In 1964, we were in Miss Staniland's class at Dennis Avenue Public School when our principal (the dreaded Miss Jack) escorted a pretty little girl to the front of the room. She didn't look scared at all, which was surprising considering that every eye was glued to her. She was introduced to us as, "Patsy Leece."
Patsy was, without question, the prettiest girl in the class. The girls were envious, the little boys were intrigued.
Patsy had just moved to Toronto from London, Ontario with her mother and sister because her parents had divorced. Up until that moment, I was the only girl in the school with divorced parents. We had something in common, and immediately gravitated toward one another. (In those days, they said we were from a "broken home" and some of the kids told us their parents wouldn't allow them to play with us. Oh, my...how things have changed since then.)
Patsy and I became inseparable friends even though I was what you'd consider the class "browner" and she had much better things to do than to study.
We were the goofiest little kids you'd ever want to meet -- always up to something. If we weren't riding the TTC all the way downtown to take a tour of the new City Hall and crawl on Henry Moore's enormous statue, we were on our bikes headed to a park somewhere to sit under willow trees and enjoy the flowers. We played in bushes, followed boys who were interested in only one of us (guess which one?), and we had sleep-overs almost every week.
It seems to me that Patsy and I weren't afraid of anything. We weren't afraid to ride our bikes 30 miles from Toronto to Newmarket to visit my Grandma and Grandpa. We weren't afraid to go with her cousin Teddy on a road trip to Ottawa. We weren't afraid to hop on a Greyhound bus to travel way north in Ontario to Port Sydney to see her Grandma who lived all alone in a tiny house.
(Patsy's Grandma was the first conservationist I ever met. She'd empty out cans, remove both ends, wash them and then stomp on them to make them flat. She put vegetable matter outside in her gardens, and the burned in her wood stove anything that was flammable. She was a remarkable little old lady when I met her...and she lived to be about 100 years old.)
When I was twelve, my family moved to a suburb of Toronto. Those miles couldn't keep us apart. At that time it would take me three different buses to get to Patsy's house. (Trethewy bus to Eglinton, Eglinton bus to Guestville. Jane Street bus to Baby Point.) If I didn't travel to her place for the weekend, Patsy traveled to mine. She was my mom's other daughter.
Sometimes in the middle of the week, we'd meet halfway -- at Yorkdale -- Toronto's first big shopping mall. We'd buy helium balloons (which we named Simon and Garfunkel) and walk around the mall for a few hours until it was time for both of us to head home to bed because we had school the next day. We'd bid goodbye at the bus stop as she headed back toward Mt. Dennis and I went back home to Downsview. It was late. It was dark. And we weren't the least bit afraid.
I loved our adventures together, and I enjoy them still today as memories of what it was like to be a kid in Toronto in the 1960s. We had something that children today wouldn't even comprehend. We had freedom. We could go anyplace we wanted and do whatever was fun because the world was safe and if we crossed the line, an adult was surely going to give us heck. (In those days adults were allowed to discipline kids, even if there weren't their own.)
We knew that strangers could be dangerous and we were vigilant against shady characters. Sure, we'd meet up with them on occasion but we were smart enough to know what to do. And then we'd run away and giggle hysterically about how we'd outsmarted the bad guy.
Patsy and I laughed and plotted and had secret codes. She knew that wherever we were, we needed to find a bathroom because I had to pee. I knew that even though she'd never admit it, she was secretly in love with my brother, John. She knew I anguished over the fact that I was NEVER going to hit puberty. I knew she was going to streak her hair even though her mother had forbidden her. She knew I loved Jack King. I knew she wanted to make out with Norm Granger (because John, being my brother, was off limits).
Could life ever be that simple again?
When we were teenagers, Patsy moved back to London to live with her dad. Think that kept us apart? No way! For $14 I could go out to Toronto International Airport and hop on a plane at the "Student Rate." She and her Dad would pick me up and then I'd fly back home on Sunday. Do you think it EVER occurred to me that a fifteen year old kid can't take a bus to an airport and hop on a plane to see her friend?
Wouldn't have occurred to Patsy, either.
Eventually our lives took very different paths and we lost touch for over 30 years. Then, last year, through the miracle of the Internet I found her. And do you know what? It was as if we'd never been apart.
The conversation picked up just as if we'd been talking on the phone and one of us had said, "Oh, can you hold on a second..."
Today Patsy lives in a place so remote that you can't even find it on Google Maps. (Isn't that great?!) She writes the funniest emails, creates the most beautiful artwork, and plants gorgeous gardens that attract the critters she feeds and cares for.
She's got stories of her life's adventures that are so unbelievable that I know they've got to be true.
Pasty, I hope you'll sit down at your computer and start writing one of these days. I hope you'll write about our neighborhood in Toronto and all the fun we had when children were children and bad guys were where they belonged -- in jail. I hope you'll write about the adventures we enjoyed all by ourselves in Albion Hills, Heart Lake, High Park and at the Exhibition. I hope you'll write about going to the drive-in with your cousin to see The Graduate over and over and over again because you loved Dustin Hoffman, and making Teddy drive us through Yorkville so we could look at the hippies.
I hope you'll put it all down so people will know there was a time when little girls could ride their bikes and take buses and airplanes and go anywhere they wanted whenever the inclination struck them. There was a time when we could run and play in forests and gardens and know that if we hid our pop under a rock in the stream to keep it cold, it would still be there when we wanted it. I hope you'll remind people that there once was a time when little girls could be clever and silly and innocent and hopeful and free.
I hope you'll do it because the world has changed...even if you and I haven't. (And I'm certain we wouldn't even want to!)
Happy birthday, buddy. Now sit down and write that book.