This posting contains all of chapter two. It will help to make sense if you read my three postings on chapter one. For some unknown reason my computer would not upload the many photos that I have put in this book. Still, if you want to read the story of my dysfunctional family, read on. I hope I am not boasting when I say that my autobiography provides a clear illustration of what a dysfunctional type of family is. The more I wrote about my dysfunctional family, the more memories came back to me. Writing one’s own autobiography is an excellent way to visit your past and discover what effect it had on you. Writing truthfully about your past (and the past of your relatives) often leads to forgiveness.”
CHAPTER II 1946-1948: 23RD AVE. JUST OFF DUNBAR ST.
Summary: In 1946 we move to a large house about a mile away in a quiet suburban neighborhood. A year later Detective-Sergeant Al Hoare is wounded in a shoot-out with bank robbers (February, 1947). Around this same time he marries Isobel McRae (“Sandy”) and relinquishes his legal right to visit with Don and me. (This is a trauma for Don and me. We won’t see Al again until 1966.)
Ernie starts the process of getting us to accept our name changes (from Robert Courtney Hoare to Robert Stuart Thomson; from Donald Alan Hoare to Donald George Thomson). We find it difficult to adapt to our new name although Ernie’s kindness helps us through this difficult transition. The adoption will be finalized in 1948. At this time of my life I am not doing well: I show signs of extreme shyness, withdrawal, and, at times, cruelty.
Mother is hospitalized for a week and Don and I live with the McKees, a very well-adjusted, loving family who live across the lane. We thrive in their happy atmosphere and I think we realize (maybe only subconsciously) that our own family has something wrong with it although we could not really explain it and we didn’t mention it to our parents..
Mother continues to alienate us from Al Hoare. At the end of this chapter I discuss the far-reaching effects of this alienation. I also speculate on possible reasons for my brother’s deep-seated and long-standing animosity towards me. It remains a mystery even now (2021).
On a positive note I become my Scottish grandmother’s traveling companion. We visit Salt Spring Island, Victoria and Seattle. I am calm and happy in her company.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
1 Mother wangles a good deal and we move from an apartment to a house
2 Al Hoare is shot twice while arresting three young would-be bank robbers
3 Ernie teaches us our new name: Thomson
4 Don and Ernie clash
5 Don’s and my obsession with baseball
6 My shyness and Mother’s lack of interest
7 Mother’s detachment from our problems at school
8 Our “Douse the light!” nightly ritual with Ernie
9 The giant slingshot and Ernie’s kindness
10 A few of the nasty things I did to my brother
11 A lesson in how hurtful my words could be
12 How Mother’s alienation of Don and me from our biological father wove a complex web of negative effects
13 I become my grandmother’s traveling companion (Salt Spring Island, Victoria and Seattle)
14 My idyllic week at Cultus Lake with my Mother
15 Uncle Ken (Mom’s brother) returns from the War
16 Don and I spend a week with neighbors and realize there’s something wrong with our family
17 The mystery of Don’s animosity towards me
18 Mother’s feelings about us even before we are born (a speculation)
19 Two movies help me to understand my family: Great Expectations (1947) and East of Eden (1955)
20 Miscellaneous recollections (the music, what people were doing) from 1946-1948
21 What was going on in our family
22 What was going on in my little world
23 My dysfunctional family
24 Causes and effects of the Thomson family’s dysfunction
25 My character flaws at the age of twelve
1 MOTHER’S CHARM WANGLES A GOOD DEAL ON A HOUSE
In 1946 we moved about a mile away: from Dunbar near forty-first to a fairly large house located a few doors west of twenty-third and Dunbar. Mother told the lady who owned the house about her troubled background and how she couldn’t afford the down payment. Surely that would disqualify her! Not so! The lady was sensitive to Mother’s story (and probably Mother’s beauty and charm as well) and told her that she didn’t need to pay anything down right away—she could take care of that when she had the money. What generosity!
2 AL HOARE IS SHOT TWICE WHILE ARRESTING THREE YOUNG BANK ROBBERS
In February, 1947, Al Hoare and two other Vancouver policemen attempt to arrest three young men who are armed and had planned to rob a bank. During the process of arresting Al is shot in the neck and the hip, plays dead and then proceeds to shoot one of the crooks dead and wound another. Later that day the two remaining crooks are seized by the police and put on trial. One of them is hanged. This is one of the most famous cases in the history of the Vancouver Police force. Below is the story as reported in The Vancouver Sun newspaper.
THIS DAY IN HISTORY: FEBRUARY 26, 1947
(There is a photo of Al Hoare, my biological father, at this point in my book.)
Retired officer Allan Hoare reads in 1985 a story in a 1947 edition of The Sun about a gun battle between police and would- be robbers.
About noon on Feb. 26, 1947, a pedestrian spotted three men in a “maroon auto” donning masks to rob the Royal Bank at First and Renfrew. He tipped off the police, who arrived on the scene so quickly they scared the bank robbers off. Four police cruisers took off in pursuit of the would-be robbers, who were driving a stolen car. The thieves abandoned the car at 2325 Kitchener, then took off on foot toward the False Creek flats. The police caught up to them near Great Northern Way and Clark Drive. A gun battle ensued that left two policemen and one bandit dead, and another policeman wounded.
The entire event occurred within 45 minutes of the time the bandits were spotted donning their masks. The dead policemen were “prowler officers” Oliver Ledingham and Charles Boyes. A third prowler officer, Allan Hoare, was shot through the hip and shoulder, but managed to shoot and kill one of the bandits when they tried to make their getaway. Hoare also wounded a second suspect. Three schoolboys who witnessed the event described “the grim gun battle” to The Sun. “According to the lads, the officers had accosted the men along the Great Northern (railway) right of way and stopped to question them,” reported The Sun story. “The alleged bandits walked about 50 yards towards the (Great Northern) roundhouse with the officers. The gunmen stopped, drew out their weapons and shot the policemen down in cold blood.”
Hoare said he spotted a gun on one of the three bandits, and when he grabbed it, the others pulled out revolvers and shot Ledingham and Boyes dead. They shot Hoare, too, who fell to the ground but recovered and shot and killed Douglas Carter, 18. He wounded 23- year- old Harry Medos, but 17- year- old William Henderson was unscathed. A police manhunt tracked the escapees to the cellar of a house at 647 East 6th, where they were arrested and charged with murder. Medos was hanged for the murder of Boyes. Henderson was convicted, but acquitted on appeal — it was his gun Hoare had taken away. An estimated 100,000 people stood 10 deep along Burrard and Georgia streets for the funeral of the slain officers. [Note from Robert Thomson: I have changed to bold script the first words of the third paragraph above. I think it indicates that Hoare made a serious blunder. It looks to me that he didn’t have his own weapon out when he went to grab the man’s gun and in so doing exposed himself and the other two policemen to the deadly fire of the other two would-be robbers who swiftly had their guns out and started shooting. The article is not clear on this point. The police department took thirty-eight years to honor Hoare officially. Maybe they withheld their recognition because Hoare did not follow a safe, sensible procedure.] At the time of this event I can’t recall any discussion of it at the dinner table.
3 ERNIE TEACHES US OUR NEW NAME: THOMSON
We stayed at 23rd Avenue for only two years. I completed grades one and two; Don completed grades five and six. I recall that Don had some problems with school: he stuttered badly and he was left-handed. In those days it was common for teachers to insist that a kid write with his right hand. I think Don’s stuttering was caused by the emotional turmoil of having to turn against his biological father and accept Ernie as his new father. (We called him “Uncle Ernie” in this transitional period.) Ernie and mother had been married a year by this time (1946). Ernie adopted us, which was, I now think, a generous act. I recall Ernie trying to help me print my new name: Thomson. Something in me said “Screw this, I ain’t writing that!!!”) and I had to really struggle to form the letters. I imagine Don had a similar problem with the new name. As I mentioned earlier, we had already been inflicted with a lot of alienation by Mother when she tried to make us hate Alan Hoare. Here was another dose of it: she would make Ernie adopt us and give us a new name, not just the last name (from Hoare to Thomson) but the middle name as well (from Alan to George in my brother’s case; from Courtney to Stuart in my case): Donald George Thomson and Robert Stuart Thomson. I can recall discussing with Mom, Ernie and Don what I would like my middle name to be. I hadn’t a clue! I remember considering “Alexander” (and probably a few others) and then settling on “Stuart.” As I write about these issues (August, 2021) it seems pretty clear how Don and I became so confused about our identity.
4 DON AND ERNIE CLASH
I remember a few bad scenes from these two years. One took place in the back yard on a hot summer day. Don and Ernie were quarreling about something. Things escaladed and at one point Don yelled at Ernie “You Bastard!” (That word hit the nail on the head.) Don owned a large belt at that time: about three inches wide, made with thick, stiff leather and studded in spectacular fashion with all kinds of fake gems. The belt was lying there and Ernie picked it up and gave Don a really hard lash with it. It must have really hurt. For many years we harbored considerable fear of Ernie and what he might be capable of. The fire of fear was stoked in us again in 1949. I forget what triggered Ernie but he gave us a nightmare beating in the basement and he used a stick. I’m sure it was a beating that neither of us ever forgot. I don’t know how much this beating improved our behavior but it certainly made us fearful of Ernie for many years. I don’t blame Ernie all that much: it must have seemed to him the only way to put a stop to our fighting each other. Words, counsel and warning seemed to have no effect on us.
Me, Mom and Don in the backyard (photo in book)
A candid photo of myself looking back at Don. In this photo I see fear, pain and bewilderment. It was about this time (1947) that Al Hoare inexplicably relinquished his right to visit Don and me.
5 DON’S AND MY OBSESSION WITH BASEBALL
Around 1947 or so Don and I became great fans of the Vancouver Capilano Baseball team. They played to a high standard in what I think was called the Western International League. Victoria, Seattle, Spokane, Wenatchee, Yakima, Bremerton: these were some of the teams in it. Don and I were fascinated by professional baseball and we paid such close attention to it that before long we knew the batting averages, etc. of everyone of the Capilano team. We knew exactly which team was leading the league, which was second, etc. right down the line. I don’t think either of us realized that our prodigious ability to remember detailed facts about baseball might be a sign of a healthy intelligence. We were just wallowing in the joy of being able to remember things remarkably well and discuss the number one thing in life that mattered to us: baseball.
Athletic Park in Victoria. Capilano Stadium looked much the same, It was located
at West Fifth Ave. and Hemlock Street in Vancouver. (photo in book)
6 I AM TOO SHY TO ASK A FAVOR OF A NICE NEIGHBOR
I remember one beautiful but sad summer evening very well. I had heard that a young neighborhood woman was rounding up some of us Vancouver Capilano fans to take them to the baseball game. I wanted very much to go and got changed into my best clothes for what I thought was going to be a big night out at the ball park. I remember waiting outside my house (out of view from anyone coming down the street.) After a few minutes along comes the young lady and a few kids that she was taking to the game. (She was not paying for them. They were all paying their own way.) I must have been appallingly lacking in self-confidence because I never ran out to introduce myself and ask if I could come along. I said nothing. I just sat there, feeling very sad and lost. Why was I so shy and retiring, so lacking in confidence? I don’t know exactly why; I only know that that’s how I acted. But it raises another question: why hadn’t my parents contacted the young woman to ask if she’d take me? Why hadn’t they gone outside to introduce themselves to her and ask her if it was okay to add one more kid to her group? I guess my extroverted (and narcissistic?) mother never imagined that Bobby needed her help in this kind of situation. Why would he? He was her offspring, wasn’t he? My poor Mother! I can’t blame her for becoming narcissistic. How could she have helped becoming a narcissist? She lost her father when she was only ten and her father was the only parent who gave her real love and support. She did not have a good, warm relationship with my grand-mother. Where would she look for love then? I think she looked to her friends (she had a gift for making new friends) and to herself, which is a pretty narcissistic coping mechanism.
7 OUR PARENTS’ DETACHMENT FROM OUR SCHOOL PROBLEMS
Mother’s tendency to ignore many things in our life shows up again in her lack of interest in my report cards. They had to be signed and she signed them but this did not mean that she respected them and followed up on their suggestions. As I look back over my report cards (which I have kept all these years) I see that some teachers mention issues that Mother should have addressed. Some teachers were really concerned about me and wanted to make sure that my parents not only read their comments but also acted on them. Grade two (“Bobby doesn’t listen.”); grade five: “Bobby is too impatient to check his work.” (This probably really meant that I was not paying attention in class and not doing the work asked of me.); grade eight (the spring report card): “Bob has slipped quite badly.” There was no discussion at home about these comments. I can remember going to parents’ night a few times with Ernie; I can remember only going once with Mother. Yet, to be fair, I have to see this in context: Mother was enraptured with her new-found love and would have been absolutely determined to make the marriage work. No wonder she was preoccupied.
On one occasion I had a run-in with a fellow student. We were both avid players of marbles and the kid I was playing with cheated and claimed my marble as his. He was a grade ahead of me and bigger but I flew at him and started punching. We were still fighting when the bell rang. We soon ended up in the principal’s office and the principal (Mr. Shore, now I think of it. I haven’t thought about him once in the past seventy years but his name suddenly came to me just now. Write your memoirs and it will bring back many names and places to you.) Mr. Shore gave us the strap: two on each hand but they hurt. I was really angry about this and thought it was stupid and unfair of him not to find out who caused the fight. Maybe (as was the case) one of us wasn’t in the wrong at all. I told Ernie about this and he said he would question the principal. As it turned out, Ernie took no action at all. I was disappointed in him and maybe even society at large.
8 OUR ‘DOUSE THE LIGHT’ NIGHTLY RITUAL WITH ERNIE
Don and I shared a room and we slept in bunk beds. Don took the top bunk. I was on the bottom bunk, usually sleeping with a pet stuffed creature I called “Lamb-lamb”. This bothered the hell out of Don who probably thought I was developmentally retarded. Quite possibly he was right. We each had a desk and spent hours making model airplanes. I was into glue-sniffing long before it became a drug of choice in the 1980s or whenever it was.
Ernie used to come and say good night to us and very often brought each of us a Cadbury’s Caramilk bar. I can only imagine the damage that this did to our teeth but I am talking about the late 1940s here and very few people were worried about the link between sugar and tooth decay. These nightly chocolate bars did much to make us like our new stepfather.
Ernie used terms that were right out of the First World War such as “Douse the light!” when he wanted us to turn our lights off (each bunk had its own light). We found many of his expressions amusing: “I don’t want to hear a peep out of you!” “Get some shut-eye!” “Who are you kidding?”; “Oh, a wise guy, eh?” “Where do you get your information?” “He’s got his heart in the right place.”; “It’s the thought that counts.” “Get hep to yourself!” “Think of the other guy.” “That shouldn’t bother you.” “Quit your belly-achin’!” “Cheesecake” (for an attractive woman). “A real humdinger!” (an expression of admiration, usually for something beautiful.” “Wismer [a politician in the B.C.Legislature] is as crooked as a dog’s hind leg.” It’s now many years later (2021) but I find myself using some of these expressions from time to time. I have to smile a bit whenever I do and think of Ernie.
One of the reasons that I enjoy Turner Classic Movies is to hear Ernie’s and Mother’s slang spoken by characters in many of them. It makes me smile to think of my parents way back then. In a way they become alive again. How I wish I could speak to them again. I would go to any length to thank them. I understand them so much better now. It seems a bitter, cruel thing to understand things only after the people concerned have died. Thornton Wilder’s Our Town contains a beautiful scene on this topic—the part where Emily’s ghost visits her family home. She sees her parents clearly but she can’t talk to them.
9 THE GIANT SLINGSHOT AND ERNIE’S KINDNESS
-One summer evening Don, myself and about five other boys about Don’s age made a huge slingshot. We set it up in the back lane and got ready to fire its first projectile. Everyone was excited. We loaded it with a sizeable rock and everyone jockeyed to grab hold of the slingshot and be part of this great event. I was the last person to grab onto the slingshot and the only place left for me to grab was at the top of the handle, a dangerous place. We pulled the rubber back, further and further and further and then, “Sssst! Smack!” We fired. The rock hit my hand and I thought I would die from the pain. Ernie consoled me and took me home for some ice cream. I appreciated his sympathy and was starting to love him.
10 A FEW OF THE NASTY THINGS I DID TO DON
Ernie encouraged my interest in bows and arrows and made me a good bow. I can recall shooting a balsa wood arrow through the fuselage of Don’s model Spitfire which was flying (attached by string) up near the ceiling or our bedroom. What a nasty thing for me to do! I pulled another nasty trick at the front of the house one summer evening. At the front of the house there was a five feet high granite wall which made space for a pathway about six feet across. On each side of the pathway there was a pillar. On this occasion Don was attempting to jump across the gateway, from pillar to pillar. There were several people standing around watching because it was a dangerous thing to do. Don hesitated for a long time. Would he or wouldn’t he? At a crucial moment I sneaked up behind him and gave him a good shove. He messed up the jump and broke one of his front teeth—chipped off the edge of it. It was a terrible thing to do but I think to some degree it was retaliatory because we fought a lot (physically) and he never failed to get the best of that. I was taking my revenge.
These fights went on for many years. The last one took place in Stanley Park in the summer of 1954. I had just finished grade eight; Don had just graduated from high school. We had just completed a round of golf at the Pitch and Putt Golf Course. I had parred the course for the first time and Don was, I think, envious and angry. I will come back to this traumatic event in Chapter Five.
11 A LESSON IN HOW MY WORDS COULD WOUND
As I write this memoir I recall another terrible thing I did. Across the street from us lived David A. and his younger sister. I can’t remember the circumstances but I do remember shouting at her that she was “an ugly hag.” I remember the exact words. What a terrible thing to say to a kid, especially a kid who was not at all pretty and probably was painfully conscious of that. Mrs. A. called me into her house shortly after that and sat me down for a talk: Why had I humiliated her daughter in such a way? Was this a nice thing to do? How do I think her daughter felt? She questioned me calmly and with no anger in her voice and made her point well. I felt so ashamed of myself! Mrs. A. really gave me something to think about and she did it calmly, without raising her voice. She spoke with sadness, not anger. I have never forgotten her talk with me even though it happened in 1947, about seventy-four years ago. To this day I feel remorse for my callous, damaging remarks. As I think now about my hurtful words to this poor girl it seems to me that my words are rather like the blunt, callous words that Mother used when she talked to us about Alan Hoare. Alienation is like an octopus whose tentacles seem to go everywhere.
Me, Don, David and his sister (far right) PHOTO IN BOOK
12 HOW MOTHER’S ALIENATION OF DON AND ME FROM OUR BIOLOGICAL FATHER WOVE A COMPLEX WEB OF NEGATIVE EFFECTS
This is my interpretation of mother’s alienation and its effects:
She alienated us from our biological father, Alan Hoare, by telling us, over and over, of his cruelty, how he abused her both physically and mentally.
This caused us to beware of our own father, to agree to spy on him for our mother. We were primed to look for negative things about him. This undermined whatever love we felt for him. We also lost much spontaneity because of this. We started to look for flaws and shortcomings in him and, since we were in the lengthy process of emulating him and creating our own identities partly on his pattern, we started looking for flaws in ourselves. In this process we lost much of our spontaneity and, even worse: our self-respect.
Our father, Alan Hoare, doubtless lost much of his spontaneity as well and the visits with him and Sandy must have become more and more stilted and ridden with tension. Al Hoare must have felt alienated by our behavior. It must have hurt him that we were developing hostile feelings towards him.
The alienation probably spilt onto Don in another way. He did not know what was happening. His family is breaking up. His mother is programming him to see Al in a negative light. Suddenly his parents are not speaking to each other. It’s quite possible that Don starts to see a connection: all the problems seemed to start when I was born. Maybe I was the cause of his parents living apart. Maybe I was the cause of all the changes for the worse. This could well be the cause of Don’s lifelong dislike of me and his violence towards me. It’s the only explanation that makes sense to me and I have thought about it often over the years.
About this time (and maybe even earlier) Don started to abuse me, both verbally and physically. Relentless tickling can be torture and I can recall receiving this kind of ticking from time to time. It was agonizing. I once complained to Mother about it but she dismissed it as something very innocuous. For years I was mystified by Don’s animosity, all the more so because I always wanted very much to be loved by him. We would have made good allies throughout life.His violent behavior ensured that he and I would be alienated from each other.
Later in life, when I was married to Gloria Burima, a psychologist, she told me that the abuse I suffered from Don was essentially a form of traumatic stress disorder. I had many of the symptoms: I withdrew into myself (and thus failed to develop good social skills) and I sought ways to self-soothe: head-banging (often), deliberately cutting my arm with a knife (a few times), and then, in adolescence, compulsively studying (not just to get good grades, but to escape from my angst). Worst of all, starting in 1966 I would develop a dangerous addiction that wasn’t even identified back then.
These two escapes became more or less my whole existence and they took the place of the route that might have led to a saner life: committing myself to a woman I trusted, marrying her, having children and raising a family. Not having a family isolated (alienated me, in fact) and caused me to live alone and lonely for too many years of my life.
I am not denying that I am responsible to a considerable degree but in the time frame I am discussing (1940-1958) sex addiction had not yet been identified, studied and taken seriously. All that would change in the mid-1980s with the book Out of the Shadows, by Patrick Carnes.
I suspect that my brother Don must have had some serious problems but for many years we were not in contact so I cannot comment on whether he had problems and coping tactics similar to my own.
13 I BECOME MY GRANDMOTHER’S TRAVELING COMPANION
From 1944 to 1947 Nana took me traveling with her several times: to Victoria, Seattle and Salt Spring Island. I would pack my little grip with Lamb-lamb in it. Nana and I had good times. I can remember swimming in the Crystal Pool in downtown Victoria (What a gem that place was! It had salt water that was pumped in from the ocean and with all that tropical foliage around you it was easy to think you were in Tahiti.). In Victoria Nana and I walked a lot, often up Government Street where there were a few excellent soda fountains (see photo below). We both shared a passion for banana splits and floats. On Salt Spring I can recall being thrilled to see a German soldier’s spiked helmet hanging as a trophy on the wall of Harbour House, Ganges Harbour. Don didn’t do any traveling with Nana. I don’t think he liked her much.
(“I can’t stand her!” was a favorite expression of his and I recall he used it all his life. I think this expression points to something that a psychiatrist would explain to him many years later when he was in the Navy: his emotional tendency to construct in his mind “parallel lines of love and hate.” (Bob: Do research on this if you can…)
The Crystal Pool in the Crystal Gardens, Victoria, B.C. PHOTO IN BOOK
Iryna: (Add a photo of a soda fountain in Victoria in the 1940s and 1950s I have a good one. Photo
Nana (far left) and me on Saltspring Island (Oh, how I responded to affection!) PHOTO
14 MY IDYLLIC WEEK AT CULTUS LAKE WITH MY MOTHER
In the summer of 1947 Mother took me with her when her friend, Maxie Vasseur, invited her to spend a week at Maxie’s cottage on Cultus Lake. The weather was sunny every day and the water temperature of the lake very comfortable. The Lake is a gem, surrounded on all sides by forested mountains and with no traffic noise whatsoever. Everything is still and peaceful—it’s a special place. Something else was very special too: in all the years of my childhood this was the only time I had Mother to myself. It felt so good! It was also good not to have my brother around—whining, complaining, demanding and, very often, bent on making me miserable. While we were at Cultus Lake a disk jockey on the radio announced a big, new hit song and, to my delight, played it over and over. It was a song from South Pacific, a new Broadway musical, and it was called Some Enchanted Evening. It was sung by the great Italian basso, Ezio Pinza. What a joy it was to listen to that warm bass voice and the romantic words:
Some enchanted evening, you may see a stranger,
You may see a stranger across a crowded room,
And somehow you know, you know even then,
That somehow you’ll see here again and again.
Some enchanted evening, someone may be laughing,
You may hear her laughing across a crowded room,
And night after night, as strange as it seems,
The sound of her laughter will sing in your dreams.
Who can explain it, who can tell you why?
Fools give you reasons, wise men never try.
I didn’t connect the dots at the time, but as I look back I realize that the peace and joy that I was feeling during that week at Cultus was an indication that the everyday life of the four of us (Don, me, Mother and step-father Ernie) was not as happy as it should be. To put it in modern terms we were a dysfunctional family.
Cultus Lake (photo)
15 UNCLE KEN (MOM’S BROTHER) RETURNS FROM THE WAR
A summer day in 1947. I was entering the front gate and noticed a large army kitbag on the sidewalk. I thought it might belong to someone who was visiting my parents. Indeed it did: it belonged to my Uncle Ken (Mom’s brother) who had just returned from years of soldiering with the Westminster Regiment which was attached to Montgomery’s Eighth Army. Ken had marched across much of North Africa, Sicily and up the Italian boot. He was a sergeant, a brave leader, a kingpin in the army hierarchy. He trailed clouds of glory in my mind and doubtless in Don’s as well.
The summer of 1940 Don and me with Uncle Ken (Photo) who is on leave from England.
I remember one Christmas (1947) very well. Don gave mother a ring with a huge gem in it. I am pretty sure it was a garnet. I think Freud would have had something Oedipal to say about that. Don received an interesting present: it was a projection machine and could be made into a sort of movie projector. We cut out some good comic strips and Scotch-taped them in sequence. When we turned on the machine and turned out the ceiling lights you could see the comic strip on the wall. It showed like a movie. The inevitable happened: we would show our movies to Ernie’s and Frankie’s visitors and try to charge them admission. I pity the poor people who became victims of us two scallawags. I am pretty sure that Don did the selling. (Over the years Ernie stated that Don was a ‘born salesman.’)
16 DON AND I SPEND A WEEK WITH NEIGHBORS AND REALIZE THERE’S SOMETHING WRONG WITH OUR FAMILY
Some time in 1947 Mother got sick with pneumonia and had to spend at least a week in the hospital. Don and I spent the week with Sally McKee (right off the boat, given her Irish brogue), her husband, and their two teen-age girls, Shirley and Sheila. They lived just across the lane. I remember when I entered their house I had a deep sense of peace, harmony, and happiness. It was quite a new feeling for me: a house of warmth and laughter. It was several notches higher
in this respect than the Thomson household with the bickering and whining of the two boys. I
hate to write this in a way but feelings are facts (A wise saying that I learned in England when I
was training to become a probation officer in 1969 and 1970). Spending time with the McKees
was a revelation for me: things must not be quite right in my own family. Looking back on
things now (2021) I give credit to Ernie for doing as much for us as he did. He really looked after
this new family he had adopted. He was steady, reliable, and not at all subject to moodiness.
Sometime after this stay with the McKees I did a very strange thing and I don’t know why I did it. I knocked on the door of a house located about a block away. I had no idea who was in the house but when they came to the door they were friendly and invited me in. They sat me down in a large comfortable chair in their living room and brought me a dish of apple sauce. I had never tasted it before and loved it. I felt very much at home with this kind elderly couple. Before long my parents were there, knocking at the front door. I was not really happy to see them; I think I would have liked to keep living in this cosy atmosphere and in the company of these kind people. I don’t know how to explain my behavior. To this day I find it weird.
17 THE MYSTERY OF DON’S ANIMOSITY TOWARDS ME
One of my regrets in life (and it is a deep regret) is that I don’t think I ever told Ernie how grateful I was for his steady financial support and for taking on the difficult role of a father who adopts two children who feel awful about being abandoned by their biological father and argue and fight much of the time. This is one of the many things I wish I had been able to discuss with my brother. It does so much good when you can discuss people and feelings. What a shame that Don did not make peace with me before he died! I would have been so happy to discuss many family-related things with him. It would have been useful too, to be able to pump him for information about the past. He would have remembered people and places from 1940 to 1942.
I still don’t understand his motives for walling me out of his life. He often said to me, “I can’t stand you!”, but that does not explain his reasons. I can only guess what they were. A major one was probably resentment for having to look after me. Mother was in the habit of making Don accompany me here and there (baby-sitting when our parents went out for the evening, accompanying me to church on Sundays and to camp in the summer).
Mother didn’t appear to understand (or accept) that we didn’t get along and that I was getting beaten up and teased all too often; being forced to do things together created more problems than it solved. I don’t know what made her so blind. Whatever the reasons, for many years I bore her bitter resentment for failing to see the abuse that I was getting from my brother. I felt the same about Ernie. Why didn’t he get involved? Was it because of a timid streak in his character (at least where some issues were concerned)? Was it because he thought Don was Mother’s special little boy and that he would be treading on dangerous ground if he tried to intervene and put a stop to this horrible bullying?
A second explanation for Don’s animosity towards me might have been envy. I don’t want to sound vain but I think most people thought me better looking and probably more intelligent. I didn’t stutter and I seemed to do well in school without studying or doing homework.
A third possibility is that he didn’t want to share Mother with me. In Don’s book on selling (Keeping the Funnel Full) there is a photo of Donny Hoare, the kid supersalesman cowboy, age three, on a hired pony. How did this photo ever get taken? It goes like this: A photographer with a horse and cowboy outfit was knocking on doors to get customers to have their kid’s photo taken on horseback. He knocked at Mother’s door but she wasn’t interested because she thought it too expensive. Don watched all this and then approached the salesman in the street:
“Howdy, Mister! I can tell you how to get my Mom to pay for you to take my photo. Put those cowboy chaps and hat on me, put me in the saddle and then lead your horse and me up the stairs to the porch and ring the bell. I think this is Don in his idyllic years: alone with mother, free to monopolize her, and at times manipulate her. I think he must have wallowed in her dotage. This is the happy era before The Little Bastard is born. “Strange”, Donnie thinks, “that my mother’s marriage really bottomed out with the arrival of that little pipsqueak shit-disturber of a brother. I hate him! I can’t stand him! I don’t ever want to see him again! You get that?!”
A fourth cause of Don’s unhappiness and hostility was probably Ernie and the close bond that he formed with Mother. Once he entered our lives we saw much less of Mother and enjoyed far less of her time. This must have hurt Don even more that it did me if, as I suspect, Mother had spent more and more time with Don as the 1930s rolled by and Al Hoare became more and more abusive and violent. I think it likely that Don became her main source of affection and comfort.
For many years I noticed that whenever I was with Don and the subject of our mother came up he would always refer to her as “my mother” and not “our mother.” I found this word “my” really annoying. Did he think he owned her? It didn’t sound like he wanted to share her with me at all. It’s as if I was an intruder of sorts. Why was he so possessive and proprietary? Did he not feel loved enough by her? I think neither of us got much quality time with her. As I mentioned, she and Ernie were enthralled with each other and delighted in each other’s company. I think that all four of the above reasons are at the source of Don’s animosity towards me.
A fifth cause might be that Don was unhappy and seized upon an outlet for his anger and frustration. I would imagine that he was hurting from the loss of his father (who terminated all visits with us in 1947) and, to some degree, his mother as well (when she started co-habiting with Ernie in 1942).
A sixth cause might be the beatings he witnessed of Al Hoare punishing our mother. Did seeing these beatings give him the idea that it is okay to torment someone and beat them up? This makes sense: Don was at the age (one to five) when a little boy learns (at least to some degree) to use his father as a model on which to form his own identity.
Although the reasons for Don’s animosity might be multiple and conjectural (and there may be more than the six reasons I have given) it is plain fact that they produced such a strong dislike of me that he abused me often, both physically and mentally. Don was the bane of my life much of time. Yet, in spite of it all, I never stopped wanting to be loved and accepted by him.
“Le coeur a ses raisons que la raison ne connaît point.»
(Pascal) The heart has its reasons that reason knows nothing about.
Maybe at some obscure level I looked to Don as a kind of replacement father. I too had lost my biological father (in 1947) and had to cope with the problem of dealing with an outsider (Ernie Thomson) who, I must have thought, had strangely taken on the role of father in my life.
So our family was dysfunctional and one of the main causes of this dysfunction was Don’s and my conflictual relationship. (See pp. x to y for an analysis of the dysfunction.) I am sure no one wanted to be around us when we were arguing or fighting. One negative result of the quarreling is that we ceased to do anything as a family: no drives into the countryside, no visits to friends in their home, no trips to restaurants, etc.
18 MOTHER’S FEELINGS ABOUT US WHEN WE WERE IN THE
WOMB (A SPECULATION)
I have a notion and I’m pretty sure there’s probably much truth to it. I weighed a mere six and half pounds at birth; Don weighed considerably more. He had stronger bones than me. Why is that? I think there are several reasons. Don was born when Frankie and Al were only a year or so into their marriage. They probably wanted a child and Don’s birth must have been a thrilling event. (You only have to look at a photo of mother with her friends Laura Bland and Mary Blossom. There they are, the three of them, strolling along in their summer dresses, each wheeling a deluxe baby carriage and proudly showing off her first born. Significantly, Mother names Don after her own cherished father, Donald Godwin, who died so tragically in 1922 on that horrible day when George’s neighbor caused Don’s death by driving recklessly. I was born almost four years later, in 1940. By then the beatings and abuse probably had become common. By that point Mother was probably full of fear, resentment, loathing, shame and disappointment. She probably had thoughts of leaving her husband, maybe even murdering him (as Farrah Fawcett does in the 1985 movie The Burning Bed).
TRY TO GET PHOTO OF MOM AND LAURA AND MARY BLOSSOM WITH BABY CARRIAGES. (Photo)
Then in 1939 Mother discovers that she is pregnant again. Was she raped? It’s hard to believe she would welcome intercourse with someone who had beaten her, maybe many times. Maybe she thought as follows: “Damn! I’ll fix that! I’ll do all I can to abort this thing!” But she doesn’t. The baby is born. What name will she and Al give it? Maybe she lets Al choose the name. The name they settle on is Robert Courtney Hoare. That’s only fair; she got to choose the first name of their first-born, Donald Alan Hoare. But why did Al choose to name their second child Robert? Was it to honor Al’s mother’s father, Robert McKechnie (born in Edinburgh), who spent many years in prison, sometimes with hard labor? And if they settled on giving me the middle name of Courtney, it was merely because Al was in the Navy and happened to be stationed in the Vancouver Island town of that name.
It is likely that Mother was starting to consider leaving Hoare, striking out on her own, taking us and finding an apartment for the three of us. My arrival must have made that plan seem much harder than it would have otherwise been. Maybe Mother thought like this: “If only I had just Don to deal with! Now there’s Bob! I can’t see how I can get out of this horrible marriage!” You can see her preoccupation and sadness in the photo below (and I think by the look on my face it’s clear that I am sad and worried as well.) I imagine that by this point she was really desperate and didn’t know what to do. Fortunately a man named Ernie Thomson was soon to come into her life. (Below: Mother and me on Granville St.)
Mother and me, 1943 She took great pains to dress us well
19 TWO MOVIES THAT HELPED ME TO UNDERSTAND MY FAMILY:
GREAT EXPECTATIONS (1947) AND EAST OF EDEN (1955)
I think it was 1947 when Don and I saw the movie Great Expectations starring John Mills as Pip and Valerie Hobson as Estella. (I see on the Internet that it has been voted the fifth best British film of all time.) This movie affected us deeply and we talked about it for weeks. Some of the scenes had scared Don and me to death, especially Pip’s encounters with Magwitch and Compeyson in the graveyard and Pip’s visits to entertain Miss Havisham in her spooky house. For several nights we were terrified that Magwitch might be in our bedroom cupboard. On some obscure level I think we were moved by certain themes in the story. Pip’s story mirrored our own in some respects e.g. great sorrow for the loss of a parent (Al Hoare) and Estella, like us, is psychologically damaged by Miss Havisham’s efforts to alienate her from men, and to wound them by leading them on, ensnaring them and breaking their hearts.
Many years later I would discover another movie that would shake me and give me knowledge that would help me understand some of the dark, destructive currents in my life: East of Eden, starring James Dean as Cal. This movie mirrors my own family of origin situation: two parents part because they are incompatible. One (the father) gets custody of the children (two sons) and alienates them from their mother. He refuses to talk about her and the boys have no idea what she is like or what has become of her. One of the sons, Cal’s brother, doesn’t seem interested in finding out about their mother. Cal, on the other hand, is very interested. When he does finally track her down he realizes that he is much like her in some ways (strong and independent in character, bold and adventurous). He feels great relief when he gets to know her; it was something that he really needed to do. Don and I were rather like the James Dean character: we had a deep desire to find out what Al Hoare was like. For years we heard horrible, damning stories about him from Mother. Was he really that bad? Were we like him in any way? It took us many years to take action. We only mustered up the courage to look him up when I was twenty-six and my brother was thirty. I ended up not liking Alan Hoare very much. He was not a person I wanted to spend much time with but I had to find this out for myself. I am grateful to John Steinbeck for writing a story that gave me important insight into myself. I am also grateful for the many good movies that have helped me sort out the muddle of my life.
Iryna: side by side photos (posters) of Great Expectations and East of Eden would be good here. (If posters are unavailable we could use photos of John Mills and James Dean in action.
20 MISCELLANEOUS RECOLLECTIONS FROM 1946-1948
Here are a few of the songs that brightened up my life:
1946: Sioux City Sue (Bing Crosby); To each his own (The Ink Spots).
1947: Ballerina (Vaughn Monroe); Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah (Johnny Mercer)
1948: Buttons and Bows (Dinah Shore); Mañana is good enough for me (Peggy Lee); I’d like to get you on a slow boat to China.
WHAT MANY PEOPLE WERE DOING
-Radio was still king back in those years and we listened to it a lot: the Joe Louis vs. Jersey Joe Walcott boxing match, The Yankees versus The Brooklyn Dodgers, and several serials: Our Miss Brooks, The Shadow, The Green Hornet, Superman, and The Jack Benny Show.
-Most of the kids I knew played marbles and tried to add new ones to their marble bag. Yo-yos were in vogue as well.
21 WHAT WAS GOING ON IN MY FAMILY
– I remember caroling with Don in the winter and cutting lawns with him in the summer. We did well financially at both. When we had finished our first lawn mowing job Ernie congratulated us for being such good workers. I could see that his praise was genuine and it felt good.
-For Christmas Don got a little machine that could project images on a screen. We cut out good passages from comic books, Scotch-taped them in sequential order and then projected them on a screen and presented them as a short movie. When Ernie and Mom had visitors we asked them if we could show them a movie for only a dime. How could they refuse? We were brazen little entrepreneurs.
-One sunny afternoon Don and I helped pick raspberries for the elderly Miss S. who lived up the street. We each had a large pot into which we put the berries. When my pot was about half full I shook it until the berries were mush. Miss S. got angry and scolded me. I knew I had done it to spite her and as I think back on this act I think it was motivated by my growing anti-feministic tendencies.
-Don and I were keen on building model airplanes. I still remember the smell of that glue.
-We played softball in the back lane and one evening Mom joined in the playing. I was so proud of her to be playing with us.
-From time to time my mother read to us when we were in our beds. Jack London’s White Fang was one of the books. A Yankee Flyer in the Far East was another.
-Shirley McKee, with whose family we spent a week, was visiting us one evening and at some point she said to me in front of everyone there: “Bobby, you mustn’t be so shy!” I was alarmed to hear her say that. It got me thinking. It proved to be an astute observation.
-Our milk (in bottles) was delivered every day by a man called Reg. His supply of milk was kept in a horse-drawn cart by a horse who insisted on ‘doing his business’ in the lane at the side of our house. I think Reg got implicated in a manslaughter charge but I forget the details.
22 WHAT WAS GOING ON IN MY LITTLE WORLD
-I was a keen marble player and carried around a bag full of them. I had won many of them by playing marbles with other kids. Many of these marbles had marvellous colours. One was called, appropriately, a “cat’s eye.” I would play with my marbles regularly, delighting in the feel of them and their magnificent colors. I was becoming aware of the beauty and mystery of color.
-According to my grade one report card I missed thirty-six days of school in grade one. I can remember staying at home and listening to the radio a lot: Arthur Godfrey’s program (“In the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia/On the trail of the lonesome pine.”). Another program was Cecil Solley’s “Country Homes and Gardens,” The radio introduced me to some beautiful classical music: “Flight of the Bumble Bee,” and Rossini’s Overture to “William Tell.”
-There was a soda fountain up the street and I recall having a “float” with my mother. Having her to myself was a rare and happy occasion.
23 MY DYSFUNCTIONAL FAMILY
I first heard the idea that my family was “dysfunctional” from my brother. A friend of his had made the observation. This happened sometime during the celebration of my mother’s life in 1992. I must have filed the word away in my new words arsenal. I thought it might be a useful term but I did not have the knowledge necessary to understand in exactly what ways my family could be labelled this way. That situation changed when I started writing this memoir. As the memories started coming in it became obvious that my family of origin was “dysfunctional”.
The following outline is my attempt to describe how my family became dysfunctional. As I mentioned, I had to spend hours and hours writing about my childhood in order to be able to arrive at the following explanation. Maybe you have had similar experiences.
24 CAUSES AND EFFECTS OF THE THOMSON FAMILY’S DYSFUNCTION
1 Mother leaves Alan Hoare and takes an apartment on her own.
2 Mother starts to work on getting revenge on Al Hoare by poisoning her two children against him. Don and Bob are taught to spy on their father when they visit him. They have already started to identify with him and to use him as their role model. It follows that they conclude (at some level) that they are bad people. They feel bad about themselves but don’t understand the real reasons for this. They feel angry and look for targets to vent that anger. They find the targets all right: it’s each other. This gives rise to endless quarrelling and fights.
3 Bob gets the worst of it and reacts by isolating himself and starts to avoid talking to anyone in his family. He does not learn important social skills and finds it very difficult to make friends. Bob tells his mother that he needs protection from Don but she ignores the problem. She even makes things worse by using Don as Bob’s main baby-sitter. This will make Bob’s situation even worse. He will be picked on all the more by his brother. He will also start toresent his parents for not taking his complaints seriously and for doing nothing to improve the situation. Another result: Don and Bob’s quarrelling creates such a negative atmosphere that Ernie and Frankie stop trying to organize family activities such as going for drives together, visiting friends together, going to restaurants occasionally, etc.
4 Ernie and Frankie’s avoidance of the boys means they won’t be available for nurturing. This fuels the boys’ anger and mistrust of people. (Paranoia and cynicism are just around the corner and will make their influence felt.) The boys are left to cope with life on their own. Bob finds it very difficult to make friends; Don is more outgoing and becomes skilled inmaking new friends. Bob has misophonia and can’t stand being around Ernie because of his constant sniffing. Bob develops negative ideas about women and sex (at Capilano Golf Club). He starts to see all women as somewhat cold, detached, self-righteous, and unwilling to accept any criticism.
5 Al Hoare makes a bad situation worse: in 1947 he stops all visits with his two boys. This rejection seriously damages the boys’ self-esteem and exacerbates their distrust of Frankie and Ernie. Frankie makes the situation worse by continuing to tell Bob and Don negative stories about Al’s cruelty. She also spends more and more time talking with women friends on the telephone. This decreases her availability.
6 The family is seriously dysfunctional by this time. Al Hoare has been alienated. In a way he ceases to exist. Bob and Don are left to their own devices and this often means free to run wild and acquire bad habits and values. The family stops socializing as a family. Verbal exchanges in the family happen but not often. Frankie tries to bring the family together by telling each member what another family member thinks of him, e.g., she says to Bob, “Your brother really loves you.” She says to Don, “Bob really loves you.” And so on. This doesn’t work. The boys are not convinced. There is a good chance that they are not convinced about her love for them either. And they are also starting to resent her in some ways.
7 Frankie alienates herself and her family from “Nana”, Frankie’s mother. Nana’s visits for Sunday dinner come to an end. (around 1949) Frankie neither forgets nor forgives Nana’s taking Al Hoare’s side during the divorce proceedings of the mid-1940s.
25 MY CHARACTER FLAWS AT THE AGE OF TWELVE
I know I am very critical of my family. I had many flaws myself and they helped to make my family dysfunctional: impatience, irritability, a quickness to get angry and judge people too harshly, a kind of cynicism which caused me to see people in the worst possible light, intolerance, mistrustfulness, ingratitude, conceit, self- importance, a tendency to quit a job abruptly if everything wasn’t going well for me, shyness and lack of confidence, a reluctance to accept praise, a tendency to assume a negative message when none was intended, emotional coldness, the habit of picking fights. In my youth I was not aware of the work I had to do on myself. It would take many years to address these problems. I am still working on them.