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WHEN I WAS A YOUNG LAD story

Story ID:4128
Written by:Richard Laurent. Provencher (bio, contact, other stories)
Organization:Retired
Story type:Biography
Location:Truro Nova Scotia Canada
Year:2008
Person:Richard L.Provencher
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“Nothin’s coming yet!” are remembered shouts of excitement as we approached the long wooden trestle. It’s rainbow shape lay as a contented pussycat over the Osisko river.

Imagination and daring feats were important challenges in the minds of 1953 ten and eleven year old boys. Not being my favorite hiking route the ‘jitters’ often lay assault to my confidence. On that particular occasion I tried to keep pace with my friends. A fear of heights kept well hidden in my side pocket.

Thankfully, they never did discover this flaw in my bravado. After all, each of us was from the Veteran’s Town site and we vowed to be tough Hombres. Not bullies, but over comers of all obstacles. Since all our dads served in the Second World War, we had a pride to maintain.

Yes, during those early years, life was full of dandelions. Not that the plentiful wild flower in northern Quebec was unloved as it is today with plucking, seeding and chemicals used to eradicate it from landscaped premises. At that time, it provided splashes of color among the greening of our young lives. Everywhere we looked, there were firs, spruce, balsam and sprinkles of birch and poplar.

Therefore the addition of something pleasantly different reminded us, we also were indeed unique in the flow of youthful adventures. The splash of yellowish tinge covered both sides of the track as we raced across the imbedded tiles to be first before the sooty black from a hooting engine blocked our path.

Trying to keep up, I could see Roger’s willow slingshot with rubber sling tease me from his back pocket. And no matter how hard he tried his shot was always missed tapping some itinerant crow. Of course they never complained.

My hiking friends were all boys, since for some reason refuted at a later date in our lives, girls didn’t seem to have the same stamina or reckless actions we aspired to. My further knowledge in the flow of life discovered it was the latter.

Crossing this long trestle just outside our town of Rouyn, far into the woods and mining country, North-West of Montreal was our rite of manhood. Not just once but repeated often. Each of us had to continually prove those dreadful words “Crybaby” or “Mama’s Boy” was not part of our makeup.

And friends carefully listened whenever an angry parent smacked us, perhaps for tattling on a younger sibling.

Taking chances was an ideal occasion for any necessary redemption. However I never felt my sins deserved this degree of penance. As usual I was always last in the group, a deliberate slowness, my legs reluctant to move with the flow. And my feet slogging through what felt like molasses lapping at my well-worn jeans.

To this day, I continue to notice with dread that Trestle leaning closer, closer.

The braver one among the five or six of us was always our unrivaled leader, Lee. He was a brash lad who seemed to draw others around him. I felt it was my good fortune to be allowed to share his group of friends.

A ‘gang’ in those days had nothing to do with brass knuckles or motorcycles, but rather someone to go with. Somewhere with, since dads, after working in the Noranda Copper Mine were too worn out to be with sons on such a beautiful day, as that day.

Lee followed quickly by our pack of Roger, Herve, Butchie, Don, my younger brother Dennis and myself. We were straight in line like a ruler. And bent over, ears against the cold steel rail, our bony butts pointing west.

Listening carefully, we waited patiently for Lee’s acknowledgment. “OK” meant nothing coming since there were no rumbling sounds in the steel, an assurance of safety at least up to the outstretched space one hundred feet ahead.

The safety location, for those ‘caught’ on the trestle if a train was coming must have been four feet square. It was deftly attached to the main bridge frame, with a railing for protection. And was available for preventing any emergency jump of fifty feet to the river below.

The plan was always to hike our sneakers swiftly. And make the trestle in stages at the very least. Even if we had to cram ourselves in the safety space while the train sped over the river.

To us, anything wider than then ten or fifteen feet was a river. And from this height our imaginations could see the potential of mangled bodies if we dared jump from the rails. We were sure there were rocks below the surface, just as we read about the bottom of Niagara Falls.

We imagined ourselves bold as Jungle Jim.

If he could wrestle gorillas from the stories we heard on the radio, or seen in movie houses, what was a little danger from a pile of steel? After all, we were in the prime of our lives, quick and eager, feet straddled with boldness and hearts that could surely outrace any steam engine, should the need arise.

Crossing the trestle was not an easy lope, nor a time to look about at the scenery on such a beautiful summer day. School was out; life was good and my friends galloping ahead, fists and arms pumping wildly. But there were several complications. I became fearful from my mistake in looking between the tiles as I anxiously began my walk at the edge of the trestle. It was surely a mile straight down from this observation post.

And I closed my eyes with dread, slowly counting to ten, praying for strength.

Suddenly I realized my friends for life were yelling, “Come Onnnnn!!” as they were halfway across the foreboding monument of wood, spaces and height. And so I put gas to my spirit and began to step with determination one tile at a time, refusing to accept the notion water was far below.

I rationalized, even though it was shown I had the thinnest shoulders among our group, I was still large enough to prevent falling through this fence of wood like a mere mouse.

I advanced more quickly as I could see them reach the other side, and guaranteed safety. My feet seemed to move in a rhythm as the “Clack-Clack” sound of steel rails moving in unison from heavy bearing of a large weight with boxcars full of furniture and equipment.

Except those “Clack-Clacking” noises were not from my library of imagination. They were real!

It was not necessary to check my cheek against the cold rail listening for any movement in my direction. Noticing the open mouths of my friends, terror speared me as I could see the snaking of foreboding smoke identifying the huge engine. With additional horror I could see in the shortening distance a black beast coming towards me.

It was as if the nasty devil incarnate discovered there were un-confessed sins during my last visit to the priest’s confessional box.

I quickly glanced in all directions. What to do? Looking over the edge of trestle, the river seemed impossibly far below. Besides, I suddenly remembered, I couldn’t swim. Surely the center of river was deep as the Atlantic Ocean, which was a recollected body of water read about in grade six Geography class.

It seemed impossible to race ahead of the train’s advance on my position, as I suddenly realized the jutting safety ledge was behind me. Now my adrenalin kicked in and what seemed like six legs pumped faster than an Olympic runner. Above the noise of the hooting engine, my friends’ screams spurred me to abandon the reality of space between each tile under my feet.

Somehow I didn’t trip or sprain my foot. Perhaps the speed I was using allowed me to fly over the tiles in a sort of jet stream movement.

Thankfully I was able to grasp the furthest rail, almost knocking it loose, as I heaved in deeply, air anxious to prevent me from fainting and perhaps falling as a rag doll into the water below. The engineer seeing I was okay and obviously anxious to meet his deadline simply sent me a loud blast of noise that threatened to rip off my right ear.

Just then, I pissed my pants.

Oh, the shame of it. During my fearful embrace with the lifesaving two by four railing, I had simply let go. In my desperate situation at the time there was no opportunity to even think about holding out. Now my whole front was on display for the whole world to notice.

Shakily I strode with jerky strides towards my friends who reached me, amazed I was able to stand.

“Wow! What a run!” Herve yelled in my good ear. The other was still deafened by the piercing train’s horn. “Yaaah!!” the others agreed. They were real pals though when they didn’t even mention my accident instead glad I didn’t abandon all reason and simply jump into the river.

They steadied me as we made our way to our destination’s side, sliding down to the river’s edge where we had a delightful swim. Everyone jumped in fully clothed so I now longer stood out as the ‘piss-pants’ kid.

I reasoned at the time, standing shoulder to shoulder with laughing, splashing friends, I would no longer linger nor be afraid to cross the trestle. And in my recollecting I can still see my friends. Herve, the usual shy one, Don the daredevil, Lee of course now throwing mud balls, and Butchie the youngest; his sister later became a nurse.

An interesting jog of thought carries me back to the sequel of that moment. Although we continued our fun times together hiking in the woods, we never again crossed that wooden trestle.

* * *

© Richard L. Provencher 2004

Richard & Esther Provencher invite you to read their first of three novels ‘FOOTPRINTS” now available from www.synergebooks.com. “Someone’s Son” and “Into The Fire” will also be available soon by the same company. These books were written during the first several years while Richard was recovering from his stroke, which felled him in 1999. He is still recovering. The link to “FOOTPRINTS” is as follows: http://www.synergebooks.com/ebook_footprints.html