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Tuesday, 14 May 2013

The Browns

I went to two high schools in Montreal in the early 1960s. The first was West Hill High School and after my first year in grade 8 they gave me the heave-ho. I was persona non grata and shortly after my expulsion I found myself living at The Boys Home of Montreal, also known as Weredale House, where I attended the new Westmount High School on St. Catherine Street for two years. I then returned to West Hill before quitting school all together about a year and a half later.
On my latter stint at West Hill I hung out with a group of mostly jocks, some of whom I had known since grade school. Some of the girls we spent time hanging out with were from the same high school, a few were Catholic, and several went to private girl’s schools (The Study, Miss Edgar’s and Miss Cramps) and lived in the toney community of Hampstead close by. Some of the guys played high school hockey or football. We would usually meet at the school cafeteria at lunch. Some of the chatter was about the latest funny thing that Johnny Carson had said the night before. After school we would often crowd into a nearby restaurant called Bellman’s where kids from the Catholic Marymount High School also hung out.
Every Friday night during the school year there was a dance at the Hampstead elementary school. They called the dance “The Hampstead Hop”. Many of us were drinking our first beers. Once in a while a fight would break out in the field next to the school. The rich private school gals had a number of house parties. After a dance or a party we would often go to Manny’s Deli on Queen Mary Road in Snowden.
Without going too far astray here, allow me to tell one little side story about one of those rich girls. Her name was Brenda and was as they used to say “stacked”. She was quite interested in a guy I knew and one summer’s night invited us over to her house in Hampstead which was vacant at the time with her parents being away for the summer. She phoned her grandmother to tell her she would be spending the night at her own house and grandma nixed that idea and told her that she would be picking her up shortly. Grandma turned up quicker than we anticipated. By this time there were just 3 of us in the house. I scrambled under the bed in the master bedroom and the other guy hid in the bathroom behind the shower curtain. Granny marched in and went straight upstairs to the bathroom. She was sitting on the throne when the other guy burst through the shower curtains and high tailed it downstairs. I can still remember the shrieking.
West Hill High School was about 3 blocks from my house. On the way to and from school I would occasionally run into other students that I didn’t hang out with but knew well enough to have a 10 minute or so conservation with. One guy lived almost across the street from me and was on the school water polo team. Another guy lived on the next block and seemed pretty sophisticated for his age. A number of years later I learned that after high school he was supposedly pimping his sister. I was disappointed to hear that as he seemed to be a pretty bright guy.
There were two other guys that I often walked to school with, brothers Dalton and John Brown.  Dalton was the older brother by about a year and he had been in my grade 8 class a few years before. They also had a younger sister who was at the same high school. Both brothers were easygoing types. John was a little huskier.
I'm at the left end of the top row and Dalton Brown is at the right end of the top row. Grade 8-1961
One day they asked me if I would like to come up to their cottage for the weekend. I was always game for some new adventure and took them up on their offer. I later learned that they spent almost every weekend at their cottage and couldn’t wait to get out of Montreal. I guess you could say that they loved the country life.
Friday came around and I went over to their house. Along with me there were 6 of us packed into the car (I can’t recall if they had a dog) and we wended our way through Friday rush hour traffic and over one of the bridges that crosses the St. Lawrence River. I’m not exactly sure where their cottage was located. It was about 40 miles or so from Montreal not far from towns with names like Lachute, Arundel, Weir, and Huberdeau.
I’m not sure what their old man did for a living. I do remember that he carried a mickey with him in the car and had a few nips on the way up to the cottage. The total time travelling was something like an hour and a half to 2 hours including getting off of Montreal Island. We drove down a number of dirt roads. The cottage was quite small with maybe 2 bedrooms. It had a kitchen/dining area and a screened porch which was where I slept. It did dawn on me that I wasn’t spending time with a Leave It To Beaver kind of family.
Sometime around 7:00 a.m. the next morning the two boys woke me up and handed me a 22 calibre rifle. Apparently we were going chipmunk hunting. I was only slightly familiar with a 22 rifle having taken a rifle shooting class at a camp I went to. Somehow in my still drowsy fog I managed to shoot a chipmunk. I cut off its tail and put it on my bedroom wall back home. The tail sat on display for a few months until I got to thinking how stupid it was killing something just for the sake of killing it.
I started to learn a few things about the younger brother John. Although I thought he was a great guy he was also a bit on the reckless side. He once ground up part of his leg with a chainsaw and another time he was in a car accident and yanked some of his teeth out of his mouth. I think John was about 15 at the time and didn’t have a driver’s license. That never stopped him from careening around the countryside in a borrowed pick-up truck with clouds of dust trailing the truck. There was a fine line between a thrill and panic driving with John.
The area was predominantly French. We hung around a local convenience store that had a pop machine and a juke box. I remember someone playing the Beatle’s The Hippy, Hippy Shake over and over. We danced with a few local French gals. It was at this joint that I was introduced to a gal whose family were local farmers. She was English speaking and we sort of had a bit of a thing for a few weeks. You might say that this gal was large chested. One night I was in the back seat of her brother’s car with some other folks in the front seat and decided to check out what was inside her shirt. I looked up and could see her brother eyeballing me in the rear view window. That kind of ended my exploring.
All in all, I think I spent 3 weekends up at the Brown’s cottage. I was always invited but kind of thought I might to overstaying my welcome. I thought that the dad might not have been that fussy about feeding an extra mouth and I wasn’t that likable that they might want to adopt me.
One weekend we went to a local fair. I can’t recall which town it was in. John was exceptionally good at throwing darts at balloons even if the darts were loaded. John won about 8 panda bears before the carney guys shuttered their stand until he went away. My family’s pet Scottie dog later tried to mate with the panda I brought home. It wasn’t a pretty sight.
Like any city boy, I asked a lot of questions. One of the questions I asked was if there were any fish in a nearby creek. I was told that not only was there fish but the boys had some flippers and goggles and a fishing net. I spent a few hours in that creek trying to catch trout with a net and never came close to catching one. I’m not sure if they were sharing a private joke about the city guy as they watched me from the creek bank.
I quit school a few months later and never saw the Browns again. I’m glad I got to experience those weekends and another way of life. It was a slice!
It seems like so long ago now. Close to 50 years. I hope Dalton and John and their family have had full lives. They were good people.

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