June 25, 1944
…..I read with amusement your account of the Germans’ misguided attempt to rattle your brain. Shell shock. As if that could make a difference! No wonder they’re losing the war in Italy….they clearly don’t know their enemy. Now, if they ever learn to aim lower down, they might be able to do some real damage.
…..And…could you just explain to me again how your transfer to the mortar platoon was going to keep you out of danger?
…..Summer has finally arrived over here, too. The lilacs are blooming in the backyard, people are starting to fight over window seats in the streetcars, and just yesterday, I went across the street during my lunch hour to buy one of those soft swirly chocolate malted ice cream cones they sell in the tunnel between Eaton’s and the Annex. I love those things!
…..I tried to pick one scene that would let you enjoy summer in Toronto with me for a moment. Here it is:
…..I was strolling past City Hall last week when a woman appeared on the steps. She was immaculately dressed: pale blue gabardine suit, perky little hat, white leather shoes and clutch purse (for which, believe me, she paid plenty), neat white gloves…the works. She was about half way down the steps when the button must have burst on her pink silk panties (no elastic—the war, you know) because they fell to the ground around her ankles. Without looking down she deftly stepped out of them, kicked them aside and walked on, barely missing a beat.
…..That’s Toronto. In summer. And I think I’ve found a worthy heroine.
…..I met Lucy Angelino the other day, (She’s married now. She used to be Lucy Maglietta) and she gave me a bit of neighbourhood gossip you won’t want to miss.
…..“Do you know Agnes, over on Claremont Street?” she asked. “Bleached blonde…must be over sixty if she’s a day….”
…..“Sure, I said. “She works in the lingerie department at Simpson’s, selling corsets.”
…..“Yeah, that’s her. She has a trim little figure…draws plenty of whistles from guys who catch a rear view. It’s always worth the wait to watch the expression on any fellow who moves in for a closer view…no makeup in the world is magical enough!
…..“Well, my brother-in-law Tony went downtown one night to spend some unanticipated black market earnings at a…house of ill repute. Tony’s a pig. And who did he end up with? Agnes.”
…..“Oh, my God!”
…..“So what happened?”
…..“Well, Tony couldn’t high-tail it out of there fast enough! At least, he says he did. But Tony’s a pig.”
…..“It gets better. Tony lives right across the road from her!”
…..Oh, well. I guess in that line of work, you have to have a thick skin.
…..And now for a bit of national news: representative Indians from across Canada gathered in Ottawa earlier this month, intending to establish the ‘first Indian government of Canada’. Apparently they consider the present arrangement a ‘puppet government’, set up by invaders (that would be us). One wonders why they didn’t set up a national government when they had the place all to themselves, if it was so damned important to them.
…..They want to establish their own national independence and the right to use their own currency. (I guess that would be an ‘Indian Head’ coin. Haven’t the Americans already got dibs on that idea?) Maybe they think while the ‘puppet’ is distracted by the war, they’ll be able to take back a chunk of the country and nobody will notice. But I suspect they’ll find it a bit trickier than that.
…..I was cuddled up on the sofa one drizzly Sunday afternoon in the spring, thumbing through the Eaton’s catalogue for the few new designs that the fashion police are allowing into production this season when there was a knock on the door. Picture my enthusiasm when I recognized a rather soggy uniform containing May’s cousin Cliff!
…..Well, I could hardly leave the poor boy standing out in the rain, so I reluctantly invited him in. Apparently, he hadn’t been able to resist my remembered allure, and the minute he got back to Toronto for I don’t remember what reason, he promptly sought me out. Lucky me.
…..Remember…it was Sunday. He didn’t have the option of offering to take me out anywhere. Everything was closed. (It’s probably just as well—that would have seemed more like a date and might have given him unwarranted hope.) So I hustled him past the sofa and into the kitchen for a cup of coffee and a chat. My luck being what it is, Mom and Dad were both out visiting some relative or other, so a welcome diversion before dinnertime was unlikely.
…..Now, he hadn’t aged appreciably since New Year’s Eve. But let’s put that aside for a while. The fact is, we had nothing at all in common. He’s a farm boy from out Bowmanville way, and I’m…well…not. As the afternoon dragged on and I learned so much more about fresh air and pig shit and knocking over outhouses on Halloween than I ever wanted to know, my responses became sparser and slower (I think I was bordering on comatose) and the silences became really painful. Finally, I glanced out the window, and up at the clock, and blurted:
…..“My goodness, it’s getting late in here!”
…..Fortunately, I think he was awkward enough to completely miss the ridiculous in what I’d said, while he did manage to catch the underlying hint: it was time for him to go. I had no intention of inviting him to dinner…that would have been too encouraging altogether.
…..As he backed down the front walk ever so slowly, he offered to write to me, and he asked me to write back. I would have promised anything. Finally I closed the door and collapsed on the sofa, snorting with laughter.
…..Another knock. Oh, no! I choked back the giggles and opened the door.
…..There he was. Again. I hoped he hadn’t heard me.
…..“I said I’d write to you. Um…how do you spell your last name?” He’d clearly forgotten it, and he was too embarrassed to say so.
…..“What…Smith?” I’m not sure I hid my amusement effectively. My patience was running out.
…..“Um…yes.” He blushed a most unattractive shade of raspberry and fished in his pocket for paper and pencil.
…..He printed it carefully. And left. Much more quickly this time.
…..He may not write to me after all.
…..Last Saturday afternoon, I strolled over to the Jewish market at Kensington Avenue with Jennie (next door…remember?). I wanted to buy a slab of halvah. It’s an amazing Middle Eastern confection that just melts in your mouth. She had brought some over when I was ill for a couple of days in the spring and couldn’t be tempted to eat anything at all. Well, I nibbled a few crumbs, and thought I’d died and was being welcomed into heaven! Her mother insists that the best food in the city finds its way to Kensington Market, and Jennie was going to show me where to look.
…..After we bought an embarrassingly large chunk of the stuff, cut off a mammoth brick and wrapped in brown paper, we wandered around a while enjoying the atmosphere. It’s like nowhere else in town, really…a slice of Europe. Stuff sold on the street and spices and sawdust and crowds of people who take food selection really seriously.
…..When we started back we were in no rush at all. It was a lazy kind of day everywhere that wasn’t Kensington. As we were sauntering along Markham Street, nibbling the corners of the halvah and being silly and criticizing other people’s front curtains, we noticed an old couple, sitting side by side on their front porch and enjoying the sunshine. It was one of those houses that are built in pairs with a double concrete walkway between…like a driveway. A truck was parked on the concrete in front, backed up to the passageway.
…..“Look, Moishe,” the old lady was saying to her partner, “those next door people must be moving out…and they have furniture just like ours!”
…..We could see men bringing pieces of furniture out of the old couple’s back door…and loading it onto the truck, right in front of them!
…..By the time we got home, we were laughing so hard we could hardly speak. Dad was reading the newspaper in the living room when we walked in, so we choked out a description of the scene.
…..He grinned. “So…what did you do?”
…..The grin disappeared. “That’s all?”
…..“Well…yes.” It was starting to look just a teeny bit less amusing.
…..“Oh, for God’s sake! Which house was it?”
…..“We didn’t really notice…it was between Dundas and Queen.”
…..Dad beat it out the door in his shirt tails and slippers to try to stop it…but by the time he got over there, the street was quiet. There was no sign of a truck. There were no old people. They must have been inside, wondering what happened to their stuff.
…..I’m sorry…but it’s still a little funny.
…..You need to guard against getting a swelled head over any victories you guys may achieve in Italy. The German radio broadcasts are now informing the German people that they never intended to beat you in the first place. No, the German command only intended a delaying action. And you’re still there, aren’t you? So you see how successful they’ve been!
…..Meanwhile, the German prisoners you’re taking can always hope to be sent to a prisoner of war camp over here. Last month, a driver in Ottawa picked up a hitch-hiker wearing a prisoner-of-war uniform. The fellow was “fed up” with working on a farm in the area, and decided to bum a ride back to the internment camp at Hull where life, I guess, is easier.
…..Please don’t think I’m encouraging you to allow yourself to be taken prisoner. That could be risky. I suspect conditions may not be as favourable in the German camps. We hear far fewer stories of people attempting to enter those of their own free will. And when prisoners get out…they tend to try to stay out.
…..Remember the Strand Theatre at Dundas and Spadina? Well, three years ago, they changed the name to the Victory Theatre, in anticipation of an early victory over the Nazis. Okay, that might have been a bit optimistic, but with the great job you guys are doing over there, they’ll certainly never have to regret the name change.
Your most devoted fan,