Toronto – August 17, 1943

(Dodging Shells gave you Tommy’s letters from the front. Here’s another of his twin sister Kathy’s letters in response. Feel Toronto during wartime.)

August 17, 1943

…..What have you done? Right up there in the thick of the fight…like a fool. Have you no sense at all? Thank God your head deflected that bullet–you might have been hurt!
…..We got the telegram last week: “Corporal Thomas Smith…wounded in the head and back.” It sounded so bad that I couldn’t bear to write until I heard the details from you. Don’t you ever do that again…do you hear me?

…..Pearl, of course, was distraught. (Did I mention that Mom asked me to call her Pearl now? Oh, yes…on my birthday! It seems it has become inappropriate for the world at large to know that she’s the mother of twenty-year olds. Well, I can’t be bothered to quarrel about it, so now I call her Pearl, and the years will just melt away, I’m sure.) She remembered that Dad had cleaned and polished your equipment for you before you left.
…..“It’s your fault! He was just a child. You could see he didn’t even know how to care for himself!” As if you wouldn’t have stayed in the army if he hadn’t shown you how it was done.
…..I didn’t escape my share of the blame – for altering your kilt and jacket to fit, for Pete’s sake! (She’d been proud enough to see you looking smart at the time.)
…..“Why on earth did we let him stay in the army? We should have stopped him…he was only sixteen!”
…..She had threatened to do that at the time. (I clearly recall the sound of the shit hitting the fan when you walked in the door that day with the big news.) And you threatened to run away and join up somewhere else. Then we wouldn’t have even known where you were. You would have done it, too…wouldn’t you, you wretch?

…..Now that we know you’re all right, Pearl has relaxed a bit and is rather enjoying the more dramatic aspects of her role as Mother of a War Hero. She couldn’t resist running next door to share the good news with the neighbours: her darling son…little Tommy…so brave…so noble…fighting to save us all from the evil Hun.
…..Our new neighbours on the north side are Polish…a quiet family. (That’s a blessing…with this old row housing, it’s like we’re all living in each other’s pockets. Why listen to the radio when you can hear other people’s household dramas right through the walls?) Mrs. Majewski is plump and comfy…all things motherly. Her own children are all grown and she’s probably just marking time until there are grandchildren. Her husband is a small, straight man, rather taciturn and a bit stern…or maybe it’s the language barrier; neither of them speaks much English.    …..This didn’t stop Pearl. Once she was launched, she veered from your career as world saviour into an enthusiastic account of her own history. The Majewskis listened as best they could, nodding where they hoped it was appropriate, until she came to her brief career as a chorus girl in the Girlie Show at Crystal Beach toward the end of World War One.
…..“Of course, I was just a kid in my teens back then,” she admitted. “But I’ve kept my girlish figure, you see?” They smiled. She wasn’t entirely sure they understood.
…..“No, really! There’s not an ounce of fat on me! Joseph…” (Mr. Majewski’s name is Joseph)…look here! Feel me…go on…feel me!” She pinched her waist gently to show what was required of him.
For a moment Mr. Majewski appraised Pearl, posing in the middle of his kitchen floor. Then he turned aside, nodding briefly, and spoke a few quick words in Polish. His wife murmured a few soothing syllables in response.
…..“Yes…yes…” Pearl beamed. “Thank you. I try not to let myself go, you know.”
…..Of course, I don’t know what he said any more than Pearl did. But from the look on his face, I suspect it was something rather sarcastic and not at all as flattering as Pearl imagined. And I could swear that in that moment I comprehended quite enough to translate his wife’s reply: “Now, Joe, be kind…”

…..By the time Pearl ran out of reminiscences (sorry, but I have to practice using that name or I might create a crack in her defence wall and let all the youth leak out) our neighbour had begun peeling vegetables for dinner and my Saturday afternoon chores were long overdue. We got home just in time to mop up the puddle of melted water trickling from the ice box across the worn linoleum roses on the kitchen floor and sneaking toward the living room doorway. Emptying the drip tray had been one of my chores. Of course.
…..I remember when we were kids we thought it might be fun to clop along on an ice truck, watching windows for the cards showing that someone needs more ice. (I always assumed you’d be the one using the big tongs to haul those bloody great blocks of ice around. I’d stay and play with the horse.) Well, since gas has been rationed, a lot of companies have gone back to using horse power for their deliveries: bakeries, dairies, coal… Even Simpson’s has hauled out their old horse-drawn delivery wagons. Unfortunately, reality has a way of crapping all over romance. (No…I’m not going to address the issue of all that additional horse poop. Although you’re welcome to draw your own conclusions.) …..The intriguing sound of horseshoes clopping on pavement loses charm fast when you’re trying to sleep in the morning. Before the war, the delivery horses had those rubber covers for their hooves–you know, like horsey galoshes. But now, with rubber impossible to get…well, I pity anyone who wakes up with a hangover. It must feel like those hooves are beating a tattoo on their brain.

…..Dad’s been visiting the beer parlour more often lately. (I think he’s worrying about you, Tommy.) Only on the weekends, of course…there isn’t such an enthusiastic demand for hatters these days that he’ll risk losing his job. And he’s so charming that it’s hard for anyone to take offence. Last Friday night, he went way overboard and staggered home finally at about eleven o’clock. You know when he’s in that state he just wants to make it home to bed. Well, he careened up to the front door, turned the knob, and toppled forward–about to pass out cold. …..Unfortunately, all these row houses look a lot alike…and he’d chosen the wrong door. (The younger Majewski girl told me this story.) He was halfway to the floor when he noticed her mother sitting in their living room, mending a sock. Even in an alcoholic haze he knew it couldn’t be Pearl…imagine her mending a sock! He promptly caught himself, straightened up, and swept off his hat. (It had miraculously remained on his head throughout.)
…..“Please excuse me for intruding this way. So sorry. A very good evening to you.”
…..He turned smartly on his heel, marched out the door, down to the sidewalk, and up to our own front door. (The Majewski family entertained themselves by watching all this.) He then swung open our front door, paused for an instant to confirm that he had found the correct house this time…and fell flat on his face in the front hall…dead drunk.

…..Last night, I suggested that Pearl and I catch a movie downtown. I thought it might distract her for a while. We went to the Eglinton Theatre to see Shadow of a Doubt. (I think the Eglinton is the only theatre in Toronto that’s air-conditioned, and it’s been hotter than hell here the past few days.) I sensed a veiled cry for help in your earlier letter, and have been knitting socks to send over, but it’s been so muggy I couldn’t bear to touch the wool. So I took the yarn and needles to the movie theatre and knit away in comfort.
…..It’s a Hitchcock film–a mystery–and a big fuss has been made, begging everyone not to divulge the plot. I must admit, I was riveted. …..When the film was over, I gathered up my things to leave.
…..Pearl examined my work. “What’s this?”
…..“It’s a sock…what do you think it is?”
…..“Well, look at it. Isn’t it a bit…long?”
…..I took a look. It was long. I hadn’t noticed. The movie had been really good…and it had been dark in there for Pete’s sake!
…..“Maybe he can turn it over at the top.”
…..“I don’t think so.” She started to laugh. “It would reach half way up his thigh!” We giggled all the way home, imagining the impression you’d make over there in long stockings.
…..Finally, I was forced to make a choice: would I rip my beautiful work back to a standard length (the thought breaks my heart) or would I make you another to match and send over a sturdy garter belt to hold them up? You’ll learn my decision soon enough…they’re going in the mail tomorrow.

…..There was a shooting and a death up north in Sudbury last week. Somehow, one expects to hear more about suicides in Sudbury than shootings–a dreary mining town if there ever was one. Nevertheless, a railway section man up there was offended when the waitress of his choice refused to go dancing with him. He had just slipped her a five dollar tip, and I guess he expected his invitation to get a warmer reception. The scorned suitor promptly pulled a revolver and pumped five bullets into the seventeen-year-old girl, who staggered to the door and collapsed gracefully to the ground. Seeing her laying there in a pool of her own blood, the fellow–who was obviously quicker on the draw than he was quick of wits–must have realized that his little fit of pique wouldn’t go unpunished. In his rush to escape, he tripped over the girl’s body in the doorway…and broke his neck.
…..They grow their women hardy in mining country. The girl is in the hospital. They removed four bullets from her back and one from her chest, and she’s recovering nicely.
…..I mention this only as an illustration. I know that you guys must resent the able-bodied men who don’t enlist and get over there to help, but however short-handed you might get…there are some people you’re better off without. This luckless hothead was definitely one of them. …..However, perhaps we should be thinking of signing the girl up, giving her a weapon, and shipping her over when her wounds heal. She might be a real asset!

…..The past few days I’ve been dodging the feeling that there’s something I should be making time for, and I finally realized what it is. It’s time for the CNE: long line-ups in the Pure Food Building for free stuff that you wouldn’t eat if it were offered at home…heart-bounding rides on The Flyer…twin Ferris Wheels (I always feel cheated if I don’t go on both of them)…and the tacky, tacky Midway. But not this year. For the past couple of years, the CNE grounds have been turned into a military encampment. So you needn’t think you’re missing all the fun. We’re saving up some of the best bits until you come home.

…..Now, as for grabbing your gear and leaving the hospital…you just stay right where you are! They’ll tell you when it’s sensible for you to leave. (You’re not paying one damned bit of attention to me, are you?)



About Wendy Bertsch

I’m a Canadian author—a pragmatic optimist with rather eclectic interests and a pervasive sense of humour. Toronto born and bred, I live by the lake with a motley array of dogs and a cat, all but myself being of unknown origin, in a comfortable old house filled with books. Over a thousand books. Books in every nook and cranny. And now, since there can never be too many books, I'm writing more. Once More, From the Beginning highlights the women in the bible. It's about time! And believe me, they see things quite differently. And in Dodging Shells, you'll meet the irrepressible Tommy, as he fights his way through Italy in World War II. You'll love Tommy. I do. Next? Well, that's a secret yet. Stay tuned... I recently initiated the fledgling Ocean Highway Books, providing editing, formatting and cover design services to authors wishing to self-publish.
This entry was posted in Canadian army, Dodging Shells, historical fiction, history, humour, Kathy's letters, Tommy, Toronto, World War II and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Toronto – August 17, 1943

  1. Caitlin,
    I’m delighted that you enjoyed it! There are over a dozen more to come, in response to Tommy’s letters from overseas in Dodging Shells. I hope you’ll be back to read them all.
    I have lived most of my life in Toronto, as did my parents before me, so I have the inside edge on this stuff.

  2. Loved this…I grew up in Toronto, 1962 to 1986…I went to the Eglinton Theatre…

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