In today’s day and age, turning 18 is a rite of passage around here that usually involves shooters, too much booze, and likely vomiting, due in part to the drinking age in Alberta being 18. It mostly happens in Grade 12 while still living at home as well.
For me, it was few of these things, but something just as memorable and exciting.
The years before
When we were growing up, periodically my friends and I would count out exactly when we were turning 18. For me it was February 18, 1988. That was a long time after all my friends and classmates. I was five years old when I started school, born in 1970, and they were all six, born in 1969. There were actually four kids just like me in my class – Mike, who was 11 days older, Meriel who was a month or so younger, and me.
It caused a lot of interesting issues for me. A lot of things were done by age, so I was grouped with the kids a grade below me. The worst example was the year we all signed up for soccer. Mike and I were also neighbours, and pretty good friends at the time. Soccer was run through a community recreation board. They asked for our ages saying teams would be made up of boys and girls in a two-year age group. Mike and I dutifully put down our correct birth dates because it should not have mattered.
Instead of grouping with all our friends who were a year older, they grouped us with everyone a year younger. It was okay, but not a lot of fun, because we were way better than everyone else, mostly because, although the proper age, we had developed more quickly because we were always with older kids.
The next year, Mike and I made sure we lied about our age.
A similar thing happened when my mom signed me up for swimming lessons. I was with all these kids who were much younger than me in school, although the correct age. That was no fun either.
Any time there was a contest in school or the community based on age, I was either too young or in a different group than my classmates and friends.
I never resented that though, except in the soccer and swimming incidents, because I took pride in being the youngest and being different. Besides, no one ever made an issue of it.
Still though, when I meet people and we get to talking about high school days, they ask how old I am. Normally, that indicates grade. Every time I have to say my age and Grade don’t match. Grad ’87 students are born in 1969. So, if I’m 45, as I am now, I’m either 45 or Grad ’87. Other 45-year-olds are Grad ’88. Grad ‘87s are now 46.
The next time it had an impact on my life was when everyone started to get their driver’s licences. We all got our learner’s permits when we turned 14. For me that did not come later, because I was not that interested initially in getting my learner’s, in Grade 10. Most of my classmates started getting their driver’s licences in Grade 10.
I did not turn 16 until the middle of Grade 11, and did not actually earn my driver’s licence until the summer just before Grade 12. Again, no big deal because I initially had no huge interest in driving – until I saw the freedom it provided in getting off the farm
This is all prelude to that pivotal 18th birthday. Some of my classmates entered school later, so classmates started turning 18 in November and December of 1986. The avalanche began in 1987, and most of my classmates were 18 by the time we finished school. A few more turned 18 during the summer, and up until the end of the year.
By then, I had gone off to university in Edmonton, where I lived in Kelsey Hall with my best friend Chris Vining.
We lived on the 10th floor, which was the very top of the tower. We got accustomed to riding elevators, and seeing how everyone else lived because we were always the last stop on the ride up.
That year, Kelsey Hall was the only tower with an all-girls’ floor. It was Fifth Kelsey, right in the middle of the tower.
A couple of the girls on 5K had a friend on our floor. We got to know them pretty well, and they introduced us to all the other girls. We spent a lot of time down there, as it was a lot of fun. It really was a unique place in res.
University is different from high school in that first semester ends at the end of December. It does not carry over until the following January.
So, by February of 1988, I had a full semester of university under my belt. January meant new classes, including one called Education Practicum 251. It was the first round of student teaching, and involved spending four Thursday afternoons observing in a junior high and another four afternoons at an elementary school.
First up was Dan Knott Junior High, one of the newest schools in Edmonton, located in the deep south community of Millwoods. My cooperating teacher, who I would observe, was Cal Jensen. He taught phys ed and was the boys’ basketball coach. It was a very good placement.
And a very long bus ride.
I ended up travelling with the team for basketball, and even had a spot on the bench beside Coach Jensen. It was cool.
We had a game that night of February 18, 1988. It was against D.S. MacKenzie Junior High School, in their gym which was not that far from campus. We won that game, and it was quicker for me to walk to a bus stop and catch the bus back to the U of A.
I was not expecting what was waiting for me. My feet were a bit sore from walking in dress shoes, and I was not used to a button-up dress shirt and slacks. All I really wanted to do was lie on my bed for awhile.
As I walked down the tunnel to Kelsey Hall, a couple people passed and wished me a happy birthday. I thanked them, but they were gone before I could ask how they knew. I got to the base of the elevator and stood there waiting for it. When it opened, more people wished me a happy birthday. After they emptied the elevator I discovered how everyone knew.
There was a sign posted in the back of the elevator that read: “Happy birthday Rob Vogt, roomie and the girls from 5K.”
When I got back to 10K, my floor was waiting to wish me a happy birthday. Later, I went down to 5K. I took the other elevator, and there was a sign in that one too, that read, “Happy birthday Rob Vogt, girls from 5K and roomie.”
They had a chocolate cake waiting for me. They sang happy birthday, and let me cut the cake. Vining tried to sneak in a piece, and I recall instinctively trying to swat his hand away – with the knife.
It was Thursday night, which was Ship night. The Ship was a bar in res that everyone went to Thursday nights. It was always a good time, right up until the day I left res nine years later. From then on, the birthday took on the shape of most 18th birthday parties. I drank too much. Campus bars closed at midnight, but Angelo’s, a pizza place across the street from res was not on campus. It stayed open until 3 a.m.. We took the party there, and I recall, barely, two girls from 5K helping me home.
The next day, Vining told me he’d never heard me snore that loud before.
Turn about is fair play.
When you leave home, you leave a whole world behind. I was in the odd position of leaving home when I was 17, and would not turn 18 for another six months. And it would happen in unfamiliar surroundings with strangers.
At least that would have been the way it looked in September of 1987. But, by February of 1988, res had become my new home, filled with friends, some who became like family.
There has always been a part of me that has feared no one will remember me. That completely faded away with a simple gesture from one of my oldest friends, and a whole floor of new found friends.
It could not have been a better 18th birthday.