Last year I noted that, while we may think that no-one would be interested in our lives, a few generations from now someone may ask the question "Who was that man/ woman? ".. As I have been exploring my family tree, I have been asking that very question. There is considerable satisfaction in knowing who lived, what they did, etc.
This is another chapter of my autobiography. By its nature, it is as personal as it can be. I write the detail for my descendants and, for you, just to show you that writing your story for those who follow is not a difficult task. I encourage you to start now. Do a bit, now and then so it doesn't become a chore. If this idea doesn't interest you, Stop reading Now. It is to document, not to entertain.
As the inside of the house was sparse, indicative of frugal life and resources, so the outside showed poverty. The wartime house, as the type was called, had white asbestos shingles. The porch had lost much of its grey paint and the front lawn showed more dirt and clumps of weed than grass. The driveway was just dirt and a bit of gravel. The peaked roof house across the street had no facade, only black tar-paper, indicative that our neighbours were also managing the best they could. Also across the street, at the corner on Morningside Drive lived an immigrant family from Holland whose back yard garden was filled with tall, bright yellow sunflowers that, for some reason, made me feel good to see them standing so tall, faces to the sun. Then, not to be forgotten, was a girl, Francis, who lived in a house beside that of tar-paper. She was in my grade one class. I carried her books home from school and, at the urging of her older brother, chased her around the yard for a kiss. I never did catch her. The Murray’s lived next door and rented rooms to a couple young soldiers who occasionally helped my mother and I while dad was away for a year in Germany. Everyone was making do with scarce resources.
The back of the house had a small slope, just big enough for very small children to think of it as a hill to slide down in winter. Against the house was a rabbit pen for my two pet rabbits; that I suspect we ate during a particularly financially difficult time. At the far end of the yard, to the right, dad maintained a vegetable garden that, when it was not growing something, became a playground for my little sister and I to dig and get incredibly dirty. Evidently, other creatures dug there because doing so led to having to take worm powders to kill little creatures that came to live in inside us. I can still recall that the powders came wrapped in silver paper like sticks of gum. In winter, dad made a small skating rink; and, for summer fun, he constructed a swing set out of large square wooden posts. It was atop this that he mounted his hand made, copper tubing, TV antenna.
In the fall of 1954, hurricane Hazel hit London with force and the street was flooded. It became another playground for all the children in the neighbourhood in which to splash about. Here in this photo, I am the little boy in a bathing suit to centre right. The flooding prompted street repairs and a new curb served to help me mount a new red CCM bicycle that I got for Christmas that year. Up and down the street I rode.
We had an old car and you can see in the photo that the tires were thoroughly worn out. Allegedly, a friend of mine, Johnny German, and I played gas station attendants and filled the gas tank with sand; causing my father to have to remove the gas tank to clean it. Little sister Linda was not all innocence in this. She was guilty of taking the cigarette lighter and burning designs on the front seat covers. I have my dad's rubber boots on for the photo. Older sister, Joyce, was always the responsible one. I don't recall that she ever did anything wrong.
Raised by a strict father till he ran away and age fifteen and joined a circus, my father, a soldier, wanted me to be strong of character. You know the phrase “Grow up and act like a man.” One day, I arrived home crying, having been beaten up by a playmate’s older brother. At the door, my father turned me around and told me to go back and knock the socks off the older boy; or, I would get it, the strap, when I got home. What a dilemma for a child, that was! I was going to suffer no matter what I did. Fortunately for me, the boy had gone into his house and was not on the street when I went searching. Despite sometimes loud threats, my father never abused me; apart from the occasional swat on the bum. He did, however, one time, chase me up the stairs with his belt; mother waiting below fretting. While, upstairs, unbeknown to her, dad folded his belt and caused it to make a snapping sound, at which time I screamed as if hit. Mum was in her eighties when I finally let her in on the little secret.
When it was time for me to attend kindergarten, my mother and little sister, Linda, walked me to a school some distance away, North of Oxford Street. I cried and kicked up a whopping fuss about not wanting to be there while Linda carried on about wanting to stay. The teacher held me while mother dragged Linda out and home. Somehow, I escaped and was sitting on the home step when they arrived. I attended most of grade one at the Knollwood Park school on Quebec Street (Now Bishop Townsend Public School). My only memory there was of my pulling hard on the teacher’s skirt, demanding immediate attention, and thereby drawing a strong scolding.
To the dentist, I went. His words and my fighting against having a needle in my mouth "Take that kid out of here and never bring him back ! ". I never went back to a dentist till I joined the army 13 years later.
My children say that I lived in the horse and buggy days. It is true. In the early 1950s, the milk-man and the bread-man delivered in horse drawn wagons. Trucks, however, delivered coal for the furnace and ice, gathered on lakes in winter, through the summer for the ice-box – that existed before everyone had refrigerators. Milk, delivered in glass bottles and left on the front step, occasionally froze in winter and the expanding cream rose above the top, pushing the cardboard lid off. The frozen cream was delicious to lick.
I do not recall that there were books to read in the house. Life was out of doors, playing. Children went outside after breakfast and returned for lunch and dinner. Mother never knew where I was; only that I would be home when it was time to eat. Sometimes I would be playing with friends on the street. Sometimes we would hike down to the railway yard and watch the trains; putting our ears to the tracks to see if we could hear them coming. It was there that I first saw a diesel powered unit that would replace the steam engines. At age seven, I took a bus downtown near the London fair grounds, by myself to a movie theatre where I watch a film; the theme tune of which I still remember – The Song of Love.
A butcher shop was located a few blocks away, near the corner of Oxford St. and Adeleide St., It was where mother sought the cheapest meats – kidney, liver, tongue, etc. Near to that shop, there was new shopping centre where I had my photo taken sitting on a mechanical horse. However, I’m not sure that we had money to make it move.
Dad was a soldier mechanic who worked on Highbury Ave. There was another military garrison not far away, Wolsely Barracks. It was there that I witnessed a magician cut off a man’s hand and have it suddenly reappear back on his arm. I wanted to learn to be a magician. That explains why my children were subjected to a few magic tricks that I foisted upon them and their friends at parties.
Life on Fleet Street was a one of play, which is what it should be for the very young. It was a bit like that of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.
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