We moved from Vancouver’s east end to North Burnaby when I was in third grade. I was eight going on nine, which puts that move at sixty years ago. For us, and me in particular, leaving the distinctly European, ethnically diverse Renfrew district of VanEast for the wilds just south of Capitol Hill was a momentous relocation.
Yes, Burnaby North was a wild place back then. Aside from the old growth on Burnaby Mountain and that still standing on in a few places on the slopes bordering Burrard Inlet, there wasn’t much old forest left. All the ancient forest had been removed, much of it by hand, in the 99 years since the province was officially named British Columbia. Giant rust coloured stumps, spring board notches still visible on some of them, marked places where those venerable giants once stood. Their hardwood replacements were pretty wild forests in their own right, plenty wild enough for kids.
Deer sightings weren’t uncommon then and rumours of bears prowled those woods. There were fields of long grass where ring necked pheasants nested in my new homeland. At night the sound of tree frogs emanated from the black hole where the swamps next to Still Creek and Burnaby Lake lay.
It was the beginning of the suburbanization of Burnaby. Our house had been recently built on land that was part of a chicken farm owned by a fellow by the name of Dirks. At the end of the street were beckoning woods. Two days after we moved in, I set out to explore them.
There was a mountain of dirt and mud where the road ended, its foothills the convex shape of a bulldozer blade. I scaled it, oblivious to the scolding I would surely get when my grandmother beheld the dirt the conquest of that mount left on the school clothes that, in my eagerness to go exploring, I’d neglected to change out of.
The woods on the other side of the dirt mountain were dominated by sinewy maple and thick brush. There was a trail head. I took the trail, of course, and in a few minutes emerged into a clearing where a couple of kids were picking blackberries. They weren’t harvesting, just eating. The little black and white mutt sitting on its haunches and supervising the proceedings, stood up and barked at my approach. Both kids stopped picking and watched intently as I walked up to them.
“Shut up, Trixie!” commanded one of the kids.
The barking ceased.
Only when I was close did I notice that one of these kids was a girl. She had on a well-worn brownish yellow Cowichan sweater that matched the colour of her brownish blond hair. There was a mottled tortoise shell brown hair clip in that thick tangle of wiry hair that didn’t seem to serve any purpose other than decoration and wasn’t doing such a great job of that.
“What’s your name?” she said abruptly, cocking her head slightly.
“Bobby,” I replied. “What’s your’s?”
“Trixie dug this hole,” said Lindy’s companion, pointing to the shallow excavation.
It struck me as a curious thing to say at that moment. I was tempted to say, “So?” but was socially adept enough to realize that such a response required more familiarity.
“That’s Reinhardt,” Lindy informed me. “He’s different.”
Reinhardt seemed to take no offence at this characterization. A head taller than his companion and me, his hair combed straight back, he certainly looked different. Later I learned that Reiny, as we called him most of the time, was what we now call learning disabled, quite possibly something to do with the fact that he was conceived during the later stages of the Second World War, his mother a young German woman, his long absent biological father, a Russian soldier.
The dying days of the Third Reich were hard on the Germans, and particularly difficult for a single mom with a small child in tow. Reiny’s mom married a former German naval officer. His half-brother, Walter, and half-sister, Karen, were a product of that union.
Trading on the fact that he was a skilled machinist and mechanic, Reiny’s dad emigrated to Canada with his family. As I began chumming around with Reinhardt and his brother, Walter, I noticed that Reiny seemed to be a square peg even in his own family.
Lindy was a tomboy. She lived in a tiny house with her mom, dad, and her two brothers, Lloyd and David, the former a chubby dishevelled teen, the latter a tall, handsome lad with a duck’s ass haircut and a ’52 Ford Customline Club Coupe.
Lindy was one of those surprise babies. She was a lot younger than her brothers who spoiled their baby sister by teaching her how to be a boy. She could run faster, play baseball better, and lay a beating on any of her friends, who were all boys.
Despite the bruises she would periodically inflict on my boy ego, Lindy and I became good friends. We constructed forts with her dad’s tools. We biked everywhere searching ditches for bottles we could convert to candy. Then, one day she suggested we should go fishing.
… to be continued…