Now that I’ve got this far I wonder how I made it. What do I mean by “this far?” I mean I’m a septuagenarian (that’s not a bad word, unless you fit the category). When I send my mind wandering back through the decades, it finds things that positively scare me and make me wonder how I ever made it through my teens.
No 12-year-old kid should expect to get lost in downtown Detroit in the middle of the night and come out unscathed – but I did. My mother, sister, and I had travelled by bus from Ontario to Alberta to visit my father, then confined to a mental hospital. We rode right through, changing buses in key cities along the route: Detroit, Chicago, Winnipeg and Calgary. On the return trip in Detroit my sister, Shirley, and I went for a walk, leaving Mother half dozing on a bench in the depot. Our night-and-day travelling had caused all of us to lose track of time. I planned to walk in a square, ending back at the depot. We hadn’t gone far enough to realize we were lost when a policeman emerged from the shadows and challenged us. "What are you kids doing here at two in the morning?" When we told him, he returned us safely to the bus station and Mother.
A couple of years later, my brother found a 303-rifle shell, and having a keen interest in firearms, decided to experiment. He placed the shell in a vise, used a plank for protection, and hit the blunt end of the shell with a hammer. I chose to watch through the window, forgetting it had one pane missing. The force of the explosion threw me backwards as though I had received a punch on the forehead – but I felt no pain. I soon discovered a shell fragment had penetrated just above my eye and lodged against the bone. Again I survived with both eyes intact.
Two or three years later and back on the farm, I had acquired a .22 calibre rifle. One day while hunting rabbits with a friend, I forgot about safety and began carrying the rifle horizontally behind my back. I had thrown my arms over it, gripping it with my elbows, an absolutely silly, teenage stunt. I soon realized I had the business end of the gun pointing to my right, straight at my friend, and returned the gun to a safer position. Only then did I notice I had left the gun cocked and the safety off. At another time, I raised the rifle to shoot at a sparrow. When it flew away, I swung the gun down quickly. It fired, making a hole in a board I stood on – one inch from the little toe of my right foot.
Somehow I managed to survive my teens without shooting a friend or blasting off any toes. Not long after that, killing myself and a friend came too close to reality.
With permission, we climbed to the top of a grain elevator to take pictures from the little window at the top. Stupidly, we set off a firecracker, totally forgetting that the grain dust in the air inside an elevator could explode, destroying the building. It didn’t happen. We left alive and well, thanked the elevator manager, and took the film to the drugstore. Within two months, an elevator in another town exploded, impressing on our teenage brains how lucky we had been.When we think back, all of us should thank God we survived to live beyond our teens.