Curfew! (Part of never-ending January 2021)

Many army brats of my generation can remember the base curfews growing up in within barbed-wire-fenced camp borders in our PMQs (Married Quarters – I’m not going down that rabbit hole again about what the ‘P’ stands for. Personal? Private? Permanent? Doesn’t matter anyway – we just called our houses ‘PMQs’.) Curfews for the younger kids, if they had them, weren’t apparent, as our own parents made our ruletimes to be home, usually when the streetlights came on. That would have been after supper, when we had been called in from after-school outdoor play like farm animals by bellowing fathers. “Supper Time! Don’t make me come get you!” Seems we all ate about the same time, which makes sense to me now as all our army dads probably  had similar army men schedules themselves.

The base curfews for older kids, teenagers, were a little more strict. I remember hanging out with like-minded buddies, around the elementary school playground behind the PMQs, in Petawawa, Ontario, after dark, fooling around, jostling on the swings or monkey bars, trying out the older guys’ cigarettes, maybe listening to a transistor radio. No beers or anything. Those were for weekends, in the woods, not in our own backyards on school nights. It would be early 1970s. Suddenly:

“Uh-oh, here come the Meatheads”

Headlights bumping over the field as the military police car, no lights flashing – no need, we all recognized the black sedan – turned abruptly from the curving road onto the grass towards us.

Out popped the two of them. They always drove in twos from what I recall. Always men only in those days, too, no women yet. Big men in dark uniforms with equipment and accoutrements dangling. Pretty cool actually. And just a couple of privates, ok, maybe one had one hook. We weren’t worried. We weren’t doing anything wrong.

“What are you guys doing here? It’s after curfew.”

“Curfew? I just live over there.” One pointed to the PMQ row to the side of the field across the road.

“Really? We’ll see. IDs. All of you. I count six of you. No hanging out in groups of more than four.”

“What? I never heard that one.” There was always someone mouthing back, but we all pulled out our base ID cards from back pockets in our jeans.

The no-hook produced a hard-backed flip notebook and pen.

“Hand them over.” We all handed our cards over. He piled them on the flipped cover and started copying our names down.

“Hey, what are you taking our names for? We weren’t doing anything.” This mouthy request might have been mine.

“Maybe. But if anything is broken around here, we’ll know who did it, won’t we? Now split up and head home. Your fathers will hear about it if you don’t.”

A few more grunts as we took our IDs back, and some derogatory epithets yelled back when we got far enough away, of course, as we all took off running for home.

I never heard that my father was ever contacted. I’m sure the privates – barely older than we were, come to think of it – didn’t write us up for anything. We hadn’t done anything! But curfew – the word always meant something to me.

I live in Quebec now, a law-abiding retiree. Still somewhat mouthy, hence the blog and book writing. Did you realize that the word “curfew” comes from the French “couvre feu”, literally “to cover the fire”. Lights out. When my Quebec government recently expanded pandemic lockdown rules by imposing an 8pm curfew, or as they call it in their translation to English – “confinement”, I smiled. I was not a stranger to curfews. And even though it’s easier to stay home earlier at my age, (like when I was a little kid, by the time the streetlights come on), it’s the confining that the rebel in me doesn’t like.

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