Speaking of returning to places that are good for the soul, the earth of my elementary school is one such place, one that I bring the kids to when we’re back home in Canada.
It’s become an annual affair, a day trip every summer that the three have all joined me on, but one that Jon especially enjoys.
It was called Maple Crest, a name as Canadian and true as any, and there I am with my buddy Paul. We’re high-jumping in the rain, and playing hockey on the rink that Mr. Chamberlain would make every winter, and even getting the strap.
Once, Paul and I got the strap for fighting each other. Not just for fighting, mind you. Enough of that went on regularly with crowds of kids forming a circle and cheering the combatants on. But for doing it on school property.
When the principal held it out, the black strap flopped over. The red one, thicker, stood straight out. And after checking your hands to make sure they wouldn’t open any cuts, they asked you which one you preferred.
This, I always thought, was mighty decent and democratic of them. And anyone with experience knew that while the red one was heavier, the thinner black one stung more, especially with repeated hits.
I got the strap another time for being unable to stop laughing. This was with another Paul, a native boy whose last name nobody could say – it was Pinawonicka. Mrs. Clark thought that Paul Pinawonicka and I we were laughing at her – at her! – so she sent us to get the office for our just reward.
I know I would never do that, laugh at Mrs. Clark, because I was actually in love with her, at least as much as any Grade 2 boy could love his teacher. But, for sure, something was terribly funny, so funny that we just couldn’t keep it in over some length of time.
That final year at Maple Crest, the aforementioned Paul, that is my best buddy, and I won the school’s two trophies. His was for athletics and mine was for academics. When one goes to a small school, this is always more achievable, but it was a proud moment, nonetheless, one that I carried with me for many years.
A long time after that – Paul by now a cop, me a reporter – returned to Maple Crest and went to its trophy case and found those trophies that had our names stamped on them, and held them again, and had a photo taken of us standing side-by-side with our big grins in front of the school.
My memories of those years are as deep as the ocean and you’ll forgive me if I occasionally fall into them in this unwinding space.
Of course, having children in countries like Canada isn’t what it used to be, so Maple Crest eventually dwindled into something so small that they had to tear it down. But its memory is kept alive through the park, Maple Crest Park, which is now where the school stood.
You’ve never seen grass that is greener or trees that are fuller or heard laughter that is brighter.
One particular summer day Jon was with me there, running with arms spread wide and turning to me and saying repeatedly, ‘So Daddy, it was here?! It was right here!?’
Then he jumped on the earth on the spot that wasn’t so far from where I sat at my desk, or, for that matter, stood with my hand held out waiting for you-know-what.
Yes, Jon. Right here. It was right here. It was this close. This is right where it was.