When I looked in my aunt’s closet and realized she didn’t have any scratchy crinoline dresses, I decided that I shouldn’t have to own any either. She had short hair, and it seemed only fair that I should too. After all, she was the coolest person I knew.
“I want to cut my hair like Buffer’s.”
And so it came to be.
Buffer is better known as Cathy to the rest of the world outside the Torti family tree. The story goes that I couldn’t pronounce Cathy, it came out Buffer (they almost rhyme), and Buffer stuck like Hubba Bubba to my sister’s hair.
Early on, I became very possessive of Buffer. I technically discovered her first, so, when Kiley tried to edge in, I had to stake my territory. I can still hear the awful “thwonk” of Kiley’s four-year-old skull as I pulled out the pillow supporting her head on the couch with the wooden arms. “That’s Buffer’s pillow.”
Kiley wailed for hours and was nursed back to a smile with my grandmother’s kisses and cherry Kool-aid. Eventually we all found common ground watching Benny Hill, eating Nilla cookies with Betty Crocker vanilla frosting. This was Buffer’s specialty. In addition, Buffer bought the good chips that my mother would never buy—ketchup and dill pickle. The pantry was full of fantastic snacks—but chocolate gave Buffer a headache. This is why Kiley was exceptionally excited to find a chocolate bar in the pantry on one occasion. In her excited state, she surreptitiously ate the entire bar. When she was on the toilet within three minutes, and for the next three hours, the tell-tale Ex-Lax packaging was discovered in the garbage can.
Aunt Buffer lived with my Nan. We cherished our sleepovers there mostly because we had no bedtime, there were good potato chips to lick the fronts and backs of—and, Buffer and Nan liked to watch the soaps, Geraldo, Jerry Springer, The Jeffersons, The Golden Girls and Arsenio Hall.
When we weren’t sucked into the marvel of cable television (keep in mind our country existence and three snowy TV channels), we were listening to Buffer’s vinyl in the Front Room. The Front Room was the Front Room because it was at the front of the house, and it was adjoined to the Centre Bedroom which was beside Nan and Buffer’s Bedroom.
Buffer had an enviable record collection. We’d plug in the retro headphones and blow our young eardrums out to KISS, Bay City Rollers and Electric Light Orchestra. Then Nan would join us, the volume would be turned to BLARING and Nan would bop around until she held her chest and had to sit down because of her high blood pressure. My first concert was with Buffer—we went to see Mister Mister. She took Nan to her first concert too—Wham! and the Pointer Sisters.
In the Front Room we learned how to dance with a broom, swear and spy. Nan taught us f*ck, mostly by accident. Buffer taught us other urban things—and soon, with Nan on her lawn chair and binoculars in hand, we were doing drug busts. Buffer knew stuff was going down on Erie avenue, and we learned to train our binoculars on the second floor window and document the seedy behaviour. She knew drug deals were going on right down the street, and we were integral members of her surveillance team. We were to never tell our parents. (Which, I never did, until now I think!)
We felt so Miami Vice with Buffer, doing the drug busts. When we tired of the surveillance work we would pile into her Tempo and cruise the streets. Buffer knew every model of car on the streets, the engine power of each one and exactly which one she could smoke at the stoplights. Oh yeah, we were drag racers. We would squeal with delight, Nan would egg her on as we lurched forward and leave the Mustang convertible in our Tempo dust.
Buffer rented cars every weekend, mostly for our entertainment I think. We would chase ambulances, road trip to Port Dover for sloppy footlongs and laugh hysterically over Nan’s attempts at taking the wheel on quiet country roads. Nan would either laugh until she wet her pants, cry her eyes out with terror, or end her driving lesson by punching Buffer and cursing. We loved this the best.
With Buffer, we were storm chasers. She knew every cloud species in the sky and could detect a drop in the barometer with her nose. We were in awe. Our biggest fear was Buffer-induced. When she spoke of F5 tornados and other funnel clouds, we’d be wide-eyed and covered in goose pimples.
If we were good, Buffer would take us over to Bell Lane in Strawberry Hill, the hilliest stretch in Brantford. “Don’t tell your father!” would be the disclaimer. And, of course we didn’t—(until I opened my big blog-mouth here). Buffer would gun it much to our thrill, and we would be a baby blue Tempo blur as we sped down Bell Lane. She could totally recreate the stomach lurch of a roller coaster. Nan would hold the dash with white knuckles as Buffer launched us into the air, total Dukes of Hazzard-style. Kiley and Nan screamed at matching decibels, Dax and I laughed until we couldn’t breathe.
“Wanna do it again?” Nan would express concern over her blood pressure, but we’d gun it one more time.
After our Bell Lane joyrides we would go to “Fat Eddies.” It was really Fast Eddies, but Nan called it Fat Eddies, and it seemed more appropriate. We could get burgers for 39 cents and fries for 29 cents. Naturally, we ordered double of everything and the five of us ate until we were sick for under five bucks.
Buffer spoiled us rotten (who knew it was okay to eat cookies smeared with icing for breakfast?). She was like our delinquent older sister who would be right behind us on the tobogganing hill or roller rink. Buffer was the one dragging us to line-up for the Scrambler and Himalaya at the carnival. The only ride I ever barfed on was the Octopus, with Buffer of course.
We swam at Earl Haig pool everyday of the summer until our hair turned green. Nan patiently fanned herself and our egg salad sandwiches in the shade. Our summers revolved around that pool, Gigi’s take-out pizza, homemade Slip n’ Slides and the drive-in. Buffer even found us sheets of plastic so we could create our own slip and slide. We often ended up with severe grass burn as the sheets were never long enough. She’d hose it down (another urban pleasure as we had a country well and zero water pressure) and spray us as we charged across the yard and belly flopped onto the plastic-covered cement-hard ground. The neighbourhood kids became our fast friends when they realized the fun we had capitalized on.
The trips to the Starlight drive-in were most fun when Buffer dated a blind guy named Rob. We’d sit on the roof of her car and stretch out our legs on the cool windshield in front of Rob. He was cool with it, seeing how he was blind and all. We loved him for this.
Even more so, we loved Buffer for her fierce protection of us. When an elderly man accidentally sneezed on my hand in front of Woolco, Buffer gave him a blast, and she could be a verbal pit bull. When I was playing street soccer and slammed into a guy on his ten-speed bike and knocked him clean off of it (I was clearly to blame), Buffer made sure he never showed his face or bike in Eagle Place again. When the scrawny kid up the street said he could out run me, Buffer put her money on me. I took a colossal flip on an uneven part of the sidewalk and removed all of the skin on my left knee cap. Buffer was such a cheerleader that I had no choice but to suck it up and continue on. I ran to the end of the block, easily beating the kid who was five years older than me, with blood trickling down to my ankle.
This is when I earned the nickname “Horse,” and I’m not divulging this because I long to be called Horse nowadays. However, I was always proud to be Buffer’s Horse.
Thank you for enriching so many of our childhood days, Buffer. I’d love some cookies with frosting for breakfast, a drag race with a Mustang, a roar down Bell Lane and a 39 cent Fat Eddie burger for old time’s sake. And a good rock-out to Def Leppard with Nan in the Front Room. Those are cherished, golden days.
Happy Birthday, to my coolest aunt!
And these songs go out to Buffer–
Kyrie by Mr. Mister http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XNKbHJ3PTu4
Broken Wings by Mr. Mister http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GFKv0rqLow0
Xanadu with Olivia Newton John and ELO—http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7m1UWSD-FaA&feature=related
(we named our dog Xanadu…)
Pour Some Sugar On Me by Def Leppard http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6652YIBzByk
And, because she belongs to these memories, my tribute to Nan: https://julestorti.wordpress.com/2009/12/10/a-tribute-to-nan-2/