by Esther Darlington MacDonald
Any kid growing up in Ashcroft in the 1980’s had to be an outdoor kind of kid. There was just so many things a kid could do.
But in this age of digital distraction when the only physical exercise that seems important is that that only requires two thumbs, what kids did 30 or more years ago may seem like prehistory to many, young and old.
Today there is much concern about kids’ obesity. There is concern about kids’ lack of exercise. So much so, that governments are paying for ads to get us moving again. That is, moving beyond the exercise of our digits.
Okay. Then, what did kids used to do? How did they spend their spare time when they weren’t in school?
Well, for one thing, what they used to do kept them moving. Not just on the school yard playing soccer, or in the arena, playing hockey for a few hours a week. The kids 30 years ago were explorers. They trekked the banks of the Thompson River right down to Black Canyon and back. They fished for trout and salmon in the river. They climbed the steep slopes and walked across the wide mesas. They dug holes in the slopes and made little caves.
What did they do in these dug-outs? Who knows. It was nobody’s business but theirs. They walked down the road to the slough, – two klicks, it was then. And they did it for no other reason to explore.
Keeping in shape are the watchwords today. The exercise is rigorous and exacting. Only the toughest, hardiest, enjoy that kind of exercise. But the kids of 30 years ago, got their exercise in the easiest, friendliest, least exacting manner that can be imagined.
And imagination was all part of the exercise. Exploring the dunes, the gravel cliff faces, the canyons and crevices of our Thompson River corridor. Their leg muscles were used. Their arms were used. Their whole bodies were bending, reaching, climbing, walking, even running.
Casting a line into the Thompson, over and over again, takes patience and skill. Not many kids you saw on the river bank fishing came home without fish. It wasn’t catch and release either. It was ‘Here mom. Fry us up some fish’. And when one place on the river didn’t come up with more than a nibble, you moved on up river or down river, and tried another place where they might be biting. It was fun to cast and watch the line bob on the water, pulling the line in slowly, hoping it wouldn’t catch on the rocks.
And it was fun to watch the salmon spawning on the river from the bridge in Ashcroft. In fact, it was kind of exciting to see all those salmon together doing the thing that Nature meant them to do.
Growing up in Ashcroft meant going down to Mrs. Aie’s shop on Railway Avenue after school, and buying that red colored ginger you sucked on for an hour. That meant waiting behind the counter while Mrs. Aie took the jar down from the shelf. And taking in the atmosphere of the tongue and groove wall boards, the oil drum stove, the chairs set up beside it. And maybe some old man dozing in one of the chairs. Hey. It was something different to see, smell and feel… And remember for the rest of your life.
Or it might simply be, peering through the window into the shop to see who was there. Just for the heck of it.
It also meant walking along the railroad track behind China Town, where you might catch a glimpse of what was going on in the back of Wing Chong Tai’s. Somebody butchering a pig, or trimming a haunch of beef. It might mean stopping to throw a few words around to the people who sat outside the back of the shops or the fire hall (it was on Railway Avenue then).
But one of the most exciting things a kid could do 30 years ago, was climbing up the slopes above the Thompson, reaching the ridge where the old water flume used to be, and walking that line high above everything, seeing everything around for a couple of miles each way.
Hey! Maybe that’s how the explorers felt, seeing that mighty river bend and twist its way and join with the Fraser down there at Lytton.
Down at the slough, you could get a little fire going and roast a few weenies. Putting the weiner at the end of a long stick, watching it sizzle and blacken.
You could shuck your clothes and jump into the shallows of river water left after the high water of spring went down, leaving a dozen or so pools to paddle in. Nobody saw you naked. And if some one did. Who cared?
You could climb the Highland Valley Road for a couple of miles at least, finding the saskatoon berries that were plumper than the ones close to town. You could explore the woods, and see the rabbits running every which way, or watch a deer feeding at the edge of the ponderosa.
In the winter, of course, you could toboggan down the hill at Sawmill Corner, climbing up and going down, over and over again. Not feeling the cold a bit. Because you were too busy doing, working your muscles, breathing in that cold clear air hard and fast.
And when you tired of that, you could stop and have a hot dog and some hot chocolate before getting into the family pick up and returning home.
In the winter too, there was Barnes Lake and Willard Lake. The snow was shovelled off. You played hockey with the gang. And if the snow as deep enough on the hills, you could tobaggon there too. Or just skate around the lakes, around and around and around.
Yes, there was always lots to do in and above Ashcroft 30 years ago. And those digit didn’t shrivel up and drop off your hand. You still had them at the end of the day, and you could pen any number of letters and numbers on them at exam time. Those digits sure came in handy once in a while.