Memoirs – A Best Friend (1983)

Several times a day a train rumbles along the tracks that cross our street—Eureka Street—just a few houses up from our home at number thirty-eight. It is a passenger train, one made up of a long string of double-decker cars. In the morning it shuttles commuters from Markham and Unionville into downtown Toronto and in the evening it brings them home again. In the morning it drives with the engine at the front; in the evening the engine is at the back, pushing from behind. Occasionally a freight train comes through at night. Though visitors to our home insist it wakes them up and sounds as if a locomotive is driving right through the yard, I have long since grown accustomed to it and barely notice it anymore.

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Beside the track is an old freight yard or something—I never really learn what it is. Giant oil tanks stand behind a beat-up old chain link fence. My friends and I have little trouble passing through the fence and there we find huge puddles, ponds almost, filled with frogs and tadpoles. We collect as many as we can and bring them home in pails, watching them sprout legs and eventually hop away. One day the old man next door, the grandfather to one of my friends, tells us that the puddles are filled with lime and that if we ever step in them we’ll need to have our legs cut off. We never go back there again and eventually the old tanks are torn down and carted away.

I find a way of making a little bit of money from the train. I get it in my head one day to put a quarter on the track and to let the train run over it. Sure enough the train’s wheels pass over that coin and leave it smashed flat. I take it to school and the kids are jealous. I tell them that I can do the same for them, but it will cost them. The next day I am back with a whole row of coins, but I’ve charged each of those kids for the privilege of having their coins pounded beneath the train. I’m seven years old and a budding entrepreneur. I use my windfall to buy gum, baseball cards and little styrofoam airplanes. I feel rich.

One day I am biking down the road and have to stop at the crossing as a train goes by. Another boy who looks about my age stops his bike beside me. I vaguely recognize his face, but cannot place him. He looks at me; I look at him. “Got a staring problem?” I jeer at him. He insists he doesn’t and we begin to talk. I soon recognize him from a local camp I went to. His name is Paul. He gives me his address and telephone number and I run home and write them down. A few days later I go to his house, which is only a short distance away, and a friendship is born. Though we do not go to the same school or the same church, Paul and I become the best of friends. At my wedding some fourteen years later, he serves as my best man. There is never any question.

Paul and I have the kind of friendship every boy should experience. Though we are very different in many ways, we have so many of the same interests. He and I both love anything that involves soldiers and guns and destruction. We pretend endlessly that we are soldiers, creeping through my big backyard with guns at the ready, taking fake potshots with fake guns at the real planes that fly over on their way to the nearby airport; we play baseball in the court outside his house, using tennis equipment to make the ball go further and tearing up his lawn as we slide hard into home plate; we build whole worlds out of Lego. We play mostly at his house because where I have three noisy younger sisters, he has only one quiet older brother. It’s an easy decision and we try as often as we can to get away from the little girls. I learn to love his family and they come to love me, referring to me affectionately as their “third son.”

Paul is a good friend, and a best friend, though eventually life begins to take us in different directions. I marry and become preoccupied with my family; Paul moves far away to Thunder Bay and begins life anew in the north. Though we see each other only rarely today, when we do meet up we never lack for things to talk about. There are just so many memories to recall and to relive together. I pray that my son is so blessed as to someday have a friend like Paul.

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