Growing up on the north side

Over the years, the north side has gotten a bad rap and been the butt of many jokes. Some say it is the wrong side of the tracks or that it is the ghetto of Lethbridge. It also smells.

But, as with many things, one bad apple spoils the bunch. The north side of the city really is not as bad as people make it out to be. How do I know? I spent about 22 years of my life living there and have fond memories of that time. So, gather around, children, and I’ll tell you a little bit about growing up on the north side.

You’re not helping, Cartman!

I grew up in the St. Edwards neighbourhood, which was the Uplands of its day in the early 70s. My dad, along with the help of my grandfathers, built the house I grew up in. As it was being built, my older brother (who was just a young boy at the time) would play in the playground behind our house, and grassland  was all that you could see north of it.

During my elementary school years, I would play with the boys who lived in the house across the street. Their dad owned a tree trimming business (which he still runs to this day), and I remember that their porch lights were never on for Halloween. We would ride our bikes on their driveway or jump on the trampoline in their back yard, but once the street lights came on, I had go inside.

I walked to school since it was only a few blocks away. Sometimes I would walk with my friend, Michele, who lived on the next street over. I remember singing Deep, Deep Trouble from The Simpsons Sing the Blues album a lot during these walks — I usually overtook the singing because I knew all the lyrics by heart and probably wanted to show off. We would meet up with Cordell and Sally at the corner of St. Basil and 13th Avenue and walk the rest of the way together, but split up once we hit the school grounds.

I liked to go on long bike rides to the various corners of the north side. I’d plan my routes using a LA Transit bus map we had laying around the house. I would visit school playgrounds and parks that I had never been to before, or I would look up a friend’s address using the telephone book and plan my route that way. On Sunday evenings in the summer, my parents and I would ride our bikes on the old bike path that started at the corner of Stafford Drive and 26th Avenue, headed east towards the industrial park, south along 28th Street, and then west on 5th Avenue until we hit 23rd Street. Once we entered the residential area north of 5th Avenue, we’d try to “get lost”, which meant I would try to navigate us through a bunch of right and left turns while knowing full well we were heading in the correct direction back home — I still enjoyed the idea of it.

But a lot of my childhood was spent in that very same park my brother played in during the construction of our house. It looks a lot different than it did when I young, but when I visit it now either alone or with my daughter, I feel a comforting sense of home. I used to climb the trees at the north end of the sandbox (which I apparently never told my mother about until recently), and remember tearing a hole in a pair of jeans when I snagged a branch on the way down. If I saw other kids playing in the park from our kitchen window, I would quickly get dressed and rush out to see if I could be included in the fun. My favourite thing was going on the swings and trying to swing high enough to kick the leaves on the nearby tree. I really had to stretch my leg out when I neared the top, but I’m pretty sure I touched them a few times.

I will admit one thing, though. The north side does smell — occasionally! The origin of the smell is often debated, but growing up I was told it was from the distilleries in the industrial park being cleaned, so I just went with that and avoided being outside when the smell was particularly strong. If you’ve heard something different, or you know for certain the exact origin of the smell, inquiring minds would like to know.

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A ride to remember (cont’d)

(Part 1)

Just as I was calculating the amount of trouble I would be in for trespassing, I heard a man’s voice call the dog’s name. Years and several repressed memories later, I cannot remember what the dog’s name was, but it immediately ceased it’s snarly stare down and retreated to the man’s side. My heart finally stopped trying to escape my body through my throat, and we slowly approached the man. We told him what had happened, and he led us inside so we could use a phone. I called my mother to come pick us up while the man told Christina the dog’s name as she hesitantly petted it. My mother arrived 10 minutes later, loaded both of our bikes into the trunk, and we drove Christina home. It was definitely one of the scary moments of my life, and it sure made for a memorable bike ride.

(Weekly Writing Challenge: Cliffhanger!)

A ride to remember

As a kid growing up on the north side, I loved going on bike rides so I could explore every nook and cranny. It felt like there was no limit as to where my bike could take me, and as long as I was home by curfew, my folks didn’t seem to care where I ended up.

One fall evening after supper, I met up with my friend, Christina, and we decided to take our bikes down into the coulees. We began our ride from the red-shale bike path that used to be at the end of Stafford Drive North. From there, we took the gravel road that lead to the entrance of Peenaquim Park, past the tall, buzzing power lines, and pedaled down the roadway into the coulee. The steep slope forced us to ride our brakes most of the way. We also had to be mindful of other cars since there wasn’t a bike path at the time. The best part of our descent was when you had a straight stretch of road you could coast down until you were forced to brake for another curve.

It took some time, but we finally made it to the bottom. Suddenly, it was as though the skies had opened up, and instead of seeing coulee hills to our immediate left and right, we saw large fields of prairie grass stretch out in front of us. The road stretched out even further, disappearing into a fine line in the distance with the high level bridge as it’s backdrop. Crickets chirped in the grass around us, and a soft breeze grazed our faces. We continued on at a slower pace, taking in the scenery as we pedaled along.

The paved portion of the road ended just after we passed the shooting range and softball fields. We were feeling adventurous, so we decided to keep going. Suddenly, the air began to sour with the smell of sewage. That’s when I realized that the plant up ahead was the sewage treatment plant. We continued until we reached a fork in the road, where if we went to the right, we would end up inside the chain-link fence of the plant, or to the left where we would start heading up the coulee again. By this time, it was getting dark, so we decided to go left and head back up the coulee. But just as we started to make it up the steep incline, the chain on Christina’s bike fell off. She said it had been happening a lot recently, but she thought she had finally fixed it. She got off her bike, put down the kickstand, and tried to put it back on in the quickly fading light. Unfortunately, she just couldn’t get it back on. The thought of walking up the hill in the dark did not appeal to us at all for the fear of the snakes in the grass around us, so we decided to walk our bikes to the plant to see if we could use their phone.

We parked our bikes in front of the main door to the plant and tested the door, which opened without a problem. We were worried that it might have been locked. We slowly made our way inside. We could hear the whirring of machines and smell the ever-present odour of sewage, but saw no one. As we cautiously made our way further into the hallways of the plant, I called out ‘Hello?’ a few times, hoping that whoever was in the plant that night would hear us. We made our way past another hallway and continued on. The one hallway we were in led to a door that had was propped open, leading outside to service trucks in a fenced-in parking lot. I didn’t think we would find anyone outside, so I turned around with Christina following close behind me.

Suddenly, I heard the clicking of paws on the hallway floor, the jingle of a dog chain, and the deafening sound of barking echoing off the walls. My eyes widened in horror as I saw an angry rottweiler start to chase after us. We both screamed in horror, quickly turned in the other direction, and ran outside again. We were in the open air, surrounded by the service trucks, forced back further and further out of fear as the plant’s guard dog continued to ferociously bark at us. I can remember yelping and crying out in fear, but I cannot remember what Christina was doing since my brain was running a mile a minute. My eyes darted from the door to the plant, the barking guard dog, the service trucks, the flood lights, the coulees, and back again. My legs trembled, and I cried out for help. I feared that we were stuck this way until morning.

To be continued…

(Weekly Writing Challenge: Cliffhanger!)