Toronto – September 10, 1943 – Part 3

(Dodging Shells gave you Tommy’s letters from the front. Here’s the end of his twin sister Kathy’s third letter in response)

…..I couldn’t let the summer go by without visiting an amusement park of some sort.  So I rounded up a few of my girlfriends for a Saturday at Sunnyside Park a couple of weeks ago. If you squint a little, you can almost believe you’re on the Midway at the CNE: you have the rumbling rides, the bellowing hawkers, the highly questionable games and the roaring, pushing crowds…hey, you even have the fighting men themselves. Soldiers, sailors, airmen…they all drift over to Sunnyside whenever they get the chance. After all, that’s where the girls go!
…..In fact, about the only things missing are the sleazy side shows. You remember the ones: Ladies and gentlemen! Step this way! See the most exotic jewels of the desert…sloe-eyed beauties from Arabia! The last time I walked past that one…it was a couple of years ago…I noticed a gangly young guy who had stopped to ogle the sample lovelies as they shimmied across the stage out front, all decked out in their spangly flimsies. He seemed too young to be taking such an avid interest. (That’s how naïve I am.) Suddenly his jaw dropped.
…..“That there is Flo!” He grinned. “Hey guys…look! That’s Flo, from down the street! Hi, Flo!”

…..We took the streetcar down to the lake and by the time we’d strolled along the boardwalk to the rides, we’d already downed our share of fries in those little paper cone things and red hots and Honey Dews and double-dip ice cream cones. And of course Downey Flake Donuts. (Yes, of course we stopped for a while to watch the darling little dough rings in the front window, plopping into the hot fat and sailing along obediently until they turn golden brown. How can this be fun every time?) Anyway, you’d think we would have been just about stuffed by the time we reached the Pavilion restaurant, but Julie decided she wanted to go in for fish and chips. You remember Julie? She’s an awful slop, and I’d really much rather she ate in the open air than in a dining establishment, where she might be subject to closer scrutiny…but she was quite determined, so in we went. We’d barely gotten in the door when we noticed a scuffle at the other side of the room.
…..A bunch of young airmen in uniform were having a heated discussion with a small and colourful gang of zoot-suiters. It was clear to any observer that these two groups were never going to play well together. There were irreconcilable differences.
…..“Move over, Sonny.” One of the airmen fancied he was being crowded.
…..“Who you calling Sonny?”
…..“That’d be you. Say…why you wearing your daddy’s jacket?”
…..“Don’t get smart, fly-boy.”
…..“Be careful you don’t trip over those baggy pants, son.”
…..“Aw, listen to the guy in the monkey-suit!”
…..“You better show some respect, junior!” To be fair, the airmen didn’t look a minute older than their adversaries.
…..“You gonna make me?
…..“Hey…if you really wanted to fight, you’d join the forces and get into a man’s battle. What’s your problem? You too yellow, or what?”
…..Fists started flying. We quickly backed out the door, and stood aside as a squad of Toronto police waded through the crowd. (They still wear those silly-looking British-style bobby hats…why is that?) Soon a group of R.C.A.F. service police showed up, just to make it fair.
…..By the time the place had calmed down, Julie had lost her appetite for a sit-down meal, and we were able to talk her into stopping at a stand for a burger instead (which she promptly crumbled down the front of her dress, of course.)

…..We were watching a group of sailors and their girls play Lilliput Golf when a couple of very attractive soldiers stopped and began dropping compliments in our direction…in French. (The French I’ve retained from school is pretty rudimentary, but I could hardly mistake ‘belle’ and ‘tres jolies’). They wore Royal 22nd arm patches,which explained the exotic language choice. They were from Quebec City and  spoke very little English.
…..“Parlez-vous francais?” asked one (his name was Anton).
…..“Un peu…” I managed, holding up my thumb and index finger and indicating a very little bit indeed.
…..We could all see that any degree of glib conversation was unlikely, but they suggested that we go dancing with them at the Seabreeze. The language barrier wasn’t likely to hamper us there, and since it’s an open-air dance floor, we couldn’t see any harm in it. It was barely nine o’clock, and we hadn’t planned to leave for home until ten anyway. It turns out that dancing in French is much like dancing in English, so we all had a wonderful time – even Lil, who overcame her scruples as soon as she found herself in the arms of a handsome young soldier. Since I was the only one who understood French even ‘un peu’, it was left to me to do most of the communicating. My greatest challenge was to explain the sign on the wall: “No Jitterbug or Fancy Dancing allowed”; that is…without a demonstration (which was, clearly, um, not allowed!) However, just at that moment, yet another flashy zoot-suiter – they seem to be everywhere they’re not wanted – launched into an impromptu jitterbug routine, inadvertently clipping his partner smartly alongside the head with his massive watch chain before being ushered off the dance floor by the management. The blow from the chain raised a welt on the unfortunate girl, neatly illustrating the dangers of jitterbugging on a crowded dance floor for our inquisitive new French friends.
…..When ten o’clock rolled around – alas, way too soon! – Anton and his friend begged to be allowed to walk us home.
…..“Only along the boardwalk,” I decreed. It was a lovely walk along the lake in the moonlight, and I admit I was tempted to relent, but I was unclear what had brought them to Toronto (my French comprehension wasn’t equal to the task) and I figured it was unlikely that they’d come again; it would have been a bad idea to encourage anything more. But, oh, it was a romantic stroll, and yes, Anton stole a kiss from your sister. And the boardwalk came to an end and the streetcar appeared right on time…much too promptly.

…..Did you know German prophets had assured the world that Hitler would march into London with his victorious hordes on August 15, 1943? What went amiss, I wonder? London was waiting to greet them. That day, one newspaper cartoonist depicted four soldiers identified as United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, standing shoulder to shoulder under an arch decorated with a big banner:
…..“August 15th: Welcome to our distinguished visitor.”
…..Well, here it is…September 10th, and as far as I know not a single goosestep has stomped through London so far. Something must have held them up.
…..I would have mentioned this to you in my last letter, but I thought they might have been just running a bit late, and I didn’t want to give you false hope.

Always ready with an encouraging word,


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.
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