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Friday, August 5, 2016

The Snowball - Christmas 1980

When I was 8 my family moved from Kelowna BC to the married residence at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby BC, which is just outside Vancouver – about 350km west of Kelowna, which is in the interior of BC. The married residence was called Louis Riel House – a large multi-level concrete slab apartment building that was built into the hillside. I had never seen a building like this before where I could be on the 3rd floor at the top of the hill where this was the ground floor, or I could be on the first floor at the bottom of the hill, and it would still be the ground floor. We lived on the top floor – the 8th floor. It was a great place to make fiends as there were other children in virtually every single apartment in the building. I had made friends with three boys in my first few months there: Alex who lived on the fourth floor, Adam who lived on the third and Ruben who lived on the 5th.

Alex and Adam were both troublemaker types. Alex was the son of a single mother and when I first met him he was a bit of a bully towards me, but over time he softened up and we actually were able to play together. Adam and I were in the same class, and he was the sort of kid who was always pushing the envelope.  I remember one time in music class when Mrs. Earle had us singing songs and Adam was changing the lyrics into sexual or bathroom phrases and singing those instead. He was caught of course, when Mrs. Earle abruptly stopped the music and singing mid song and Adam didn’t notice and kept singing. He didn’t actually get into trouble for it but was given a very stern talking to.  Ruben was more my type – mild mannered and easy going. We spent the most time together out of the three.

As I have alluded to in other stories, the main thing to do around campus was explore. Apart from the university campus itself, which was absolutely humongous from the perception of 9 year old boys, the entire university was surrounded by forest on Burnaby Mountain. These woods were almost completely unspoiled. There were some trails to explore, which led to old overgrown playgrounds in more than one area. One of our favourite activities was scrounging construction debris and building tree forts in the woods, which we managed to do more than once.  

Despite this, there were times, especially in winter, where we ran out of things to do to amuse ourselves. Now I should mention at this point that the roof of Louis Riel House was fully accessible to anybody and could be reached by a series of external concrete stairwells on the sides of the building. I highly doubt now that it is accessible, as I cannot imagine the university being willing to risk liability for people going over the edge of the building. But like I said, my childhood represented a different time. The roof was an awesome place – flat, and covered with wooden decking and railings around the side. The view from the roof was incredible and we often liked to go and run around the roof playing tag or hide and seek, as the HVAC vents and intake vents provided lots of hiding spots. Other times, we liked to just look out and see the view or look down, as at the highest point; the roof was a good 80-90 feet up, which was insanely high to us.

One winter afternoon the four of us were playing on the lawns in the snow when we started rolling a small snow ball in the snow. Much to our amazement, it began to grow. The more we rolled, the larger it got, until we eventually had a snow boulder larger than the base of any snowman we’d seen and that was taller than we were.  After we’d made it we were stumped about what to do with it. Then suddenly Alex gets a mischievous smile and says “let’s take it up to the roof and drop it off”.  The other three of us were like “naaah. How would we ever get it up there? This thing must weigh a ton.” But Alex did not let it go so easily. He told us to try and lift it with all four of us trying. Surprisingly, the four of us were able to lift this giant snow boulder – not high off the ground, but certainly enough to get it up the stairs on the outside of the building. So we carefully rolled it over to the stairwell, making it even larger in the process. When we got there we lifted it with all our strength and began to carry it up the stairs. Fortunately for us there was a landing and a corridor on each floor that led to the other side of the building where the stairs continued, so that with each floor we were able to rest and recoup our strength as we rolled the snowball along the corridor. Eventually with much effort, we got it up to the roof on the 9th floor.

We rolled it over to the edge near the front of the building. We looked down. There were two walkways that led up to the entrance to the building and both appeared to be empty, though we could not be completely sure in the case of the walkway to the right, as there was a large hill at the front of the building to the right of the entrance that hid most of this walkway. We waited a few minutes. Still nobody.  Alex then motioned us to life the snowball, which we did. Then it was one-two-three- heave!, we tipped it over the edge and just as we did so a bald bespectacled man emerged from the right walkway. We yelled out and he stopped and looked up. Just as he did so the snow boulder hit the ground and exploded, sending snow outward at what must have been a 10 foot radius. It had landed to the left of the entrance to the building. He angrily shouted: “Hey! That wasn’t cool!”. But other than that he did nothing except enter the building.


To this day I am surprised that he didn’t come after us, given the immense danger that we had placed him and anybody else who came toward the building in. Of course at 9 we were too young to understand the concept of momentum and therefore had no idea that we actually could have killed someone that day. This would not be the only time I would nearly kill someone. The next time will form the basis for another story: The Cutting Board. 

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