Toronto – August 15, 1944 – Part 3

(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 still haven’t developed a passion for frolicking in the waves, but I have no serious objection to lounging, scantily clad, on the sand and reading a good book. So I was able to summon a becoming appearance of enthusiasm when the girls in the office suggested a picnic on Centre Island. (I’m aware that every other healthy, normal human being on earth just adores splashy horseplay and fun in the sun.)
…..So I struggled out of bed much too early on my day off and threw together something that would be edible, and still fit in a convenient tote bag with the book I was currently reading and a spare in case I lost that one. I was not going to risk being stranded bookless on a beach! I tracked down a suitable sunhat and was on my way. (I’m still not convinced that sun rays wicked enough to lure out my freckles will content themselves with that small destruction. I’m sure they’ll do worse if they get the chance.)
…..We met at the docks. The trip over on the ferry always feels like a holiday, don’t you think? I guess the people who live on the islands and make the trip to the city to work every day must lose that feeling. What a shame.
…..I would have liked to look around a bit when we arrived, but the others headed for the beach as soon as we stepped off the ferry, like metal filings drawn to a really sandy magnet. I admit, it was a perfect day for it –hot and sunny– and I enjoyed a bit of romping around in the lake almost as much as the rest of them. It’s so much better than a swimming tank. Even the huge outdoor one at Sunnyside (which has the advantage of being heated, I admit, and doesn’t echo depressingly like the others) still smells of chlorine, and the pleasure of disrobing in a pavilion that looks like a palace doesn’t make the smell go away.
…..But I find that splashing in the waves and nibbling sandwiches out of waxed paper gets stale after a while, and I completely fail to see the joy in lying on a crowded beach, basting in the sun like an oversized turkey. In this, as usual, I was a minority of one. So while the others basked, I announced my intention to wander about the islands.
…..“Oh, stay,” objected Mona. The sun’s glorious. Don’t you want to get a tan? What on earth do you think you’ll see?”
…..“Well, you never know,” I replied. “I might learn something.”
…..“Like what?”
…..“Well, for instance…did you know that Hanlan’s Point beach was clothing optional until a few years ago?”
…..“Clothing optional…meaning…?”
…..“Meaning that you didn’t always have to wear it.”
…..“It was not!”
…..“It was so. Since 1894, as a matter of fact. I guess Toronto the Good wasn’t always all that…good.”
…..“That’s disgusting!” She loved it. “How do you know?”
…..“I pay attention. I’ll wander around a bit, and let you know if I find out any more juicy bits.”
…..Well, I didn’t find out anything else quite so tasty, but I wandered over among the tiny cottages at Ward’s Island, where the ‘streets’ are barely streets at all –hardly more than paths, because there are no automobiles allowed on the islands– and the people vacation cosily in each others’ pockets, just like we ‘city’ folk do in row houses.
…..Did you know they’ve built an airport at Hanlan’s Point? They barged about thirty of the cottages that were there over to Algonquin Island, which used to be not much more than a sandbar on the city side of the big island. They’ve built it up with landfill, and the cottages are there to stay now. It looks a bit like they’ve been dropped down into a desert just yet, but I guess that’ll change over time.
…..The only sign of the war, besides tripping over servicemen everywhere you go, is the barbed wire around the filtration plant. They’re taking no risks that the enemy might sabotage Toronto’s water supply.
…..By the time I got back to the beach, the girls were packing up to leave. While we waited on the ferry dock, a sunburned fifteen-year-old boy arrived, and began searching for the bicycle he had brought over with him.
…..“I left it right here! I know I did. It’s gone!” he wailed.
…..An official sauntered over to check out the fuss.
…..“Did you lock it?”
…..“I don’t have a lock. I could barely afford to buy the bike!” He looked like he was about to cry. I hoped he wouldn’t.
…..“Well, now, don’t get excited…go check the docks at Hanlan’s Point and Ward’s Island. Somebody in a hurry probably missed the ferry and borrowed it to high tail it over to one of the other docks so he could catch a ride back to the city from there. It happens all the time….”
…..The boy was already gone, on the run.
…..I hope he found his bike. There are an awful lot of bicycles here, and they all look much alike. They say there may be more bicycles here than on any other island in the world. No cars. No wonder.

…..During a recent estate sale, the auctioneer held up an unusual fist-sized object and fiddled with a ring dangling on the side while he described its interesting features. He was obviously bluffing…he had no idea what he held.
…..Suddenly a member of the audience jumped up and shouted: “Don’t pull the pin!”
…..“Oh…well then,” responded the auctioneer, just a little irritated at the commotion. “Can you tell us something about this item, sir?”
…..“Yes,” snapped the other. “It’s a Mills bomb.” He was a World War I veteran. “And it may be loaded!”
…..I think you call it a grenade.
…..The old soldier bought the bomb for a nickel and had it dismantled. Very carefully.
…..It had been intact and fully loaded.
…..Nobody seems to know how it came to be among the effects of a little old lady in Norwich, Ontario. But I’ll bet her neighbours are glad they didn’t get on her bad side.

…..I know this stuff isn’t nearly as exciting as the stories you send me…but it’s all I’ve got.

Struggling to entertain 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.
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