Category Archives: 1950s
When I was growing up, dinnertime for Mom, Dad and me was sitting around the table in our small kitchen. Mom and Dad would sometimes be talking about the household budget while little ears lapped it up as well as the food – often leftover roast. But Dad had one habit that drove Mom crazy.
He looked at his watch, then up at the wall clock above the table, then back to his watch, lifting up the expansion band. I expected it to go “boing, boing,” but it was silent.
“Albert, do you have to keep doing that?” she would ask.
“Have to take it in to get regulated,” Dad replied. He had good reason for this.
You see, my late father worked for the railway, CN (or CNR as it was called back in the 50s and 60s). He was a timekeeper but he worked in the head office, then in downtown Toronto. As far as I know he wasn’t out on the tracks timing the trains. But who knows. The trains came in right by his office at Toronto’s Union Station.
He carried this penchant for time when the three of us rode the rails travelling in the summer. It was a free ride, and not just for Dad. Mother had the spouse’s free pass and until I turned 19 I had the child of the CN worker’s pass. Mom got unlimited free rides; I was limited to seven a year. But we never took more than three or four trips a year – and one would be not really a holiday. There were a lot of funerals in my family and a few weddings.
But that’s for another post. Today’s post is all about Dad and time. When we rode the rails, Dad made sure we arrived at Union Station early – sometimes two hours before train time. Did Dad think we would miss the train? No. He was just doing his job outside his job. No one missed his scrutiny – from the cab driver who drove us to Union Station – via a different route than Dad had dictated to who carried our luggage (not the red cap porter) to the trainman who collected our tickets once we had boarded the train. Dad’s favourite expression was “Typical CNR” which could be taken as either a bad review or I suppose even a small compliment. At any rate Dad and his watch kept close company.
But riding the rails had its fun, interesting and now looking back – nostalgic times. Nothing like the murder and other crimes that occur on the train to Hanover in my short story “Porcelain Doll” (Beyond theTripping Point, Blue Denim Press, 2012).
Consider the times we were travelling in – mid to late 1950s and early 1960s. Right when train travel in Ontario was still in its heyday – although not for much longer with the almighty automobile starting to take over. (Note: my parents didn’t drive so we had no car).
Our main annual trip was to visit the farm relatives on my mother’s side of the family. That took us to Mildmay Ontario (a few miles from Walkerton, the town that had the bad water scandal in 2000), and Lucknow, Ontario. Then we had to take three trains, which meant two changes. But what rides and what differences. The trains from Toronto to Guelph had diesel engines. The one from Guelph to Palmerston still had a steam engine whose noise used to scare me and my constant travelling companion, my doll Darlene. Guelph was also an interesting ride through. As that second train started out from Guelph, looking out the windows you could see the train was running on a track right in the middle of a street. It is still that setup today (although the trains are more modern) and it still makes me hold my breath when travelling through. The third train, with its short ride from Palmeston to Mildmay, was the most interesting. The “coach” we rode in was actually a sleeper car and Daddy would go into a short talk on the closed dark wooden bins above which came down and turned the area into a bedroom. I also remember the texture of the seats – they itched the back of my bare legs.
Dad has been long gone (he died of brain cancer, at 66. I was 16). However, I have inherited his penchant for time. I must get what is on my daily to-do list done that day and God help anyone or anything who interferes (Telemareters and long-winded acquaintances on the phone pay attention). But I also go after transit that is not on time, but not the CN, or VIA rail which has taken over the railway passenger service in most of Canada. No, it’s the city public transit, the TTC (Toronto Transit Commission) which more times than naught, messes up on its schedules. So I sometimes complain online about the incident. Couldn’t do that back in the day.
Guess I do have my father to thank for to be aware of time. And in line with that, on this upcoming Father’s Day I will honour my late father by thinking of him and toasting him – not with his favourite drink – beer, which I don’t really like – but wine. It’s the thought that counts. I’m sure Daddy would understand.Happy Father’s Day Daddy (wherever your spirit is), from your little railway brat.
How are you honouring your Dad this Father’s Day?
Only Child Writes
I come from a long line of gardeners and farmers. My grandparents had farms and my mom grew up on one of them. When she came to Toronto to work, met my dad and married him, when they bought their first house, the one I grew up in – they made a garden, It was like a ritual every spring and when I came along, even at four and five years of age I got into the act. Each spring, Mom and Dad turned the soil, Mom planted vegetable seeds and I helped her do the latter – with a lot of instructions from her. After the soil-turning, Dad looked after mowing the lawn – with a push mower.
I also use a push mower to cut the lawn and like my mother I have to have my garden.
But in order to have a garden, you have to be able to get out there and work the garden, remove the weeds, plant the seeds, baby the perennials coming up again. This year it’s been raining too much in southern Ontario so I am literally sometimes out there gardening between rainstorms. Meantime, out in British Columbia and Alberta it is dry, dry and there are spreading wildfires. Somebody up there got the weather mixed up – we need the rain to fall in western Canada and eastern Canada (Ontario, Quebec and the Maritime provinces) need some dry periods – like more than just a day, or just a few hours.
So, I’ve been slowly making my garden beautiful. At least it is green and the perennials are coming up and blooming. So is the lettuce and onions I planted.
Do you garden? How does your garden grow?
Here are a few early photos of my garden. Enjoy
Only Child Writes
When I was a child I hid my anger under shyness and the belief that you don’t show your anger because others might retaliate and hurt you. Let’s face it I was a wimp when growing up. Perhaps it was due to my personal background or just the mores of the times (1950s and 1960s). More likely both.
Nowadays as a senior, I am not afraid to show my anger.
Let me clarify that. It is only verbal and written. I do not condone physical violence and I don’t condone verbal and written anger that is sexist and racist. There is never any excuse or reason for that.
But on a personal level I will tell someone off if they are blocking the subway doorway and I and others can’t get off or (and my big pet peeve), they are standing on the steps down to the subway platform and playing with their digital device. I also tell bus drivers off if they are really late arriving (although for this I am more likely to just not say “thank you” as I exit the bus). My usual exit is to thank bus drivers as I leave the bus. In the majority of cases bus drivers are just doing their job and some go out of their way to help passengers.
Not so the “clown” driving the Woodbine bus I took last evening. Not only was he late (the next bus was almost on his tail), but he sped away from the stop as soon as I used my Presto card to pay. As I struggled and lurched to get seated, I yelled, “It might be a good idea to let us sit down first.” Fortunately I landed in a seat without injury. And why was this bus driver in such a rush? He just had to make the green light half a block away down the street. He missed it and had to wait. Thank God or somebody for Karma.
On a wider scale I am also angered by government cuts in funds to libraries, education and healthcare, something we in Ontario are now experiencing that the populist you-know-what Doug Ford and his Conservative cronies who rule the roost are doing. I am also angered by the lax sentences for murderers and other perpetrators of heinous crimes under the Criminal Code in Canada and I covered that in a recent post. And if you harm a child, harm someone who is disabled, you get my wrath too.
Anger, I find can be redirected into action with the forming of community groups and the like to make changes, for example public transit riders groups (I know; I seem to be on this public transit kick). Even just writing this post is a good redirection or writing a short story.
I am not alone in being angry some of the time. See Facebook and Twitter and news clips. t seems to be a sign of the times and the number of people being angry over specific things is increasing according to a Gallop Poll from last year which went through 142 countries. See here for the poll info which also covers worry – and that does go hand in hand with anger. The age bracket for most angry was not us seniors, but it went up to age 49.
So what about us seniors?
That’s fodder for another post.
Only Child Writes
For those of us writing a memoir or who want to do so, sometimes we get stymied. Where do we start? What do we focus on? What happened in our life that really affected us?
Of course, we may have a specific area of our life we want to focus on. But our memories can play tricks on us. Our memories can “hide” a wealth of information about our past, the people in it and our emotions during those times – even if we think we know how we felt.
So, use pictures to trigger your memory and its whole enchilada. I don’t mean just old family and friend photos. But buildings – your school, the house you grew up in, streets, transit (cars and public), old new-story photos, old ad, even cemeteries.
And even the above which may not be your family photo, may not be a streetscape you are familiar with. You are thinking of the time and what is actually in the picture and transferring it (in your mind) to your story.
As some of you know, I teach various memoir writing workshops and courses at Toronto Public Library branches. And as the above hints at, the next one, on April 16, is called Using Your Pictures to Create Your Memoir. Most of my memoir writing workshops and courses have something about pictures, particularly those old family and friend photos. An interesting thing I keep discovering is that even if the picture is of my family or friends or me or the house I grew up in – it will always trigger some memory (not connected to me) in some of the participants.
“Oh, the picture of your dad reminded me of my dad.”
“The picture of your house reminded me of the house I grew up in.”
“That picture of your friends reminded me of something that happened with my sister/some of my friends.”
The pictures take on a generic form. And that can happen with transit and streetscapes. For example, a picture of a streetcar can bring up memories of you riding in a streetcar in the past, lead to something (good or bad) that happened to you while riding a streetcar. Who were you with? What was your relationship to them? And taking it beyond the streetcar ride, what else happened to you and them, especially if a sibling, parent, or close friend? How did you feel towards them? Does it bring up emotions – sad, happy, angry, etc.? And this can lead to more stories with them and maybe with the streetcars. Maybe your dad drove a streetcar or a bus. What were his stories about that?
You can see where a simple picture can lead you in your memoir writing.
Here are the details of my workshop. If you are in the Greater Toronto Area and are interested in taking it, there is still time to register. And it is free. Yes, I get paid by the library for teaching these workshops.
Using Pictures to Create Your Memoir
Tue Apr 16, 2019
2:00 p.m. – 3:30 p.m.
S. Walter Stewart Library
In this memoir-writing workshop, author and editor Sharon A. Crawford shows how old photos, news stories, ads, streetscapes, and pictures etched in your mind can help create your memoir. Includes how to do picture research and research kick-started by pictures. Through discussion and writing exercises with feedback, you will get a start on your memoir. To register or for more information, please call 416-396-3975.
Meantime, look, really look, at the photo at the top of the post. And see where it leads you in your life.
And the picture below my signature.
Today, spring officially arrives. Exact time depends on where you live in the northern hemisphere. Here, in Toronto it is today at 5.58 p.m. and I plan to celebrate – not with a drink, but with buying a plant, a pansy, providing the garden centres (read Home Depot here) have some in. I want to put the plant front and centre on the small red table on my front veranda. Pansies can survive temperatures down to 26 F and it it gets too cold temporarily, I can bring the plant inside for a bit.
Back when I was a child (in the grey ages of course, i.e., mid-1950s), my mom and dad were already out in the garden digging and doing other prep work to plant vegetables – well in early April, not March. But April is coming soon. I was not far behind, waiting to get into the garden and learning what to do from my mom. Guess that’s where I got my gardening bug.
But I am doing some gardening preparations. Finally got my seed order into the seed company – as usual in mid-March. But all those problems (which still keep coming) stole and steal my time from what I want to do and need to do. Often those coincide but when the latter means fixing big problems, I resent that.
So, I hope the sun, spring and warmer weather will kill all the problems and maybe “burn” the perpetrators a little. And “burn” can be taken in other ways than fire. I don’t wish the latter on anybody.
Enjoy the spring. Meantime, here are a few photos from my gardens past to enjoy.