Back in April when the weather was lousy and the COVID-19 lockdown and news reports even worse, a routine online check of our bank resulted in a security question, “What was the name of your childhood best friend?” I entered, as usual, “Sharon.”
Sharon became my best friend shortly after arriving from England and settling with my family in St. Eustache-sur-le-Lac (now Deux Montagnes), a town north of Montreal, at age 7. Sharon, her younger sister Carol and I were inseparable.
At the end of CNR’s commuter run, our town was a perfect place to be kids and grow up. A lake/river on two sides for swimming, fishing and skating and lots of empty bushy lots to play in and build forts. The community was largely British and Dutch immigrants, with a smattering of British women married to German men. Everyone watched out for each other and if you were seen doing wrong, your mother knew about it before you got home.
We both lived in the old part of town, along Boulevard du Lac, a mixture of converted summer houses and older all season residences. We both had the former. Sneaking through our back neighbour’s property, Sharon was just down the road.
The town had long been a get away for Montrealers, especially the Italians. El Rancho Beach two roads west of us, with its campground and sand beach, was their destination. It was a safe town. We walked or biked everywhere. We went home from school for lunch and spring floods meant being taken across flooded roads by row boat by someone’s father.
The two biggest scandals were when a local church head ran off with a parishioner’s wife and when the mayor had the town’s snow trucks dump their loads in his front yard to build a life-size Jonah and the Whale snow sculpture painted blue for the annual Winter Carnival. He won but he was accused of cheating as he didn’t use snow from his yard.
We had so much fun, made so many memories, then when I was about 10 or 11, her parents suddenly moved to the South Shore. Gone but not forgotten.
Years later, I looked for her online many times with no luck. Probably she had married. Now I realize that our parents had been the same age so if both of mine had passed, possibly hers had too. I found her Mother’s obituary. She was in Toronto. Her father had already passed and, shockingly, so had her younger sister Carol. It appeared that my friend Sharon went by her maiden name.
Checking Bell 411 under just her first name initial, I prayed she still had a land line and not a cell phone. I hit on several possibilities, but which one was my childhood friend? I had an idea. She had a long-haired calico cat that the three of us had found as a kitten and brought home in a doll’s pram. Sharon’s mother named her Cicero. How many people could claim that?
I started calling the numbers with my planned opening line: “I’m sorry to bother you but I am looking for a friend. Does the name Cicero mean anything?” The first few calls were a failure but then my opening line was met with silence, followed by “Yes, we had a cat called Cicero when I was a child.” I had found her after almost 60 years.
We talked for over an hour, all the old memories, the forts, playing with my toy farm set, her doll carriage and dolls. Of swimming, fishing, skating and exploring. The snack bars where “fringlish” ruled. The troubles we got into, especially spilling homemade chokecherry wine that we sampled on her mother’s pink bedspread. The stain is permanent. On and on. Her mother, a petite red head deeply into abstract art and crafts, painted a picture of the three of us with the pram and Cicero. The boy playing a horn in front must have been Nicky, a Dutch neighbour. Apparently the painting hung in the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts for a year. Just before Christmas she sent me a picture of it. But best of all, when an online security question, asks for the name of her childhood best friend, she types “Angela.”
They say every cloud has a silver lining. Possibly, the gift of this cloud we call COVID-19 is that of giving the time to do things for yourself which we have put off for too long. I know that for me it is.
Angela Dorie is an agricultural writer and a Jersey farmer near Cornwall.