(Note: Not much flying in this Episode. But as this was the single most important event of my life, and everything that follows stemmed from it, I trust you’ll indulge me.)
I returned home from the Virgin Islands penniless, unemployed, and with no transportation.
My former boss started laughing the moment he saw me walking down the street towards Central Film Services’ studio – just ten short days after I’d left to live in the Caribbean “forever”. But Stan Cole was a good guy and as I hadn’t been replaced, he gave me back my Assistant Film Editor’s job.
Transportation would prove to be a bigger problem. I’d sold my beloved, fire-engine-red Triumph Spitfire to finance my trip down south and as it was going to be a long time until I could afford another car, I was forced to look for other alternatives.
A solution seemed to present itself when I learned Tom Maher, a friend I’d known since Boy Scout days, had a little 80cc Suzuki motorcycle for sale. The closest I’d ever come to riding a motorcycle was a rental-scooter in the Bahamas. I wasn’t thrilled with the idea of owning a bike, but the idea of using public transport thrilled me even less. And as the price was right, I decided to take a look at the machine.
While Tom was checking me out on the salient points of the little bike, Pat Goodeve, another friend from Boy Scout days, happened to turn up for a visit. I wasn’t sure how Pat was going to react when he saw me. I hadn’t seen him for five years, and the reason we’d lost contact was relatively obvious.
The last time I saw Pat was right after I’d shot him!
To explain … I’d known Pat and his family since we moved to the north Toronto suburb of Willowdale in the summer of 1960. My Dad had started the local parish’s first Boy Scout troop and when Paddy joined up, our fathers became friends. Pat’s Mom & Dad lived on 50 acres of rolling farmland, right on the northern boundary of Toronto. The Goodeves had offered their property to the Boy Scouts and our Troop ended up camping there on more than one occasion.
During our last camp-out, someone had bought along a BB gun and, being rowdy pre-teens, we proceeded to shoot everything in sight. When I was finally given the gun, I searched for a target and spotted a giant glass bottle on the Goodeve’s patio.
The bottle was an impossible distance away so – as a joke – I aimed at it, raised the gun to correct for elevation, adjusted for wind drift … and prepared to fire. Paddy warned me not to shoot, but I knew I couldn’t possibly hit my target, so I grinned … and pulled the trigger.
A second or two later, we heard a distant CRACK as my BB made a perfect hole, dead centre in the middle of the giant bottle.
I was horrified that I’d actually hit the thing, and was even more horrified when Paddy threatened to kill me. I took off at a run, apologizing frantically over my shoulder as Pat closed in from behind. But he wanted blood – and I knew it – so I finally stopped, turned to face him, and held up the gun.
“Look,” I said. “I’m really sorry, but it was an accident. I’ll ‘fess-up to your parents and take whatever flack’s coming, but you’re not going to beat me up over this.”
“Wanna’ bet?” said Pat, as he advanced towards me.
“I’m warning you, Paddy. If you come any closer, I’ll shoot,” I said, trying to sound as menacing as possible.
“You’re not going to shoot me,” Paddy said with absolute certainty.
Which is why he was so surprised when I did.
I shot him in the foot. I hadn’t planned to actually shoot him. I just wanted to scare him off. But on that long-ago summer’s day, I couldn’t miss for trying. The BB did little more than bounce off his sneaker, but it stung. So as Paddy grabbed his foot, I dropped the gun, jumped onto my bicycle and pedalled home as fast as my feet would let me.
Throughout the following week, I fully expected the police would come and arrest me … for Vandalism … and Attempted Murder. But the police never came … and I hadn’t seen Paddy again until the day I went to buy the motorcycle.
The reason for my nervousness at reuniting with Pat should now be clear, so I was very surprised when he greeted me like a long lost friend. Because, to my very great luck, Paddy had forgotten I shot him.
As a matter of fact, he still insists I didn’t.
But I did.
I decided to buy the little Suzuki and while Tom was filling out the papers, Paddy and I caught up on the past five years. The biggest surprise was that both of us had become Pilots. Pat was also flying out of Buttonville and while he wasn’t licensed yet, he was preparing to do his dual cross-country the following day. He was quite worried about this because he hadn’t had time to prepare for the flight. When I heard this, I offered to lend him my notes.
It was the least I could do, seeing as how I’d shot him and all.
The following weekend, I bumped into Paddy at Buttonville. He’d told his Mom we’d met and she’d told Pat to invite me back home for a visit. I really liked Pat’s Mom. “Mama Goodeve” was a petite, fiery woman with an infectious laugh and a devilish sense of humour. So the main reason I accompanied Pat back to his family’s home that July, 1968 Saturday was to see his Mom again.
As soon as I entered the kitchen, Mama Goodeve gave me a big hug and welcomed me back. While we caught up on news, Paddy wandered off … so I was alone in the kitchen with his Mom when a girl … no… a vision … entered the room.
I wouldn’t be the least surprised if my mouth fell open. The petite beauty was wearing nothing more than a black-fringe bikini and a cowboy hat. As soon as she saw me, the girl broke into a wide smile, crossed towards me with utter self-assuredness and offered her hand.
“Hi. I’m Michelle,” she said.
I can’t remember exactly how I responded, but it was probably something along the lines of … “Um … er … BOOYAH!”
Michelle smiled, got a drink from the refrigerator, then left the room without a backwards glance.
Two thoughts immediately popped into my mind:
a) Paddy is the luckiest guy in the world. And …
b) I am the unluckiest. Because I’m in love with his girl friend.
I’ll make it clear here – black bikini aside – this was absolutely, unequivocally, Love At First Sight.
There was NO doubt in my mind.
She was, “The One.”
After years of fruitless searching for “my soul mate” I had found her. But there wasn’t a thing I could do about it because she was Paddy’s girl friend. And I couldn’t take a run at her… seeing as how I’d shot him and all.
My thoughts came to a screaming halt as Michelle re-entered the kitchen to get her purse.
As she bent down to retrieve it, her cowboy hat fell off … and a good three feet of jet-black hair tumbled down to the floor.
Michelle retrieved the hat, flipped back her extraordinary, below-the-waist-length mane, smiled and left the room.
I wanted to weep.
Right about then, Paddy returned, so I off-handedly said, “Hey – just met your girl friend, and – Wow - she’s something.”
Paddy looked confused … which made me confused.
“Michelle,” I said.
Paddy’s eyes bulged in his head.
“Michelle? Oh, God, she’s not my girl friend………”
Every fibre of my being was suddenly alert, knowing – or at the very least, praying –what his next words would be.
“She’s …” began Paddy.
“My …” he continued.
“Keep Going. Say it. SAY IT,” I desperately thought.
“ … Sister.”
Deep bass drums began to pound.
Songbirds circled overhead.
A brilliant sun broke through the clouds while choirs of angels descended.
And as the orchestra reached its crescendo, I stood on a mountaintop screaming, “SING HALLELUJAH, BROTHERS AND SISTERS. I HAVE FOUND MY WOMAN!”
Well … at least that’s how it felt.
I had forgotten Paddy had a sister. I remembered his brothers Chris and Dan. I even remembered his dog, Bandit. But I didn’t remember Michelle. It would be years before I remembered our family used to sit behind the Goodeves in church, and that I was particularly annoyed when I couldn’t see past the giant hat Pat’s 9-year old sibling – sitting right in front of me – insisted on wearing.
I’d forgotten Michelle and my sister, Roma, were friends as both of them were Dancers. When I thought hard, I could remember going to a corn-roast at the Goodeves in the early 60’s where Paddy and I snuck through the trees and chuckled at “our two dumb sisters” dancing on a wooden stage, out back in the dark.
And my Mother had to remind me that she was constantly trying to drag me off to dance recitals so I could see the Goodeve’s “wonderfully talented” daughter.
I’d always managed to worm out of going, especially as I got older. After all, who wanted to waste time seeing one of my sister’s friends at some stupid dance recital once I had begun the desperate teenage search for “my soul mate”?
But, irony of ironies, there she’d been…
Quite literally, under my nose!
But, so what?
I’d found her!
And my world suddenly glowed with promise…
“Mind you,” said Paddy, “she’s got a boy friend.”
Someone dragged a needle across the record playing in my head.
And in the silence that followed, I wondered if Paddy still owned that gun.
(Postscript: To see why this episode is called, “Enter The Widget,” see my first column, “Fearless.”)
Watch for Episode #15 of Those Thrilling Days of Yesteryear
“Getting The Widgie Air Born” on Sunday, July 4th, 2010.
Abridged excerpt from Glenn Norman’s book, “Living On Stolen Time”.
Due for release in the fall of 2010.