Growing up in a family of eight children, on a farm in rural Ontario, was a rich experience, overflowing with potential story material that could knock the socks off some people or scare the pants off others. But for all of us at that timehe For f us at that time though, it was more than stories; it was our life. The seventh child in our family was named James Levi, after our next door neighbour. Only a hedge separated our yard from this neighbour— our loving Granddad Stephenson. Even as an old man when others his age stuck to their rocking chairs, Granddad loved to get down on the floor and wrestle with his two youngest grandsons, Jimmy and Donny, after supper. Jimmy learned very early that he would have to move fast if he wanted to keep up with the important people in his life— the ones carrying the tools. If he glimpsed his Dad taking a screw driver from a drawer in the kitchen to tighten a door hinge, or caught sight of Granddad passing by the back porch with a pair of pliers, he was off in hot pursuit, as fast as his little legs would carry him.
Anything mechanical always interested him, and on a farm, where the mechanical things were frequently moving either dirt or water, he was dirty a lot of the time. Of all the younger kids in our family he was the one who needed the extra soap rubbed behind his ears and a heavy-duty scrubbing to get the sand out of his curly platinum blond hair. Mom bore the disapproval of those with a more conservative attitude about little boys’ hair length, until he was well past three. She just wanted to enjoy his angelic appearance for a little while longer. Generally it was the men who disapproved; women could understand it with just one glance at the kid. Our mom was a vigorous head scrubber as I recall, and she frequently washed his hair under the kitchen tap, no matter how he screamed and yelled and no matter how much extra water ran down the drain to the already overburdened septic system. That little blond halo was worth it and it was a sad day when he lost it, but that’s another story.
We had a much-loved mutt of a dog on the farm. Sandy was a short-legged, short-haired, long-suffering canine who came wandering onto the property one afternoon, liked the smell of the place and stayed on. He loved dirt just about as much as Jimmy did, judging by the amount of time he spent digging for ground hogs, piling up great mounds of sand, and then rolling around in it. Sandy came by his name honestly, not only because of his colour but also because the place on the tiled floor beneath the dining room buffet where he usually slept was in constant need of vacuuming.
One early spring morning just before the school bus arrived to pick up the youngest five kids, Jimmy decided to head to the back yard for a little romp. With Sandy at his heels, they raced through the flowerbeds, up and down the steps, under the lilac bush and over to the fence, past the forsythia bush and over to the teeter-totter and back to the fence again, repeating the whole circuit with various minor changes several times. No doubt Jimmy sensed the need to burn off a little energy before having to sit still for the long bus ride ahead, and Sandy, likewise, needed a little exercise before his usual nap while the kids were away at school.
It may have been that the curious dog who sniffed around in the corner of the backyard was to blame. He may have thought that he caught the scent of something vaguely familiar, a skunk perhaps, as he approached tentatively and then backed away. But it was the curious boy who went a step further, or a step too far I should say. All at once he had his own personal Jed Clampett moment. Up through the ground came a bubbling crude! The kin folk said “Jim! Move away from there!’’ Unfortunately, the warning came too late.
The bus was honking at the road, the girls were screaming at the door, the dog was barking at the boy, the boy was yelling for his mother, the mother was throwing on her shoes, and the water was rising higher and higher as he gradually sank lower and lower. So that’s the story of what happened on the day that Jimmy stepped into what the family like to call, in their epic family sagas— “The Sewer Hole”. All that excessive use of water that this one little dirty boy had been the major contributor to, had finally reached the crisis point. Unfortunately it was his crisis, and that point was when it rose up over his boots.
It must be said that we had a very patient bus driver. Granted he was my Dad’s cousin Wilbert, but being related usually only gets you so many passes and our’s were likely all used up by then. Still, he waited while Jimmy was pulled out bootless from the newly discovered bog, while he had his pants, his long johns and his socks pulled off in unison by his older sisters. This was followed by a freezing knees-down rinse-off in the stationary tub by his exasperated Mom. Then he was forcibly dressed directly from the closest laundry basket by everyone involved. The borrowed long johns were “too droopy!”, the socks were “holey!”, and the pants were “ the baby kind!” but he couldn’t fend off the six frantic hands that simultaneously dressed him. Finally Janice’s outgrown “girls’ boots!” were jammed firmly onto his still damp feet. He was half dragged and half pushed by two flustered sisters all the way down the driveway, towards the ever patient Wilbert in his big yellow school bus. Oh, and did I mention how much Wilbert enjoyed my Mom’s delicious fried chicken dinners?
Many years later if you ask those who know him to describe Jimmy they will tell you this. He loves being involved in things that have the need for speed, a proficiency with tools and a justification for being dirty built right in. He loves fixing up old cars and has had great success over the years in winning many demolition derbies. Just like his grandfather James Levi before him, he loves nothing more than to roll around on the floor and play with his grandson, Finley, another beautiful fair-haired boy. Jim is still the boy, inside the man he has become.
Amazingly the “Sewer Hole” episode never left him with any permanent psychological scars. It was kind of the reverse actually; instead of developing a fear of bogs, quagmires and sinkholes, nothing thrills Jim more than a good day of ATV mudding, just for the sheer excitement of it. Its kind of an organic attraction.