Toronto – August 15, 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.)

…..Every year, the Canadian National Railway has its annual picnic at Crystal Beach, and May Cameron’s dad works for the CNR so May invited me along this year. We took the train (naturally) from Union Station, and Mr. Cameron ever so discreetly disappeared as soon as we entered the gates…not to be seen again until we met him for the trip home. I don’t know what he did with his time…but I’m sure it varied dramatically from our day.
……When we arrived, we could hear the tell-tale sounds of organized games – three-legged races and the like, I dare say. You will appreciate just how little I would be attracted to that particular brand of fun, so I promptly steered May toward the Peace Bridge beckoning us from Fort Erie into the United States. I must say, she wasn’t at all hard to convince. We walked across the bridge to Buffalo, just for the excitement of saying that we’d been out of the country for a bit, and then decided to do a bit of window shopping while we were there. Wouldn’t you know it, as we were browsing through an appealing little clothing shop, a stunning natural linen blouse leaped right into my hand, quite against my will.
…..“Oh, Kathy,” May suggested, uncooperatively, “it’s beautiful! Try it on.”
……“No. I’m not buying anything.”
……I tried it on.
…..“It’s perfect for you!” she insisted. “And it’s on sale!”
…..“Well, I’m not buying it. And the duty will probably eat up the savings. I don’t even know whether we’re allowed to bring anything back…”
…..“Oh, don’t be silly. It’s so much nicer than the cotton one you’re wearing…just leave yours here, and wear that one back. The customs people won’t know.”
…..I was tempted. I won’t say I wasn’t tempted.
…..“Forget it! I’ll make one myself.”
…..“You’re just being silly,” she insisted.
…..“Never mind. Let’s go.” And we did.
…..When we told the border guards that we had purchased nothing in the U.S., I consoled myself that I’d taken the high road. It was a small, dry consolation. Then I noticed another pair of girls trudging off the bridge beside us. One was barefoot.
…..“I told you not to try it,” said the girl wearing a well-worn pair of pumps. “The border guards know all the tricks. It’s what they do.”
…..“Well, I was sure if I wore them back… Who knew they’d keep them?” whined the shoeless one, as she limped along. “Ouch!”
…..I flashed May my dirtiest look. “Just imagine!” I snapped.

…..You’d think that narrow escape would be enough excitement for one day, wouldn’t you? Well, you’d be wrong. When we got back to Crystal Beach, I was determined to grab a ride on the Cyclone.
…..The Cyclone is a rollercoaster. It’s a lot scarier than the Flyer at the Exhibition Midway in Toronto. We hadn’t eaten much of anything yet, so it seemed like as good a time as any to give it a try. We found ourselves in a very long line, inching up the ramp to the loading platform…behind two sailors. Before long, they about-faced and backed up the remaining distance, chatting all the way: Where are you from? Have you been here before? The usual.
…..I have to admit, they were kind of cute…and the uniforms didn’t hurt a bit. Rob. And Jamie.
…..“I heard they keep a nurse around full time to tend to the people who faint dead away,” offered Jamie. That was comforting.
…..When we finally got to the cars, Rob deftly slid in beside May. She flashed me a grin.
…..“Do you mind?” asked Jamie.
…..I didn’t mind. He climbed in beside me, and the ride started. Let me just say that it was all it is everything they claim it is. It’s…extreme!
…..I certainly wasn’t inclined to pass out, but I admit that when we disembarked, I was more than a little wobbly on my feet. I guess sailors’ sea legs keep them steady, so it was a comfort to have an arm holding me up for the first little while. (Not exactly the correct thing to do, I suppose, but after being thrown back and forth and jumbled up together on the ride, it seemed a bit silly to get all shy about it.)
…..The four of us spent what was left of the day sampling the less intimidating rides – after that beginning, we were not easily intimidated – and nibbling on whatever food we thought the rides might allow us to keep down. And the sailors, of course, invested an outrageous amount of change in an attempt to win things nobody needed. After discarding a variety of lesser prizes, Jamie finally won an impressive plaid teddy bear at the shooting gallery. Now, as you know, everyone needs a plaid teddy bear. I was happy for him.
…..“Good work!” I told him. “You won the very best prize!”
…..“I should hope so,” he replied. “Didn’t I tell you? …I’m a gunner!”
…..“Really!” I hadn’t asked. “Well, I know I’ll sleep better now, knowing that the seas are safe.”
…..Long before we were ready, the time came to leave for home. And the fellows had to get back to wherever sailors bunk when they’re not at sea. We didn’t promise to write or anything…we all preferred to keep the day intact.
…..When we turned to go our separate ways, Jamie handed me the bear.
…..“Here…I won it for you.”
…..“Oh…I couldn’t! He’ll keep you company.”
…..“…and…when I arrive on board ship with a teddy bear…?”
…..“Hmm. I see your dilemma. Well, in that case, I graciously accept. And we’ll both remember you most fondly.”
…..Teddy and I gave him a big hug, then May and I dashed off to meet her dad at the train.
…..I still don’t know what Mr. Cameron did that day…he never did say. But he kept grinning at us. I think he must have spent a little of his time on the Midway, watching the crowds.

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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 – August 15, 1944 – Part 2

  1. I’ve long since lost the original sense of being a voyeur by reading someone else’s mail, which I nonetheless enjoyed, and now look forward to hearing from Kathy, who writes a bobby dazzler of a letter, as though I’m the bona fide recipient. (I must tell you sometime about my brush with the Customs at the Malayan border.)

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