In 1982, the summer after my second year of university, a number of interesting events took place: Italy won the The World Cup of Soccer , Canadians, Chris Haney and Scott Abbott released the game of Trivial Pursuit, and I had my first real taste of freedom.
After finishing a year of ponderous 19th-century fiction and theoretical Sociology texts, summer was a welcome respite. One of my friends, Gail MacDonald was from our nation’s capital, Ottawa. She was staying in Mississauga over the season to take some extra courses at Erindale College (now University of Toronto at Mississauga) and she and another student- friend from home had been placed in an on-campus house that had been on the property since before the college was constructed in the 1970s. It was a cute little log and stone cabin with hardwood floorboards, a quaint, tiny kitchen and a few small bedrooms.
Gail advised me one day that her brother and a few of his friends were coming down from Ottawa to stay with them and visit some friends at the University of Waterloo. She wondered if I’d like to come over and meet them and, being the social butterfly that I was–never one to miss an opportunity to meet new members of the opposite sex- I told her I most assuredly would.
My mid-life brain does not permit me to recall the names of everybody who was present for those few days that summer. Gail’s brother was Tom, I believe, her girlfriend’s last name was Summerhill or something like that and the others completely escape me, although I did develop quite a crush on one of the friends and it was reciprocated, but for the fact that he had a girlfriend back home (naturally).
My parents were always the souls of generosity when it came to my friends. My mother would prepare meals for anyone I wanted to invite and my dad was the perfect host – always foisting more of my mom’s good cooking onto anyone with an empty plate or glass. So, it wasn’t long before the gang was at my house having lunch, or a bar-b-que or even breakfast.
On one of those afternoons, I recall one of the guys went out to the car and brought back a fairly large teal-blue box with fancy gold script on the lid and plonked it down on our bench-style picnic table in the backyard. What was emptied out of that box was to prove an ongoing pleasure to me for years to come. Out came a playing board that unfolded like Japanese origami, a small plastic bag filled with dice, muticoloured 3 dimensional triangles and little round receptacles that looked like carved pies. As well, there were two magic boxes, chock full of cards loaded with categorized trivia questions.
This was Trivial Pursuit. Hot off the presses, the guys (who were a little on the “geeky” side) had been waiting for it to arrive and had snatched a copy up as soon as it hit the shelves. We were one of the first groups ever to lay out that board and play the game.
I had been raised on an eclectic mix of movies and television courtesy of my film-buff family, so my favourite category was Entertainment. As well, my dad had a mind like a steel-trap and my mother was a big reader. I had inherited their senses of curiosity and possessed a sharp memory myself, so I was pretty darn good at this new game.
On one of the days, we all piled in Gail’s brother’s car – some beat up late 70’s model, probably with no seat belts, and headed across the 401 and up to Kitchener-Waterloo to visit the university. I had never been further west than Burlington, without my parents and the exhilaration of cruising in a car with relative strangers who were my peers was intoxicating.
At UW, we hung out in a residence in a tower block of apartment buildings, drinking coffee and playing the game until all hours. We were all Catholic, by coincidence, not design and we took some time out to go to Mass on campus at St. Jerome’s, which was a really strange thing for me – spending time with a group of individuals who seemed to be like-minded on just about every front.
The best night I remember however, was back at the cabin at Erindale in Mississauga. We feasted on a simple dinner of spaghetti and salad (I had a hand in the cooking and somehow preparing food away from home was one of the most singularly liberating experiences up to that point in my life). We were all lounging around, chatting, goofing about, draped across various pieces of furniture and Gail’s brother pulled out a guitar. He was quite good on the instrument and I think I had a glass of wine left over from dinner because I was feeling pretty mellow and free. It was one of those epiphany moments where you think to yourself, “I wish it could be this way forever. I’m so happy right now”, because somehow, on some level, you recognize how it most likely will never be the same again, and this proves true.
Tom played Neil Young’s “Needle and the Damage Done” and I found myself singing the whole song as he played and the others just listened. To this day, whenever I hear that song, I’m transported back to 1982, the cottage on Erindale’s grounds and the summer friends I made that year. It was bliss.
Neil Young on The Johnny Cash Show, 1971