Friends and Fortresses

Sheldon was the younger brother of the boy my Dad thought had beaten me up. Unlike his brother (whom I still feared), Sheldon was a funny, friendly, good-natured guy, who lived in the Peacock Court Motel, just next door to the Mountain View Motel. Sheldon always seemed to be smiling and happy, and he liked to laugh and make jokes. He was also a lot bigger than me, so I must admit to having felt safer when hanging out with him.

Sheldon and I enjoyed building forts in the narrow grassy field between our motels. It was a narrow overgrown lane that divided the two properties. Covered in thin grass, it had a lot of discarded appliances and furniture, all left to rot in the rain. There were little worn-down footpaths and other evidence that this common space was used by people to move between the two motels.

The land sloped up a slight grade from west to east, with the lot for Peacock Court sitting slightly higher up from Mountain View. A old, broken wooden fence and huge masses of nasty prickle bushes divided the two lots, along with a stand of beautiful old trees, which provided shade for the back bedroom windows for Peacock Court.

I cannot adequately explain why as a kid I had such an urge to find or build forts or other private spaces. I think it has a lot to do escapism or needing to control your environment. I was about 10 years old, verging on pre-teenism, so perhaps privacy or proprietorship were becoming important.

The first fort built by me and Sheldon consisted of a space in a hollow of the prickle bushes next to a wooden fence. Sheldon found a large board which he used as an interior wall to push the prickles away and make extra space. I was amazed to watch him carry this large board and shove it into place. “Man – this guy is strong!” I thought.

My sister and I met this girl named Roxanne and her little brother. We began to call her “big Roxanne”, because there was another younger and smaller girl named Roxanne who also lived in the trailer park. “Big Roxanne” had long brown wavy hair and was about my age, but taller than me. She had a friendly, even slightly flirty personality. I was really attracted to her.  My hormones were just starting to kick in for stuff like girls, so I developed a huge crush on Big Roxanne and I think she liked me too.

I remember looking around my Grade 5 class during the morning of one of the first weeks in Grade 5. I saw some of the kids from my neighbourhood: I saw Sheldon, and I saw Roxanne. It just struck me how we were all there, part of the same thing. Everyone looked pretty much the same as everyone else. I don’t think you could really tell where we lived just by looking at the kids themselves. Or maybe it just felt like in our classroom, it didn’t matter whether you lived in a trailer, a motel or a house. That kind of status wasn’t very important. We were all in the same class.

Everyone looked nice – even kind of beautiful. Especially Big Roxanne, whose wavy light brown hair glowed in the sunlight streaming down from the high classroom windows.


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The memoir and family history of E. John Love