Hello readers of April Tells All…
My name is Paul, I’m April’s Dad and I’m filling in for her today. She’s fine, neither sick nor dead, just taking a break.
Early last night I was out picking apples from a couple of trees on my property and I was reminded of a time years ago that I thought I’d share with you today.
I grew up in the city of London, down in south western Ontario, back in the 1960’s and ’70’s. The part of town that I called home was Old South London, near the now trendy “Wortley Village” if that rings a bell in anyone’s mind.
Near my parents home was an area that us kids referred to as “The Path Near Rollie’s Hill”, to distinguish it from 2 other nearby paths. Green Spaces, as they’d call them now. I hate that term. It sounds so antiseptic. These places were more than green spaces. They had mature trees to climb, build forts in, a place where kids could be kids out of the watchful eyes of parents. Rollie’s Hill AKA “The Hill”, was at the end of someone’s large backyard and it happened to be the largest hill in our part of town. Not coincidentally it also just happened to be THE winter tobogganing spot that all the kids in Old South frequented. Because it was on private property, if it still existed today it would be off limits I’m sure. But we’re talking about a simpler, kinder time where adults understood that kids needed to be kids, private property or not, the cops were never called and there was no vandalism to the property. It was a time where if you broke an arm sliding down someone’s hill, you just went to the doctor and got a cast. The End. This was before words like Liabilities and Lawsuits sent a chill up home owners spines.
“The Path” was a tract of vacant land running east to west, about 1/2 a mile long and a couple hundred yards wide that ran from Wortley Rd on the east, to Cathcart St on the west. Bordered by Commissioner’s Rd on the south and Baseline Rd to the north. The east end of The Path started at the parking lot of Wortley Rd Baptist Church and ended about a half mile away at a swampy area at the base of Rollies hill. While there were luxury homes along both Commish & Baseline Rds, the backyards ended far from each other leaving this wide swath of land that was a great play area for the kids in the neighbourhood. Tall grass, scrub brush, and mature forest were all found along The Path. The illicit cigarettes that were smoked, and booze snuck out of parents homes, drunk by their under age kids around summer camp-fires at night back in the trees along The Path, was legendary. This was a place where the girls met the boys and although we didn’t realize it at the time, lifelong memories were forged.
It was also home to the Massive Spider Event of 1973. That was when The 2nd Biggest Spider I Ever Saw In My Life ended up on the back of my friend Vince. This happened after he wiped out on his bike at the base of The Hill – in the much dreaded swamp – and crashed through a spider web so thick it could block out the sun. We had just previously tossed a grasshopper into this web and watched the spider sink it’s fangs into it and wrap it up very tight and very quick in a cocoon so thick we could no longer actually see the grasshopper. Before heading for home, Vince, much braver (foolish?) than I, decided he wanted to ride his bike down Rollie’s Hill. It was a long, very steep hill, and since I’m Chicken Little…or was…(I’ve since expanded to Chicken XXXL)… I decided not to join him in what seemed like sure suicide. (Remember folks, this was the era of Evil Knievel and all his motorcycle jumps. Boys everywhere were mimicking him as best they could) The fact that Vince probably, almost, nearly died…but didn’t…and lived to tell the tale is owed solely to me. As he crashed into the swamp, he went right through that huge spider web before coming to a stop on his face and belly and the spider ended up alive and more than a little peeved…on Vince’s back. Risking my own life & limb, I bravely swiped the aforementioned HUGE spider off his back with a bulrush. Hey…that’s what friends do. I had his back. He had the heebee jeebies after he felt the weight come off his back and once again saw the size of this prehistoric beast, THAT HAD ACTUALLY BEEN CRAWLING ON HIM but hey…thanks to me he lived to father the next generation in his line.
Anyway… this path was home to two remarkable things other than the Massive Spider of ’73.
1) there was an old, abandoned apple orchard along the path, next to the Baptist Church parking lot and…
2) there was an extremely large black raspberry patch, back in there, nestled amongst a stand of pines. I once spent an afternoon picking a 5 lb, peanut butter pail filled with berries for my mother from this patch as well as fill my belly as I picked. Surprisingly, she wasn’t overly impressed as this meant she had to actually DO SOMETHING with this Berry Bonanza. In later years when I wised up, I just ATE my fill of berries a couple times and never mentioned/tortured myself or her with the PICKING of so many berries for my family ever again. We were mostly all happy about this.
But as I mentioned earlier, this trip down memory lane was really about the apples.
Several times over the years, in the fall, I took my London Free Press paperboy delivery bag with me to The Path Near Rollie’s Hill to pick apples from the aforementioned forgotten orchard and took them home to my mother and sister. My sister was by far the better pie maker. I can say this with wild abandon because my mother doesn’t have a computer and will never read this. (Remember, I mentioned I’m part chicken, not part stupid). My dad called them Pioneer Apples because they were apples the way God gave them to us, just like he did the pioneers. Growing wild, in tall grass complete with weeds and of course, no insecticides. They had worms and spots on them which meant a bit more work in prepping them for pies, crisps & apple sauce, but they were tart and best of all…they were free.
Fast forward 4 decades.
In January of 2012, at 86, my poor old dad died, and I moved back to London for about 15 months to settle the estate and look after/transition my elderly mother into a retirement home. Nostalgia swept over me many times while I was back in the city seeing all the old places where as a kid I hung out with my friends. Out of the 3 local “Paths” near my parents old home, only 1 survives. It was taken over by the city and officially turned into a park in the 1980’s, complete with playground equipment and benches, which means it’s basically ruined from it’s original form. The other 2, including The Path Near Rollie’s Hill has long since fallen to property developers. But as I drove by the old Wortley Rd Baptist Church, which has changed denominations over the years, seeing the church parking lot triggered many thoughts of times and events with friends long gone, including the things we did, forts we made above and below, (yes really!) ground level with scavenged wood in locations in the woods known only by us, along the path. The Path Near Rollie’s Hill is now an abomination of brick, concrete, asphalt and street lights. It’s former glory now just a memory in the minds of my generation, lost to those who came after us. They’ll never know of the old apple orchard or massive black raspberry patch, or the secret summer bonfires amongst the Sumacs & Pines, or the hordes of kids who descended on Rollie’s Hill for great tobogganing every winter for decades. Or the Big Spider Event of 1973, where Vince probably….almost…. nearly….died…but didn’t.
They’ll never know of the free place in the heart of a large city where memories to last a lifetime were made.
I’m now long since retired, living a quiet life along Lake Ontario’s shoreline, near Cobourg, far from my old haunts in London.
With 2 unsprayed apple trees of my own.
As I sit alone tonight listening to 1960’s & 70’s classics over the internet on Hippie Soul Radio, smelling my own Pioneer Apples baking in the oven, I am deeply moved by the experiences of life. The contrast of truly great memories of times, people, and places offset by the brevity of life and sadness of days now lost, brings a deep feeling of melancholy. Memories of my dad who coined the term “Pioneer Apples”, now gone from this world; friends & events scattered to the wind, never to be seen or heard from again.
To the younger folks reading this, I would encourage you to make as many good memories as possible. Life goes by awfully fast. You will be saddest about opportunities missed, sitting on the sidelines out of fear/shyness when you should have taken a chance, ventured out on the proverbial limb, and lived life to the fullest. The autumn of life comes quicker than you realize and truly wonderful memories seem to be made in the earlier days, not the latter stages of life.
In your own fall stage of life you sure won’t be sorry you didn’t spend more time in the drudgery of life making wealth for someone else.
Live Love Laugh while you can.
Now, go do what brings you joy, truly love a loved one and count your blessings.
Thanks for reading and bye for now.
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