Category Archives: Nostalgia

♪ Don’t Blame It On The Sunshine ♫

“To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence. And in childhood and adolescence they are, in moderation, healthy symptoms. Young things ought to want to grow. But to carry on into middle life or even into early manhood this concern about being adult is a mark of really arrested development.
When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so.  Now that I am fifty I read them openly.
When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.”
~ C.S. Lewis

I recall with clarity the day they arrived, in a plain brown box with my mother’s name typed on the bill of lading.  I knew what the box held; I’d been waiting with barely suppressed anticipation for weeks.  Though I knew the contents, when it came time to open the package, my heart was beating a mile a minute.  I dug through the crumpled, buff-coloured packing paper, and there they were: my new Dominion roller skates.

I spent the first hour half-skating, half-clumping around the apartment, which had laminate in the kitchen but was otherwise carpeted in a durable berber.  I didn’t know at the time that my skates would leave black scuff marks all over the kitchen floor, and I sure as heck wasn’t yet at a point in my life where I knew how to get them off, either.  Caught hell for that, if memory serves.

Funnily enough, I can’t seem to bring to relief the memory of my first visit to Roller Gardens, the local rink, with the new skates.  I must have been bursting at the seams, standing in the line up waiting to hand over my $3.00 to while away the afternoon, when the other suckers renting their skates had to pay $4.00.  I must have had them bump into my shoulder as I carried them,  laces tied together, toward the lockers.  I must have thrilled to the feel of them  on my feet as I did them up (only halfway, which was de rigueur), sitting on the bench with my friends.  But for whatever reason, I cannot compel the mental images to come back to me.  Perhaps, like so many other special events in our lives, the time was so exciting that I simply lost myself in the moment.

I remember so many other things, though; the smell of the popcorn wafting from the snack bar, the brick walls in the bathroom, the rough feel of the carpeted floors, benches and half-walls, the latter on which my friends and I slouched while we waited for the next song, or flew into when we found we didn’t have time to stop.  I remember the music very well; Grandmaster Flash, Michael Jackson, Styx, The Clash, The Oak Ridge Boys, Chicago, Pat Benatar, Kim Cairnes, Blondie, Men At Work, Toni Basil.  I could go on, but you must have your own memories to draw from.

I remember the clothes I’d wear – the Gypsy Jeans (later replaced by Angels Wing) that had an embroidered roller skate on the back pocket.  I loved the t-shirt transfer kiosk at the mall, and with my birthday and Christmas cash bought myself both a lippy Rocky Horror Picture Show tee and one that featured a traffic light and the words “I May Turn Red, But Don’t Stop,” the ultimate meaning of which was lost on me until an older boy named Sam tested the theory and was promptly and indignantly rebuffed.  I also remember that once, while frantically ironing one of the two shirts in the minutes before I had to leave for the rink, I made an ill-timed swoop, and scarred my unprotected belly with the hot metal.

There were a lot of people I knew who went to Roller Gardens, and because we weren’t indoctrinated into the high school clique mentality as yet, groups were fluid and friendly.  I also met a ton of kids from the local Catholic school, and crushed on a few of the boys; I recall one of them looking exactly like Chico Tyrell from The Lords of Flatbush, which I would have found hilariously funny, had I known at the time.  (I doubt he’s aged as well as Perry King, mind.)

The main pal I attended these marathon skates with was Tracy.  I loved hanging out with her.  We’d sit in her room getting ready, generously applying our Faces #65 frosted pink lipstick that we all carried at the time.  She was the one who’d introduced me to the B-side of Terry Jacks’ Seasons In The Sun.  “You have to hear this!” she’d squealed, pulling me in to her room and closing the door.  I still remember the first line: “Put the bone in, she asked him, at the store…”  The song was, ostensibly, about a girl who goes to the butcher, asking for a bone for her dog, who’s just been hit by a car, but Tracy had clued in to the double meaning.  She was always on the lookout for comedy, that girl, and readily found new material.  She was a treasured friend.

I can’t pinpoint when the allure of the rink began to wane, although it must have been before the end of grade nine.  I was mad for J., who was a year older than I, and starting to discover high school social life, and I suppose roller skating every weekend eventually ceased to be ‘cool’ for me.  The once-revered skates found themselves back in a box.

Cut to 1989.  I’d been living in Toronto for a couple of years, and was putting my tiny apartment through a well-needed purging.  During the process, I’d found my Dominion roller skates, in the bottom of a bin, smushed and stale.  Later that day, I stopped off at the local Goodwill and unceremoniously dropped them down the donation chute.

I think about that day, and wonder if I were uncharacteristically unsentimental at the time, or if perhaps, much like the day I first took the skates to Roller Gardens, life had swept me up and made it difficult to focus on important moments.  Or maybe (and most likely), now in my forties, I am attaching significance to an event that had none, for me, at the time.  But I can’t help but feel that by casually discarding the skates, I missed the opportunity to commemorate three important epochs: first, my carefree and joyous Roller Gardens years; second, my transition from child to adolescent when I moved on to more teenager-ish activities, and third, the moment as a young adult that I’d felt I had to ‘let go of childish things.’

How hasty we are, when young, to cast away all that identifies us as being young!  So eager to prove ourselves worthy of the perceived seriousness of grown up life.  Makes me chuckle, now.  I’m sure that the nineteen-year-old me would be mortified to know that older me, the homeowner, the mother, the grocery shopper, would be all too delighted to have those Dominion skates back today, and, euphoric and unashamed, skate up and down my street all the day long.

__________________________________________________

“Put the bone in,”
She asked him at the store
“‘Cause my doggy’s been hit by a car
And I do want to bring him home something.”
“Put the bone in,”
She begged him once more

“The meat from the pork is sweet
Give the bone from the pork meat to me.”
“Put the bone in,” she begged him
As she paced around the floor
“Put the bone in,” she yelled out once more

“Put the bone in,”
She asked him at the store
“‘Cause my doggie’s been hit by a car
And I do want to bring him home something.”
“Put the bone in,”
She begged him…once more.

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Filed under Canadiana, Ephemera, Nostalgia

♥ Love Letter To Canada ♥

Happy Canada Day, all!  It’s our nation’s 146th birthday, and my 46th blog post (I’d like to claim I’d planned that).

When I was an elementary school student, one of my favourite assignments was geographic research.  I recall penning (penciling?) compositions on San Salvador, Florida and Rome, however the ones that gently squeezed my little Canuck heart were inevitably about Timmins, British Columbia and Toronto, among others.  I remember happily flipping through encyclopedias in the school library, eager to gaze upon grainy 1970s photographs like this one:

ontario-place-mr

Ontario Place, Toronto

or this…

St. John, New Brunswick

St. John, New Brunswick

or this…

Swartz Bay, Britisih Columbia

Swartz Bay, British Columbia

In the years since, I have travelled to the West Coast numerous times, and have spent time in Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.  Six out of ten ain’t bad, but I do palpably feel the absence of the midwestern provinces, and what I wouldn’t do to get to Nunavut, NWT and the Yukon.
One day, I whisper to myself, one day.

I have fundamentally Canadian images burned forever into my brain, that give me a little tingle every time they rise, unbidden.   A photograph of a grain elevator in Qu’Appelle, Saskatchewan.  Nighttime pub crawling in Montreal with my friend Andy.  Sprinting down an eastern provincial park beach, tearing off my clothes (bathing suit conveniently underneath), and jumping into the salty Atlantic for the first time.  Strolling through Stanley Park in Vancouver, on a warm yet soggy March day, almost having the place to myself, and spotting an immature eagle, perched majestically in a tree, watching me.  Just missing my PEI friends as I arrived in Kensington, yet because of that, having the most beautiful night camping by the water.  Listening in awe as my cousin in Moore’s Mills, New Brunswich spoke fluent French and English to her children.  And, of course, years of memories from hometown Ontario, like watching the CN Tower being built (on my first visit I bought a pen, which had a picture of the tower and a little elevator that moved up and down as you tilted it).

Other memories from my Book Of Canadian Recollections include:

  • Getting all excited about traversing the then 5-year-old Confederation Bridge spanning NB and PEI, almost 13 kilometers long (that’s 8 miles for Americans, y’all).  Realizing immediately that they’ve built the barriers so that drivers can’t see over them and get distracted.
    Experience rating: meh.
  • Ordering a ‘Relic’ burger at Molly’s Reach restaurant in Gibson’s, British Columbia.  Bruno Gerussi, FTW.
  • Hearing Stan Rogers for the first time.  ‘Nuff said.
  • Buying a beautiful print of A.Y. Jackson’s Yellowknife, Northwest Territories from a woman who had originally purchased it because it brought to mind her days there as camp cook for a group of geologists. I sat contentedly for the next hour as she regaled me with stories.
  • Heading to the Canadian National Exhibition every year with my father, whose commitment to procuring a Shopsy’s corned beef sandwich each and every visit bordered on the religious.
  • Breaking down en route from Montreal to Lac-des-Seize-Îles in a torrential rainstorm, and proceeding to travel with the French CAA guy and his girlfriend, windows rolled up, them smoking cigarette after cigarette, as we communicated directions in Franglaise.  Good times.
  • Canada Vignettes.  ‘Nuff said.
  • Stepping into the narthex of Notre Dame cathedral in Montreal for the first time.  Words cannot express.
  • Living through ten (count ’em, ten) London, Ontario winters.
    Snow.  Oh God, the snow.
  • Meeting fascinating people:
    Gordie Tapp of Hee Haw fame in the waiting room of my optometrist’s office (circa 1978).
    Bill Lawrence, former host of Tiny Talent Time, who became the perpetually cheery weather guy at CBC.
    Guy Paul Morin (acquitted of murder in 1995), in a CBC elevator, where it took me about 30 seconds to connect the face to the name.  Suddenly overcome with the enormity of what he must have gone through, feeling  I had to say something, I turned and offered a simple ‘Congratulations,’ to which he humbly replied a quiet ‘Thank you.’
    Ken Bell, WWII photographer, at his home in Gibson’s Landing.  What an honour.
    There are more, but I don’t want to make you jealous.
  • Dating a Francophone separatist in the early 90s and realizing in my Ontarioan ignorance that we still have a long way to go in that department.
  • Each and every summer from time immemorial, having at least one opportunity to float on my back in one of our beautiful fresh water lakes, my heart filled to overflowing with gratitude.
  • Richard Condie.  ‘Nuff said.
  • 1992: The Tragically Hip releasing Looking For A Place To Happen, because any band that can somehow fit Jacques Cartier into a  tune is well, the coolest ever.
  • Having it slowly dawn on me that every other white clapboard Catholic church on the East Coast is named St. Peter’s.
  • Standing under two-hundred-foot trees in Capilano, British Columbia, and being reminded of my smallness in the world.

20080706123845_single red maple leaf

The ties I have to this place are not the silken, tenuous kind; no, these are most surely comprised of diamond-encrusted titanium links. And though enormously strong, they are neither awkward nor heavy, and provide a centering and stability I can’t imagine getting from anything (or anywhere) else.

And with that, I will leave you with Kate and Anna McGarrigle’s The Log Driver’s Waltz, 1979, Canada Vignettes.

Happy Birthday, Canada.  I love you.

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Filed under Music, Nostalgia, Uncategorized, Wanderings

Goodbye From My 10-Year-Old Self

starring_sally_j_friedman

Esther Williams never got water up her nose, or had to spit when she swam, like Sally, who didn’t like to get her face wet in the first place.  And Esther Williams never splashed, either.  Not even when she dove off  the high board.
You’d never know you had to kick to stay afloat from watching Esther Williams.  And when she swam in the movies there was always beautiful music in the background and handsome men standing around, waiting.
It would be great fun to be Esther Williams!

The year was 1980.  The book was Starring Sally J. Freedman As Herself.
If you were never a girl, you may be unfamiliar with this gem in Judy Blume’s bibliography.

Sally was ten years old,  just like me, and SSJFAH taught me many things.  Set in 1947, it taught me about the horror of the Holocaust, and the beauty of hibiscus flowers.  It showed me the importance of family history and personal stories.  It helped me know what it was like to be the new kid, and about how one always eventually finds their people.  It was a very significant book for me.

It also drew my attention to someone with whom I would have otherwise never become familiar -Esther Williams – and for that I will always be grateful.

Because back in the day, when I saw how much Sally loved her, I did, too.
And so now my 10-year-old self will mourn her, too.

Goodbye, Esther. You’ll be missed.
August 8, 1921 – June 6, 2013

esther-williams

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Filed under Books, Film, Nostalgia

Bully For You!

FarkusCry, cry for me crybaby! Cry!

BULLY (n.)
1530s, originally “sweetheart,” applied to either sex, from Dutch ‘boel,’ “lover; brother,” probably a diminutive of Middle Dutch ‘broeder’ meaning “brother.”

We’ve come a long way, baby.  Just not in the right direction.

This weekend, my daughter was the victim of bullying.  I’m not talking about your garden-variety meanness here; the kid in question called her a fucking bitch, fuck face, told her she was a ‘ho,‘ proceeded to hit her with a stick and then pushed her into a tree.  This all happened at the end of my street.

He’s eight years old.  And in her class at school.

I have mixed feelings about the situation.  I have a very headstrong daughter, and when he continued to call her names, she continually went back to tell him to stop, though the older girls she was with asked her repeatedly to just come along with them.  I spoke to my girl about this, and told her that her friends had been correct; they should have either come straight to me at the onset or found another known adult to help them.  As it turns out, another parent who lives closer to the end of the crescent had heard the commotion and went out to investigate.  Witnessing the abuse, she approached the group of boys and berated them for their behaviour.  Emma’s attacker ran off, but the others stayed.  One of the boys, frightened by this unknown adult, called his parents, who arrived within a few minutes.

The three girls ran back to my house to tell me what had happened.  I immediately took them back to the park and had them play on the climber while I went over to find out what I could.  By the time I arrived, however, three parents from my street were standing in the park facing off with the one child’s parents. I approached the group, and after a few minutes of listening to the adults shout at each other, I interrupted and said to the mother, “Hello.  My name is Erin.  I’m the mother of the girl who was bullied here today, and I’m hoping we can talk.” At which point I reached out my hand to shake hers.

I got this:

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Not gonna happen.

 

She was really on a tear, and extraordinarily defensive.  I understand that no parent wants to hear that their child might not be the angel they believe them to be, however even after listening to the adult and several kids who had witnessed it, she steadfastly refused to believe her child had been involved.  I told her, calmly, that I had three girls who backed up each others’ accounts, to which she responded, “So where is the girl?  Where is the girl this happened to?  Is she here?”  I replied that yes, my daughter was present, however there were a few things I wanted to clarify as adults beforehand, and I had instructed her to play on the climber.  I said, “You have to understand that my eight-year-old is distressed right now, and it would upset her if she were to be asked to come and speak to an angry adult she doesn’t know.”  To which she responded, “Why do you make it sound like her age is important?  My son is eight, too, so what? I keep hearing these stories from everyone else.  I want to talk to her, now!”

Ahem.  Let me pause, here.  My policy when in the midst of an emotional power keg is to transform into a Zen Master.  I speak calmly, quietly and unexcitedly.  I smile sincerely.  I employ body language that allows the other person to understand I’m truly listening to them.  However, at this point, when the woman repeatedly referred to my recently-traumatized daughter as ‘she’ and ‘her’ and ‘the girl,’ and for some reason believed I would actually make my kid face off with a raving, batshit-crazy adult, I realized I wasn’t in the least interested in continuing the conversation.  Fortuitously, she was distracted by a baited comment from someone else, and I moved away.

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Buh-bye!

Over the next few minutes I spoke to the remaining kids and got their side of the story.  They admitted there was bad language, though they weren’t in agreement as to whether or not my daughter was hit with a stick.  They asserted my daughter continually went back and engaged the boy, until she was called away by her older playmates.

This morning before school began, I had a meeting with the school principal to apprise him of the situation.  He agreed that he would speak to the teacher, and ensure that at no time of day would my daughter and the boy be left alone without adult supervision.  He will be speaking to one of the girls my daughter was with, who, as a school lunch monitor, has apparently witnessed the boy bullying Em and others in the past.  He will get the names of the other boys who were present.  He will take the boy to a different classroom for lunchtimes (when no teacher is present).  He will be calling the boy’s parents.  All these things I agree with, but I have to say I’m still concerned with potential run-ins on the playground and in our neighborhood.  What to do other than reiterate to my girl that in the event she cannot avoid this boy and he bullies her again, she needs to either a) walk away, b) run away c) run away and get an adult, pronto?

I have this inkling that 30+ years ago, this would have been handled differently.  I’m quite sure the school wouldn’t have become involved, and that I’d be speaking directly to the boy’s parents.  Thing is, in this world of BureaucracySpeak, I find myself out of my element, because my common sense reaction is no longer necessarily the most efficacious route to resolution.

What would YOU do?

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Dunno.

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My Grandfather’s Pencils

Side door, 70 Thursfield Crescent, Leaside

Toronto, Ontario

My grandparents had lived at 70 Thursfield Crescent for most of my father’s life (he was born in 1933) and virtually all of my own.  Their immaculate little semi-detached was nestled in the heart of Leaside, a suburb in East York, Toronto.  I spent a lot of my summer time there.  You could get to Serena Gundy Park by walking around the block until you found it (good for us little ones, as yet without permission to cross the street alone).  It was peaceful and calm, full of warm days and a complete lack of concern or responsibility.

An integral part of summer vacation was my attendance at East York Day Camp.  Each morning I’d get up and sit my grandparents’ sunny kitchen eating my peanut butter and honey on toast, dressed in my uniform of shorts and t-shirt, socks and Adidas runners.  Just before I left with my bag lunch, Gran would have me stand in the kitchen near the side door.  My job was to completely cover my face as I turned slowly in a circle, and she would proceed to spray me generously stem to stern with Off! to protect against the mosquitoes at the park.  DEET?  Don’t talk to me about DEET.  This was 1977.  After my spray down, and just before we walked out the door to go to the community centre where I’d catch the camp bus, she did one thing that will forever be burned into my memory.  Without fail, she’d take my face in both her hands and give me about ten kisses in a row on the cheek, smack-smack-smack-smack-smacks of true love and affection.  My Grandpa used to call me Precious.  It was my Gran who made me believe it.

Summer weekends were spent running along sidewalks, climbing the tree in the backyard, going for bike rides, taking trips to Ontario Place or Edwards Gardens to feed the chipmunks, and once, digging up the entire front corner sod searching for pill bugs.  My grandparents were patient and kind people, however I have to posit that seeing their hitherto unspoiled sea of emerald green in raggedy shreds very much challenged their forgiving natures.  I don’t recall ever doing it again.  Anyway, I had about 40 pill bugs in a jar.  Who needed more?

In most things, such as keeping an exceptional lawn, my grandparents were of the same mind.  They always had a kind word for each other, called each other (as did many of their generation) Mother and Father.  Granny made the meals, and Grandpa, unconventional for his time, did the dishes.  He’d always whistle as he washed.  He was a beautiful whistler, everyone agreed. They admired each other and supported each other, it appeared, in every way except one, or so I initially thought.

My Granny was  an avid fan of  the soap opera Search For Tomorrow.  Every afternoon after lunch, she’d sit in her chair and watch.  My grandfather  (in as mean-spirited a way as his gentle self could muster), would tease her, calling such shows absurd and frivolous.  Granny ignored him.  Then, one week, Granny was called away for a couple of days.  Grandpa and I had recently finished washing up from lunch.  I’d been playing in the back yard and had come in for a drink.  Wandering into the living room, I stopped short.  There, comfortably installed in my Grandmother’s chair, his long legs out in front of him, was my Grandfather, watching Search For Tomorrow!  He was completely engrossed.  After my initial shock wore off, mischief crept in.  Sauntering up beside him, I pointed at him and exclaimed triumphantly, “YOU watch Granny’s program!”  Without so much as a pause, or a glance away from the floor-model television, he replied, “When she gets back, I have to tell her what happened!”

Years went by.  My grandfather developed Alzheimer’s, and sadly forgot people and things piece by piece, until his beloved Mildred was all that was left.  After he died, Granny went on, terribly saddened yet indomitable, until a nasty fall convinced her that living alone was no longer the safest option.  She began to pack up fifty years of memories.

One day she called to ask if I’d come over and go through the basement inventory with her.  I readily agreed, not because I was eager to pick through their things, but because as a child, treasures were kept down there.  (Plus, about a month before, she’d insisted I take the second set of silverware, twenty-five pounds clanging and bashing against my leg all the way from the subway.  It couldn’t get worse than that, I figured).  We set about the task of going through every steamer trunk, every box, examining every shelf.  On one, there was a smallish tin; opening it, I was surprised to find about a hundred pencils.  It turned out that my pragmatic grandfather would just add any superfluous pencils that entered the house to the tin.  He’d never kept more than one upstairs, used for his daily crossword and word-find puzzles, however he wasn’t about to throw out something useful.  Admiring that trait, and being a (somewhat-but-not-really) pragmatic 20-something, I took it.

Years later, I am a (somewhat-but-not-really) pragmatic 40-something.  But I have realized that what I hold in my hands goes far beyond the practical.  I have my grandfather’s pencils, most of them imprinted.  Vote for Don MacGregor, Beaches (I can’t find the year as yet).  York Salted Nuts.  A 2B from the Toronto Board of Education. Milnes Fuel Oil Limited, 1815 Yonge Street.  Elias Rogers Company Limited, 2221 Yonge Street, phone HU 1-2221.  National Trust Company Limited.  Ossie Maughan, Painting Contractors, 47 Princess, Kingston Ontario, phone 4755. Lake Simcoe Fuel Oil, dial RU 2-1128 days, WA 2-2178 evenings.  Dominion Building Supplies, 2296 Gerrard Street East and 1453 Dupont.  A Venus Velvet with V-5 lead, medium soft HB.

He held these in his hands sometime between 1940-1989.  The hands that held Mildred’s during their courtship.  The hands that played with my dad, my uncle and aunt as children.  Hands that slipped around Gran’s waist, that did the dishes every night, that worked the garden, that touched my head when he called me Precious.  I have my grandfather’s pencils.

Dedicated with love and gratitude to the memory of my grandparents,

Eva Mildred (Dale) Lee and Arthur Leslie Lee

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My Granny: Kin of Gandalf?

Before anyone has the nerve to suggest that this is disrespectful, I just want to say that I loved my Granny more than anything.  She was the first adult I became taller than.  She sprayed me religiously with Off! every summer day camp morning in Leaside.  She adored my Grandpa.  She made a formal Sunday dinner each week.  She was proper and good.  She had classic fashion sense.  She raised three good children who became great adults.  She was caring and kind throughout her entire life.  It just so happens that I came across a picture and discovered she also looked a bit like a certain, beloved Tolkien wizard.

Doesn’t surprise me.  She was magical.

Sir Ian McKellan

My Granny (Mildred Dale Lee ) in the Shire

Gandalf the White

“You know, there’s more than a passing resemblance!”

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The Question Is, What Is A Mahna Mahna?

Heard this in the car today:

Now, am I the only one that hears the chorus, and can only think of:

Honestly.  Tell me.

Whatever the case, I bet you’ll always think of it now.

STATLER: Boo!
WALDORF: Boooo!
S: That was the worst thing I’ve ever heard!
W: It was terrible!
S: Horrendous!
W: Well it wasn’t that bad.
S: Oh, yeah?
W: Well, there were parts of it I liked!
S: Well, I liked a lot of it.
W: Yeah, it was GOOD actually.
S: It was great!
W: It was wonderful!
S: Yeah, bravo!
W: More!
S: More!
W: More!
S: More!

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