As will become apparent if it isn't already, I was an insatiably curious lad. My curiosity nearly got me seriously injured or killed on more than one occasion, as you will see several times as you read further. This story though is one of those times.
When we first moved to Kelowna, British Columbia in 1975 the first place we lived was a street called Hammer Avenue. It was on the outskirts of the southern end of the city I believe. It was a brand new suburb that was in the process of being developed, though the house that we lived in had been there for maybe two or three years. There were a fair number of construction sites on the street where new houses were being built. My brother, his friends and I loved to explore these sites. I particularly loved going through the scrap piles looking for good pieces of wood, screws and other “booty”. Back in those days, these places were never fenced off. It was just understood that we were not supposed to go in and if we were caught there, some adult would just scare us off, by threatening to “call the cops”. That usually sent us running scared. It is hard for kids these days to imagine, as these places now are fenced and many have security guards posted on them 24/7. But such was not the case back then. I suspect that it is because parents, when I was growing up would never have considered suing the owner of a construction site if their child trespassed and got hurt. They would simply treat their child’s injuries, apologize to the owners and make sure that their child never did it again. But I digress.
So this one day, my brother, and his friend Charlie decided to go explore the latest site on the street. After much begging and pleading my brother agreed to let me come along. At this point I was 4 years old and maybe a few months from 5. Now the houses that were being built at that time were two and three storey wood frame houses that usually got covered in stucco. Usually these houses would be framed completely before the exterior walls were added, or the roof was completed, so that once the frame was up, they were essentially 20 or 30-foot-tall hollow shafts.
We got to the house and I decided to go exploring in the basement. I ran on ahead pat Mike and Charlie inside and started scanning the floor for screws, nails and generally anything that looked interesting enough to take home. Michael and Charlie started climbing the structure and within a very short time they were on the roof. “How did they get up there? I thought to myself. I went back to scanning the floor and quickly spotted a pile in the room that looked promising that had all these little pieces of wood, nails, screws and other goodies. As I am looking through the contents of the pile, I hear my brother shout “Hey Charlie, look! We can make a see-saw!”. I looked up and saw my brother moving a large 2’x8’ plank. I thought nothing of it and went back to exploring the pile. After a few minutes, I grabbed a handful of T-nails and stuffed them in my pocket.
All of the sudden I heard “Oh shit!!! Look out!!!”. Before I know what is happening, I am knocked to the ground by the most painful blow imaginable. The 2” x 8” had fallen off the roof and hit me square in the head. When I came to, I am screaming and wailing in pain. I’m sure the entire neighbourhood must have heard me. I felt my head and my hand was covered in red blood. My brother and Charlie tried to help me home as I continued to holler and scream. After a few minutes and half a block, we reached the house, where my distraught mother and very angry father called for an ambulance.
The ambulance ride to Kelowna General Hospital was a bit of a blur for me as I think I must have passed out from the pain. I vaguely remember the overhead lights inside the ambulance and mom squeezing my hand as we drove. I was quickly wheeled into emergency where I do remember the doctor who came to operate on me. He had this calm, commanding presence and he tried to distract me by handing me his Motorola pager and having his assistant blow up a surgical glove into a balloon and draw a face on it. I vaguely remember getting a needle and I could hear several people behind me working intently and talking as they stitch up my head, which I’m later told was split open by the force of the plank hitting me.
At one point after the pain has subsided and I stop crying, I hear the doctor say “It’s all over son. You’re going to be OK. Mom and Dad are going to take you home now. I can feel mom tugging on my hand, motioning me to get up from the bed. Much to my surprise, I am able to get up, and as I do so, I see that the white pillow on which my head was resting is almost entirely stained with blood.
Surprisingly, this was not the last time we explored the construction sites on our street. I remember several other instances, especially during the winter, where we went into some other sites to check them out. This one time, we went onto a site, which was covered in snow and in -10 degree weather. Inside the house, was this propane heater, which consisted of a high velocity propane flame which swirled around a large circular chamber that was open on both ends. It is absolutely incredible that something so dangerous could be left operating unattended like that. But such were the times. Of course, boys will be boys and we all took turns holding piece of wood up to the flame to light them on fire. What is really extraordinary is that we didn't get caught. We simply played with fire until we got bored and left.
Another time we climbed up a hill, which was really a small mountain that lay at the end of the street.On this mountain was a large quarry, which was operated by an excavation company that ran dump trucks up and down the street several times a day. We were forbidden from going up there, but that didn't really stop us. This hill was extremely rocky, but one day, Mike decided that it would be a good idea to take some cardboard boxes up to the top of the mountain and slide down the "natural slide" that we all thought we could see carved out the side of the hill. It did not go well. We arrived at the top of the hill, some 200-300 feet up and laid out the cardboard flat on the "slide" and positioned ourselves before pushing off with our hands. "Wheeeee!" we all shouted as we slid down at high speed. All seemed to be fine until we got about 1/2 way down. By then, the sharp granite rocks had all but shredded our cardboard mats to pieces and we were now sliding down in our bare clothes. We were going far too fast to stop and besides there were no branches or anything we could grab to arrest our descent. Pretty soon the rocks ripped through our clothes and we badly skinned our exposed limbs. By the time we got to the bottom of the hill, we were all crying from our injuries and limping home.