The third time at the Shelter, when I was about thirteen and between Auntie and my next home, I met the girl whose name was Bernice but we called her Bunny
The third time at the Shelter, when I was about thirteen and between Auntie and my next home, I met the girl whose name was Bernice but we called her Bunny. Bunny would keep appearing in my life and we'd be friends until her death.
Bunny had been told by the Children's Aid that her mother was dead but years later when she was in the working world she found out that her mother had not died, in fact she was still living. Because of this I found it hard to believe the fire story the Children's Aid told me about my stuff but there wasn't anything I could do about it.
I was in the shelter about ten days. I don't remember much about that first meeting but it sticks in mind because of the next time Bunny and I met.
I went from there to foster home number four, an Italian woman's home. This was not to be a pleasant time for me although I can tell you that it was she who gave me my nickname Pat. In part it was because she could never remember my name so she called me into her living room to ask me if I had a nickname. I said no and then she wanted to know if I'd like one and as I hated my name Ethel I said yes.
She then said that I looked more like a Pat than an Ethel and that's how I got the name Pat.
Now you hear stories about people who take in foster children just for the money the children's aid gives them to look after them. They are supposed to teach them how to do house work but not get them to do all the work around the house so that the girls, when they turn sixteen will be able to work as maids. The boys were put on farms to work for pretty much the same reason.
It's a real shame sometimes too. My brother, who had an exceptional talent for commercial art and had taken the bronze medal for his art when he was in his first and only year in commercial art school ended up on a farm just like all the rest of the children's aid boys. They told him that nobody could earn a living at art and had first sent him him to take a course in sheet metal but he ran away and forged a registration card that in those days we had to have at sixteen before we could go to work so he ended up on a farm.
Anyway, our foster mother's weren't supposed to make us do all the housework around the house but someone forgot to make that clear to my Italian foster mother and it didn't take me long to realise I was there to work.
It was set the table, eat breakfast, clear the table, do the dishes, off to schoool late as usual. Noon hour once again, set the table, eat lunch, clear the table, do the dishes, back to school late again; after school, get home, get supper ready, set the table, eat supper, clear the table, do the dishes, clean up the kitchen for a family with eleven boarders as well as the mother, a young daughter, who by the way didn't have to do much of the work.
An older girl who was also from the children's aid she went to a special school and because it was some distance from where we lived she had to take a bus to school so she would help in the morning but at noon I was on my own as she stayed at school for lunch.
After school she helped but still it took until around nine in the evening before we had the kitchen cleaned up and ready for the morning.
Five days a week I never had time to do homework or any studying and Saturday was housecleaning day.
The other girl from the Aid was responsible for cleaning the downstairs while I had the upstairs I had to take steel wool and turpentine to the hardwood floors, no rugs, fifteen beds to change and make and the bathroom to scrub and room to dust, pick up, put away whatever.
Sundays were pretty much the same except with no school it was make the beds and tidy up and of course the meals but sometimes I would have time to myself.
I remember one day Patty who was auntie's sister's girl came to visit me. I asked her how auntie was and she told me that she had died six weeks ago. That would have been a few days after I had paid her a visit on one of those rare days that I'd had time for myself.
About the only thing that I can remember that could be considered play was when I used to instigate the Major Bowls hour. In case you can't remember or never heard of him, he was an MC on the radio for an amateur hour, well anyway I took a lid from a baking powder container, the lid looked like a radio mike, I nailed it to the handle of an old broom handle.
Up the street from where I lived one kid had access to his parents garage so I would organise my own version of the Major Bowls hour by getting kids together who liked to sing, dance or do anything to entertain the other kids in the neighbourhood.
We would charge one cent each to sit and watch, we did this every chance we could get together. But after a while I got tired of doing all that work for this foster mother who just sat in a rocking chair while we did all her work so one Saturday morning I went on strike.
I had a doll that I used to make clothes for. Someone had given me an old round suitcase with a zipper all around and with material I had collected from anyone who would give me any I sat on my bed with my doll and the material I had and began to make some doll clothes.
Nothing she said or did would get me to budge, I wasn't going to do any more work for her. She threatened to call my social worker and I told her to go right ahead.
Well, she did, and my worker invited me out to the restaurant. She asked me what the trouble was and when I told her my story she was quite upset and suggested that I go back and do what I was asked to do and she would look for a new foster home for me.
I was a little sceptical but I did what she said and lucky for me she kept her work for in just a little over a week later I was in a new foster home, a lot older and wiser than I had been just six months ago
FOSTER HOME NUMBER FIVE (CLINE)
My fifth foster home was the Cline's. There was a father and a mother and they had a three-year-old daughter. When I went to stay with them and it was there that I became boy crazy.
One boy I had a crush on who used to be the captain of the baseball games we'd organise in the evenings and sometimes Saturdays.
A friend of mine there used to come over to my house when my foster mother was out and we would phone the drug store and order ice cream to be delivered to her house, then we'd wait and watch and as soon as we saw it arrive, for we knew her mother would pay for it as she would feel sorry for the delivery boy, then we would go to her place and of course she would give us some ice cream.
I'm sure she caught on but she never let on. We didn't try it too often but we did it a couple of times. That was when we started calling drug stores and asking them if they had St Albert in the tin and when they would say 'yes" we'd tell them they'd better let him out or her would suffocate.
That was the crazy time that every young teen had, when everything is fun and you get a kick out of annoying people, so you dream up stupid things like that.
The father had a razor strap. He shaved with a straight razor and when I was in trouble out would come the razor strap he used to his razor with and I'd get it on the legs. I can remember trying to get away from it by running up the stairs but he followed me, all the time slapping at my legs.
Anyway, this new father worked for the telephone company and they had a gold coloured phone in their bedroom.
The little girl's name was Marylin and I kept in touch with then for years. I even have pictures of the two of us taken when I visited after I went out into the world to work and later when she got married and had her children she sent me pictures of them, a girl and a boy.
They were celiac babies and that was the first time I knew about that disease.
This is the foster home where I became aware of boys and their potential and I have good memories of that. I certainly arrived at my fifth foster home in a better frame of mind than I had at any of the others. This being because it was the only foster home that I had really wanted to go to, not because I liked her better as I didn't know her at all.
Maybe it was because I was so glad to get away from that italian foster mother and all her housework. It's no wonder I hate house work today.
Anyway, whatever it was, I was looking forward to living there. I had been told that this woman and her husband wanted someone who would help her and who wouldn't mind keeping an eye out for their little girl. Maybe it was because I wasn't that ball of resentment and anger, maybe it was because I was older, I would be about fourteen at the time, or maybe I had just got used to being kicked from foster home to foster home, but whatever it was I liked it there right away.
I could feel that this was a good home where everyone was happy, so after the newness wore off and I had settled in I began to act like any normal teen. Come to think of it that would explain some of the things that I was to do later on, but I was happy for the first time in a long time and I loved little Marylin and she adored me.
Even after I went to work and I would come to visit she would hang on to every word I said and used to say that she wanted to be just like me when she grew up. The mother would sit there with her eyes closed and let me comb and style her hair for hours on end.
And just as I was beginning to think life was going to be good to me when nature up and pulled a stunt on me and I became a teenager.
Now even a good well adjusted kid goes hairy when they reach those teenage years, I know that as I had five of them myself and as I had two who nearly drove me out of my mind and three who were pretty good I can vouch for that.
As every young girl teen finds out boys are the opposite sex they become fascinating creatures to them and I was no exception. Much to the foster mother's distress I began rushing through my duties, which I didn't mind doing but they were now just a nuisance and the sooner I got them, done the better.
I became sloppy, my room was a mess, I'd hide everything under the bed, in the drawers, anywhere that you couldn't see them.
The dishes were never really clean. I thought boys, I talked boys, in other words I had become a typical girl teenager. So what was to follow should not have been a surprise. I could run as fast as the boys and I could keep my balance while walking along the top of a fence but I couldn't bat a baseball.
All I could do was bunt but none the less I had a crush on the boy who was the captain of one of the teams that played in the field that we used to hang around.
In there was a baseball diamond someone had made and everyone who came out to play would gather there and two teams would be sorted out to play baseball.
Anyway this evening nobody wanted me on their team because as I said I couldn't bat. Finally the boy that I had a crush on said I could play on his team. When it came my turn to bat I had made up my mind that I was going to hit a home run for him. I wanted to show my gratitude for letting me play and also I wanted him to notice me. Well this time I was lucky. As I hit that ball hard and I did, I hit a home run with the bases loaded, I was a hit and I was happy he noticed me.
In fact, as he walked me home after the game he did something that became a cherished memory, he picked a rose from a neighbours bush and put it in my hair and when I got in the house I went to my room and pressed it in my bible.
For a while every time I opened my bible a petal would fall out and I'd put it back in. Anyway I didn't get much sleep that night.
If was the first time that I had ever had any woman feelings and it was to be years later when I was seventeen that I was to fell like that again and that time was just as innocent.
I was now becoming a trial to my foster mother. Now I had a social worker who used to visit every so often. She tried to help her deal with me. Anyway, they planned a vacation at a summer home, I can't remember where but I do remember how I felt it was the old story again of being uprooted from all that I held dear.
Anyway, here we were, out in the sticks, I don't remember if anyone lived near by. As far as I was concerned I was being held against my wishes. It was like being in prison, so I did the natural thing.
I decided to run away.
I sat and wrote a letter to my girl friend back where we lived and told her of my plan but of course I didn't go for I cooled off. I knew that letter had not yet arrived at my friend's place and I was scared for I was sure someone would get a hold of it and I would be in trouble.
But again I was lucky as the postman came to the door one day with my letter in his hand and wanted postage due. Lucky for me my foster mother wasn't home for I didn't have any money and lucky for me my foster mother wasn't home for I didn't want her to know what was in that letter.
Anyway, the postman left me the letter and of course I destroyed it right away with a sigh of relief and never again did I ever plan or even think about running way but years later whenever I'd get that feeling that everything was closing in on me I would just quit my housework job and find another.
When I worked at a regular job all I had to do was find another place to stay, that way I didn't have to quit my job. This girl, who lived across the street from me, and I used to pack a lunch and off we'd go on picnics most Saturdays when we had finished out duties.
Anyway, I remember one Saturday I had done my chores and had my lunch and was waiting for her to finish her dishes.
She was cleaning the sink and having some trouble when I mentioned she should use some elbow grease. She immediately opened the cupboard door beneath the sink and started looking puzzled. I asked her what she was looking for and she answered that she was looking for the elbow grease. Well I laughed and explained that elbow grease was not a product you bought but effort in scrubbing. In other words put some power behind your elbow and scrub.
This was the foster home that I was the happiest in and as I've already stated I loved Marylin. She was the little sister that I never had the chance to get to know and I used to come back for visits after I'd gone into the working world.
I have some pictures of her and in one of them she is in a pose that resembles the movie star Greta Garbo. There is also one of the two of us that I was able to take because my camera had a feature that meant I could hold down the button and the lens would stay open for a time exposure, now I have a camera that has a ten second delay so I can set up the camera.
Now I have time to get into the picture if there is no one to take the picture. After I moved to St John NB and got married, her mother and I wrote back and forth for years. I even have pictures of Marylin's two children, a boy and a girl.
I was married and had three boys at that time and we were living in La Tuque, Quebec, in this big house and in the kitchen we had a wood stove.
One morning I was trying to light the fire, I was never any good at getting the fire started. I would scrunch up newspaper, place the kindling on top with a couple of sticks of wood, then I would light the paper. Well the paper would burn real good, then it petered out sometimes not even charring the kindling.
So I'd sit on the floor in front of the stove with a pile of old newspapers in front of me and scrunch up some paper and stuff it under the grate where the ashes fell, well I'd keep doing that till the fire decided to burn.
In between this act I'd read the paper. This particular day I was reading the obituaries. What a shock it was when I read one that said Mrs Cline, foster mother number five, had died. This paper was a few days old and the worst of it was that I had received a letter from her not long before that which I hadn't answered.
I went to get the letter to see the date it had been written and realized that she had written it just three days before she died.
CEDARVALE SCHOOL FOR GIRLS
I was tricked into the next move from the Cline's to the boarding school. My social worker told me about the school and said she would take me out to see it for myself as I had told her I didn't want to go to boarding school but I didn't mind going to see it.
What I didn't expect was to be dropped off and left but before I knew what had happened my social worker had taken off. You see as I walked into the hall of one of the buildings I spotted Bunny, the girl I had met at the shelter a couple of years before.
The first thing I said to her was "I know you, we met at the shelter a couple of years ago, didn't we" as I talked to her my social worker took off. I didn't realise what had happened until I turned around to tell my social worker about knowing Bunny and saw the car driving away.
I was very upset and realised that I had been tricked once more.
I'd been deserted and that was the story of my life or so I felt. I know now that it was my own fault. I was put in the boarding school because I had become real boy crazy and was at that age of not wanting to do anything but have fun, I had become a typical teen.
But my foster mother was concerned about me and asked my social worker to help her. Their solution was to put me in this school. This boarding school was run by the United Church of Canada and the Children's Aid used to send there the girls who were sickly and could use the country air and also those like me whose foster mothers were having trouble disciplining them.
But there was one girl who wasn't from the Aid and she was confined to her wheelchair, badly crippled with arthritis. The rest of us were from the Children's Aid. It was a pretty nice school, the teachers were nice and I ended up liking it there but I still did a lot of things that I shouldn't have done and I continued to get into trouble.
But this school managed to polish off the earlier teachings I had got from auntie so I guess I was pretty lucky after all. Anyway the school was were the Armenian boys and girls had been housed after the first war. After they grew up and left the school it was then taken over for what it was when I went there. It was situated on the edge of Guelph Ontario, after you left the highway you travelled along a road lined with cedar trees which explains why it was called Cedarvale School for Girls.
There was a huge lawn in front of the buildings and they also had an orchard and a large vegetable garden, which we girls helped look after.
I would say that I was fifteen. Now bunny and I became pretty good friends but it was a strange relationship and it stayed that way even when we grew up and went out into the working world but back to the school.
I was always a bit jealous of Bunny for she never got into trouble and you may realize by now that trouble was my middle name and as my multi-millionaire's son used to say, no matter what you get yourself mixed up in, like a cat you always land on your feet. But one day Bunny and I had a quarrel.
I'm not sure why but Bunny had said I should behave myself and I wouldn't get into so much trouble, I spit back at her that it was easy for her to be good for she never thought about being bad. She was always the good girl that everyone was always saying "you should be like" she was always dressed neat and I always looked and still do most of the time like I've thrown on whatever I could lay my hands on which really isn't that far wrong anyway.
I always make sure I'm clean, I dress, comb my hair and the only time I spend extra time is when I have a date or I'm going to a special place but for every day stuff I like to look casual. I am what I am, that's all come to think of it I wonder why bunny was at the school anyway, she was always good.
Anyway, this day that I got into this argument with Bunny we were supposed to be studying for our bible exam and Bunny found me playing jacks. I felt I knew all I needed and I wasn't concerned or at least I wasn't going to show it. for example whenever I was pretty bad and it was Friday night and we had memory work that I didn't do which meant I couldn't spend the evening in the living room with the other girls, that was our social evening, and when I'd protest and try to get permission to stay up I'd pull a stunt like... one time I slapped my head and fell in faint saying I'll die.
No wonder I've always wanted to be on the stage. whenever I go to a live show, it's funny when I'm in the audience, I want to be on stage and when I'm on stage I want to be in the audience.
Now this school had four adults, the sewing teacher was one and she also taught tap dancing and exercises and games that we played in the gymnasium. We had a school and a teacher that taught all grades.
The girl in the wheelchair had finished grade school so she was in the first year of high school the next year she went to the high school in the town I remember that as I was always more interested in what the others were learning than in what I was supposed to be doing.
The school system was different in those days at least in Ontario.
We never said grade one, two, three et cetera like they do today, instead we said junior first, senior first, junior second, senior second and so on till senior fourth which was the same as grade eight.
After that it was first year of high, second, third and fourth year of high school then there was University and so on.
Before I go on I must explain we had only two schools in our system, grade school and high school, after that it was the same as today.
I only went to grade school and I did my last two years at the boarding school in that one room school. it was interesting but unfortunately for me I was so busy watching what the others were doing that I didn't learn enough of what I was supposed to, so that as a result I didn't remember enough to get a good enough of a pass mark.
There was four of us in senior fourth and I was the only one who had a passing mark but the teacher said it was just barely and she figured that I probably wouldn't pass the exams that were called departmentals which were papers that the government said we had to pass before we were given a certificate so we could go to high school.
that's why I didn't go to high school, because by then I was old enough to go to work.
The school teacher, well she also taught singing and the piano. Now I had a high pitched voice, I still have and when I get excited at that time the teach said I would hit high c when I talked and it was beginning to get on their nerves so she gave me vocal lessons to try and lower my pitch.
As a result I ended up singing alto after being a high soprano. Now this teach also taught the piano and I had wanted to learn but because my grades were low she said no.
So as I knew how the keys on the sheet music compared with the keys on the piano all I needed to know was where the first note of each hand was then it was just a simple matter of memorizing each bar till I had the whole thing down even the timing as I had got someone to play it for me.
The teach was so impressed that she said anyone who wanted to play the piano that bad deserved lessons and so I got them. We also had a teacher to teach us how to cook and clean up. We even had to do dishes in a certain way, in fact we had an exam on how to do dishes and house work. You see, the duties were done by us girls, the duties were posed every two weeks and we would be responsible and inspected every day.
The main house was shaped similar to an upside down "L", the front door had a cement step and that is where I used to play jacks. the back door from the kitchen lead to the cottage where the sewing teach lived.
There was also bedrooms where the privileged slept, the top half of the "L" shaped main building was where the dining and the living room was, off the far side was the school room which led to the gym.
Now the other side of the "L" was where the superintendent had her bedroom, between her room and the front door was more bedrooms.
That was where my bedroom was.
I shared it with another girl, two girls to a room. Between the bedrooms and the dining room was where the teacher who taught us about cooking plus slept. I hope that is understandable, as I will have to figure out how to make the reader see it if and when I get my book written or Gary does whatever the case may be.
Now I've said we had four adults at this school, well in the dining room there were four tables that seated one adult and five girls each.
When the meal bell rang we would all head for the dining room and stand behind our chairs till everyone had arrived then we would listen while the superintendent would make her speech and say grace.
Well one day the super arrived at the table after most of the girls were there, she came straight to me as I sat at the head of her table she had to pass me but this time she stopped and slapped me across the face. I stood there, stunned, I didn't have a clue why.
When she found out that I was innocent she stated that it was no wonder she blamed me as I usually was at the root of any trouble but not this time. It turned out that some girl had lit a match to light a candle that was on a string and let it down what used to be a laundry chute in the gym where the armenian boys and girls used to sleep, to make a long story short the flame burnt the string and fell, that started a fire and when the girls were spotted carrying glasses of water to put out
the fire it was just assumed that i had been the ringleader.
Why can't you be good like Bunny was constantly thrown at me but you see Bunny was so busy keeping herself so neat and tidy and trying to be a good little girl that she didn't have time to think up something to be bad let alone do something wrong.
Strange as it may seem Bunny and I stayed friends and when she got a job in Brampton she came to see me in Toronto. Now I had arranged for a date for her and my date Bruce and her date Ross and myself met her at the bus station and when I introduced her to Bruce the song "the way they looked, the way they smiled, I knew that I was through, oh you crazy moon, how could you" rang in my ears and Bunny won once again.
But years later I took a boyfriend away from her so I finally got one up on her.
We had lots of fun at this school and even though we had duties, also bible passages and or religious poems and such to memorize we still had time for fun.
I remember one time in particular when one o the girls had made tarts in cooking class and the crust was so hard we had to spoon out the filling and after our meal we took the shells outdoors and played catch with them.
It's strange but I seem to remember the fun we had in the winter more than what we had in the summer. One thing I remember was how we used to go down the driveway on a bobsleigh long enough for two girls to lay
flat on their tummies with. Their feet touching halfway down, we'd turn and the girl who was leading was facing the front and the girl who was at the end was vacing where they had just came from.
Now this was no mean feat as the main house was on one side and a cliff was on the other. It was a tight fit as one of the girls in the turn would be looking down the cliff and the other one was staring at the wall of the house. It was a tight fit but once we had completed the manoeuvre we had to watch out for the huge oak tree that stood on the other side of the road directly in our path.
We had to swerve to one side which was mostly to our right as we came down but that was the thrill of it, danger. From what I noticed with my kids and others is that seems to still be the case but the simple thrill of whether you can turn without going over the cliff or later avoiding the oak tree is old hat today, each generation seems to want to get ahead of the last one and the thrill is becoming harder to achieve so they are looking for new ways to be scared out of their wits, so their stunts become more dangerous.
Anyway after we got tired of the bobsled we would get a togoggan and head for the hill where we had made a toboggan slide.
To make it more exciting we had built in a hump in the middle of the slide so that when we came down the slide we would sail over the hump and land with a thud and because we didn't have any cushions on the toboggans we would mostly land on the hooks, which hurt, before continuing down the hill.
Now we didn't have cushions on the toboggans and the rings that cushions were supposed to be tied to was what we usually land on so if you saw a girl carrying a cushion around to sit you'd know she had been out on the tobaggan hill.
That was at the time when Bing Crosby was a newcomer and his croon was very popular among us girls and we would try to imitate him.
I've just remembered something that happened in the summer the Toronto star did a feature on our school for we had become famous for our choir that would perform for any cause that came up.
Anyway the Toronto Star Weekly sent reporters and camera men to the school and we all shone in the limelight. Bunny and I with some of the other girls had our pictures taken milking the cows and other things that depicted what we did at this school and how fine a job the United Church of Canada and the Children's Aid was doing to help these children with no family.
Now this school became home to us and when the girls left to go to work they would visit now and then. We would be treated like royalty, just as if it really was home.
I did it for the some time then I drifted on in life but befoe I go on to my life in the working world I must mention a couple of more things.
I remember how we used to get work up at the school.
It was a loud obnoxious buzzer. I remember that because of a song that was popular at the time, it went like… "Oh how I hate to get up in the
morning, oh how I'd love to say in bed, but the worst thing of all is to hear the bugle (we would substitue buzzer) call you gotta get up, you gotta get up, you gotta get up this morning (now the rest of it we made up) someday I'm going to break the buzzer, someday your going to find it dead, then i'll go after the other thing, the thing that
makes the buzzer ring and then i'll spend the rest of my life in bed"
Of course we didn't, it just made us feel better.
Instead we'd jump up quick, grab out clothes and if it was in the winter jump back into bed. Because it was cold in the morning that we'd get dressed under the covers. I must add I did make a friend of one of the girls at the school that I attended. I kept in touch with her and a few years later when I had finished school and was working we met again and became very close friends.