Grade 8: September to December 1979, Souris Elementary School, Souris, PE. Teacher – Mr. D. MacDonald. January to June 1980, Van Bellingham Elementary School, Winnipeg, MB. Teacher – Mrs. A. Enns.
In the summer before Grade 8, we moved with my dad to Souris, PE, a tiny town in Eastern Prince Edward Island. The change in location came with a change in my own role at home – from kid to chief-cook-and-bottle-washer: as the oldest, I became responsible for home day care, groceries, cooking, laundry and general housekeeping. Our first house was temporary – a small home adjacent to a lumber yard, at 3 Cedar Crescent. Housekeeping aside, the summer was filled with adventure: a cross-Canada drive in a UHaul truck (with a single cassette tape – Johnny Cash’s Greatest Hits Vol. 1); exploring our new home town; weekend trips to Bothwell Beach, the drive-in (the only one in the province, about two hours drive), Rainbow Valley; visiting the town library to join the Bud the Spud Summer Reading Club. I remember the days as long, hot, dusty and a bit lonely.
Just before school began, we moved “across town” (about 5 blocks) to a ginormous house at 9 High Street, a few blocks from the school. The house felt like a hotel, with enough rooms that we had a music room, a games room, a toy room, our own bedrooms, and more. When school started we walked the few blocks down the road and hill to the school.
I had noticed over the summer the preponderance of people named McDonald or MacDonald in the town. The drugstore where my dad worked – MacDonald Pharmacy. Our first friends – Michael and Gibby MacDonald. At school, this was magnified – my teacher and fully a third of my class were Mc/MacDonald. (This phenomenon persists today – a quick search shows more than 200 Mc/MacDonalds listed in the phone book, in a town with just 1,300 residents.) We Roscoes felts like odd ducks.
This feeling was not alleviated when trying to relate to the kids who had lived in Souris their entire lives. It was an adjustment being with kids who had literally grown up together, many of whom were interrelated somehow, and whose experiences were focused and common to them in a way that I’d likely never really appreciate. They often asked for examples of Winnipeg life, how we did things there, and stories that to me seemed quite ordinary (and certainly not glamorous) were seen as cosmopolitan by many of them. When asked where I got my winter jacket, I said “The Bay”, and one girl said, “you found it in the bay?”; the notion that I would take a public transit bus to a store the size of the school to buy a jacket was fantastic to them, and less imaginable then finding it floating in the ocean.
This sense of oddness was entirely my own perception, as my classmates were all kind and friendly and genuinely interested in my and my “big city” life. Their curiosity about how we did things “back there” should have been flattering, but to me it reinforced my feelings of oddness, reminded me regularly of friends and family and familiars left behind, and made me lonely.
School-wise, it was a productive time. I was reading and writing more, doing well in most subjects (gym would never been a strength for me), and participating in more extra-curricular stuff than previous. A highlight was poetry – my Remembrance Day poem was selected for publication in the school newsletter, and submitted for a provincial competition.
As winter came, our ginormous house revealed its age, and lack of central heating. By early December, we had all moved from our various spacious bedrooms into the front room with the propane stove, and the small town with little to do became overwhelmingly oppressive for us all. My dad (who had completed his PhD thesis just before we moved) went back to Winnipeg long enough to successfully defend and secure a university position. Back in Souris, he announced that we’d be returning to Winnipeg, for which there was some rejoicing. I would miss my newfound friends, but the opportunity to be back among familiar places and people, and reunited with family, was welcomed.
We packed up and completed the reverse journey across Canada, arriving just in time for Christmas. The Souris adventure held much fun and joy, and definitely many fond and funny memories, but really, there is no place like home.
The remainder of Grade 8 was back at Van Bellingham school, with the same classmates and teachers (mostly) as in previous years. The room was the same as the one I’d been in in Grade 3, and other than some curiosity from friends about my small town adventure, I was assimilated back into the fold and certainly – and happily – much less odd. The rest of the year was uneventful and unmemorable, and ended with no fanfare (unlike today, there was no graduation from Grade 8), with everyone unified by the looming transition in the coming year to Grade 9 and the local high school.