When I moved into a predominately Greek and Italian suburb of Toronto, from the small tropical island of Barbados, one thing was obvious… I didn’t fit in. The Greeks thought I was Italian, the Italians thought I was Greek. I spoke English, but my accent was so strong that I actually had to change my speech patterns to be understood. My parents told me years later about how I struggled when I got to Muirhead Public School for Grade 5, but I don’t remember much of the first few months, kids are resilient and my memories of going to school after moving to Canada start with meeting Dino Karageorgiou.
It was late in November and although I had seen flurries a few times, I had yet to see snow that settled on the ground. I could not have asked for a better first experience with snow than this day, with huge, slow-falling flakes that blanketed the ground with about 3 inches of powder before the morning bell rang. By recess there was well over 6 inches of snow. Before going out for recess, we were told about the ‘Snowball Area’ – a designated field where you were allowed to throw snowballs. We were also given the warning which clarified that you were fair game to be hit by snowballs if you went into this area.
The reality was that on this day, you couldn’t make snowballs, the snow was puffy, flakey and not snow that you could easily pack together. But I was blown away by the whole idea of snow and I ran around the Snowball Area with handfuls of snow, running past kids and throwing snow in their face and running away. I was small, agile, and could get away from kids after giving them a face-full of snow. Then I did this run-by snow facial to Dino, a kid in my class. It only took Dino about 20 seconds to catch me, then he jumped on me and buried me in snow… I got my first ‘snow job’. After he got off me I was laying on the ground, buried, and spitting out a mouthful of snow while also blowing some out of my nostrils.
“You can’t do that you know… You can’t do something like that and get away with it.”
I think that as I sat half-buried, trying to get snow out of my coat neckline, Dino felt sorry for me, and he was explaining to me how I had brought the snow job onto myself. It was the start of a wonderful friendship.
Dino accepted me into his fold. Through Dino, I became friends with Gus and Stan. Dino, Gus and Stan also shielded me from a lot of bullying, since as an oddball, funny accented, tiny student, I know that my friendship with these boys kept me away from the targets of bullies.
I haven’t spoken to any of these boys for years now. About 6 years ago Dino’s younger brother, Mike, came to Vancouver, and we met for dinner. He told me that Dino was coming to Vancouver shortly after that. Dino and I connected on the phone a few times, but some personal circumstances forced the cancelation of the trip and we had not spoken since. Last week, during a snow storm in Toronto, Dino was in a fatal car accident. Yesterday was his funeral.
Dino had an amazing influence on my life. He was the one that accepted me into his fold of friends. He was the one who would translate Greek jokes for me, apologizing that they lost some of the humour in English. He was the one that invited me to his cottage, and introduced me to fishing, one of the first activities I found a passionate love for, (and one I’m committed to doing more of again). We would skip school and travel by public bus as far as we could go, to reach a fishing hole, creek or river. We would spend hours at Canadian Tire choosing lures and spending every last cent we had. We even thought we were going to write a book on Bass fishing.
Dino’s influence can also be shared by giving 3 specific example of his impact on me.
Music: Dino was a talented musician and he introduced me to the love of music. I remember him calling me to his house at the end of the summer in 1979, just before we started Junior High. “Dave, you have to listen to this album!” I went to his house and he introduced me to Led Zeppelin’s ‘In Through The Out Door’. He sat at the piano for about 10 minutes and had ‘All of my love’ figured out. He then jumped to the guitar and had a few rifts figured out too. Dino introduced me to a lot of different music, but the first album I ever purchased with my own money was Zeppelin, thanks to Dino. And to this day, they are my favourite band.
Sports: Dino was one of those athletes that was immediately good at any sport. We played a lot of hockey at the dead end round-about of our street, next to Dino’s house. Dino and Gus would always have to be on different teams because they were much better than the rest of us. They would have passionate arguments as to whether a goal counted or not, and this almost always ended with Dino giving in. Moments later, he would dazzle us with some moves and even things up on the scoreboard, after giving up on the argument. Then you’d see this little smile on Dino’s face, not a gloat, but just personal satisfaction. To this day I wonder how he could just flip that switch and score almost at will.
My cousin introduced me to skiing, but it was Dino that talked me into a discounted season’s pass at Madonte where I fell in love with the sport. Dino and I would be dropped early in the morning, by a parent, to the free bus ride to the mountain, then another parent would pick us up at the end of the day. We had some amazing skiing adventures and the bus rides with Dino were never dull.
From hockey to skiing, baseball to soccer, Dino was always helping and coaching and supporting me in sports, none of which I showed much talent in. One significant way he influenced my life and love of sports happened in Grade 11. I wanted to try out water polo but didn’t want to go alone. I talked Dino into trying it out with me. He came to 3 practices, hated them, but stayed until I decided I was going to stick with it, then he quit. Water polo became a huge influence in my life, I ended up coaching and the coaching eventually led me to teaching. But without Dino joining with me for those first few practices, I would have never gone to the tryouts and a lifetime of choices would have been altered for me.
Relationships: Can you imagine knowing someone from 9 years old to 16 years old, spending countless hours together and never being angry at that person overnight? That doesn’t seem possible, but that was the case with Dino. This isn’t something I was acutely aware of until we were in Grade 9. We were walking home from school and we were having an argument. I don’t remember what it was about, but it was by far the biggest argument Dino and I had ever had.
We reached the point in our walk where we normally split to go to opposite ends of the street, but Dino followed me to my house. We talked, or rather argued, at my front walkway for a bit more and I turned and started walking up my steps. “Wait, we aren’t finished yet,” Dino said to me, causing me to turn around. I don’t remember what I said in response, but more than 30 years later I can still remember Dino’s next words, “We aren’t done yet because I’m still mad at you.”
We leaned against my front wall and talked things through. It was that night that I realized Dino and I had never spent a night mad at each other. My eyes fill with tears as I think of this now. What an amazing kid he was and how fortunate was I to call him a friend.
Through all of our adventures, one thing always shined through with Dino and that was his sense of humour. Dino could make you laugh about anything. There was never a dull moment with him. He was kind, generous, fun-loving, thoughtful and funny. I was so lucky to have had him as a friend. He moved away after Grade 11, and we lost touch when I went to university. Still, I can’t express how greatful I am to have known him.
A tribute to you Dino, I’m sure your Stairway to Heaven is one that will be filled with laughs and joy… And like in life, you’ll leave a trail of people whom you’ve influenced in a positive way.
Your friend always,