Friday, 9 July 2010

OUT AFTER CURFEW

Every once in a while, municipalities consider reinstating a curfew on children out on the streets after a certain time in the evening. It usually happens after citizens become fed up with vandalism and other crimes committed by a small-but-persistent minority of teens.

Fort Saskatchewan, my home town when I was a child, imposed a curfew back in the early sixties on all children under sixteen years old after 9:00 P.M. The air raid siren sounded each evening for about ten seconds as a warning to any youth who wasn't at home yet.

After Mom had her cataract operation, some of her friends treated her and Dad to a "welcome home" party one evening at the Fort Hotel bar. My sister Diane, my brother Roy, and I were left to wait behind the hotel in the car since children weren't allowed inside. "Don't let Roy play with the emergency brake again," Mom admonished Diane and I before she closed the car door and walked with Dad into the hotel. When we were left in the car alone behind the beer parlour one afternoon, Roy released the break and the robin's egg blue Volkswagen rolled backwards into a low fence.

The air raid siren went off as usual at nine. My frustration grew as I could hear the music drifting out from the bar and the sound of people celebrating. I felt tempted to go inside and ask that we be taken home but I was afraid of getting yelled at or spanked again. I knew better than to get Dad angry when he was drinking so I tried to pass the time as best as I could.

As that warm summer evening wore on, Diane and Roy drifted off to sleep. Dad eventually staggered through the back door of the bar and flopped down behind the steering wheel, waiting for Mom to finish socializing. Soon he too dozed and wouldn't wake up when I repeatedly shook his shoulder.

I ran out of patience with all this seemingly endless waiting and left the car in a huff. "What are you doing out so late?" , a middle-aged bar patron in the hotel front doorway demanded, "Don't you know that kids aren't allowed out after curfew?"

"I'm going home," I declared, "My dad won't wake up and drive us."
"You better come with me," the man said, "You know the curfew is at nine o'clock and it's almost midnight now."

"It's okay, I can walk home by myself," I shot back.

He impatiently grabbed my arm and hauled me into the hotel. After phoning the police, he walked me back to Dad's car and told me to wait inside.

An officer shone his flashlight in the car at the faces of my deeply slumbering brother and sister, then he and another officer pulled Dad out from the front seat. The sound of his shoes dragging through the gravel seemed loud in the silence of the night. Dad came to life, swearing and struggling as the cops restrained him. Another officer gave us and Mom a ride home in his cruiser while Dad was taken to the station.

I felt thrilled at the prospect of riding in a real police car, having never done that before. As we drove toward my home, I peppered the policeman with questions, such as how many bad guys he caught and why he wouldn't turn on the siren. I also marvelled at how big the cruiser's interior seemed compared to Dad's car. The officer left the ceiling light on for us as he drove. Roy and Diane were too exhausted to care but I was elated as I watched the passing lights of the town through the left back seat window.

Mom complained bitterly once we arrived home but I was still excited that we actually rode in a real RCMP cruiser and met the officers. I danced with glee at having such a wonderful ride. Mom carried my siblings to bed but I had a hard time drifting off to sleep.

Some days later, Mom and Dad had to go to court and my parents were fined. They didn't tell me how much they paid but Mom felt mortified by the whole situation.

My days of being a free-roaming child came to an abrupt end in September of 1964 when I was sent 500 miles away to Jericho Hill School for the Deaf and Blind in Vancouver, British Columbia. I wrote about my adventures, misadventures, and trials in a memoir called Deliverance From Jericho (Six Years in a Blind School) It's available from the InScribe Writers Group page.