October 25, 1943

October 25, 1943

Dear Tommy,
…..It seems to me that I told you not to get shot again. Yes…I distinctly remember: “Don’t you ever do that again,” I wrote…right after the last time. Don’t you read my letters at all?
…..Have you considered that you might have made some bad choices when you entered the army? Why on earth didn’t you train as a cook or something? Something that would keep you safely behind the lines…and would be useful when you get back home. I’m sure that durability and experience working under stressful conditions are considered fine assets in an employee. But seriously…’highly skilled at maiming and killing’? How is that going to look on a job application?
…..Never mind. I’m thankful that they’re taking good care of you and you’ll get a few months rest, somewhere out of the line of fire. Try to stay out of trouble, will you?

…..I’ve settled into my new job at Simpson’s and become rather handy at typing people’s lives onto 4” by 6” cards, and filing them for convenient access. Those little cards hold everything the company needs to know about their employees’ lives…and a few things that they don’t really need to know at all. (How pertinent is someone’s religion, I wonder?) Of course, this doesn’t include information about the executives—I’m much too insignificant to be entrusted with that. Some serious-lipped, grey-haired person wearing sensible shoes undoubtedly does that typing.
…..Of course, that’s not the total extent of my responsibilities. People phone from time to time for snippets of that information, and I dispense it to those who are entitled to know it. I have to be careful about this, because those little cards include some confidential stuff like jail records that can’t be broadcast to just any Nosey Parker who asks.
…..And we keep other records as well. We keep the things people say about how our employees used to work, before they landed at Simpson’s…we keep favourable comments our customers make (there may be a bonus in it for someone), and we keep complaints. We definitely keep complaints. Which brings us to pink slips. I type up the pink slips, to alert those whose talents are no longer required by the company that they needn’t return. This is never much fun. Well…it’s rarely much fun.
…..Wage information, of course, is confidential; that’s all handled by the wage office. So we have nothing to do with that—with one notable exception. I told you that Simpson’s is using horse-drawn delivery wagons again, in order to conserve gasoline. For some reason, I have the questionable privilege of dispersing wages to the stable staff every two weeks. So all day they straggle in, trailing their distinctive odour of manure. No one packs a lunch that day. We all eat out.

…..It’s a small office…only seven of us…but there’s no lack of diversity. There’s Irene—not the sharpest tack in the box, but a sweet girl. I often eat in the employees’ cafeteria, but occasionally I’ll go out window-shopping and stop at Woolworth’s for lunch. I’ve learned not to invite her to go with me on Mondays. I tried. Once.
…..“Nope. Not today,” she shook her head sadly. “I can’t today.”
…..“Oh. Are you feeling okay?” I asked. The girls who overheard this grinned. Kind of mean, I thought at the time. But they had heard it all before.
…..“Well, I’m all right up to now. But it’s Monday.”
…..“I get my headaches on Monday.”
…..“Well…take some aspirin.”
…..“Oh…I do! I always take aspirin the minute I get out of bed on Mondays! ‘Cause if I don’t…I’ll get a terrible headache.”
…..“So…doesn’t the aspirin help?’
…..“Of course! If it weren’t for that, I’d never be able to work on Mondays at all.” She sighed.
…..“Okay, then. When was the last time you actually had a headache?”
…..“Um…I don’t know. A long time. Years, I guess. But I can’t go out. Just in case.”

…..Last Thursday, Morgie (her name is Morgan) went down to the baked goods counter on the main floor to buy one of the Arcadian Court’s wonderful small chicken pies for her lunch. We had decided to picnic at our desks that day. She sauntered back, pie in hand, chuckling.
…..“What’s up?” we asked.
…..“There’s an airman, hanging around the pastries.”
…..“So? Is he handsome?”
…..“To tell the truth…I really didn’t notice. He’s wearing a greatcoat.”
…..“Isn’t it a little warm for a greatcoat?”
…..“I don’t know! I didn’t think to ask him. When I passed him, he flashed it open.”
…..“So what?”
…..“So his fly was open, and…well…you know!”
…..“Oh my god, Morgie! What did you do?”
…..“I said, ‘You’d better be careful that a bird doesn’t perch on that thing.’”
…..Unfortunate airman! Morgie is a bit of a clown.
…..“What did he do?”
…..“Nothing. He’s still there. But he looked kind of disappointed. I think he was hoping for something more dramatic.”
…..“Oh…I think I’ll go get a pie, myself!” Irene blurted. It wasn’t a Monday.
…..In fact, there was quite a run on pies. We all decided we wanted some.
…..But by the time we got down to the main floor, some more skittish victim had reported the offending airman to the store detective, who had already escorted him out. Disappointment all ‘round!
…..I don’t think they prosecuted the perpetrator. Hell, maybe he was a hero, unhinged by his feats of derring-do or something. In any case, he’d been punished enough. He missed the most eager audience he was ever likely to find.

…..In one of your last letters, you asked what the Italians in Canada have been up to. There was a lot of open sympathizing with the Fascists earlier in the war—you know that—but the government pretty much ignored anyone who wasn’t causing any trouble. Of course, many were sending money to family members in Italy that undoubtedly found its way into the Fascist war chest, but a lot of that was overlooked, too. Not all.
…..I heard that the father and brother of one of the elevator operators at Simpson’s have been sent to one of the internment camps up north. They were associated somehow with one of the Italian contractors in the city who had been shipping buckets of money overseas to support the Fascists – so much money that somebody in authority finally noticed. You fellows have enough to contend with without Canadian money flooding over there to support the enemy! I don’t know whether they were interned for that, or on other related charges, but Theresa just didn’t turn up for work one day. The company may have asked her to leave or maybe she just quit (it was before I was preparing the pink slips), but it was very sudden.
…..German assets in Canada, of course, were seized as soon as war was declared, so I don’t suppose the Nazis scored much financial support here.
…..The government on the west coast has gotten very nervous about the Japanese Canadians in British Columbia as well. (Worried about them signalling enemy ships, I suppose.) My hairdresser, who’s Japanese, mentioned that her family moved to Toronto to avoid the possibility of internment out there. I guess the authorities feel comfortable that no signalling from here will present any significant danger.
…..All in all, I guess we Torontonians aren’t an awfully excitable lot. A very military-looking fellow strolled across the entire 1/3 mile span of the Bloor Street Viaduct earlier this year wearing a German uniform, just to see what reaction he’d get.
…..Nobody noticed. Or, if they did, they were too polite to comment.

…..It did cause a bit of a stir when nineteen German prisoners escaped from the internment camp at Fort Henry, near Kingston, this summer. While the inmates were being entertained by a concert staged by their fellow prisoners, these hardy souls popped down into the sewer, intending to follow it to the waters of Navy Bay. (I’m sure it was no reflection of the quality of the entertainment.) Some of them had been held in the fort for three years, and knew the ins and outs better than most of the guards. Unfortunately, an old cave-in blocked their way, and after four hours enjoying the atmosphere of the sewer, they were forced to exit, over two hundred feet short of the shore and in full view of the fort. Once they burrowed their way to the surface, they scattered. The gripping tale of their recapture kept us on the edge of our seats for days, although they can’t have been too hard to spot. Most of them were still wearing their prison uniforms when they were caught…natty blue denim with a red circle patch on the back. Few of them offered any resistance.
…..One of the more enterprising of the escapees had learned to speak excellent English in the camp and managed to sweet-talk unsuspecting local farmers into feeding him and clothing him in civilian togs. When he was captured by a couple of signal corps officers who happened to drive by while he chatted with an idle farmhand (apparently, he looked German to them), he ungraciously suggested that Canadians were a bit too trusting for their own good. He had no great love for Hitler, he said, but he’d been confined for two years, and decided that enough was enough. (I guess it turned out to be not quite enough after all, because he was shipped right back to the camp again.)
…..Another luckless wanderer was turned in by a six-year-old boy. Little tousle-headed, freckle-faced Johnny (who looked a lot like you, Tommy, a few years ago) was out early, hunting frogs in a creek a couple of miles from Collins Bay near Kingston.
…..Had he heard of the escaped Germans?
…..“Sure,” he said. “It didn’t worry me.”
…..Near the creek he saw a man, crouched soaking wet in the bushes.
…..Was he scared?
…..“Thertainly not,” he lisped, through the space where his front teeth should have been. “He wath looking the other way…he couldn’t thee me. But I wath told oneth that it wath better to run and live than be brave and maybe die. Tho I lit out of there ath fatht ath I could.”
…..He ran the two miles back to Collins Bay and reported the man to the provincial police, who captured him and escorted him back to Fort Henry.
…..Johnny wasn’t happy.
…..“I wath gypped,” he complained. “The polithe wouldn’t let me go back with them to capture the guy. It’th not fair!”
…..So the ill-fated Nazi was spared the additional humiliation of meeting his plucky little nemesis in person. Too bad.

…..It’s not only the prisoners who are getting restive. Our own troops in training are learning the price of being billeted in Toronto the Good…because every week has at least one Sunday, and on Sundays, Toronto is still shut up so tight it squeaks. Oh, a soldier can go to the movies on Sunday afternoon, of course, but unless he’s dating a girl in uniform…he goes alone. And the restaurants are closed, because we all know that good Christian folk eat in a house with their families around them on Sunday. No exceptions for poor fighting folk a long way from home.
…..Now that the open air dance pavilions (like Sunnyside) have closed down for the winter, the Citizen Committee for Troops on Training has held the first all-service dance in Columbus Hall…on a Friday night, of course. I suppose the soldiers were allowed to bring non-uniformed dates, lest they be tempted to dance with each other. My goodness…how on earth would the Citizen Committee deal with that, do you suppose?
…..I know it’s heretical to say so, but when you guys get back home, I hope you take a can-opener and pry this place open a little before we suffocate on our own smug.

…..Tommy, the miserably inadequate notes you sent me from England left me with damned little idea of what your life was over there. Now that you have some recuperation time, I’ll expect you to fill in some of the blanks. After all…it was over three years…you must have done something you’re not ashamed to admit! I’ll expect full disclosure by return mail.
…..And…my goodness! Look at the time! Christmas is right around the corner. I want to send you something nice…what do you most want? Tell me first, so no one can get the jump on me.
…..By the way–did you get the socks I sent? They were packed, with a lot of cigarettes and a few other little things, in toilet paper. (Not very festive, maybe, but I detected a broad hint in one of your earlier letters that Canadian toilet paper might be more appreciated there than I had imagined.)

…..You must be able to feel me willing you to get better. But not too quickly. Stay there safe for a while, won’t you?

With huge stacks of love and assorted helpfully healing thoughts,


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