Saturday, 9 July 2016


Blood, Sacrifice and Child’s Play

The north side of our house is about five feet from the vertical property line, maybe 10 feet from the south side of our neighbour’s house. Because of the lilacs, groundcover and the fencing, the area is more of a passage than a feature. There’s a track of mostly evenly spaced cement patio tiles through the undergrowth and shadow. You pass two window wells, a pyramid of unused interlocking decorative stone, a pile of wood, an upturned wheelbarrow with a soft tire, an opened bag of peat moss and a homemade Red River cart with bicycle wheels that was painted blue a long time ago.

About three years ago while raking out and bagging the winterkill I came across seven or ten toy soldiers lying in the soil against the foundation. I guessed they’d been there twenty years or more. There were sharpshooters and machine gunners, some were green and some were grey but they’d all been churned out of the same moulds. I set them up again – as I do every spring now since my discovery – the grey ones as Nazis charging uphill into a cross-fire.

Ann and I go to the modern five-and-dime, our strip mall loonie store, frequently for suet slabs for our bird feeders and dangle alone bird feeders. On the toy aisle there are always bags of plastic soldiers displayed, suspended from a rod. I always pause because they’re a close match to the men alongside our house. Ann always says, ‘You want a bag, don’t you?’

I took my First Communion in 1967, grade one. The rite must’ve taken place on a Saturday because afterward Dad took me to our town’s hobby shop and bought me a Tiger tank. There was a large peony in our backyard that had its own circular bed. Wesley the cat used to lie underneath it on hot, humid Montreal summer days. It was also a military staging area for Airfix soldiers of various scales and nationalities; some I’d painted, some I hadn’t. Some were cut down by nails fired from a die cast metal, spring loaded artillery piece.

I had a green plastic army helmet with a black elastic chinstrap, a black plastic Tommy gun, a green plastic Colt .45 and a canteen. Mom’s coffee table silver cylindrical cigarette lighter worked well as a hand grenade. Total warfare in the backyard was impossible because the lawn sprinkler couldn’t possibly float my grey plastic destroyer which launched depth charges (wooden dowels) from its stern. However, enemy aircraft could be blown out of the sky with impunity as long as I got my allowance of two bits a week.

Both the hobby shop and the stationer sold balsa wood gliders. I tended to buy Axis models, Luftwaffe ME-109s and Japanese Zeros. They cost pennies apiece. The fighters would be assembled and then launched from the back gallery, their tails already aflame thanks to Mom’s ‘guests only’ Birks cigarette lighter. What was even more spectacular was sending an enemy plane aloft with a lit ladyfinger firecracker taped to its fuselage. Pow! Smoke and smithereens!

Just prior to Canada Day (Dominion Day back when I was conducting my own world war) Ann and I were in Canadian Tire’s new-fangled Edmonton flagship store. The checkout line was a snaky queue that would expand Hydra-like before the row of cash registers. Looking around, killing time, I spotted a corrugate display of some long forgotten yet familiar yellow envelopes: Power Prop FLYING GLIDERS. I said to Ann, ‘Hang on.’

The aerial inventory had been picked through pretty thoroughly but I found a Spitfire and a Focke Wulf 190. It seemed as if I’d be able to restage the Battle of Britain in our backyard over the long weekend. My plans were stymied by the lack of quality control at the Chinese factory. My Spitfire once out of the packaging turned out to be a P-51 Mustang. My FW 190 was in fact a Spitfire. Both planes were made out of a substance akin to Styrofoam. Best not to burn that stuff anywhere and carbon emissions are a delicate subject in Alberta. Anyway, these were Allied air force planes. So, for me now, the war is over. At least until the spring thaw. Or maybe our next trip to the loonie store.

No comments:

Post a Comment