Friday, October 05, 2007

Can't think of a title...

...but I was wandering the blogosphere when I ran into this at Hornby Island's Word of Mouth blog: as kids are taught to fear men, men are learning to fear children

Go read it.

Anyways, the article there reminded me of growing up in the then tiny scenic village of Comox on Vancouver Island, just down Comox Avenue from what is now Mack Laing Park. If you walk from downtown to the park, our place was just a block or so outta (I laugh calling it this) downtown but before the Filberg place, and then it was a short walk more to Mr. Laing's place. This was back in the mid-50s.

I knew Mack as Mr. Laing, and I got to know him pretty well, as did a bunch of neighbourhood kids. (It's easier...I was maybe six/seven or so at the time, I never called him Mack back then, woulda never thunk of it, but it'll save some typing...) Mack would walk to town, him and his cane and small backpack, to the post office most days and when the weather was nice, he'd collect whichever kids were interested on the walk back to his place. Sometimes one, two and sometimes maybe up to seven or eight kids.

See, Mack had been a naturalist and a writer and a curator and so on, and evidently had been a scoutmaster, but he was maybe seventy or so when I knew him and pretty much retired. He was just gentle, beautifully sorta-British-type old-school, well-mannered and proper, easy to be friends with, patient and extremely interesting. He didn't talk down to us, even at 6 or was like he was always just talking straight across, person to person, with the same vocabulary he'd have used with folks three times our age. He treated us like he expected us to understand, so we did. No big words for big-words sake, but big words when they were the right words. And he collected kids and took them back to his place, regularly.

When we were with him, he'd teach us about anything that came up, or anything we asked (and he knew a hell of a lot of neat stuff), and he'd feed us what he called his "health salad", all sorts of raisins and such, lettuce that was more interesting than just iceberg, ...geez, seeds and nuts and things, and homemade salad dressing. He got us kids thinking salad was cool; no small trick. He'd show us his huge collection of taxidermy-birds, explain how and why binoculars worked, train us what "found food" to eat in the woods and what to stay way from. And more and more and more; history, geology, philosophy...we'd spend hours with him at or in his place. You get the picture.

Anyways, one day Mack and me and a few other kids were trotting to his place after his daily post office trek, and he bent down and picked up a dead bird, asking us what type of bird it was and then asking if we could tell how it died. We checked it out until one kid noticed it had a small hole in its side. Mack pulled out his pen-knife and extracted a BB, a small copper pellet.

He showed us the BB, reminded us gently that birds have valuable lives too, and then asked "is this bird male or female?".

We'd been hanging and learning with Mac for a while so we mostly trotted out the "males usually have brighter plumage" thing, and Mack replied that, yes, that's usually true and then he told us "but there's one way to know for sure". He took his pen-knife and made a small incision low in the belly of the tiny bird, opened it up some and pointing with the tip of his blade so we could all see, said "see those two things? Those are ovaries. If it has them, it's female. If it doesn't, it isn't."

There we were, all of us 6 or so years old, getting the straight goods about life with no hassle or embarrassment or hesitation, from a 70 year old man who simply cared enough to just teach.

Now I'm sure Mack never spoke to our parents about permission to teach us, or to have us over at his place, or to have us with him for hours and hours and hours, alone without another parent hovering nearby. I'm sure it never occurred to him to ask for permission any more than it occurred to our parents to stop him--and I'm also sure he never worried that his actions might be misinterpreted [Addendum 03/25/08: I checked with my Mom and Dad....nope, he never asked 'em. They never thought about it.] . And it absolutely never occurred to us that there was anything unusual about all this going on. It was just a normal day in Comox with Mack Laing and his collected kids.

As if such a thing could happen today.

We're so much better off now, all scared, distrustful, careful and litigious.

Mack lived to be 99 and gave his property to the town so it could be a park.

More about Mack Laing here.

More on Mack Laing Nature Park here.


phee said...

Hey Ron, thanks for the link to Word of Mouth. Great story! The world has changed in many good ways and many not so good. I also have wonderful memories of being taught, helped and befriended by child-loving men who nowadays hold back for fear of appearing predatory. On the other hand, some of them *were* predators. There's always another hand... finding the balance is a work in progress. We're not there yet.

Ron said...

I was molested (absolutely sexually but not really violently) by two stranger neighbour guys when I was about 4 1/2 and living in Royston (before I moved with my family to Comox). The cops got involved, the bad guys were quickly dealt with, and I didn't get hassled any further. It was explained to me nicely and in ways that I understood that it wasn't my fault or because anything was wrong with me, but otherwise no big deal was made of it as far as I was concerned.

Consequently, it really didn't become a defining moment in my life. It was a weird incident to me is all. These days somebody mighta wanted me on talk shows, or set me to rounds and rounds of counselling to *make sure* I was okay, and either way it might have ended up being my 15 minutes of fame. As it was, my parents didn't get scared of strangers because of it, so I didn't either.

I think my parents handled it perfectly and I'm grateful. I'm very glad they weren't so traumatized that I didn't get to hang with Mack Laing.

I know others aren't so lucky.

Ron said...

phee: and I really appreciate your pointer to my blog as well. Many thanks. I miss the Island(s).

Robin Rivers said...

Hi. Thanks for the link here. Interesting commentary. As a parent, I'm always hyper-vigilant about strangers. But, your point is well made.

Ron said...

Robin: Thank you for your comment and also for understanding that I wasn't being snide and critical of normally careful parents or suggesting that a devil-may-care attitude is an improvement. Just that balance counts as phee noted in the first comment.

And what a terrific, information-filled blog (Comox Valley Kids) you're putting out. Wonderful work!