I still have not developed breasts and it continues to cause me considerable consternation. Shirley MacKirdie has developed breasts, as had Deirdre Royce and my sister, Cissy, though none of them have developed notable ones. Shirley always keeps her blonde hair long and is athletic. I try to keep up with Shirley athletically but I am more academic than athletic though I am always an active child.
“Oor Angela just needs a pair of cut-offs and a t-shirt all summer. She is oot running aroon’ frae sun-up tae sundoon,” my dad tells a neighbor with great pride, and I feel loved in that moment by my father.
Shirley is very popular with the boys, a thing I never am when she and I are friends. As all the neighbourhood children sit on the MacKirdie porch one sunny, summer afternoon, Lenny Wallowell says to me, “I wouldn’t bet those things in a poker game if I were you, you might lose.”
The boys all laugh. I have a crush on Lenny at that time so am doubly hurt by his teasing though I don’t understand the joke. It takes me years to realize that he was saying my sprouting breasts looked like poker chips.
One day when I feel particularly unhappy with my twelve-year-old body, Rosalia MacKirdie, walks up to me on our driveway.
“You’ll have a nicer figure than all of them, hen, even oor Shirley,” she tells me. She must have heard someone say something disparaging to me and this is her way of making up for their cruelty with words of comfort, encouragement and kindness. “You have a fine build. You have nice long legs. Just you wait, hen,” she tells me and she winks at me.
I do wait as I had no other choice but to wait, and within two years I did have a fine figure, finer than all of the rest. Rosalia was right.
Shirley and I continue to get up to some high jinx.
“Youse are a pair of buggers,” Rosalia would say to us smiling.
We torment the street snitches with squished crickets, worms and frogs, and spy on the older boys when they have a date. We follow them from a distance and tease and torment them playing our own version of the Scottish game Gooseberry.
The MacKirdies are not Catholic. They are bitter Orange my mom says, Masons, and then explains that Orangemen and Mason don’t like Catholics, but the MacKirdies are good friends with my Catholic parents. In the summer I might sleep over at the MacKirdies on a Saturday night, and Rosalia sneaks us out to the beach on the Sunday morning. We very quietly load up their station wagon with our gear and inflatables, and stalk away before my parents rouse for Sunday Mass. I love that about Rosalia and Jemmy because like any other Catholic child, I hate Mass. Much to my chagrin, my parents start taking us to Mass on a Saturday night at five o’clock to foil this ruse in the future.
Jemmy is a tall man, or seems so when I am wee. He lays a dishtowel over his right shoulder as he cooks for us on a Saturday or Sunday morning while Rosalia still sleeps. He makes us silver dollar pancakes and strawberry tarts. He has a beer belly and wears cowboy boots or Indian moccasins all the time. He likes to sing, King of the Hill as he cooks and he loves Johnny Cash and Roger Whittaker. Our family has this one picture of Jemmy in his cowboy hat and cowboy boots, his thumbs jammed into the front of his trousers like a gunslinger. Jemmy likes to drink, and there are many similar photographs to bear witness to his love of whiskey, beer and country music.
Anything Shirley desires is hers by the hand of her father. My dad doesn’t suffer from the same patriarchal need to spoil his daughters, maybe because he has three of them whereas Jemmy only has the one. My father doesn’t buy me so much as a chocolate bar once I turn eleven. But Dicky and Shirley have everything given to them. They have dirt bikes, Levi jeans, Adidas gear and surfboards. They even get an in-ground swimming pool. I get a Top Gun jean jacket, no-name sneakers and non-descript athletic wear until I am old enough to work and buy myself clothes. Dicky MacKirdie constantly teases me about my no-name clothes and our above ground pool.
“What kind of jean jacket is Top Gun?” he smirks and I look down at my feet feeling ashamed of my non-Levi denims.
Despite moments of childish cruelty and hostility, growing up on Cant Crescent with a wide array of playmates is still a great deal of fun. In the summer we gather to play baseball at Nicholas Wilson School Park. We go biking and build forts in the back field. The boys from our street protect us from invading boys from other streets as we play damsels in distress and M*A*S*H* nurses to our injured soldier boy peers. We swim at the MacKirdies or at the Public Pool and when the lifeguards shut down the pool for their dinner break at four o’clock, we race home to see Star Trek and eat our own dinner before returning to the public pool. I don’t know why we have to go to the public pool when Shirley has her own swimming pool, but Shirley likes to flirt with the boys at the public pool so we have to go there. I can’t very well go in her pool on my own. I have no choice but to go with her if I want to hang out with her, and stay cool in the hot summer temperatures. The whole street hangs out together at night. We play Hide-And-Seek or Tag. The big lamppost on the MacKirdie property is home base and we always hope to be able to hide with the boy we have a crush on. One day we play Red Rover on the Beatons’ lawn, and my mother screams at us from our front door.
“Youse get in this bloody hoose!” she orders us.
Cissy and I run home, humiliated. My mother tells us that she doesn’t want boys touching us. I feel ashamed of her public loss of control.
In the winter we go skating, tobogganing or have snowball fights. One night we all go night tobogganing on a mountain of dirt that has been formed in a nearby construction site. It had snowed and left us with a huge hill to toboggan down. Unfortunately there is a deep trench of mud at the bottom of the hill and we have to be careful not to become stuck in the mud as we get off our sleds. One of the boys gets his boots stuck in the mud and we all clamour down the hill to try to free his wellies from the muck. As Dicky and Lenny try to pull Ralph’s rubber boots from the mud I turn to see Ralph running home in his stocking feet. He is illuminated by one of the streetlights.
“Hey, you guys! Look! Ralphie’s running home in his socks!”
I laugh and point at Ralph’s fleeing shadow as the swell of our collective laughter rises into the icy sky.