Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year

Happy New Year

I don’t know how other communities celebrated New Year’s Eve or whether our community was different but I will always remember the first New Year’s Eve I was allowed (and able to) stay awake for the entire event. The evening was spent at my grandmother’s home and it was quite a festive occasion with music, laughter, dancing, games and tables heaped with food, and many, many people as family and friends gathered.

The countdown began about 11:30 and at about five minutes before midnight the doors were flung wide to the cold winter air and everyone descended out into the cold and the snow. All doors were open wide ….. every door up and down the block was wide open with people in yards and the street. At precisely midnight gunshots could be heard; fired (using blank cartridges) into the air; people banged on metal pots and pans, hooted and hollered into the night, every church bell in town tolled the moment as did the town fire alarm, and sirens. There was a loud HAPPY NEW YEAR shouted from many voices into the night air. I will never forget that moment when everywhere, everyone in town rejoiced at the coming new year and sounds of revelry filled the air.

For many the new year began with the knock of a tall dark person, crossing the threshold to bring a lucky year. New Year’s Day was also a day of celebration with loads of food, visiting and good humour!

My New Year’s eves changed over the years …. As I became a young adult with dances at the local dancing hotspot and sharing with friends; to parties at friends homes as a married couple and to making the event meaningful to grandchildren left in my charge for the evening taking up residence in the town square to hear the ringing of the midnight bells. No matter the changes, it still occasioned a midnight call to family members far and wide to wish a Happy New Year.

I know today we could not fire a gun into the air (albeit with blank cartridges); we would be arrested so that part of the celebration has gone; as has the metal pots and pans. The celebrations have become glamorous and expensive affairs in many communities with dining and dancing events. Many cities around host new year’s eve gatherings in city squares….many people opt to stay at home preferring not to fight traffic and inebriated drivers.

For me, the magic of the first new year’s eve of my youth remains. Somehow; whether it was the festivities or the association with friends and family; the beginning of the new year always held a vision of hope and a bright and happy future for the coming year. Perhaps, it was just the fantasy of youth. Whatever it was and however you celebrate I lift my glass to you in celebration …. Happy New Year to you and yours and may the new year find you in the embrace of good health, prosperity, love and the company of cherished family and friends.

And – a resolution for the coming year …. accept whatever comes with faith, love and good humour --- whether it is your turn to be the pigeon or the statue!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Christmas Joy

Recent television commercials advice me how to “make this your happiest Christmas ever”; and another ‘Make it a memorable Christmas”. Of course the gist is …. Just purchase the product and you will have the best Christmas ever – without the product --- well there is just no guarantee! Really!?

I may be very old fashioned but I consider Christmas a privilege --- It is indeed a privilege that those around me allow me to share with them the all the best of my ‘house and home’!

The Christmas season has provided me with so many wonderful memories I don’t know where to begin –- but let me begin by saying they did not include a present or specific gift to make them memorable or ‘best’.

My earliest recollection is of a snowy Christmas evening when I was four years old. I had received a doll’s crib for Christmas … I can still see the blue colour of this little crib…. But the memory remains because of my father and the patience and tolerance he bestowed upon me and that crib. I was so full of excitement it had to be shown to everyone …. And so here he was carrying this crib from home to grandparents homes, to friends of grandparents, to aunts and uncles. Walking all across town with this toy under his arm. I still see him in the evening light with snow falling on his cap, drawing on his hand rolled cigarette and me by his side.

Every Christmas day since has reproduced the magic of this moment. He didn’t have to cart that crib all over town …. By the way, we walked, we didn’t have a car, and I am talking miles across town. And unknown to me …. He had built the crib and I am certain he was asking himself 'why'! My stepdad, me, the crib, the magical Christmas evening with snow softly falling,

He was like a child at Christmas; his joy of the season was so contagious. The air was electrified with his enthusiasm....he would return from shopping trips with a beaming smile as he endeavoured to stow paper parcels in hiding, as he unpacked groceries hard earned and the best on the shelf.  Christmas did not include expensive gifts and toys but encompassed all his best and heart. He considered it a privilege and honour to share his best at this time of year, not only with family but with those who may be less fortunate. His ‘best’ beverage was a home made crock of wine; actually more like a sherry. As fruit was preserved in the fall; soft spots and peelings were placed in a small clay crock and fermented, siphoned off just before Christmas; tasted and tested and stored with delight.  This he shared with his siblings, their wives, and friends presented in tiny little liquer glasses. The delight and joy he received in this sharing …. His face positively shone. This from a man who was a non-drinker …. Sharing with brothers and sisters who had liquor closets. He didn’t need to purchase the most expensive bottle from the store shelf …. He only had to produce his best to share with others; with generosity and joy in the privilege of sharing.

He supplied his washed work socks for us to hang on a line …. And the look of joy on his face when we emptied the socks to find the reddest, shiniest apple ever, along with an orange, a handful of nuts to be cracked open later and some cream candies and a candy cane!

I have many, many wonderful Christmas memories and perhaps that is why I delight in this season

With limited budgets my mother always found the ‘exactly perfect’ gift for each person … something you could not ever in your wildest dreams imagine. They were not the latest, greatest, most advertised, guaranteed to ‘produce the best Christmas ever’ items …. They were purchased with care, thought and love for each individual on the list. One item only and it was always the ‘best’ my parents could imagine.

The hand knitted mittens and scarves from grandparents were treasured Christmas gifts …. Sometimes these had been knitted from wool re-carded from an old woolen garment. They were warm, they had been knitted for ‘you’, specifically for you = with love in every stitch. And, most importantly they were wrapped and gifted with ‘love’. You can’t find that in a department store.

My father’s Christmas spirit lives with me every Christmas season. I can still hear his joy at welcoming family and friends to his home and his sincere and hearty ‘Merry Christmas’; the thrill he derived offering his best…..I still see the Christmas lights shining in his face. I still see the handmade gifts carefully wrapped under the tree. I still feel the love of those early Christmas mornings long ago. I can never give what he gave to us; our Christmas season is less without him and his spirit of the season; but I will continue to try to honour his joy of sharing his best with all around him at this time of year.  I think my children have learned the joy of sharing .... for we never know who will be bringing someone new to our table.  One year my son invited a friend who was on leave from the army.  He arrived two days before Christmas; after New Year's Day I had to sit them down to ask if he would be staying forever.  And now each year now we await the call from my daughter .... "oh, by the way, I've found someone who has nowhere to go and I'm bringing them to share our Christmas day"....and yes, there will be a parcel for them under the tree so that they too can share in the moment of giving and receiving!

So all you advertisers out there can keep your products unless you can guarantee me that the product will produce for me the look of joy on the faces of those from my earliest memories….. the joy they derived from the ‘privilege of sharing’ their best and their love.

And so to you who may read this, I wish the joy of sharing, the love and privilege of giving the best of you from the heart. Have a wonderful Christmas season.

I share here with you, pictures of my Christmas tree.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Christmas Turn of the Century

This is in my box of memories so I thought I would take this opportunity to share it with you; just a bit of history of farm-type Christmases in Canada at the turn of the century.

The evolution of the Christmas tree in my family begins with this photo here (at least as far as I know it is one of our first). This is a snapshot, turned into Post Card of my stepdad’s Christmas around 1918 when he was about 11-12 yearsof age.   Taken on the homestead farm of his Scottish grandparents in Trout Creek.

I imagine the tree was found somewhere on the farm property; notice it is firmly supported in a pail with water.

I find it particularly interesting to look at what Christmas might bring to a young man at the turn of the century. Apparently the latest in sports equipment for I see a shuttlecock on the carpet for use in playing badminton. A fairly up-to-the-minute game introduced in England around 1899? A current history book titled New War The Siege of Berlin; and of course the wooden cutout soldiers. On the tree we have a hand carved wooden whistle and a canoe.

And the tree decorations …. A few fold-out paper ‘thingys’, Christmas cards and hand made ornaments. Notice the slender wax candles with wicks as yet unlit. I wonder if they were lit!


Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Magical! That’s all it was! Christmas was a magical time of year. A time of wonder with lights aglow, faces smiling, music in the air and snowflakes ….. always snowflakes floating on the air. How I loved my childhood Christmases.

There was so much joy and pride in sharing the very best your heart and home had to offer.  It wasn't about 'store bought glitter'. 
December arrived and boy oh boy did I know I was in trouble. December 1st meant I only had 24 days left to make up for a whole year of bad behaviour. Each day through the month until the 24th I kept wondering if I had been good enough to make up for all the obnoxious and bad things I had done. Would I really get ‘nothing’ this year? I don’t mind telling you it was for me a very tense time of year; I was never certain I would make it.

Remember…Christmas was the only time of year we received a gift. If we blew it at Christmas that was it for another year. We did not receive birthday gifts or tokens on shopping trips, new game cards for electronic gizmos… allowances, notta! No, it was Christmas or no gift at all!

Loved the ‘Christmas’ streets of our town. They were snow packed and the main shopping concourse was lined along four blocks at the centre of town. No large structures….smaller village type, personalized stores. All the shops piped out seasonal music, street corners had Salvation Army workers with kettles and bells ringing and the snow fell in floating dream like swirls as people rushed along with ‘brown paper’ bags containing heavens knew what.

People were jolly and happy, hailing each other and chatting along the street, children were pulled in sleds wrapped up like Egyptian mummies against the cold. Store windows were ablaze with strings of lights and lighted stars. Toys on prominent display in S.S. Kresge, Woolworth and Metropolitan store and hardware store windows. We looked in these windows and dreamed. Every time I watch the story of Scrooge with Tiny Tim looking in a store window I still see our faces peering the same way with the same expression of joy and anticipation.

Many times during the month of December we children were not included in all of the grocery shopping trips and had to remain home. Mother and dad would come home trying to conceal certain shopping bags which were surreptitiously skirted off to another section of the house. The basement became off limits as did other areas of our house. Now mind you when we were younger this had no impact, but once we began to know where the bounty under the tree came from we would do our all to seek out the hidden parcels.

We usually hit pay dirt in mom’s and dad’s closet. Much good that did though. To loosen the outer layer of bound bag only to find a layer of Christmas wrap underneath which we dare not penetrate. But one could pick up boxes and speculate. And speculate we did. By the way, all our speculations were waaaaaaaay off.

And the Christmas tree. Oh the Christmas tree!

One of my uncles would venture out to the forest and cut an evergreen for each family and one for his friends. My father would venture down to select his tree. I think perhaps my father’s vision may have failed him when selecting our tree. It was always so tall he would have to cut some off the bottom as well as the top. And for some reason the tree dad selected had fewer branches……sort of a Charlie Brown type of tree. Our star was always sort of embedded in the top of the tree with other branches rising higher than the star. However, I will say it was the most beautiful tree in the world.

The tree was mounted on a wooden butter box; the trunk nailed to the box. Twine wound round the tree and fastened on either side into wall hooks. For some reason my parents had great fear of the tree falling and the lights shorting out, thus causing a fire. Fires from Christmas trees were not uncommon in our area and our parents would take no chances with a brood of running children around. Tree lights gleamed very hot, no ‘cool’ lights as we have today. One could get burns touching the lights so they were always protected with ‘reflectors’ behind the light.

Lights were strung and decorations hung. Last year’s box of tinsel was carefully extracted and a new box added for the current year. You know the hanging silvery tinsel stuff. Seems to me we always had sparsely little on our tree.

Visiting one of my aunt’s homes I was astounded to find her tree and arch way swag glittering in blankets of tinsel. I thought indeed she had to be the richest person alive … so much tinsel in one home! We could only afford one new box. I’ll bet she had a hundred boxes hung on the tree alone. It glittered quite impressively … but it wasn’t our tree plus it did not have any hand made ornaments that I could find…. So it was lacking although glittering!

Hand made ornaments were proudly added to our Christmas decorations; our paper chains were displayed prominently as well as anything else we had made. And, these items were proudly pointed out to visitors by parents and children.

I can still see my sisters and brothers sitting side by side on the huge horsehair sofa with the lights shining off their faces as they gazed at the tree; eyes all a-wonder and gentle smiles. Particularly the shining face of my youngest sister remains in my memory to this day; the anticipation and joy of that face will never be forgotten by me.

Christmas decorations were few and far between; not at all like the blazing displays of today. Simple green wreaths were hung inside window frames; or perhaps a lighted candle might glow through the window. Swags always adorned archways. We didn't burn as much hydro with overlighted displays as we see today ... but they were every bit as beautiful in a simpler landscape.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Christmases Long Ago - Events

Many events kept us children busy as anticipation of the holiday season filled the air. School classes decorated windows with festive fare usually cut from construction paper. – snowflakes and Santa Clauses and sleds. In Grade four I can recall painting the classroom windows with poster paint. I was certainly honoured that year as I was selected to paint the central window pane where I painted Santa, his sled and reindeer. A pretty good job of it too!

We would make paper chains by linking together construction paper strips, paper fans and smaller snowflakes which we could then take home  for decoration ... where they were proudly displayed on the Christmas tree ... front and centre!

Christmas concerts were everywhere. At school in the auditorium the atmosphere was festive and gay with the school choir singing and student plays. The lower classes were usually afforded a visit from the jolly fellow himself where he handed out 'tiny' candy canes.

Class skating parties were held on the ice rink. Each school had its own ice rink, properly boarded round and ice quality maintained by the school custodial staff. Parents were usually invited to observe and share in a hot mug of ‘something’ while students played on the ice.

And of course, the same as all towns across Canada, the Christmas parade was an extra special highlight....the first parade in our town was in 1949

I seem to remember hanging on to younger siblings as they jumped up and down trying to keep warm waiting for the parade to begin. Today Christmas parades have become somewhat 'ho hum'; designed to incite excitement in youngsters for the coming Christmas Eve event, the parade usually followed by a vist to a Santa booth and a trip to a hot chocolate emporium.  Way back when, oh about a half a century ago and more .... parades were truly festive events with parents and children alike sharing the excitement on the same level .... it was truly a time to watch your parents become children as they grinned from ear to ear and cheered as loud as any youngster in attendance.  School bands from three district high schools marched in file blaring out Christmas music on instruments (usually somewhat off tune); boy scouts and girl guides riding on floats waving gaily beside a float-mounted Christmas tree or fireplace. The parade usually hosted two or three movable ‘fairytale’ floats; the Christmas story complete with manger and baby Jesus and wise men; and of course Santa Clause himself on a sled with reindeer….. ho, ho ho ing merrinly down the mainstreet. And let me tell you …. I swear our town had the very best Santa ever …. We actually thought he was the real McCoy!

Church youth groups held Christmas concerts where parents dutifully attended watching their offspring perform so brilliantly on stage. I loved the church concert, it was the only place I was allowed to sing; it didn’t matter I could not even hit a sour note, I was allowed to sing along with everyone else!  And, I was always a 'star' shining over Bethlehem ... that's it a white robe holding a silver star.  My only stage debut in life ... a paper star .... reciting some verse from memory. 

And let's not forget the letters to Santa.  We would write our letters to Santa and mail them off and daily run to the radio to hear if Santa read our letter today.  Funny, that, I don't think he ever did!

Events haven't changed that much really, except at the time of my youth each and every one was so extra special; very special "happy" moments that have rung through the years;  I still hear the blaring brass school bands and the carols sung with such gusto and heart.  I guess that's it really.... the events were part of the 'heart' of our Christmas -- the good cheer, happy faces and smiles shared by all .... traditiions that bound a family and community together. 

And at the end of the concert we all went home with a little brown bag filled with an orange and candies! Wow!  I knew we were the luckiest children alive to have that bag. My mother remembered Christmases where the Salvation Army bag was their only Christmas present and the only real orange they saw for the entire year.

P.S.  I'm blowing a horn here with the art work.  This was the first hand made Christmas card I received from my four year old first born.  He said Merry Christmas was too long to write out so M.C. would get the message across!.  Enjoy.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Christmases Long, Long Ago

Do you remember the Christmas Cake. One of the many guest of honours at Christmas tables long ago. Preparations for this cake usually took place mid-November.

And what a cake it was … molasses, currants, citrons, fruit peels, nuts, cherries, nutmeg, cinnamon, mace, allspice, cloves! I can smell it now!

Seemed such a waste of good cherries and nuts to me, because I didn’t care too much for all the other ingredients. Hard earned savings were extracted from secret places and a special shopping trip announced Christmas Cake time. Nothing but the best and freshest of ingredients for the cake.

The preparation of ‘the cake’ was not a lonely task, it took both father and mother to prepare the fruit and the mixing. Every measurement doubly checked, each ingredient ticked twice and finally after mixing and mixing; the pans prepared.

The square metal pans were assembled…..sides and bottoms fitted together resulting in three pans; a small, medium and large. Each pan was carefully greased, floured and covered with waxed paper.

And into the oven!

Not quite so simple a task when I was a child. Today you can set your oven and forget it. But not so when I was a child where all cooking was done on a cast iron, wood fired stove. Baking took almost seven hours so it was quite a task to keep the oven at an even temperature; making certain not to overstock the range with wood and causing the oven to overheat.

Ah, the scents. They linger today; I can still close my eyes and transport over time to the heavenly, spicey smells that permeated our home for days after the Christmas cake was baked.

When properly cooled the cake was wrapped in layers and layers of cheesecloth and waxed paper; that is - after being properly doused with brandy. The only liquor ever purchased in our home was the brandy for the Christmas cake.  On a regular basis the cake would be unwrapped and more brandy applied.
About a week before Christmas; when a good whiff of the cake might send you into alcoholic euphoria, the cake was iced. First layer was marzipan and then an icing sugar icing applied on top - ours resembled the picture here minus the fancy decorations.

This cake was served to all special guests, and every couple in town proclaimed theirs to be the best!

Not a lover of Christmas Cake, but a lover of the icing I didn’t enjoy quite as much as others; but you could not have a piece of cake and eat only the icing. I remember well eating the cake first and saving the icing for last!

My sister now assists my 92 year old mother in baking the Christmas Cake. This is something I have never done, but the memory remains one of simpler times and simpler pleasures!

Friday, December 3, 2010

First my apologies; I've been away from 'blogging' for a bit; pressing family matters having taken precedence.  I will try to schedule posts as well as I can as may be away very soon again.

In case you haven’t noticed it’s that time of year again….December! When thoughts turn to spending money, money, money as we rush with break neck speed to bring home all the glitter and glamour advertisers tell us we should have! Spending with one thought in mind …. Having a joyful, happy, fun filled Christmas!

I remember a simpler Christmas time when we really did have a joyful, happy time without excessive spending and credit card top ups! Some of you may remember also, and in the next several blogs I’d like to share my memories of Christmases past!

Round about the first of December the ‘Wish Book’ would arrive in the mail. Ah, the ‘WISH BOOK’; filled with Christmas wonders and dreams. Toys galore and festive items including velvet dresses and jackets for boys.; jewelry and perfumes for mom, leather items for dad. Gifts for one and all! But mostly a child’s ‘WISH BOOK”; a book of dreams. A book destined to become dog eared within a week….that is if you could find where mother and dad had hidden the book.

In Canada we had two large merchandisers …. T. Eaton Company Limited and Simpsons. These firms published merchandise catalogues twice yearly and a ‘Wish Book’ at Christmas time. For many remote locations almost all merchandise was purchased by mail order from these catalogues – everything from household appliances, furniture and decorations and clothing. Every community was equipped with at least a catalogue store by these merchandisers.

The ‘Wish Book’ usually featured a selected ‘must have’ toy, a premier toy … one for girls and one for boys. The Eaton Company always had a very, extra special ‘Eaton’ doll for girls and a super special fire engine or latest Roy Roger’s guns and holster. No other reading material was necessary, we sat by the hour looking through the ‘Wish Book’ dreaming of Christmas.

Hands would go out and caress the object of our desire as if we were already holding the precious item; and quickly flip back a page. Maybe if we had been extra specially good, just maybe; but maybe not!

Funny thing though, we never ever coveted the extra special premier toy and would flip past that item. We knew in our heart of hearts that Santa would bring the items on Christmas Eve, yet somehow we knew we would not receive the year’s most wanted, most expensive toy, yet we knew they came ‘free’ under the tree. And we also knew we could wish for only one item from Santa.

I’ve been pondering why we passed the special toy of the year. Certain children did receive these items but we never questioned why they didn’t arrive at our home. We sort of figured Santa had run out of these limited editions by the time he arrived at our door. It really was quite apparent that Santa made his first stop of the top of ‘snob’s hill’. Maybe if we lived at the top of the hill rather than the bottom. However most of us lived at the bottom of the hill – only a selected few lived at the top where the doctor’s and lawyers resided.

I can still hear us gathered round the catalogue. “Oh! Look at that”, “I want that”, “You’ve been bad, you won’t get that” “I haven’t been too bad”. And, “Oh! Look at THAT!”. Hours and hours of dreams, little heads together sharing a catalogue. Even dreams were filled with visions from the catalogue as we flipped the pages in our sleep.

I still wish for the ‘Wish Book’ to start my Christmas season and to be able again to share this ‘dream’ book with my brothers and sisters.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Changes and Questions

Have you ever wakened one morning and all has changed, nothing is the same? That has been my recent experience. I have so many questions today, questions which I know cannot be answered.

I do not want to bore you with details, but question the ability to hang on to what you believe when those you love and are close to your heart are suddenly drifting away.

If one is strong in one’s faith I suppose a reason can be found. I cannot today find any reason I can accept; I have heard them all.  Loved ones afflicted with disease and pain; friends just drifting away!

One of my sisters has a history of truly dire medical problems; so I should be ready for this one, but I am not. Watching her once again hang on to the ‘thread’ of life with such tenacity and belief just leaves me angry. I know that we are all part of the ‘cycle of life’ but I question the revolutions within that cycle. Why does it seem the ‘wheel’ spins affliction upon those who are such good human beings when the ‘truly nasty’ ones ride along without impact?

As a youngster, my sister, with coal black hair, perfect peaches and cream complexion and violet eyes that rivaled Elizabeth Taylor's.  A loving and gentle human being now awaits another revolution of the 'wheel'.  She travels I am certain the path in the painting included here.

For more on the painting see my art blog:-pinnaclesandpotholes

Sunday, October 31, 2010

By the time I had my children the Hallowe’en scene had escalated considerably. Carrving a pumpkin being an absolute necessity; with three children that meant carving three pumpkins into ‘Jack-O-Lantern’ faces. Costumes were an absolute ‘must have’. And treats had progressed from single molasses candy kisses to chocolate bars and much, much more.

Each Hallowe’en became a ritual. “What would you like to dress as this year” I would ask. I often wonder why I just didn’t buy a pre-made costume. No! Out came the sewing machine. I’ve fashioned everything from a green martian, the friendly lion, tin man, a big round pumpkin, fairy princess and Dracula! But it was fun and I must say the resulting costumes were prize winners!

I will always remember my first born’s first Hallowe’en. He was just the cutest clown you ever did see…and just shy of two years of age. Off we went with other young mothers….making our ‘ego’ statements “Look at how well I have dressed my youngster for Hallowe’en”! We only toured a few houses to ‘show off’ then home; and there he stood. Looking into his bag of goodies and then at me….total confusion written all over his little face. He didn’t know what to do; he had been told to never, ever accept candies or treats from ANYONE! I finally clued in and told him I had better check out what he had…and he was happy. Checking … while trying desperately to keep my ‘sweet tooth’ in abeyance!

Pumpkins carved and lining the front steps, goodies ready to dispense. I loved it. Having the children come to the door and filling their sacks was such fun. Smiles on everyone, positively loved Hallowe’en.

The children were of course always accompanied by one parent, we switched years so the one at home could have the fun of giving out the treats.

One year I decided to make real ‘autumn fair’ style candy apples… the red toffee covered apples on a stick. Very soon the bushel hamper … the large bushel hamper not the little ones you see on markets today, was gone and we had to scramble for chocolate bars. The next year I doubled the candy apples. Well, word had gone around town and children were arriving not with parents walking….but driving up for candy apples….by the car and truck load! I gave that up the next year and went back to chocolate bars, candy popcorn balls and homemade fudge.

One Hallowe’en that will always remain in my memory is the first time my three youngsters decided they were old enough to venture forth on their own. Being the over protective parent I couldn’t possibly let them out unprotected.

Their father stalled them while I secretly dressed and would follow them to make sure they were safe. Covering my face with a nylon stocking stuffed with cotton balls, wearing a rag mop under a large hat, my three inch spike heels inside steel toed boots and a ratty old jacket – plus large plastic ears, I followed.

My daughter was calling on friends, my two sons going on their own with the eldest in charge. First I followed my daughter; her friend’s mother admonished me for trick and treating at such an age….she did not recognize me. I stayed several steps behind and my daughter told one mother answering a door “that poor big kid doesn’t know what to do, he can come for a treat too but he’s afraid….come on big kid it’s okay”. The woman immediately gathered all children indoors and called the police. I heard her tell the children they would be alright, the police were coming to get the “big kid with the big ears”.

Off came the big ears and I changed my course to follow my sons as they had gone a different route. I lagged behind , my eldest son saying to the younger lad “stay with me, stay with me and we will be safe”. Well I didn’t want to frighten them so I walked the other way and knowing their route would catch up with them around the block.

As I came around the block they saw me and took off at a run for home….running up the walkway “Dad, dad, there’s a big kid…..Oh Dad, he’s coming right in the door”. They peeked around him as I doubled over with laughter. To this very day they have not forgiven me. They are convinced I was trying to frighten them and really I was only trying to be certain they were safe.

Since I was already dressed I decided to visit our friends. Our neighbour finally figured out who I was and added to my costume with a barbecue apron that read “beer, just beer” and handed me a very large glass bottle, put a note on saying ‘refill please’.

Except for an occasiional glass of wine, I am a non-drinker, so after three further friends homes…..and they did not recognize me ….and two beers, one wine, one cognac, my Hallowe’en excursion ended on a very, very tipsy note. I repeated this three years in a row. One set of friends never, ever discovered who I was, another family discovered my identity when the third year the lad who was my son’s best friend looked under the brim of my hat and said “that’s Ruby, I know her eyes”.

Today my daughter pipes haunted house music, has a hanging skeleton on the pathway that is motion sensitive and rattles and clanks his bones as you pass. She has bats, witches, spiders and webs and other dark and eerie characters. Homes are decorated like Christmas trees…so Hallowe’en has changed and definitely lines the pockets of stores and manufacturers. I hope today’s trick and treatsters will remember with fondness and happy memories of Hallowe’ens past such as  I have had the privilege of sharing with you.!


Saturday, October 30, 2010

Childhood Memories of Hallowe'en

Arriving home from our begging  the ‘loot’ would be shared with younger children who had not been allowed out. The loot usually comprised loads of molasses candy kisses, apples, home made fudge, black balls, wax lips and bubble gum. Food for the soul!

To have so many apples at once was unbelievable! Just the apples! No concerns about objects being imbedded in any of the treats, no hunt for needle punctures or razor blades. Many of our apples wound up in apple pie or apple sauce and that was wonderful as well.

But on coming home the real fun began for Hallowe’en was a family celebration. Mother and dad would suspend apples from string tied to the clothes line in the kitchen. You had to eat the apple to the core while holding your hands behind your backs. Then you bobbed for apples which were floating in our metal wash tub on a stand in the kitchen…once again with hands behind your backs…..faces dripping wet, every time you tried to bite the apple it would sink!

All this while mother and dad finished off the fudge covered apples on a stick. Home made candy applies! And fudge! I remember one year we had home made toffee. Pulled over a basin of snow … pulled, folded, pulled, folded….just close your eyes and take a 'whiff'...smells of fudge, apples and toffee! I smell them still!

After the children were all in bed some of the adults would venture out to celebrate Hallowe’en. Women usually dressed in men’s miner helmets and big boots; painted their faces with charcoal and lipstick or wore their husband’s long john underwear up the main street in town,. My single aunts would borrow their brother’s long johns and head out for the celebrations. Mother and dad stayed home and enjoyed the antics of the children and the following clean up.

This was also the night the local high school held its ‘club’ initiations and inductees could  be seen on the main street tracing their footsteps with chalk all the way up main street dressed in some outlandish costumes....the boys usually having to dress in a negligee and curlers in their hair; the girls dressed as fellows in underwear.  And by the way that was considered risque!

It was the night local Girl Guides and Boy Scouts held their ‘ghost walks’ where you walked round a table and down corridors in the dark with someone doing witch cackles and hooos and booos in the background. You had to feel the eyeballs (peeled grapes) in a bowl and the ‘guts’ (cooked spaghetti) of some monster and other such revolting objects...memory fails me on the peeled orange sections; I can't recall what they were supposed to be.

If one was lucky enough to be a teenager you could also see a ‘horror’ movie of the time. The most frightening, scaries movies ... nightmare movies!   Sinister, evil characters and plots….starring Boris Karloff or Bela Lugosi. Very few graphics if any in these old movies; primarily relying on facial expressions and lighting. Almost always set in dark places, haunted castles and hallways of evil.

“Cuddle movies”! “Nail Biters”! “Cuddle Closer”!.

The girls would scream and cuddle closer to their dates, cover their eyes and the fellows would lap it all up with an ear-to-ear grin! Remember them…depending on the year…Dracula, Son of Dracula, Dracula’s Daughter! House of Frankenstein!. And do you remember Bud Abbot and Lou Costello Meet Frankenstein! Scared to Death with Bela Lugosi or The Snake People with Boris Karloff. I don’t have any statistics but I’ll wager the drive-in movies did box office breaking business over Hallowe’en!

Memories built to last a lifetime. To smile and remember still decades later!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Memories of Hallowe'en

Hallowe’en! What do we know about Hallowe’en – not much I can tell you; and do we care? It is a time for ‘fun’ … pure and simple fun!

Hallowe’en has roots in the Celtic festival of Sanhein and in the Christian holiday All Saints Day. All our rituals of costume, scary and evil characters and ‘trick and treating’ are left overs incorporated into one fun filled evening. In Scotland for instance, young men dressed in white costume with veiled or dark masks to apparently appease evil spirits of the dead. And beggars in England went door to door begging for food on Hallomas – the day after Hallowe’en evening.

All I knew about Hallowe’en as a child was that you came home with a bag full of goodies and those of the Catholic faith had to do something on November 1st, All Saints Day.

And that was enough for me. The excitement around our home was intoxicating as Hallowe’en approached. Never mind Christmas visions of sugar plums dancing in our heads….Hallowe’en provided many, many more sweet treats than Christmas!

Hallowe’en was a time for masking oneself, for trick and treating, for fun games, for mischief!.

We started by anticipating a mask….usually just a small thing that covered the eyes and as we got older charcoaled or grossly made up faces. And paper bag masks. Paper sacks were drawn with crayon into some grotesgue gargoyle like face, slits cut for eyes and worn over the head. The younger children who would remain at home would wear these for weeks about the house and you were forever replacing paper bag masks as they became torn and abused while the make believe ‘devils’ fought for supremacy. Paper bag masks were also produced in school art periods with crayon and added construction paper.

Most school classes featured a ‘costume day’ where you paraded through the auditorium and the best costumes were selected by teachers. Purchased costumes were made primarily of crepe paper that would quickly disintegrate into a wet mass when worn out in the snow. Most families could not afford the cash outlay so costumes were primarily homemade. Our school parades featured a multitude of ghosts draped in old bed sheets, hobos (vagrants) dressed in someone’s larger clothes with sooted faces and a handkerchief of worldly possessions hung from a stick. A few straw men and many, many Egyptian mummies!  There was one school Hallowe'en parade that remains forever in my memory. Our last year before moving on to wht is now termed 'middle school' .  A rather large boy, still with all his 'baby fat' and added more.....arrived dressed in a 'baby bonnet' ......and a HUGE diaper carrying a baby bottle.  I could not look at him....I had never seen so much naked flesh parading anywhere!  I still see him....and am still somewhat aghast!

We usually ventured out into the snow and cold to do our ‘trick or treating’ so costumes were not a primary concern. We would layer larger garments over our winter clothing and maybe a silly hat; and admire each other for the good looking fools we became.

So bundled up warm with a mask and a paper bag for goodies off we older children went into the dark night where ghosts and evil spirits lurked; one year I actually ‘saw’ a witch fly across the moon! I can’t seem to recall pumpkins being carved although there must have been some somewhere in town, but not in our area. Not at least until my sister and I started working and had throw away cash to purchase a pumpkin strictly for decoration and not the food table. But porch lights were all ablaze as we set out. If a porch light were not lit you knew you could not knock at that door. No one had yard decorations…no lanterns or ghostly sheets in trees. We were allowed to only travel our street and one other. None of this run all over town. We always wanted however to venture to ‘snob’s hill’ where the professionals lived for we heard the treats on the hill were awesome! But we wouldn’t dare for we would be found out if we were over our ‘time allotment’

Then started the ‘trick or treat’ gimmick. ‘Trick’ supposedly inferred …. ‘give me a treat or else I will perform some mischief on your property. Of course this was reversed by the grownups to translate – “you do a trick and I will give you a treat’. They always had a trick or two up their sleeves those adults! My sister always had more in her sack than I ever had … she would actually sing for a ‘trick’ much to my embarassement.

Tricks were played. Friends of ours who lived in farm country would inevitably wake in the morning to discover their outhouse was sitting high on a perch in a tree; others may find their yard gates suspended from a telephone pole. But that’s all it was – done in good fun and nothing that couldn’t be quickly remedied the next morning.

The excitement of venturing out on dark and ‘scary’ Hallowe’en will forever live in my memory and I am still to this day ‘mad about Hallowe’en!

More to come…

For a description of these 'naive' works of art see my art blog:-pinnaclesandpotholes

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Dressing For Winter in Days Gone By

We’ve had somewhat chilly weather lately; wind blowing quite nicely whipping everything about; one degree the other morning. And my goodness, to watch some of the people you’d think it was forty below! Padded winter jackets, insulated gloves, woolen hats. I did get strange looks walking about with only a hoody, bare head and hands.

Ah but, I would wager a bet some of those I saw bundled to the teeth haven’t really experienced a true north winter.

Now that is where you had to be ready to bundle! When the temperature dipped, the snow cracking under footsteps, frost forming on eyelashes and breath suspended you had to be clothed in layers! 

The first layer of course was winter underwear! For boys and men this was a one piece suit of underwear…buttons down the front and trap door behind. As children we had a great time with dad’s on washday. Clothes were hung outdoors on a clothes line and were frozen stiff as a board when brought indoors to hang on clothes lines arrayed from corner to corner in the kitchen. We’d use dad’s as a dancing partner around the kitchen doing the ‘long john waltz’.

Enough! Girls and women were suited with heavier drawers and undershirts. And – long cotton knit stockings. These stocking were secured with pin-on garters (garters without the belt) pinned to the undershirt - older girls were allowed to wear garter belts; adult women had garters hanging at the edge of their girdle for suspension of stockings. My stockings always were saggy at the knees and mended! My sister’s were always perfectly straight! Not fair. When I got to high school I refused to wear stockings and garters. I wanted nylons. No such luck so I went bare legged and would freeze by legs white and blue. Oh how my legs pained….but no stockings, no siree!

And then – wool! Wool everything. Wood sweaters, wool skirts, wool hats, wool mittens, wool scarves. Everything - itchy, scratchy wool. Wool that shrunk when washed and fit as tight as a glove. And then the outerwear. And guess what – wool! When snowy clothes were hung to dry the kitchen smelled like a sheep pen! And – girls were not allowed to wear slacks. They could however wear wool ‘leggings’ – worn with skirt tucked it and immediately removed once entering a home.

Winter boots weren’t as smatzy as those fashioned today. They were made of rubber with a thin felt coating inside and felt insoles. Worn over top of one’s leather shoes. Certainly not the protection we shop for today for our youngsters and our selves. Stylish young ladies could select those with a real fur cuff.

When the weather became excrutiatingly cold and blizzard winds blow one just added more layers. Usually more sweaters - and always a scarf wrapped round forehead, neck and chin…with only eyes revealed.

The photograph included with today’s blog is of me in my find wool melton cloth cloat. Just outside posing for a picture, so no leggings or boots.

Just in case you think I may exaggerate the snow...this gentleman has just finished shovelling his driveway, it is January and the snow bank he stands on is six feet high and still further snowy months ahead!

And the cold is not exaggerated either....quilts were thrown over car engines; light bulbs suspended under hoods; batteries taken and stored indoors overnight, or cars started every two or so hours; car engines had been known to crack from the cold.

I have also posted art work on you art blog this morning; although totally unrelated to the topic here:-pinnaclesandpotholes

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Growing Up - Winter Baths

Just out of the shower … and it has me reminiscing again! Must be my age! Anyway we take our daily shower as part of our routine; never give it a thought; well, yes I guess a thought, we wouldn’t go out without it!

When water was hauled from wells or springs or heated in hot water tanks attached to Findlay kitchen stoves and very few bathrooms were equipped with showers bathing daily was not always possible……just daily washing up in the bathroom basin was freezing cold. But it woke you quite nicely for the day ahead.

Winter baths were quite a ritual in our home. We had a large metal laundry tub, hauled up from the basement on Saturday night for the weekly bath….whether you needed it or not. Our family bathed in reverse order from the old adage. “careful, don’t throw the baby out with the bath water” …. Meaning baby was bathed last. In our home the adage went “careful not to throw the eldest out with the bath water”.

The doorways to hallway and dining room were shut tight and children lined up in the dining room waiting their turn. The kitchen fire was built up, the oven door propped open for added warmth and towels laid on the door to warm; and when the kitchen reached sauna temperature the baths began. First the baby; toweled dry and handed to eldest for bed, then the next, then the next……there were seven children in our home. Hair was scrubbed and rinsed with a pot of water from hot water reservoir at end of stove. Each new bather managed a top-up of a pot of water from the reservoir to bring back some warmth to the water. I was the eldest and was constantly afraid of being tossed out with the bath water!

Mission accomplished … seven shiny faces in a row all scrubbed to a rosy red! Everyone assembled for their nightly cup of home made, hot cocoa; then were tucked away for the night.

Beds were made up with flannelette sheets, at least two pure wool blankets and quilts or spreads. And when the night was forecast to be particularly cold father would layer his ‘great coats’ on top. Coats from his younger days that went from neck to ground … and he was over six foot tall. Heavy wool coats. You couldn’t move for weight on top….but you were warm…and bathed!

Now all the steam from the ‘kitchen sauna’ had to be released from the home or the house would feel twice as cold overnight. The entrance doors were opened to allow the moisture to escape outside. It was fascinating to watch the cloud of steam emerge out the door into the winter night! Mother and dad cheated though….they bathed after shipping us all off to Sunday school….in the regular, claw footed bathtub in the bathroom. Didn’t find that out until years later.

Oh, p.s.  This tub was also our summer swimming pool.  It was placed on the back lawn, filled with water from the hose and we were swimming!  All seven of us!

I have also posted on my art blog; remembrance of artistic skills learned and discarded:-pinnaclesandpotholes

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Growing Up in the North; Winter Preparations

I read a blog this morning talking about ‘living in the past’. I hope what I am posting on this blog does not come off as ‘living in the past’; I would like it to be a ‘remembrance of a different way of life’.

And life was considerably different in northern Ontario; even different from the southern reaches of our province. Our community was busy establishing a foothold in the unexplored northern forests, busying extracting precious gold from the earth and learning to live with what was at hand, so remote from the rest of the province.

I was speaking yesterday of ‘winter preparations’; and believe it or not, I am not yet finished.

The food successfully put away and winter fuel in; there were many chores left to tackle. And you know, there was never any comment ‘you need to do….’ Or ‘have you done’. These weren’t necessary, each person knew and attended to their own set of tasks.

Before twenty-four hour a day fires were to be lit, my father would assemble a large cinder block with something wrapped round and attached to a rope. Up on the rooftop ‘click, click’…no not Saint Nick! Father sweeping the chimney with his homemade chimney sweep contraption removing the year’s creosote and soot.

Then the windows! Windows at that time were single glazed, set it wood frames and puttied all around the glass. I am certain you can see them on old residences still. These were covered with a second set of windows….’storm windows’. Putty was checked and replace if required and they were fastened to the outside frame by means of a butterfly hinge. But first they were caulked with felt strips and thoroughly cleaned inside and out. The windows were designed with a little flip up opening at the bottom of the frame with three or four holes drilled through….these were flipped open to allow air during the day. Attaching storm windows was a full day job. Then of course the storm doors were attached and we became like ‘bugs in a rug’; all cozy and protected from the winds of winter.

Even with all these preparations winter cold still seeped into homes. Having a concrete basement was indeed a bonus for us; many homeowners had ‘dirt’ or dug out earth basements and frequently were required to thaw frozen water pipes with blow torches. Our morning baths and washes were indeed cold and quick but not frozen.

The frost would build up overnight on bedroom windows with so much moisture from the breath of sleeping occupants. It could build as thick as one half to three quarters inch. That is when the little shutter would be opened to change the air. The windows generally had a coat of frost in our upstair rooms. As children we thought it was great fun….carving at the frost….for me it was an instant drawing palette.

All the labour, all the care taken by the adults….I am forever thankful! I was warm, well fed and clothed. Thanks to all who cared.

More of winter and my happy childhood memories tomorrow, if you can bear it!

The painting with this blog is described on my art blog:-pinnaclesandpotholes

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Growing Up In Northern Ontario, Winter Preparations

It’s late fall here in Ontario and today I was reminiscing with a friend about winter preparations and how there are virtually no such tasks anymore, except for purchasing winter wardrobes. Other than that tedious task, we merely set our thermostats and continue as we have all year.

Well, now ‘back when I was young’!

In the Northern Ontario town where I grew up winter could, and often did begin with a snowfall in early September and if a short winter; warmed up in May. … so eight or nine months of winter! And yes the snow fell as did temperatures!  Fourteen feet of packed snow was not unusual, and the frost invaded everything! Walking through a forest in January one could hear trees splitting open from frost. On really cold nights you could hear the timbers in our two storey home crack! Frost in the north country was not merely a dusting of the ground and few inches of frozen earth. It could be up to a foot deep, depending on the severity of the winter. The weight of snow was also a hazard and roof tops often had to be sholved clear.  It was pristine, it was a wonderful winter wonderland, and it took much in preparation to survive the cold north.

There were so many winter chores lined up in preparation for -40F or colder winter months that they began as soon as summer took hold. They would begin in our kitchen with ‘preserving’ fruit. Baskets and baskets of peaches and pears and blueberries were prepared for winter. Mother and dad would process the fruit and pack in glass preserving jars, cover with a sweet sugar syrup and immerse in a huge caldron of boiling water. Then covered with blankets to allow to cool. Apparently covering with blankets was really important for it retained the ‘fresh fruit’ flavour of the fruit; although the only flavour I remember was the sweet, lovely syrup….with a ‘hint’ of fruit. The aroma was delightful and made us children wish for winter!

Many residents  laid up a store of root crops - potatoes, carrots, parsnips and other vegetables storing by the canvas sack in basements that were dugout earth or preserving as my parents did with fruit.  We did not have a root cellar so except for potatoes in our basement; we purchased vegetables in winter months in cans. To this day I have a strong dislike of canned vegetables!  Fresh produce became expensive during winter; all such items were shipped by train freight so the ‘fresh’ was hard to come by.

But there were pickled beets, mustard pickles, relishes and bean pickles from our grandmother’s kitchen.

The next prime consideration, after the stomach was appeased with thoughts of winter feasts was winter warmth. Gathering of wood for winter fires began in early July. The mining industry used logs to support tunnels built in the mines. The logging company would square off the trees and the cutaway rounded pieces were cut into 18” pieces called ‘slabs’. They were sold for winter fuel. Alternatively one could cut timber from the forest and use logs for winter fuel. We burned slabs. They would arrive in early July and father would pile column after column of ‘slabs’ in the driveway and at the side of the house; piled in such a way air could circulate and the wood could dry. Then after assembling all these piles they would be taken down in August and re-piled in the basement of our home and in the back porch. Most homes had wood sheds at the back of their properties for storage of winter wood – our back porch was our wood shed.

The wood was burned in a basement cast iron stove and in the kitchen cast iron range.  Fires burnt 24 hours a day in the winter.  I can recall sitting on the stairs watching the stove top glowing red in the dark of night.  I would wait until I heard my father snoring and would stealth down and throw baking soda on the fire....hoping to cool down the stove.  Then father would wonder why the fire burnt so low the following morning.

My parents and all members of our community worked hard to prepare for winter which leads me to thinking….it was a good thing they didn’t have television or video diversions, we might have all frozen or gone hungry.

The painting included here is described on my other blog site   pinnaclesandpotholes.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Radio vs Television

It has been some time since I have posted to this my personal journey blog. The next part of my journey was to deal with the people who were influential in my life and that portion was feeling a bit too painful so I let the blog be.

But, here I am, after reading Ralph’s blog today about television and Jerry’s about high school drop outs. I don’t know whether to consider the two of them inspirational and just aggravating!

Anyway, one at a time. On television and the utter waste of time it has grown into. I know someone with two satellite dishes so they can receive both American and Canadian content …. To the tune of 900 channels on each dish! I’m afraid I couldn’t even feel comfortable reading the programme directory it would eat up too much of my time.

I was brought up in the days of radio. Do you remember radio! Ours was an old floor cabinet style, you know, the ones with the ‘green eye’ that would glow when turned on. A tube model; had a difficult time finding tubes for my father in later years hunting all over the city of Toronto until I found some; but that is another tale for another day.

Do you remember Amos and Andy, Fibber McGee and Molly and Fibber’s closet that would rattle and clang when he opened the door. The Green Hornet…ah yes, the Green Hornet. The Green Hornet was as violent as it got….and it wasn’t violent.

On occasion when I have company and a movie or programme is being watched I will go to my little kitchen and prepare snacks or desserts and the comment usually is “your’re missing half the movie” or whatever. I cannot seem to make those watching understand having been brought up with radio I don’t have to see ‘television’ to envision what is happening.   When I am, it seems forced, to watch television I usually do something else and frequently read at the same time; don't feel like I'm quite wasting so much time that was.  Listening to radio we would conjure our own visions, visions that remain today far more vivid than what is produced for television. And what fun it was imagining the programme. Our imaginations could soar to so many different levels. Or, was that just the artist in my head?

I remember sitting with my father Saturday evenings when he listened to opera. I’m sure he didn’t know the words, but he knew the score and the music; the conductors and the instruments. What a wonderful introduction to classical music. And radio was not turned on until after all evening chores were done and the smaller children tucked in bed.

My father also had a battery operated short wave radio from his homestead farming days. That was fun, trying to pick up signals from remote places.

Television didn’t come to our town until the mid 50’s. My best friend's father owned an applicance store and we would sneak up at night to turn the television sets on to watch the ‘snow’ on the screens. The towers hadn’t yet been installed in town and it was such an exciting introduction to the modern world.
Programmes were simpler then weren’t they. We did not have a television set in our home, so Thursday evenings the family would congregate at my grandparent’s home to watch Thursday night wrestling. My, oh my what an event. A few years later I was to meet a wrestling star and was quite chagrin to find he was just another human being.

And comedy was comedy….the comedian didn’t have to be vulgar or obscene to be considered funny. Remember Red Skelton and Freddy the Freeloader. I have a cassette of Red Skelton and it is one of my favourite programmes which I often play. We truly had it all didn’t we!

I leave you with  The Green Hornet and Red Skelton with his kindly humour and his nightly ‘God Bless’

Today's other blog talks about watercolours. pinnacles and potholes

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Work In Progress

I’m certain if any of you have been following this ‘high school’ portion of my journey, you will be glad to know I am finished with this topic except for a few additional comments.

One teacher I have not yet mentioned was our music teacher. He was the grandson of classical composer Anton Dvorak and it was his first year in Canada. We loved him and he adopted our entire class as his ‘favorite’ memory of his first year spent here teaching.

As in most music classes we were required to sing the musical scale with ‘ah’s’…, re, me etcetera. After completing the scales we were to select a musical instrument. As class ended he asked me to wait…he said “I will make an agreement with you”! Oh, oh was I worried, I didn't think I had done anything wrong this day!  The gist of his comment was if I promised never to sing in his class, and to select only cymbals as an instrument he would give me a passing grade! I definitely could not as they say ‘sing for sour apples’ and was only to crash the cymbals when he pointed directly at me!

Just about this time ‘rock and roll’ was the music of choice among teenagers; our music instruction included classical music; recognition of composers by listening to their works and biographies of the composers. Moans and groans throughout the class! Included as well was the development of popular music themes throughout history. This gentleman instilled in each of us the desire to learn and listen to more than the popular music of the day.

He taught so much just by being the person he was. He told of his origins, his homeland, his world of music, travels, and elation at being in Canada. He helped us to believe that anything in life was possible with belief in oneself and hard work. He taught us to explore the ‘wonders’ of not only education but the world around us as he reveled in each new discovery of our country and our town!

Wherever he is today I have him to thank for opening my eyes to see and want to know farther horizons; to understand more of the world we live in.   It was indeed an honour to meet him!

In summary, my high school days were highlights of my life. Met some excellent educators, made wonderful friends. Gained confidence as I developed some social skills. Although very bored with business subjects I still came away with skills I would call upon as I traveled through life. I realize now that although I felt I had finally reached adulthood and felt complete, I was still a ‘work in progress’

The painting shown with this blog is titled 'Work In Progress'  see my art blog:-
Artistic Pinnacles and Potholes

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

High School Days – First Prom

Do you remember your first high school prom? I do! Every girl in the class had been asked to the prom - with one exception, me. Even the class goody two-shoes had a date and she was a short, homely little chub! Finally a Grade 13 boy asked me …. He didn’t have a date either as he had a hare lip and was scoffed at because of his speech impediment. I was in seventh heaven….not only a date, but a senior boy! Of course I said ‘yes’ right away.

My mother said ‘no’! Every day she said ‘no’. I begged, I pleaded, I did extra housework…’no’ was her final answer.   My grandmother intervened ... the answer was still 'no'.  She told me I would just have to tell the young lad I could not go to the prom with him. I wailed … I couldn’t possibly tell hime ‘no’ after I had said ‘yes’.

Meanwhile  my girl friend’s house was a flurry of activity; the table sheeted with fine satin and tuille and pattern as her mother made her dress. Oh what a dress it was! Prettiest pink, all frothy and swirling skirt!. I told this story to my mother. “NO!” was the answer.

We were getting down to the wire and I still hadn’t been able to extract a ‘yes’. One day on my way out the door to school I was told to me my mother to meet her ‘up town’ after school….’up town’ being the shopping street of our town. I expected to carry home groceries. Imagine my surprise and delight when my mother took me into the ‘Vogue’ ladies shop to buy an evening gown for the prom. To this day I don’t know how my mother managed to save the $10.00 necessary to buy the gown. Little did I know the gown I selected was a fall evening gown……lovely red, with red velvet bodice, and red autumn leaves stitched down the tuille skirt. I didn’t know that all the girls at the prom would be decked in pinks, pale blues and yellows for a spring dance. It didn’t occur to me that my dress wasn’t the most beautiful of all….and having no fashion sense whatsoever didn’t know the difference between spring and fall dresses….so I was walking on cloud nine!

My date arrived by car driven by his father. He also drove us home from the dance.

The dance theme was ‘Evening In Paris’ and the auditorium was decorated in shades of blue and silver with silver stars on the ceiling, tables clad in blue cloth, a live band, a silver wrapped bottle of ginger ale on each table (supposedly to resemble champagne) and…..a sample of ‘Evening in Paris’ perfume for each girl in attendance. The first perfume of my life! What an evening, I was absolutely star struck; I know my feet did not touch the ground all evening or for most of the next few days either!

At these dances a school king and queen were selected. All girls marched across the stage and a panel of lads voted on the girls to select the ‘queen’. To this day I don’t understand why my friend was crowned ‘queen’; I was totally convinced I was the most beautiful girl there. I discovered years later that ‘position’ on the social roster meant more in selection that ‘beauty’. I will always remember this first of my ‘star struck’ evenings!  I kept that dress until a few years ago when I finally decided I could part with it.

Hope this helps you remember your first formal ‘prom’ dance.

The picture displayed with this blog is the type of dress we wore to formal dances at that time.

PS…..I have take on a 'paying' job two or three days a week; my art work is not selling and it is time to replenish my reserves. I will not be able to post every day to this site but will try to post at least twice a week.

Visit my other 'art' blog where I discuss pinnacles and potholes encountered being an artist:-
upside-down painting

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

High School - First Date

I learned to do something else in high school of which I have never been proud. I learned to ‘lie’. No fib….outright ‘lie’.

I had never lied in my life and definitely have not repeated the process. But I lied! One of my best new found friends was having a birthday party towards the end of Grade 10 and asked me to attend as a date for one of her cousins. I had never had a date and I knew it was out of the question as far as my mother was concerned after all I was fifteen, I could no more ask her if  I could go on a date than I could ask her if I could fly to the moon; first of all the moon was still ‘green cheese’; an impossible dream.

After much cajoling from my friends I finally agreed; and told my mother I had been invited to a girls birthday party. I did not tell her I would be in the company of a young man. The party was okay….I was so shy; even holding hands was out of the question. And actually dancing with a boy! Treading foreign ground for sure! I managed to get through the evening with a lot of teasing and a brilliant red face. Definitely an uncomfortable evening!

The next day the young man called and invited me to go on a family picnic and swim with his family. I told my mother, once again, I had been invited by my girl friend and she consented. I don’t know whether my mother became suspicious or what …. She called my girl friends house a few hours later to see what time we would be home and learned my friend was at home and I was out with her male cousin. She came to the lake to warn me. I knew I was dead if I went home!

The young man and his entire family came home with me under the assumption that if mother met the entire family she would have no qualms. So home I went….to meet my entire family, mother, siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles! Ruby had lied! The entire family was involved.

End result – I was grounded for the entire summer. I could go to work each morning with just enough time to make it to work and was expected home within a half hour after work. The price of lying! The young man and I wrote letters back and forth the entire summer; my mother would secretly steam the letters open and read them before she handed them to me. It took three long months before mother finally consented, with the intervention of my stepfather finally convincing her there would be no harm in my going to an early movie with the young man at least once a week! So it was, I was finally allowed to date this young man….to the 7 pm movie, and had to arrive home safe and sound within a half hour after movie ended.

A definite turning point in my life experience; the penalties paid for lying were definitely not worth the pleasure derived from the lie!

The description of the paint used here can be read in my other blog:-
Effervescence of Love

Monday, May 3, 2010


Indeed, High School was an assembly of many young teenagers on the road to discovery. Discovery of their own image and value, of new friendships, of an identity.

We started out pranksters, giggling and rebellious! We seven weren’t the only pranksters, half the class of 42 students were the same. And I was not immune to finding many strange things in my desk and having a ‘whoopee’ cushion slipped on my seat as I hurried in late one morning. That one even brought a smile to our ‘stone faced’ teache’s face. We were so immature; my grandson toyed with such a cushion for a few weeks when he was five and then no longer found it funny; but our generation did not have the diversions of today’s youngsters. After several detentions to many students our vice-principal addressed the class on its immature behaviour andl we got down to brass tacks and work.

And it was work. A student had to pass all subjects; just one failure meant you repeated the entire year. The only work problem I had was the maintenance of workbooks. I had a photographic memory and could read a textbook the night before an examination and ace it the next day. But neat, tidy notebooks, forget it! Solved this problem with the co-operation of my Scottish friend. She could study forever and never pass an examination… she would update my notebooks and I slipped her the answers during examinations; we always positioned ourselves opposite each other in examination rooms…and we both passed!

Leaving pranks behind us we found new ways to expend our energy and expand our horizons. There were intramural sports events, school football games and dancing. Socially we were like fuzzy caterpillars emerging from a cocoon…..all awkward and bumbling. Preparations for the first Grades 9/10 autumn dance was in full swing. And…..I had saved enough to buy a pair of those wedge heel shoes I so admired. A friend and I both purchased a pair. We walked the long distance to the school auditorium for the dance; by the time we arrived we both had blisters on our feet.  The boys looked so grand in their dress trousers and the newest for young men 'pink' shirts and blazers!  Charcoal and pink was the ultimate dress code for young men.....didn't last very long.  The girls looking their prettiest; so well groomed and bright.  Exactly what we were....bright, clean faced youngsters tip toeing on new ground!

Here we were, so excited, the room was dimmed, a school band on stage provided the music! Such a magical night. However….the boys were all lined up on one side of the room, the girls lined on the opposite side. Very few grade 9’rs danced that evening. A fellow may make a tentative approach and with his buddies snickering behind him would turn and retreat. “Girl’s Choice” saw a few more dancers on the floor….but very few! The dance was over before 10 p.m. and my friend and I walked home shoeless, limping all the way with pulsating feet! And with a new found discovery ….. we were not yet socially accepted butterflies.

During Grade 10 I was allowed to attend Friday evening dances at the Dante Club. A dance organized for the teenagers in town. Strictly monitored, no alcoholic beverages allowed (official drinking age at that time was 21) and if found the person was evicted and not allowed access ever again. Dutifully a group of us girls would pay our 25 cents admission week after week; and stand nicely like the wall flowers we were from 7:30 until 10:00 ….when we would leave convincing each other we had a good time…..even though no one had asked us to dance! But the music provided by the student orchestra was good!

By Grade 11 many boys and girls were dating and were seen arm in arm about town. I left school in Grade 11 and that is a story for another day.

Description of the painting used here can be read in my other blog:-
Surmounted - a Painting Pothole

Sunday, May 2, 2010

High School - Pranks

High School was a major turning point in my life. I discovered I really was not the bumbling oaf I believed my self to be; with new found confidence and new found friends I became a confident and self-assured young woman. I do know the friendships I made at that time were instrumental in my major turning points.

On my first day in home room, the girls behind me and across the aisle became instant buddies when I put my head down on my desk and wailed “Oh, God No”! Two French Canadian girls who were bussed into school from farm country. One was nicknamed by the boys as ‘Face’. She was stunningly beautiful, a true movie star quality; reminded us of Cyd Charisse in a movie dancing with Fred Astaire.  And her cousin, a sexy little bombshell! Although I am no expert on other world cultures, I believe the love of life cannot be equaled to that of a French Canadian girl. The vibrant personalities, the spilling of emotions whether anger or laughter, for me is always so contagious.

So here I was with two young ladies full of life, love and laughter. Mix into this a slightly overweight girl from a Scots family who loved to laugh and a feisty little Italian with black curly hair and fiery black eyes. All of us hell bent for leather. What a time we had!

Our first targets were so easily identified….our home room teacher (my church elder) and the class goody-to-shoes! “Oh, miss let me”, “Oh Miss I know the answer to that”, “Miss, baked some cookies last night thought you might like one for your break”. Little-Miss-Know-It-All! Goody-All! Teachers Shadows! Tu Tu Tu Tu Duh!

Miss-Know-It-All became a daily target, our mission in life was to expose her! When one of my country friends brought in a garter snake for Science class we contrived to put it in Miss Knows desk. I of course was nominated for this task. No problem; snake securely tucked in desk we all took our seats. What a commotion that was with Miss Knows screaming and walking out of class pigeon-toed. She was away from school the rest of the morning; we were convinced she had an accident which made us giggle more. I was targeted as culprit and did own up to it. Met the vice-principal on less than friendly terms that day. However, Miss Knows desk became the daily resting spot for whatever critters we could find. Cruel you say! Perhaps!

And our home room teacher had truly alienated me first day so I was up to whatever was concocted. She really was such a sweet lady that even today I am sorry for what I did to her. At that time grown women wore of two versions; just above waist or from collar bone down!  I’ve seen modern versions for young people in the past few years and cannot imagine why anyone would want to wear one although today one does have a choice.  "Back then" wearing of one of these contraptions identified a 'well dressed woman'.

They were totally rigid elastic, designed to be pulled on, up over legs to torso; totally binding derriere, stomach and waist in no-give elastic, with whale bones sewn in to retain shape. Consequently excess 'fat' was pushed below leg of girdle or under armpits.  Well Miss Home Rooms was so rigid you could see whale bone lines through her clothing. Our discussions concluded she wore the full body version and we decided that nothing could penetrate that girdle; looked more like armour plate! Thumb tacks! No! Who would dare! Don’t dare me, because I’ll do it!. So here I was placing thumb tacks on her desk seat.

Well, didn’t they stay embedded in her backside. She didn’t even know they were there! Didn’t know why the class was in such giggles and Miss Knows wouldn’t dare tell her either! Of course with all the giggling going on didn’t she sit on the edge of my desk saying “I don’t know what is going on here but I do know you are at the bottom of this!” She had my number but never found out what the giggles were that day.

No excuse for this behaviour I am certain. Recalling that I was barely 14 at the time maybe immaturity might be cited.  In any event; there were seven of us who laughed and pranked our way through high school. Loved every one of these new found friends and the giggles we had!

Visit my art blog Pinnacles and Potholes:-
Co-Op Gallery

Saturday, May 1, 2010

School Days - Gymnasium Class

Ho Hum – new curriculum. Physical Education got off to an embarrassing start. The sole on my shoe had come unstitched and for whatever reason, I can’t recall, we had to walk across the gymnasium to the teacher….and I’m walking pigeon-toed so my sole doesn’t flap, flap, flap! Red face and all!

I will always remember the girl next to me on the bench.

She was the epitome of style! Had the latest short haircut, WORE MAKEUP….latest clothes and moccasins! I’d have signed over my life to her like Dorian Grey that day just to wear her moccasins across the room.

She was so utterly kind, joked with me and took my mind off the shoes and made me feel an equal. Donna was her name. So if you should ever read this Donna; I still haven’t forgotten you kindness! Crammed my feet into an old pair the balance of the week until we could afford to have oxfords stitched at shoe repairs.

We were required to wear a very funny bloomer type, short gym uniform – somewhat resembling infant ‘rompers’. Belted waist, short sleeves and elasticized at the legs….which we pulled up as far as we could. We resembled a mob of bouncing, large babies romping about the basketball and volleyball court.   Girls were not allowed to wear shorts for gym class, it was most unladylike.

Undressing in the common change room was indeed a challenge. I discovered all the girls except one other and myself did not wear a bra! Oh, for shame…many giggled and pointed and commented "you don't wear a bra" ....."oooooo"! That’s it….I am not returning to this class braless! This necessitated a stop at my grandmother’s on the way home from school….she would stick up for me and she did. The next gym class I had a bra! Now I was really a smart high school girl, ready to conquer the world! Well except for those oxfords! And no lipstick! And no after school socializing!

So brand new me with a bra and all the confidence in the world…I tried out for both the basketball and volleyball teams. And made it! I had never made a team until this point and was always last one chosen for any sports activity. But lets face it the ball was large enough I could see it without my glasses just fine. And running away from bully experience in my past gave me good sprinting speed in basketball! I couldn’t believe I actually made both teams! I’m sure my head size increased to that of a basketball!

The boys from Tech Hall would sneak around to the gymnasium back door and watch us practice … my name quickly became ‘legs’. Up to that point I didn’t know I had legs other than for walking and running. Guess they must have some other attraction!

One of my new class friends and I discovered her house skeleton key fit the hallway door from the gymnasium change room. Being firmly established on both ball teams we were bored with attending dribble classes …and discovered we could hide in the change room after attendance; change, open the hallway door and escape. So for the next two and a half years we spent our gym periods at my friend’s house – playing records and reading fashion magazines. Best gym classes of my life!

And this lead to the exploration of other ways to avoid classes which I deemed boring … such as shorthand, typing, business mathematics! Cooking and Sewing!

And should my sisters read this...don't tell mom!

Much more fun to come!

The picture with this blog is not of anyone I know, from a high school fashion magazine of the time.