Iโ€™m So Glad We Had This Time Together… (1965-2019)

‘I’m so glad we had this time together, just to have a laugh or sing a song. Seems we just get started and before you know it, comes the time we have to say, So Long’
~Carol Burnett

Just to have a laugh or sing a song…. the poignant words of the ditty by the eighty-something Carol Burnett whom Paul adored. He said they both had a slight palsy in the side of their faces making their smiles a little crooked. He connected with her and so, once a week, we would sprawl on the Aikins’ wall-to-wall cream-coloured broadloom in front of their floor-model, mahogany encased TV in their living-room (the Aikins had cable!) enraptured by Carol Burnett And Friends. Jinx, their moody Siamese cat would sleep on top of the TV for its warmth, tail flicking even in her sleep.

Well folks, something horrible has happened.  We have lost this amazing person.  He is gone.  Never to return except to live on in our memories.

Paul was five years old when we met, and I, four.  We moved into the red brick bungalow next door.  They lived in the brick mansion next to us.  There were eleven kids in the Aikins family.  We were seven kids.  The sheer numbers of kids (and the lack of hand held devices and video games, ie: none) made for hilarious adventures and play times between the two homes.

We each had at least one member of the Aikins family to play with who was our age.  We walked to school together.  We played outdoors and in for hours together.  It’s hard to believe that none of us ended up married to each other.  I always believed Paul and I would be wed. Not to be.

Paul was one of those friends who was just simply THERE for me. I cannot recall a single argument with him. We discussed all manner of topics.  I confided in him regarding my tough relationship with my dad. Consequently Paul would never address dad as Mister the way dad would have liked him to. This would irk dad every time. We would snicker about it later.

We competed in Miss Cuthbert’s typing class together at St Joe’s, typing as fast as we could in rhythm to Martha and the Muffins’ Echo Beach.  Paul won.  We did gymnastics

paul 3
Paul Aikins age 16 and Martha Valiquette age 15, St Joeโ€™s talent night

and music recitals together. Projects and fund-raisers.  We decorated for dances and chaired meetings.  I’ll never forget the amazingly fun times we managed to have with very little money but very large imaginations and unstop-ability.  We would lip-synch to our fave tunes, throwing ourselves whole-heartedly into it and making each other double in two with laughter.  Little did we know then that Paul would become this incredibly beloved teacher at Etobicoke School for the Arts.

For several years of our friendship, Paul would come by greyhound bus up to the camp on Lake Cecebe to hang with me there for a week or two.  We would canoe, trampoline, clean cottages, paint docks and picnic tables together.  It didn’t really matter what we were doing, we would just make it fun.  My little brother emailed lately to remind me of this time that Paul and I were playing piano together in the office and he was imitating someone.  Ricky rolled on the floor over that one, he recalls. Ricky also reminded me that Paul could imitate dad perfectly, especially the corny face Dad would put on when he was ushering mass at St Mary’s.

I remember the first time I felt that I had lost Paul.  It was when they moved from next door to a few streets away on Eugenia Street.  The second time I lost Paul was when I moved away for a year when my parents were in the midst of a horrible divorce.  I missed him so badly that year.  My buddy was too far away for my liking.  It was a tough year because of this.  He came to London by bus to visit once and we had a blast.

paul year book2 (2)

I remember one time he was hired to feed the cats at the convent on the corner of Berczy and Eugenia St in Barrie and I went with him to the massive, empty, dark gothic-style mysterious house with crucifixes affixed on nearly every wall.  Well, of course we proceeded to hide behind doors and jump out at each other and to scare each other with a well placed ‘boo!’ several times so that we were frazzled nerves by the time we finished the chore.

Paul was a ball of positive and artistic fun and a fantastic old friend of mine. I will miss him dearly and am so sorry for the loss of this incredible person. I am sorry for his Mother and five brothers and four sisters and his adoring nieces and nephews. I am sorry for Fred, his partner of twenty plus years and how he must be reeling at the sudden and unexpected loss of Paul. I am sorry for his students and for all those whom he will not get the chance to teach. There are simply no words. I know though, that his inspiration will live on in the memories of all those who loved him.

Paul Aikins was an incredible light that shone for 54 years.  I will miss him dearly.  Rest in Peace dear Paul.  Your work is done here but your legacy will live on powerfully and forever, for you have made a difference.

 

Let the Games Begin ~ Part 2 ๐Ÿญ (1970)

I know we’ve come a long way,
We’re changing day to day,
But tell me, where do the children play?
~Cat Stevens

Continued from Let the Games Begin Part 1

We moved into our six-bedroom red brick bungalow in Walden, Ontario on Hallowe’en day of 1970.ย  An auspicious day.ย  I was four years old and extremely excited!ย  Our next door neighbours, The MacNeilโ€™s, were a big family of eleven and Ben MacNeil was five years old — a built-in buddy right next door.ย  And buddies we were.ย  Within seconds of arriving Ben and I were fast friends and could be seen chasing each other around the outside of our new brick bungalow.ย  I was gonna like it in this house.

From that moment, Ben and I spent almost every waking minute together.ย  We played house and school and hide-and-go-seek.ย  Often, because of the sheer number of kids between our two households, we would have huge games of Red Rover and British Bulldog, or 500-Up in the MacNeilsโ€™ huge back yard.ย  One time, the MacNeils got a new game of Croquet.ย  We played it non-stop for days.

In the winter we would go sliding on the MacNeils’ very own sliding hill at the back of their house.ย  It was a perfectly steep hill which led into the parking lot of an eight-story apartment building that we imaginatively called: ‘the apartments’.ย  Sometimes there would be twenty or more kids out there in the dark, with just the reflection off the snow and a few parking lot lamps to light the path.ย  At other times it would be just Ben, my younger brother, Luke, and Ben’s two younger siblings.

The MacNeils lived in a mansion.ย  They had something like ten bedrooms, four bathrooms and a huge recreation room upstairs at the end of the house where parents never ventured.ย  Their dining room had the longest table in it that I had ever seen.ย  We would often do our homework at that table.ย  I would marvel at how neatly Ben did his assignments.ย  I aspired to be just like him.

There was also a piano in there. ย We both took lessons but Ben went a lot farther than I, achieving levels of local celebrity status on piano. Ben’s older brother Noah was an idol of mine.ย  He always had the most incredible ideas about what we should all do together.ย  He would make up elaborate games or he would teach us how to be artistic.

Sometimes we would get to play hide-and-go-seek in their house on the second floor and sometimes, when Mrs McNeil wasnโ€™t aware, even in the Attic.ย  There were secret hiding places and cupboards everywhere.ย  Benโ€™s room had a secret room inside his closet.ย  We spent hours in there.ย  Their house was so much fun!ย  During one game, we looked high and low for teen-aged Ethan who would have been the same age as my brother Mark.ย  No matter what we did, he was nowhere to be found.ย  Finally, we checked the cupboards that ran along the top of the twelve foot walls in the rec-room.ย  There he was.ย  I could never understand how he had managed to get up there.ย  I was impressed.ย  Playing with the MacNeils was so much fun!ย  We would never want to go home at the end of the evening, when it was time.ย  We would hear Dr. McNeil shout:ย  ‘Itโ€™s time for the Players to go home!”ย  We would quietly make our way home, back to our boring little bungalow next door.

The MacNeils had a cupboard in their kitchen that was stuffed full of cookies and sugary cereals.ย  At our house, we had gingersnaps, and that was on a good day, and then only two each and they were never just sitting in the cupboard.ย  They were hidden.ย  The cereal choices at our place were simple: puffed wheat, puffed rice or shreddedย wheat.ย  Sometimes, if we were good, we got plain Cheerios or Shreddies.

After some of my older brothers and sisters moved out on their own though, the choices got better and they almost always included Shreddies and Cheerios and then CornFlakes! I can still conjure up the feeling of extreme privilege that came along with that cereal. We also got real milk then too. 2%. Prior to that it was skim milk mixed from dry powder (blek!)ย which later became powdered skim mixed with 2% milk.ย  When it was just Luke and I at home, Dad started buying homogenized full fat milk. It was like drinking ice-cream.ย  That was sheer luxury after the watered down and often involuntarily gag-producing taste of powdered skim.ย  When Eva, Amy and Matt came back home for a supper meal, on occasion, they would comment on how spoiled we were now that we were being fed the higher quality groceries.

Mom bought groceries on a tight budget.ย  We had simple but good meals.ย  Things like sausages and tomato sauce, scalloped potatoes, shake-and-bake (the odd time), spaghetti and meat balls on Sunday night, Pate Chinois (pronounced pot-tay sheen-wa), which was my favourite meal) and we always had a green salad with supper, and then after all the plates were nearly licked clean, we were permitted dessert.ย  Sometimes Dad would still be hungry and would finish off our meals for us.ย  Other times he would angrily and loudly tell us to Eat Up!

About twice per month, we would have left-overs or home-made soup–basically a huge pot of soup made from everything left in the fridge before the new grocery order was bought. ย ย We fondly referred to it as home-made poop because when you’re a kid, you don’t tend to like things to eat that aren’t completely decipherable.ย  All we could decipher out of Mom’s soup was a pea here and there and perhaps a piece of carrot.ย  The rest was left to the imagination.ย  One time I absolutely refused to eat it and found myself still staring at it, while it congealed and turned cold, at around 7 o’clock that night.

Supper had always started at 5:30 SHARP as soon as Dad walked in the door and sat down at the table, sometimes pounding the table with his fists – an indication of his hunger.

We tried to keep things calm at the supper table. Mom would bounce up and down from her chair getting this and that and, ‘Mom, while youโ€™re up, can you grab me a glass of water?’

Sometimes Dad would tell stories about Schollard Hall and put on his falsetto voice imitating one of his teachers.ย  We would all laugh.ย  Usually our meals were not calm though, someone would spill a glass of milk. ย Then Dad would pound the table and shaking his head and shout:

I HAD NO BREAKFAST,

A LOUSY LUNCH,

AND NOW I CANโ€™T EVEN EAT MY SON-OF-A-BITCH-OF-A DINNER!

The MacNeils had their groceries DELIVERED from IGA on a Saturday afternoon. Sometimes I would witness the arrival of the grocery truck backing up to the MacNeils kitchen door.ย  I had never seen so many boxes of great food in my life.ย  They even had a freezer full ofย fudgsicles and they didn’t even have to ask before having one.

In our house the groceries were pretty strictly rationed out.ย  Cookies and other goodies were hidden away in special places that only Mom could find.ย  Sometimes she’s hide something so well that even she couldn’t find it!

At Christmas time we had special food in the house.ย  We always got a crate of tangerines.ย  They were the really sweet ones all individually wrapped in purple tissue paper.ย  Mom would keep the carton under the couch.ย  She was pretty generous with them compared to other stuff.ย  We would also have a pound of real butter.ย  Mom would buy two pounds, one for shortbread cookies and the other for us to have with turkey dinner.ย  Wow it was good compared to the bright yellow margarine that came wrapped in waxed paper.

charlie brown

Christmas was great when Mom and Dad didn’t go to Florida.ย  Mom always bought us a huge jigsaw puzzle to work on as a family under the Christmas tree.ย  I’ll always remember how much I enjoyed that.ย  We would also sing Christmas carols and play all kinds of board games during the holidays.ย  Of course, most of the time, during the day, we would be outside in the snow or on the rink in the back yard.ย  Often the door was locked and we were forced to stay outside and make our own fun for two hours or so.

There were always so many kids roaming around, it was easy to find something fun to do — climbing the snowbanks, rolling or sliding down hills, making a snowman or a snow-cave.ย  In all those years though, I can not remember one adult being outside with us to play.ย  We were completely unsupervised and it was only if we were bleeding or on fire that we would venture home to Mom who would take us in her arms and help us with our troubles.

Continued at Let The Games Begin Part 3