Friday, September 9, 2016

A sweet romance in the summer of '61

When I was telling you about William leaving home to go to university, it made me think about my own experience leaving home.

The summer before I left for Montreal was the last full summer I lived at my parents' house in Chatham, NB. I had decided to go into nursing and I knew that my life was changing course and there would be no turning back. I would be leaving early in September.

My boyfriend that summer was someone I had known for years but had never thought of in a romantic way. My mother had known him since he was a small boy. She was never able to become comfortable with the eccentric young man he had become.

When we started to "go around" together I, unlike my mother, enjoyed the person he had become. It's fair to say that he was not like anyone else in our small town; he had no desire to be and although he was not oblivious to what people thought of him, he didn't care. He was tall and skinny and wore thick glasses. He was very smart and more than capable of carrying on an intelligent and informed conversation but mostly, he didn't see the point.

He had a few friends whose interests were not unlike his. They engaged in intellectual pursuits — they read, played chess, invented things.

Today, they'd be called nerds or geeks. Or both.

We were the same age — 18 — but I had graduated a year before him because I had skipped grade two. We went to his graduation prom together. I wore a new prom dress although I didn't try to outshine the graduating girls. He wore a dark suit with a white shirt and tie and looked quite lovely. We had a sweet and memorable evening together and after that, we were pretty much inseparable as the summer days — and nights — wore on.

He wasn't interested in talking to many people but he talked to me. He also wrote — poetry and songs and stories. He was enigmatic — genuinely so. He wasn't faking. It wasn't always easy to know what he was talking about but it was an interesting challenge to listen to him or to read his latest work.

We spent hours together every day, taking long walks, sitting on the beach, reading, swimming. Often in the early evening, we'd go down and board the ferry that crossed the Miramichi from Chatham to Ferry Road.

(Photo courtesy of Our Miramichi Heritage Facebook group)

We would climb up to the upper deck and settle in next to the bridge. The Captain never seemed to mind because we'd often sit there for a few hours, several trips back and forth, enjoying the weather, each other's company, the legendary River.

Fred (Coonie) Smith, a well-known fellow in Chatham, had opened a burger joint/diner on Water St. at the bottom of King St. We often went there when we got off the ferry and sat at the counter. Fred was always glad to see us and we had some great conversations. He loved to talk and tell stories and he couldn't have found a better audience than we were.

We would walk home slowly after our visit with Fred and we would part company reluctantly.

Many times after we'd said our loving good-nights, I'd be lying in my bed and I'd hear the sweet sounds of his ukulele as he serenaded me under my bedroom window. He would sing his own songs, not always comprehensible, but I always loved them. I think — I hope — my mother was usually asleep when this happened. I would get up very quietly, sneak past their door and out through the kitchen and the back door and I'd meet him under my bedroom window.

One horrible night, I went out to meet him and it was cool and rainy so we came into the house. We went as quiet as two mice into the living room and settled happily on to the couch for a little more time together. At 4:30 in the morning, the phone rang loud and shrill in the quiet middle-of-the-night house. Mum answered; it was his mother who had got up in the night and discovered that he wasn't there. No, he wasn't. He was sound asleep on our couch with his arms innocently around me. I was also asleep, of course.

I guess I could say it hit the fan that night. I resented it — I think I still resent it — because it was such a beautiful and wholly innocent relationship and the parental reaction to it took some of the pure glow away from us. They were so angry they tried to forbid us from seeing each other — as if we were 12 — but we stood our ground and we remained two-against-the-cruel-world even though our time was running out.

The day I was leaving for Montreal, he wanted to come to the station and I insisted that he should against my mother's wishes. We sat sadly in the back seat of the car, holding hands, at a loss for words.

When we reached the station and were on the platform, he said he had to run an errand and he'd be right back. Now the Newcastle train station is on a street that runs across the top of the town — it's not really near to any shops. But those long legs were put to good use and he was back shortly before I was to board. He had picked up a magazine for me, said he knew I liked to have plenty to read when I travelled.

After I kissed my parents, he held me and whispered sweet nothings in my ear and told me how much he was going to miss me. I couldn't speak and I simply turned and boarded the train.

When we were about half-way to Bathurst, I pulled out the magazine he'd bought and began to leaf through it. I came across a small scrap of paper that said "I love you." As I flipped through the pages, I found more and more little notes. All of them said, "I love you." I was so sad.

Of course we kept in touch — he even came to Montreal and visited me in my residence — but our lives were very different. He went to university, I was living with a lot of pressure and I think, in the end, we just grew apart. His own life took some bizarre turns, at one point bordering on the tragic. Our paths crossed years later and he was still enigmatic and was living outside the strict rules of society but I think it was working for him.

Wherever he is, I hope if he ever thinks of the summer of 1961, it makes him smile and just for a few minutes, remember what it felt like to ride that ferry back and forth across the Miramichi on a soft summer evening.


  1. A really touching memory, Sharon. It stopped me in my tracks for several deep moments. Thanks so much....(Robert Ross)

  2. I remember this boy and this romance Sharon ... You have described him so well , I couldn`t miss .. We were friends of his but we too found him a bit different ( probably because he didn`t play sports ) but he was never rejected - "a good lad " , in other words ..