Base Brat: the early years By Scott Keeling ost people, when you ask them about their

early memories, can’t usually get past the age of 4 or so. Every now and then, a still image, but not a whole story from start to finish. Not me, though. At least, I don’t think so. I remember things from as far back as when I was 2, 2 and a half. I think I do. Maybe people had told me those stories so often that I just think I’m remembering them. Hard to say, really. Some of my earliest memories, well, some might say ‘show me the boy, I’ll show you the man’. Others, with a more literary way of thinking might say, ‘some people are born reckless, other people have recklessness thrust upon them’. Both are correct. Take the winter of ’59-’60, for example. My dad, who was an aeroengine tech, was posted to R.C.A.F. Station Chatham, New Brunswick then. I was just little, so didn’t even go to school, of course. And it was the fifties, so my mom stayed home. Play dates hadn’t been invented yet. Glenda, my older sister, was nearly six. Karen had only just joined us. I remember that winter as being very snowy. Now, winter in Chatham usually is snowy. Even today. Even with global warming. It’s on the Miramichi River close to the town of Newcastle, after all. Even so, I remember it as being particularly snowy. Mind you, it was one of my first conscious winters. But even so. On this particular day during that winter, me being 2 and a half...I was outside playing. Yes, by myself. And yes, we all thought it was safe (of course, I was 2 and a half, I thought everything was safe. That’s what parents were for, right? For making everything safe. So don’t go by me). But, yes, we all thought it was safe. And it was on the base, after all, which was, truth be told, slightly different than living in downtown Toronto or even Ottawa, anyway. So there I was, me being 2 and a half, which I may have already mentioned, playing outside just outside the Chatham station married quarters where we lived. Or so my mother thought. But, well, the snow banks across the street at the Chaison’s were bigger and therefore required my 2 and a half year’s attention.



I was well and truly kitted out for the adventure. I had my brand new snow suit on and my brand new boots and up the pile I go. All the way to the top. Because it’s there. And I was real high. And I was jumping up and down I was so excited. I had got to the top. I was at the top!!! And it was about that time that I made one of my first scientific discoveries. Not everything is as solid as you think it is. One minute I was jumping up and down on the top of a big snow bank and the next second, I was down at the bottom, inside the snow bank, surrounded by walls of snow. I didn’t even know that you could get inside a snow bank. Surprised? Oh, yeah. But not hurt. And not crying. Went too fast. I could look up and see the sky. Not much else, though. After a while, I did start to get a bit cold. Or thought I did. I mean, I was out of the wind. So I probably thought I should be cold. So I remember calling out. Didn’t help much. Voice was a little muffled, I guess. Being only 2 and a half, my sense of time is not at all accurate, but my memory of it feels like I was down in the snow bank for hours before they found me. At some point, my mom had realised that I was not where I was supposed to be and had gone looking. She had also asked some neighbours to help in the search. Eventually, although I can’t quite tell you how, someone thought to look in the snow bank and there I was. That theme of ‘damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead’ would recur several times in the years to come. And one time later the same year of the snow bank incident. My Uncle Bob White, his wife Aunt Jean – they’re also my godparents, by the way – and their kids and our family went for a family swimming date at the base pool. Uncle Bob was also a recreation supervisor at the pool, so we got a couple of innocent extra privileges. We started playing a ball game in the pool. And, hey, I’m not even three. I like balls. And what do you do when somebody throws a ball when you’re three? Why, you just chase it don’t you? Yes, you do. And yes, I did. I chased that ball right off the edge of the side of the pool and right into the deep end. Of course, it was all deep to me. But still. I earned my swimming-like-a-rock badge that day...excelled at it, actually...but it was no fun at all. I did have the presence of mind to scratch and paw at the pool wall in a futile effort to pull myself up, but, my own efforts were not the saving grace. Things were not looking good for young Scott when, out of nowhere, I’m being hauled out by my Uncle Bob, breaking the surface, and doing the one thing I felt like doing, which was screaming blue, bloody murder, and let’s don’t do that ever again, okay?


On occasion, though, my inclination to consciously make decisions that were totally opposite to what I had been told to do would also get me into some difficulties. Like the summer of 1960, when all the older kids wanted to go to the movie theatre on the base. A lot of great movies came out that year. Spartacus. The Magnificent Seven. Swiss Family Robinson! I don’t know what they were going to see. But that wasn’t the point. The point was that I wanted to go but my mom said that Glenda could go – she was older – but I was too young. I mean! Age discrimination or what? That wasn’t fair. Even my young self could see that. I decided to take action against what was clearly an injustice. I was going to go to the movies. The fact that I was not going to inform my mother or any other responsible adult was neither here nor there. I was going. I waited until the group of bigger kids had left and then I followed them from what I considered, based on my years of detailed training in intelligence school, to be a safe – i.e. won’t get caught – distance. You will also have noted a second flaw in my otherwise brilliant scheme, but I had not yet been made familiar with the concept of having to pay to get into the movies. As it turned out, that didn’t prove to be as great a problem as it might have been. But I’m jumping ahead. I kept the group of bigger kids in sight as I followed them on my tricycle – hey, it’s far for a little kid to walk, you know – and I watched as they went past the gatehouse where the red and white barrier pole was lifted out of their way by a guardsman in an air force uniform just like my dad’s. After the kids had gone past, he put the barrier down. I tried to use my short stature, which was even shorter than usual as I was seated on my trike, and I tried to crash through the barrier. Busted. The guard, for some reason unknown to me, did not trust a not-quite-yet three year old riding on his own. I was taken into the guardhouse for questioning. They wanted to know who I was, of course. Even came up with some milk and cookies for a bribe to make me talk. Well, I knew well enough that there were more milk and cookies where they came from, if only I could keep quiet. So I did. After what I’m guessing is about an hour and a half, my Uncle Bob – Geez, he’s everywhere! Can’t a guy catch a break? – came into the guardhouse to drop off some keys. He saw me sitting at a table and said ‘Hi, Scott. What are you doing here?’


The game was obviously up and now that the guards knew who I was and Uncle Bob had given them the address, I was given a ride home in a military police car, with sirens and lights and everything. Too cool! Too cool until I got home. I was in so much trouble. Not for the last time, but even so.... I’m told my mother more or less tied me to the house for the rest of the year. But a precedent had clearly been set.


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