Before I went to my first school in Hopeless – before the abuse – before Star Wars, there were three things I loved -Mighty Mouse, Dennis the Menace and Snoopy. This week I was travelling and after clearing security I roamed through the airport shops as I waited for the boarding call. There were a few books that looked interesting, including the latest Stuart Mclean collection of Vinyl Cafe stories. I was leaving the bookshop at YVR when a yellow covered kids book caught my eye. It was simply titled “SNOOPY’. I picked it up and thumbed through the collection of Snoopy strips by Charles Schulz. He died in 2000, but even though I haven’t read a Peanuts strip in years, I remembered my love of Snoopy and especially Snoopy’s fantasy character – the WWI Flying Ace. I remembered having a book as a child similar to the one I was holding in the store. I remember that book being dog-eared (excuse the pun) as I put my early reading skills to use with every panel. Snoopy’s WWI Flying Ace character was distinctive as a character as Snoopy donned a flying cap, goggles and a flying scarf – and to round out his character, his dog house became his Sopwith Camel. I stood in the shop reading some of those panels – I am sure I had read them before as an adventurous curious four-year old.
When I was four or perhaps even five, the first character I ever dressed up as for Halloween (at least that I can remember) was the Red Baron. I chose to be Snoopy’s nemesis – I had no clue about what war meant as a child – I knew my father had been a soldier in WWII but that was it. Snoopy made the conflict between him and the Red Baron fun, and I gravitated towards the fun. My mother helped me with the costume. My father was a welder so I was able to use a pair of welding goggles. A family friend named Chris gave me a leather-flying cap – a real flying cap. For some reason, either my mother or I decided I should have a moustache. Since false eyelashes were all the rage back then I had a felt black moustache applied with eyelash glue. I seem to remember that it held pretty well. The moustache curled at the ends, which was a must for portraying any bad-guy. Of course today I seem to notice an endless array of curly moustached baristas now that hipsters have adopted early 19th century facial hair fashion. On Halloween I was dressed and ready to go – there was a bonfire Halloween party at a neighbouring school complete with a costume contest. I was surly a shoe-in with my Red Baron look – and I was ready to go – flight helmet…..check……goggles….check…..felt moustache….check….an ample supply of eye-lash adhesive to keep it on…..check.
My oldest half-sister took me out to the event. It was a brisk ten-minute walk to the school grounds and when we arrived there was a plethora of children dressed in all sorts of Halloween costumes consisting of the typical fare – vampires, witches, ghosts, supermen, and me – the Red Baron. I was the slickest WWI flying Ace and bane of Snoopy’s WWI adventures. I was suave, slick and moustached. I was obviously a force to be reckoned with. I was in a serious costume. I felt good.
The bonfire seemed to be constructed and manned by teenagers. I remember it being huge – and there were metal gas cans nearby to keep the flames impressive. Two car tires and surrounding small trees and branches made up the main fuel for the flames. Black tarlike ash was breathed in by all, the scent of gasoline and burning rubber filled our lungs, black soot collecting in our nostrils as we revelled all hallows eve. Who needed parents with such great fun to be had? Eventually the costume contest was announced and I was sure to win. Another victory for Red Baron. Snoopy would be walking the long road to Tipperary for sure as I flew victory circles around him. I did win, and I was angry – very upset at my ranking in the contest. The teenage organizers had judged the costumes and while I was happy to win something, I was not happy to acknowledge the category – My win was for best comical costume. My prize was a do-it-yourself leather belt making kit. My cheeks turned red as I was pushed forward and as the crowd cheered and laughed at my costume as I collected my prize. The fumes must have made them crazy. Sad that I was not perceived as the character I thought I was I made my way home, clutching at my prize and picking at my fake moustache. It had been glued on well. My mother still tells me how upset I was when I came in the door – how dare they call my costume comical? I think I put myself to bed early that night.
It’s funny that such memories can flood back to you when you have a signifier such as that book in the airport bookstore to trigger them. I think back to that Halloween night and feel a sensation of bitter-sweetness. It really wasn’t that long ago – yet it was forever ago it happened. Time is a funny thing. It’s interesting to look back, and I know I tend to look back a lot – I cannot undo the events in my life that I wish I could. I cannot go back and change them. I can recall them and learn from them. I can cherish the several seemingly meaningless memories of my childhood and judge their importance. That Halloween was an important memory for me. It was a memory I have before the abuse – before the memories of cruelty. It is a memory of real innocence – of attachment to a character that I wanted to be when I wasn’t guarded in my actions. It is a memory of my mother helping me create my vision of a character, and going along with my plans. Sometimes I wish I could go back to those days of my childhood – certain ones, to once again feel the embrace of a parent larger than me when I was a child. To feel an all-surrounding embrace of warmth and love, and to slip away into the comfort of a parent’s hug is a feeling I cherish from my childhood. Now, at over six feet tall, I surround my children when I hug them – I am the all-encompassing feeling of warmth and love when I hold them. But, even now, when I visit my mother, and though I am taller than her, I still can feel her all encompassing love. It may not be felt from my outside in, but I feel it now from the inside out.
One last thing I would like to share – never pass up an opportunity to hug those we love. We all could use a little more touch in our lives. Perhaps the greatest thing I learned from my Disney experience is also to never be the first to break away from a hug – because you never know how long the person hugging you needs it. I happened to witness this on this most recent trip. I had entered the park and was walking along main street when I noticed the characters of Chip and Dale (the two chipmunks within the Disney Cannon) kneeling to greet a park guest who was no more than two years old. The little boy, wearing blue pants and a red shirt toddled towards Chip (Chip can be identified because he has a nose akin to a chocolate chip). Chip outstretched his arms and the boy fell into his encompassing embrace. I watched this, smiling. I presumed it would be a quick hug, but the boy just lay in Chips arms, stroking his fur costume with his tiny hands. Chip gently rocked the toddler back and forth – there was no rush – and for a moment time stood still for the two, and for me as the accidental witness to this event. The hug continued for several moments, the boy showing no signs of wanting to let go, and Chip showing no attempt to break free. It lasted for two minutes before the mother of the child summoned him away. As he left Chips arms, he began towards his mother, then turned back and went to Dale, hugging him as earnestly as he had Chip just moments before. It was a wonderful moment to witness, and those moments transcend time – for while in such warm embraces, whether it be in the arms of a park mascot, a parent, spouse or partner, the feeling of a hug is incredible. It is pure, non-sexual and healing. It brings us closer, even if only for a minute or two. Hug more, take your time and don’t rush those moments. It feels like only yesterday I was hugging my children like that – now much older, my opportunities to hold them are slipping away. I never thought they would end as they grew. I never thought they would grow. Now time is picking up it’s pace. So let’s enjoy those moments when we can stop it for a time.
Sincerely, I remain.