I grew up in the city but I was one of the fortunate. My family owned a farm an hour north of Toronto and my sisters and I spent every waking moment of our weekends and summer holidays doing our own things out in the “boonies.”
Summer holidays were a time to sleep late, watch the three channels our old black and white TV managed to pick up, and ride. At a VERY young age we were left to fend for ourselves up north while my parents worked in the city. Looking back, it is incomprehensible that we survived, but, in truth, we flourished. Without the constraints of parental supervision we were able to stretch the limits of conventional wisdom and push the boundaries way past the safe zone.
We did everything wrong! No helmets or heels got in our way. Bare foot and bareback, we were the true pioneers of “Natural Horsemanship.” Too young to drive, riding was our primary mode of transportation given that it required little or no effort on our part. We did opt for the bikes on occasion, but we lived in one of those “uphill both ways” areas and our young legs preferred posting to pedaling.
We rode everywhere. The back roads were our highways and no field was off limits as long as we stayed off the crops and shut the gates behind us. Riding into town wasn’t ever necessary, but man was it fun. The same can be said for those midnight rides down the road that defied modern sensibilities but inspired our sense of freedom! Back then our riding was one massive, death defying experiment; if we lived it we were obviously doing it right.
Surprisingly, no hospitalization was ever needed and in reality that was a just as well given that my youth pre-dated all modes of modern communication. We had one land line, a phone which was quaintly dubbed a “party line” because the line was literally shared between three separate households. I’d like to say that living without a safety net encouraged us to act more responsibly, consider the consequences of our actions and think things through, but in reality we never gave it a second thought. We spent our summers doing anything we pleased as long as we abided by the two cardinal rules:
#1. The house remained in one piece
#2. The parents remained blissfully unaware of all our extra curricular activities
Without sounding too cliche, the summers did seem to last forever. But, as the CNE rolled into Toronto we knew our days on the farm were numbered. My daughter recently pointed out that she’d never been to the CNE! Some might say that I still harbour a certain resentment towards that marvellous Exhibition for the contribution it made to signalling the end of our summer and our freedom.
The end of our summer was always filled with an ocean of tears. I’m still not sure what our ponies must have thought of our sudden departure, but clearly their holidays started as ours came to an end. As for the farm well, the house always survived, and to this day our many indiscretions have remained some of the best guarded secrets any of us have.
So, it’s no surprise that every August when that feeling of dread settles around me, I attribute it to the indelible stamp those summers of my youth tattooed upon my soul. For me, September means school, and school equals…The End!