Thursday, December 16, 2010

Tagging Along

My daughter, Lauren, and her husband, Andrew, are lovers of all things outdoors. When they had a baby they were determined that it would not mean giving up the camping and canoeing that they so enjoyed. They bought an infant life jacket for their baby daughter, Rea, and plan to carry on with their adventures as a family. That prospect might sound intimidating to some parents but it isn’t impossible. It’s just the sort of thing my own parents might have decided.

We rarely got left behind when my Mom and Dad wanted to get out. In their early years of marriage they would sometimes go to a movie on a Friday night. They didn’t have a car so my Dad would pedal the family to the theatre on his bicycle with my Mom perched sidesaddle on the crossbar and Richard, who was a baby at the time, in the basket out front.

By the time my younger brother, Tom, and I came along they had discovered Drive-In Theatres. When Friday night rolled around Dad would pull the mattress off of one of the beds and cram it into the back of our station wagon. We would head out to the Atomic Drive-In with Tom and I already dressed in our pyjamas. We got to play on the swings and merry-go-round that were set up at the edge of the car park as long as we ran back to the car when it got dark enough for the movie to start. When we got too tired to stay awake any longer we just curled up on the mattress and went to sleep. As we got older Dad dispensed with the mattress and we graduated to the back seat. Mom would always make us scrunch down and try to look small as we drove through the gate so she could still get the maximum discount for children.

Back in those days each parking spot at the Drive-In had a post with a speaker on a long cord that you would clip to the inside of your window for sound. Of course you couldn’t roll the window up all the way and in Northern Ontario that meant you ran the risk of getting eaten by mosquitoes before the movie was half over. The management tried to combat the problem by ‘fogging’ the lot during intermission. Someone wearing a contraption that looked like a flamethrower would wander up and down through the rows of cars blowing a billowing white cloud of fog out of the nozzle attached to the tanks on his back. I shudder to think what sort of chemicals it might have contained. It certainly gave the whole place an air of mystery and perhaps it even helped control the bugs. If it was particularly bad Mom would light up a mosquito coil inside the car and set it on the dash. It’s a wonder we didn’t all choke but no one complained. It was all part of the fun. Dad would always buy us a hot dog or some other treat from the snack bar while we waited for the fog to clear and the movie to start again.

We saw a lot of movies that way. Movies like Thoroughly Modern Millie and Lenington and the Ants. That last one may have traumatized me because I remember it fairly clearly in spite of how young I was. It was seriously scary with a massive swarm of African Fire Ants completely engulfing and eating anyone who stumbled into their path. At least we had the option of ducking down behind the seat if the action got too intense. As far as I know, neither of us grew up with an irrational fear of ants so I suppose it couldn’t have been that bad.

Movies weren’t the only outings we got to tag along on. When my parents went to a house party we went with them. I learned to polka by dancing in living rooms with my Dad. My mother was fond of playing Bingo and she often brought me along. She would give me one of her cards to play and watched like a hawk to make sure I didn’t miss any numbers. I was always more fascinated by the strange array of good luck charms that some of the other players surrounded themselves with than I was with watching my card. There were rabbit’s foot keychains, four leaf clovers, tiny figurines of all descriptions, even a turkey wishbone. As far as I could tell none of them made a bit of difference to whether people won or not. I never did care much for the game but I loved being with my Mom. She got so excited whenever she had a chance to shout Bingo or even when she came close to it that you couldn’t help but get excited along with her. Her pleasure was contagious.

It didn’t matter what the activity was. We got to participate and that made it special. We grew up knowing that our parents wanted us with them. That’s probably why spending time together means so much to me now. I’m not sure just how Lauren and Andrew will manage canoeing with a baby but I love the intent of their hearts in it. Rea will tag along with them just the way we did with our parents when we were children and I wouldn’t trade those times for anything.

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