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.
Sometimes a tiny, almost-invisible spark appears in a girl’s eye when she is about to say ‘yes’, but even the eldest boys at the dance often miss this important signal.
As a young boy, all of the kids from the block would gather on the street and teams would be formed by Teddy H. and Bobby R. the two best athletes on the block, who would take turns choosing players for their respective team. I was never the ‘best’ at sports, but I enjoyed playing all of them. I remember standing beside 14 other boys, hoping I wouldn’t be last. It didn’t matter how good a friend you were with Teddy or Bobby, you stood there anxiously waiting for one of them to look at you and nod.
But it wasn’t their nod that made you feel good for being selected early – it was that small spark in their eyes when they caught your hopeful stare – that ignited a flame inside.
“Good afternoon, Sir!”, chirped the lady at the front desk.
“Oh, uh, yes,” I suddenly awakened, “I have a reservation.”
“Your name please?”
Saturday, April 23, 2016
I arrived at the airport in Toronto in the late afternoon and was waiting for the Hilton shuttle bus to take me to the hotel in Mississauga. After about 20 minutes a Hilton Airport shuttle bus arrives, and I asked the driver if he goes to the Hilton Garden Hotel in Mississauga. He says that he only goes to the Hilton hotel on the airport strip.
‘But isn’t the airport strip in Mississauga?’ I asked politely.
The driver just shrugged his shoulders, rolled his eyes and then drove away.
So I get out my hotel reservation and call the hotel only to learn that you have to make a prior reservation/arrangement for their bus to pick you up. I angrily hung up – which is hard when you’re using a cell phone – I miss the satisfaction of slamming a phone down onto its cradle and hearing the thunderous sound that echoes in the other person’s ears for minutes afterward.
I decided to take a limo and after the driver loaded my luggage I told him that I was going to the Hilton Garden Hotel on Matheson Ave in MisterandMissusauga, Ontario.
I checked for messages on my cell phone during the drive to the hotel, and when we arrived, I paid the driver $38 plus a $7 tip. I got a cart, loaded my suitcases and was standing in line at the front desk. I was daydreaming about the spark in a particular girl’s eyes, when suddenly…
“Your name please?” The lady behind the counter appeared to be getting annoyed at me.
“Sorry, yes, it’s St. Andrews” I answered, my mind racing to the present. I looked around the hotel lobby and guessed that the hotel had only recently opened for business. It still had that “new home” smell that makes it seem all the more ‘special’. The smile was just beginning to form on my face when I heard…
“Are you sure you have a reservation at this hotel sir?”
“Yes!” I snapped back almost rudely. “Is this not the Hilton Garden Hotel in MisterandMissusauga, Ontario?”
“Yes Sir, it is one of three Hilton Garden Hotels in MisterandMissusauga, Ontario!”
A crowd of onlookers began to gather in the lobby… making the scene both tense and stressful. But I was the winner here! Yes, and I have a copy of my hotel reservation which I am waving frantically over my head…
I approached the front desk and confidently leaned on the counter and stared into the young lady’s dark eyes and slowly, with my most excellent voice ever… whispered the following our lips just inches apart…
“Is this not the Hilton Garden Hotel on Matheson Avenue in MisterandMissusauga, Ontario?” I boldly and somewhat proudly demanded in a delivery identical to Donald the Trumpster.
“No Sir, this is not Matheson Avenue. This street is Traders Blvd,” she replied somewhat apologetically as the crowd roared with laughter at my stupidity.
“Oh!” I tried hard to swallow, but I guess that my foot must have been between my new teeth implants.
There didn’t appear to be a spark in the young lady’s eyes, but she did come out from behind the counter to hug and console me. I was a broken man, without a lot of options, and was hoping for a miracle.
When the front desk lady was finally able to break free from my hug, she quickly jumped back over the counter and offered to honor the reservation at this hotel if I paid the $21 difference. It was cheaper than spending another $45 on a limo to get me to the right hotel – so I happily agreed.
I got to my room, undressed, and then fell fast asleep.
Sunday, April 24th
A continuous beeping noise was the first sound that I heard, and it appeared to be coming from under the bed. Seasoned travelers know that you should never look under a bed in a hotel room, but I was no longer a seasoned traveler – so I got out of bed, got on my hands and knees and peeked under the bed…
It was my cell phone that was beeping! But why was it under the bed? I remember plugging the phone into the electric outlet in the bathroom – so how the heck was it under the bed?
I looked at the time on the clock radio; it was 2:15 in the morning! Why was my cell phone under the bed and why was it beeping? I looked at the list of callers, checked for new emails, updated my status on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google Plus but couldn’t find a reason for my phone to be beeping – or a button on the damn thing to stop it from beeping.
And then I woke up. The room was frigid – I could almost see my breath. I sat up in bed and stared at myself in the mirror – and wondered what had just happened.
I quickly jumped out-of-bed and raced into the bathroom – and to my surprise, the phone was still plugged into the wall. It had all been a dream! I breathed a sign of relief and opened the door to the mini bar. So many choices.
I looked at the time on the clock radio. It was 5:15 AM, which reminded me of a song by that name. I closed the mini bar door and decided to have a bottle of water instead. But first, I will jump into the shower.
I was drying myself when suddenly I heard a beeping noise!
The same noise from my dream!
I looked around the room but couldn’t find the source of the beeping. And then it suddenly dawned on me – it was coming from under the bed!
This time, the search under the bed yielded the noise culprit – it was my notebook – giving me my wake up call. Back in the day, I would have relied on getting a wake-up call from the hotel operator – usually, a hot-sounding front desk bunny softly whispering something like:
“Good morning Danny, it’s me, the gal of your dreams. Please wake up, have a shower and shave – and meet me poolside (in the hot tub) in 20 minutes.”
Now, in the age of Star Trek, we are all a bunch of Captain Kirk wannabees – yelling into our flip phones and talking to our computers/laptops/notebooks/tablets or iWatches.
I quickly got dressed and called my youngest brother Randy, who lives in Oakville. I would be staying at his place for most of my stay, and he and his wife Alice would be picking me up at my hotel. I wasn’t able to give him directions because I didn’t even know whereabouts in MisterandMissusauga I was staying. But Randy has a university degree and is unusually smart (despite being married 13 times), and he assured me that they would find the hotel.
I should probably point out to those of you readers who are wondering why I didn’t stay at Randy and Alice’s place when I arrived. It’s because I am usually so tired after a long flight and by the time that I arrive that I just want to chill and go to bed early. – and staying at a hotel is the easiest.
We had lots to discuss and plan during the two-week stay. I was hoping to find answers about my past life in Ontario and learn more about my family and friends.
I would be attending a Lodge Meeting on Monday night – which would be my first time back since June 1982.
I also wanted to visit my parents’ grave site, see my brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, cousins and friends in the Southern Ontario area.
And of course, I wanted to see at least one Blue Jays Game while in town. I was also hoping to take a trip to Haliburton to my Grandparents gravesite in Ingoldsby.
Monday, April 25th
I was driving to Whitby from Oakville to visit with my parents and then go to my brother Freddy’s place in Ajax, where I would be staying for the night.
I stopped at the florist shop in downtown Whitby and it was then that I noticed her! Could it actually be her? The Audrey Hepburn’s character Holly Golightly in the movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s lookalike that I wrote about a few years ago?
Our eyes instantly met and it was then that I saw a tiny spark…
I entered the shop without thinking about what I would say or do. It’s one of those things that you do on impulse – let the moment take you. I could feel the excitement flowing through my body – but this time, I wasn’t going to let it end as it had before (see Danny’s previous post).
I stood in line searching for her but she wasn’t anywhere to be found! How could she have disappeared? Was I imagining this? Yes, of course! It was that re-occurring dream of mine: I was the “Fred” character and she was the “Holly Golightly” in my favorite movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
Do dreams ever come true or do they all die?
I laughed at my silly and ongoing fascination with romantic and adventurous dreams and walked into the flower shop. I recognized the lady behind the counter – she served me last September when I bought the roses. She knew that I was from Vancouver as I had given her my actor/writer business card.
Once again, I purchased two roses for my parents. But this time I noticed a display of beautiful butterflies, which I have always loved – so I had the sales lady include them in with the flowers. Neither of us had to say what the roses or butterflies meant – she had obviously been on a similar journey in her life or maybe she has been reading my blogs – the website is listed on the business card I gave her last September.
I meant to make a mental note of her name but forgot. And although I could see the faint outline of a tiny spark in this lady’s eyes, perhaps it too had been extinguished by a broken heart. Who knows what burning secrets are locked in the deepest corner of anyone’s heart?
I had tears in my eyes as I left the flower shop and so did the nice lady. I waved goodbye, wondering if I would ever be back to her store? It’s funny but I am sure that I’ve known her from a previous life. Or maybe she just reminds me of someone. She never returned the wave, she just stood there staring as I drove away.
I pulled up to the Dad and Ma’s place on Thornton Road in Oshawa. It’s just a short walk to their resting place but with each step, a new tear would fall onto the flowers that were clutched tightly in my trembling hands.
And as I laid them down, the butterflies seemed to flutter their wings – as though they wanted me to follow them – but sadly, it was just the wind.
I sat down and stared at the gravestone and wondered why it didn’t hurt so much this time. Had time finally healed the scars? Was it time to finally let go? Would this be my final visit to see them?
As I got to my feet to leave, I noticed the shadow of a person standing beside me. I quickly turned to see who it was but there wasn’t anyone there! I looked at the ground beside me – and the shadow was still there! I stared in disbelief – was I finally losing it?
Suddenly, the sky darkened and a single beam of sunlight streamed from the heavens to the spot in the cemetery where I had parked. And there beside the car was a little boy on a bicycle. He looked strangely familiar and so did the bike he was riding. And then it dawned on me…
It was me!
And I was staring back at me – the 9-year-old on my first bike that my Ma had bought me with money that she had saved from her housekeeping fund. It was a used bike – just like all of the skates and most of my clothes – hand-me-downs that no longer fit any of the original owners.
I watched as Danny got on his bike and started riding out of the cemetery. He was just leaving the gates and then he stopped, turned and waved at me to follow him! He had a serious look on his face – it was neither happy or sad – but why was I seeing this obvious hallucination – this blast from the past?
I quickly started to walk back to the car – forgetting to even say goodbye to my parents. Danny wanted me to follow him – I don’t know why or where but I knew that if I didn’t, I’d probably regret it.
I had no sooner gotten into the car when I noticed a beautiful scent and it appeared to be coming from the back seat. I quickly glanced in the rear view mirror and found myself staring directly into the eyes of you-know-who. She had a concerned look on her face but there didn’t appear to be a spark. In fact, her eyes were dark – very dark and they seemed to be pleading with me to do something. She finally pointed her finger at the younger Danny and I knew that she wanted me to follow him.
I turned to see Danny frantically pedaling his bike down the street towards Rossland Road. And every block or so, he would turn to see if we were following. And we were!
Within a few minutes, we arrived at the Midtown Mall in Oshawa. I turned to the Holly Golightly lady sitting beside me but she was just sitting still, quietly staring at the back of a house that overlooked the mall. Tears started flowing…
It was Mrs. Simpson’s place! This was the place where I had rented a room – no meals – just a room in the basement. This is where I lived during my last year in high school in 1968/9. My parents had moved to Georgetown but I stayed because I was in hopelessly in love.
It wasn’t until I had gotten out of the car that I noticed that little Danny had disappeared! I turned to see Holly approaching the mall entrance and caught up with her just as she reached the door. She waited quietly while I opened the door for her and she smiled at me as she entered.
I wasn’t ready for what awaited us inside.
‘To everything… there is a season’ (or so the saying goes), is definitely true because everything I remembered about the mall had changed. The Dominion Store, Gambles Department Store, Shoppers Drug Mart, Country Hearth Restaurant and even Dino’s Men’s Wear – where I worked after graduating high school – were no longer there! There were only a few people wandering around the mostly deserted mall of my youth. It made me sad but then I saw little Danny waving for me to follow him. Again, he began to pedal his bike like he was going to a fire.
I ran back to my car and within minutes, I was traveling to the next old haunt on my bucket list – Sutherland Avenue – the street where I grew up on. I parked outside our old home and searched up and down the street for a familiar face but the street was very quiet.
Our old house looked great – she had aged well with time. I wondered how we all had managed to live in such a small home – with six children and two adults sharing a 3 bedroom, 1 bathroom home and only 1 telephone on the wall in the kitchen.
I wanted desperately to sit on the front steps – just as I had all of those years ago but didn’t know if the people living there would mind. I looked beside me and then behind me but the Holly Golightly lady was nowhere to be seen.
And as I looked back at the house, I saw my dear Ma – a much younger mom – sitting with me as a baby.
My Ma and me on the front steps
She was probably in her late 20’s at the time. I wonder how many of today’s ‘Moms’ could do as well at raising a family as our moms did back in the day.
Little Danny at the front door
Those front steps were wonderful to see again and I decided to knock on the front door and ask if it would be okay to sit there to take a ‘selfie’. A young lady answered the door and I introduced myself. She smiled and seemed very happy to meet one of the home’s original inhabitants.
Her name was Nancy and she could tell that I was getting emotional. She offered to take a few pictures of me sitting on the steps. I handed her my cell phone and then sat down on the steps – for the first time since 1968!
It didn’t matter that the entire street had changed. The chestnut trees were all gone and most of the homes had had updating done. But there was something missing. I was just about to say goodbye to Nancy when it dawned on me to ask her if there were any of the original neighbors still living on the block?
To my surprise, she said yes! She went on to say that Mrs. Mills from 3 doors up the street, was still alive; was 96 years old and still drove a car! I asked Nancy if she thought that Mrs. Mills would mind if I knocked on her door to say hello? She said she thought that Pauline would be thrilled to see me.
Wow, I didn’t know that her name was Pauline – my girlfriend in 1968 was also named Pauline. She was the one who had broken up with me shortly after our engagement. I heard that she’d married well and was living happily ever after, in Toronto.
I almost ran up the sidewalk – the same sidewalk that I had slept on as a young boy. Ma said that she could never get me to take an afternoon nap and that she would often find me fast asleep on our sidewalk.
I knocked on the door and a tiny lady answered. She was much shorter than I remembered. But I was much younger back then and grown-ups always seemed so much taller and older. ‘She probably won’t remember me,’ I thought.
“Hello Mrs. Mills, I don’t know if you remember me – I’m Danny St. Andrews from down the street.”
“Oh my!” she cried, “It’s so great to see you!”
She was still very alert and seemed quite independent. We talked and talked and then I said goodbye. She told me that Kerry, Ronny, and Philip all lived on Vancouver Island! Kerry was the oldest of her boys and we had been the best of friends. I have not seen any of her boys since 1968. I gave her my business card and told her that I would keep in touch.
“Danny, I remember when you were a boy, there were 16 kids living on this street and they were always outside – from morning to night – playing. Now, although there’s still the same number of children (if not more), and yet there is never any of them outside playing. They are all inside their homes playing video games or watching television!” she said and then smiled as she waved goodbye.
Just as I was getting into my car, little Danny pulled up beside the car. I rolled down the window to speak but couldn’t get a sound out. I wanted to tell him so much. But seeing him finally gave me something that I’d lost all of those years ago. In 1968, I went from being an 18-year-old kid to being a grown man, with too many responsibilities and nobody to guide me but “me, myself and I”.
This is where all of my dreams were born and soon, I will be able to put them all to rest.
Danny in 1968
It has taken me a lifetime of searching to find what I was looking for and now, I was starting to ‘get’ what I had never been able to understand.
And as I drove away, I could see little Danny in the rear view mirror. He was pedaling as fast as he could but he couldn’t keep up. I tried slowing down but the car kept going faster. I started screaming “faster! faster! and pleading for Danny not to give up but his poor little legs weren’t strong enough. My eyes were filling with tears as I whispered a goodbye to him. Our eyes met for one brief moment and I watched as the tiny spark in his eyes flickered and then he disappeared. I hope he thinks I turned out okay or mostly okay. Goodbye, little Danny!
Seeing little Danny made me realize, after all of these years, that he was always afraid of not being accepted or loved. And for a brief moment, an overwhelming sense of sadness returned; it was like a knife to the heart. How unhappy that little boy must have been.
I drove around my hometown for the rest of the day. And I knew that it would probably be the for the last time. Maybe it’s true – that you can never go back?
Saturday, April 30th
It will be hard to ever forget this date.
They say that ‘sad things come in threes’. Well, on Saturday, April 30th, it sure did.
The first shock of sadness came when I opened Facebook and saw my cousin Donna’s daughter Leila’s picture, holding her newborn son Zion before saying goodbye to him. I cried when I read it and I am crying now as I write about it.
Can’t sleep, today is going to be a hard day. Saying goodbye to our little man, Zion. ❤ Wish this was all just a dream and I could wake up and hold you forever. ❤ R.I.P Zion ?❤
I drove to Donna’s house, knowing that she would be at the hospital. I sat in the car in her driveway and thought back on all of the happiness in that house. I left my business card and a lot of teardrops at the front door. Little Zion was loved by many, many people and we will cherish him forever. I wish that I could have given Donna and Leila a huge hug. So very sad.
Later, on my way back to Randy and Alice’s place, my brother Freddy called to tell me that his best friend Geoff had just passed away that morning. The funeral would be in Georgetown on Tuesday. I told him that Randy and I would go to the funeral with him.
The third sad event that day was when I got an email message that my friend Harold’s wife had just passed away that day from cancer. I sent him an email with my condolences. Harold works at Surrey Memorial Hospital/Fraser Valley Cancer Centre and I know that all of his co-workers are with him and share his sadness.
I can’t remember a day or week so sad. It sure wasn’t turning out to be the exciting trip that I had planned.
Monday, May 2nd
On Monday, I drove to Cambridge, Ontario to meet with three of the guys that used to work with me in Western Canada.
Western Region Alumni (L-R) Maurice, Gerry, Danny, and Allan.
We worked hard, played harder and always got out of town before anyone could catch us.
I asked the waitress to take some pictures/video of us.
Happy to meet…
sorry to part…
and hoping to meet again…
Tuesday, May 3rd
Randy and I drove to Georgetown to attend Geoff Parker’s funeral. We paid our respects to his wife Nancy and their children and grandchildren. It was great to see his brother Greg, who I used to hang out with in the early 70’s. It was the first time we’ve seen each other since 1973!
Before leaving, we decided to visit the house on Delrex Blvd. in Georgetown where my parents moved to in 1968 (I remained in Oshawa to finish high school).
Delrex Blvd., Georgetown
Another sad goodbye…
Randy and I then returned to his place in Oakville to get ready to go to the Blue Jays game that night.
The baseball game was a thrilling, nail biter. I bought some souvenirs and then Randy and I headed back to Oakville on the train.
(R-L) Sister Linda, her son Russell, Danny and Randy. Freddy is standing above.
It was on the GO Train that night that I realized that what I had come to Ontario searching for, was no longer there. The burning questions had all been answered. The flame was dying… a tiny spark continued to flicker for a few painful moments… and then everything became quiet and at peace.
It was finally time to let go of that Holly Golightly lady. The movie character I loved as a teenager and my life-long crush was just a silly fantasy – and it finally dawned on me why. Little Danny always dreamed of things that he could never hope to ever have but it never stopped him from trying, because quitters seldom win. Besides, Audrey Hepburn passed away some years ago – why chase a dead dream?
And it was also time to finally store away all of the other memories from that period of my life.
But saying goodbye to my little Danny was the hardest part of my past to let go of – and I couldn’t. Because little Danny is who I was; who I am; and the who I hope to always be!
The next morning I returned to Vancouver – to my Holly Golightly.
My Holly Golightly – she’s a Coton de Tulear
And that is where a spark always shines – in her eyes and in my heart.
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!
There aren’t many singers still alive or rock bands still together that I currently have on my bucket list to see live in concert but Reginald Kenneth Dwight was definitely on the top of the list. So having a great seat at last night’s concert at Rogers Arena in Vancouver was awesome!
I had already graduated from high school when Reggie cut his first album in 1969 and one of the songs from that album is still my all-time favourite. He has had many hit songs over the past 5 decades:
(more than fifty Top 40 hits, including seven consecutive No. 1 US albums,
fifty-eight Billboard Top 40 singles,
twenty-seven Top 10, four No. 2, and nine No. 1 hits
For 31 consecutive years he has had at least one song in the Billboard Hot 100.
He has the most No. 1 hits on the US Adult Contemporary Chart (16 No. 1’s).
One of his singles sold over 33 million copies worldwide and it’s the best selling single of all time.
He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994 and he received a knighthood from the Queen in 1998.
So I was pretty excited to finally see this legend perform last night and it was one of the Top 10 concerts that I have ever attended (Eagles, Van Morrison, Mark Knopfler, Marvin Gaye, Beach Boys, Bob Seger, Cher, Lady Gaga, and Bruno Mars are also included on that list). He played for more than 2 hours and for those 2 hours many of the fans remained on their feet – myself included.
But the biggest difference between Reginald Kenneth Dwight’s concerts and those of other musicians is that nobody in the audience played an “air guitar“. Nope, they were all playing “air pianos” instead! And with this clue, you’ve probably figured out that Reginald Kenneth Dwight is also known as Sir Elton Hercules John.
Here are a few pictures that I took last night… and I’ve also included my favourite Elton John song.
This morning I got a wonderful surprise – a comment from one of the readers of my blog. And although I am always thrilled to receive comments about my stories (good or bad), they usually only come from friends or family members. I mean, who else reads my blog? Who else would even be interested in what I write about? I ask myself those same questions every time I sit down to write another short story (blog). After all, the Internet covers the whole planet, so it’s conceivable that there are many people from all around the world who read my blogs – but then again, it’s more probable that it’s limited to only a few diehard friends and/or family.
So when I received a comment from Nancy C. (nee Walsh) this morning it brought tears to my eyes. Nancy is one of the daughters of the late Ma Walsh whom I wrote about in my 4-part blog The Summer of ’66 and the first contact that I’ve had with anyone in her family in over 40 years. Here is the link to the first part of that series: http://www.danielstandrews.com/2013/07/28/the-summer-of-66-part-1-of-4-a-repost/
When I wrote about that summer, it brought back so many memories of that magical time in my life. But I never dreamed that anyone from that tiny village in Southern Ontario would ever read my blog, much less a member of the Walsh family. But Nancy did and I am so thrilled to have read her comment this morning. Her comment and my reply can be viewed on the Dog Days of Summer blog or by clicking on this link: http://www.danielstandrews.com/2014/05/22/dannys-going-going-gone/
Thanks Nancy for opening the floodgates of memories of those summers that I spent in Vittoria; I can now go back to believing in magic…
And speaking of living in a ‘small world’ – my sister Linda and her husband Brian are currently on a river cruise in Europe and she just emailed that they had bumped into a girl that she went to school with in Oshawa many, many years ago! (Linda is my much older sister). What are the odds of bumping into someone you hadn’t seen or heard from in years?
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…
Most baby boomers are familiar with Sadie Hawkins Day – the one day of the year when girls could ask a boy out for a date. Now in today’s world, that might seem silly – after all, we are living in an era where women have almost equal rights to men. But back in the early ’60’s when I was starting high school, it was always the boy that asked the girl out for a date.
I still remember my first Sadie Hawkins Day – it was November 13, 1963. At my high school, O’Neill Collegiate & Vocational Institute (OCVI), the auditorium was where everyone gathered before school, during lunch period and after school. We didn’t have Facebook, Twitter or InstaGram in those days – in fact, we were pretty much in the age of dinosaurs when it came to communications. The balcony that surrounds the auditorium was where banners hung to announce (and promote) upcoming events such as school elections, football games and school dances. The banners were hand-made by students and they were often very colourful and funny.
So in early November 1963, I entered the auditorium and noticed all of the banners proclaiming the upcoming Sadie Hawkins Day Dance. I didn’t know who Sadie Hawkins was or why we were celebrating a day devoted to her. And because it was my first year of high school (I was 13 years old), I had to rely on my two older sisters to explain what Sadie Hawkins Day was all about. And when I learned that girls would be calling boys to ask them out, I was both excited and terrified. Excited that a girl (or girls) might be asking me out or terrified that nobody would ask me out and that I would be the only boy at OCVI without a date on Sadie Hawkins Day.
I probably died a thousand deaths in the two weeks leading up to the annual Sadie Hawkins Day Dance, wondering:
Will a girl call to ask me out?
Will the girl be pretty and built like a brick outhouse? (My Uncle Fred’s favourite saying)
Will more than one girl ask me out?
What if a prettier girl calls after I have already committed myself to another?
Who pays to get into the dance – the girl who asks me out or me?
What does “Going Dutch” mean?
What if nobody asks me out?
But Danny, today isn’t Sadie Hawkins Day – WTPH?
Patience Spanky, patience!
Two weeks ago, the Seattle Seahawks beat the San Francisco 49’ers in the NFC championship game and were headed to the Super Bowl Game in New Jersey. They would be playing the Denver Broncos, who had won the AFC championship title.
The past two weeks have been filled with the same kind of excitement and terror that I experienced 50 years ago. Excitement that my beloved Seahawks would be in the Super Bowl for only the second time in their history. And terror that they were facing the Denver Broncos, who had the best offence in the NFL.
Those two weeks leading up to yesterday’s game felt like an eternity – just as waiting for a girl to call me was fifty years ago. As game time approached, the majority of sports writers were prediciting a Denver win. The betting line favoured Denver by two points.
On Sunday morning I called my brother Randy in Mister and Misses Auga (Mississauga), who is a diehard San Francisco 49’ers fan, but nevertheless he tried to reassure me that the Hawks would prevail over the Broncos. I told him I would either be drunk from celebrating a win or drunk trying to deal with a depressing loss.
Yesterday a dream for me came true – Seattle crushed the favoured Broncos 43-8.
And I’d like to say that winning the Super Bowl yesterday was more important than getting asked out on a date by a girl on Sadie Hawkins Day – but it wasn’t. Because nobody asked me out on that Sadie Hawkins Day, November 13, 1963.
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….