Another logical aspect to my insatiable curiosity that was to become my trademark, was my penchant for collecting things – anything at all. It didn’t matter what it was – old car parts, lawnmower parts, broken down kitchen stuff. Whatever junk you can possibly conceive of, I wanted to collect it. Even the junk mail was heavily coveted by me as well. I called the junk mail “tickets”. So every day around dinner time after dad got home, I would eagerly ask him if he had any “tickets” for me. I shudder to think what must have gone through his head some nights: “Do I lie and just throw this junk out? Or do I let him add it to the growing mess in his room?”. I think most of the time he opted to be a good sport and truthfully gave me the mail. I can even remember a time when I spent 4 days in an oxygen tent because a violent allergic reaction to my brother’s dog Seamus had stopped my breathing. I vividly remember my excitement when dad appeared beside my hospital bed with my haul of tickets. Back then there was a lot more junk mail than there is today, as it was not considered to be the nuisance that people view it as now. I’m always amazed at the sensitivity people have to this sort of thing today and I’m even more amazed that there are laws to shield people from intrusive marketing, because I can assure you that no such thing existed in the early 1970’s. But I digress.
In addition to the “tickets”, one of my favourite things to do was to make friends with every old married man in the neighbourhood. They were so cool because almost all of them owned huge amounts of tools, had workshops and they all liked to work on their own cars and do their own repairs on their homes. Most of them were happy to have the company of an inquisitive little boy asking them a million questions and drinking from their fountains of wisdom. Of course this was before I knew anything so I actually DID listen. Now, in middle age, I realize that part of this has to do with the fact that many of them had no children, theirs being long grown up and this was their chance to show off their knowledge and have a little company at the same time. I loved it because they whenever these men were working on their cars or on a building project, there was ALWAYS a prize that I could take home at the end: an old car part, or a scrap piece of wood and what have you.
I remember one time when there was no prize, but I was intrigued by the man that I met. He lived about 6 doors down the street and on the day that I wandered over, he was cutting cherry trees on his property with a large chainsaw. He was a tall rough looking, tanned man in his late 30's who wore a pair of light blue, grease stained jeans and one of those black and red checkered lumberjack flannel shirts that nearly every construction worker in the 1970’s wore. His rough, red chiselled face was framed neatly by his long, black, straight hair that he kept in a ponytail. He welcomed me and said it was fine for me to watch what he was doing. I watched mesmerized as he cut one tree after another, as a cigarette dangled from his mouth as he cut. Eventually it was time for him to refuel the chain saw. Of course, I did not understand any of this and he knew that. He happily took the opportunity to pull both my legs – hard.
He put down the chainsaw and walked over to his large red International Harvester pickup truck and grabbed a large red Jerry can with one of those long yellow nozzles out of the back of the truck. He unscrewed the gasoline cap and filled the chainsaw tank before going back to the truck to retrieve a much smaller can. He unscrewed another cap on the other side of the chainsaw and poured the thick brownish liquid from the can into the saw, before replacing the caps and walking back to the truck. The chain saw had a gas cap with two holes in it to allow excess gasoline to escape if the pressure in the gas tank was too high, or if it was too full. The oil also dripped and ran down the back of the saw from its heavy use. So almost as soon as he filled the gas tank and put the cap back on, small spurts of gasoline started squirting from the gas cap. “Why is that stuff squirting out like that?” “See? It’s going pee-pee just like you do.” He said. Then he pointed to the back of the saw where the oil was dripping down and said “And this one’s going shit.”. I was unfazed – probably because I didn’t really understand what he meant. So I just remember nodding. Eventually he started up the saw again and began to cut the felled trees into logs. As he did so, at one point the saw slipped and he let out a loud “Fuck” as he stopped the saw. I saw him nursing what would have been a relatively minor flesh wound. But again, my little 4-year-old mind knew nothing about the severity or lack thereof when it came to injuries. “Are you going to die?” I asked very curiously. “Yeah, I think I’ll probably be dead by tonight.” he said in a very deadpan, matter-of-fact tone. Again, not really understanding what death was, I said “Alright then. Thanks for letting me watch. See you later.” and off I went. It was the first and only time I saw him actually. Oh my, I am just realizing…Nah, I’m sure he was fine.
My biggest source of prizes though would come from a nice old man who lived right across the street from us – Mr Davis must have been well into his late 60’s when I met him as he was long since retired and his children were all grown up with children of their own. His wife Dorothy was a lovely woman with a heart of gold. They were a devoutly Christian couple who had moved to Kelowna from Regina, and lived at the same house right up until they died I think. I don’t know when this was, but I did go for dinner with them shortly after I turned 18 and started going to university. They were still alive and well at that point, but that was in 1989 – 27 years ago.
The first house that we lived at in Kelowna had a large basement that was completely unfinished. Over a period of months, I had taken it over and had stored all my prized items down there. It became known to my relatives and family friends as Chris’s crap. For months and months, I stored absolutely everything that you could possibly imagine down there that nobody would want. My mother, bless her soul tolerated this, but only barely. Eventually, the basement floor – about 450 square feet was completely covered about a foot deep in Chris’s crap. So one day, mom had had enough. She had dad take me out for ice cream so that I wouldn’t freak out while she did what she had to do.
I remember getting up the next morning and excitedly going down to the basement to play with my prized toys. I got about half way down the basement stairs when the sight of a completely bare basement floor stopped me dead in my tracks. I froze with complete and utter shock. The pain of loss was unbearable and sent me into an epic meldown: “maaaaahhhhhm what happened to all my toooyyyys????” I wailed in complete and utter disbelief. She came down the stairs and held me close to her and said “honey, we had to get rid of this stuff. It just wasn’t safe anymore. I know you are mad, and I really am sorry.”. That wasn’t good enough for my little aspie mind and sense of justice, so I believe I responded to her words by stamping my feet. It was the ONLY time I ever did that with my mother, because what followed was a spanking with a wooden spoon. I was allowed to use my words, but I was not ever allowed to stamp my feet.
In the years that followed I would go on to collect other things that didn’t cause my mother so much grief and would manage not to get them thrown out most of the time. Within 2 or three years of this incident I would discover one of the first and most lasting loves of my life: postage stamps.