------ Opportunity Lost -----

Well, it seems I got everything more or less ass backwards! For example:

Love before Friendship. It never occurred to me to build a friendship first. After all love is magical in fairy tales

Cars Before Money. Poverty had made me short-sighted. The common sense of doing without if you can't afford it passed over my air head

Learning before Doing. I always learned the hard way by biting off more than I could chew. Maybe one should learn to skate before playing hockey etc.

In September, Gordon Head's Grade Eight class all seven of us, three girls and four boys descended on Mount Douglas High School a "huge" school of 150 students. The six of us, Bill Lomax had disappeared early in the year , were swallowed into a single class of 39 that would be thinned to 22 by graduation in 1955. Strangely, more than 60 years later four of the six of us still associate with one another. Well, Grade Nine was an experience. The boys received an ongoing hazing which was both physical and emotional. It was considered a rite of passage because we got to inflict it on the next year's Grade Nines and so on. Most of my classmates were from a large suburban school and had been together for a long period of time. The Gordon Head people were outsiders and old "Sleepy" was the farthest outside of all. I tried out for all the teams and made none of them. I rode my bike home and retreated to my room. Then, I tried out for a part in the school's operetta, "The Enchanted Emerald". By God, I got a lead role. I followed my mother's footsteps on to the stage. Sleepy got a reputation, he was smart and he could act and sing. At the end of the year I even received an academic award. Still, I was a failure as a "jock" and remained a social outcast.

Back on the Head, I had started work on Geoff Vantreight Junior's Daffodil Farm. Geoff kept the Junior handle because his father,Geoff Senior was still alive at the time. I worked with my friends Jack Smith and Barry Sharp who were still at Gordon Head School. On the farm, I felt a tenuous sense of belonging. Tenuous it was. I was the Tail End Charlie quickly dubbed by the younger Geoff as "Soap Suds" or "Slow Gear". The pecking order was clear. Al Smith , Jack's older brother who worked full time on the farm was first, then came my best friend Jack, then Barry, then there was sometimes a reluctant recognition of "Old Soap." I must say I clung to this perilous sense of belonging like a drowning man clings to floating wreckage. The thought of being cast adrift angered and terrified me.

Grade Ten dawned in September 1952. In the next ten months the wheels fell off the wagon. Early in the year, I was surprised to be elected class rep to the Student Council. It was smooth sailing until for some capricious reason the Principal, Eric Forster in order to punish the student body for some perceived wrongdoing cancelled the Christmas Concert. There was no protest in the Council meeting. I was told it was the Principal's decision to make. In the next few days the wrath of the gods fell on me. My classmates slew the messenger. Our teacher suggested I should resign. I knew I had been victimized so I refused and hung on to the end of the year. Still, I was never elected to any other office throughout high school. Resentment filled my soul, clouded my judgement, and corrupted my ethics.

Then, I bought a car. I cobbled together $25 and acquired a 1929 Model A Ford Coach from a classmate, Alf Adrian, also an outcast because he and his family were Bible-toting Christians. Now, a car provided mobility and status. The girl of my dreams had gone off with a guy who had wheels. Cars equated with girls and social acceptance. I was instantly corrupted and enslaved by my derelict car. School didn't count. Cars did.

During the summer of '53, I worked at Vantreight Farms for 50 cents an hour. Part of the time, I was Old Man Vantreight's personal assistant, slave. Geoff Senior was rough around the edges, but he was kind to me. He called me "Child" that was ok with me because he called his son Geoff "The Babe". Geoff Senior's story was somewhat tragic. He lived in part of the big house he had built for his wife Maud. He lost the mother of his five children early. I don't think he ever got over it. The girls, Helen at 20 had died very young from TB, Elsie and Margaret were married and gone. Geoff Junior, "The Babe" carried on the family business and was growing it. Gordy the other brother was severely handicapped from birth defects. He made noises but could not speak. He rode his bike all over and visited. He was my friend. He lived with young Geoff and his wife Jean and their children. Geoff Senior had married again. His second wife Hilda lived in another part of the big house. She was rarely seen. The house to me resembled a mausoleum devoid of life.

Then there were the Smiths. Harvey and Carrie lived in a sparsely furnished older home next to the big house. The Vantreights had a strange arrangement with the Smiths who had come from Rock Creek to live and work on Vantreight's farm. It seemed to be some form of indentured servitude. All male members of the Smith Family were guaranteed a lifetime job on the farm and a place to live. In turn school ended after Grade Nine and then full time work on the farm began. Geoff Vantreight Junior was chauvinistic to the nth degree. Women were lesser individuals taken care of by marriage. In the long run, Geoff had five daughters and two sons. The farm and the business were to pass to the sons. Harvey and Carrie ended up with eight children, Grace, Al, Jack, Norman, Gloria, Roy, Eileen, and Joyce. The lifelong servitude to the Vantreights held true for Harvey, Al, and my best friend Jack. Norman and Roy escaped as did all the girls.

------ Supplication Aint Easy! -----

Even my stepfather, Jim, a violent bully supplicated himself to the "The Babe". Jim seemed to understand servitude and accepted the gratuitous behaviour of Geoff Vantreight. Jim completely rebuilt a Cat and Arch for Vantreight and for a time went logging on Mayne Island. Later he would operate "The Daffodil" a double-ended lifeboat. It was the Vantreight's pleasure craft at the time. Weekend fishing trips included Jim and Sybil. My mother mistakenly counted Geoff and Jean as friends. They were not. For my part, I had a problem. "Sucking up" filled me with fear and loathing and it showed. I didn't have the right attitude at school, at home or on the farm. One incident during that time illustrates my dilemma. "Old Soap was given the thankless solitary task of emptying flats of bulbs from the greenhouses. The flats had been dumped upside down in a field. My job was to remove each flat from its dirt and bulbs. All the flats were to be repaired and stacked. Then, the dirt and bulbs were to be separated by breaking dried masses up with a hand tool. The bulbs were retrieved and put in containers. Long hours were spent sitting or kneeling in the dirt. It was purgatory and Geoff enjoyed teasing me about it. One afternoon his son Ian, still a preschooler, decided to throw lumps of dirt at me for fun. I told him to go away. He wouldn't be discouraged until finally I chased him away. He told his mother, Mother told Geoff and a furious Geoff came to the field berated me and fired me on the spot. I pled for a hearing explaining what happened and that I needed my job. I supplicated myself and he relented. I was scared ashamed and angry. The situation was bad enough but Geoff couldn't leave well enough alone. He delighted in telling everyone behind my back about "Old weak-kneed Soap" begging for his job. My public humiliation to him was funny. My manhood, unlike his, was again in question. Geoff Vantreight's narcissism was towering. His reflection blinded him and provided him with admiring sycophants who wanted his money and often got it by "Sucking up"

In reflection, I realized that Geoff was often the victim of the piece. There he was without respect being used. He too was a lonely soul. I came upon him on several unguarded occasions where he appeared lost. Each time I was saddened. He was a man who figured prominently in my early years . In fact, he saved my life. One evening, Barry Sharp and I, a non-swimmer, decided to paddle a homemade raft using boards for paddles around Margaret's Point into Margaret's Bay. We got caught in a tide rip and the current was sweeping us out into Haro Strait, when Geoff , who had seen us from a window in a house on Vantreight Lane, rowed out and towed us to safety.

All summer long, I worked on my car using stuff I dragged home to be subjected to my crude or non-existent skills. To me it was my "hot rod". In the Fall I got my drivers license and prepared to launch. Yes, it started and I took it to school but something was wrong. Neighbourhood people tried to help and my mechanical knowledge took a quantum leap. We discovered that all the exhaust ports were cracked and I had water injection into the combustion chambers. The engine was toast. A friend, also an outcast, Barry Goodwin found me another car for $15. It had a motor that ran. Jim, for once, located a garage downtown that would tolerate me changing engines. On a slow day, the mechanics actually swapped the engine for me. I felt I had wanted to do it myself. Graciousness, was not one of my strengths. Still, I was underway on the bumpy road to automotive obsession.

In truth, the last thing I needed was that damn car and several that followed. Over the Fall. I painted it red with a brush. My friend Bob Genn was going to spray it for me but I didn't do any prep. So, my mother helped with the brushing. I found some cracked 15" wheels with bald tires and Gordy Stewart's dad welded them for me. I was too young and stupid to see what I was getting into. Besides admiration, I had needs that I never had before, gas money etc. Car ownership wasn't character building. It was the worship of a false God and it was destructive. The need to keep the wheels turning drove my ethics through the floor.

In retrospect, I became as bullying, as Jim and Geoff. I sponged off of friends and was verbally abusive to those closest to me. I felt victimized even when I was victimizing others. Grade eleven marched on. At Christmas, I wrote and produced a parody of Dragnet. that was very successful. The acclaim I got went straight to my head. Then, in the Spring of '54 a life-changing event took place. H.O. English, the principal of the Victoria Normal School came to speak to us. He explained that there was a great need for teachers. A light went on. I could actually get paid for inflicting myself on students the way my teachers appeared to be inflicting themselves on me. My career choice was made. Then, the damn car quit! Investigation showed that by removing the muffler I had managed to crack all the exhaust valves, My classmate, Keith Lawrence had a 1936 Chevrolet coupe he had crashed and bent up a fender. It was for sale. I promptly sold my bike and gave Keith a down payment. The rest would come from working at Vantreights that Summer. Little did I know that I was headed straight for hell in a hand basket.

The first inkling of doom came when stepfather Jim who was selling freezer packages at the time opened a store, Allservice Victoria Appliances, in a run-down storefront on Cook Street. He and his partner stocked it with long-time discarded inventory from a large hardware store that was cleaning house, getting rid of its accumulated junk. Well, he needed an appliance mechanic. So, I was it. He told Geoff Vantreight that I was through and Informed me that I was to work in the store for free. Sybil saw he paid for my lunch and travel. Two incidents among many illustrate the disaster I brought on myself with the "new"car I could not afford. One evening, I took 2 friends up Mount Douglas. Halfway up, the car stalled and I decided to ride it backwards downhill. I didn't make it. The car rolled on its side and was towed home by a friendly farmer. A used fender and door was put on at home and I was off again. Then, one evening, playing follow the leader up Kenmore Avenue, I got T-boned at the intersection of Torquay and ended up upside down. That was the end of the car. My mother directed Jim to settle matters with Mr. Lawrence. He came back saying that the matter was settled. She assumed payment had been made. I don't know what went on between the two men.But I got the feeling from Keith that he felt I had cheated him. The wreckage of the car, however, sat derelict at the local service station for several years.

There I was a free appliance "mechanic" without wheels. The poor customers never knew the inadequacies of the person messing with their stuff. Jim, meanwhile, ruled the roost over what was not much more than a junk shop. Certainly much of the stock salvaged from the basement of the hardware store belonged in a museum. Every morning, he left me to open up while he wandered up Cook Street to Hilda Lewis's Coffee Shop. Hilda Lewis and her husband Bill had been "friends" of Jim and Sybil since we lived on Shakespeare Street. Hilda had caught Jim's eye from the beginning and he had stayed at Lewis's when a particularly violent outburst had seen him leave home for a time. So, Jim took the opportunity to renew acquaintances while basking in the warm glow of his new found position as "business owner". Around noon he would return and abuse me about the apparent lack of productivity and then would proceed to tear a strip of my mother when she, volunteering as receptionist made reasonable business decisions in his absence. To tell the truth, her presence cramped his style with Hilda Lewis.

In the summer I had been playing softball in the Saanich Parks League. With all the rocks I had hit on the farm, I had become a reasonable player. Still, I was the guy chosen last. I was never first pick. So, when the opportunity presented itself, I became the coach of the Majestic Park team. I understood the game well and I got to make the lineup. I now got to play regularly. There are advantages in running the show.

At the end of the summer, Sybil put pressure on my stepfather to buy me another Model A for $70. I immediately damaged the engine by running it without water. Still, it remained usable. So, I returned to Mount Douglas for Grade 12 with the Model A. leaving behind my derelict first car and the damaged remains of a 1936 Chevrolet Coupe. All stood as evidence of the devastation wreaked by me in less than a year. At school, I, once again, wrote and produced a parody. This time Dragnet met Romeo and Juliet. It was a success. I also played the lead in the school's operetta, "The Enchanted Emerald". Then, I was asked to spearhead the Douglas House entry into the House Concert. Blinded by my apparent celebrity, I reached too far and bombed spectacularly in front of the whole school. In doing so, I victimized others who had trusted me. Another example of my flawed character was working as advertising manager of the school annual. I liked the position but not the work. So, I didn't sell any advertising. I usually bit off more than I could chew and then I failed miserably in chewing what I had bitten off. The consequences were humiliating.

Still, I was the top student in a class that had a reputation of being rebellious and unteachable. The, principal, Eric Forster sought to punish us by forcing everyone to write the Provincial Exams. I knew I had the right to be recommended and so did my mother, who was active in the Parent-Teacher Association. I got recommended. In response, Eric Forster refused to present me with the Scholarship Award and instead I was enshrined as "1955: No Award". I did get a token PTA award as best student. Still, I slid out of Mount Doug under a cloud. Disheartened, I was late filing my application to Normal School.