Friday, April 30, 2010

High School - First Impressions

Teachers were educators back in the 50’s when I attended high school. They were treated with respect by students and the community. Yes, they were strict however they maintained an environment free from fear or prejudice and encouraged all students to do their best providing skills for the future. I was forever provoking and agitating my way through high school; a regular prankster; even so years later I could still meet and talk with these teachers as an equal for the pranks hurt no one and simply generated giggles.

My sister followed my school trail by four years. Her words are “I hated following you through high school…:”. The comment she received was “Oh, you’re Ruby’s sister………..”  Why was that you ask, backward, socially inept school girl! Well, as I said in my previous blog high school was a major turning point in my life and I was determined to no enjoy!

Let's begin with first days, first impressions which may provide some insight behind “Oh, you’re Ruby’s sister……”

To begin my first impression, didn’t I find my home room teacher was a church elder. Oh no! And didn’t she single me out with the comment “Ruby, how nice to have you in my class…..I’m expecting great ‘things’ from you”. Oh no! Desk please swallow me up, please. I put my head down on my arms and said “Oh God, No!” To which most of the class laughed in glee. And, I must admit the teacher took it very well, smiled very nicely; and didn’t miss a beat in her welcome to all others!

Geography class was taught by a giant of a woman; she seemed seven feet tall although she was probably only 5’9”. And she was a tough, no nonsense teacher. Loved her….loved geography….how could I not. I got to use my drawing/doodling skills to the zenith. All maps were to be hand drawn; all legends were to be executed using pen and ink! No coloured anything…pen and ink. Straight pen with a pen nib! We carried our ink bottles to every class! Fountain pens were not allowed and I don’t believe ballpoint pens had yet reached our town.

Science fell in the same ‘loved it’ category as I again could use my art skills …. As in depiction of the food chain; you know the fly eaten by the spider eaten by the frog…….etc; “I don’t know why she swallowed the fly”. And the teacher was so interesting; a small little lady who trecked through the woods with her sister; in tan jungle-type clothing, tenting all across Canada.

In Sewing and Home Economics Class I left a lasting impression indeed. One my sister bemoaned all her high school years. Home Economics was taught by a former army seargeant major. First off she sent one girl to deposit her chewing gum in trash can . So Dolly lifted a lid on a brightly painted red trash can and plopped her gum…..the can was used as flour storage. I doubled up with laughter and wound up in the hallway for a dressing down. Then the first day of cooking when told to do something, I proceeded to do it a different way. When called on it I informed said teacher “my mother doesn’t do it that way and she’s the best cook in town”. So as you can see, fist day I left a nasty taste behind in cooking class. Sewing class didn’t work out much better either.

But there are more first impressions tomorrow!

Thanks for sharing with me.

The painting chosen for this blog is described:-
Nature's Pinnacle

Thursday, April 29, 2010

New Identity - High School Student

Some of the biggest turning points in my life were about to unfold. High school! Wow! I was going to be a new me….no more insecurities. I was now working all summer and every Saturday and earning my own money! What I was about to learn scholastically would change my life! Of this I was certain. Sooooo very certain….I merrily sailed along on a high, oblivious to any stumbling blocks!

The first of the stumbling blocks was my selected course of studies. Grade eight teachers, high school counselors, every one talked to my parents to enroll me in the academic strain with thoughts of further education after high school. My parents could not see their way clear to endorse this avenue financially. Scholarships were very limited then and financially they saw no future for me in academic studies. . So commercial course it was; this would allow me to procure a valued position. Gone were my aspirations of becoming a lawyer or archaeologist, but that was all right too!

I knew from the get-go that artist was out and never approached but once. After all artists lived, heavens knew where in California, went barefoot and rattled tambourines on street corners while begging! Weren’t they called ‘beatnicks’? Such was the view of producing artists. Art; actually ‘painting’ was for little old ladies once they became grandmothers!

I could hardly contain myself and was so anxious to go shopping with my earned money. The day came when mom and I went shopping for my new high school wardrobe. It took some convincing but she finally agreed to allow me to wear the new straight style skirts with a ‘kick pleat’ at the back….and the new ‘bat wing’ style tops. The sleeves really did look like bat wings , the fabric cut like a kite. Looking back, they were truly ugly but oh so fashionable.And shopping for school supplies! How exciting. Buying papers, rulers, pens, inks….and a bright red, real crocodile leather binder. Zippered round with pockets inside. I was ready! Couldn’t wait!

I still had to wear my regular laced oxford shoes. The new ‘wedge shaped heels were definitely out. But that was fine; it really was a long walk to school….more like a quick run at half an hour.

My friend’s father drove us to school the first morning of our exciting journey. So many students in one school; we were overwhelmed and somewhat intimidated by so many new faces. We found our home room and sat with joy and trepidation waiting for teacher and first assembly. And, discovered much to our chagrin….school was still school with rules of conduct and decorum diligently imposed. A bit of a knock to the wind in our sails; but alright, nothing we couldn’t live with.

Teachers still stood outside home rooms at first bell and between classroom changes; conducting hallway traffic. Orderly, single file, down right hand side of hallways; no walking in centre of halls. We discovered gender segregation ….. very much to our disappointment. Commercial courses were strictly female….technical were strictly male…..and never the twain should meet. Commercial hall…..was at this end… hall……way, way, way down at the other end of the school. Academic studies were in the middle and were mixed gender. Doesn’t something sound out of whack here?

Finally we met our principal and vice-principal in first year school assembly. One definitely did not want to meet either personally. We were informed of more ‘rules’. For instance any ‘boy’ (because girls were not expected to do this) caught smoking…..across the road from the school; INSIDE the pharmacy soda bar would be expelled from school, no questions asked, for a week. Any girl caught lolling about the pharmacy would be up on reproach and parents would be called in. Lateness to any class would result in detention….and on it went.

Still we were undaunted. It was the beginning of the first day of the rest of our lives! We were still star struck!

Blog about this painting can be found:-Copper Daze

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Senior Public or Middle School

Finally! Made it! Moving to a new school and complete new curriculum. I couldn’t wait. Grades 7 and 8 were definitely turning points in my life for more reasons than one.

We were introduced to a class rotation system with a different teacher for each subject; this was a new venture for the education system in our town. Our calendar included fourteen subjects….chemistry, natural science, science, French, literature, grammar, music! And on the list continued. Students came from all the public schools in town, into one melting pot.

Two years of discovery!  Academically they were good years, very exciting subjects; with one fly in the ointment. English history used to put me to sleep….literally I would nod off to be awakened by a ruler being snapped next to my dozing brain. The teacher called me ‘lazy’ in front of the whole class! Well, I’d just show her…..I earned a 100%+ as a final grade in the subject.

Grade 7 was my first introduction to a black person. We had never, ever seen a black person in our town and rarely in movies. Remember television had not reached our neck of the woods yet. He was Oxford educated and a very fine looking gentleman. The entire school population loved the man, he was an excellent educator and a judicious person!  It was also my introduction to young girls and young boys growing up and becoming aware of one another....first crushes, girls flirting, boys strutting!  No one strutted by me....except for Eugene!

A turning point in social status.  One's position, one's acceptance became important and in this regard I was a social failure. More siblings at home and money harder to stretch. I wore a hand-me-down coat from one of mother’s friends…..a coat purchased in wartime England- warm and tweedy! Nothing wrong with a warm and tweedy coat, right! Wrong!   I wore dated clothing, none of the 'new' fashions...wore what fit....refused to wear hand-me-downs so always wore the same clothes.  I felt such a wretch and would time my arrival at the final bell so no one could see my coat!  Definitely an outcast; was not allowed to wear lipgloss like some of the girls, was not allowed to attend parties, not that I was invited. And Eugene! Oh dear, Eugene!. He became my shadow, he always made sure he sat next to me in class, would meet me on the way to and from school. This was so annoying because he was as much a social outcast as I …. Worse in fact, extremely overweight, foggy glasses and a runny nose. But then, I had a runny nose also….we must have both been a sight to avoid!  I refused to brush my hair…hoping to dissuade Eugene but he remained a constant  I would run knowing he could not keep up,…he remained a shadow....I was rude....he remained!  Wonder whatever happened to Eugene!

Everyone was treated equally throughout the two school years; no favourites because of family  influence or position in town, right up to and including grade 8 graduation. All girls made blue skirts, cut from the same bolt of cloth in sewing class. These were worn with white blouses for graduation exercises; the boys wore best trousers and white shirts….and we felt equal and proud! No parties, no dances, no limousines such as we see today for grade 8 graduations today. Just parents in attendance, tea, coffee and home baked goodies!

Another change took place in my life - I decided I could do something about my coat and threatened to leave home if my parents would not allow me to get a job and earn my own money. An elder in our church had the solution telling mother a few days tagging articles in the basement of the retail Metropolitan Stores would make me thankful to be home and not working. Mother had to sign a paper allowing me to work because I wasn’t quite 14 at the time. Loved the job and stayed part time until I left school in high school.

The photo with this blog is of my in Grade 7, I had cut my waist length hair and refused to brush it....ever!
Lots of memories from this period!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Lessons On Giving

Grades five and six were good learning years but two incidents stick in my mind from grade five that were not learned in the classroom; so a bit of a deviation from the classroom to one of life’s greatest lessons learned.

Social services hand not been invented by municipalities when I grew up. If a family were in need  they could always get assistance such as food and heat vouchers; but many felt too embarrassed to seek this kind of help. Work was always available on the municipal labour crews. In the winter men could be seen with shovels in hand cleaning sidewalks and spreading sand. In the summer months they were equipped with push brooms and could be seen sweeping town sidewalks and curbsides. A particularly needy family lived a block away in a very small shack. They would accept nothing from anyone! Such was their pride.

Our local firemen and policemen assembled Christmas ‘white baskets’ …..bushel hampers filled with everything edible for a family’s celebration dinner. One Christmas didn’t a knock come to our door and the Firemen’s Association was delivering a ‘white basket’ to our house; a fireman up the street thinking we may need it. My poor dad, and the ‘oh, no’s’. He asked if they would mind if he gave it to someone who really needed it and they consented and he advised who….their comment was they had tried in years past but had always been rejected. Of course we children wanted to keep the basket certain there were 'goodies' we never, ever saw.

Dad loaded the basket on the sled and off he went with my mother’s words “you know they won’t even answer the door”. About a half hour later he arrived back home without hamper. He had been chatting with the man of the house and indeed was welcomed and they accepted the hamper. There was a humility about my stepdad that was non-threatening, he never ever thought he was above anyone else…. and this proud family of nine children accepted from my stepdad what they would accept from no other. When he told how elated the family was to see a turkey I realized I didn't really need the goodies the hamper contained.

The second incident concerned the daughter of this family; the only only girl and a classmate. In winter months she had only short stockings and a threadbare little coat. And winters were cold … as cold as -40 and colder. My grade five teacher purchased a snow suit for the girl with leggings, winter boots, mittens and hat. However the girl only wore it at school in the playground, careful that her brothers didn’t see her. At the end of winter the suit was kept at school for her use the following winter.

This was the school year I learned the gift of giving, humbly, and with one’s heart and about truly caring for those around you!

The painting accompanying this blog is discussed:-
Conquered - Painter's Block

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Childhood Turning Points

My first day at school! Oh, my how happy I was to go to school! I loved the teacher, the blackboard, the exercise books, the readers. Recesses, making new friends. Unfortunately being a precocious child I was usually outspoken and spent considerable time standing in the back corner of the classroom! By grade three I spent considerable time standing outside class in the hallway! So I progressed very well indeed. But I was still happy, the grade three teacher I feared moved to another school. Well, didn’t we move to the other side of town and, you guessed it, there she was ‘Miss All My Nightmares Teacher’ and I was in her class. Miss Marshall! I name her because she deserves to be named and needs to know she almost ruined my academic career! She was so mean and nasty. This turned out to be the worse school year of my life! A turning point for me all the way round. A new baby at home, a family situation that was unhappy and Miss Nightmare. I truly don’t know how I survived the wrapped knuckles and yelling of the teacher.

Added to my misery was a bully at the top of the street. She waited for me every morning and pounced from various hiding places. She went to one of the other schools, “she was better than me because of her school”, plus I was the new kid on the block…..and I swear at eight years old she weighed in at three hundred pounds! At least!. Then I’d get it when I arrived home for losing whatever she took from me! What a dreadful year!

The thing was, you didn’t take your social problems back to your parents. If you were bullied you were expected to handle the situation. However, having said that, should you fight back, you’d get it when you got home. It was a no-win situation as far as I could see.

My first turning point, I grew to hate school! That’s it my eight year old mind said… more school for me. No way! I devised every type of illness that year; finally being carted off to the doctor who advised there was nothing wrong with me.

Finally the year ended…but miss bully didn’t; she was there for years to come and I became quite ingenious in avoiding her. But grade four was on the horizon and I met the most wonderful teacher in my whole school career. My second childhood turning point, and an important one….she inspired in me the desire to learn and always presented new challenges for a photographic mind!. She became a friend for many years to follow

This article is linked to my other blog:-
Summer Pinnacles

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


The only alienation in the population seemed to have a religious under current; especially with students from different schools. We had and Italian Catholic School, a French Catholic School, a good old, regular Canadian public school.. The bickering between children focused only around the school one attended; and fights often broke out…by fights I mean fisticuffs or name calling; or perhaps comparison of lessons; but these were short lived as we joined in our games. The town had but one high school which was a wonderful melting pot. Children from all the public schools attended the same high school and soon learned to appreciate and laugh at the differences at the public school level.

School rules were much different to what they are today. The schools had two playgrounds at opposite ends of the building…a boys’ and a girls’ playground. They had separate entrances…one for boys and one for girls. Like ‘never the twain should meet’! A bell would sound and you lined up in single file in front of the teacher of your class; and proceeded in a straight line to your classroom. No talking, no chewing gum, no laughing, no pushing or shoving! Straight to the principal’s office to explain any of these infractions.

Grades 7 and 8 for the public school children was designed on a senior level, with class rotations; as in high school and with a multitude of disciplines being explored. Many children of the time really didn’t have a hope of attending a higher level of education after high school and this 7/8 programme afforded a wide range of knowledge before leaving school. Many, many children left school at 16 or younger to join the work force, usually employed in the town’s mines.

Entrance to your high school programmes had to be approved by your parents. Commercial….this course concentrated primarily on skills required in office positions and was attended by all girls; Technical….focused on technical skills required in the work force and was attended by all boys. The General Academic was gender mixed! These were students who aspired to higher education after high school.

My teachers begged, I begged…..but Commercial course it was for me. Consequently bored; I played hooky (skipped classes) every Wednesday and Friday afternoons for two years before finaling being ‘caught’. That story tomorrow.

This is linked to my other blog post:-Pinnacles and Potholes

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Our Town

What a wonderful town to grown up in. The town, even then  had concentrations of ethnic populations and although concentrated for support as many newcomers arrived after the war, were never exclusive. Each street in town read like a map of the world…. Irish, Scots, Chezcholovakians, Polish, French, English, Chinese, and people from many mid-eastern European nations. And, we ultimately all spoke the same language; even the elderly who found a new tongue difficult.

Yearly celebrations were wonderful because as children you learned to appreciate so many different cultures and celebrations. One Christmas I shared ‘blood sausage’ with a friend on the street. When I spoke of this in our church I was dressed down for consuming ‘blood’. Never quite understood the dressing down; my friend wasn’t a cannibal. Ah well, little differences did occur, but not among we children.

Every evening after chores were done we’d gather in the street for summer games of red rover, knock the can, hide’n’seek, blind man’s buff or skipping. The back field behind where I lived was the gathering place for older boy’s baseball games. An abandoned barn on a street away was the perfect place to climb and swing from a rope to bales of hay below. Summer swimming in the river or small lake in town; picnics in the park or backyard. My parents were leery of lakes and rivers….so my younger siblings got to swim in a square metal washtub in the backyard. I, would sneak away to the rivers, lakes and streams.

Winter months were such fun…..angels in the snow, pie-tag in the backyard, building forts, snowball fights and every school included a skating rink. Properly boarded round, with a skate shack to change into skates and warm up by a pot belly stove. The rinks were maintained by the school custodian staff. We had a yearly skating carnival where all parents came, inter-school hockey games, or just hockey games at one end of the rink with the girls using the other end. So after evening chores we either skated or headed for the nearest incline to sled. If one didn’t have a sled…a cardboard box was perfectly acceptable.

It didn’t matter what equipment one used….goalie pads were often Sears or Eaton catalogues tied round the knees with twine. Sledding comprised whatever one had; some bob sleds having been built with scarp found at the local dump site, skates were usually hand-me-downs or second hand. There were no ‘organized’ sports other that inter-school sports; no output of cash was required of any family. Everyone with a willing heart could join in the games.  Our games were what they should have been....for the children, to have fun and grow by experience!

This blog is linked to description of painting used here:-

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Where - Growing Up in the Wilds

I was born and raised in a Northern Ontario mining town; population about 27,000.  A language  mix of English- and French-speaking ; and many, many new Canadians from all over Europe after the war.
Born into a simpler time and a simpler way of life that has now all but disappeared.

We had electricity, wood stoves, coal or wood furnaces, or oil-fired space heaters.  Most of the homes were constructed of wood sheathed with either wood siding or a tar paper product called 'insul brick'.  Everyone had storm windows that were put on the homes the first of September and taken off the 24th of May.  We did not have television until the middle of the 1950's as the town was located north of the rock shield and blocked transmission from Southern Ontario; thus special receiving towers had to be built. 

Speaking of wood stoves.  Almost every other home in town used wood as its primary source of fuel for heating and cooking.  Sawmills in town cut timber into squared poles used for stoving underground tunnels   in the mines.   The cut portions with rounded sides were then cut into about 18" pieces called 'slabs'.  Homeowners purchased these or cords of logs those not squared off to be cut into stove size at home;  Wood supplies were always restocked  in summer and early autumn;  and piled in long formations in driveways and around properties to dry in the sun;  and then stored in wood sheds or basements as winter approached.

There were cars in town, but not that many; people basically walked wherever they were going.  Some of the retailers used horse and buggy, like the milk vendor, the ice man with his blocks of ice on a flat bed of sawdust, and during the war we had a 'rags and bones' man who came round in the summer to collect old clothing.....there was a shortage of material during the war and discards were collected for recycling.

I tell you this because years later when I was recounting the tales of the 'rags and bones' man and milk delivery using horse and buggy; a woman 20 years my senior in Southern Ontario said I was making up she grew up in the same province and had never heard of these.  Our community was remote connected to the southern part of the province by over five hundred miles of  a single two lane road.  So remote, travellers carried water jugs to replenish car radiators en route.  There were no gas bars or restaurants along the way.....only forest, thick impenetrable forest. 

The community sat  (and still sits - although no longer so isolated)  smack dab in the middle of thousands and thousands of acres of primeaval forest.  Evergreens, lakes, rivers and fields!  And real winter with real snow, and we used to have at least a week in January when Arctic blizzards actually blew their way in and around town   A great place to grow as the wind; freedom from fear, freedom to explore and grow under clear blue skies absolutely devoid of pollution.

Winters in Northern Ontario were magnificent.....snow, snow, snow and snow!  Sometimes reaching a depth of fourteen to twenty feet of packed snow....that's packed....all those lovely soft little flakes packing into a one could walk on top of the snow and not sink any farther than the person's weight allowed.  Catching snow flakes on your tongue, climbing snowbanks along roadways that were sometimes well over six feet high and sledding down,  Building underground forts in the snowbanks....and every yard had a personal snowbank keeping pathways and driveways clear.  I remember people shovelling pathways three to four times a day.  And cold!  I mean cold!  Temperatures often plummeted to -40 degrees  and sometimes colder.  Crisp, the snow would crack under your footsteps; trees would crack with a loud 'bang' from the would let off resounding 'cracks' as well as night temperatures dropped.  You wore many layers of clothing out of doors -  basically only eyes were not covered....and had to be wary of frost bite on cheeks, noses and ears.  The ground frost level was a few feet deep.  Fences along properties would actually change angles with the frost pushing posts as the ground froze over winter. 

Spring was always wonderful; at least until the town acquired a 'caterpillar' machine in the 50's that removed snowbanks and loaded snow onto trucks to dump snow into frozen river.  There were very few concrete sidewalks in town so spring would be a wonderful children's playground with rivulets of water running down the streets where we floated anything resembling a ship.....chips of wood, nut shells...whatever we could think of.  And the spring floods.....everyone walked to the river each spring to check the flooding as the river rose and to see if the logs were flowing freely or were there any log jams!  The spring mud was indeed lovely....the smells of the earth as it thawed and greened for summer!

Aw and summer .... warm from June to the 1st of September when the first frosts usually appeared.  Fields and fields to wander and roam....buttercups, daisies, dandelions, fireweed.  And the swamps with salamander and newts under rocks, garter snakes.  But beware....of the bears.  The old song "If you go down into the woods today...." about teddy bears.  Only they weren't teddy bears, they were black bears.  Very little to worry about if the blueberry crop was abundant, but in years when then berries were thin the bears would come into town looking for food. 

Summer also meant picking wild blueberries.  Not the large variety you see in stores now....the little, bitsy blueberry.  Pick! Pick! Pick!  And then 're pick' once home to extract any leaves or debris which may have dropped into the basket.  And then preserving in jars.  You picked in the evenings after daily chores, you picked Saturdays....all day...and Sundays after church.  Could never decide which was the worse of the evils...picking blueberries or staying home to care for my younger siblings! 

Autumn in the north meant getting ready for winter; stacking wood piles in protected areas from snow, many townsfolk hunting in the woods for moose and other wild animals.  Preserving of fruits and vegetables into jars for the winter, knitting winter mittens, hats and scarves.  Collecting coloured leaves for school projects and putting on storm windows and storm doors against the coming winter chill. 

The painting with this blog show an actual roadway outside the town where I grew up as it was after a snowfall a year ago.

This post linked to my other blog:

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Turning Points and Identities

This blog is about me!  About life, love and passions; the whys and wherefores of life!  The remnants!  That's right, I'm having an identity crisis!
     Identity: - differnce of character that defines an individual.
     Crisis: - a crucial or decisive point; a turning point
     Remants: - as an adjective - still remaiing; as a noun - a usually small part,  member or trace remaining.

Recent musings about my art leave me wondering who I am, what I am, why I am and where I am going.  Definitely an identity crisis; where do I fit in?  The problem is this crisis is a bit late in life!

Let me introduce myself, the person I am today.  I left seventeen years of age behind me a long, long time ago and have reached my three score and ten!  That's it folks I am 70 having a teenage crisis!  But then I have always been a late bloomer!

I've raised three children, have a lovely daughter-in-law, a fine son-in-law and two perfect grandchildren; have seven siblings and a mother who is now 92.  I've retired several times in last five years from the same career, same firm and am now pursuing my life's passion of painting.

Yet that is merely a summary, a picture frame with no picture!  I feel I am merely a remnant of some colossal tapestry!  Somewhere in this tapestry of colour and design there is a me.....a heart or spirit whatever you call it ... the core of my being.   Really, right now I don't know who that being is. 

I know that I am probably embarking on the last turning point of my life; the final filling threads, the "woof" of the cloth and in so doing I hope to identify the colours and design I left behind me in the lenghtwise "warp" that has been my road through life.

It may be a long exploration, there have been many roads and twists and turns but in so doing I hope to top this crisis with an identity that is me. 

I intend to begin at the beginning.  I write this blog for me.  If you wish to share then I would be honoured.  Tomorrow is the beginning!

     Moody Blue is the title of the artwork accompanying this blog.  A painting of a nor'easter storm on the
Atlantic shore of Nova Scota in November.  It was a mighty storm with waves cresting at the point I was on the beach over four feet high.  The sky was dark, the wind whipping, the mood was blue. 

   This painting best identifies how I currently feel.  A turbulence of activity with no identity!