While a baby, we moved from my Aunt’s place on Pinelawn Ave, to an address, one street over, on East Street. It was very temporary and my parents quickly moved us to Fleet Street, also in London, Ontario, Canada.
Our new house was small; but, comfortable, having been built just after the Second World War. It was basically a two story square box with a peaked roof slanting from the top of the first floor.
This is the first part of life at this address; recording memories of inside the home.
On the main floor was the living room, kitchen, master bedroom and a bathroom. Stairs to the basement descended from the centre of the house and those ascending to the second floor rose from the back of the house, near the back door and bathroom. All floors were of hardwood which was the norm in those days. We couldn’t afford rugs so we played on the bare floor in the living room at the front of the house with a window looking onto the street.
Upstairs, a room on the left was for my two sisters and the one on the right was mine. I thought that my bedroom was special because it had a doorway that gave access to a space under the roof. Just inside that door, there was a small area with flooring. I played there; and, climbed over insulation batting, probably asbestos, to explore deeper into that dark space.
I was an adventurous/ active/ mischievous boy, fortunate that when I stuck a wire into the electrical outlet in my sisters’ room no-one got hurt. There was just a flash and the electrical fuse burnt out. I was also lucky that, on shooting at the ceiling light in my bedroom with my water pistol, there was little damage. The bulb just exploded and blackened the ceiling.
The unfinished basement had a coal furnace and a coal room piled with black, dusty coal that was poured in through a window to the driveway. Winter meant work for my dad, shovelling and stoking the fire in the furnace to keep the house heated. There was a wringer washer in which my mother did the laundry before hanging it on a clothesline outside to dry. A cold room, a space under the front step, was where my mother stored fruits, vegetables and preserves for winter consumption.
Dad was a handy-man capable of making or fixing almost anything. One day while cutting wood on a table saw in the basement, he was distracted and cut off the first digit of his right index finger and half way through the next finger. He called mum for help. When she got to the bottom of the stairs, he held up the lopped off finger tip and said, “Get a needle and sew this back on.”. Mum fainted and he did the sewing himself. Everything healed fine, except that he never regained feeling in the end of the index finger and had little sensation in the other.
When about five years old, dad went to Germany as part of the Allied Occupation Forces. I missed him enormously, giving serious grief to my mother every day who had to see a doctor for help calming this screaming boy, me. During this time, my uncles Walt and Hugh dropped by as frequently as they could to show team spirit. Uncle Walt bought me a windup, grey metal racing car that I raced up and down the bare living room floor.
I should add that while my father was away, part of my hysterics was screaming for a little brother. My older sister Joyce and a little sister and I wanted a brother. Of course, I didn’t understand why my mother kept telling me that I would have to wait till my father came home. Wait? It was about five years later, when I was 10, that brother Rick showed up.
There was a radio on a corner shelf in the kitchen on which I listened to the adventures of Hop along Cassidy and Roy Rogers on his horse Trigger. My parents listened to The Shadow. I can still hearing the line “Only the Shadow knows”.
In the year before moving out of the house in 1955, we got a Sparton television set. TVs were a new thing then. Dad climbed a ladder to position a copper tube, bent in a loop, atop the wooden frame of a swing in the back yard. A TV cable ran from there, into to house. As he rotated the loop and the picture on the TV in the living room improved or deteriorated, my mother would shout to my older sister at the back door who would relay the message to dad who would further adjust the direction according to what he understood was needed. We got a London TV station and one from Erie, USA. The latter’s broadcast “Test Pattern”, an image that TV owners used to adjust the settings on their sets, is still clear in my mind.
Times were very financially difficult and there were times that there was little food in the house. Mother would borrow from neighbours and/ or go without, herself, in order for there to be enough for the kids. Breakfasts were often just “bread sop”, broken bread in milk with sugar, or puffed rice with milk. The puffed rice came in large bags. Cow tongue, heart, liver and kidneys were the cheapest meats available and we used to get them from a butcher on Oxford Street at Quebec. I used to sneak into the kitchen from playing outdoors to steal a piece of dry bread for a snack. It was through the kitchen window that I watched an ambulance crew walk the neighbour, Mrs Murray, arm in splint, to the ambulance. She had been doing laundry and on passing the clothes through the wringer her hand got caught and her hand and forearm were crushed when the safety latch did not give way.
Dad had a second job in effort to ensure the wellbeing of the family. After working all day, he would trade his army uniform for that of a Supertest gas station attendant and add more hours to his day.
( The next installment in Andre's autobiography will be on his life outside the home. The life of an adventurous little boy. - Don't forget, Andre challenges you to write your story for those generations to follow; those who may ask "Who was that person in my family?"
Read previous blogs on this topic . Go to the Blog Index and find Autobiography )
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