Thursday, May 20, 2010

Where I and it All Started

This is Balaclava Street School ...

I went to kintergarden here... 1952/1953 ... This is on the corner of Balaclava and Malakoff Street St Thomas Ontario Canada ... and this picture shows the boys side of the school yard ... Miss Charleton was the first teacher I meet ... I went in mornings ... and was at home with my mother in the afternoons ...

I was a single child born into a post WWII home. 50 Woodworth Avenue ... St Thomas Ontario ... I planted that tree in the front yard ... I helped build that garage ...

My mom and dad worked for the local utilities company (PUC). That’s where they met. After I arrived on the scene, my mom stayed home with me for about five years. Until I was in grade one and Miss Crone ... she took over from Miss Charleton ...

Mom went back to work when I was five, but only after some discussion with my father, because, after all, no wife of his was going to work. But she did, and life went on. Baby-sitters were the order of the day, especially during the summer months. We lived in a two-bedroom house on a street full of two and three bedroom homes, all built posthaste at the end of the war.

Our town had a Saturday market on Hornton Street, actually on the corner of Manitoba and Horton Streets.

There were no large supermarkets to speak of until the A&P Store (now closed) opened on Talbot Street on what was once the New York Central Park. Then all the other major stores followed.

The town was transformed from sleepy rural to quiet backwater.

The focus of the townspeople’s lives centred around what happened on the railways, the town’s major employer. There were seven different railways as I recall. Who was being bumped on which seniority list or who was or was not on which spare board were all current topics of discussion over coffee or over clotheslines on Mondays.

Monday was always washday. That was just the way things were. The local newspaper (St.Thomas Times Journal) measured big events; ‘who’ was who and ‘how’ they were doing was reported weekly in the Hatched, Matched and Dispatched column on Saturday. You could always find out who was visiting whom and who was away on holiday and where they could afford to go. (It must have been a burglar’s fondest dream!)

I was a loner. I moved between groups or cliques at high school and never felt that I really belonged. I actually prided myself on this ability to float between groups without really belonging.

In my early adult years, I put this learned skill to practical use and entered the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). I was recruited for the Security Service and worked in the semi cloak and dagger world of counter espionage and counter terrorism. I worked primarily in counter espionage during my time in the Security Services.Thus my passion for writing spy novels today.

I really just knew one set of grandparents, my mom’s folks; my dad’s folks had divorced in the 1930’s and had lived apart. My maternal grandfather owned the local watering hole in Dutton Ontario about 50 km away from St Thomas. He had the unwanted (or wanted . . . never could really tell) attention of nearly every ne’er-do-well in the surrounding three counties. As his friend, they had an indirect access to his supply of booze, and this came in especially handy on Sundays and other statutory holidays when the liquor and beer stores were closed or when they were broke (note: the hotel sold 100,000 gallons of beer a month by bottle).

Oh yes, those three counties that bordered onto his were all dry. It was not uncommon to come to the hotel, and later after the hotel changed hands, to the house for a visit on a Sunday and find the Labatt’s courtesy car, the Carling’s courtesy van, the Seagram rep’s vehicle and the town constable’s car parked in the lane. All these visitors would be in the house in some form of intoxication.

I have come to learn that there was a secret to how they could consume so much so often. There was only enough in each bottle for one drink each for those who were present. They only drank quarts of rye (26 oz.). Thus, if there were only two present then only two drinks would be poured and the bottle would be emptied. They had large glasses as I recall, gifts from one of the distillers.

There was not a day that went by when I was in either of my grandparent’s presence that I did not see them consume alcohol. There is sadness and a truth that goes with the thought that alcohol played such a pervasive part of their lives. Another thought, oddly enough, is that I still thought they could walk on water. I loved my grandparents dearly. They were my first experience with god-like creatures, where I truly knew they, especially in my grandfather case, could make the earth part if he so wanted. I knew in my heart of hearts that all I had to do was ask and he would and could make it happen.

It was really as simple as that.

Everything from new bicycles from Peter’s bicycle shop next door to the hotel, to Oh Henry chocolate bars and pop from the dry bar in the hotel ... anytime I wanted them ... it was possible from him.

From this child’s perspective, that was all-powerful. I can remember accompanying him on his rounds, visits to various farms or villages in the area. People sought him out for his blessing and approvals on almost everything that happened at that end of the county.

I learned years later that he was a pushover with cash and damned near everyone owed him and no one was in a position to pay him back. I know that he was also respected because he helped without any thought of payback. He supported various lost members of the family through varied circumstances, who supported others who had been abandoned by life and its crappy circumstances and were still too young or unable to fend for themselves. He was a good man. He drank too much. Oh, by the way, that’s not bad that he drank too much. You may come to understand this.

Now, on my father’s side, his parents had divorced back in the 1930s and that was an oddity in itself. Divorced in the 1930s and Catholic to boot! Actually it was a marriage of the Orange and the Green for those of you who understand Irish history.

My grandfather, Sid, was Welsh (Orange) and lived in St Thomas too. He died of a brain tumor when I was young.

Sid’s ex-wife, my grandmother Sarah (Green and one of 17 siblings, 16 girls and a boy, Uncle Jimmy. We don’t speak much about him, you know) and her daughter, my aunt, lived in Dundas Ontario, several hours drive from our place. I never got to meet them until I was about 10.

Boy, could my Aunt Betty drink. I’d go to school and brag. I mean she could drink, really drink. She really put them under the table. I forget exactly how old I was but we dropped in one time and several members of the Hamilton Tigers Cats were dead drunk in the kitchen and one ... a quarter back I think ... had literally slide under the table.

She quit one weekend cold turkey and she turned her life over to the pursuit of spirituality via religious cause. She became a nun, and a darned good one.

I was proud of her. Grandma Sarah had passed on and that was when my aunt did all this becoming-a-nun stuff, and quitting drinking right after her mother passed on.

I was never really close to my grandmother and I never got to know her as I was only 13 or so when she died. I remember some of the funeral processes and the nuns who came to the funeral home, Order of St Joseph’s I believe, they were standing there in the viewing area like tall statues of black and white. I knew nothing about being Catholic but the old man did and he made a run for it. They came to pray, to pray my newly departed grandmother right into heaven, and I had no idea what that meant or what it would entail.

My dad did and he got the hell out of the room before things got off the ground…but I didn’t know. They must have gone round the rosary 10 times more than normal. I actually had a bruise on my knee caps from kneeling so long but I hung in there.

I got to meet some of the aunts and assorted others from my dad’s side of the family. The only one I remember is Aunt Gurt, and she was a sight. She was at the funeral. She lived in Dundas too.

Aunt Gurt had a knack for wearing make-up in such a fashion that her age of 70 plus was perfectly disguised by her outward appearance of a not-so-nearly-retired-madam. My dad was a little more direct in his description of her.

At the funeral I got to hear some of the stories that had threads leading directly back to County Cork in Ireland, that wove their way through ‘establishment’ families of today’s Upper Canada (Ontario). E.P. Taylor was in there someplace with the Perkins ... Freddy ... family and the stories went on and on.

People showed up at the funeral, and those who were ‘someone’and they wore their finery, mink stoles, etc. just to be seen, even though the weather was hot. Family names of establishment Upper Canada were well represented.

In all honesty, they were people who had had hard beginnings and fought their way out of their assigned lot in life. And they all drank too much. Some varied the theme with worked too much, and that was praised because then they could consume too much. Others were just a little weird (remember Uncle Jimmy, the one we don’t talk about) and we didn’t talk about them because they were never ‘right’ in the first place.

I believe now that the appropriate way to describe my life is to say that, if one never ventured past the surface then one might conclude that all was normal. No big deal. (I became skilled at living a lie.) The key word here is "apparent", because something was there and it turned into the thing that lurked in my life until I was well into my 30s. I never really knew what it was, but I knew something was there. I knew for a fact that it was having a major impact on my life. I could not control it. It was just happening to me.

I had read someplace that, if you have something you want to learn, then you should teach it. I had lots to do and believe me much more to learn, especially about myself, so I said to myself “Self, time to go teach.” My sojourn had passed with the RCMPolice and who would want to hire a newly retired spy-catcher?

That’s when I bumped into George Bullied and Twin Valleys School. Twin Valleys School [a.k.a. TVS or The Valley] ... it was in Neil Andersons' living room on a spring Saturday afternoon in Ottawa Ontario as I recall. I had just quit the RCMPolice ... and literally had nothing to do ... so I was available ... and the journey was about to begin ...

The Valley was an alternative to the penal system for young offenders. George said something to the effect that, if you’re not doing anything, and I wasn’t, then come to The Valley. So I did. That got me to Wardsville, Ontario in May of 1979. The roller coaster had started for me officially several years prior in 1976 when my wife died, but I think it was in 1979 when I first surfaced for the first time.

Life is something you dive into blindly. Sometimes, when you do dive in ... which is the only requirement life demands for anyone ... it is so thick and so cold and distasteful ... deep too, it seemed to take forever to surface again. The time frame from 1976 to 1979 was the longest period I had ever had to hold my breath, my first serious dive in to life 101 ... both spiritually and psychologically. Joanne (wife) had died ... Joanne is the mother of my eldest son Warren. That space in time was an eternity for me.

I thought I had found safety upon arriving at The Valley. Life had been death defying for me and i was in shell shock. For a short period of time I thought my life was a safe because of where I was ... at or in The Valley ... but then I discovered that these people were just like me and some were in fact more lost than I. Frying pans ... Fires ... all the metaphors were there and my life was just as confusing as it always was ... but what I had discovered was that I was in a place where I could both heal and learn ...

Now, the tale of ‘who’ I am and how I got to be here gets just a little twisted here. Pick up the thread of my story where, in the spring of 1979, I was realizing that all the supposed ‘niceness’ of life, wasn’t. I was living a lie and had become well practiced at it. Then I can jumpstart back again to early winter 1970 where I had a job with the Federal Government in the RCMPolice Security Services. I was working my way up and received early promotions. Previously, before my transfer into the Security Service, I had met and married a young lady from Regina, Joanne ... while in training actually ... and we had a child together. She had a very particular set of problems ... actually they mirrored mine I just never realized it at the time. Then I began to notice that she drank far too much, but I never really put it together that this observation may have applied to me also. Odd, isn’t it, what we can see in others and can’t see in ourselves?

That observation took several years for me to see, and a decade or so to be understood and then accepted. Noticing and understanding came after an incident that could only be described as ‘something that should never happen to your worst enemy’. The front door to Hell kicked open and out came the unholy horse guard and all the crap and misery they could muster.

Joanne's upbringing did not seem at all like mine. She had a drunken stepfather and an absentee mom who worked to support everyone, including the damnedest mixture of ne’er-do-wells you could imagine. Remember the ne’er-do-wells at my grandfather’s place? Well I didn’t really remember them and, more importantly, I didn’t then understand the significance of them either. The odd thing was that I fit right in with this new group and felt totally and completely at home. I didn’t actually like it, but it fit like a glove. That whole experience eventually led to what I was to think, for the longest time, was the true trauma of my life. It was a travesty, and it was dramatic and I would not wish it on anyone. The trauma was in the smoke and mirrors that came with the drama, and, as I was to discover much later, the trauma had been waiting for me all along. I had just never noticed or knew that I could notice.

My wife eventually committed suicide and left me a widower with a small child. I was devastated. Could this really be happening to me? Where do I look now and what do I look for?

What I discovered was I was spending most of my time with the ‘whys’ of life. It took me a long time to come to terms with asking ‘what’ rather than ‘why’.

This brings me back to arriving at Twin Valleys School (The Valley) in 1979 and the beginnings of my search for me. I knew I needed to do something, but I was not sure what that was. What I came to quickly learn at The Valley was that they didn’t know either, but almost everyone was at least honest enough to admit to their ‘lostness’. (Nice to be lost together!)

Our community drew members from other communities and us to them. There was a network of lost people being lost together, which, for awhile during the 70’s, was what I called the last bastion of ‘hippy-dippy-dom’.

As I searched for me, I stumbled across a few things. It was actually only the same thing; I just kept bumping into it from different perspectives and angles ... thinking it was separate. Like walking in circles. Here is an example of how this works:

In the mid 1990's I went to Paris for a very short holiday…actually for lunch. I had free tickets anywhere a particular airline went, and I was relatively broke, so the longer in the air the better. Free food and no accommodations to be paid for at 35,000 feet! Paris is relatively empty in August, since the French are all on holiday, and rates are cheap, so I headed out on a Wednesday evening and arrived back home the following Tuesday morning. On Saturday evening, I had the infamous lunch. I went by taxi to a delightful little place that is reputed to be the oldest restaurant on the continent. My dinner partner got to sit at Victor Hugo’s favorite place. (The fellow at the next table remarked that the food was terrible and the place had run on its reputation for over 300 years. He spoke the truth!) After this meal, I decided to walk back to the hotel on St. Germaine, just up the ‘rue’ from the Bon Marché. This seemed to be a rather straightforward thing to do. I remember walking past L’Oden, a street corner near St. Germaine’s cathedral church. There is a movie theatre on this corner and the marquee caught my eye. I walked and walked for what seemed to be an appropriate length of time in what seemed to be a relatively straight direction, only to find myself approaching L’Oden from the same direction as I had when I left the restaurant. The marquee again caught my eye. I then got very ‘creative’ with this and managed to do it several times…only in slower and slower succession.

Finally, I did the unthinkable and asked directions. Imagine that! Hell, I’m the guy who knows ALL. What a request! I didn’t think I could do it! But I had to, so I did.

Now as I re read this ... I discovered that there are literally hundreds of stories that are missing but only for the moment ... as I wrote the magic happened more memories and stories are jumping around now at the surface of my mind wanting to get their time on this document ... Smile

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