In the late 1960’s, before my Dad met my Mom, he lived in Edmonton for a couple of years, working for some big insurance company. He didn’t know anyone there but he became good friends with one of his coworkers, Jeannette. I’m pretty sure it was all on the “up and up” but it was the 1960’s and I just don’t know, do I? I mean, I’m sure it was fine. I even think Jeannette was already married at that time, and my Dad would hang out on the weekends with Jeannette and her husband and do stuff. Not, “do stuff”, pervs, I mean like, I don’t know, go to movies and restaurants and stuff. Why is this “Mad Men”esque image of my Dad in a natty suit and a thin tie wearing dark aviator shades and holding a cocktail in a lounge not leaving me? He still wore those sunglasses well into the 1980’s.
Anyway, my Dad and Jeannette remained friends after he moved back home and would be the kinds of friends that would exchange Christmas cards over the years and keep up with each other’s families on an annual basis.
So, when we, as a family, took a vacation out west in 1984, and it included a stop in Edmonton, it only made sense that we would get together for one night with Jeannette and her family.
This is where I come in.
I was 10 that summer and was pretty content to sit in the back of my grandparent’s borrowed van with a stack of G.I. Joe comics and John Bellairs novels and bury my head through the dry prairies until we hit the mountains. A stop in Edmonton seemed to me to just a unessessary delay for the ultimate goal: (Japser!) and I was not at all looking forward to the prospect of spending a boring evening with some old pal of my Dad’s. They’d probably be spending the whole damn night sitting around the dining room table talking about how fun the “old days” were and my brother and I would be stuck making our own fun.
“Oh, I think you’ll have a good time. They have kids you know”, was my Dad’s only response.
I couldn’t have known then, as we passed the world’s biggest easter egg in Vegreville, that the night we’d spend with Jeannette and her family would blow my mind and stay with me for years to come.
Because: Jeannette and her husband had three girls.
Collectively known as “The Heiss Girls”, I’ve long since forgot their individual names, but I do remember that one was slightly older than me (12?) one was like 14 and the eldest was 17. All three were home that night for supper. I think that Jeannette told them that they were having supper with an old friend and his family and that they were all expected to be on hand for it.
Let’s just take a moment and remember that I was 10 years old at the time, and although of course I knew girls from elementary school, I’m not sure I ever really hung out with any outside of school in my spare time. And I certainly wasn’t interested in any of them romantically, not yet anyway. To me, they were just the kids in my grade 4 class that preferred to play with Cabbage Patch Kids instead of Transformers. That was the main difference, as far as I could tell.
So we all ate supper together, two combined families, and then mercifully us kids were excused soon after and were free to do our own things. I do apologize if I’m not accurately and objectively reporting the events of the night, but when I turn my mind back to this evening, it seems as if someone has smeared a little Vaseline on the lens and everything seems a bit perfect.
At this point of the story I should mention that Jeannette’s husband turned out to be rather wealthy. He owned a couple of office buildings so their house seemed like a mansion and they had a large garden and back yard. After supper, the girls took me outside and wanted to do all kinds of outdoorsy crafts with me. I distinctly remember taking a piece of paper and a pencil and finding things with nice texture in the yard to get a rubbing. (Come on now). You know, like leaves and pine cones and that kind of thing. At first I thought they were a bit cuckoo. I mean, looking back at it, was the 17-year-old really into this too? Was she a bit on the simple side? She was around for sure, and so was the 14-year-old and the 12-year-old. I didn’t know what the heck I was doing, but I went along with it. I went along with it, first because it was just me on vacation. I didn’t have to act “cool” around my friends, and secondly, this whole “rubbing yard stuff” meant there was quite a bit of contact between me and the girls. Lots of “here, let me take your pencil and show you how to do it” and “oh wow, that one’s really nice. Look at the one I just did” kind of stuff, and casually finger-touched and arm grazing and shoulder bumping and I think I was pretty smitten by the three of them (but especially the one closest in age to me because she paid the most attention to me). After we tired of the “rubbing game”. (Funfact: I DID NOT get tired of that game EVER), we moved on to actual “flower pressing”, which was not quite as fun as all the rubbing, but it did mean that there was still some casual contact. I’m telling you, that 10 year-old me could have kept finding things to rub all night.
Eventually, it got too late for us to be outside in the garden, so we all came inside and went downstairs into the family room. I don’t know what happened to my brother. I’m sure he was around, but I have no memory of him that night. I only had eyes for the Heiss girls.
They were one of the first families I knew who had a VCR, and the Heiss girls had recorded a bunch of music videos. I think my brother and I were as much a novelty to them as they were to us, and I think they were surprised at our lack of pop culture knowledge. (I’ve alluded to this in the past, and even today my friends will marvel at the huge gaps of knowledge in music, books and movies.)
Amongst the Duran Durans and the George Michaels, the Culture Clubs and the Corey Harts, the Heiss girls couldn’t wait to show us Michael Jackson’s Thriller. Now I knew all about Thriller because the year before our music teacher rolled a TV/VCR cabinet into our music room to show us it. I think she wanted us to see the dance moves or something, but that fucking thing terrified me and I had nightmares for days afterwards and I think my Mom went to the school to complain. I wasn’t willing to show anything but 10-year-old manliness and bravery in front of the Heiss girls, but I knew if we watched it I’d get freaked out again. My brother is three years younger than me and even though he’s probably made of tougher stuff than me, I didn’t think he should be seeing it either. I distinctly remember tossing him a pillow and saying, “this is going to get scary, I’d hide my eyes until it is over if I were you”, and I remember crawling under a blanket.
The youngest Heiss girl joined me. Holy shit. I’m under a blanket with a girl and she’s kinda right up against me and her top and shorts are made out of the softest cotton ever spun and oh my god what’s going to happen here?
I was hyper aware of her presence next to me, and even though the Thriller video is really long (over 13 minutes, according to one youtube clip) the time spun by all too quickly. I survived Thriller! The next few videos were tamer, and I prefaced each one with a “this isn’t going to be gory like Thriller, is it?” and that sort of became my “running joke” of the night. It was the first time I had ever seen Cyndi Lauper, and the Heiss girls had quite a few of her videos in the rotation. Girls just wanna have fun was there, and of course Time After Time.
At one point in the evening, the eldest Heiss girl (who was old enough to drive), needed to get something from the West Edmonton Mall, and we all piled into a car and made our way there. I don’t even remember what that thing was, but I remember whatever it was, it was seriously cutting into my “blanket and music video time” and I couldn’t wait to get back to the house for more.
As it turned out, we stayed at the mall longer than we intended, and by the time we got back to the house, the adults were just about wrapping up their visit. Soon we’d be back to our hotel, and the next day: Jasper! What had started off as a necessary road block to my beloved mountains had surely become the highlight of the trip, and if I was even a little bit older I might have suggested exchanging addressed and keeping in touch with the Heiss girls. Later on in my life, I carried on lengthy “pen pally” style communications with a couple of people (before the internet!), but I just wasn’t on the ball that night. Could it have become a generational thing? Just as my Dad and Jeannette kept in touch over the years, why couldn’t their offspring? But sadly it was not meant to be. We said our goodbyes, and I had a handful of rubbings and pressed flowers to show for it.
I never did see the Heiss girls again, but I never forgot that night.
As it turned out, that Cyndi Lauper album, She’s So Unusual, was the first cassette tape I ever bought with my own money after I received a Walkman for my birthday the following year. That song, Time After Time, ended up being our first dance song at my wedding almost 20 years later, and ten years after that I endured a Cher concert just so I could see Cyndi Lauper perform as the opening act. She killed it and stole the show, in my opinion.
And through it all, each time I hear that song, or really any of her songs for that matter, I think back to that 10-year-old boy on that perfect summer night, in that bucolic garden, lit up during magic hour, following a 12-year-old-girl that he just met around the yard with a paper and a crayon saying, “How about this one? Can we rub it? Or this? Or this? Or this?”