Boys and A Bridge
remember, I remember
How my childhood fleeted by -
The mirth of its November
And the warmth of its July.
Winthrop M. Praed
thunderous blasts reverberate off the Detroit skyline through the
crisp November air. Passing to port. The 633-foot Canada Steamship
Lines bulk carrier Lemoyne, biggest on the Great Lakes, is butting
her way majestically upstream on the choppy, white-capped river.
her downbound and returning the signal, proudly flying her Detroit
Yacht Club colors is Mrs. Anna Thompson Dodge's Delphine. The magnificent
all-white floating palace of the widow of auto magnet Horace Dodge
sweeps in close to the Canadian shore to give the big laker plenty
pennants are snapping briskly in the snow-flurried late nor'wester.
Black smoke tumbles out of her red and black stack, rolls across
the icy water and envelops the low-profiled customs and immigration
buildings on the Walkerville and Detroit Ferry Company dock.
from the top of Peabody Bridge, four pairs of boy's eyes follow
the steam yacht's progress downstream.
watch the rollers from the Delphine splashing against the rickety
piers of Beard's Boathouse west of the ferry dock. The rowboats
rise and fall, tipping crazily, tugging at their hawser lines and
bashing against the spiles as the waves slosh under them.
flying a Red Ensign on her bow," says the skinny dark-haired kid.
"Must be going to Toronto."
Montreal," puts in his chubby friend.
boys are sitting on the rivet-covered grey metal wall on the north
side of the bridge, oblivious to the ear-piercing squeals of the
steel wheels of the east bound S.W. and A streetcar executing the
sharp curve at the top of the bridge just a few feet behind them.
corduroy trousers insulate the boys' butts from the cold of the
steel wall. Rough woollen jackets (with snaps instead of buttons)
fend off November blasts. The kid with the big nose fastens his
aviator cap under his chin. It will keep his ears warm on this late
fall Saturday afternoon of 1934.
with river, the boys swing their legs over the wall and face the
Walker Power Building. While three of them are wearing boots, one
retains his annual pair of Sisman scampers from the summer holidays.
Going barefoot most of the summer, he has kept them in good shape.
red-headed boy jumps downs onto the streetcar tracks. A heavy grey
woollen sock sags to his ankle. He yanks it back up just under the
knee and pulls it over the buttoned bottom of his navy blue course
clip-clop of a horse's hooves on pavement and the rumbling of solid
rubber wheels attracts their attention. Head lowered, snorting warm
steam onto his frosted velvet snout, a weary roan comes labouring
up the bridge, pulling a tall and narrow brown wooden wagon.
driver sits on a worn black leather seat, over which the curved
roof of the wagon extends to protect him from the elements. His
wicker basket rests on the seat beside him.
boys gaze impassively at the black letters reading "Soble Tea and
Coffee" on the side of the wagon.
Old Lady buys from them," says the chubby one.
other boys hop down from the wall. They look to the east where the
streetcar has now stopped to drop a passenger in front of the tall
craneway of Ford's Plant #1 on the north side of Sandwich Street
near Drouillard Road.
sudden rush of a gaggle of boys across the bridge roadway, over
a second steel wall and down a sidewalk to the foot of Victoria
Road (Susan Avenue to very old-timers, the Chilver Road of the future).
impulsive challenge to walk across the concrete railing between
the sidewalk of the bridge and the tracks of the Canadian National
Railways 30 feet below. Boys with arms outstretched, airplane style.
Wobbling precariously high above the cold steel of the tracks. Gusts
of wind rumpling their chunky hair.
safety of the far bank approaches slowly - ever so slowly.
thumps. On the sidewalk at the foot of Devonshire Road. Safe for
another day. Until the next challenge of boyhood is accepted.
boys hang around the traffic gates operated by the corpulent Mr.
Jones from his perch, a grey wooden gatehouse stuck on four steel
posts 15 feet above the tracks.
railroader hoists one of the greasy wooden windows of his oversized
birdhouse, sticks his head and sings one stanza of his ribald version
of "It's a Long Way to Tickle Mary", bringing appropriate replies
from the boys.
chubby kid leans against one of the gateposts, which is still lettered
"G.T.R.R." (for Grand Trunk Railroad, which owned these tracks before
selling to the CNR in 1923).
boys remember their wagon at the top of the bridge. There is a mad
dash for possession and the right to "ride down" first.
howling mob rolls downward (three on the wagon and one "outrider"
pounding along behind) around the blind corner at the foot of Victoria
Road and out onto Sandwich Street (Riverside Dr.). Narrowly missing
two outraged ladies who give them a "Well, I neverņ" purse of the
lips as the wagon roars past.
comes early on a November afternoon. The streetlights come on. The
boys go their separate ways. The skinny dark-haired kid adjusts
his red earmuffs and pulls his wagon wearily over the bridge, heading
east towards his mother's boarding house, located at 111 Sandwich
Street. She rents the 10-room brick home from Hiram Walker and Sons
Limited for $25 per month.
streetlights blink three times. Walkerville Chief Constable James
Smith wants the town police cruiser to report back to the station
in the coach house at Willistead Park.
is after dark now. And the town has a curfew. "Maybe they've seen
me," thinks the skinny dark-haired kid. And he hurries homeward.