Toronto – October 25, 1943

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

October 25, 1943

Dear Tommy,
…..It seems to me that I told you not to get shot again. Yes…I distinctly remember: “Don’t you ever do that again,” I wrote…right after the last time. Don’t you read my letters at all?
…..Have you considered that you might have made some bad choices when you entered the army? Why on earth didn’t you train as a cook or something? Something that would keep you safely behind the lines…and would be useful when you get back home. I’m sure that durability and experience working under stressful conditions are considered fine assets in an employee. But seriously… “highly skilled at maiming and killing”? How is that going to look on a job application?
…..Never mind. I’m thankful that they’re taking good care of you and you’ll get a few months rest, somewhere out of the line of fire. Try to stay out of trouble, will you?

…..I’ve settled into my new job at Simpson’s and become rather handy at typing people’s lives onto 4” by 6” cards, and filing them for convenient access. Those little cards hold everything the company needs to know about their employees’ lives…and a few things that they don’t really need to know at all. (How pertinent is someone’s religion, I wonder?) Of course, this doesn’t include information about the executives—I’m much too insignificant to be entrusted with that. Some serious-lipped, grey-haired person wearing sensible shoes undoubtedly does that typing.
…..Of course, that’s not the total extent of my responsibilities. People phone from time to time for snippets of that information, and I dispense it to those who are entitled to know it. I have to be careful about this, because those little cards include some confidential stuff like jail records that can’t be broadcast to just any Nosey Parker who asks.
…..And we keep other records as well. We keep the things people say about how our employees used to work, before they landed at Simpson’s…we keep favourable comments our customers make (there may be a bonus in it for someone), and we keep complaints. We definitely keep complaints. Which brings us to pink slips. I type up the pink slips, to alert those whose talents are no longer required by the company that they needn’t return. This is never much fun. Well…it’s rarely much fun.
…..Wage information, of course, is confidential; that’s all handled by the wage office. So we have nothing to do with that—with one notable exception. I told you that Simpson’s is using horse-drawn delivery wagons again, in order to conserve gasoline. For some reason, I have the questionable privilege of dispersing wages to the stable staff every two weeks. So all day they straggle in, trailing their distinctive odour of manure. No one packs a lunch that day. We all eat out.

…..It’s a small office…only seven of us…but there’s no lack of diversity. There’s Irene—not the sharpest tack in the box, but a sweet girl. I often eat in the employees’ cafeteria, but occasionally I’ll go out window-shopping and stop at Woolworth’s for lunch. I’ve learned not to invite her to go with me on Mondays. I tried. Once.
…..“Nope. Not today,” she shook her head sadly. “I can’t today.”
…..“Oh. Are you feeling okay?” I asked. The girls who overheard this grinned. Kind of mean, I thought at the time. But they had heard it all before.
…..“Well, I’m all right up to now. But it’s Monday.”
…..“I get my headaches on Monday.”
…..“Well…take some aspirin.”
…..“Oh…I do! I always take aspirin the minute I get out of bed on Mondays! ‘Cause if I don’t…I’ll get a terrible headache.”
…..“So…doesn’t the aspirin help?’
…..“Of course! If it weren’t for that, I’d never be able to work on Mondays at all.” She sighed.
…..“Okay, then. When was the last time you actually had a headache?”
…..“Um…I don’t know. A long time. Years, I guess. But I can’t go out. Just in case.”

…..Last Thursday, Morgie (her name is Morgan) went down to the baked goods counter on the main floor to buy one of the Arcadian Court’s wonderful small chicken pies for her lunch. We had decided to picnic at our desks that day. She sauntered back, pie in hand, chuckling.
…..“What’s up?” we asked.
…..“There’s an airman, hanging around the pastries.”
…..“So? Is he handsome?”
…..“To tell the truth…I really didn’t notice. He’s wearing a greatcoat.”
…..“Isn’t it a little warm for a greatcoat?”
…..“I don’t know! I didn’t think to ask him. When I passed him, he flashed it open.”
…..“So what?”
…..“So his fly was open, and…well…you know!”
…..“Oh my god, Morgie! What did you do?”
…..“I said, ‘You’d better be careful that a bird doesn’t perch on that thing.’”
…..Unfortunate airman! Morgie is a bit of a clown.
…..“What did he do?”
…..“Nothing. He’s still there. But he looked kind of disappointed. I think he was hoping for something more dramatic.”
…..“Oh…I think I’ll go get a pie, myself!” Irene blurted. It wasn’t a Monday.
…..In fact, there was quite a run on pies. We all decided we wanted some.
…..But by the time we got down to the main floor, some more skittish victim had reported the offending airman to the store detective, who had already escorted him out. Disappointment all ‘round!
…..I don’t think they prosecuted the perpetrator. Hell, maybe he was a hero, unhinged by his feats of derring-do or something. In any case, he’d been punished enough. He missed the most eager audience he was ever likely to find.


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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