Special to The Journal
Thomas Wolfe famously declared “you can’t go home again.”
I feared the legendary author might be right as I drove to St. Catharines recently to meet Paul Marinacci, a boyhood friend I hadn’t seen since 1967.
In some ways Paul and I were like two characters straight out of the movie Stand by Me. We built our own crazy barrel rafts and launched them on giant ponds in a heavily wooded area known today as Twin Lakes subdivision. When we weren’t on the water we were in it, swimming, or walking around it with pellet guns, shooting up tin cans.
We were involved in some schoolboy devilry. But it was pretty tame stuff, like knocking on doors and running away. We didn’t go in for vandalism, shoplifting or bullying. We just wanted a little excitement in our lives.
And we got it. A couple of our more innovative pranks resulted in us being chased through the streets by angry adults who didn’t appreciate our unique brand of humour. I vividly recall a long-legged man closing in on us at breakneck speed. Paul escaped by diving under an overturned boat but I was caught.
All that running came in handy one evening when Paul spotted a toddler about to be crushed to death by a car backing out of a driveway. We got there with not a second to spare, pulling the little guy to safety just as a rear tire rolled up against his shoulder.
We were fast on the track too, both representing St. Helen’s School at a city-wide Catholic elementary schools meet in which Paul finished the mile race in third place, with me serving as an alternate.
We both played football, me as a defensive tackle, Paul as a scoring machine who racked up a dozen touchdowns in a single SMAA campaign.
At age 13 we may have been the world’s original conspiracy theorists, completing a joint school project in which we challenged the findings of the newly-released Warren report, which had concluded Oswald acted alone in killing JFK.
On another occasion I faked Paul’s demise so he could make a triumphant return to class, much like Tom Sawyer attending his own funeral.
Paul left Sarnia after Grade 8 and, for the best part of a lifetime, we had no further contact.
This year I found him on Facebook and we arranged a reunion. There was some trepidation.
Our wives, Val and Honeebea, were total strangers and, truth be told, Paul and I were almost in the same boat. Could a friendship left dormant for five decades be revived?
As we walked up Paul’s lane I was nervous. But when the door swung open those worries evaporated.
“I half expected you to knock on my door and run away,” he joked, squinting his eyes and lowering his head as he looked suspiciously to the right and left, as if we’d already fled the scene. Then he shook my hand for a second before grabbing me in a bear hug.
For the next seven hours we talked, ate, drank and laughed until we cried, with not a moment of awkward silence. The decades simply melted away and I was home again.
Dan McCaffery is a retired Sarnia newspaper editor and the author of nine books on Canadian history.