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  • Writer's pictureTerry Groves

B.R.A.T.S. Non-Brat Friends

Most of my childhood friends were other brats. However, since I went to civilian high schools, I became exposed to a lot of others my own age who were not brats. Well, some of them were brats, but not our kind of brats. Anyway, it was a time I needed to learn how to build relationships with kids who did not understand our nomadic and highly structured lifestyle.

I met a teen at Lasalle Secondary School in my grade 9 year. He was a bit of a strange kid, tall and skinny like me, definitely not one of the cool kids, again like me. Unlike me, he was quiet and reserved. When I first met him, it was in the smoking area at the back of the school. Bruce A and another teen whose name I have lost in time, emerged from between two dumpsters, asking for a light. They were smokers, like me at that time.

I am not really certain how our friendship took hold. They were part of what we called 'The Ock (Awk?) Squad', the occupational program. These were students who had some sort of learning challenge and didn't carry the full scope of academic classes like the rest of us. They were mostly taught woodworking and other trades-related subjects like that. In the day we would call them retarded or slow but Bruce and his friend were not that challenged, now we would likely refer to them as delayed. Anyway, I saw some sort of redeeming quality in them, maybe I felt sorry for them, maybe I just needed some extra friends. in these two I found companions who never judged me, unlike pretty much everyone else I associated with.

We didn't really hang out much, it started as nodding hello in the hallway, sharing smokes, sometimes eating lunch together. I still had my cadre of other friends, mostly brats, and I never mixed Bruce and his friend with the rest of mine.

I learned that they were both from poorer families and lived near Kingston Mills, close to highway 401, a rural setting. And I learned that Bruce had a sister, Sue, and a younger brother, another name that has faded. Somehow, I ended up having long conversations with Sue on the phone. She was in grade 8 so didn't go to my school. I recall sitting at the kitchen table, doodling on its

top with pencil as we chatted. In my mind I pictured a blond beauty who might fall in love with me if I chose my words carefully. I had a bit of a complex at the time, very insecure when it came to girls.

That part strikes me as peculiar as I don't recall many times when I didn't have some sort of a girlfriend. Perhaps it was because the relationships tended not to last very long and it generally wasn't me who ended them. Hearts can be so fragile and at the time we were all running through the emotional china shop, swinging brooms, as we explored how to build relationships.

That phone protected me from the reality of what I was doing. If we never met face-to-face, she would never know how ugly I was, at least how ugly I pictured myself. This was the time when I hated seeing my reflection and avoided it as much as possible. I have mentioned this in other posts if you have had occasion to read them.

Inevitably, she pushed for us to meet and reluctantly I agreed. We arranged to meet at the S&R store in Kingston at the foot of Princess Street. She would bring her younger brother with her. I had to ride my bike into town to pay the money I had collected for my Kingston Whig Standard newspaper route anyway. I made sure to be a few minutes late so I could scope them out before approaching them.

As it turned out, Sue wasn't quite the beauty behind the voice in my imagination but then I thought, maybe that might make her better for me. We chatted a lot on the walk back to Fort Henry Heights, about five kilometers (2 miles) and I took quite a liking to her younger brother. He was an adventurous free-spirit, giving us a lot in common. I took them to Red Rock, down the paths to Arrowhead Beach and Deadman's Bay and we talked and generally goofed off until it was time for them to head home. The day had turned out great even though I had been kind of dreading meeting her in person because I expected her to run away screaming, which she didn't.

We continued to speak on the phone but I don't think we ever got together again. Living as far out as she did made it difficult since we were too young to have cars. I tried looking her up a few years later, after high school when I had moved back to Kingston for a short time but I couldn't locate her. I hope she has had a happy life.

I also lost track of her older brother Bruce. Following that year Dad was posted to Trenton so I changed schools (again). No internet to help us stay connected. I was an avid letter writer but few of my friends were. I hope he has had a good life too.

What non-brat friends do you remember from your youth? Have you managed to stay in touch or reconnect?

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