Sunday, 8 March 2015

Reminiscences of a Military Brat (Part 4) - Still in the Maritimes

In my last BLog entry, I talked mostly about school and how much of a change from Bagotville, QC, the move to Chatham NB was. We had a nice big PMQ in Chatham; at the start my parents had the master bedroom at the top of the hallway and down the right; Rick and I shared a room (much to his chagrin, I'm sure). It wasn't huge but my parents bought bunk beds for us. I got the top bunk and got used to his kicking the bottom of my bed and telling me not to breathe so loudly. Christine had the room at the far end.


Our favourite past-time, on the floor watching TV
Later on this changed of course due to the addition of the fella you see above, my baby brother John Andrew. I think he spent a little while in my parent's room but then Chris inherited the boy's room and the three boys moved into the back room; bunk beds for Rick and I and the crib for John. Not a lot of room for anything else there. Rick gradually moved into the basement and also off to university, so it gradually became John's and my room.

Chatham was a great place to live. PMQs were full of kids; I had so many friends in our little neighbourhood. I was thinking of what we used to get up to as I was out jogging this morning and trying to figure the best way to portray it. Let's start with summer. For pretty well every summer we lived in Chatham, my morning started off with swimming lessons at the base pool. Of at first light, running or riding my bike to the Base - side and the Rec Centre, I'd spend an hour at swimming lessons. I did my Beginners, Intermediate Red Cross and as well, my Elementary and Intermediate RLSS badges while there.

Just to digress slightly before I continue, the Rec Centre was a great place at that time. Everything went on there. When we were in Chatham, there was an indoor swimming pool, a five-pin bowling alley, a gymnasium, a movie theatre, a great snack bar, a corner store with all the sweeties you'd want to take to the Saturday matinee, a post office (after John was born, my mother started working there), a barber shop and I'm sure just near there was a library. I spent a great portion of my life in Chatham hanging out there.

So back to summer activities. After swimming lessons, back home and then across the highway into the woods with my pals, playing guns or just running about. Either that or a make up baseball or football game in the field just between the highway and 'across the highway'. For your understanding, just past our area of PMQ's was an open field that bordered the main road from the town of Chatham to the main base. Across that highway was a large forested area that bordered the Air Force base's runway. There were great places to run around, playing soldiers or cowboys. At one part there were a couple of old graders and plows (I'm assuming that they belonged to the Motor Transport section and were used for training or something.) Well, they were available for us kids to climb over and pretend we could drive. Lots of fun. So around lunch, it was time to head home for a quick lunch and then normally we headed back to the swimming pool for an afternoon swim. A couple or more hours in the pool and dashing back home for afternoon TV and supper and then quite often back to the pool for an evening swim. By the end of the day, every light had rings around it from all the chlorine our eyes absorbed. The pool was always a fun place to spend time. I remember, not fondly, my brother, Rick, encouraging me to finally try the high spring board. After I climbed that ladder, went to the end of the board and looked down at how far it was to the surface of the pool, I headed back to the ladder to climb back down again. He, of course, knew how gullible I was, told me it was against the rules of the pool to climb back down the ladder. I HAD TO JUMP!.. So I sat on the edge of the board and pushed off, screaming all the way down. Of course, after that it was fully speed run down the board and launching yourself into the pool. Amazing that nobody was ever hurt with all the kids that were in that pool.

Summers didn't just revolve around the pool, of course. I played hardball as soon as I was old enough to, moving from pitcher to 2nd base and then out of harm's way into Center field. I loved baseball, still do enjoy watching. My dad used to pitch to us in the front yard to teach us how to catch. He'd played in the leagues up in Northern Ontario when he worked in the gold mines and he had been a pitcher. He could throw it pretty hard; I'm sure he held back for us, but we did learn to catch. Poor Paul Duggan used to get a dislocated thumb from catching the wrong way.

Most summers we used to rent a cabin at Manderson's Beach for a week and stay out there, swimming, spending evenings around a campfire, roasting marshmallows and twisters (dough rolled around a stick, toasted and then filled with jam... to die for). Every year the fairgrounds opened up in Chatham and my Dad would drive me and my friends down one day, drop us off so we could spend the afternoon on the rides and stuffing our faces with snacks. It was a nice adventure as we weren't much older than nine or ten and off by ourselves. Most summers, we would also pile into the car and head off to visit our relatives back in Ontario and Quebec. Mom would make sandwiches, pickled eggs and other snacks for the first part of the journey and we'd either drive through the United States on the way up or on the return trip and through New Brunswick and Quebec the other way. One summer we visited Boston Mass, stayed at a hotel outside, took the subway into the downtown core, were amazed at how big the buildings were. The subway took us by Fenway Park, neat to see it from close up. On these trips, just before we left, I used to gather my comic books up, get my wagon and take about 30 or 40 of them around PMQs, knocking on doors and seeing if anyone wanted to trade comics with me. That was a cheap way for me to get new comics for a trip. I'm amazed when I think about it, that I was allowed to do that, but the PMQs were a relatively benign, closed environment, so I guess my parents weren't too worried about anything happening. The funny thing about this was that in many cases I ended up trading comics with the dad, not the kids. Funny that.

My love affair with comics/ reading and with Supergirl :0)
I digress a bit again just to mention or highlight my love of reading. I read voraciously back then, as I do now. I used to get books from Christmas from my parents and even at Easter, in my Easter basket.

One year I got the Book of Knowledge (I think they were 3 books), all fascinating reading. Loved them. I was a regular at the base library pretty well reading anything they had; from a science fiction story about a young boy whose mental powers could  'white out' other people's powers, his were so strong to a book about the Chinese invasion of Tibet and how a group of English escaped (it had something to do with CB radios too, I'm sure). All so long ago, I can't remember who wrote them or what they were called. But comics were my pure entertainment joy. My parents always put one or two in our stockings, probably to keep us in bed a bit longer on Christmas mornings and I bought so many at the corner store when I was there picking up snacks for Saturday matinees. Back then they were $.10 a comic, gradually went up to $.12 (what a shock). I read all of them, the Classics, stories about superheroes (as mentioned above, I did have a crush on Supergirl, loved those red stockings.. ) ,the standards like Archie, Little Lulu, westerns featuring the Rawhide Kid or the Two-Gun Kid, war stories, with GI Combat or The Haunted Tank. I used to take comic books on our trips up to the relatives and almost make myself car-sick reading to much; well, truth be told, I did make myself car sick a couple of times. There was a corner store in Kirkland Lake, at the end of Mutti's street where I could restock my comics. Yes, yes, I was pathetic.. probably still am a bit, as I still enjoy a well-written and drawn graphic novel.

Mr. Dressup, Casey and Finnegan the dog
So, let's see, where was I? OK, not onto to Fall/ Winter. Of course, that meant going back to school. The first week or so were always exciting to me. I loved getting a new pencil case and pencils, was always excited when the teachers gave us our new text books for the year. Of course, that didn't last too long, but I generally liked school, was probably a bit of brown noser and geek. Before John was born, I loved running home for lunch. Mom would have soup and sandwiches for me, or something else as enjoyable and I'd settle in front of the TV with a TV tray and watch The Friendly Giant, Mr. Dress-up and Chez Helene (with Suzie the mouse). It was comforting and pleasant. Once John was born and Mom started working at the Post Office, I think I tended to have lunch with the neighbours, as they babysat John. However, I may have been old enough that my parents let me eat lunch by myself at home.. Too long ago to remember, lol.

The $.10 solid bar of toffee if you wanted to splurge
I still had swimming lessons for a couple of years in the Fall. I'd go right after school, but that didn't last quite so long. Saturdays were always the highlight day. In the morning we had 5-pin bowling league, so much fun and then it finished just in time for the Saturday matinee at the Base Cinema. I was pretty lucky as Dad either was the projectionist at the Cinema or later on, managed it. So basically, I got in free. :0) I used to wait for my friends to get their tickets and then we'd troop in for the Matinee. Of course, first we had to visit the Snack Bar for a swamp water (all the different soda pops mixed into one drink) and to the corner store, for a couple of comics, and then $.25 worth of candy; a five-cent bag of Hadfield's potato chips (with either toy soldiers or hockey cards inside), a five-cent package of six individual Mackintosh toffees (you could get a solid bar for $.10) and various other snacks; candy cigarettes, licorice pipes/ cigars, Hubba - Bubba or Black Cat bubble gum... All great for our teeth. I guess that's why I still spend so much time at the dentist.

The matinees were great. They always started with the weekly serial, either a western or a detective story or something with knights. Each week left you with the cliff-hanger (how was he going to survive his car driving off the cliff!!!) And this was followed by the feature film. I don't know about the normal Saturday kid's matinee, but we had some pretty scary films at times; The Murders of the Rue Morgue and others. I often spent part of my afternoon in the bathroom, waiting for the scary bit to finish (yes, I was and still am a chicken). But there were great comedies, westerns, war movies. I did love going to the movies, it was such a great experience. I remember my sister Christine taking me and my buddies to see A Hard Day's Night (it was an evening movie, so I guess I needed a chaperon, or she just wanted to see it... it was The Beatles of course) and afterwards, all of us singing Beatle songs and dancing in the streets on our way home. Or going to see Goldfinger (another evening movie... my parents were pretty relaxed about this) and on the way home after waiting for Odd Job's metal hat to come sailing out of the woods at our necks).

My first remembrance of going to a scary movie was when Dad took me and Rick and Chris to see The Mysterians, a Japanese horror film. I wasn't very old, 7 or 8, maybe a bit older. The plot, as you can see, featured invading aliens who would float down to your window and abduct you (well, actually, they preferred women) and bring you back to their spaceship. Yes, that night, rather than put my jammies on in my bedroom, BY THE WINDOW, I put them on in the hallway at the top of the stairs. (what that would have accomplished, I have no idea.) My general strategy to avoid having to face monsters when I went to bed was to close ask God to make sure none came to my house and then to close my eyes so I couldn't see them if they did... It seemed to work.

Of course the highlight of the year was Christmas. I love, love Christmas! at that time I loved receiving gifts, of course. I was a bit of a snoop, I admit. I knew my parents hid most presents under their bed. So I did make the rounds and check out the packages there. Luckily, they hid other presents places I never found, so there were always surprises. The tree was half buried with presents in the morning. I was always the first up. Even when John came along, that was the one day he usually decided to sleep in, so I couldn't rely on him to get my parents up early. So I would wake up, check out my stocking, open the blinds a bit so I could read my comics, then wait impatiently for Mom and Dad to let us downstairs to open the bounty! Usually, a friend of my Dads, Mr. Macmillan, would come over Christmas day, spend the day. We would play the games we got, have a fantastic, loud, enjoyable Christmas dinner, retire to the living room, play some more, a perfect day really.

As Rick moved on to University and Chris started working downtown and dating, John was pretty well my main companion at home. I babysat him, we played GI Joes, had lots of fun. Of course, he was also the brunt of most of our jokes; we did like tying him up with his pyjamas and throwing him on the couch to see how long it would take him to untangle himself. And when he did, we'd do it all over again.

Open Channel D
One thing we all enjoyed was spending the evening watching our favourite shows. And since we had only one channel, the CBC, we all enjoyed the same shows. I quit Boy Cubs so I could spend my Wednesday evenings watching The Man from U.N.C.L.E. There were so many great shows; Ripcord, Combat, The Rat Patrol, Gilligan's Island, The Man, and later The Girl, from U.N.C.L.E., the Red Skeleton Show, Ed Sullivan, Bonanza, such variety.  We watched as a family, enjoyed spending the time together. In the summer, I'd lie on the floor, Dad would get comfortable in his easy chair and we'd watch baseball. If I was lucky, he'd fall asleep during the game and I could stay up late and watch the whole game; a bowl of corn chips and a bottle of Mountain Dew or Orange Crush for my eating pleasure. In the winter, on Saturday nights, we'd watch Hockey Nights in Canada and then my parents would follow that with The Juliet Variety Show. Many nights, Rick would come home from an evening out with one girl friend or other, and he's whip out a Chef Boyardee pizza mix and soon the house would smell like pizza and we'd all enjoy a piece before heading off to bed. I don't know, but it's the small things like that which bring the fondest memories.

In 1967, we were posted to Germany in March. Rick didn't accompany us as he was still going to university and soon to join the military. I think he's wearing his Saint Thomas jacket in the picture. So after packing up the house, sending most of our things into storage for the next 4 years, Mom, Dad, Christine, John and I flew across the ocean in a Yukon and started the next phase of our life at 3 Wing RCAF Base in Zweibrucken, West Germany. More on that next entry.

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