The third posting from my autobiography (1943-1959)

If you missed my last two postings and you are interested in my autobiography it would help to access my last two postings and read them. I wrote this book to recapture my past and I found that writing about one’s early life is a worthwhile thing to do. As you write, more and more memories come back and you can look at them from the vantage point of someone much more discerning: the you that you have become. In particular I found that the memories of houses I had lived in and the music that I had loved (There were so many good songs back in the 1940s and 1950s!) both had an uncanny power to bring back memories.

                         HOW MOTHER AND ERNIE FIRST MET p. 28

As I mentioned, Mother left her first husband, Alan Hoare, around 1942 and found an apartment for herself, Don and me. Within a few months she met Ernie. They were introduced to each other by a lady they both knew: Christine Savoy. I think Mrs. Savoy must have had a strong feeling that they were a perfect match for each other. She was right: they took to each other right away, lived together for a few years and then got married in July, 1945. It’s not uncommon for couples in love to have a theme song that they associate with their love. Ernie’s and Frankie’s song was the Mart Kenny version of “A west, a nest and you.” (google it and you’ll find it on Youtube.).

                         DONUTS AND MOVIES: SATURDAY MORNINGS  p. 29

I don’t remember a lot from 1943-46. I do remember Saturday mornings: Don would make a bee-line to Piatt’s ice cream shop on Dunbar where he blew most of his thirty cents allowance on three large, gooey, dripping with sugar, glazed donuts. He gobbled them down with the rapacity of a Colosseum lion.  Then Don and I took the street car up to the Dunbar theater to watch the matinee. The theater was packed with kids and at the intermission there would be a sing-song. We would all lustily sing together “I’ve got sixpence, jolly, jolly sixpence” and “Roll out the barrel– we’ll have a barrel of fun! Zing, boom, tararrel, we’ve got the blues on the run!” The yoyo ruled in those days and from time to time the theatre invited in a yo-yo expert to demonstrate “Walk the dog”, “Around the world” and other tricks. We loved it. (If you would like to see a yoyo expert in action google https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=alAtUNaxtPs

I can remember getting up on the stage sometimes and directing the singing. (What a brazen little show-off I must have been!).

I remember another amusing little vignette. Don and I were at the movies with Nana and on the screen it showed two British soldiers on sentry duty who stomp their heels very loudly when an officer appears. Don and I laughed our heads off and couldn’t understand why Nana rained us with cuffs and clouts. She had never done that before.  We must have hit a nerve.  Maybe the British Empire and British Commonwealth were sacred things that one must not laugh at.  Maybe it triggered off memories of her husband who died in a stupid, unnecessary automobile accident in 1922.          

                                          MY HEAD-BANGING: A JOKE?  p. 30

Another curious thing happened in this time frame. I developed the habit of sitting with my back to the wall and pounding my head on it. No one in the family realized that there might be something wrong with me (or my family). I can recall Ernie treating it as a joke. WE HAVE YET TO GOOGLE THIS FOR MORE INFO.

     THE JOY OF SINGING TOGETHER IN ERNIE’S OLD FORD  p. 30

 Ernie had a jalopy (an old Ford, I think, from the 1920s) and we took trips in it: to the beaches around Spanish Banks, to Lulu Island (to visit Ernie’s sister Agnes and her kids: John, Jan and Judy), and to West Vancouver (to the area around Whytecliff Park, I think) to visit Ernie’s younger brother Karle and his wife Leola (who later changed her name to Lenore, an idea suggested to her by a numerologist).  I have good memories of singing with Ernie, Mom, and Don in this car. That era was rich in beautiful songs.  You heard them on the radio all the time There was no such thing as TV then. Mom (with a very rich mezzo-soprano voice) and I were gifted with a good ear and good voices. Don did not have this gift but he joined in and I think he liked it. Some of the songs? “Deep in the Heart of Texas”,You went away and my heart went with you.”, and “Don’t fence me in.”  “Sioux City Sue” started with these lyrics:

I drove a herd of cattle down from old Nebraska way.
That’s how I come to be in the state of Iowa.
I met a gal in Iowa, her eyes were big and blue.
I asked her what her name was, she said, Sioux City Sue

I have always felt that we were lucky to have lived our childhood in an era that produced hundreds of beautiful songs and that these songs seemed to be on the air, to enjoy, almost all the time. I feel sorry for the young people of today who have to listen to so many bad songs with repetitive music and trite words. The most exasperating trend is to use a drummer who relentlessly pounds out the same monotonous tempo.

          THE SINGING IRISH O’MALLEY KIDS ACROSS THE STREET FROM US  p. 31

During these years (1943-1946) there were streetcar tracks on Dunbar Street (They are long gone.) and at regular intervals open-aired tourist-filled trams would stop in front of our place. They lingered there a while to listen to a group of Irish-Canadian kids across the street from us. They could really belt out songs with feeling and even their looks were charming: little Shirley Temples and James Cagneys. They were born showmen. We were fascinated by the hail-storm of small coins thrown to them by the tourists in the trams (I think we pocketed some of these

                                       Photo of a sight-seeing car

coins ourselves, little Artful Dodgers that we were.). We also gathered up enough nerve once to sing for the tram. We were not a big hit so we never did that again.

        I ORGANIZE A SCAM WITH MY GIRLFRIEND, ARLENE  p. 32

Speaking of being crooked: I had a girl friend about this time: Arlene P. I talked her into a fantastic way to make money: we would pilfer lovely flowers from the gardens of people who lived a few blocks from us in a residential area, put these flowers in a vase and then display them on a wooden crate in front of the butcher shop. As easy as that! Then we would simply rake in the money. A bad idea! Before long a very irate woman appeared in front of our flower shop and loudly accused us of theft. Caught red-handed, we had to fold up shop. I didn’t get a spanking from Ernie for this but I did get a spanking a month or so later for stomping on some flowers in the little garden at the back of our apartment. I recall Ernie taking me to the back porch, both of us looking at the garden and Ernie asking me if I was the culprit.  I lied and said I didn’t know. I got a spanking for that.

            I DISCOVER A COMPASSIONATE STREAK IN MYSELF  p. 32

Another recollection from around 1945 is shopping with mother in downtown Vancouver and seeing someone begging on the street. It was a very pathetic looking older woman. I was almost teary-eyed looking at her and asked Mother for a coin to put in her basket. Mom gave it to me with a look in her eye that showed me she approved of my compassion. Years later I find I am the same person in this respect. I suspect it’s something inborn in me. Compassion is still one of my strong points and it comes out in many unsuspected ways. I have blog and post regularly. One of my best posts is on the compassion elicited by two great works of art: the movie, Umberto D. by Roberto de Sica and the song Ideale by Francesco Paolo Tosti. Both the movie and the song are about old men who are very poor and live alone. It was probably my compassionate streak that enabled me to see so clearly the meaning of these two Italian masterpieces. (My blog is lovesongsinspanish.wordpress.com and the entry’s date isJune 15,2016.)

               THE SUMMER OF 1945  (MOM MARRIES ERNIE)  p. 33

Mother and Ernie got married in the summer of 1945. I remember being at a party to celebrate this event. Mother’s best friend, Maxine Vasseur, was there and looked very beautiful. I asked her if she was getting married. She just laughed and said “no”.  I wonder if I was in some kind of denial about my mother getting married for the second time.

Around this time we all went to spend a few days with Ernie’s younger sister, Agnes, her husband Jack and their kids (our step-cousins), John, Jan and Judy. They had a small farm on Lulu Island (now called Richmond). I remember Agnes parading around in the nude in the bathroom (I can remember gaping at her, bug-eyed) and I believe I tried to burn the house down (I’m not sure if there is any connection between my gaping at her and trying to burn the house down.) The Frasers were to become close lifelong friends of mine. They were cultured,

well-read and musical—very different from my parents who were neither cultured nor well-read . It was partly through the Frasers that I became interested in jazz and classical music, e.g., Glen Gould.

On the beach at White Rock, B.C. (I am on the right)

One sunny afternoon in August we all went to the beach at White Rock. I can recall many sirens and factory whistles that blared all of a sudden one afternoon. They were in Blaine (across the border) but they were so loud we could hear them easily. They were celebrating the big event: Japan had surrendered to the United States. 

I think that Mom and Ernie used this trip as a kind of honeymoon.

.

Mom and Ernie after their marriage ceremony

                     MY  MEMORIES  OF THE MUSIC OF  1943-1946   p. 34-35

-The radio dominated the living room and kitchen in those years and if a good song came out you would hear it many times. I found these songs were a great source of joy to me and while writing this autobiography many decades later I find that I only have to think of certain songs that I loved in my youth and many memories will come flooding back. If you decide to write a memoir I think you will find that your favorite songs carry many memories with them. Some of the songs I loved from 1943-1946 were:  

1943: I’ve got sixpence (Bing Crosby)

There was a song that Mother sand with great feeling, Vera Lynn made it famous:

You’ll never know just how much I miss you
You’ll never know just how much I care
And if I tried, I still couldn’t hide my love for you
You ought to know, for haven’t I told you so
A million or more times?

You went away and my heart went with you
I speak your name in my every prayer
If there is some other way to prove that I love you
I swear I don’t know how
You’ll never know if you don’t know now

 I wonder if at some level she was remembering the good days she experienced early in her marriage to Al Hoare.

1944: Swinging on a Star (Bing Crosby). This is a hilarious, witty song. Here are the opening lines:

Would you like to swing on a star
Carry moonbeams home in a jar
And be better off than you are
Or would you rather be a mule

A mule is an animal with long funny ears
Kicks up at anything he hears
His back is brawny but his brain is weak
He’s just plain stupid with a stubborn streak
And by the way, if you hate to go to school
You may grow up to be a mule

Or would you like to swing on a star
Carry moonbeams home in a jar
And be better off than you are
Or would you rather be a pig

A pig is an animal with dirt on his face
His shoes are a terrible disgrace
He has no manners when he eats his food
He’s fat and lazy and extremely rude
But if you don’t care a feather or a fig
You may grow up to be a pig

Also from 1943:  Don’t fence me in (Roy Rogers); Barnacle Bill the Sailor

1945: My dreams are getting better (Les Brown); It’s been a long, long time (Helen Forrest) I remember Mother singing this song too with great feeling.

1946: Chattanooga Shoe Shine Boy (Red Foley); I can’t begin to tell you (Andy Russell)

                   WHAT MANY PEOPLE WERE DOING IN THOSE YEARS  p. 35

-I remember collecting the aluminum wrapping paper from cigarette packages. We would make a large ball of this paper, adding to it whenever we could. I think it had something to do with the manufacture of airplanes.

-To save nickel the government issued yellow nickels. I can remember seeing one in the barber shop. They were made of a copper-zinc alloy.

-My brother and I both had wooden rifles and we used to play war games. I remember that my rifle was very heavy. 

                                       WHAT WAS GOING ON IN MY FAMILY   p. 36

-One of the kids on Dunbar Street was a Chinese-Canadian boy named Paul Yip. We were pretty sure he was a “Jap” and called him nasty names.

I recall being with Al and my brother. We were in a fairly large room and there were about fifteen or so policemen there with us. We were all sitting in a circle. Someone passed a hat around and they all put money in it. I don’t know why they did this and I can’t remember who ended up with the money.

-Mother was born in Canada (New Westminster) but her father was English and middle class (He had attained the rank of major in the Boer War). Mother lost her father in a car accident (1922) but she always wanted recognition as being well-born. This could be seen in how she dressed me and Don (blazers and Eton caps) and signed our Christmas cards to people as “Master Robert Thomson” and “Master Donald Thomson.” She had very little money in the early 1940s and I find it amazing that she was able to find a way to deck Don and me out in little sailor’s outfits, Eton caps, etc.  (See the photos on pp. x and y)

-Around this time my brother Don developed a bad stutter. It was really bad at times and must have caused him much anguish. He was also naturally left-handed but his teachers forced him to write with the right hand.

                              WHAT WAS GOING ON IN MY LITTLE WORLD  p. 36

-There was an empty garage up the lane and one day I found an old banjo in it. Looking back I think it dated from the 1930s and might have belonged to one of the thousands of homeless people. I just left it there.

 =One day I thought I’d found a quarter but when I looked at it closely I could see it was unusual. I tried to buy some candy with it at the drug store but the druggist had sharp eyes and scolded me for being a little trickster. He said that the coin was from Holland and was worthless.

-Maxie Vasseur’s son Paul was at school (grade two) and I was five year old pre-schooler at home and  feeling lonely. I’d forgotten that Paul was at school and went to knock on his back door. I knocked and knocked but no one came. I was getting exasperated and starting to lose my patience. There happened to be a pole on his porch and there was a large window next to the door. I grabbed the pole and hurled it through the window. There was a loud explosion of glass and at that very moment Paul’s mother reached the door. The pole just missed her by inches. She must have thought I was some kind of mental case.

-On the first day of grade one my mother took me to school. It was a bleak, rainy day and I tried to kick her several times as we made our way to the school. I still remember the rage I felt. I had lost my father, it seemed. Was I going to lose my mother too?

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