They were fine neighbours, but they were boys. That meant that we ended up playing street hockey and other boyish activities lot which, as the only girl on my street, meant that I had to fight to be included in anything my brothers did after school.
Their parents were nice, too, but they weren't the type of people we had over for dinner and we weren't the type of people we had over for dinner. Apparently, because we never did. But they were good "fence neighbours" like Wilson on Home Improvement. Our moms would chat if they came home from work at the same time. Sometimes we'd knock on each other's door looking for stray children.
Their dad would sit outside on his "smoking chair" and smoke because he wasn't allowed to smoke in the house. He'd just sit outside and watch us play while getting his fix. Sometimes he really looked like he was enjoying himself, like when he'd come out to smoke during a beautiful late evening sunset in the summer. Other times he didn't look so comfortable, like when he'd go out to smoke during a beautiful early evening sunset in the dead of winter. Even we weren't outside playing then; we'd just peek out the windows and wonder if he really thought it was worth it. Apparently he did because he kept doing it.
Our yard was an interesting shape. My dad always described it as "pie shaped," but I never understood that. I suppose it could be considered "wedge-shaped," although that makes me think of triangles and our yard certainly wasn't a triangle, either. It was definitely narrower in the front than in the back, like how a triangle might look if you cut off one of the tips. Wouldn't that be called a trapezoid? I think so. Our yard was shaped like a trapezoid. It was a very long trapezoid and probably would have turned into a triangle soon after crossing the street, if we followed our property lines.
There was a time when we didn't have a fence, so the combined space of our neighbours' (Harley and Hollis, remember?) yard with ours made an excellent mini-field for games like tag and jackpot and catch. The backyard was big, but with the balcony, swing set, trampoline, and garden there were too many obstacles to avoid, so mostly we stuck to playing between our houses. Unless, of course, we were making use of the trampoline or swing set.
One summer afternoon, things got eerily quiet and the sky turned a dark purplish-grey color. We ended our game and went inside, unsure of what the weather had in store for us.
Southern Alberta is prone to rather surprising weather. Freak snowstorms and killer hailstorms in the summer; warm Chinook winds or blizzards in the winter. The weather is anything but constant. It can be -20 one day and +10 the next. You can go to bed in June, expecting to run in the sprinklers the next day, only to wake up to a few inches of snow. The weather just isn't something you can count on.
Wikipeida has this to say about the weather around Calgary (emphasis added):
General seasons (not well-defined in Calgary due to highly variable climate)After retiring indoors, we sat by our bay window to watch the storm clouds gather at an alarming rate. The sky was swirling, the wind was howling, thunder was crackling, and soon the yard was covered with hailstones. We thought it was a pretty good storm.
- Winter: mid-October to mid-April
- Spring: mid-April to May
- Summer: June to August
- Autumn: September to mid-October
And then it got worse. The sound was deafening and the force amazing. My dad instructed us to close the windows and let out the drain pipes, so we quickly ran outside to let down the pipes to the gutters, and then ran back inside to close the windows. Our windows were hinged and swung open to the outside. To close them you had to crank a little handle. As hard as we cranked, no one could get the windows to close. The wind kept sucking them open.
The weather was absolutely raging.
Later, our neighbours' mom would describe it to the local newspaper. "It sounded like a train running between the houses," she said. Or at least, that's what I remember her saying. I didn't want to pay the $15 required to look up the article in the archives (lame!), but apparently a tornado went right between our house and next door. Our rooftop was featured in the local news because our neighbour had run outside to snap a picture of the funnel after it had passed.
I suppose it wasn't exactly a full-blown tornado when it was going between our houses, though. It had already touched down by the train tracks and ruined a few steel grain silos. It touched down again (or a second tornado from the same storm did) on Highway 2, after it had passed our house, and basically landed on a semi-truck, completely mangling it and the driver inside (who happened to be one of my mom's cousins). He was rescued by the jaws of life, and miraculously made a full recovery. His company, however, fired him for damaging company property, or something lame like that. I can't remember quite, but at a family gathering in Raymond, some of the grownups were talking about it and everyone was pretty upset about it.
We were lucky it didn't touch down by our house. I imagine would would have had some pretty hefty damage if it had. All it did was throw Patrick's little teeder todder across the yard and blow another neighbour's outside furniture around.
Still, it was the scariest storm I had ever witnessed and made me rethink the thrill of being a "storm chaser" (this was back in the mid-1990s and the movie Twister had either just come out or was about to). Oddly enough, I can't find any record of this happening (in the news (Calgary Herald only has online archives through 2004) or on wikipedia), although I know it did and I know it was reported about. I wonder if I'll ever find real documentation about this...