I never expected to receive a Christmas gift this year but I did. In fact, I got two gifts and both came as a complete surprise. They were the first gifts that I’ve received at Christmas, in a very long time and at first, I hesitated about opening them. But I’ll get back to the gifts of love in a moment because I need to tell you, dear reader, another story from my childhood.
As far back as I can remember, I’ve had mixed feelings about receiving gifts but I’m not sure why. It’s not that I’m fussy or difficult to please – I’m not. It’s just that I feel awkward and unworthy – but I can’t explain it better than that. But I love giving gifts – so I’ll never be accused of being a Scrooge.
As one, of six children, we always had a gift to open on our birthday or at Christmas but they were seldom toys or other neat things that you’d see advertised on TV. One Christmas, we got an oversized toboggan – but who wants to share that with two older sisters? But we always had a great Christmas feast and always lots of company to share the excitement. And my Ma would always bake a birthday cake on our birthdays – so I’m not complaining or ungrateful.
But there was always a little part of me that was jealous of my friends at school when they described all of the stuff they got. The gift I got most often, was something that my Ma knitted for me – such as a pair of mitts, a toque (knitted cap) or socks. My Grandma Puffer used to also knit things for my sisters, brothers and me. It wasn’t until later years that I realized how much time and love were spent by Ma and Grandma knitting things for us. And Ma used to make my sister’s blouses, dresses, and skirts. She was very talented and I always received compliments when wearing a sweater that Ma had knitted me. I still have the sweaters and I treasure them, although they no longer fit.
A few weeks before Christmas, one of the walking groups that I belong to was having a party and everyone brought a gift. I didn’t stay at the party once the meal was served, so I wasn’t there when the gifts were distributed. Everyone brought something inexpensive that would be suitable for either a man or woman. A week or so later, one of my walking buddies mentioned that he had saved my gift from the party and it was in his car. He gave it to me last week, after Christmas but I never opened it until yesterday. It was a generous gift certificate. Again I felt a pang of guilt for receiving a gift.
The other gift that I received was really unexpected – and it too warms my heart just thinking about it.
My friend Sannie had started a new job in Vancouver, so our get-togethers were becoming less frequent. But she is like a daughter to me and I was hoping we could see each other before the holidays. We made arrangements to meet for lunch on the 23rd. I had gathered a bunch of goodies from Trader Joe’s for her as an unwrapped Christmas gift because I didn’t want her to feel bad for not getting me anything. But she told me that she had a gift from me, so after we had lunch and got back in the car, we exchanged our Christmas card and gift.
Sannie’s gift to me was neatly wrapped with two ribbons on each end of the gift. I read the card – and then with my hands trembling with the excitement of a ten-year-old, I opened the present. It was an awesome toque that she had knitted for me! And although I never asked her – I imagined that she probably thought about me, as she knitted it. I held back the tears until we had said our goodbyes and had started the drive home. Her boyfriend Kuba, is a very lucky boy!
This was the best Christmas I’ve had in many years!
It was the morning of Christmas Eve and once again it didn’t feel like Christmas.
It had been years since I last celebrated Christmas – but I remember it well. It was in 1983 at my Mom & Dad’s place in Midland, Ontario. My family always got together to celebrate Christmas at my parent’s place – but I had missed the last couple of Christmases because I was living in Vancouver. My Dad came to the Toronto airport to pick me up – I had yet to see their new home in Midland – but I was more excited about seeing my Mom and brothers and sisters and my niece and nephew. That’s what Christmas was all about to the St. Andrews family – being together and enjoying our own special traditions. Some of those traditions included arriving on Christmas Eve and spending the night – so we could all get up together – just like when we were all growing up at our home in Oshawa and then later in Georgetown.
At my parents home in Georgetown, my Dad had built a wonderful bar in the rec room and he would wear a Christmas hat while he served drinks from his perch on a stool – behind the bar – which he considered “sacred” ground. You NEVER went behind the bar when Dad was on duty – the words “self-serve” did not exist in his bar. So as we arrived on Christmas Eve, the first thing you heard when you entered their house was the laughter and shouting from downstairs. A few hugs and kisses with Mom and then you would head downstairs to reunite with the clan.
Early on Christmas morning – probably no later than 6:00 AM, my Dad would be the first one to awake and ready to act as Santa. We would all gather around the Christmas Tree in the family room and my Dad would give each person one gift to open – beginning with my Mom. Everyone would watch quietly as each person opened their gift – and then there would be loud outbursts of “ooh’s and ahh’s”. My brothers, sisters and I would then prepare a large breakfast for everyone – and let Mom have the day off from the kitchen. Immediately after breakfast we would all gather at the Christmas Tree and continue to open all the gifts.
About mid-morning, Dad would announce that the bar was open. Later, Mom would bring a platter of Scotch Eggs for us to snack on. And then about mid-afternoon, we would all gather in the dining room for a sumptuous turkey dinner. Later, my brother-in-law Brian – a professional photographer, would get everyone together for a family portrait – which we would all receive framed copies. Then some of us would start to leave to go to our respective homes – which always made my Mom cry. She was happiest when she had every one of us together – as a family – and always pleaded with us – “Do you have to go so soon?”
So, on this morning of Christmas Eve, I was having a coffee and looking at one of those family portraits – and I got homesick. Homesick because I missed my Mom and Dad – and family – and those magical Christmases we shared together. And I missed not having that special feeling that I used to get every year – at Christmas. Two years ago, I went to Costco and bought a ton of outdoor Christmas lights – and decorated all of the hedges, evergreens, and fence – I had just finished my cancer treatments and didn’t know how many more Christmases I would be around for – and desperately hoping that the lights would bring back that special Christmas feeling. But it didn’t.
Last week I wrote a blog about buying a complete Santa Claus outfit – so I could visit all of the patients at the Fraser Valley Cancer Centre – where I was treated – and where I have been volunteering every week for the past 16 months. And as I made my way through the various clinics – almost all of the patients’ eyes would light up with excitement. I was hearing voices from all sides – things like: “Hi Santa!” and “Merry Christmas Santa” and “Hey Santa, can we get a picture of you with us?” Within five minutes that special feeling returned – and I was a kid again. I didn’t rush home and decorate the house with lights though; in fact, within hours of leaving the Cancer Centre, I lost the feeling – which made me really sad.
So on the morning of Christmas Eve, I decided to get dressed as Santa Claus, again – and go to the Cancer Centre and to Surrey Memorial Hospital. As soon as I walked into the hospital lobby a woman ran up to me, pleading, “Oh Santa, could I get a picture with you and my Mom?” I said “Sure – Ho, Ho Ho!” The mother slowly walked up to me – she was in her patient gown and was wearing a Christmas hat. I gave her a hug and was posing with her for the picture – when her daughter suddenly said: “Mom, why are you crying?” Before the mother could answer, I squeezed her closer to me and asked her why she was crying. She stared up at me and with tears rolling down her cheek, she cried, “Because I never thought I would ever meet Santa Claus!” I kissed her on the cheek and whispered into her ear “I will always be with you”.
I toured the Cancer Centre and then walked down the hall to the adjoining Surrey Memorial Hospital and took the elevator up to 51 North – the Oncology Floor. I had been a patient there several times during my cancer treatments – when I was at my lowest point. I walked into each of the patients’ room and wished them all a Happy Holiday. On my way back to the elevator, I noticed a Palliative Care sign over the entrance to another wing of the floor. “This is where the very sick and/or terminally ill patients are”, I thought to myself. I walked into the ward and all of the medical staff were surprised to see Santa. After posing for several photos I asked if it would be okay to say hello to the patients. They replied in unison “Of course you can – you’re Santa Claus!”
I made my way around the ward; entering each of the rooms and then holding the hand of each of the patients. I didn’t know what to say but what suddenly burst out of my mouth was “I know that you’ve always believed in me, and I just wanted to drop by to say hello”. One patient – an older man – was wearing a Christmas hat and said that he had awoken that morning excited with the hope that maybe a friend or family member might drop by for a visit. But none had – until Santa Claus. He held my hand for the longest time and just stared at me and then muttered: “Thank you Santa – Merry Christmas”. I turned to leave his room – my eyes were filling with tears and I didn’t want him to see me cry. After all, he believed in Santa Claus.
And now so do I.
Santa Danny in the Chemo Room, December 24, 2012
Today’s Tune (from Danny’s library of purchased music):
The mystical Nickel (5 Cents) CANADA 1962 – I found on the Promenade in White Rock, BC
A few weeks ago, I found a nickel during my morning walk at the Promenade, in White Rock. However, I didn’t realize the significance of that five-cent coin, until today.
It has awakened a quiet voice from within – which has been silent for too many months. And it’s not that I’ve been sulking or feeling sorry for myself – it’s just that I had given up on a beautiful dream, and couldn’t imagine anything that would excite or inspire me enough to want to write again. I haven’t written a blog since my cousin Ruthie passed, in November 2016, although I did post a few photos of an exciting day walking on the edge of the CN Tower in Toronto, this past April.
But back to the nickel.
After finding the coin and almost dismissing it as of little value, I suddenly remembered a saying my Grandma Puffer used to tell me: “A penny can be the difference in your ability to pay a bill on time.” I’ve never forgotten that or the many other words of wisdom that came from her lips. But that was back in the ‘60’s – we don’t even have pennies anymore – here, in Canada!
And yet, as I stood there, beside the totem poles, I had a pressing urge to leave the coin there, on the bench, in the hope that a child, might find the nickel and be filled with the excitement of their sudden good fortune!
When you’re a kid, with nothing in your pants pockets but holes, finding a coin – of any denomination – is like finding sunken treasure! And for a brief moment in time, you’d hold it tightly, in the palm of your hand, for fear of losing it before you could share the news of your good fortune, with family and friends. But greatest of all, was the fact, that a nickel could buy a lot of candy at Pop Taylor’s store on Mary Street when I was a kid.
Little Danny (1952)
So, in an impulsive urge of shameless, self-promotion on various social media sites, I grabbed my cell phone and shot a short video clip of me leaving the nickel on a bench by the totem poles – stating that I hoped a kid might find the coin.
I remember smiling at those thoughts as I continued my daily walk along the Promenade.
After walking for another thirty minutes or so, I reached the halfway mark of my walk and turned to head back to my starting point, 1 ½ miles down the walkway. It wasn’t particularly busy, so I wondered if the coin would still be on the bench. And the more that I wondered, the more I became worried that the coin would be gone!
“Danny, why would you be so worried?” I asked myself.
“I don’t know,” I answered to myself, “but my worries are now becoming panic!”
But as I approached the totem poles and saw the bench, I noticed the coin basking in the sunlight! My heart was racing, and I was almost gasping with excitement, as I picked up the nickel. I was excited but didn’t know why? I studied the coin carefully – the usual beaver on one side and the Queen on the other. It was one of the older designs, with the octagon shape, and dated 1962. It was in good shape, so I shrugged my shoulders and put it in my pocket. Later, I put the coin in my wallet – as a good luck charm. Who knows what drew me to the nickel? But finding it sure made me feel like little Danny, again!
This morning, I was having a coffee and emptying junk from my wallet and noticed the coin. And when I held it in my hand, my eyes were drawing my attention to the date – 1962. And that’s when it all made sense!
Danny’s first bike (used) at age 9.
Chapter 2 – ’55 Pontiac, Camp Samac, Duck Lake, Violet & Public Hair
A penny for your thoughts…. a nickel for your memories… and a dime for a coke!
I began to smile as my mind raced back to the year 1962. I was twelve years old and full of piss and vinegar! Or as one of my uncles used to say, “loaded for bear,” although I never knew what the term meant. Nevertheless, it became one of my favorite sayings, at the time.
Most of the mornings in 1962 were pretty hectic – especially, with six kids in the house! But my Ma was well-organized, and she would have made us our breakfast and then packed a lunch for the four oldest of us, and we headed out the door for the bike ride up Simcoe Street to Camp Samac for our swimming lessons. And inside our bag, Ma would put a dime for the Coca-Cola machine beside the pool area. And we would be there for the entire day: a lesson in the morning, followed by paddling the canoes during the two-hour lunch break and then back to the pool with our swim classmates for the afternoon.
And if we were lucky, and Ma had given us each a quarter (twenty-five cents), we could stop by the Tastee Freeze across the street from Camp Samac, for the long, exhausting ride home.
I also remember some mornings, when Ma would drive us, I would get the car keys from the counter and within a minute, I would be sitting in the driver seat of our ’55 Pontiac, with the radio on, listening to Dave Mickie, the AM jock from CKEY – which was the most popular radio station in Toronto in the early 60’s. Of course, I didn’t know how to drive – I was only twelve years old. But I would hold the steering wheel with both hands and pretend I was driving – complete with simulating high-speed racing along dangerous, mountainside roads and then faking a head-on crash but jumping from the car – just in time, as the car rolls off the cliff and down the mountainside, into Lake Ontario – at the same time that my two older, and infinitely more mature sisters, stood in the driveway, shaking their heads and waiting to tattle tale (rat on me).
But I loved that car. And I loved listening to the songs on the hit parade. I knew the words to every song – and would even perform them if I was alone. And one of my first major purchases with money from my paper route tips was a $6.00 Sanyo portable radio – complete with a blue leather case and a shiny, pop-up antennae. I remember laying in bed, every night, listening to CKEY until I fell asleep.
But Danny, this was supposed to be about 1962…
We were at a turning point in our life, anxiously awaiting becoming teenagers and having that almost-grown-up ‘teen’ word added to our age; we would be thirteen years old! And that, was “Cool, Daddy-O,” as Maynard the beatnik used to say on the Dobbie Gillis Show.
Camp Samac was also the place that I learned that teenagers had everything that grownups had and they got to do grown-up things, too! But the most shocking thing I learned at camp that summer, was that teenagers, like my swimming instructor, had hair growing in places that you only got to see if you were in a change room or nudist colony, and as far as I can remember, there weren’t any nudist colonies in the Shwa in ’62.
Camp Samac Pool (the 1960’s)
When I wasn’t swimming at Camp Samac, I would be playing sports at Connaught Park, but I was also beginning to notice girls. My cheeks are turning red, as I write this – I remember that feeling – of seeing someone special for the first time. Our eyes would meet, and a sudden spark or flash of interest would be exchanged – without a word spoken!
Her name was Violet M., and she was from Toronto.
But I met her at my uncle’s cottage on Duck Lake near Parry Sound, Ontario. The grownups were all gathered in the cottage, drinking beer and enjoying their holidays and suddenly they decided to become ‘match makers, ‘ and then, there we were – face-to-face in front of adults who endlessly tried to embarrass us. We’d leave and take a walk along the lakeshore. And we would talk – which was a first, for me. The only time I ever spoke to girls before then, was with my sisters and then ONLY if I had to. But talking to Violet was like talking to a grown up and being treated like I was a grownup, too! Afterall, she was already a teenager – and a very mature, thirteen-year-old, at that!
I still remember one of her questions – which at the time, I didn’t have an answer. She asked me whom I thought childbirth was the most difficult for – the mother or father? At the time, I didn’t know anything about the birds and bees; I just remember when my Ma was expecting my youngest brothers, that she had a big stomach. So of course, I answered that childbirth was most difficult for the father.
Violet simply shook her head and explained the complete birth process to me. It was obvious she had been told the facts of life (I still prefer the babies are delivered by a stork theory). And I remember feeling like a five-year-old. But she was a sweet person and made me feel… kinda… like a teenager!
Violet and I were together for the rest of our time at the lake that summer, and she was my first kiss. And I guess that it’s okay to kiss and tell now, these many years later. So here goes:
We were sitting at the end of the dock, with our legs dangling in the water, holding hands and I was fumbling at trying to kiss her without being too forward. There may have been a full moon that night because I have this image in my mind, of the moon’s reflection in her dark eyes. And then she quickly kissed me. And then we kissed again and again.
And that was also the last summer that I played sports or took swimming lessons. I achieved my Bronze Medallion which qualified me to be a lifeguard the next yearafter I turned thirteen years old. And little Danny’s mind was already thinking about the many, many girls that will surround him, as he sits high above the water, on a lifeguard tower, with a whistle on a rope necklace, hanging around his tanned neck and hairless chest.
Hairless? I thought back to the boys’ change room at Camp Samac and the teenage boys with armpit hair and hair around their you-know-what. At the time, I probably wondered if they’d still be able to make the farting noise with their hand under their hairy armpit, while the other arm moves up and down on the hand, resulting in an almost perfect duplication of the sound? (By the way, you can!)
I wondered if girls grew hair in their armpits and the other place(s), too? But I was very shy and awkward, in those days, so I never thought to ask Violet. But she would have been happy to tell me, in detail. So instead, I asked my Ma and learned that the hair that grows in that hidden area of the body is called ‘pubic hair.’ But that word didn’t make sense to me, so I figured that she must have meant to say ‘public.’ And for many years, it’s how I referred to it, although it wasn’t a subject that came up too often. And one last thing – why are public washrooms, not called Pubic Washrooms?
Anyways, after that summer, Violet and I used to write each other letters, but our worlds were far apart. She lived in Toronto, and although Oshawa is just 40 miles east, it might as well have been 5,000 miles when you’re a twelve-year-old kid with holes in your pockets. She was my first girlfriend and my first kiss. And up to that point, our talks were the closest I ever got to learn about the ‘birds ‘n bees.’ I used to hear my Ma arguing with my Dad about him not wanting to tell me the facts of life. And every time my Ma tried to tell me, I’d be too embarrassed to hear that kind of stuff from my mom, and I’d run out the door. I don’t think anyone ever told me the facts of life.
And although Violet and I never saw each other again in future summers at the lake, I never forgot her. And believe it or not – many years later, when I was in my twenties, I was in a store in Parry Sound and bumped into her at the checkout. Our eyes met, and for a brief moment, we stared at each other. The child in the stroller she was pushing began to cry, and that’s when I noticed that she was a mother and probably married. And at the time, so was I. So, I quickly glanced away and pretended not to recognize her. But as I passed her and opened the door to leave the store, I heard a faint… “Hi, Danny!”
I never turned around to answer and kept walking, but I wanted to take her in my arms and tell her that I still remember our first kiss. It was my first kiss – I’m not sure if it was hers or not. In baseball terms, I had finally made it to first base – with her as my coach – in the summer of ’62.
I can’t remember why I joined the 8th Oshawa Sea Scouts because none of the kids in the neighborhood were in Cubs or Scouts. And although the scout hall, where we had our meetings, was located next to the church that my family attended on Hillcroft Street, it wasn’t associated with any particular church or faith. But I remember that I liked the fact that the sea scout uniform was very different than what the regular boy scouts wore. Our shirt, shorts, and knee socks were all dark blue, and our neck scarf (tie) was black and white. And the white hat we wore was the same as the Sea Cadets and sailors in the Navy.
I don’t think that any of my classmates at North Simcoe school belonged to the 8th, but many of them were in regular scouts. And the 8th was the only sea scout troop in Oshawa, at the time.
The scout hall building where we met every Wednesday evening (during the school year), was torn down in the 70’s and the 8th was disbanded at the same time. I don’t remember why but I’m sure that it had to do with money. The 8th also had a small fleet of wooden rowboats (each held 6-8 scouts) that were kept in a lockup at the Oshawa harbor. We used to go there for some of our meetings in the summer and were taught how to row together, as a team.
The leader of sea scouts was known as the skipper or skip, and his assistants were called troop leaders. And within the 8th, there were smaller groups that each had a leader and assistant leader. The skipper and troop leaders were usually grown-ups – some married, some single, some who had kids in either the 8th Oshawa Cubs, Sea Scouts or Rovers. And one last thing about the 8th Oshawa Sea Scouts – we had two separate and distinct troops, namely Port and Starboard. I belonged to the Port troop, and our meetings were on Wednesday nights. The Starboard troop met on Thursday nights.
My greatest joys as a kid came during my years in the 8th Oshawa. There was only one low point – my Dad decided to get involved in scouting but became a troop leader into the Starboard troop! Their skipper’s name was Derek. I remember my Ma questioning my Dad’s decision to be in the Starboard troop and not my Port troop. I never heard his reasons, and I never asked my Ma, but I remember how hurt I was. But I kept the hurt hidden – maybe I was too proud to reveal my feelings. But it was just one more reason to feel rejected – the last boy to get picked on a team in the neighborhood. But there was one joy in having my dad being a scout leader in a different group – many of the ‘cool’ guys at school – none of whom, ever had time for me – suddenly became friendly. The reason for their sudden interest was my Dad. They were in the Starboard troop, and they would ask me what it was like to have such a cool dad! My Dad was a lot of things, but at the time, to me, he wasn’t so cool. I wonder if it ever bothered him that Skipper Derek’s son was in Starboard and it wasn’t a problem for father or son. But Dad’s reasons went to the grave with him. My dad wasn’t a bad person – he just wasn’t the type of father that little Danny needed. And if you don’t have an older brother to teach you things or to look out for you – who do you have?
And although I seldom mention people’s last name in my stories, I want to mention the Skipper of my Port troop. His name was Don Thompson, and he lived across the street from the scout hall. His mom and dad were very friendly, and they would be sitting on their front porch every Wednesday night and waved to us as we arrived for our meetings. He had a greater influence on me than any other person in my youth, and I know that he is probably in his late 70’s now and still involved in scouting.
My first date was also to an 8th Oshawa Sea Scout Christmas Party at Camp Samac that year. There was a girl at school that I was crazy over but although I was somewhat financially secure from my paper route, grass cutting and snow shoveling revenues – I wouldn’t have any means of transportation to get to her house in North Oshawa and from there, to Camp Samac. I don’t remember the girl’s name or much else about her except that it was my Ma who chauffeured me on my first date. But at least she didn’t see me holding the girl’s hand, much less, witnessing us kissing. But I remember the joy on my Ma’s face as she drove the car and tutored me on the “do’s and don’ts of dating.” My track record was beginning to improve – two girlfriends and lots of kisses in 1962.
North Simcoe Public School (now Dr. SJ Phillips School)
But I also broke my leg playing football at my school that year and had to wear a cast for two months. It left me with a slight limp, which I still have to this day. I mention it because it meant that I couldn’t go outside for recess with the rest of the kids. I had to stay at my desk, with my teacher – the feared Mrs. Trotter. Most of the students referred to her by her first name, which was ‘Amy,’ but never to her face. But I became very close to this grade-eight teacher, and I owe her for an amazing lesson she taught me.
Mrs. Trotter’s appearance could be quite intimidating. But not because of her stature – she was shorter than most of her students. She also appeared to be very old. At the time, she seemed to be much older than my Ma and she may have even been older than both of my grandmothers. But that wasn’t why she was intimidating to me – it was because she never seemed to smile. And as a rambunctious, twelve-year-old boy, there were lots of things in life worth smiling about: namely, weekends, scouts, sports, Summers, candy etc.
But after a few days of silent and boring recesses spent sitting in the classroom alone with the ancient Mrs. Trotter, the silence was broken by her sudden outburst: “Danny!”
The school year had recently started, so I really didn’t know her at all – other than the rumors about her mean spirit. I don’t remember if all of the kids were afraid of her, but I was!
“Yes, Mrs. Trotter!” I stuttered, wide-eyed and surprised by her sudden interest in me.
But she didn’t say anything at first. She just stared at me and then it happened! Her stern face suddenly softened and a smile appeared on her face. It wasn’t the kind of ‘ear-to-ear’ smile that people get when they’re eating candy or doing neat stuff – but it was a smile, just the same!
Mrs. Trotter then began asking me about my family and what I did during the summer recess. Suddenly, I felt the warm glow of making a friendship with no boundaries. Yes, she was much older than me and there certainly wasn’t any physical attraction involved – although, she may have been the only woman teacher that I didn’t have a crush on. But after one of two recesses, I’d told her all that there was to know about ‘me’. And although I don’t remember her ever talking about her personal life, I felt like she was my first grown-up friend.
During subsequent recesses, I would amuse myself by walking around the classroom on my crutches; going to the boy’s washroom and/or by staring out the classroom windows. But our grade eight classroom was on the third floor and the windows didn’t face the playground – my line of vision was limited to Simcoe Street, which was one of the main streets in Oshawa. The other main street in Oshawa worth noting is King Street, which ran east to west. And the intersection of Simcoe and King Streets was known as the ‘Four Corners’ which was a popular landmark. But that’s another story.
I spent much of my youth on or around a ‘Simcoe’ either Simcoe Street, Lake Simcoe or Simcoe, Ontario. And in the Shwa, if you had lots of coins, you probably lived on Simcoe Street between Adelaide Street and Rossland Road. And if you were really affluent, and your backyard bordered on Alexandra Park, you could get into the Oshawa Fair and other neat events for free! You just had to climb your fence and then sneak into the park. Some of these wealthy tycoons even had gates that opened into the park!
The other thing you should know about Simcoe Street is that one of the prettiest and most popular girls at North Simcoe School was Beth R., the daughter of a prominent doctor, and they lived in a beautiful house on Simcoe Street. And although I was getting interested in girls, I didn’t have a girlfriend at school and Violet lived in Toronto, which although only thirty miles from the Shwa, it might as well have been 1,000 miles to a twelve-year-old, socially-awkward and insecure in the ways of love. And although Beth R., wasn’t in my class, she might as well have been at a private school because she had a boyfriend, who was also the most popular boy in school.
His name was Grant O., and I knew him fairly well, although we never hung out together. He lived down the street from me on Jarvis Street. Grant was very athletic and was interested in running. I used to see him running all of the time but can’t remember if he pursued it after leaving school. What I do remember about him is that he sold me his Oshawa Times newspaper route. And that paper route was an improvement over the Toronto Star newspaper route that I had had for a couple of years – because the Times was much lighter and the customers were more numerous, so your route wasn’t as large as the less-populated Star subscribers. I had that route until I started high school and then got a paper route at the Oshawa General Hospital.
Grant was in my grade nine class at OCVI but that was in 1963 when I was a grown-up teenager! The last that I saw of him was on a city bus, during my senior year at high school. He was working full-time and we chatted about stuff but I don’t remember what else we talked about.
But back to Beth R., the prettiest and most popular girl at Dr. SJ Philips elementary school (formerly North Simcoe School).
I didn’t know Beth, any more than I knew Grant because we traveled in different social circles. I don’t even recall ever having a conversation with Beth, although I think that she was in my sister’s class in high school. But I remember delivering newspapers to Beth’s family home on Simcoe Street. I wonder if she ever saw my buddies and I sneaking into the Oshawa Fair at Alexandra Park by cutting through her family’s backyard and jumping over their fence? If she did, at least she never ‘ratted’ me out! Because even in 1962, nobody liked a tattle-tale!
The next thing that I remember about Beth is crashing one of her parties when I was in high school. I was with a couple of my buddies and we were hoping to find where the good doctor’s booze was hidden. We were in the downstairs billiards room which had been locked and ‘off-limits’. One of the guys had used his comb to open the door (credit cards weren’t invented yet) but there wasn’t any booze. Come to think of it, I don’t remember seeing Beth or Grant for that matter – perhaps they were hiding in a secret room guarding the good doctor’s booze?
The next time I saw Beth was in the 70’s at the nurse’s office at the General Motors Truck Plant. I was both surprised and pleased that she recognized me and I asked if she and Grant ever got married? We exchanged family updates and said our goodbyes. She was still very pretty and married at the time but not to Grant. I asked who the lucky guy was? I’m not sure but I think it may have Bill H., who had been one of my fellow 8th Oshawa Sea Scouts.
My next Beth sighting was ‘virtual’. I had joined an internet social media group called Classmates, in hopes of connecting with some of my friends from the area. I hadn’t lived in Ontario since my move to Vancouver in 1982 but was getting more proficient on the internet. We became friends on Classmates and then our virtual friendship migrated to MySpace and then later to Facebook. We’re still friends on Facebook and we keep in touch and I think she’s read some of my blogs. I’m hoping to meet up with her for a plate of ‘shoestrings and a Coke’ at the Globe Restaurant on King Street, if and when I ever get to Ontario again.
As for the title of this blog – On The Nickel. Its meaning is also tied to the Tom Waits song by the same name. When he wrote the song, the title referred to a street where the homeless, alcoholics would gather. The street was 5th Street and when you were on it – you were ‘on the nickel.’
Not all of the homeless, alcoholic people On The Nickel, are strangers, though.
Because I have a younger brother who’s been battling addiction his entire adult life. He probably doesn’t remember much about Oshawa or North Simcoe School and I haven’t had any contact with him in almost two years. But I hope that there is still a little boy inside of him that has a lingering memory of what it used to be to like to have family, friends, love, and dreams. Having me as an older brother didn’t help him much and for that, I will always have regrets.
Brothers Ricky and Danny (2015)
And finally, I know that this story began with a nickel that someone lost – and so now, I’m going to be searching for a ‘penny’ – because we no longer have pennies in Canada. And if I find one dated 1969, I’ll save it because that was the year of my first broken heart. But then again, I probably won’t write about it because the wounds are still deep, almost 5o years later.
Correction: I know of one penny that might still be in circulation in Canada. – and that penny is the former Mrs. Vitale of Tony ‘n Tina’s Wedding fame – my dear friend Penny D., a gal actually from the Jersey Shore! I haven’t seen her for several years – I wonder how she’s doing? If you see her, tell her that Nunzio says hello!
Nunzio (Danny) and Mrs. Vitale (Penny) at a Tony ‘n Tina’s Wedding show (2008)
Readers of this blog will remember my original Moonshine in the Maritimes posting from November 8, 2016 – a blog that was both painful to write and impossible for me to complete a final chapter.
But all of that changed this morning, and now my heart is racing, and my legs are shaking, and I can’t believe how excited I am! And now, the final chapter is pulsing through my body – from my brain to my heart – and from my heart to my brain. There’s so much that I want to say…
It’s currently Thursday, March 2, 2017, and I am leaving to go to the Promenade in White Rock to do my walk. Walking helps me think, and I need to put all of these highly-charged emotions into words, sentences, and paragraphs. And it has to be believable because frankly, it is – but I’ll leave it to you – and your judgment to decide for yourself.
But don’t ask me to re-publish the original blog – I deleted it one night when I was deep in a depressed state – missing my cousin Ruthie and feeling sorry for myself. Isn’t that why we cry? We’re hurt and feeling sorry for ourselves – wondering how our lives will ever be the same without our loved one.
So, my story will resume on the morning of November 12, 2016, just before we said goodbye to my cousin Ruthie and witnessed her passing while holding her in our arms. That moment changed my life forever, but it left me with more questions than answers. But now I know for sure, that Ruthie is still with me – just like my Ma and Grandma Puffer are – and now I have proof!
Stay tuned kiddies, fasten your seatbelts and stand behind the sneeze guard – the ride is about to enter the dark tunnel, and you’re trying frantically to get out before the ghouls and goblins appear from the shadows.
The Last Chapter
Sunday, November 6, 2016
The trip to Moncton to visit my cousin Ruth had been planned for early Summer 2016 but I had a few medical issues that I was dealing with, so it wasn’t until that Sunday, that I booked my flight to Moncton.
Ruth, or Ruthie as her friends and family called her, is my first cousin on my Mom’s (Puffer) side. Her Mom and mine were sisters. We were never very close because Ruthie was ten years older than me, but we always seemed to have a connection. My earliest memory of her was when she came to stay with us for a weekend visit; I was probably seven or eight years old at the time. And she was the most beautiful girl that I had ever seen in my life. At the time, I was hopelessly in love with Annette Funicello the Mouseketeer, on the Mickey Mouse Club Show on TV.
Annette Funicello – Mouseketeer
Annette Funicello 1942 – 2013
But Ruthie became her replacement, and I was now hopelessly in love, with a much older girl – who probably hardly knew I existed. And that’s how little Danny first fell in love and began to dream and believe in the impossible. Because sometimes, impossible dreams do come true!
Later in life, I would sometimes see Ruthie at weddings or funerals, but I never spoke to her as an adult until we saw each other one night, at her brother Terry’s house in Bramalea, Ontario in the 70’s. It was a family get-together, and I was there with my parents and was in my twenties, and Ruthie and her husband Mike were standing in the kitchen with a crowd of people, laughing and enjoying themselves. I told her that I had had a life-long crush on her – and still did. She giggled and then hugged me and gave me a kiss on the lips. I have never forgotten that moment – and how excited she made me feel. I also remember telling Mike, her husband, how lucky he was to have her as his wife. I never saw either of them again until I saw Ruthie at my Dad’s funeral in 2001. She and her sister Patty and Patty’s husband came to the funeral together – and we sat and talked for quite a while about our lives and loves. Once again, I told Ruthie that I still had my boyhood crush on her!
A few years later, on the week that my youngest brother Randy was getting married, my cousin Patty’s husband passed away. And although I had only met him once – at my Dad’s funeral – he was a Newfie, and my family and I liked him. So on the day after Randy’s wedding, I went to the funeral home in MisterandMissesAuga to pay my respects. Most of the Walkers were there, but as I scanned the room, I couldn’t find my Ruthie. I was standing at the coffin with Patti, and she gave me a white rose, which she explained meant ‘goodbye.’ It’s why I dislike white roses – because some goodbyes are forever and are often accompanied by a broken heart. It’s also why I’ve always been frugal in saying goodbye – to loved ones. But as I turned to walk away from the casket, I saw her!
My heart started thumping as I quickly made my way across the room to where my Ruthie was standing. She had been talking with a couple of her lady friends and gave a shriek when she saw me. And then she introduced me to her friends.
Ruthie:This is my cousin Danny. He used to wack off while fantasizing about me.
My face turned a scarlet red, and I became tongue-tied. What could I possibly say in reply to that embarrassing introduction? But without missing a beat, I shrugged my shoulders, turned to walk away and waved, saying…
Me:And I still do!
And then I quickly ran outside to my car and drove back to my hotel in Toronto. We never hugged or kissed, and it was another secret that I had planned to take to my grave. But instead, I’m sharing it with you because I know that you can keep a secret. Promise!?
I was on a plane home to Vancouver the next morning, still shuddering with embarrassment at Ruthie’s introduction. But it made me smile and chuckle all the way home. And it’s making me grin again this morning, as I write about it. I mean, how did she ever find out about my secret fantasy?
Several years later, in June ’07 or ’08, I learned that my Ruthie was now living in Moncton. I gave her a call and told her that I was planning a trip to visit my buddies Bill, Scotty and General and asked if she would like to get together. A few weeks later I was staying at Junior’s place in Moncton. I had set his father up in business years ago and then hired his son, Allan, as one of my District Managers for Western Canada. HIs nickname was Junior, and he was now married and living in Moncton and had invited me to spend a few days with him and his wife, Jennifer.
While there, Ruthie and I got together and went out-on-the-town and partied until the early morning hours. She came out to the couch where I was sleeping at about 5:00 am and suggested that I should probably leave before her daughter’s family wake up (they lived in the upper part of the duplex). I was supposed to come back later to meet her daughter, but I time didn’t allow, and I returned to Vancouver, the next day.
But that night that we spent out-on-the-town, was like a first date and I learned so much about Ruthie… and our family’s history. We never spoke again until after my Mom’s funeral in September 2010, a year after my cancer treatments had ended. And it was at my Ma’s funeral that my family learned that I had cancer. I hadn’t told anyone about my cancer because I was afraid that they’d tell my Mom. And my Ma’s health was too fragile to withstand the news. View Danny’s Cancer, Story
After Mom’s funeral, I returned to Vancouver and called Ruthie in Moncton. News of my throat cancer had already reached her from the family grapevine but she still seemed surprised when I told her. It had been less than a year, since my last treatment and I wasn’t sure about my future. I was still clinging to the belief that I was in the “40% Group” that survives my type of cancer – but I was also a realist, and needed to have some basis in fact, to continue believing that I would survive. And Ruthie was just the medicine I needed!
Ruthie had battled three different cancers over a 42 year period – and survived! In fact, while I was going through my treatments in 2009, Ruthie had a part of her lung removed (lung cancer). Years earlier, she had both breasts removed. She was such a positive voice – and her words of encouragement were just what I needed to help me in my own battle.
He and his buddy Doug had almost finished filling their shopping bags with tricks and treats and were excited about getting home to see and sort all of the goodies. On previous Halloween’s they had both dressed up the best they could – but they couldn’t remember ever scaring anybody. But this Halloween was different and someone was going to get scared – really scared.
They rushed home after school had finished so they could get dressed in their homemade costumes before it got dark. They knew that the earlier they got out on the street, the more trick or treats they would be able to collect before getting home by curfew. And at 10 years old, the curfew was 8:00PM because there was school in the morning.
They had decided to dress up like girls – complete with pig tails fashioned by their Moms braiding several pairs of nylons together. They wore his older sister’s dresses and running shoes because Doug didn’t have a sister. And the makeup included lipstick, mascara and even some rouge for their cheeks. They even wore clip-on earrings and a necklace. Nobody would ever confuse them with being boys and everyone knew that girls always got more stuff on Halloween!
Neither of them bothered having dinner that night – they were just too excited – and besides, there would be plenty of goodies to eat in a couple of hours!
In previous years they would stick fairly close to home and only canvassed houses within a few block radius. But on that night they would venture further into other neighborhoods – because they were now big boys and had large paper shopping bags (with handles) to fill.
So they had just about filled their bags and were within several blocks of their homes when suddenly out-of-nowhere the teenagers ambushed them. Doug screamed and began running down the street, while the other boy tried to get up from the ground. And when he finally got to his feet they had already ran off with his bag of goodies.
He walked home alone – Doug was long gone. He passed other kids on his way home but he didn’t care if they saw him crying. The mascara was running down his cheeks as he walked into the house and began telling his parents what had happened. But he was finding it difficult to talk and cry at the same time.
The news of the ambush/robbery spread quickly through the community and by the next night a knock came at the front door. It was his sisters’ Girl Guide leader – who had taken up a collection of treats from all of the girl guides to give to him. And the day after that a bunch of kids from school shared some of their candies too.
And although that Halloween was 54 years ago, I still remember the pain. And I also remember how nice it was to have other kids share their goodies with me. But deep down inside I still hope that those boys choked on my candies!
Several weeks ago, I noticed that I had a ‘wart’ on one of my fingers. It was very small – about the size of a pin head – and certainly nothing to worry about. It wasn’t painful or itchy and I’m sure that nobody would ever notice it, but the fact that I had another wart really bothered me.
I have only had one other wart in my life and that was when I was very young – probably 9 or 10 years old. I remember noticing it one day – it was on my right knee and it was the size of a dime. It was pretty scary – the only other person I had ever seen with a wart was the ‘Kitchen Witch’ that my Mom had hanging over the kitchen sink. My Mom was very superstitious and the Kitchen Witch was supposed to protect our family from evil spirits, food poisoning and/or burnt toast. It was the first thing that Ma gave me when I moved into the first place of my own – a room in the basement of Mrs. Simpson’s place in Oshawa, Ontario. That was in 1969 and the room didn’t have a kitchen – just an electric kettle and a hot plate. But I guess that my Ma felt that I needed to be protected from other nasty things – and that’s why she insisted that I hang it up over the laundry tubs – which doubled as my wash basin and sink. But that’s another story – http://www.danielstandrews.com/2013/09/04/dannys-year-book-19689-a-repost/
My Kitchen Witch – still hanging!
Anyway, back to the ‘wart-on-my knee’ story. When you’re the only kid on the planet with a wart on your body – that everyone can see – and everyone can ask you about – and everyone can laugh at you and tease you about – it was embarrassing! And during that Summer of the Wart, I was taking swimming lessons every morning at Camp Samac, so I couldn’t hide the wart by wearing pants all the time. And although I hadn’t reached the ‘interested-in-girls’ stage yet, I was sensitive to the fact that people would always stare at my knee while talking to me. I’m sure it’s similar for how girls with large bosoms feel when they try to make eye-to-eye contact with boys. However, those girls with the big boobs never noticed where my eyes were focussed when talking to them, because they too, were always staring at the wart on my knee. Some would even point at it and giggle (at the wart Spanky, the wart!).
Now in those days, you didn’t run to the doctor unless you were sick – and having a wart on your knee didn’t qualify as a sickness. And besides, if the Kitchen Witch hanging in our kitchen couldn’t protect me from the evil spirit that gave me the wart – what good would a doctor be?
I had that wart on my knee for months and I would constantly pick at it – which made it even more unsightly. I had almost given up hope on ever getting rid of the wart until the day my Grandma Puffer came to our house for a visit. I was very close to her and valued her wisdom. But she too was very superstitious and she was obviously the source of my Ma’s superstitions. So when she saw the wart on my knee she didn’t even hesitate to explain the sure-fire cure. She put her arm around me and while hugging me told me that I needed to fetch a potato from the kitchen and a knife. I quickly ran to the kitchen, glanced at the Kitchen Witch and smiled – because nothing could match the power of my Grandma Puffer – and returned with a large potato and knife. Grandma then instructed me to cut the potato in half and then take 1/2 of the potato and rub it on the wart. I started to rub the wart and then after a few moments my Grandma told me to go to the backyard and bury that 1/2 of the potato and put the remaining 1/2 in the fridge. She then explained that I wasn’t to ever look at, or think about the wart again.
“But Grandma, when will the wart be gone?” I asked.
“The wart will be gone when the potato that you buried in the garden becomes a potato plant. Later, when the plant has grown its potato(s), you should dig up one of the potatoes and then check to see if you still have the wart on your knee,” she instructed.
“But what if it’s still there?” I asked.
My Grandma didn’t answer – she just stared into my eyes and smiled at me.
Well, I remember that the 1/2 potato did grow and become a plant. And I remember my Ma telling me when it was time to dig up the potato. And I remember looking at my knee and finding, to my surprise that the wart was gone!
So today I am going to go to the market to buy a potato. Maybe I’ll take my Kitchen Witch along for the ride…
Recently, I received an email, with a picture of a sign – of a famous fast food chain – which read:
“Saying your kids are fat because of us….. is like saying it’s HOOTERS fault your husband likes big boobs!”
Now I don’t want to upset you if you are one (or more) of the following:
a) A parent
b) A parent with a fat kid (or kids)
c) A kid with fat parents
d) A fat kid with fat parents
e) A person addicted to fast food
f) A person addicted to HOOTERS
g) A person who flips burgers at a famous, fast-food chain
h) A person who flips burgers at HOOTERS
i) A waitress at HOOTERS
j) A regular customer of a famous, fast-food chain
k) A regular customer of HOOTERS
But you are what you eat – or at least that’s what my Grandma Puffer used to say. She also used to say “Show me your friends, and I’ll know what you are”, but I’m not sure that that has much, if anything, to do with being fat.
Don’t get me wrong – there’s nothing wrong with a treat now and then. My parents never ever took us out to restaurants – but the day that the new A&W opened on Simcoe Street in Oshawa, we were all crammed into our family’s 1955 Poncho (it’s what we called Pontiacs back then) and ordering Momma, Papa and Teen Burgers – with fries and frosted mugs of Root Beer. Car Hops (waitresses) would come to your car – smile – take your food and drink order and then bring it to you on a tray, which hung on the outside of the car window.
Now anyone who ever knew my Mom would agree that she was a great cook – she had over 100 ways of cooking hamburger meat but almost never on a bun. But there was nothing like a Teen Burger, Fries and an ice-cold Root Beer. But we didn’t go there very often – and we remained a skinny and healthy family.
Then Kentucky Fried Chicken opened on Simcoe Street in Oshawa. But it wasn’t a restaurant or drive-in. Nope, it was for take-out or delivery only. You ordered your chicken in a large bucket – fries and coleslaw were packaged separately. The chicken was deep-fried and the crispy coating was a secret recipe of herbs and spices – invented by none other than an old Colonel in a white suit. My mom sure didn’t cook chicken like this – in fact, we never had fried chicken – let alone, chicken with a crispy coating. But every once in a while – probably on my Dad’s payday, we would get a treat of Kentucky Fried Chicken. Funny, but that crispy, greasy and golden chicken skin was the best part of the chicken! But the treat wasn’t often and we remained a skinny and healthy family.
As I got older, and started to earn money (delivering newspapers, shoveling snow, mowing lawns, cashing in pop bottles etc), I would sometimes buy french fries from the “chip truck”, that parked outside of the ball park. We never called them french fries in those days – they were always called chips (as in fish and chips). The chip truck used fresh-cut potatoes and fried them right there in the back of the truck. They served them piping hot – in a white paper cone. They would sprinkle on some vinegar and salt and then added a toothpick – which you used as a fork and then later as a toothpick. But the chip truck wasn’t always around, so I remained a skinny and healthy kid.
As a teenager, I always had a part-time job (but you probably already knew that if you’d read my previous blog posts) but I seldom spent my money on food – I was interested in girls, buying clothes, girls, buying cigarettes, girls, buying beer, girls and buying records. Did I mention girls? After dances, we would walk downtown to the Globe Restaurant – a great Chinese Restaurant – but we never ordered Chinese Food. Nope, because they had the best “shoestring chips” in the city. They would bring you a large plate of shoestring chips and a bottle of Coke for 50 cents. But I didn’t go to the Globe very often and I remained a skinny and healthy teenager.
I didn’t start to gain weight until I was in my thirties. About the same time that I started to drive everywhere instead of walking; eating all of the foods that I never had as a kid – and always having a second helping; and driving everywhere instead of walking; and drinking several hundred bottles of beer each week; and driving everywhere instead of walking; and then, sadly, it was too late. I awoke one morning and just as I was about to shave, I looked into the mirror and saw a giant man staring back at me! I ran screaming into the hallway – filled with the Fearand tripped over a large box of Krispy Kreme Donuts that were laying on the floor – rolled down two flights of stairs (similar to the guy who rolled over Niagara Falls in a barrel in the ’60’s) and then came to an abrupt stop beside Jesse James, my German Shepherd dog, who was fast asleep on the floor.
Over the years my weight has been up and down – but mostly up – way, way up! I am not a genius but I’d bet money – any amount of money – that lifestyle controls weight. I was living proof. I was so heavy, chairs used to scream “Get off of me!”
And although I gave up smoking several years before getting throat cancer – the damage was already done. Smoking will definitely make you sick – just as burgers, large fries and gravy will make you fat. Been there – done it!
I am no longer the “fat” guy I used to be – but only because I lost 100 lbs during my radiation and chemo treatments and haven’t been able to eat solid foods since the summer of 2009. But I’m not complaining – simply trying to “learn you something”. Oh, and did you know that if you have a diet pop with your fries and hamburger – it cancels out all of the calories?
By the way, I have only been to HOOTERS twice in my life and both times on the same day. But that’s another story and you probably have to leave anyway….
I don’t know why, but I still get a thrill buying a new shirt and then wearing it for the first time. Actually, I get that feeling after buying any new clothes. As a matter of fact, I still get that feeling with almost everything that I buy. But the first thing that I ever bought wasn’t a shirt.
It was a Swiss Army Knife and I bought it with money that I had earned – shoveling snow from neighbors’ sidewalks and driveways. It seemed to snow a lot when I was a kid, and one of my buddies and I would quickly do our own sidewalks and driveways and then start knocking on doors, within a several block area. You got to know which houses were the best prospects – they gave you the most money. It was hard work for young boys back then – and we didn’t have the light, wide shovels that are used today. We used coal shovels – so it took quite a while to clear a sidewalk and driveway.
We quickly learned that it wasn’t always the nicest looking houses that paid the most – in fact, they were often the “cheap skates” (do people still use the term “cheap skates”?). The wealthiest neighbor on Sutherland Avenue was an old spinster, the matriarch of a family that owned a jewelry store in town. She was very rich – she even had a live-in maid. After we did both her driveway and sidewalk, we would knock on the door and she would come out with either a cookie for each of us or if we were lucky, a mincemeat tart. We didn’t go back to her house much after that, but if she saw us walking up the street with our shovels, she would start calling us from her door to come and do her place. And we were just too polite to turn an old lady down.
Anyway, back to the Swiss Army Knife.
I remember fighting with my older sisters at the breakfast table – for the cereal box. It wasn’t often that we had “boxed” cereal – normally we had porridge or cream of wheat – but when we did, it was either Quakers Muffetts or Shredded Wheat cereal. But both cereals usually had really neat stuff that you could buy – but first you had to save a certain quantity of box tops from the cereal; add a certain amount of money ($2 or $3 – depending on the item); complete the coupon and mail everything to the cereal company. I don’t remember how long I had to wait to get my order but it was probably a couple of weeks. Everyday, I would run home from school and ask my Mom if my package had arrived – and then be disappointed. Yes, disappointment at the Postal Service starts at an early age – shortly after finding out that there is no Santa Claus.
When the package from the Quaker Oats Company in Peterborough, Ontario finally arrived, I opened it with trembling hands. The Swiss Army Knife was probably the neatest (and only) thing that I had ever owned, and I didn’t have to share it with my sisters or younger brother. In addition to having 2 different blades, the knife also included a pair of scissors, a bottle opener, fork and spoon – how neat is that?
Although I don’t eat “boxed” cereals anymore, I probably would if they started offering neat stuff again. And now that I have a 10 Horsepower Snow Blower – the work would be a lot easier!
I remember my first newspaper job but I’m not sure how old I was – I’m guessing I was probably 9 years old. Actually, it wasn’t called a job in those days – it was called a “paper route”. Everyday a truck would deliver a bundle of Oshawa Times newspapers to the corner of my street. The bundle was secured by metal wires wrapped both ways around the bundle – which I guess was a theft-prevention measure – you couldn’t steal a paper from the bundle unless you carried wire cutters around with you. Paper boys (as we were called in those days) would carry a small set of cutters that were fastened to the side of a large canvas bag with a shoulder strap that was used for carrying the newspapers. You then put the loaded bag onto your bike carrier and delivered them to each of your customers’ homes. But I didn’t have a bike, so I would have to carry the bag, slung over my shoulder and walk around the streets delivering papers to each of the 50 or so customers on my route. And I did this Monday through Saturday – in all kinds of weather. I remember that we used to get a lot more snow in those days – or at least when it snowed, the snow was a lot deeper than what you get these days. But as I was writing this blog, it suddenly occurred to me that maybe I was wrong – the snow wasn’t deeper – it was just that a 9 year old kid’s legs are shorter, so it just seemed to be deeper. In any event, I remember days when I walked in snow up to my knees.
I also remember that all of my friends had bikes but none of them had newspaper routes – instead, they had weekly allowances! I wasn’t jealous or envious of my friends – I just felt embarrassed that I had to “work” for a living. Being one of six kids, the word “allowance” didn’t exist. Now don’t get me wrong – whatever money I made I kept for myself – I didn’t have to turn it over to my parents. But I was smart enough to know that no kid ever got rich delivering newspapers. I just hoped that I would be able to save enough money to eventually buy a bike. I also shoveled snow in the winter and cut lawns in the summer to supplement my income. But it was no use, I was hardly making any money and I had too many expenses for things such as hockey sticks, baseball glove, lacrosse sticks, weekly dues for Boy Scouts and, of course, candy and comics. I was destined to be a poor paper boy until I got old enough to get a grownup job.
Then one day I got a huge surprise! My Mom bought me my very first (used) bike. I’ve written about that bike in a previous blog, so I won’t go into any of the details but needless to say delivering newspapers by bike became so much easier! The big difference in delivering papers on a bike is that you needed to fold each newspaper into a bundle and then stand all of the bundled papers in the carrier. You would ride your bike on the sidewalk and then throw each bundled newspaper at the porch or front door of each house on your route. The only time you had to get off of your bike was when your aim was off and the paper ended up in the garden or on the lawn, or the bundled newspaper fell apart. But after a while I got pretty good at tossing newspapers. And I used my bike everyday – unless there was too much snow which meant I had to go back to carrying my bag of newspapers and walking the route.
Danny’s first bike in ’59
I had this route for a couple of years and then I got a chance for a much better job, but it was with another newspaper company – The Toronto Star and Star Weekly. I had had several opportunities to work for the Star before but I was never interested because of logistics: the paper had too many pages, it was too heavy and it was too thick to fold into a bundle for throwing. But this paper route was special – it was and probably is to this day the best paper route in Oshawa. It was a job I just couldn’t refuse – nobody could – it was awesome! I gave my notice to the Oshawa Times and then I started my new job with the Toronto Star and Star Weekly.
C’mon Danny, enough with the suspense – get on with the story!
Patience Spanky, patience!
My new paper route was at the Oshawa General Hospital which was about 4 blocks from my house. I would go to the hospital after school, pick up my bundle of Toronto Star newspapers at the hospital’s service entrance and then carry an armful of newspapers as I walked room to room through the hospital asking “Star or Star Weekly”? When I sold a paper (10 cents) I sometimes got a nickel tip – it was great because it eliminated having to do weekly collections which was the drill with all regular paper routes. Another great thing about my new route was that I was “inside” and sheltered from the weather. Oh, and did I mention all of the beautiful nurses, in spotless white uniforms who would greet me by name each day? I was even able to sell newspapers on the Maternity, Intensive Care and Isolation Wards by simply leaving a stack of papers with the nurse on duty in each unit who would then go room to room selling them for me. I would return to each unit at the end of my rounds and the nurses would give me the money and/or any unsold papers. It was almost like having employees working for me.
But there was also a very scary part of this job. It happened one day when I was inside the service entrance area, where I had just cut the wires of the bundle and was getting ready to do my “rounds” when suddenly, the service elevator door opened and a really scary-looking guy, dressed in a black suit jacket and grey-striped pants came out pushing a stretcher. On the stretcher was a body – a dead body! I couldn’t tell if it was a man or woman because it was in a leather bag that was strapped down to the stretcher. Obviously, he was an undertaker from the funeral home – but to me, he looked like someone from the Twilight Zone. He scared the daylights out of me – I sat frozen in fear.
He bent down, grabbed a newspaper from the top of the pile and then stared at me with cold and dark eyes. “How much for the paper?” he asked.
I tried to answer but all I could do was stutter “I uh, um, oh, I..”
“How be I give you a quarter and we’ll call it even?” he asked, as he continued to stare at me.
“No, that’s okay, I uh, duh, um…” I stammered, shaking with fear. There was no way I could touch any money from this man – he had just picked up a dead body – he was almost as scary as the dead body that was within inches of me.
The man then stood up, smiled at me and said, “Okay, thanks son!”
I sat there on the floor and watched as he opened the door to the outside. But there wasn’t a hearse – he was using a plain-looking van. He loaded the stretcher into the back of the van, closed the doors to the van and then turned and looked at me. He looked down at the pile of newspapers and was probably wondering why the quarter he left sitting on the top of the newspapers was still there. He shrugged his shoulders and then got into the van and drove away. I never touched that quarter – even though it was a lot of money – I just brushed it off the top of the pile and watched as it rolled across the floor. There was no way in this world that I would touch that coin, much less keep it in my pocket! From that day forward I would never go near the hospital service entrance when I saw that van parked outside. I would just wait in the parking lot until the grim reaper left. I never saw that man again until I was in my early 20’s and attending my Grandma Puffer’s funeral. As I entered the funeral home, there he was – standing in the lobby. We made eye contact but he didn’t appear to recognize me. I immediately felt a chill running through my body and the fear returned….
Okay Danny, nice ghost story – but can we get back to the newspaper job?
Don’t rush me Spanky. And by the way, why are you trembling?
Anyway, things went along smoothly until I got my first month-end bill from The Toronto Star – and it was a lot more than the money that I had collected. It turned out that people were stealing newspapers from the pile I kept at the service entrance. Remember, I was back to carrying papers – I didn’t have a large canvas bag anymore, so I had to carry a few under my arm and then go back several times to replenish. The problem got so bad that my parents had to help me pay my monthly bill. After a few months I gave up the route – it just didn’t make sense to work for little or no pay.
Thinking back on it now, I probably should have sold my bike and bought a cart that I could have used to carry all of my papers at once – thereby eliminating the thefts. Would have, could have and should have – but what the heck, I was just a kid.
I think that people that steal from kids are nasty and evil.
I’ve spent a lot of time at the Cancer Centre and Surrey Memorial Hospital over the past 3 years and I have never seen a paperboy or papergirl selling newspapers. Maybe I’ll start a new paper route at the hospital selling both the Vancouver Sun and the Province newspapers. But first, I’ll need to invest in a cart…..
Dedicated to paperboys/girls – past, present and future!
Recently, I was chatting with someone who was complaining that the days were too short. You know, during the winter months – when it’s dark when you get up in the morning, it’s dark on your way to school/work and it’s dark on your way home after school/work. And as this person continued talking, I stopped listening – not to be rude – but because a childhood memory suddenly flashed before me.
It was when I was a little boy – probably pre-school, when I would awaken early in the morning to the muffled sounds of my Mom making breakfast for my Dad who would be in the bathroom shaving and getting ready for work. I would rush down the stairs, past the kitchen, past the bathroom, until I got to the top step of the stairs leading to the cellar and then I would sit down and wait.
My eyes would be glued to the little door on the wall in front of me, which was called the “milk box”. It actually had two doors – one that opened from the outside of the house and one that opened from the inside. I would sit and wait patiently until the milk box door suddenly burst open and a red-faced milkman poked his head inside and yelled “Milkman!”
“Hi Mr. Blair!” would be my reply.
“Hi Danny!” he would cheerfully reply. Mr. Blair knew all of our names and everyone in the neighborhood knew his name.
Mr. Blair would carry a supply of milk bottles (quart-sized glass bottles) and after opening the milk box door and shouting “Milkman!”, my Mom would come to the back landing of the stairs and tell him how many bottles. Mr. Blair would take the empty bottles back to the cart with him. Yes, we had recycling in those days – not just for milk – pop and beer bottles were returned for 2 cents a bottle refund. No plastic, cardboard, pop or beer cans – just glass bottles which were used over and over. You could always tell how old the bottle was by all of the scratches on the glass and by the faded printing. And the lid of the milk bottle was just a round piece of cardboard (pictured below) – there wasn’t a need to have tamper-proof packaging (and we never locked our doors back then either).
Beaton’s Dairy Oshawa
After Mr. Blair finished at our house, he would go to the neighbors and repeat the process. As far as I can remember, he delivered milk to every house on our street (Sutherland Avenue). One other detail: he had a horse and flatbed trailer. Not the fancy white carts like the ones you’d see in Toronto, but his horse was every bit as neat as those used in the big city. After he left our house, I would run to the front window to watch him go to his horse-drawn trailer to pick up more bottles – but he never sat on the trailer – or at least I never saw him sitting on the trailer while on our street. He would just walk along the boulevard and the horse would follow. When Mr. Blair stopped, the horse stopped. I remember when Mr. Blair pulled up in a delivery truck for the first time and I was sad that he no longer had his horse. I would ask about his horse and Mr. Blair would always have a short story to tell me about it. I remember that he once told me that he had to get up extra early to feed the horse and then start his deliveries. He worked for Beaton’s Dairy, which is probably no longer in business.
Years later, when I was in my twenties, I ran into Mr. Blair at the Loblaws grocery store. He remembered my name and asked about my Mom and Dad and my brothers and sisters. He mentioned that he had been retired for years and was very happy that I had remembered him. I asked him about his son, Wren Blair, who at the time was a talent scout for the Boston Bruins and his eyes would twinkle with pride as he gave me the latest news about the Whitby Dunlops, Oshawa Generals and Boston Bruins. (Wren Blair recently passed away – he was 87 years old).
I also remember that I wanted to ask him about his horse but was afraid to – in case it was no longer alive – because I know the heartache of losing a pet.
I wonder if the houses in the old neighborhood still have those milk boxes? I hope so.