My mother always wanted a boy. This was common knowledge in our family. I was the first born and thus the first disappointment. As soon as I was old enough to understand the problem I determined to remedy the matter by becoming a very thorough tomboy.
In the silent movies my mother watched as a girl, tomboys were endearing young women, saucy in their imitation maleness. I could not turn back the clock to the 1920s but I could try to fit this mold in some current fashion.
I possessed three important tomboy characteristics: Red hair, Freckles, and I was Skinny. I set about acquiring the necessary skill set: Climbing trees, Scouting skills, and Leading a Gang. A gang, you say? Yes, a gang. Aged 11 to 12, we called ourselves the Bloody Pirates Club. Influenced by Robert Louis Stevenson, I had read his Treasure Island again and again. In my own mind I *was* Jim, the boy adventurer, who traveled to Treasure Island and hung out with pirates.
Who were in my gang? Young males around my own age who lived within shouting distance in the Veteran's Land Act subdivision called Sprucedale in the city of Chatham.
We had codes and secret passwords. We could signal in semaphore (I learned that in Girl Guides) and knew how to tap out S.O.S. in Morse Code. More importantly, we had adventures.
The Thames River runs through Chatham. Most of the time it is a broad, tame muddy thing suitable for docking yachts at the bottom of Tecumseh Park. In Spring, however, the tame Thames could turn into a racing torrent, clawing at its banks and, occasionally, flooding the main street.
The Thames River was just finishing its Spring run and was still turbulent when the Bloody Pirate's Club, out for a hike, discovered a partially sunken rowboat. This boat was close enough to shore to grab, provided that a strong pirate, holding on to a river branch and supported by the rest of the piratical crew, could grasp it. We debated the problem. I was bound and determined to enter this boat and travel in it. The current was swift and strong. If the boat sunk I would not just be a pirate without a ship, I would be a drowned pirate but had to have the boat or be pirates forever landlocked.
Ronnie, who had more strength than brains, was gradually pulling the craft to shore. Being waterlogged, it was heavy. He turned it broadside to the current while trying to tug it towards us. The fierce river grabbed the boat like a dog a bone, pulled it out into itself where, unsupported by the muddy river bottom, the rowboat very promptly sank. I count that moment as a kind of fork or turning in my life. Had we succeeded I'd have been drowned. We all returned home a very sober lot of pirates.
Our next adventure, riding the farmer's plow horse, proved equally unsuccessful. We hiked through a woodlot to a field where an enormous white work horse was placidly grazing. Despite repeated efforts to lure it near enough to a fence where we could climb up and mount the beast, the horse insisted on stepping away before any of us could land on its back. Smart horse.
One last adventure of the Bloody Pirate's Club is the tale of the partially-cooked chicken. We were in another woodlot that backed up on a farmyard. A large hen had managed to work her way through the farmyard fence in search of better bugs. Bad move, Mrs. Hen, for the Bloody Pirate's Club has found you out! Intent on a chicken dinner we captured Mrs. Hen, holding her beak closed to stop the cackle. Not an easy thing to do with a large hen. We were then faced with the terrible fact that, if you wanted to eat a chicken, you first had to kill it. I was the creative genius of the group and all eyes turned on me.
Now, I had a habit of catching garter snakes and whirling them about my head to make them dizzy enough for me to examine them at my leisure. This hen had a long skinny neck and a round heavy body. Combining these facts with my knowledge of the physics of snake stunning I proceeded to whirl the unfortunate hen about my head while holding on to its neck. Mrs. Hen died dramatically.
The next problem how to cook it. We had matches, we had dry wood. None wanted to pluck or clean the hen. We set her on the fire as she was, a kind of burnt offering. After a very tentative taste of the most cooked part we buried the evidence.
The title of this discourse is "I Will Always Be a Member of the
Bloody Pirate's Club".
"Would you sign a piece of paper with that promise?," she asked. I told her I would sign it in blood if required. She said that would not be necessary. I signed the document. She kept this piece of paper. As I advanced in years she would bring it out from time to time and ask if it still applied.
© Sonia Brock 2005