August 15, 1944

August 15, 1944

Dear Tommy,
…..So…you now realize that cooking isn’t quite as easy as it looks from the sidelines. That insight will make you attractive husband material some day.

…..I was surprised to be invited to Lil’s wedding last month. I don’t see as much of the elevator operators as I used to—socially, at least—since I started working in the office. Lil was the homely one.
…..Lil was so worried that all the other girls would snap up the soldiers when the war ends…I think she was determined to beat us to the punch. When we heard that Eleanor’s fiancé was being shipped home soon, she may have panicked. (He’s been wounded, but he’ll recover and they’ll be able to get that home Eleanor has her heart set on.)
…..It seems that she stuck her hand into the grab bag of men who are still in Toronto, and came up with a widower with flat feet and two small daughters. But he’s a nice enough guy, and his daughters are plain enough to pass as Lil’s daughters too. In fact, I find myself wondering whether he might have been looking very particularly for someone who would be a willing and credible mom for his kids. I realize this is disloyal, but it’s just between you and me…right? And who knows? Maybe it’s exactly the job description she was hoping for.
…..I know I’m on firmer ground when I say that Lil feels she has achieved some kind of triumph in marrying before any of her friends. Perhaps that’s why her guest list extended to yesterday’s casual friends…like me. Since I don’t envy her even a little bit, I was able to wish her the best of luck quite sincerely. Not everybody does. Until you guys get back and every girl here has staked her claim, it’s a turf war…and each girl’s win seems to make all the others feel a loss. It’s not pretty.
…..The wedding, I believe, went much as planned. The bridesmaids were decked out in blatantly hideous yellow Celanese frocks with absurd hats mimicking flops from jaundiced cows, allowing the bride to appear to best advantage by contrast. As an added bonus, the day was as hot as hell, and that fabric must have held the heat like a mobile steam bath. The girls were wilting noticeably by the time they hit the church door—they were definitely not going to make Lil look bad.
…..The blushing bride was preceded up the aisle by both of the groom’s sulky daughters. They were all dolled up in pink fluff, with floral wreaths slipping down over their eyes as they dumped fistfuls of scruffy daisy blossoms onto the floor and were the first of many to tromp all over them. I’m sure it was intended to be a great honour. I’m also sure they didn’t see it that way—not at all. Those two are going to be a handful.
…..It was not until after the ceremony, when we were all milling about outside the church in that tedious way you’re obliged to do after weddings, that I noticed a sour-faced old woman in grey crepe. She looked like she’d just bitten into something that had gone bad.
…..“I suppose the girls need someone, now that their mother is gone.” she was explaining, to whoever was close enough to hear, “but I was hoping for better for my boy. Just look at her…flaunting those pearls! I loaned her those pearls, you know.” She was referring to five tiny pearls strung on a flimsy gold chain around the bride’s neck. “And on top of it all, she isn’t even Catholic!”
…..Well, that clarified the fate of the groom’s first wife…at least for me. I have no doubt she cut her own throat with a dull knife, in order to escape the kindnesses of her mother-in-law. Wherever she is now, I’m sure she considers it a better place.
…..Lil has already quit her job. I don’t think we’ll be seeing much more of her.

…..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.

…..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.)
…..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 other’s 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,
Kathy

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