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Can We Talk?

The Ugly Duckling

How can I describe her? When I first met her, she looked “cheap”, “hard”. There was that do-it-yourself bleach job, for starters.  She suffered from acne. Her voice was tinny, jarring, guttural, clipped and sometimes, shrieking.   Although very fair-skinned she wore heavy black eyeliner on her upper lids.  She painted her eyebrows black.  Her skin was oily so, by mid-day, the painted eyebrows glistened and sometimes smeared.  She talked tough.  You’d think she had slept with every man in town.  Years later, I learned she’d been a virgin all that time.  Maybe she wanted to draw attention to herself.  Well, she did but in a negative way. 

Jane was very thin yet her hips and thighs were ample.  She had no bust to speak of.  Furthermore, she seemed weary of life, although she was only nineteen at the time.  Jane was, at best, a curiosity. Some of the girls chided her. Some, like me, were curious and wanted to get to know her better. Despite outward appearances Jane was friendly and looked like she desperately wanted to be liked. Most of the girls shied away from her. I guess it was that hard edge that turned some people off. Tough girls are hard to like. Read more…

May 19th, 2008 Posted by | For Women Only, Musings, Nostalgia | no comments

The 1950’s Remembered

Back in the ’50’s in Hamilton, horses still pulled milk wagons.    When we kids would see the horse coming down the street, we’d all run and greet him.  He never paid any attention to us.  I guess he was used to the children making a fuss over him.  That horse was so smart.  He dutifully stopped at ever house, the milkman stepped out, delivered bottles of milk, stepped back in the van, the horse proceeded to the next house and so on, until all the milk was delivered.

Bread was delivered and dry cleaning was picked up and delivered, blocks of ice were also delivered since iceboxes were still used extensively. Doctors had the letter “D” on their licence plates.  In case of a traffic accident, they were required to stop and help.

Yes, things were different then.  Women stayed home and ran the house.  Men went to work, brought home the paycheck and they lived according to their means – that is, according to the paycheck. 

After a couple of years of living in Hamilton, we built a house in the suburbs.  Mother worked hard at keeping a nice home.  Those hardwood floors were waxed and polished every week.  I loved the smell of the newly polished floors.  It’s one of those smells you never forget.

We had a garden in the back yard where Mom grew tomatoes, beans, lettuce, cucumbers, etc.  We also had cherry and apple trees in our yard because that area had once been an orchard. She made strudel and pies from them.  She canned the rest.  Our cold/root cellar was always packed with good things – compotes, pickles, canned pears, canned peaches, pickled beets, sauerkraudt – the list goes on and on.  Seems that all summer long there was something simmering on the stove, and the sterilizer was constantly in use.  All winter long, we ate the contents.  Although the fruit was not fresh, it was preserved in a sweet syrup and enjoyed untill harvest time the following year.

Once the grapes were harvested, Mom and Dad would drive out to the vinyards and buy bushels and bushels of grapes.  From there, they were put through a wine press in the garage, then transferred into wood barrels in the basement, to ferment.  For weeks and weeks they bubbled and brewed.  You could smell the wine-in-the-making throughout the house until fermentation was complete and the resulting wine was bottled and corked.

Understand, at that time it was illegal to make your own booze.  Nobody bothered with wine making as that would have caused a big problem with the European immigrant vote.  Winemaking was and still is part of our culture, no matter where in Europe you’re from.

However, erecting a still was a more serious problem.  Although Mother boarded up the windows in the basement, you could smell the schnapps-in-progress three blocks away.  Still nobody complained.  Well, maybe they did but nothing was done about it.  After all, it was for personal consumption.  However, I was constantly in a state of embarrassment.  Bad enough being a pre-teen and the only immigrant in that very Waspish neighbourhood, but to be the one smelling up that same neighbourhood with liquor and wine.  Well, it was a lot to overcome.

Still, there were some neighbours who visited our house on a regular basis.  Dad would always play the good host and offer wine, which they never refused.  They would drink several glasses and leave giggling and hiccupping. 

Oh yes, embarrassing as it was at the time, I can’t help but smile when I remember that era.

March 19th, 2008 Posted by | Nostalgia | no comments

Summer Jobs

There weren’t a lot of job opportunities in Burlington mid-century. Essentially, Burlington was located at the perimeter of farmland. So, for the most part, we kids got jobs on farms.

One summer, I got a job picking raspberries nearby. Oh, what fun. My school chums and I worked our way up and down the rows of raspberry bushes doing our best to fill those baskets. Of course, it took us longer than it should have because we popped a lot of those raspberries in our mouths. Pretty soon, we started popping the berries into each other’s mouths. Needless to say, we missed a lot. Yet, despite all that, we still made pretty good money for as long as the job lasted because when the bushes were empty, we were done. We then had to look for something else to do.

While others went to camp, I worked. Don’t feel sorry for me. I wanted my own money even then.

The summer I turned thirteen I tried picking cherries. Mother drove me to the orchard and a kindly farmer outfitted me with a basket and apron. Each full basket earned me two dollars. He brought me to a tree and gave me a stepladder. I climbed up, determined not to let my fear of heights deter me.

Working on the tree next to mine were a couple of boys about my age. I minded my own business and picked my cherries and emptied them into my apron. Each time the apron was full I’d climb down and drop them into the basket. I might add picking cherries was not my forte. I was slow. I was afraid of heights. However, I persevered.

All this time the boys were trying to make conversation with me. I tried to ignore them but they continued teasing and talking about my pronounced bosom. I had worn a knitted top but wore a plaid bush shirt over it. I guess I couldn’t hide my femininity no matter what I tried. And, believe me, I tried. Most of my girlfriends had not yet developed. I felt embarrassed.

Next thing I knew, the boys were on their second tree and then their third tree. I was still working on my first. After a while, one of the guys parked himself under my tree and watched me pick. There he was lying in the grass, his arms folded behind his head, watching me. I continued to pick. He said, “I understand girls like to have their breasts fondled. I think I’d like to fondle yours.” My face turned red and I nearly fell of the ladder. I got so flustered, I could barely concentrate on what I was doing. I fell way behind. My tree was only half done and this fellow was distracting me.

It didn’t take long. All of a sudden, I saw the farmer walking towards me. He called me down from the tree. He asked me to come with him. Once inside the barn, he told me he didn’t think I was cut out for cherry picking and I should call my mother to pick me up.

I was so disappointed. I was so embarrassed. I was ashamed to tell Mother I had been fired. I called her. She came and I told her what happened. At least I made $5.00 for my efforts but I felt like a failure. I had not flirted with those boys, yet I’m the one that got the boot. Not fair. In retrospect, had I been the farmer, I’d have done the same. The boys produced. I didn’t and I was a distraction.

The following summer I got a job I thought was pretty OK. It was baby sitting an eight year old boy. He was quiet and easy to deal with. His Mom was the spitting image of Elizabeth Taylor. She was really lovely. His father was a pretty good guy too but boy, could he drink beer. He had a case sitting beside his lazyboy chair while he watched TV.  He’d reach down to get out a bottle, guzzle it back, put the empty bottle back in the case and take out another. It was really something to see.

Tom (my charge) and I went to the movies quite often. Of course, they were always matinees. Despite the theatre being mostly empty, we’d no sooner sit down, then some old guy would sit next to me and after a minute or two, I’d hear the heavy breathing and feel a hand sneaking over to touch me. I’d move my arm or shift my leg but the hand would follow. That’s when Tom and I would move to another seat. Tom never whined or questioned me on why we moved so often. It wouldn’t take long and either the same man or another would park beside me and we’d go through the heavy breathing, fingers touching my skin, us moving, man following. This would go on until the movie was over. We’d then leave and head home. I made good money there all summer long. It was a pleasant job apart from dirty old men in movie theatres.

The next summer, I got a job with a dressmaker, Anna, watching her toddler while she sewed. As it turned out, she sewed for one Mrs. Ellen Fairclough, who was a Member of Parliament. In fact, I believe she was the first female Member of Parliament.

Anna made all her clothes for special occasions. Whenever my charge was sleeping, I’d watch her work. She was just amazing. Anna was a tiny woman who had no breasts, I didn’t think. I believe she wore “falsies” as they were called then. Falsies were foam inserts you put in your bra. The reason I’m mentioning this, she used her “falsies” as a pin cushion. The first time I saw her push a pin into her breast, I was shocked but I eventually got used to the sight.

Anyway, to get back to her craft, for very sheer dresses, she would line them with diaper material. Cloth diapers were made with a double gauze-like material. She’d peel off one layer and cut the lining from it. She made wonderful clothes. She remarked on the slimness of Mrs. Fairclough stating it was like making doll clothes. Interestingly, watching television a few weeks later, I saw Mrs. Fairclough on television wearing the same dress I’d seen Anna making. I believe it was for the queen’s visit.  I remember it as being a wrap-around.  When the breeze blew, it would open slightly, revealing a lining in contrasting material.  Not diaper material, I might add.

Watching the toddler wasn’t half as much fun as watching Tom but the money was good and I learned a lot about sewing.

The summer I turned seventeen, I got a job as a car hop at A&W Drive-In Restaurant. That was probably the best job. I made lots of money in tips. It was wonderful. The night shift was my favourite. It was cooler then. During the days, the asphalt became very hot and I’d sweat buckets. To demonstrate how times were different then, I’d walk home from the A&W at midnight and never feel at risk. You wouldn’t do that today. Or, perhaps I was just naive and my folks didn’t see the danger or didn’t care. Either way, that’s the way it was.

And so the years passed. I finished school and got my first real job in the cash department of the Bell Telephone Company of Canada, as it was called then.

Summer jobs, real jobs, careers, gains, losses.  It’s been a roller-coaster ride. I look back and I have to say, I don’t regret a single thing. I guess you can’t ask for much more out of life, can you?

January 30th, 2008 Posted by | Nostalgia | no comments

Christmas 06

This must be the “outcast club”.  My brother-in-law, who is newly divorced and whose children don’t want anything to do with him, spent Christmas with us.  He is a very handsome, tall, slim, 60 year old dentist with a full head of hair. 

My husband, who was married for 28 years before divorcing, is another one whose children barely talk to him.  His sons speak to him on special occasions like Christmas, his birthday, Father’s Day.  That’s about it.  His daughter hasn’t spoken to him in fifteen years, which is about as long as he and I have been together.

My son has his own family problems and is torn between spending time with his daughter from his former wife and spending time with his daughter from a more recent relationship.  So, I don’t see him much either but we’re still very close. 

I don’t talk to my half-sister and my mother has Alzheimer’s and is in a home.

Just your typical dysfunctional family.  Read more…

December 27th, 2006 Posted by | Family, Nostalgia | no comments

Baby Boy Comes Home

I was so proud of myself. I actually lost all my baby weight in the hospital and came home slim. I was weak, though. The stitches hurt and I had lower back pain. But the suitcase was packed and husband was there to pick us up and take us home.

As soon as we got home, husband snapped. He started to scream, threw the suitcase down, the baby started to cry and so did I. I was confused. I thought this ought to be a happy moment. Instead, I was made to feel guilty for having our son. It didn’t make any sense. He behaved so strangely, as though he resented this other little person coming into his life.

In the middle of the tirade, friend Margaret walked in and comforted me. She claimed her husband behaved in the same exact way. She helped me to set up the change table. She helped me with the formula. I don’t know what I would have done without her, at that time. Read more…

November 27th, 2006 Posted by | Family, Long Ago and Far Away, Nostalgia | no comments