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Tuesday, October 03, 2006

MORE ABOUT THE NEIGHBOURHOOD

TUESDAY, October 3/06
As the days go by I remember more and more about this neighbourhood. We first came to Vancouver in 1947 and I enrolled in Templeton Junior High (at that time it was just grades 7 - 9 although now it goes to senior levels and nodays, unlike then, there is an excellent creative and drama program at the school.) That school terrified me, a shy little small-town girl from Ontario and the Prairies. It was then the largest school in the West, a rambling grey stucco building that to me was like a prison. I had to walk quite a distance to get there every morning as we lived outside of the area. It was early October when I started going there and the class had already started to study French which may as well have been Martian to me. I never did catch up and was totally daunted by everything, especially Math and Science. Even back then I dreamed only of becoming a writer and my parents were often called to the principal's office and scolded about my lack of interest in subjects that would have got me A's instead of C's.

At that time, before the clean-air policies that we have now, a lot of people burned sawdust, wood and coal to heat their houses and living on the Coast there were dense pea-soup fogs.
Some mornings, walking to school, the fog was so thick you couldn't read the street signs, so more often than not I'd miss the crossing and therefore be late for school. I was always getting caught by the monitors who were stationed at a table near the entrance and I'd get ticketed (detentions) for being late. Besides that, I have always been slightly dislexic when it comes to numbers and I could never remember the combination lock numbers on my locker so again, I'd be late for class. I wasn't a worldly city kid then. My class mates mostly intimidated me. There were a lot of rough kids at that school and every day there were fights in the school yard, taunts, bullying. I was often bullied myself because I was the Preacher's Kid, rather timid, and not as stylish as my peers. (My mom was an expert seamstress and made most of my clothes. And being a pastor Dad didn't earn much income so my parents couldn't afford to buy me tailor-made skirts and cashmere sweaters. Looking back though, I was pretty well dressed thanks to Mom who was very stylish herself.)

A few years ago I went back to that school for a reunion and felt the same oppressive feelings I recall having as a kid. Funny how those memories linger. I have much better memories of my high school, Britannia, which is near the Drive.

Another thing I remember, walking down Nanaimo Street...There used to be a street-car running down there and at the corner of Kitchener St. where I'd turn down to walk to school, there was always this funny Downs Syndrome guy who lived nearby with his elderly mother.
He had a conductor's cap and a ticket punch and the street-car conductors used to let him ride up and down the line punching passenger's tickets. Sometimes he'd stand in the road and direct traffic. Nowdays he'd be run over! Later they removed the street-cars and eventually along East Hastings became the route of the fabled Number 14 bus which has been made famous with a play by the same name.

Not too far away is the Pacific National Exhibition grounds where they hold an exhibition every year. It was mainly Playland back then, where we'd hang out to go ice skating or roller skating. And there was an excellent ride called the Shoot the Shute, a boat-like cart that was towed up to the top of a runway and then flew down spalshing into a water-filled tub at the bottom. That was my favorite ride other than the merry-go-round which has now been restored and resides at the Burnaby Heritage Park. (And yes, you can still ride it for a loonie! (that's a Can. dollar!)
My friends and I loved it when the P.N.E. was on and we especially liked sneaking into the side shows. By the time we were about 16 I think we'd got over the Italian phase and were into American sailors. I have a couple of photos of myself taken at the P.N.E. with some sailor I'd met (attracted mainly by the uniform!). I'm sure our mothers were at home wringing their hands and turning prematurely grey wondering what their girls were up to!

Later, I heard some of the old famous jazz musicians play there at the Gardens and sometimes we'd attend dances there. By the late 50's and 60's there were concerts by musicians like "Little Richard" and "Fats Domino" and once I even went to see Frank Sinatra in concert. Then, by the 70's when I'd returned to Vancouver from Alberta and was single again, there were all the great Blues and Rock shows including Elton John, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin. We went to all of them!

My more recent memories of this area, besides the four years I worked as head supervisor of the St. David's Preschool in the 70's, when I was a single mom trying to support two young teens, was the year I arrived back home after living in Greece in 1987. I had come home under duress -- partly due to family committments and partly because after five years there I was 'Greeked out' in particular because I'd had a very sad, wrenching breakpup with my Greek boyfriend. I was only back a month, on a one-way ticket, before I realized I had made a mistake. I moved into an apartment just down the hill from where I am now and tried to sort out my shattered life. Eventually I got a job in Chinatown as an E.S.L. teacher for an all Chinese daycare. This turned into a very interesting, though not very profitable situation and a year later I quit and went back to Greece again for six months.

One nice memories of living on Cambridge St. at that time was riding my bike to work every day. I recalled that this weekend when I took my bike out for a spin along the same route. I also recalled, in passing by a deserted old moving/storage building, that for a brief period when I was expecting my first child, I worked there as a file clerk. It's right down by the docks and I recall being nauseated by the smells so my Mom picked me up every day and drove me home for lunch as the only thing I could stomach was poached eggs on toast.

It's been interesting exploring this old neighbourhood. I'm feeling quite at home here and every day a new memory emerges, nearly all of them pleasant. It's nice to be back!

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