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Archive for April, 2011

In the spring of my final year in high school, I was thinking about what to do with my summer vacation, before I started my university studies in the autumn. I knew that I needed to earn some real money for my tuition. Up to then, I had only had two jobs, both of them waitressing positions in summer resorts. These had not produced much cash. I had no experience in retail and I couldn’t type. I had no clue what I could find that would earn me some money.
Someone, and I don’t remember who, let me know that there was a military option I could look into.  The RCAF was enrolling students in the Reserves, and anyone could apply to join. The pay was decent.  Sounded like something I should investigate, as my dad had been in the RCAF during WW2, and had only good things to say about the air force. And so I enrolled in the RCAF , and so did about 3 or 4 of my friends from school.

Being in basic training for the summer was like being back in school. We all finished writing our Ontario departmental examinations in June, had a long weekend off, and began our military training right after that. Our training base was the old RCAF Station Toronto on Avenue Road in north Toronto. Our class of rookies was housed in an un-airconditioned classroom. We were taught to march and drill in military fashion in the station’s drill hall. In a typing classroom, we were taught touch typing. All of us had left high school without that skill, as we were all graduates of the academic stream and had no “business” classes in our high school curriculum. We began typing class in the first week, and by Labour Day we were all touch typing at 30 wpm. Our instructors were mostly high school teachers who had been in the Reserves for some years. A couple of our instructors were older, and were war vets who enjoyed being in the Reserves.
As the summer progressed, our typing came along nicely and our marching in the drill hall in the summer heat got better and better. One of our favorite classes was on the history and theory of flight (which included the parts of the aircraft) as well as some specific history of flight in Canada.

By mid-August we were preparing a precision drill for our graduation night from basic training. We were really good at the drill, and we loved doing it. (On the big night we pulled it off, in front of our proud parents.) What we didn’t know was that there was someone special in the audience when we were practicing (we never knew who it was) who recommended our drill to the famous Canadian musician and producer, Jack Arthur. He was currently the producer of the stage show at the Canadian National Exhibition. He scooped us up and put us in his show! Before our summer training was even concluded, we were on stage at the CNE. Who could have predicted such a thing? Every evening in the latter part of August, we went down to the CNE on the streetcar (in our uniforms) and did our precision drill on the Grandstand stage, in front of the thousands of people in the bleachers across the track from us. The star of the show that summer was Ed Sullivan. After we did our drill, we would retire to the backstage area while other acts went on.  Often we sat and chatted with Ed, killing time until the grand finale, which was a recap of all the acts in the show. We all marched across the stage one more time. As soon as the show ended, we raced across the infield in an effort to escape the falling junk that came from the fireworks that marked the end of the show. More than a few cinders melted my nylons during that two weeks of the CNE.
When the summer (and the CNE) ended, our basic training was over and we graduated. I was promoted from  Air Woman 2nd Class (AW2) to Air Woman 1st Class (AW1) . At this time we were also assigned our trades in the RCAF. I was slotted into Intelligence.
This event thrilled my dad, as he had been an Intelligence Officer on a bomber base in Yorkshire, for the last couple years of the war. We were told that we could and would continue on in the RCAF Reserves, and would attend at Station Toronto every second Sunday and each and every Wednesday night. The pay rate was quite good and the challenge of working in the Intelligence section was going to be fun. (Click on photo to enlarge)

By the end of this summer after high school, I had learned to touch type (a skill that proved invaluable to me for the next 50 years), had participated in a stage show for the first time in my life, and had acquired a part-time job that would keep me earning a small income until I graduated from university. Little did I know what adventures lay ahead in my military career.

(to be continued)

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City renewal – Prepping the site

April 12, 2011

Today’s the day the trees died. There’s  a new condo going in across the street, and the site will be under construction for about 18 months. Although I knew this day was coming, it was still hard to watch healthy and mature trees coming down.

Today was the first really big step towards the imminent demolition of the old houses across from my window. They have been neglected for years, as the landlord worked his way towards the development he has planned for years. The houses have been vacant for most of a year, and there have been no friendly lights to look out at on the long cold winter nights.

In the long run, I will be glad to have people living across the street once again, but that won’t be until sometime in 2012. Today I watched two beautiful pine trees come down, as well as a deciduous tree on the side of the site.  Although I hated seeing the trees come down, I had to admire the precision of the tree removal, in the middle of a crowded and busy area. One pine was brought down in stages, one section at a time. (Obviously the tree men can’t just let a whole tree flop down anywhere on a city block.) These trees today were surgically removed-an interesting but sad procedure. That’s progress for you.

In the front yards, bulbs that were planted many years ago have started to bloom. Poor little crocuses. Passers-by on the sidewalk don’t even notice the flowers, but I see them as I walk the dog. They have flowered, only to be killed in the destruction to come.

I plan to keep blogging intermittently about the ongoing construction. Latest news is that the developer has sold out the condos, and posted a message to “Watch for Phase 2, coming soon!” I suspect that means that the rest of the block is going to be “renewed” as well.

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Candlelight

I was determined to get married at Christmas-time, 1959. June and July 1960 were going to be centred on two other weddings, and I was going to be a bridesmaid in each of them. Those brides-to-be were also my attendants, and a six-month gap between the weddings seemed ideal. My second reason for wanting the Christmas wedding was that Yorkminster always looked so beautiful at Christmas, already decorated with enormous Christmas trees flanking the steps, and tapers on the ends of the pews. Mother was really dubious, having visualized a lovely June wedding such as she had had, but I assured her that everything would be better this way.

And so the date was set for Monday, December 28.
The worst ice-storm to hit Toronto in 30 or 40 years began early that weekend. By
Sunday the storm was really battering the city, slowing everything down. After the
wedding rehearsal, which took place on Sunday night after the evening church
service, the bridal party repaired to the home of my soon-to-be in-laws in a northern suburb.

By the time we reached the house, the power had failed. The coffee was
already perked and the refreshments were ready, so the party was held by firelight and candlelight in a rapidly chilling house.

My mother-in-law, who had wanted everything to be perfect, needed much reassurance that we didnʼt mind. We all soon headed for home as the snow and sleet swirled around.
What I didnʼt know at the time was that also on Sunday, my father had had the
task of transporting the wedding cake to the site of the reception, Cedarbrae
Country Club, in the far eastern reaches of metro Toronto. The traditional fruitcake
had been lovingly made by my great-aunt, and then professionally iced and
decorated. While moving the cake from his car into the club, my father lost his
footing in the icy parking lot and went crashing down. The cake fell and the
elaborate decorations shattered – fewer than 24 hours before the reception. My
father, who was beside himself, delivered the cake to the clubʼs kitchen where the
chef told him, “Donʼt worry – I can fix it!” and so he did, by patching it all together with icing. The family didnʼt tell me about this until long after the honeymoon was over.
On the day of the wedding, the groom delivered a corsage to my grandmother. The sleet was still falling heavily and the streets and sidewalks were covered with thick sheets of ice. Sensible people all stayed home and celebrated their Boxing Day holiday. My groom slipped on the ice and fell heavily. Thatʼs why, during the ceremony, I discovered that his thumb, which had taken the worst of the fall, was swollen to twice its normal size.
By the time I departed from home for the church, the freezing rain had been falling for at least 36 hours and more power failures were occurring all over Toronto. I personally was terrified of slipping on the ice between the car and the church steps, so under my bridal dress I wore my clunky old black winter boots. They made for most interesting photographs as I was snapped exiting the car in wintry disarray.

After the ceremony, the weather was worsening and darkness was rapidly closing
in. Just about then, my mother could be heard muttering, “I knew we should have
held this reception at the Park Plaza Hotel!” All of us were worrying about the long
drive out to the country club, at least 30 minutes away.

Off we went, making our way cautiously on the slippery roads, taking our time in the awful conditions. Downed power lines and fallen ice-coated tree branches lined the roads.
No sooner did we arrive at Cedarbrae than the club suffered a complete power
failure right at the start of the reception. Fortunately, our planned hot buffet was
ready and so was the coffee. The club staff had gathered up every single candle in the club, and soon all the tables were aglow. A crackling fire in the fireplace warmed us a bit, but one by one the ladies slipped their fur coats back on. It was quite a sight, what we could see of it, with the whole dining room glowing by candlelight and everyone huddling in their coats. All those lovely festive
dresses were hidden from view .

Meanwhile the groom and the best man were both congratulating themselves on
their good fortune and convulsed with laughter.They had worried themselves sick
for days over their speeches and here they were, with the perfect excuse.They could hold up their notes and joke by candlelight that they couldnʼt read a thing. Any mistakes they made would be forgiven and they could say almost anything and get a laugh. Without lifting a finger they had landed in a win-win situation. They were laughing with good reason: they flubbed their lines in the candlelight and no one cared. They were a huge hit.

However, the candles were getting shorter, and the storm was still raging outside. It was time to go. However, I wasnʼt quite finished with the candlelight.
I retreated to the Ladies Locker Room, a haven for lady golfers. I had never seen it before, and I still havenʼt seen it. Although my groom and I werenʼt going any further than downtown to the Royal York hotel, I first had to change from my wedding dress to my “going away outfit,”  but there was no electricity. The locker room was as dark as a tomb. The faithful bridesmaids arrived by my side, each with a candle, and someone thrust a flashlight into my hands. Seized by fits of laughter at the impossibility of the situation, somehow we got me changed. I subsequently had no recollection of exactly how we accomplished this feat. Those candles burned down terribly quickly and by the light of the one flashlight, I made my way to the front door of the club.
There my groom met me in the dark. I could tell him by his voice, but couldnʼt see
him until someone brought yet another candle. There were all my aunts and uncles hanging over the railing to wave goodbye to us. I could barely make them out in the gloom. The flashbulbs popped as we gingerly slipped out into the sleet and made our way to the car. It wasnʼt until later, when I saw the photographs that I really knew what the scene at the front door had looked like. One candle and a few flashbulbs hadnʼt quite lit up the scene.

But do you know, to this day, anyone who attended our marriage and reception has remarked, even after 50 years, “Yours was the most unforgettable wedding I have ever attended!” They kindly refrain from mentioning that the drive back into the city on the ice-covered roads was probably the most hair-raising drive of their lives.

~ Back in 1999, when my writing group leader gave us “candlelight” as our topic for the week, I just had to write this memoir of my wedding.

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