Volume 20, Number 114, April/May 2017 War - A Memoir by Margot Maddison-MacFadyen
I am writing a series of stories about
growing up in West Vancouver in the
60s and 70s. This is the first, and it
has the earliest date. My own name -
plus the names of my sisters,
playmates and neighbours - has
been changed. Otherwise, this is a
true event, right down to the talking
I could stay in the garden under the giant maple tree all day, making elf houses out of moss, twigs and bright blue bachelor buttons, but my best friend Sky Anderson, a boy who is a year older than I am, wants to play.
The Andersons live one house over, so I have to cut through the Saunders’ yard to get there. Mr. Saunders eats Trix with the cartoon rabbit on the box and cinnamon toast for breakfast. He has a pet crow with a split tongue called Albert that talks.
It says, “Hello, Margaret. Pretty, pretty, pretty. Trix are for kids.” Sometimes it says, “Albert is a genius. You smarten up. Be quiet.”
Once Mr. Saunders offered me a dime if I could find two things exactly alike. I brought him two brown buttons off mom’s coat. “But this one’s scratched,” he said.
I brought him two nails from dad’s workshop. “One’s rusted,” he pointed out.
One of two hydrangea petals was torn. One shoe was more scuffed and obviously for a left foot when the other was for a right.
“Just wanted you to know that no two things in the world are the same,” Mr. Saunders said, and I got the dime for my effort.
When we moved to Regina for my dad’s MacMillan-Bloedel job, our house in West Vancouver was rented. Our black lab Casey stayed with the Saunders. When we came back two years later, Casey loved Mr. Saunders more than us, so he remained there, quite content, except for the endlessly tormenting crow.
“Fetch the stick! Casey, come!” it pestered, until Casey disappeared into the living room out of sight and lay down with a dog’s groan of protest.
The Andersons are Americans from California. They have five kids. Sky is the second youngest. They let their daughter Solstice, who is sixteen and has long blond hair, paint bright-coloured flowers, rainbows and Peace and Love all over the doors inside their house.
In summer, they have campfires in their yard. Mrs. Anderson wraps potatoes in tinfoil and cooks them in the coals. They never cut their lawn. It is long, like hay, up to my shoulders. Sky and I wade through it to the gate at the bottom of their yard when we walk to school.
Mr. Anderson, a tall, thin man, is an engineer, and like my dad he is often at work. Mrs. Anderson works at home. She has dazzling sapphire blue eyes, and wears dresses and blouses the colour of pink Dianthus. Sky is proud that his mother is part Cherokee, and that one of his great grandparents was black.
“I am Creole,” he says selfimportantly, puffing up his chest.
Sky has painted tin soldiers that he sets up in historical battles. He says he’ll be a famous historian when he grows up.
“This here’s Ulysses S. Grant,” he says, moving Ulysses around and making explosive noises. “And this here’s Robert E. Lee.”
Although he is almost eight, he has a tan-coloured teddy bear with powder blue ears called Snickers. When his mother washed Snickers and hung it by its ears to dry on the clothesline, Sky howled, blubbered and stomped his feet. He grabbed dirt, ripped grass and threw it in the air. If I had done this, I would have been spanked, or at the very least banished to my room.
Today we are soldiers of war, headed to our mighty fort in the woods where we will battle with other warriors.
Fran Peterson and her brother Stan are on our side. She only eats Wonder Bread from the red, blue and yellow spotted bag and bologna, but somehow manages to stay healthy and strong. Her mother locks her and Stan out of the house while she watches T.V. shows with her friends, even when it’s raining. Often green snot seeps from Stan’s nose, but he’s great to have on our side, as long as he doesn’t get too close.
Mikey Mitchell and his lot are our enemies for the day. Small for his age, Mikey has spiky, dark-brown hair and pale, pasty skin. His mother told him she has a magic telescope she looks through whenever she wants to see what he is doing, and he believes her. In the fall, when we pretend small sticks are cigarettes and exhale steam into the cold air so that it looks like smoke, he gets jumpy. He thinks she knows when he is naughty.
“That Mikey kid still believes in Santa,” says Sky.
Oh how I wish I still did. I loved knowing that Santa thought I was a good girl when I found presents he’d left for me under the Christmas tree. Danny Brown and Fran and Stan’s cousins, who live further down the street, are teamed with Mikey.
Danny plays with G.I. Joes. Last summer he had a parachuting G.I. Joe he threw off his roof everyday for weeks. Its plastic parachute opened and the G.I. Joe floated to the ground like a spinning maple seed. One day Danny jumped off his roof with a blanket that was supposed to open like a parachute, and he broke his arm.
Our ammunition, pine cones plucked from the forest floor, bulges in our pockets, and we have piles of them deliberately placed for the battle. Our strategy is basic. Throw pine cones at the enemy so that you get a hit. The team with the most hits wins glory that glows from them like halos.
“Attack!” yells Sky, thrusting a stick that is supposed to be Ulysses S. Grant’s sabre high into the air.
We launch a volley of pine cones. Fran’s arms windmill as she chucks pine cones ferociously at Danny, and Stan lobs them at one of their cousins, but they wobble and don’t fly far.
I crawl on my belly through the woods to a fallen tree where, undetected, I take up a position closer to their front line. Mikey is on the other side of the fallen tree’s trunk. I hurl pine cones, but he dances out of the way, until my ammunition is spent.
But there is a rock by the fallen tree that fits my hand perfectly. I pick it up and launch it. A ghastly thud is followed by a wail.
Mikey is wounded. He holds his hands to his face. Bright red blood sluices through his fingers. A scarlet stain appears on his shirt, and his bangs glisten. A tiny storm cloud of flies hovers about his head.
I bolt home to save my skin. Charging upstairs to my bedroom, I squeeze under my bed, and lie flattened to the floor on my stomach amongst dust balls. It is near to supper when the phone finally rings.
“She did what?” asks my mother, who’s exhausted from dealing with my colicky baby sister Linda all afternoon, and keeping my threeyear-old sister Kate entertained and away from the baby’s crib. “I’ll send her along directly.”
She finds me under the bed, sobbing with self-pity for the spanking I’m going to get when dad gets home.
“Mrs. Mitchell wants you to go to their house to apologize to Mikey, and I agree! Get going, young lady. Right now! I’ll speak to your father about this later. Honestly! Throwing rocks! I’m beyond mortified!”
The block to Mikey’s seems like a mile and I drag my feet, but, eventually, I make it and ring the doorbell. Mrs. Mitchell answers. Mikey stands behind her, a large white cloth wrapping his head. It bandages what I learn is a deep cut in his forehead held together with ten stitches sewn by a surgeon at the Lions Gate Hospital. I hang my head and stare at Mrs. Mitchell’s sturdy brown leather shoes.
“That rock could have hit his eye!” Mrs. Mitchell scolds. Then she pulls an O’Henry from her apron pocket and offers it to me. “Thank-you, Margaret, for facing the consequences of what you have done.”
At first I hesitate, but then accept the chocolate bar and stow it in my pants’ pocket. After the spanking, I am grounded. My weekly allowance of twenty-five cents is withheld for a month. But I don’t care about any of that. No one is allowed to visit me. I’m the scourge of the neighbourhood, the outcast, the wretch, the reprobate.
I think about war, about enemies, about Mikey. About Mrs. Mitchell giving me the O’Henry in spite of my appalling delinquency. It sits in my top drawer, untouched.
A week later, the territory of my house arrest expands to the Saunders. Casey greets me, tail wagging. With a grave look, Mr. Saunders fixes me Trix and cinnamon toast. “Hello, Margaret. Pretty, pretty, pretty. You smarten up,” squawks the cocky crow.
“Albert, be quiet,” says Mr. Saunders.
Suddenly, there is the peace of a garden. Memories of elf houses and sweet growing things swell in my heart.