A long time ago, when I had a full head of hair, summertime was the time of the year. It was the time when a beautiful sunrise meant it was time to hit the sack after a long night walking mile after mile throughout our town of sleeping and worried parents. We’d just hang out and chat, long for and fight over girls, see who would go out with who and generally make nuisances of ourselves, much to the agony of home owners and motel managers. Sometimes we’d get lucky when the moon was full, making the night a hickey-making-free-for-all, unknowing of the saying “safe-sex” (since we never really had any).
The older guys would show off their condoms and carry them around for weeks and I can guess in hindsight that they never got to use them. The only thing was that the older guys would seem to get married off at an alarming rate, several at a time. I guess the best part about the whole summer wedding rituals was the square dance after the feast. We would somehow manage to avoid the pointing finger of the dance caller, who was usually late Josie Sam Atkinson or late Johnny Iserhoff, who would call out the moves to sweating dancers while keeping up to the feverish fiddling of late Ray Spencer well into the wee hours of the morning.
If you did get picked out to dance, the trick was to try not get hooked up with one of your granny’s friends for the rest of the night and you had to have some sort of decent dancing shoes. My favorite were the old time Snoot Boots, which made quite the clacking sound and made it easy to keep pace (try that with Nikes). Somehow, my innocent looking face was chosen, no matter how far away I’d hide in the shadows, and I would have to begrudgingly shuffle along (yet secretly knowing that my feet could do better than any Riverdance hoofer). I enjoyed those dances, even though I tried not too hard to look like a “square”.
I still had to live up to my cool image wearing my two year old striped bell-bottoms and smelly red headband holding back my magnificent mane (aaahhh, those were the days). Some of the younger folks who just married would have the ROC band play the latest Creedence Clearwater Revival songs and other (mainly Rolling Stones) tunes and the main floor lights would turn off and some sort of delirious change would occur in teens my age (I think it was the strobe lights causing the same effects of modern day Japanese-made video games) and programming us to become silly.
The real action would occur on occasions when the lights would go out (the band would play in complete darkness). When the lights turned back on, I swear I could hear the distinct popping sounds of tightly locked lips parting and the screams of girls discovering who they were actually smooching. The music would start up after much tuning and twanging, the strobe lights would go on, the dancers would shuffle around, lights would go off and the hickey free for all would start all over again. This would end when the older folks decided it was time for square dancing again.
It’s ironic though, as I think back, that today we tell young folks not to do exactly what we did when we were their age; don’t stay out late, stay out of trouble, stay away from this guy or that girl, and yet we always say that those days were the best days of our lives. No responsibilities, sleeping all day, guys fighting over girls, girls fighting over guys, playing loud music on our portable record players, and dancing up a storm. If you were lucky, you could stay single right up to the age of nineteen.
Then one year, summertime became thirsty time. The massive James Bay Project cut off the river and salt water from the bay came right up to the first rapids and the once grey rocks that abound the riverside turned slimy green with algae. Drinking water was at a premium and we spent that entire summer and the next one getting drinking water for the parched throats of Fort George Island. In the winter, we would scour the river for that prized turquoise colored ice, which made such fine tea. Sometimes, we had to go out on the rocky islands after a good storm and go for the rainwater that collected in pools. I must say, that this is still the situation for our people in Chisasibi and Eastmain with no potable water fit for our palates.
I think that when the James Bay Project swept through our lands and diluted our culture with outside influences, the age of innocence ended. Today, when the sounds of heated debates and fights strengthened by a two-four or forty ouncer resound, echo and linger into the early mornings, I imagine that no longer the sound of those silly giggles in the dark will be heard.