Anyone who doesn't know me will probably find this page boring and will undoubtedly be looking for a way to get out. Stop looking! Here it is: Exit
However, if the name 'Simpson' sparks an electrode in your brain, (perhaps a long-lost relative or friend), you may find that this page will prod your little grey cells into recognition and we can reach out and touch each other again.
On the other hand, if you have nothing better to do, you might as well waste some time reading this.
1951 was a banner year. It was the year I was born. One mid-autumn day, on or about the 26'th day of October, I pushed my way into this world to become a small part of humanity for awhile.
My real name is Neil, and I have never truly been totally comfortable with that. I would have much preferred 'Steven' or 'Kevin' or 'Scott'. But I got stuck with 'Neil', and since that is what the world will remember me by, I won't mess around with it now.
I am the second-youngest of 7 kids and the youngest of 5 boys. We all grew up in Brighton, a small town on the north shore of Lake Ontario 100-odd kilometres east of Toronto at what is commonly known as 'The Gateway to Presqu'ile Provincial Park'. (Honest! That's what it says! 'Brighton. Gateway to Presqu'ile Provincial Park'!... I wouldn't joke around about something like that.)
(If you feel absolutely compelled to read about Brighton and Presqu'ile Park, you may go there now. I'll still be here when you get back.)
Way back then (when I was born... remember we were talking about that?), there were very few houses on our street. In fact, there was just our house on one side of the street. On the other side, there was a house on each corner of the block and only 3 houses between them. Today, it is all built up and totally surrounded by much more modern homes than were ever seen when I was a kid. It's kind of difficult to go 'home' now and see our house virtually lost in the clutter of homes, fighting to be noticed. People drive by that house all the time and don't pay it any attention. Yet, even though our family has not lived there for many years, I cannot pass the house without suffering an incredible urge to walk up to the door and ask to see my old bedroom one more time.
On the other hand, it has undoubtedly changed so much over the years that I would suffer more disappointment than nostalgia, and, for that very reason, I content myself with the memories of the way our house used to be.
There was plenty of room to play in Brighton. No need for neighborhood parks and playgrounds. The whole town was our playground. And it was safe for children to be outside after dark. With fields aplenty, there was often a game of football or baseball going on somewhere. Kids would gather to play 'Red Rover', 'Simon Says', 'Red Light Yellow Light' or 'Kick the Can'. In the winter, there were plenty of snow drifts with which to build forts and tunnels, and snowball fights abounded. There was always somewhere to go skating or sledding.
Let's Go Fly a Kite
One summer, all the neighbourhood kids got together to build a gigantic kite that stood fully 2 metres (6 feet) tall and had a tail made of twine and newspaper that stretched across the yard. A large ball of twine was needed to keep this monstrosity tethered. It flew a few times, but needed almost gale-force winds to get it off the ground. And when it flew, it took two of the strongest boys to keep it from flying away. But it was fun.
We're Having a Hurricane!
Hurricane Hazel would have been handy for that kite, I'm sure, but Hazel passed through a few years before that. Now, Brighton doesn't see many hurricanes... in fact, Hazel is the only one to pass through during my lifetime... so having a full-fledged, card-carrying hurricane in our own back yard was quite an event.
We lost a lot of trees during that storm, especially the two huge maples down by the creek at the end of our raspberry patch. We didn't actually lose those trees. They're still there as far as I know, but they are virtually horizontal, as they have been since the 50's. But at least we could climb all the way to the top!
Speaking of swimming, not far away from our house was a small stream. Every summer, we would gather our talents and muscle power to build a sod dam at a point where the creek turned sharply to the south forming a natural 'pool'. Our dam simply expanded the pool, making it deep enough to dive into. Swim suits were rarely necessary. We were far enough from civilization that we felt we could let our hair (and pants) down. 'Skinny dipping' was the name of the game in those days. Considering the stodginess of that era, it was a tremendous burst of freedom to be naked with nature and to 'get away with it'.
I learned to swim in that pool. In fact, it was an Easter weekend. I was 12 at the time, and had simply determined to teach myself to learn how to swim. I did. It wasn't anything more than a dog-paddle, but I did it!
I would have surely learned how to swim earlier in my life had it not been for an unfortunate incident when I was five. We were attending a Sunday School picnic in Shelter Valley Park about fifteen miles away. I was floating on an inner tube when someone did a 'cannonball' from the diving platform, landing close to me and tipping me. I still remember the terror of being totally surrounded by water and of not being able to breathe. A hand grabbed me and pulled me to the surface, then strong arms wrapped around my body and carried me to shore.
The man's name was Ralph. He knows who he is, and anyone who knows me personally and is reading this, knows who he is, too. I believe he is still alive, so if you see him, tell him 'thanks' for me. And Ralph, if you are reading this yourself, I'll never ever forget what you did for me. My eternal gratitude and thanks go out to you.
I was the first in my family to attend Kindergarten. I even remember my teacher's name: Miss McCauley. And so the brave adventurer advanced into the world of academics. Grade 2 was a tough year. That was the year my own Grandmother was my teacher. I had grown up knowing her only as 'Gramma' and suddenly everyone was calling her Mrs. Simpson. I didn't even know who 'Mrs. Simpson' was! And so, for an entire year, I sat quietly, not even raising my hand to go to the bathroom for fear that I would be called upon. Then what would I say?
Face to Face with Mortality
The most powerful images of my youth were, unfortunately, not happy ones. They were, in fact, terrifyingly real. Many evenings were spent simply staring at the sky, watching for a tell-tale streak of light which could easily end our existence.
If you were not alive at that time, you can never really understand the absolute terror of facing the end of the world by nuclear war. I can remember practically begging my father to build a bomb shelter in our basement. Every night I would lay awake in bed, listening for the 'boom' and knowing that, if I heard the boom, life would barely be worth living. Nightmare thoughts for a child. To this day, I have never known such fear, and I pray that no-one else ever has to, either.
A substitute teacher was in charge of our class the day U.S. President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. She was standing at the podium when the announcement came over the intercom. All the students burst into laughter at the interruption, but the laugher quickly turned into stunned silence when the severity of the news slowly sunk in.
John Kennedy had been the man who had turned the 'Cuban Missile Crisis' into 'life' for us. And now he was dead. God only knew what the future would hold.
This is the end of Part One. Continue to Part Deux... The High School Years