Not just another summer in Jerseyville.
Nam Summer of 1982, Jerseyville, Ontario. Prosser's Pond.
My brother Jason and I, being the same age and all, had also been best friends from as far back as when we were only four years old. This meant too, that throughout school we shared the same friends and certainly the ones in Jerseyville, where we were ALL friends...for the most part. The core of Jerseyville friends was a solid one and there's nothing I STILL wouldn't do for ANY of my friends from the village... 'cept maybe one person. We did plenty of things, all of us together, but Jason and I also did things together as brothers. We fished together, hiked together, adventured together... We did a LOT of fishing together. Ever since we'd moved to Jerseyville from Burris street in Hamilton, we'd been steadily finding new places to try our luck. Our favorite 'go to', would have been 'Prosser's Pond'...'Prosser's Pond' was a Bass hole Deluxe. Full of Sunfish, Large mouth Bass and a handful of other fishy friends...the odd killer Catfish, a few Perch. The Bass in the pond were so greedy by midsummer, that Jason and I could pop a Dandelion head on our hook, flick it out 10ft and land a Largemouth almost every time...digging up a container of worms from the garden just made it silly. We had a riot, fishing at Prosser's, for many years. Prosser himself, was one John Prosser Robinson. A very old farmer who owned some fields in Jerseyville and brought produce down to Hamilton market. He grew lots of green beans, cucumbers, peas I think...He hired only girls from Jerseyville to work his fields . Just teenagers, "Stupid girls." He'd call them. Right to their face. I just remember some of these girls from the area, washing bushel after bushel full of green beans every summer evening, at the head of the tractor path back to the pond. They'd have metal tubs full of water, that they pumped from the hand well situated beside the low lying barn. Hand washing the sandy soil from the beans. That hand pump would pour with cold well water if you pumped it hard enough and long enough to flush the rust from it's pipes. One person would pump it, while the other leaned on the spout, drinking fresh, cold water directly from the flow.
The girls, for their hard earned pay, would have to be in the field by 8am, crawling on their hands and knees in the dirt all day, swiftly picking beans, or strawberries, whatever the crop may be. The faster you picked, the more money you made, so you'd better be picking fast, because there's no sense in suffering for nothin'. The bushels of green beans were the days take, everything the girls had picked in the field for the day. They'd have been home for dinner already and were back again in the evening to wash the dirt off the beans. Jason and I knew most of them, so we would smile and say hi as we went back to the pond, to go fishing for the second time that day. Poor girls would be worn out, scratched up, dirty and getting eaten alive by mosquitos, washing handful after handful of green beans, all evening until dark ... sheesh, strong character! "Stupid girls."
Prosser was a dick, we all knew that, but he didn't mind Jason and I fishing in his pond, as long as we respected it and kept things neat. We spent a lot of time at Prosser's pond, Jason and I. When we ran out of worms, we'd improvise. There were a lot of grasshoppers around back then, not so many now. Grasshoppers and whatever lived in the weeds floating in the scum at the edge of the pond. I'd put one foot in the water and scoop up a big armful of weed and plop it in the dirt. We'd pick out tadpoles, or dragonfly nymph and push the rest of everything in the weeds back in. There's our bait for a while. We'd smoke cigarettes and fish, talk about stuff, joke about everything and have a great time. Every time. We spent so much time there that summer, I even suggested we set up our old canvas tent from family camping. That way we could spend the occasional night out there, if Prosser didn't mind. Getting around Prosser wasn't the worry, it was getting around our parents. I didn't think it would be THAT big of a deal, I mean we were safe, it was summertime and we were close to home. When I told my mom that Jason and I wanted to set up the tent at Prosser's so we could camp in it, she asked me, "For how long?"
"For how long, what?" I replied.
She asked, "How long are you and Jason going to camp there?"
I pushed it. "A few days ... or more."
"What does Prosser think of it?" She said, "Have you asked him yet?"
"Yeah. He's fine with it." Which he was, as long as we didn't leave a mess.
"Well I certainly hope you're careful." she says, which was also one of her favorite things to add, after giving permission for us to do something. "I certainly hope you are careful."
She's a good mother and gave Jason and I lots of freedom. I did most of the heavy lifting though, when it came to asking for permission to do something that included Jason. At least they were getting the 'straight dirt', from 'the horse's mouth'. Not that Jason wasn't truthful, which he wasn't entirely. But if something were to go wrong, I was willing to take responsibility for whatever that may be. Be fully accountable and take any punishment, or deal with any consequences arising from said agreement. In other words, that's why it might be best, to hear it from, 'the horse's mouth'. Me. My mom set down a few ground rules then, to apply during our camp out. In order to sleep in the tent out at Prosser's pond, Jason and I had to be home for breakfast, lunch and dinner... lunch was flexible. But absolutely, we had to report in, every morning for breakfast and every evening for dinner. Otherwise, there was no camping overnight at the pond. That was it. That was a pretty fair deal huh? I agreed, hell, we'd be hungry anyway. So of course we're going to come home for breakfast and dinner...lunch being flexible. Jason and I dug the big canvas tent out of the old, wooden two car garage. I love that mildewy smell of oiled canvas for some reason. Just love it. We carried the canvas tent and it's poles back to Prosser's that night, passing the girls that were washing beans along the way. Either they didn't see what we were carrying, or were too exhausted, sore and itchy to even care. We both walked down the lane to the pond. Jason and I cleared a good sized campsite from grass and all the dead branches that fell from the big tall Pear trees running the length on the north side of the pond. We camped out under those old pear trees, listening to the crickets and the occasional thud, as another ripe pear would fall to the ground. With a big area of grass cleared from sticks, we went about putting up the tent. Fitting poles together and tying yellow nylon cord to trees around us, making sure it didn't sag, or lean. We stood back to admire the job. It was ugly and blue. Maybe more grey in color actually. It was kinda hard to tell, it was just very drab and old, as if it had seen a couple tours in Vietnam. So we called it that. "Nam." We called our tent out at Prosser's pond, Nam. Anytime we mentioned going back to the tent, we called it "Heading back to Nam."
After Jason and I set up the smelly old tent, making sure the guidelines were twangy tight, we went home to grab our sleeping bags and pillows. I took an old mason jar and went to the liquor cabinet and poured a shot and a half from every open bottle into the mason jar. We called this concoction, 'Jungle juice', for our Nam. I screwed the metal lid back onto the jar, wrinkling my nose at the fumes. This was for night time, after we'd built a good fire, I'd open the jar of jungle juice and we'd take belts from the mixed liquor. Passing the mason jar back and forth until it was empty. It would get us pretty tipsy, not outright drunk and we didn't do it all the time, just the first night at Nam. Then we'd each have a smoke, watching the fire as it burned, crackling and popping sparks into the night sky. The crickets would buzz all around us, stars shining overhead...this is exactly why it was so appealing. I wouldn't trade those days for anything. We began sleeping in it, waking up and coming home for breakfast every morning. It was great. Which also gave us time to do other things, than spend each minute of our lives back Prosser's lane. We had our tent there, so we could fish anytime we liked.
I saw the control of Jerseyville United church change hands a couple of times, while living in Jerseyville. That summer, the minister in charge and his wife went away on holiday for a couple of weeks, leaving their near adult sons at home to look after the house. I have heard it said, that the children of the church minister are always the worst behaved kids. I haven't known enough church minister's kids myself to say whether this is true or not, but Herman and Rick were clearly not little angels. I knew that they both smoked and drank liquor. I don't remember how I found out that they were looking after themselves while their folks were away. I delivered the paper to them, so maybe that's how. Being a local paperboy is a great way to learn about the denizens of your neighborhood. You might be surprised at what I learned from delivering the paper, but then again, maybe not...Either way, it gave something for Jason and I to do for a few nights while we slept at Nam. We'd go by their house in the evening after dinner and sit around drinking and smoking with them. Then we'd head back to the tent to sleep. One night we brought our friend from down the road with us to the minister's son's house. After a few shots of liquor we were getting pretty buzzed. They wanted to drive into town before the beer store closed to get a case. We were all going to pile into the car together, but Jason and I decided to stay instead and wait for them to get back. We sat there watching TV, smoking and waiting. After about an hour of waiting, we started to get impatient and tired. We waited for another hour for them to get back and gave up. Confused as to why they didn't return, Jason and I turned off the TV and left the minister's house to go back to Nam. We left then and walked through the quiet summer night along Field's road, in the direction of Union street where Prosser's tractor lane started. As we crossed Jerseyville road we saw our friend's Dad reverse his little white Civic out of the driveway. Spitting gravel, his Dad rushed right past Jason and I, probably didn't even see us. That was when we knew something was up. The only thing we could think of was that they'd been stopped for drinking and driving. We found out the next day, however, they'd been in a really bad accident instead. After they'd gotten the case of beer, they'd returned, driving back along Shaver's road, to where it met up with Jerseyville road near our highschool. Coming over a hill at high speed on Shaver's road they'd rear ended a car parked at the bottom of the hill. They had no chance to stop. Our friend who'd been sitting in the back without his seatbelt on, had put the top of his head into the car radio. It cost him upwards of twenty stitches to close his scalp. All three of them had gotten badly hurt in the car accident. Jason and I having dodged a bullet, were glad we'd opted to stay back. It could have cost us our lives.
Needless to say, that concluded our evening visits with the minister's sons. From then on, we were good boys and would retire to Nam at bedtime without the booze. Waking in the morning to fresh cool air, and walking through wet dewy grass first thing to pee in the brambles. A few days of camping gradually turned into a few weeks. Nobody bothered us and the weather remained good. One morning I awoke and had to pee badly. I quickly pulled the tent zipper up and crawling out of the tent, stood up to dash off into the weeds to pee. That's when I saw the girls picking beans for Prosser, whether they'd seen me emerge from the tent, I couldn't tell. They were on their hands and knees, crawling down their individual rows picking away. None of them looked in my direction. I wasn't sure what to think. It certainly wasn't what I expected to see first thing upon waking up. The neighborhood girls were in shorts and halter tops on their hands and knees not fifty feet away, sweating in the early morning sun, a little dirt sticking to their tanned skin already. And I had to pee so badly...hoping they wouldn't see me, or hear me, I stood behind the tent away from them to relieve myself...Geezus! They had been right there! By the time I came back around to the tent flap though, they'd moved on quite a bit already, they WERE fast! I guess at fifty cents every Quart basket you'd hafta be...I'm just guessing. I have no idea how much they were paid, just that you had to be fast to make it worthwhile. Fortunately, they were long gone by the time I crawled back inside. I was half embarrassed, half thrilled... When I told Jason, he laughed at me and asked, "Did they see you?"
"I don't think so." I answered, but then I wasn't sure of that either. All they had to do is just cast their eyes sideways while they picked, they would've seen me. He got to go out and pee in privacy. I found out years later, that they'd all seen the tent beside the pond, but they didn't think anybody was sleeping in it. Let alone Jason and I.
We camped out at Nam every night for at least a month. bugs and spiders began to make it their home too. The inside wasn't that bad, we had the odd spider and mosquitos at night, but the outside was starting to show some wear. First it started to sag in areas, then spider webs appeared between poles and guide ropes. Glistening in the morning dew, you'd get a good idea how long the tent had been there, just from the number of complete spider webs that clung to it. It took one big thunder storm to signal the end of Nam for us. After a hot muggy day of fishing, Jason and I had returned home for dinner, then gone back to Nam just before dark to build the evening's fire. We'd gone to sleep as normal. By now we were comfortable and fell asleep naturally and at the same time as each other. The night of the storm however, woke us at about 2:30 in the morning to thunder and the sound of raindrops hitting the canvas of the tent. We'd been out there during rainfall at nightand had gotten off fairly easy. As long as you 'don't touch the side of the tent' while it's raining, the waterproofing from years before, still did it's job. This night however promised differently. First of all, there was a weird green glow in the sky, which made it very hard to guess what time it was. Secondly, after the rain started in earnest, it positively poured, hammering the old tent with torrential downpour. The waterproofing didn't stand a chance. It started dripping and leaking with a vengeance. This was an electrical storm and the lightning and thunder was almost constant. It was kinda fun in fact. We were both awake after the rain started, confident with the knowledge that if we ended up getting soaked out here, we could just walk home to our dry beds. It was exciting seeing the flashes of lightning and hearing the long, loud, rolling booms of thunder, so often, one would start as soon as the other ended. Time for a smoke if I could light one with the damp matches from the pocket of my jean shorts. None of them would light...I used every match down to the last one...Jason was getting antsy. I pulled my sleeping bag over my head and after drying my fingers tried the last match. It snapped, sputtered and reluctantly lit. Just long enough for me to light a cigarette. I lit one for him off mine and we sat there not speaking. Smoking and watching the lightning of the electrical storm all around us. Suddenly with a terrific crack, one of the willows on the other side of the lane, took a direct hit. It was so loud and bright, I'm sure we both screamed, we just didn't hear ourselves over the crashing, as half of the tree came down. That did it. We'd finished our smokes and water was running between us on the floor of the tent, filling up the bottom a couple inches deep. Time to go anyway. "Holy shit! What if it had been one of these pear trees above us?" I said. Jason was pale in the weird light of the storm. "I know," he said. "It's not over, we should go."
"Yeah," I said, "Let's go now."
We pulled our sleeping bags over our head and left the confines of the saggy, waterlogged tent. We quickly walked down the tractor path, barefoot. Shoes were pointless by this time. They'd just get wet and muddy, the rain was warm anyway. So we walked barefoot through warm muddy water, up past our ankles in parts, on the way home. Our sleeping bags over our heads. When we got to our house on Jerseyville road, our parents were sitting on the loveseat on the front porch. Our mom laughed and said, "We were wondering when you were going to come home!"
"Oh my god I'm soaked to the skin." I said.
"That was crazy!" Jason exclaimed.
"Go on inside and get dried off. You can make something quick to eat, but then I want you in bed." My mom said. Jason and I and my oldest brother Dan, lived up in the renovated attic of the old red brick house. Time to go upstairs to bed now.
Fine by us... Living at home when I was young, my standard bedtime snack was a triple decker peanut butter and jam sandwich, with a small mason jar of cold milk. I always made my sandwich using my mom's homemade strawberry jam...I've honestly, never had better. I'd bring my sandwich plate and jar of milk upstairs to my attic bedroom. By now, the storm had pretty much passed and all I heard was a slow steady drip of rain drops on the slate roof overhead. After changing into a dry teeshirt and shorts, I ravenously gobbled down my sweet, sticky, triple decker peanut butter and strawberry jam sandwich and chased it down, by chugging the whole jar of cold milk all at once without stopping. I turned off my light and lay down on my single mattress and as the cold milk warmed in my stomach, I fell asleep. Dry, fed and happy to be home for once in my own bed, where I hadn't slept in weeks.
The tent failed after that night. The rainfall was just too much for it. It was beginning to collapse anyway and there was no way to get it dry again. Besides, there were now more bugs and spiders on the inside of the tent than ever before... our tour of Nam was over. We never did officially take the tent down. It came down on it's own. I bet if you went there today, (I'd have to point out where.) and dug around in the soil and grass you'd be able to find the rusty old tent poles and maybe even some rotting canvas, that used to be Nam. One of my earliest experiences of freedom as a young teenager. One of my favorite recollections in the forest of memories that I call 'Jim's woods'.
About the Creator
Jim E. Beer
I was raised outside of Ancaster, Ont. I write about what I know and what I've survived. I hope you enjoy what you read. Leave a comment and feel free to tip. There is an option to do so at the end of each story if you feel so inclined. Jim
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