Toronto – April 26, 1944 – Part 2

(Dodging Shells gave you Tommy’s letters to his sister, from the front. Kathy’s letters in response tell of life in wartime Toronto.)

…..I’ve been earning a bit of extra cash this winter checking coats at a few private dances on weekends. It’s only a couple of bucks but the tips are okay, and I get a chance to see how Toronto’s wealthy amuse themselves when they think the struggling masses aren’t looking. Turns out they laugh and dance like everybody else. They just do it in fancier rooms, and sneak in more expensive booze in silver flasks.
…..I guess someone must have remembered me from my elevator operating days and thought I’d look good behind a counter babysitting coats, because my first opportunity to expand my financial empire in this way was at Simpson’s itself. A dance – a fund-raiser – was being held at the Arcadian Court Restaurant on the eighth (and ninth) floor. Tommy, it’s the largest department store restaurant in the world, with marble floors and Grecian columns and huge clerestory windows all around and chandeliers like immense bellflowers full of sparkling lights! And I’ve never even treated myself at lunchtime, when the society matrons flock there to peck at their famous chicken pot pies. Well, they weren’t serving chicken pot pie that night, believe me! It beat every fashion show to see the elegant duds those dames wear when they’re straining to show off. I would have gladly paid for the view, if I’d had to.
…..The tables were clustered around the edge of the dance floor like a nightclub – very Hollywood – and the only jarring note was the piles of tires showing above the balcony rails on the mezzanine level. Maybe they are stored there to prevent thieving. Tires are rationed, and the newspapers are always full of stories about tire heists around the city.

…..The government is doing what it can to collect scrap metal, too, for the war effort. In fact, the Department of Highways in Ontario has devised a special vehicle called a Magnetic Nail Picker (no, I’m not kidding). They’ve mounted a powerful magnet on a big truck that cruises the highways, skimming the road surface, picking up tons of stray pieces of metal and nails before they can damage precious tires. The stuff is melted down and recycled into new and useful things – like shells, I guess. Or guns maybe. They say it’s the only one of its kind in the world.
…..And last fall, Simpson’s came up with an ingenious way to reduce gasoline consumption. Their company mechanics added a hopper and charcoal burner to the rear of one of their trucks so the vehicle could be powered by charcoal gas. I read that seventy pounds of charcoal produces ten gallons of gas, which is enough to manage the daily deliveries. A metal screen was installed around the charcoal burning unit to keep curious children safe.
…..I don’t know how successful this has been, or how many of their trucks were adapted this way. But I haven’t heard of any tykes getting their fingers burnt, so I guess the screen, at least, is doing its job. Anyway, I knew you’d get a kick out of it.

…..I was checking coats at the Newman Club a few weeks ago. (Word gets around, and it seems that a really superior coat-check girl is always in demand!) It’s in a gothic-looking old brick mansion of a place, complete with a sort of round tower at the corner. I could see the people dancing and drinking (more or less discreetly) in the ballroom as I checked wraps and coats and hung them to wait for their owners. I remember lingering a bit over a stunning sable bolero that had been handed over by an equally stunning blonde. I figured that’s as close as I was ever likely to get to that degree of luxury. It sure wasn’t designed to keep anything warm!
…..At the end of the evening, Stunning Blonde and her date came for their respective outerwear.
…..“Oh, damn!” muttered Stunning, as she rifled through her matchbox-sized evening bag. “I can’t find my claim check.”
…..I smiled. “No matter. I remember you.”
…..She waved her hand toward a black bolero hanging on the rack. “There! That’s mine.”
…..She had pointed at a coney wrap that had been checked by a different girl altogether. It was the same style, and was meant to look like sable. But there was a world of difference. Coney, in case you don’t know, is rabbit.
…..“Oh, no,” I said. “I don’t think so! Yours was better.” Much better, I thought. “I’m sure I put it further back. Let me look….”
…..Her date was making subtly impatient faces involving eye rolling and what not.
…..“No…that’s mine,” insisted Stunning. “Look, we’re in a hurry. You said you remember me…you do remember my wrap…don’t you?”
…..“Yes, I do remember it. But….”
…..“Well, then…please! People are waiting for us.” She turned to her date. “Give her a good tip,” she whispered. “I’m sure she means well.”
…..What could I do?
…..When the other girl turned in her claim check later, I handed over the only black fur bolero left on the rack. It was her lucky day.
…..She slipped into the sable and left. She didn’t know the difference.

…..A remarkable number of the guys at these galas manage to leave their dates at the table long enough to return to the coat check counter to chat up the attendant. How very flattering. Just imagine how tempted I am to give my phone number to a jerk who is insulting his partner before my very eyes!
…..So who do I date? Don’t be a chump. You’re my brother. You’ll be coming home someday real soon…and you’ve been trained for unarmed combat. I’m giving no names.

…..One high school on Church Street is running an eye-catching campaign to sell Victory Bonds. They’ve built a gallows out front, and a life-sized dummy stands on the platform with a noose around its neck. It is dressed in a natty German uniform, complete with swastika on cap and arm bands.  Its little moustache looks suspiciously familiar. The sign above reads:
…..“Hang the Paperhanger! BUY VICTORY BONDS.”
…..When the quota is reached…the trap door will be sprung.
…..Everyone is looking forward to it. I think I’ll drop by if I can.

…..Oh, and Tommy…the silk scarf you sent. It’s an altar cloth! You have desecrated a church, and sent me your ill-gotten gains – we’ll probably both be damned for this!
…..Nevertheless, I plan to make a drop-dead gorgeous evening blouse out of it. If I have to go to hell…at least I’ll go well dressed.
…..It’s superb! Thanks. You’re the best.

Your shamelessly irreverent sister,


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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One Response to Toronto – April 26, 1944 – Part 2

  1. The only thing that is usual about these episodes is the outstanding quality. Snatches and snippets of intriguing historical fact oh so skilfully salted throughout this literary lode! What’s the word I’m looking for? You know, the one that means better than superlative.

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