I flew into Winnipeg to take the first winds and waves of nostalgia at the Airport. My father had come to Winnipeg in 1956 to build the airport conveyor system bringing my mother, brother and I along with him. I was 4 at the time. Seeing the machinery reminded me of Dad. Thinking of Dad reminded me of Mom. The last time I was in Winnipeg was for her death. I still see her cheering the kids on the hockey team and remember the words she wrote in the Fort Garry Lance about community events.
It's just beginning to rain and the skies are grey but that doesn't mar the perfection of the city. It's a beautiful city. The skies go on forever and the green of the grass and foliage is a very precious green. The rivers are old and serene. The air is alive with scent peculiar to Winnipeg. The taxi takes me to Pembina. We drive by the old school. I'm almost drowning in memories by the time I get to the Pembina by the Red Best Western hotel.
I walked back to the school meeting Gary Ens coming out. He's just bought a Harley Sportster. We talk bikes. We're standing outside Vincent Massey Collegiate entrance talking about motorcycles and I've been in just this place countless times before talking bicycles, cars, girls and sports. There's something timeless about Gary and this moment.
Seeing the pool behind the police station I tell Gary "We used to climb over the walls at 3 in the morning in the summer and swim there till the police chased us out, "
"Carl Hedlin couldn't figure out how his parents caught him. It just might have had something to do with his putting a ladder up to his bedroom window on the second floor."
Gary and I walked through the library sharing tales of work and family. Seeing the school library again, I remembered the Leonard Cohen and Raymond Souster poetry books I'd found there. Later someone would reminisce fondly about Carey Asselstine and I'd remember the school poetry book we compiled.
Further on I saw the place where the guy hit me with brass knuckles when I was defending the woman teacher. I put him down but he'd opened my cheek and there was a lot of blood when the police arrived. I wonder what happened to him. Just like I've always wondered what happened to David White.
"Remember Hoag and the foot ball teams?" I asked Gary.
"Sure do. Last week I found a caricature I drew of him back then." Gary told me how he'd gone on to do architectural drafting. I told him about our starting the pole vaulting to get Hoag off our case. Those were the days of murder ball and rumbles after school dances.
Gary's three children have grown and he's a grandfather. My registration kit is out on the football field somewhere. The organizers who are amazing have arranged a football game between Vincent Massey and Tec Voc. I remember playing volleyball but mostly now I'm thinking of starting the men's cheer leading squad. Later I hear about OJ's accident. A musical has been going on in the school and we pass the guys and girls in costume. I remember playing a lead in a school play. It was all so new back then. There've been so many stages and television studios since then. Not to mention the operating theatre and court rooms.
A hurricane plane has been arranged for a fly over. It's pretty incredible. I've got tears welling up in my eyes when I hear the choir. They're singing the country's anthem. I remember Dan Donahue singing with the choir in my year. We sang "To dream the impossible dream." The Guess Who played at the school dance. Lenny Berreau played jazz down the street.
The girls I meet all look so young and beautiful. I know we're old. Their eyes haven't changed though. A gorgeous young thing tells me about a hip replacement and I can only think about how hot she's always been. There's Bubbs and Porteus. I text Kirk that I've just seen Lynne Day. Dianne Anderson has had kids and she and her husband have travelled all over the world. They're riding motorcycles now. The brilliant Berger sisters light up the room. They were always so incredibly smart.
Gary and I have been to Johnnies for incomparable burgers. It's the drive through the north end that takes me to another time. I 'm remember the days I spent with the Manitoba Theatre School, dancing with the ballet, wondering how I ever got waylaid into medicine. Some of us are laughing about the expulsions and suspensions. It's great to see Sue Gossen again. It's hard to believe she's a lawyer. It all began in the liberal 60's and yet here we are in a new millennium conservative with age. Sues' adopted a daughter whose now a teen ager. Joan Marten hasn't changed a bit. Her smile is more radiant. She was gangly in Gr. 10 and now she's Vogue and More. Don Hurst is still amazing. I look at him and still admire his goodness and soundness. Yet he's retiring. Has the time passed so fast. In my books he should have been in parliament. He's a born leader.
The mingler has Beatles music playing. I want to flee. Help, I need someone. I don't know how to talk to these people. It's a nightmare holding it together. The music is too loud and I can't hear half of what people are saying. The booze is flowing and we're in the Wildwood Club. It's down the street from my childhood home. We played badminton here. There's wall to wall conversations and memories are filling all the corners all the way up to the ceiling. I need another diet coke.
Meeting Mary Buhr is special. We sat together in elementary and she was always the brightest and best of us. She's become a Dean somewhere. Never was a university more fortunate.
One moment I'm talking to a person my age and next they've morphed back to when I last remember them. I'm an old man discussing scars with Dirks who I remember as the boy my mother always thought so well of. One minute I'm a teen ager and next I'm an old man.
It reminds me of when I'd go home to my parents and suddenly I'd be a kid again. They'd be calling me 'Billy' and I'd be responding like I'd not seen all the death and disease and insaniety I'd seen for decades upon decades.
It was all of that and then some. But mostly it was hugs and smiles. I'm intoxicated on all the human warmth. I heard Sue Cowtan and Boris Tyzek were there. Names of old friends and acquaintenances ran through the group like wild fire. Old friends are celebrities.
I'd not recognize a person looking at their face but then bending to see the name tag in the dim light I'd suddenly realize why they were smiling so intently at me. We'd embrace and I'd feel guilty I didn't recognize them right off. Then we'd talk of marriages, divorces and moves and careers.
At last I was standing apart. I felt all alone. I felt like I did at the first sock hop I organized. I was scared for a split second. Adolescence is all about fitting in. I've been to too many countries and sailed across too much ocean to fit anywhere anymore, travelled too many roads and cart tracks. I think I envy the people who stayed. There's safety in the known. I know this world and yet I don't. It's all nostalgia. Bittersweet yet fragrant.
Kirk Laidlaw, Lenore Clemens and Lynne Miller all text me saying they wish they were here. I wish we were all here too. I know some are already gone. There will be even fewer with passing years. I'm glad I came.
"Principal Zotolov is still around."
"That's great," I say, thinking the man must be immortal.
Gary and I talk about God. We're both attending church. Later I lose him in the crowd. I walk alone across the fields of Viscount Alexander and Vincent Massey schools the way Kirk and I did all those decades back. I'm just thinking. Like I did as a teen ager. Thinking about nothing. Thinking about everything. What is and what could have been.