Posted on August 29, 2014
Time moves in one direction, memory in another.
Most of my childhood memories pertaining to video games revolve around a person. Sometimes it’s a friend, sometimes it’s a loved one – usually, it’s someone I would have played games with, or someone who would have at least enjoyed watching me play them.
This post is not about any of those people.
Remember that feeling you had growing up, when you just *knew* the person you were talking to had next to no knowledge about a subject you knew TONS about, so to avoid any awkwardness, you just avoided the subject entirely?
That’s how I felt with both of my grandmothers and video games.
I ate, slept, and breathed video games, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and NASCAR racing for the longest time, but I never brought those subjects up with either one of them. I’d much rather talk with Mémère Joe about her beloved Toronto Blue Jays, or talk with Nan about boats – y’know, she had to like boats since she had to travel on one to get to New Brunswick from Newfoundland… right??
Whether it was family or not, my childhood conversations always seemed to go better when the other person didn’t have to pretend to know what I was talking about.
Oddly enough, I still manage to retain a game-related memory of both of my grandmothers.
It was quite rare to find unlicensed NES games at a massive chain rental store like Blockbuster Video, mostly due to their fear of facing backlash from Nintendo. I remember renting Tengen’s Super Sprint from Major Video once, but even then, I thought the cartridge was legit at the time… other than that, I always found the Camerica, Color Dreams, and even Famicom games at convenience stores around the province.
One such store was Baie-Sainte-Anne’s Day & Night Variété. Whenever I’d go to that little store in “la Grande Rivière”, I couldn’t wait to check out the various oddities they had to offer. Baby Boomer, Quattro Adventure, Crystal Mines and Bee 52 are the ones that stick out the most, although my discovery of Bio Miracle: Bokutte Upa was the one that left the biggest impression on me.
Camerica Games’ Quattro Sports was another one I managed to rent a time or two. The first time I rented it, however, it proved to be quite the struggle.
At first, I was attracted to the game’s shiny gold cartridge. If Zelda and Zelda II came in gold, and they were awesome, then Quattro Sports was going to be four times as awesome!
Unfortunately, the cart and my NES’ 72-pin connector had other plans. No matter how many times I tried, I just couldn’t get the game to start without those patented “glitched up” graphics.
I tried wiggling the cartridge. I tried inserting it at 95% and pushing down on it as the top of the cart scraped the front of the slot. I tried flipping the dip-switch on the back of the cartridge. I tried and tried (and tried) blowing on it until I was blue in the face… I’m pretty sure I blew hard enough some saliva came out a few times, which then had me worried I had somehow damaged the cartridge beyond repair.
Just as I was about to give up, I popped the cartridge in as delicately as I could, powered it up and BAM – it was crystal clear! I was so excited, I couldn’t even believe it. I even risked pressing the Reset button on my NES, and shut it off a time or two to see if it would keep working the next time I came back to play it. I was good to go, so long as I didn’t take the cartridge out.
I remember thinking it was quite a fun game at the time. There were pretty decent baseball, soccer and tennis games on there, but the top-down BMX bike game is the one I played the most.
Like any other game I’d rent, I’d play it for a while, get bored, then go outside. The next morning, I showed my cousin Hélène the cool new sports game I rented. She owned a Sega Genesis, so I took as many opportunities as possible to show her why Nintendo had the superior console.
After playing for a while with her, I left and went downstairs to do some coloring in an activity book of some kind. She came down about 15 minutes later, very excitedly saying she had just gotten to World 3 in Super Mario Bros. 3.
“Wait… Super Mario Bros. 3… YOU TOOK OUT QUATTRO SPORTS??? IT TOOK ME FOREVER TO GET THAT GAME GOING!!! NOW I’LL NEVER GET TO PLAY IT AGAIN AND IT’S ALL YOUR FAULT!!!”
I was livid, and being quite loud about it if I remember correctly. Mémère Joe, who never raised her voice at me or anyone else, ever, stepped in.
“OKAY, OKAY, C’T’ASSEZ!! André, calme-toi, c’est pas la fin du monde. Mange ton poulet pis tes frites.”
As she put the chicken nuggets and fries in front of me (which she had been making for us as we colored and played games), it dawned on me just how rude I’d just been to Hélène in front of Mémère.
I made my grandmother raise her voice, and I had never heard her raise her voice with anyone. She was the nicest lady in the Baie, and anyone who ever met her would tell you the same… that morning, I felt like the biggest jerk of all time.
I ate my chicken nuggets in silence, apologized to Hélène, and ended up having no problem whatsoever in getting Quattro Sports to work again.
My grandmother on my dad’s side lived in Newfoundland, so I didn’t get to see her quite as much. After my grandfather died in the late 80’s, Lovetta would make the trip to New Brunswick every couple years or so. Everyone called her Lovie, but to us grandkids, she was Nan.
One day after school, I managed to embarrass myself in front of Nan.
Wal-Mart has been in my home city of Fredericton for 20-ish years now. It replaced Woolco, if you Canadians reading this can remember that chain. Even though my sister and mom were quite excited to finally have a Wal-Mart on this side of the US border, this store seemed like any other to me.
Eventually, they built a McDonald’s INSIDE the Wal-Mart. All of a sudden, this place didn’t look so bad.
I didn’t eat there all that often, but it was fun to try and convince my mom I could get away with eating a quick cheeseburger and still be hungry for supper. I was, after all, a growing 14 year old boy.
People would always say “Where are you putting all that food? You must have a hollow leg!”
In early ’98 or so, the restaurant got a small kiosk that held a few 14-inch televisions and a Nintendo 64 hooked up to each of them. Not only could I wait for my mom at McDickle’s and soak in the scent of burgs and fries, but I could also kill time by playing games on a console I didn’t own!
On one trip to Wal-Mart, my mom seemed to be in a rush. Nan was with us, and she gave me a few bucks so I could grab a bite to eat while I waited for mom to shop for whatever she needed.
Unfortunately, the service was quite a bit slower than I expected it to be because I just had to order a McChicken sandwich, which they had to prepare from scratch just for me. I was – and still am – a patient guy when it comes to waiting for food, so I went over to the N64 kiosk to play a bit of Bomberman 64.
The game wasn’t too bad – I hadn’t played too many N64 games yet at that point since I was a PlayStation owner, but I liked the overall look and feel of it. It was still pretty early in the days of 3D platforming, so it didn’t take much to impress me at the time.
It had only been a few minutes, but it still felt like a while in waiting for the food to be ready. By the time I walked back to the counter, they were just finishing up. I was about to rush to a seat to scarf it down before Mom got done with her shopping, but she was already right behind me and ready to leave as I got my tray of food.
For some reason, I had my panties in a wad that day. I’m not sure if I had a bad day in class or what, but when she suggested I should put it in a bag and take it on the road with us to the Big Potato (a local store that sells produce), I got angry. I wanted to eat it when it was nice and fresh!
After all, they had made it just for me.
After some disagreement between us at the counter, Mom asked for a bag to put it in, which the cashier handed to her. For some reason, I was beyond embarrassed about this. I was still mad as I walked out the Wal-Mart doors and to the car where Lovie was patiently waiting for us.
I ate my McChicken and fries in the car, but I still held some frustration for not being able to eat it in the restaurant. When we got to the Big Potato, I didn’t go in. I stayed behind with Lovie and waited in the car.
“Was your sandwich good?” she asked.
“Yes, but it wasn’t worth the embarrassment.”
“Ohhh Andre, you can’t sweat the small stuff, m’love. It’s no big deal when all is said and done.”
Once again, I felt like a huge jerk in front of someone I didn’t get to see all that often.
I’m still not sure what I was so embarrassed about – all Mom did was take the food off the tray and put it into a plastic bag – WHICH, by the way, was the first time I walked out of a fast food joint with food in a non-paper bag… that was weird.
In any case, neither one of those moments were particularly proud ones. The past few days have made me reflect on the days I spent with my grandmothers; Mémère Joe passed away in 2006, while Nan passed away in 2008, and although it’s a bit sad they’re both gone, I can’t help but have a smile on my face at the though of all the *other* times I got to spend with them.