By John RC Potter
“You did so, I saw you,” I exclaimed to my friend, “I told you not to look that wingnut in the eye but you did anyway!”
“I barely looked at her,” she retorted, “but she had her eyes locked on mine!”
“That is the last time I will go out for a walk with you,” I stated, but was unable to stop myself from laughing. “You are a wingnut magnet, you know that don’t you?”
It was yet another time when my friend, Juel and I had decided to go out for a walk. In the distance we had seen a sad-looking soul, a misfit so to speak, weaving her way up the street toward us, occasionally appearing to be arguing with some invisible person to this or that side of herself or at the air above.
At the time, both Juel and I lived in the same building in the charming Old South area of London. No, not the big London, the world capital! I mean the little London in southwestern Ontario in Canada. We had similar units in the Boug Apartments, at the corner of Ridout and Carfrae. ‘The Boug’ was a distinctive structure built in the early part of the 20th century, three seemingly separate red-brick buildings connected by wide hallways. I always suspected the first building was built earliest and then the others were constructed later and connected to the original because the bricks were a slightly different mixture of red and brown. It would have been as natural in its setting if located on a back lane in Kensington in Jolly Olde London, or amidst brownstones on a street in Manhattan, although of course not as posh. The location was ideal, being on a hill above and alongside the winding Thames River, its namesake on ‘the other side of the pond;’ the apartments nestled amidst a host of well-established trees that are common in London, and the reason why it is known as ‘The Forest City.’
I had lived in two different apartments at The Boug at a couple of different times and distinct phases in my life. I had first moved there in the early 80s and was fortunate to have been able to rent one of the spacious and genteel corner units, in what appeared to be the original building. It was when living in that apartment that I befriended my neighbour across the hall, Susie, then in her 80s and a retired teacher who had never married. She liked to tell me about having survived the Spanish Influenza epidemic shortly after WWI; how she almost died from the illness but then slowly recuperated over a period of months. I adored Susie, and enjoyed our visits and conversations together. I sometimes accompanied Susie when she went out for a drive or to purchase fruit from a farmer’s market outside London. It was a rather hair-raising ride in that Buick sedan as the indefatigiable old dear manuevered her careening chariot on city streets or along country roads.
Then out of necessity I later moved, but always missed The Boug and my former apartment. Several years passed and then when a relationship ended, I was able to move back. This time I was at the rear of the building, overlooking the Thames River on one side and the parking lot behind. Juel also lived in the rear building. It was a short walk up or down to regularly visit each other. Both old souls at heart, Juel and I took great pleasure in a brief chat followed by companiable silence. I routinely read Juel’s latest copy of the TV Guide and she rearranged her eclectic hat collection or performed some other mundane task. Anyone glancing in the window when they walked by would have thought we were no different than an old married couple.
In the good weather Juel and I would often go for walks in Old South, viewing and appreciating the many picturesque turn-of-the-century homes. Invariably we would run into a wingnut. Although I would have warned her beforehand, Juel was unable to resist the temptation and ended up looking at, and conversing with, an off-the-wall character. At some point during our strolls I would have to declare with exasperation: “You looked him/her/it in the eye, I know you did, I saw you!” Juel would then promise to avoid further eye contact with any other potential sad soul. However, she could never keep to her word. Juel was, in essence, a wingnut whisperer!
Juel and I had already been friends for years at that time in the early 90s. We had met through a mutual friend when we were in our early teens. My friend, Carol lived up the road from my family’s farm, and I was always at her home. She was a transplanted ‘townie’ whose parents had moved from the town of Clinton and built a new home on a nearby concession in the mid-60s. By now Carol was a country kid, just like me. On the other hand, Juel was a townie. In that area and at that time there was a delineation between those who were from the town, and those who were from the country, and then there was a third group from the airforce base outside Clinton. They were real outsiders, neither fish nor fowl!
I had heard from Carol about her new best friend and that we should meet because Juel was cool. Carol was one year older than me and had already finished Grade 9. It was the summer just before I was starting high school in Clinton. I was 14 and already driving the family car on back roads. This was common practice at the time for many young people, especially if from the country because they were already driving vehicles and machinery on their family’s farms. It was also not uncommon for young teens to start drinking, either when parents were away or at some campsite or club house where they would not be discovered. That sometimes led to drinking and driving underage. In retrospect, it was of course not a wise idea and could have been a recipe for disaster. Fortunately, it is no longer possible due to vigilant policing of back roads and enforcing of fines.
On that summer evening Carol and I had been nipping into the offerings at her father’s bar in the family rec room when her parents were not at home. I had driven in the family car up the road from my home to her place, a two-minute journey. After our libations, Carol and I decided to go visit Juel where she was babysitting at a neighbour’s home in town. It would be my opportunity to finally meet Carol’s friend from town, her best friend in high school.
By the time Carol and I arrived at our destination we were feeling no pain. Juel was not too pleased at the unexpected visit from the two of us, ‘under the influence’ as we were. Fortunately, the children she was babysitting were already in bed. The house was a large and well-appointed one, with a swimming pool in the backyard. Carol and I decided to go for a swim in our underclothes. As we were floating around and laughing in the pool, Juel was running along the edges hissing to us to keep down the noise, albeit all the time chuckling to herself. It was the beginning of a life-long friendship.
Like my previous neighbour at The Boug, Susie, I eventually became a teacher and my first teaching job was at a school in the nearby town of Dorchester. At one point I discovered the principal was looking for a teaching assistant. Juel had been working in the travel business for years but wanted a change. I told her about the teaching assistant vacancy. Juel applied, was interviewed, and then offered the job. It was when working at the school as a TA that Juel met my colleague, Malcolm, and they eventually ended up getting married. As Juel likes to good-naturedly quip, he is the wingnut she was glad she looked in the eye, and I am the other one, her long-time friend. Such is the nature of friendships that last across the years and over many milestones, evoking memories of a time and place and the incandescence of youth.
John RC Potter is an international educator from Canada, who lives in Istanbul. His poems and stories have been published in the following: Fiction on the Web, The Globe Review, Fragmented Voices, The Write Launch, Literary Yard, Down in the Dirt, Bosphorus Review of Books, The National Library of Poetry & Jabberwocky. Upcoming stories will be published in Plenitude Magazine, Blank Spaces, Suspended Magazine & The Stray Branch. He was a recent quarterfinalist in the ScreenCraft Short Story Competition with his entry, ‘She Got What She Deserved’. John is working on a novel-in-progress set in WWI-era Canada, ‘Blood from a Stone’. A collection of his stories is currently being considered for publication by a Canadian publisher.
A shout out to Onkar to express my heartfelt appreciation that he has published several of my CNF short stories and poems. Thanks for all your support for writers, especially new and emerging ones such as myself, it is very much appreciated! JP
The theme of childhood friendships that remain strengthened with the passage of time evoke a feeling of pleasure and enjoyment while reading this story although an awareness how vulnerable as adolescents we are to the temptations of life .
Thank you very much, beautifully expressed!
‘Wingnut Whisperer’ is the author’s generous moniker in this heart-warming memoir of a friend often referred to as the ‘lunatic magnet’ by her family members. Potter has captured the essence of this character in this sweet story.
NOTE: MY FRIEND BECKY HOWSE TRIED TO SEND THIS COMMENT BUT WAS BLOCKED AND SENT IT TO ME VIA EMAIL. JP
John Potter has admirably captured the wonder and mystery of an older sister’s first period from the perspective of a younger sibling. In the early 1960s, this momentous occasion in the life of a girl/woman was most often shrouded in secrecy, particularly from boys and men, even brothers and fathers. Remembering it as an adult in an epoch of openness and candour about natural body functions, the author beautifully captures the now adult brother’s wistful recognition of the many ways in which his childish, self-centred concentration on how his snooping would be punished caused him to miss the true import of this day.
I had never heard of the word wingnut before reading this story. However, the author has successfully defined it for me while telling of the growth and development of adolescent friendships.