensibilities found the stimulation of fabrics against my skin to be a bit too much. I’m not really 100% sure what the reason was, but I do know that I loved being nude – much to my mother’s embarrassment and frustration.
My mother liked dressing us up in nice clothes that she bought from the Bay, back when the Bay was known for its quality. One day early in the morning she took me to the Bay to buy a nice spring outfit. She bought a button down shirt, new pants, and matching shoes. They were all a really nice navy blue. She bought a number of other outfits as well since her busy schedule as the housewife of a busy airline executive (my dad worked at that time for Transair – a company that hasn’t existed for decades) meant that she couldn’t get out of the house quite as much as she wanted to. So she wanted to stock up on as much clothing as she could. She was going to need it.
There was a large park at the end of our street, and going there was one of my favourite activities. I only have very vague memories of this park, but I do remember a very large tree and the swing set. I remember that there were always tons of maple leaves on the ground, and I liked walking on them because I really liked the sound they made when I walked over them. Right next to the park was our street, which ended in a dead end and at the centre of the street at that point was a large storm drain – the kind with the wide barred grill cover. This grill fascinated me. I would go up to it and put my hands through it. Then I tried my little arms and then finally my feet and legs. Of course I got frustrated when my thighs blocked the rest of me from going through. But I realized quickly that I was too big to fit through the grate to explore this wonderful new world that lay beyond.
However, I did discover that it was the perfect place to dispose of these very restrictive garments that my mother insisted on dressing me in. I couldn’t understand it, but the grown ups always seemed to get upset when I didn’t want to wear these things. Made no sense to me at all.
So on this day after we came home from the Bay, I asked mom if I could go to the park for a bit. She said OK and off I went. I wandered down the street and toward the manhole. When I got there I looked around to see if there were any grown ups. As luck would have it, the park was empty and there was nobody around. So I sat down and unlaced my new patent leather navy blue shoes. Then carefully, I held the left shoe over the grade and released my grip. Plunk! Into the black abyss it went. Then the other. My feet were almost free. Then came my socks one by one down the manhole they went. I looked around some more, but still nobody was around. So I undid the buttons to my shirt. When they were undone I took off my shirt. Then I carefully stuffed it in between the bars and down it went. I let out a loud laugh that nobody heard. Then it was time for the pants – the most hated of all my clothes. Off they came, one leg at a time. These took the most effort to get down the drain, but soon they too were in their final resting place.
It was a warm spring day, so even as I sat on the road wearing nothing now except my underwear, I do not have any recollection of feeling cold. Nope. All I can remember is the immense feeling of freedom. I decided that it would now be a fine idea to go and explore the park – what with all this restrictive clothing all but gone. So off I went. I sat on the swings, ran though some bushes and played in the piles of maple leaves. But after a while I found that I still didn’t quite feel as free as I wanted to.
After some thought, I decided that the underwear had to go too. So I went back to the manhole and looked quickly around. Still nobody, so I quickly climbed out of my underwear and stood triumphantly over the manhole holding them in my outstretched right hand between my little thumb and index finger. I thought for a minute and then let them go, watching as they fell between the bars of the manhole grate. Back to the park I went, skipping happily and basking in my newfound freedom.
About 45 minutes after I had left the house, my mother answered a very loud knock at the door. A slender, well dressed and very proper looking woman was standing there, with her hand on my shoulder and me standing right beside her looking down at the ground. “Madam. Is this your son? I found him in the park. He says that he lives here.”. My mother just stood there for a moment aghast with embarrassment. She quickly collected herself though and said to the woman that yes, I was her son and she assured her that only 45 minutes earlier I had been fully adorned in a very nice navy blue outfit from the Bay.