When I was a kid, I belonged to a gang. We called ourselves "The James Street Boys." There was Raymond Jourdain, Terry Collins, Wayne Pushmen, Stuart Lockeyer and, of course, me, who took up the rear in case of cowardly attacks by our imaginary enemies - also, I walked slower than everyone else.
We had a couple of honorary members in our gang as well: honorary because they didn't live on James Street. Georgie lived on Gilmour Street and Kenny on Bronson Avenue.
We were tough as long as we didn't have to fight anyone.
Chests puffed out, we walked about intimidating girls and smaller kids with hard menacing stares. Putting lots of bravado in our swagger, we were impressive - at least in our eyes.
Terry Collins was the leader. Although, I was immediately cast into this role when we visited my great-grandfather's house a couple of blocks away. My Auntie Maimie would hand out cookies to each of us, and we thought it expedient to promote me to the role of leader to ensure the cookie harvest. The moment we left great-grandfather's house, however, I was quickly demoted to the back of the pack!
Had I understood then what inferiority complex meant, I might have been emotionally damaged. But I didn't, so I'm not. At least I don't think I am!
At any rate, as far as we were concerned, The James Street Boys were the heroes of 1947. Even though I was always chosen to be the German (or enemy) when we played war, I knew I was a necessary part of the gang - someone had to be shot, right?
Our archrivals were The Callahan Boys, who we called The Percy Street Gang. A whole bunch of brothers with a few friends thrown into the mix, they lived three blocks up and had a giant backyard surrounded by a high wooden fence; we’d spy on them through the knotholes or spaces between the boards only when we were positive none of them were home. Bravery wasn't one of our strong suits.
The James Street Boys gave me the honour each time of making sure the Callahans weren't home. They told me no one could check things out as well as I could. I've never figured out why the gang looked so surprised when I returned with my report. It was like they thought I might not come back at all.
The Callahans had one thing that was the envy of every kid - boy or girl - in about an eight-block radius. They had a Saint Bernard dog named Buck. According to the Callahans, if Buck ever caught us, he would eat us! Where the envy came in was in the winter. The Callahans would strap Buck to this incredible sleigh their dad had made that two kids could sit in and one kid would ride the runnels holding onto the back. It had bells and you could hear them coming a block away, which gave The James Street Boys plenty of time to hide. From behind snowbanks and bushes, we would watch them sail by - three on the sleigh and the rest of The Percy Street Gang trotting alongside.
My plan to attack them with snowballs, garnered me stares as though I'd just lost all my marbles.
But the years have now stolen those days of adventure and daring when gangs were gangs without spilling a drop of blood. Buck's gone, the Callahans scattered and The James Street Boys dispersed and are forgotten by most.
But not by me! Those were glory days, when innocence pretended to be experienced. Days of climbing roofs, raiding the Pell's plum tree and the Rowley's rhubarb patch. It was high-risk stuff, but we could handle it. We were tough. We were The James Street Boys!
AUGUST 2010 SENIOR LIVING MAGAZINE VANCOUVER & LOWER MAINLAND
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