I have known Helena since grade two, since I was seven years of age. We were in every class together until we hit senior elementary. An adventurous gal, Helena and I were up for almost anything. We were frequently found together bike riding all over the city of Niagara Falls Ontario.
There was a special place along the Niagara parkway we knew of which was only a ten minute ride from where we both lived. Helena and I would drop our bikes at the trail head and take the marked path that lead us down the escarpment of the Niagara Gorge. Our goal was to scramble down the trail so we could sit alongside the grade five rapids that surge into the magnificent Niagara whirlpool. When we got to the bottom of the escarpment we would crawl out to the farthest rocks amongst the rapids. We were surefooted and oblivious to any danger.The water seemed insignificant when we were standing up by trail head. From up above, the matchstick logs that congregated in the whirlpool appeared like tiny broken sticks. Now, from the water’s edge we felt the power as it surged mightily passed us. The logs stood upright as they lumbered beside us in the roiling water. The rapids were so loud hand signals were the only form of communication but we tried to yell above the noise of the water anyway, to no avail. Helena and I did this journey at least once a year it was our secret, in fact many of the tourists still don’t know about it and the locals that didn’t fish had nothing to do with it.
Frequently, on a whim we would abandon the trail back up and forge our own trail up the cliffs of the treacherous Niagara escarpment of the gorge. We were oblivious to any fear we should have had. Thankfully, as I look back we were never the ones having to be rescued by helicopter out of there. I wonder now, what on earth were we thinking? Although it didn’t matter then, some of our adventures are proof of the invincibility and stupidity that exist in the minds of young teenagers. All considered, thank God for the lack of sensibility or else we never would have had any fun.
Helena called me one day in 1976, her sister had won tickets from the local radio station to see Elvis Presley in Buffalo. Yes, I have seen Elvis and it wasn’t at a 7-11. I had never been to a concert before and felt I needed to go shopping for the occasion. I wish I had pictures of the outfit I bought, however, I don’t but I did manage to purchase the finest dress at Towers department store that twenty dollars could buy. I can honestly tell you that I rocked my multicolored green chevron, striped cowl necked, cotton dress and the platform shoes were pretty cool too.
Helena’s sister drove to Buffalo on the big night in the now infamous green pinto. In years to come the green pinto would be a part of many of our escapades. Whether it was skipping school and going to the beach or bar hopping, we always needed a car and Helena was always up for asking to borrow it. The drive to Buffalo was uneventful. Crossing the border in those days required long eyelashes and a trusting smile, no passport required. Off we went.
I wish I could say I remember a lot of seeing Elvis but I don’t. What I do remember most is the flashing of the magic cubes of the old Kodak cameras. Upon Elvis entering the auditorium the crowd cheered loudly for minutes while the magic cubes lit up, throughout the stadium. It was so spectacular I thought it was a light show. Then, as the crowd’s cheering subsided, Elvis turned to the back of the stadium. With his arms and cape outstretched in a signature pose, the whole back section lit up in a blaze. One can’t buy magic cubes now, but the imprint of the image of bright flashes lighting repeatedly, stays with me. The luminescence from the flash hung in the air for a short duration of time making the light show that much more spectacular. It was astounding to see. I remember for the first time that night hearing someone say that “Elvis had left the building” and I can remember how I cried when I found out he had died, while I watched tv, sitting on the basement floor. It was a sad day for all of us, indeed.
Probably the most popular story ingrained in the personal folklore of our childhood was following a week or two when Helena and I had been particularly delinquent, delinquent for us that is. We road our bikes to the trailhead of the well known 300 mile Bruce trail. It starts in Niagara Falls in a place called Fireman’s park. We got lost on purpose winding up on a nearby highway, needing to hitchhike back to the trailhead to get our bikes. On one night that week, we bought a pack of cigarettes and smoked a few of them. On another night, we bought a magnum of lonesome Charlie, cheap sparkling wine and brought it into the movie theatre to drink. We hid the rest of it at our all girl school, Loretto. These were merely the highlights of our private escapades during that week. Needless to say, we never told anyone. Those were our adventures and ours alone.
That was, until Helena came over on a Saturday night. We were sitting in our kitchen not saying much of anything, then, snapping out of the bordom, Helena said to me “Gimmee a piece of paper” As I went to get her a piece of paper, I asked her, “Why do you want paper, what for?” She replied with jokingly, with a terse, “Nothing!” then she took it from me and went about hiding whatever she was writing down, I came to realize it was something for my amusement and so said nothing more as I watched her scribe what seemed to be an enormous list.When she finally gave it to me I noticed the title immediately and laughed as I read it out loud.
Things we did this weekend that we weren’t supposed to do,
Bought a magnum
Hid it at Loretto
The list went on. We laughed for a few minutes chatted about our escapades and off we went downstairs. I had a fleeting thought about that sheet of paper and went upstairs to see if it was still there. I assumed Helena had picked it up and went back downstairs.
It was thanksgiving weekend and the next day Helena called me in the morning to go into the gully with her to collect some autumn leaves for a centerpiece. Her mother was hosting a festive dinner. It was early and I took off from the house without seeing my parents. We collected our leaves, wished each other a Happy Thanksgiving and went on our way.
When I returned home, I could hear the laundry machine going but my mom and dad were nowhere to be seen. Suddenly, as I entered the kitchen I could see the list that Helena had written out so thoughtfully for the executioners gaze. It was now sitting prominently on the kitchen counter. If it were a beacon, it would have been flashing like a strobe light. OMG!!! I thought, what to do what to do, what to do? Panic set in and I grabbed it as if hiding it would do any good and ran to my bedroom, I stood in the middle of my room, my heart was pounding clenching the list. I was starting to sweat as I finally heard the fatal footfall of my mother in the kitchen. Sheepishly, I walked out to the kitchen as if neither of us had a clue. “Hi mom” I said as I waited for the axe to drop. Nothing, just deadly silence not even a good morning, then slowly and methodically she spoke, “What’s a magnum?” silence and then “What’s a magnum???”
“Mom !!Mom it’s a bottle of wine” I exclaimed in a panicky voice. My mother spent about fifteen minutes admonishing me and threatening me that she was going to speak to Helena’s mother “No no!!, I argued,”You can’t! They are having a thanksgiving dinner today and if you call her you are going to ruin it.” She replied, “Well you better call and tell them I’m coming over” I went to the phone and thankfully Helena answered. “She can’t come over” said Helena referring to my mom. I turned to my mother and spoke “ Mom, Helena said you can’t come over. ” Well, mom put on her threatening face and said sternly, “ if she isn’t here in five minutes you can bet I’m going over” I spoke rapidly in the phone “Helena,” I implored. “mom said you better get over here right now!!!!”
Helena finally agreed and promptly arrived. Mom didn’t yell but lectured us and told us of her disappointment. She was relentless in her tirade and was only interrupted to tend to the cycles of the washing machine downstairs. Following her dress down, we both had to go downstairs to have the same experience with my father. We learned our lesson and I never let Helena leave any scrap paper lying around our home anymore. Then that was it, until of course until we were adults and found out that every time my mom went downstairs, it wasn’t to tend to the laundry but to collect herself from bursting out laughing. My Dad and her were having a good laugh on our behalf and frequently reminded us of it.
Helena is a dear friend one I wish now I had spent more time with but careers and life distanced us. I am so happy to reconnect with her lately, it is a comforting space to have an old trusted friend and a safe place to fall. We are rekindling our friendship as the tide of life is changing and we still laugh about the things we did that weekend that we weren’t supposed to do.