Posted in 20th Century, anecdotes, childhood, growing up, history, memoirs, personal history, pets, Uncategorized, youth

Reigning Cats and Dogs, etc.

I’m not really sure where Smoky came from in the first place, and I’m even fuzzier about where he ended up, but it all started with him.

I was five years old when Smoky came into my life. He was my first kitten. He was small, all-black and had those little bright kitten-eyes that win you over along with those irresistible squeaky mews from a little pink-tongued maw.

From a very early age, I exhibited a love of animals. At the Immaculate Heart Day Nursery where I spent my happy pre-school days, I was known for my commanding performances of “Clarence, the Cross-eyed Lion” from the television show, “Daktari”, which of course involved crawling around on all fours and roaring.

I also loved to visit the animals at the small zoo at High Park in Toronto, and feeding the ducks of adjacent Grenadier Pond was the highlight of my days.

The very first movie I was ever taken to see in a theatre was the 1966 flick, “Born Free” about George and Joy Adamson and their pride of lions. I was five years old and it made a huge impression on me, so much so, that I desperately wanted to have my very own cat. That was when Smoky came on the scene.

All I can recall about the little black fella was that he loved to scale the drapes and secret himself away in the T.V. set to sleep beside the nice, warm tube. I have no idea how or when Smoky disappeared from my world, but he did! What I rather suspect is that there was some sort of overheating issue inside the old G.E. television set that nobody told me about.

In any case, we moved from Toronto to the suburbs and it wasn’t long before my whinging got to my dad’s soft heart and another creature came to live with us. This was the start of many a phyla to grace our home at number #### Triangle Road.

After Smoky, the first cat to come calling was a stray. She was a short-haired gingery tabby and she was hanging around our back porch. This had nothing to do with the fact that I was putting out saucers of milk every night, honest.

I begged to be allowed to keep the stray, but despite my pleas, my mother held firm against the idea. My dad was a bit more pliable.

It was Good Friday and I was at the bottom of the street visiting with my friend, Frances when the telephone rang. Her older sister, Rachel said it was for me. When I took the receiver, I was surprised to hear my mother’s voice say, “Come home, we’ve got a surprise for you.”

Well, no points for guessing what the surprise was; the stray-cat was in our kitchen lapping up a bowl of milk when I walked in the front door. I called her “Tammy”. I don’t remember why.

Tammy had a short and infamous time at our house. Looking back now, I can see it was because my mom had issues with a non-existent condition she believed Tammy had. The cat merely cleaned itself fastidiously, as felines are wont to do, but the excessive licking of her fur drove my mother to distraction and one day, Tammy was swept up and taken to the nearest shelter to be adopted by a more tolerant and deserving family.

A number of critters were introduced to erase the loss of poor Tammy from my memory: there was a fish called, “Goldie” or something equally inspired, and a turtle named “Sam”. Why a turtle would be deemed to have such a name is now beyond me, but that’s what I christened him. Perhaps it was taken from one of my favourite books, “Green Eggs and Ham”.

I can still recall the almost tender feel of Sam’s teency claws pinching my flesh. He had a very inauspicious life of floating about in his plastic dish, clambering up his plastic ramp and sunning himself under his plastic palm. It was sad when one night he hoisted himself over the plastic wall of his dish to make his big break for freedom and ended up dried out under the sofa. Of course you know what happened to “Goldie”—belly-up and the old flusheroo. Sam, being easier to handle, was buried in a cardboard box, in the backyard.

When my best friend Janey, next-door, got a kitten and named it Elsa (after the lion in my beloved “Born Free”), it wasn’t long before I had my dad driving me to the house where they got her so I could pick out one for myself. So began the “Misty” era.

Misty, was what they call a mackerel-tabby, in England. She was blackish grey with prominent striping—a real beauty! She was a lovely puss with a friendly disposition and when she was old enough we got her fixed. Problem is, the “fix” didn’t really take. When the “heat” was on in the Springtime, the local males were still getting a whiff of Misty and coming around to leave their calling cards—a bit of their singular scent along the sides of the house, in the bushes—everywhere! It wasn’t long before my mother got wind of the situation and started working on my father to do something about it. Before long, Misty was taking that all-too familiar trip down our driveway, and out of my life! I still swear she was sitting in the back window meowing for my help. I cried all night long.

You do get over these things and it really helps when your dad lets you get not one, but two budgerigars in their own fancy cage with perch and seed feeder and some sort of bone-thing to sharpen their beaks. Of course, being from a Catholic family, they had to be Christened with the names of saints (that’s the rule, didn’t you know?) and so they were called Peter and Paul(ine), after two of the most important apostles.

Budgies are fun. They are noisy and chipper, they sing sweet songs and you can carry them around on your index finger or your shoulder or even on your head. My birds were a beautiful cerulean colour with black and white striped heads and long tails. They had a good life. We treated them well, kept their cage free of their grey poop and fed them all that birds love to eat. Everything was just dandy until my dad thought they might like to go outside in the backyard for a bit to get some fresh air. He carted their rectangular cage out the door, through the garage and into the backyard and rested it on a chaise longue.

The fresh air went to P & P’s heads because they went mental! Somehow, one of them sprung the latch on the door and the other one beat it open. Off they flew, never to be seen again. Well, at least one of them was never seen again. The other one ended up on a neighbouring street in the house of a girl who lived across from my one of my school-friends. I know this because, while I was visiting Jane T. and we were playing outside, a neighbour-friend of Jane’s started talking about how they had found this blue budgie outside and now it was in her room and she was keeping it. It was hopeless to explain; she was never going to give it up and how could I prove it was my Peter, or Pauline?

That’s how why we turned once more to cat ownership. We’d just come back from a vacation visiting my mom’s family in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia and I got the notion to have another cat. There were lots of kittens at a farm near my cousin’s cottage on the Bras D’ Or Lakes, and I came back from the trip with a bee in my bonnet. My father, helpless against my pleas/tears gave in and we got a gorgeous silver tabby and called him Fourchu (sounds like For Sha) after a small town in C.B.

Fourchu (now “Forche”, like “Porche”) was a real charmer of a cat. He was cuddly, loving, fun to play with and would let you do anything to him. Sadly, he didn’t live too long because he developed a urinary problem that plagues many male cats and at the time, we (and apparently vets) knew little about how to treat it. It was recommended that we add tomato juice to Fourchu’s food, but I know now, that’s probably what did him in. After a hellish time, he had to be put to sleep.

One of my memories of Fourchu was how he used to sit atop the aquarium that housed our gerbils. My dad outfitted the glass case with a wood-frame, wire-mesh cover and Fourchu would lie on the mesh and make whimpering noises while the inhabitants bounced up and down and bumped his belly with their nubby noses.

In fact, that may be how Sneezer got his nose infection. He used to rub his nose furiously with his front paws until it bled. It would scab over and then he would start again. He was one of a trio of gerbils. My dad named them, “Caesar, Beezer and Sneezer”, partially after one of his favourite off-colour ditties from his British Army days. I googled it and can’t find any reference, so maybe he made it up. It went something like this: “Julius Caesar lit a beezer, off the coast of France”. I don’t know anything beyond that because whenever he started to tell it, he would end up gasping with laughter and not being able to go on. It was his little private joke.

In any case, Caesar, Beezer and Sneezer were so-monikered and they became playmates for me and my sister, Nancy. We didn’t buy plastic runnels and pods for our pets—no! We made them from scratch with empty tissue boxes and toilet rolls and our sleeves and pant-legs. If you’ve never had a gerbil run up your pant-leg then you’re missing out! It’s tickly and it makes you giggle and as a kid you actually believe the gerbils are having a whale of a time, but that’s probably just sheer panic that’s making them run like the devil, isn’t it?

Our poor trio came to bad ends. We had switched their abode from the aquarium to a nice wire cage with spinning wheel and Caesar got his foot caught and had to bite it off to free himself. He bled to death on the floor of the cage. We found him on Sunday morning upon returning from mass and running downstairs to check on our pack. I don’t know how many times he went around on his last ride; it doesn’t bear thinking about.

Beezer didn’t fare much better. My sister took him and Sneezer to school so they could be observed by her classmates and some bright spark of a thug-child dropped the brick that was holding down the lid right onto poor old Beez. I’m so glad I didn’t witness that.

Not really sure what happened to Sneezer. He probably just expired from sheer loneliness, or maybe his nasal infection finally killed him.

We had many pets in our house, and there’s more tales to tell, so watch this space..

Kat Mortensen©2009

Posted in 20th Century, anecdotes, childhood, growing up, memoirs, personal history

Grade School Confidential

When I wasn’t shoving mathematical compass-points under my finger-nails (by mistake, I assure you – I wasn’t some juvenile masochist), or trying not to gag up my peanut-butter and apple-slice sandwich after someone in the class barfed up HIS Beefaroni, I, like many of my female counterparts, was caught up in a crush.

A crush means you’re “sweet on” somebody, or you write their name in a big heart with a big AND, and your own moniker below. In my case, it meant being obsessed to the point of making anonymous phone calls and doing drive-bys on my one-speed bike.

I had many the crush in my early years. I have often wondered what it was that really drew me to the boys at such a young age. What did I truly hope to accomplish if and when I got their attention? Was I expecting to tiptoe through the tulips hand-in-hand and share ice-cream sandwiches at the Becker’s convenience store? Did I really anticipate little kisses and making daisy-chains together? Where did I get this notion?

Why did I have this yearning to get close to the members of the opposite sex in my elementary school? Even in nursery school there are photos of me holding the chubby hand of another boy in my class. Perhaps it all came about from seeing my parents so cozy and cuddly together. As much as I squeezed my Teddy (and rubbed his glass eye) he never squeezed back. Maybe it was at the same nursery school, when I was paired with a “Prince Charming” in a performance for our parents that I began to envision living out my own fairy tale. Perhaps it was the 1965 T.V. film of “Cinderella” with Lesley Anne Warren and Stuart Damon, I don’t know. All I do know is that I was smitten with every tow-headed, freckle-faced, checked-shirted shorty of the Sixties and Seventies that even smiled crookedly at me or loaned me a pencil from his prized plaid case.

The sad part is, they weren’t smitten back.

I was a pretty smart kid in Grade School. I had transferred from Our Lady of Sorrows elementary in Toronto, where I had astonished my teachers at my ability to read and write. In my new school, St. Francis de Sales, I was in Grade One when I was summoned to the Principal’s interior office for a personal assessment by him. His name was Mr. Miller and he was the nicest man. Over a few days, he tested my abilities with the conclusion being that I was rather advanced for my age.

In the 60s we didn’t really have “enriched” programs and I wasn’t accelerated to Grade Two or anything, but I was designated some work that was more appropriate to my strengths. This was great for my education, but not so great for my personal advancement in the eyes of the boys. I became a bit of a threatening figure I guess. I was too much of a smarty pants for those young lads who were still grappling with spelling their own names.

I was a shrimpy little kid. My mother will be pleased to relate the story about how I’m an “eight-month baby” and that apparently accounts for any ailment I’ve ever had from Chicken Pox to Alopecia. To this day, my pre-mature origins are put down as the cause for every sniffle, sore throat and stomach upset To my way of thinking, the only detrimental effect of being premature was that it gave me a handicap in stature and made me as clumsy and uncoordinated as a foal just popped out of its mother’s belly.

When it came to gym class, I was hopeless – a scrawny little, bandy-legged runt with bad eyesight. No baseball, volleyball, basketball, or scoop-ball didn’t get the better of me. I couldn’t catch, throw, run, jump, vault, or whack in any way shape or form. I was always the last one picked for a team, and spent most of my outdoor Phys-ed days as far out in the field as possible, hoping to be forgotten or at least left alone.

My one saving grace was that I could dance. In folk-dancing, I was a pretty little thing in peasant dress and buster browns – all smiles, with coloured ribbons streaming from my golden hair.

Problem is, boys don’t like to dance, do they? A little too close for comfort, right? Too many steps to learn, restrictive clothing and it’s just not manly enough. So, where did that leave me? I was a too-smart, non-athletic, puny girl with no hope of attracting the boys I so longed to be with. So, what did I do?

I did what many girls have always done through the ages, I got my friend to tell the boy that I liked him. Then there was that waiting … and waiting … and waiting to find out what he said. Problem was, nine times out of ten, he liked the girlfriend, didn’t he? Or, he was just a boy’s boy – didn’t like the girls (yet) and just was NOT interested.

So then what did I do? I got out the phonebook, looked up his last name and tracked down his phone number. (I have been known to do some pretty amazing detective work with a phone book in my time. I have infinite patience when it comes to getting a result over a man/boy. I had no problem spending literally hours tracking down someone’s address simply because I had the phone number and it was in my home-city.)

The phone number was excellent for making those after-school calls to the boy’s house. Unfortunately, it was often his older brother who answered and gave your true love a really hard time, thus turning him off the prospect of speaking with you even before he reached the phone. Worse still, was if a parent answered and he was embarrassed even more. Often he would not even come to the phone.

In that case, Plan B had to be put into action; time to get out the blue bicycle, put on the windbreaker, grab your best friend (who wasn’t always as keen as you would hope) and cycle over to his house. This involved skill in anticipating where he might be at the time. He was most likely outside on his or a neighbour’s driveway shooting a ball at a raggy old hockey net (this is Canada, after all), or he’d be playing tag with a bunch of friends (just like I should have been doing, if I’d had any sense).

Often, you would ride by and there’d be no sign of your prey. The adrenaline would be flowing as you cycled past the white-siding bungalow like the alter-ego of the Wicked Witch of the West in “The Wizard of Oz”. Quite frankly, I think, to your boy-target you had about as much appeal as Miss Gulch too.

When you didn’t catch sight of him, you’d circle around and have another breeze past the house. As many times as it took, you and your gal-pal would pedal furiously back and forth until the boy emerged, unknowingly, rather like a deer in the forest, held in the sight of a hunter’s rifle.

Bang! There he is! You’d squeal, and suddenly he’d catch sight of you and his face would run scarlet as the behind of a newborn with diaper rash. Swiftly, he would make a mad dash around the corner and out of sight, never to be seen again.

In school, you’d send scrap-paper missives his way asking if he saw you at his house. He would ignore them. Undaunted, you’d send a friend over to ask him point blank. Never a good plan, for these little charmers can turn when cornered. He would go all red again, but this time, not with embarrassment, with anger. “Get lost!” He’d say pointedly to her, all the while glaring at you. Your hopes dashed, you would go home that night and sniff a bit, but in those days you were a resilient little madam and the next day, you’d set your sights on some other Mc or Mac or St. Something-or-other (Catholic school, remember?)There was always somebody else to fill their size 4 sneakers.

I’ll leave you with my most catastrophic fatal attraction:
It was Grade Eight and I still had not learned that I needed to let the boys come to me. I was absolutely smitten with a bleach-blonde boy called DW, who was in Grade Seven. I can still picture him: he wore a brown-plaid mid-length jacket most of the time that offset his beachy hair. He had a gorgeous smile and blue eyes. I had just seen “The Way We Were” and I fancied him as a very (very) young Robert Redford. I was really in love this time.

DW also went to my church, so every Sunday I was keen to get to mass, where I knew I could catch a glimpse of him dressed in his finery for the Lord. At school, he barely gave me the time of day. By junior high, I had attained two broken teeth in a bicycle accident, was sporting gorgeous tortoise-shell framed glasses that could start a fire in an instant and my now mousy-brown hair had a tendency toward the oily side. Hand-me-down polyester top-stitched jeans and skin tight sweaters that revealed either my undershirt or training-bra, did nothing to captivate the boys in school (for all the Yardley pot-o-gloss lipgloss I smeared on my lips).

I truly was a brave young lady though, because I wrote DW a long letter trying to explain my admiration for him, appealing to his sense of Christianity and decency to give me a chance. Not only did he tear it to pieces and flush it down the toilet, when I asked him if he had read it, he took fiendish delight in telling me he had done so.

Such is the course of young love, mostly one-sided and often ending up down the pan.

Kathleen Mortensen©2009

Posted in 20th Century, anecdotes, childhood, growing up, memoirs, personal history, Uncategorized, youth

A Kiss Is Still A Kiss

As a little girl, I used to love my Daddy’s kisses. He would come home from work and I would run towards him, fling myself into his arms and call out, “Take ‘er, Daddy!” He would scoop me up and plant one on me. I would laugh and then he’d put me down and give my mom a kiss. This went on for many years, until I was a teenager, I almost always would race up to my dad when he got home, give him a kiss and then go on my way. Even as a teenager and a young adult, I never failed to give both him and my mom a kiss goodnight. We were a very loving family.

Lots of people remember their first kiss. They treasure it along with the faded rose pressed between the old book on the shelf or tucked away in the corner of a “hope chest” in the attic. I’m not much of a sentimentalist. That’s not to say that I’m not emotional, or don’t carry memories in my mind, I do, it’s just that I don’t hold on to many physical mementoes and I don’t remember my first kiss.

Perhaps it’s because my first kiss wasn’t very memorable to begin with, or maybe because the person who gave it to me didn’t rank very high on my scale of desirability. More than likely, it’s because I soon afterward sent him packing – not for the kiss, but because I just felt hemmed in.

At the age of 15 I had my first date and although it was exciting to experience, I don’t remember being too keen to have a second one, at least not with that particular fellow.

I tended to hanker after the boys I could never have, thus rendering me safe to have my fantasies, but not ever to have to act upon them. It was a good method, especially for a Catholic girl who wasn’t supposed to get physical with boys in the first place. Of course, eventually some boys came along with whom I wanted to spend more time and eventually I quite enjoyed kissing. In fact, I would say that along the way I became quite expert at kissing. I grew to like it – a whole lot!
 
On the other hand, I was kissed by quite a number of boys who I never wanted to kiss again. If the kiss went badly, they were history! They probably never knew what had gone wrong and I sincerely apologize if I hurt their feelings, but let’s just say that if you had a moustache, or you shoved your tongue in my mouth, unbidden, or your lips were too dry, or too gooey, or your 5 o’clock shadow shaved the skin off my cheek, or you didn’t smell right – too flowery, or worse still, I tasted aftershave on your lips, then you’ve only yourself to blame.

I suppose I always gravitated to someone with a semblance of what my father had in terms of appearance and demeanour (although I would never have thought so at the time). My father was clean-shaven (and my mother and I made sure he stayed that way). Any suggestion of facial hair and my mother would harangue him until it came off.
 
If I was interested enough in someone to accept a date and that person did have facial hair, I either was just curious to see what it would be like to kiss them (not so good, as it turned out) or I had intentions of making them change it for me if I liked them enough. This rarely happened. The kiss with the hairy moustache usually resulted in the heave-ho.

Once, when I was quite a bit older, I was working in a school as a personal assistant to a blind student in Grade 9. I took a shine to his Science teacher, a fairly meek, reddish-haired, bespectacled and bearded man who was 11 years my senior. Every time he came around to give personal instruction to my charge, I would fairly gush over him – making huge gaffes in my speech and blushing beetroot red at the same time. I finally decided to take the bull by the horns and approach him. I believe I said something along the lines of “I’m quite nervous around you, you seem to like me, why don’ t we go out and see if we can overcome all this?” He was quite amenable to the idea and we went out for a nice Italian pasta dinner and to see a Japanese film.

I think what I liked about Mr. Science, was his intelligence. He had a not bad sense of humour and he was a perfect gentleman, but the age difference made me feel nervous because I really felt this guy was ready to take the big leap, if you know what I mean and I definitely wasn’t thinking along those lines.

After a couple of dates (on one occasion I happened to mention that I didn’t like beards, by the way), I took him to my favourite dance bar, and he stuck out like a big ol’ sore thumb! My usual crowd were looking at me like I’d brought my dad along and I knew that there was no way this could go on.

When Mr. Science called a few days later, I told my parents to tell him I was sick with the flu and couldn’t even talk on the phone!
 That night, I was in my room when the doorbell rang. I hung inside the doorway, listening while my dad answered (it was after dinner and rarely did someone just show up at our door). I could barely hear the conversation, but there was a definite exchange and then I did hear my dad say, “Oh, she’s sick with the flu – he could lie with the best of them when required – she’s in bed.” “Took one of those Nyquil things and went out like a light.” (My mom added from behind). Then I heard a voice say, “Oh, Well could you give these to her when she wakes up?” There was a rustling of paper and then the door was shut and the person was gone.

I heard my dad say something and then my mom came charging down hall to where I was cringing in my bedroom doorway. She had a huge bouquet of rosesin her arms.
She said, “You’re going to have to tell him you don’t want to see him anymore.” Then she started to laugh. I said, “What’s so funny?” She replied, “Well, I didn’t recognize him at first because he shaved off his beard.” I was stunned. I never thought he’d take it that far. I realized then that I’d made a narrow escape. This guy was SERIOUS!

I spent the better part of the rest of that school year, dodging Mr. Science by taking circuitous routes in and out of my blind-student’s high school. Eventually, he gave up on the experiment. He grew back the beard and everything was forgotten. We never did kiss.

When I was in a high school, a fairly decent looking guy I knew suggested we get together to “do homework”. I was game and invited him over to my house one evening. As I recall, he said he needed my help on an English essay, I didn’t suspect anything and, as I say, he was cute enough, so I went along with it.

Well, P came over and we did do a bit of homework, but he wasn’t really paying attention for some reason. I was right into the essay – would have got a good mark if it had been my own.

When it came time to leave, P was sitting on our landing at the top of the stairs to put on his shoes (my parents were in the family room downstairs watching t.v.). I sat down beside P, in a friendly sort of way – like you do, when suddenly he grabbed me, and pressed his lips against mine. It was only seconds before he was sticking his thick, sea-urchin-like tongue into my mouth. It actually made me gag! I pulled away and stared at him like he’d just walked in off the street. I’m pretty sure I said, “I think you should go home now.” (or something to that effect).
 
I even told my mother what had happened because quite frankly, I was disgusted! Fortunately, P wasn’t in my grade at school, he was a year junior to mine. It was easy to steer clear of him and that I did. He eventually got married to someone I always considered rather snotty and I often thought about how she would most likely spend the rest of her life kissing a mouth with a big, thick, prickly tongue. Better her than me!

Then there were they guys of whom you just could not get enough. Their kisses were the perfect combination of texture, pressure, intensity and taste. When your lips came together it was soft and tender at first and then deeper and fervent and finally, one of you would find a crevice between the top and bottom teeth and you would explore each other’s mouths like you were savouring a bowl of jell-o with Cool Whip on top. It was heavenly!

When you first saw each other, you watched each other’s lips move as you spoke, watched the corners of the mouth rise and fall, the teeth flash when they smiled. You conversed, but all you could think about was when you would come face to face and your two lips would meet. It drove you to distraction!

Sometimes, you would wait for that second meeting, but sometimes that was just impossible! You would be talking about some insignificant thing and one of you would move in a bit closer and then it would happen; your lips would touch and that would be it. The rest of the night you would spend in a back booth of kissing until your lips were chapped.
 
I was pretty forward for a Catholic girl. If I felt the molecular charge (and for me that was quite rare), I would act upon it, either by stating my feelings or by touching the person’s face. I was not afraid.

When I met my husband, back in 1993, it was a “blind” date of sorts because we met through a telephone dating service. It was de rigueur to meet in this way. There was no internet dating, no “e-Harmony” or “Tinder”.

Our first date was spent in an open restaurant in the middle of a mall. To say we got on “like a house on fire” would be an understatement. Every joke he told made me genuinely laugh; every thing I said, held his interest. We had many things in common, our upbringings, though at opposite ends of the city were very much the same and our cultural references, identical. We connected in a big way.
 
I felt an immediate trust in this new man I had only just met. I threw caution to the wind and even accepted an invitation to sit in his car and listen to his new “Waterboys” cd. (How bad could he be, if he liked them?)

True to my instincts, he was the perfect gentleman and we had great fun enjoying the music and getting to know one another. I came away from the date thinking, “I like this man. I’m not going to get carried away, but I DO like him and he’s a really nice guy.”

Strange things happen to you when you really have an attraction to someone. In their absence, they seem to be always at the back of your mind, your curiosity perpetually musing over unanswered questions: What does he eat for breakfast? Where does he go for fun? Does he like “The Cure”? What would he be doing right now?
 
The true test for me as to whether I really was in to someone was if I could see their face when they were gone. If I could envision them, detail by detail and feature by feature, they were in serious jeopardy. If their face became a blur, they were in for the long run. K had turned into The Invisible Man.

When we finally got together for a second date, we went to the movies to see Woody Allen’s latest, Manhattan Murder Mystery. It was a laugh and we both enjoyed it. I don’t remember whether or not we held hands or he put his arm around me.

On the way back to my house, I suggested we stop off at my favourite little Irish pub. When he parked in the parallel spot in front, we sat in the bucket seats of his white Toyota and listened to my current favourite classical piece at that time (I’d heard it on a skating competition), the Meditation from Thaïs by Jules Massenet, performed by Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg. I was always very moved by this piece and this time was no exception. I felt an exhilaration and my emotion was infectious for he was feeling the same way. Again, I decided to do something risky. Thinking of how date-night typically ends with that awkward moment where you have the first kiss, I said, “Let’s just get this kiss out of the way, so we can enjoy ourselves.” He was game. He moved in and I leaned over. Our lips brushed, lightly at first and then more insistently. It was just right. All the elements came together in perfect harmony. Who could have known that this was to be the first kiss with the only man I would ever kiss again in that same way?
 
Sorry, Mr. Science. It’s all about the right chemistry, don’t you know?

Kathleen Mortensen©2009

Posted in 20th Century, anecdotes, growing up, memoirs, personal history, youth

Uh, What’s Up Doc?

Coming down with a pain in the arse nasty cold/sore throat the last few days has only served to remind me how vulnerable I have always been to such sicknesses.  My mother would of course attribute this to my being “an eight-month baby”, since that is her reason for any of my ailments or issues in life, but I know better, it’s just my constitution. 

Despite an obsessive use of antibacterial hand-sanitizers, daily intake of multi-vitamins, garlic capsules and eating a rather healthy diet low in fats and sugars, I find myself ‘under the weather’.  This has been my lot many times in my personal history.

I was lucky to be one of those children who did not have too many stomach flus.  I had a few bouts, but they weren’t often and I am grateful for that since dry heaves are anything but fun.  I recall one occasion when my cat, Atocha loyally followed me to and from the bathroom as I hung over the toilet and even lay beside me when I sought out the coolness of the linoleum floor.

I had a few ear-aches in my very early days which were excruciating, but then I think most babies and toddlers get those, but it was only as I got older that my two persistent health issues became apparent. 
 
In Grade Nine, I remember I was reading Mary Stewart’s book, “Nine Coaches Waiting” for my English class with Mrs. Egan.  Mrs. E appeared to be about 85 years old, but in retrospect she was probably only a frumpy 60.  This was in my Catholic Girls’ school and such a book was about as exciting as we could hope for – with the romance of a chateau, a governess and the suspense of a dark secret.  I loved it!

About this time, I developed a fever. No, it wasn’t the hot scenes in the book; it was a legitimate hot-headed temperature’s-rising kind of fever and with it, came a red, raw sore throat.  Even the book could not hold me captive as the fever raged, and pretty soon my parents decided I needed a doctor (since I never put a good book down unless I was really ill). 

Amazingly (although it was the 1970s), the doctor came to my house and right into the pink and white striped room with the twin beds with the red bedspreads.  Somewhere under a collection of stuffed toys, he found me whimpering in a pool of sweat. He stuck a tongue depressor in my mouth, and after lifting up my nightgown (I think I had graduated from undershirts by that time, but my boobies were nothing to write home about), he placed the cold stethoscope on my back to listen to my lungs, I guess.

My tongue was strawberry-coloured, but turned white when depressed, my sore throat flecked with white spots and I had a rampant rash on my chest, in my armpits and behind my ears.  The doctor’s diagnosis was Scarlet Fever and Strep Throat. I had never known anybody who’d had such an archaic illness other than me. One time Bobby, in my class had “Whooping Cough” which was funny because he called it “Hooping cough”, but that was as unusual as it got, until I got the Fever.

A course of penicillin put me right, but I had a real problem with swallowing medicine, especially pills.  When I was small, Mom used to come at me with a spoonful of some tonic called Maltevol 12.  It had the consistency of motor oil and tasted like molasses mixed with fish in a base of sherry wine. Ugh! 

When I was a teenager, my dad suddenly went on a health kick, taking multi-vitamins called Paramettes.  He insisted that I take one everyday too.  No Flintstones chewables for me. No!  I had to swallow the red horse-pills.  I gagged every time and soon I was taking them with applesauce or tablespoons of jam, but I got to dread each morning when that pill was waiting for me on the plate beside my glass of orange juice and I really hated my dad for forcing me to take them.  Eventually, he gave up, but I had a phobia of pill-taking for years afterward and when the penicillin for strep was prescribed, I had to crush the pills between two spoons and take them with chocolate milk to get them down.

I was home from school for quite a while with my special sickness and I did manage to finish the book.  I was to become very familiar with various types of penicillin over the years.

My other weakness was my stomach.  In school, I was a perfectionist and put a great deal of pressure on myself to perform well.  When it came exam time, I did succeed, but when it was over I began to experience terrible stomach pains.  A searing knife in the gut is what it felt like and usually it would hit in the middle of the night.  So I’d be sleeping soundly, seemingly relaxed after taking a test and doing okay and then suddenly I’d wake up feeling like somebody had just stabbed me in the stomach. 

Back to the doc I went.  His verdict? Nervous stomach.  Okay, that made sense, but what to do about it?  The answer was a  pill (isn’t it always?) that calmed the stomach.  Only problem was, it really didn’t do the job and even half a pill could render me like a drunken fool.  In fact, I once took a pill and went  out dancing in a Toronto club known to regulars as Domino’s, had a couple of drinks and nearly ended up in a heap on the dance floor.  My boyfriend at the time – and another friend – drove me home (didn’t take advantage), although they just kind of opened my front door, popped me inside and drove away. Nice.

As time went on, life-stresses increased. University exams for university — which are far more tension-inducing than high school’s ever were — made the stomach issue worse.  Furthermore, my favourite foods, like spicy spaghetti sauces seriously aggravated my condition.  What was my doctor’s answer? An even stronger pill.  This was after I had the loveliest of diagnostic tests, the barium x-ray.  If you’ve never had a barium x-ray, consider yourself very fortunate indeed.   You know when Tom Sawyer used to whitewash the fence for Aunt Polly?  Picture that whitewash in a big plastic cup.  Now tip it up to your lips and drink it all down.  Mmmm!  Tasty. 

Somebody discovered that barium in the stomach shows up on an x-ray. I’d like to meet that guy in a dark alley, too bad, he’s probably dead.  The results of the test showed that I had an ulcer.  I was 21 years old. Ranitidine (prescription Zantac) became my best friend.  I lived on it for over 13 years.

First year university was a real learning experience on many levels.  There was, of course, learning from books. Then there was that other great school, the “School of Social Learning” a. k. a. “partying”. Sometimes social learning supersedes book-learning. Sometimes, when a pitcher of long island iced tea is involved on a Friday night at the campus pub, that happens. In my first year of university, both types of learning were put on hold.
 
After my first end-of term exams I had a whole month off school. Time to regroup, as they say — read some assigned novels to get a head start on Term Two, and time for family and Christmas and food and friends. Only problem was, I got hit with a super-colossal whammy – the flu.  This was no ordinary flu, this was a knock ‘em down, drag ‘em out, put you in bed for a week with a semi-comatose head kind of flu.  I was on penicillin again, this time I took it with Strawberry Quik (the cartoon rabbit on the label captured my dazed look to a tee). To this day, I cannot even smell the stuff without gagging.

I spent the entire Christmas holidays in bed.  I was so out of it, I couldn’t even read.  I listened to the radio on my bedside table because in those days our television was the size and weight of a dishwasher and I was too drugged to drag myself out to the couch in the living room.  I know that people called to find out how I was and I even spoke to them, but I was like a dementia patient, as soon as I hung up the phone, I forgot who I’d talked to and sometimes that I’d been on the phone at all. While all my friends were out partying the holidays away, I was in a stupor under the red bedspread in my sad little pink and white striped room with the big-eyed art. I recovered just in time for the first day back to classes. Yipee.
 
My stomach didn’t get any better though, it was a roller-coaster of bland diets like buttered toast, boiled eggs, pasta with a bit of parmesan and water to wash it down.  Contrary to what was originally thought, milk didn’t actually improve one’s stomach, it aggravated it because of lactic acid. What I really enjoyed eating was curried noodles with green peppers and onions, or pasta sauce with red chili flakes, and alcoholic drinks or at least a can of coke, for Pete’s sake.  I could do none of these things without violent repercussions from within.

Sometimes I had to weigh the odds: was it worth the severe gut-wrenching pain in the wee hours for that plate of Kung Pao Chicken and the glass of Merlot? Often, the dangerous dish would win out, but in the end, I’d be the loser – cursing myself and writhing in pain. How did I spell relief? It sure wasn’t Tums or Maalox, or Mylanta.  I tried them all, but none of them worked, only the prescription would take the pain away. Back to the Ranitidine I would frantically go, snapping open the bottle and greedily tossing back a couple in the hope of relief.

This seesaw went on for years. Between the rigours of dating, getting a degree, family trials and just plain living, I spent the better part of it medicated.  It wasn’t until after I was married that I found a saviour of sorts.

We had moved from the big city to a small town and just found a new doctor.  We were hoping to have a family and I needed a check up. My first visit with him proved enlightening on two levels.   First of all, when he learned I had been on Ranitidine for so many years he said, “Do you know that this drug can affect your fertility?”  I took that fairly calmly, all things considered. It’s not like I had any choice, the pain was intolerable and the medication worked to relieve it.

When the doctor learned about my stomach issues he told me about another doctor in a nearby city who was doing trials of a new treatment to cure stomach ulcers.  He wondered if I’d like to be a “guinea pig”.  I figured I had nothing to lose, so I went to see Doctor Chang. 

I was a bit nervous because he told me he would first have to do a scope of my stomach to determine if I was a candidate for the treatment.  He would be looking for the presence of the Helicobacter Pylori bacteria which they were trying to link to recurring stomach ulcers.  Apparently, Australian researchers had discovered the H-Pylori bacteria and were now treating it with a combination of bismuth and some other drug with great results.  I was encouraged, but not anxious for the scope.

First, I would have to have blood-work (which I loathe) and then later, in the doctor’s office, I would be put under anaesthetic and a long tube inserted through my mouth and way down into my stomach.  I must admit, Barium x-rays were looking pretty good at that point. 

I was willing to overcome my fear in the hope of some permanent relief, so the day came when I was in a room, in a sort of dentist-chair and the doc put me under and put the tube down and had a look around. Eureka! There it was, good ol’ H-Pylori. He was in there all the time, causing me grief whenever I gave in and had something fried, or put pepper on my dinner. 

The very good news was that Doctor Chang was prepared to give me a 1 week course of the treatment for free, since I was a trial subject.  I got my new prescriptions and headed home. 

To say that week was hell would be severely undercutting the reality.  I  had migraines, stomach upset, nausea and I “looked like the wrath of God” as my mom likes to say. It was hell, but when it was over the H Pylori was dead and gone. 

Another scope proved that the treatment had worked and I could now go and live my life pain-free, and eat anything I wanted.  I gave my doctor a batch of homemade peanut butter-chocolate chip muffins (much to his delight) and we were even.

I have had no trouble since that day 14 years ago.  I can eat what I want and drink what I want and I use pepper on just about everything, even pizza! If occasionally I get an upset stomach, a couple of Tums or a dose of Pepto Bismol does the trick.
(If you, or anyone you know suffer from stomach problems like I had, please talk to your doctor about H-Pylori bacteria.  The treatment is much simpler now and the relief is worth it.)

As for strep throats, I still get sore, raw ones, but so far I’ve not seen any tell-tale white dots on my tonsils and the only fever I get is a hormonal rage that happens at about 9:30 every night.

I guess relatively speaking in the medical journals, I’ve gotten off lightly thus far.  I’m trying to keep it that way.

Kathleen Mortensen©2009

Posted in 20th Century, anecdotes, childhood, growing up, memoirs, personal history

A Doll’s House

First off, let me just say that some dolls creep me right out. I’m not one for porcelain dolls or life-like baby dolls. Maybe it was a movie I saw or a museum exhibit, I’m not sure, but most dolls give me the willies. However, as a very little girl, I used to like to drag around a baby doll (an over-scrubbed one from a future post). I graduated to Mattel’s “Chatty Cathy” when I was around 5 or 6 years old. In Grade One, my teacher, Miss Garnett (Hey, Miss “G”!) nicknamed me “Chatty Cathy” because I basically never shut up. My school reports always read: “Excellent progress, but talks too much.” By the way, Miss G and I got on famously — she even wrote me a letter from Europe when she went on her summer holidays. At the time, I thought she was so old, but now I know she was probably only about 22. Isn’t it funny how we perceive the age of adults when we are children? Of course, as we ourselves get older, what WE think of as old gets higher and higher in number, does it not? At 47, I think 90 is pretty old, but 20 years ago, I thought 50 was ancient! From “Chatty Cathy”, I moved up to Ideal’s sister doll to Tammy, “Pepper” . She was a spunky little, curly-mopped doll with dresses and ensembles not unlike my own at the time. In fact, WE could have been sisters. She was fun to play with and like me, she was an only child — well, an orphan really, since no one ever thought to provide her with parent-dolls. She had the company of my three favourite stuffed toys: Teddy, the orange and white bear, sent to me at age 6 months by my dad’s sister, Josie, all the way from the UK. Then there was Doggie, a little velveteen Boston Terrier. When you curled back his lips, a gorgeous red velvet was revealed. Who ever would have thought to put in that detail, I wonder? There was also a very large pink poodle with a huge head. He had a zipper running the length of his under-carriage, wherein a little girl might stuff a pair of pajamas, or secret away anything private. Pinky (You saw that one coming, didn’t you?) was kept around for a long time since he was quite useful in that way as I came to acquire (or create) more “private” stuff. Around about the late 60s, I was inducted into the Mattel cult of Barbie. My parents weren’t up on the whole Barbie world, however, and instead of the typical, blonde, busty bimbo, I got straight-legged “Francie”. She was probably my dad’s choice as he was known to favour the brunettes on film. He liked Hedy Lamarr, (He always said, “She can put her shoes under my bed, anytime!”), Sylvia Sidney, Audrey Hepburn and Cyd Charisse who, according to Daddy, had the best legs on film. Francie was cute, and I wasn’t disappointed. After all, I’m not a blonde either, so it was kind of like dressing myself (if I had been older and self-sufficient or independently wealthy). She did have limitations with those legs, though: she couldn’t ride a horse (Doggie), or pedal a bike, or even sit in a chair, so she had as much fun as she could standing ramrod straight, or lying down in her case, looking gorgeous. Her case was white plastic with a silver metal clasp on the side and a carrying handle at the top. Lord knows, that case got carted around from house to house when I visited friends and relatives. It unsnapped and opened up to reveal a semi-closet with tiny metal rod and little plastic hangers (remember those?) for her ever-burgeoning wardrobe and accessories (which had their own pull-out drawer). Later on, I would get another Barbie – replete with large breasts, bendable legs and bikini, but no Ken doll, or any “Action Jackson” or “G.I. Joe” ever entered the Davison house. Why? I think it was to avoid the possibility of an unseemly encounter while either one of them was being undressed. We were a good Catholic family after all; we couldn’t have anyone’s lumps or bumps accidentally grazing each other, could we? A bit of an odd entry also appeared on the doll front in the late 60s. They were a kind of blend of the “Gumby and Pokey” concept with cute, long-haired, little girl figures. They were charming and bendy and fun and came in cool picture-frame packages with neat accessories like rocking horses and sailboats, but they were also the source of humiliation at my and the other not-endowed girls’ expense.  When grade school boys cottoned on to the name of “Flatsy” they decided to use it to tease and taunt any girls who had yet to “blossom” into early womanhood. They would chant, “Flatsy, Flatsy, they’re flat and that’s that!” (Thanks, marketing manager!) as they pointed and giggled and then ran away. The “Flatsy” girls were never to be seen in the high branches of the big oak tree out back of the school, being explored by the big boys in Grade Six. Too bad they didn’t make a rubber doll called, “Busty” – we could have got our own back with that one! My favourite doll of all-time had to be the Topper “Dawn Doll”. She was a miniature version of the Barbie doll – standing at only 4 3/4 “, but she had lovely, long, straight hair. Her tiny face was made up to perfection and her wardrobe was a knockout blend of groovy casuals and haute couture pieces! I can only vaguely remember a few outfits that any of my dolls owned, my Barbies shared a beautiful, tiered and scalloped, white organza, mid-calf dress and Dawn had a funky red raincoat with a black belt. Janey (my bff of earlier posts) had an Angie doll from the same line and the two of us played with them for hours on end. We even took them swimming in our 3 foot deep, above-ground pool in the backyard. For some reason we found it highly entertaining to watch their long locks get sucked up into the pump of the pool. We kids were easily amused back then, weren’t we? Now we have to have reality shows and action movies and celebrity magazines and shopping sprees to keep ourselves entertained. Whatever happened to the fantasy-world we lived in with dolls? One Christmas, Santa brought me this fantastic, plastic box that opened up into 3 distinct, funky, pre-decorated rooms, complete with molded plastic furniture in primary colours. It was sort of disco meets mid-century modern crossed with 1950’s stay-at-home mom. What a trippy little palace the “Barbie Family House” was. Fortunately, there was room for everybody – Francie, Barbie, the Flatsies, Dawn and Angie and all the visitors that stopped in from time to time. The “Family House” had a carrying -handle in the top of the box and I used to heft it next door to Jane’s house, where unbeknownst to my parents, she had a “Ken Carson” doll and a bendable “Brad” who were very lucky men-about-town, because they got to share a bed with not one, but two or three bosomed and négligéed girls. It was a kind of “Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice” sort of family. Perhaps the doll culture is why we women become rather controlling in our relationships with men/spouses. I mean, after all, we spend years as kids, putting words into the mouths of all our plastic figures; we make them say what we want them to say. It’s only when we come together in real life, that we realize that doesn’t work. “Ken” has a mind of his own…and says what HE wants to say. Wouldn’t it be great if you could just put your man in his case every once in a while and snap it shut? Or select a new beach cover up for him and pop on a new hair-piece? Then you’d take him out later and everything would be just Jim-Dandy. Kathleen Mortensen©2009
Posted in 20th Century, anecdotes, childhood, growing up, memoirs, personal history, Uncategorized

Golden Slumbers

I was very fortunate as a little girl to have parents who doted on me. At Christmas, “Santa” brought (almost*) everything I could wish for and on my birthday, I was pretty spoiled too. One of my earliest memories is of a big square cake with LifeSavers all over the top. It was a fantastic cake for a four year old.

My parents were very sociable people and probably because I was an only child, they wanted me to have a large circle of friends. When birthday time rolled around there was no hesitation about inviting some pals, having a big fancy cake, playing pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey and sending everybody off with a bag of loot.

The older I got, the more elaborate the parties became. We’re not talking pony rides or clowns or anything like that (unless you count my dad’s general goofiness,) but the numbers increased, my dresses got fancier, there were more gifts and the cakes were even more fabulous!

My birthday is in late June, so summer activities and treats were always a part of things. We had a small bright green and yellow, rectangular plastic pool. It was the kind you put together rather like a tent, with metal poles and red plastic triangular corner seats. We filled it up with the garden hose and then, it was, “Everybody into the pool!”. Imagine a dozen little girls running around in little frilly bathing suits, some sporting tight rubber beflowered caps, and all shrieking at the tops of their lungs when they would dipped their little white toes in the frigid water. It took a while for the hose-water to warm up and then all the party-kids would jump in and start splashing about. Then my mom would appear with her special popsicles made from kool-aid and jell-o, so when you licked them, they would never lose their juiciness. Heaven!

In the 1970s, it became popular for kids (girls, particularly) to host and attend slumber or “pajama parties” and have guests sleep overnight, . For me, this had its good points, and its bad ones too, I enjoyed the “party” element, but the sleepover part was always troublesome.

I hosted my first sleepover when I was turned 8 years old. Everyone brought, groovy coloured sleeping bags and mine was a military blue with striped flannel inside. My father, who was ex-British Army, had sewn on elasticized straps at the bottom to secure the bag when it was rolled up. Ever the utilitarianist, he had used straps made from the waistbands of his old underpants. Sheer humiliation!

When it came time to go to sleep, we lay out our bags on the carpeted floor of an empty dining room because my folks were still in the process of furnishing our new suburban bungalow. We were all giddy with excitement at sleeping together in the same room and the chatter was noisy and incessant. After a few yells from my parents, the noisiness gradually faded and the girls nodded off one by one. Only then, did it dawn on me how hard and uncomfortable the floor was. I could not stop thinking about how my nice bed with the soft mattress and all my stuffed toys, was just down the hall.

Slowly and silently I unzipped my bag, grabbed my pillow and my teddy bear and sneaked down to my bedroom at the back of the house. I don’t think that move did much for my reputation. Everybody else woke up the next morning in a heap on the floor with cricks in their necks and sleep in their eyes. I emerged, bright eyed, bushy-tailed and ravenous for pancakes! As I recall, it didn’t take long for somebody to rat me out in class, I was a sissy from that day onward.

Turns out, not only could I not sleep on the dining room floor, but on a number of occasions I bailed out in sleepover situations. When my parents went to a dinner party at my friend Donna’s house, I was all set to stay over, until I heard Mommy and Daddy preparing to leave at the end of the night. I could not let them go without me! I raced down the stairs with my little travel case all packed and said, in a small voice, “I want to go home to my own bed.” My parents were mortified, but they knew better than to argue with me when I had made up my mind.

On another occasion, I was to stay at my girlfriend Janey’s house, just up the road. We had a nice dinner, watched some t.v. , and played a fun game, but when it came time to go to bed, I lost my nerve and Janey’s mom had to call my dad to come and pick me up and take me home. I was never invited to stay over again.

I bailed on my best friend, (another Jane) next door. When my dad put up the army- issue pup tent in my backyard, we got our sleeping bags in, crawled inside, nattered on about nothing for ages and then she fell asleep. Good thing my parents didn’t lock the back kitchen door because there I was, pillow under one arm and teddy clutched in the other, waiting to be let in like a lost dog in the rain.

Thankfully, there was a cut-off point for these events; once you hit high school age, it was uncool to have pajama parties.

Nowadays, I find sleep is very fragile as you get older and I still much prefer to sleep in my own bed than anywhere else on earth. As far as sleeping bags or camping are concerned, don’t even go there!

*See sidebar for “The Easy-bake Oven Mystery”.

Kat Mortensen ©2009

Posted in 20th Century, anecdotes, childhood, growing up, memoirs, personal history

Miss Sporting Life

I was born early – a month early to be precise. I was meant to be brought into the world at the end of July, 1961. Instead, I made my entrance on June 24th at St. Blank’s Hospital in a large city in Ontario. I weighed 5 lbs. 2 oz. and went down to 4 lbs. 9. I spent my first month in an incubator.

I was a puny kid—scrawny, gangly, knock-kneed and in need of corrective shoes. I also learned at an early age that I needed glasses (in those days poor eyesight was discovered when in Grade 4 you were found to be squinting at the blackboard and not because you were regularly tested by a nurse).

Just picture it! Here’s little me, four-foot nothing in size 4 shoes with boney knees and elbows and what does the school board expect? They think I should participate in the rough-housing activities that they call “Physical Education” and get this … it’s for the good of my health! So put a teeny tot like me in a line-up of bruiser-boys with plastic hockey sticks and let the fun begin! Or, give me a baseball glove and let me catch those stingers that could snap my hand off at the wrist! Throw me out on a field in the middle of a game of “Red Rover” and just pray I make it out alive! It’s all for the “good of my health”. Yeah. Right.

I remember vividly the days when gym class would roll around. I had a calendar at home with the dates circled in red. My stomach started twisting in knots from the time I took off my royal blue bloomers and packed up my blue Keds at the end of each class.

It seems there was not a single sport for which I was suited.

Baseball: I couldn’t connect that bat with the ball if my life depended on it. This was probably due to the fact that I was so short, my eyesight was so bad and I bruised very easily, so my protective instincts would make step back from the comet headed towards me. Thankfully, no one ever put me on a base, I was always outfield which suited me just fine. In fact, the further out field, the better (less likely to be hit and less opportunity to make a fool of myself). Occasionally, a ball would head my way and I would make an effort to catch it, but the sun would blind me and the ball would either hit the ground and roll maddeningly out of reach, or else it would conk me on the head. Laughter ensued (and of course groans and yells from my team).

Gymnastics: Don’t get me wrong, I think gymnasts are amazing to watch and I marvel at their abilities, but putting an awkward kid on a balance beam and trying to get them to walk across with grace and balance is a lose-lose situation. I inched my way across like I was suspended over a pool of gaping gators and inevitably would lose said “balance” to land on said beam resulting in numbness of the privates I can only liken to being wacked with a mallet in the Brazil zone.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, there was my real nemesis to be faced: the box horse. I’ve seen enough war movies to know that the box horse was used in military training camps, so tell me, what sadistic genius came up with the idea that KIDS should be doing the same thing? What health guru with the Ministry of Education decided that little girls should be stomping on a springboard and flying over a wooden box with a sheath of leather, covering its hidden cement interior?

Not once in all the trials I made against that looming mountain of wood, did I ever sail over to land on the dark blue mat on the other side. I stalled in front of the thing like a donkey who doesn’t want to cross the stream. I slammed into it like the giant iron ball used to destroy a building. I got stuck on top of it like I was paddling out to catch the big kahuna, but never did I get over. I even had nightmares of giant box horses lined up hurdle-style and a coach with a whistle, shrieking my name.

It was never a good day either, when I walked into a phys ed class to find “stations” for various activities. Teams were alternately selected by the Olympic-caliber athletes who dwindled down the group to an unlucky bunch of misfits: the chubby kid, the nose-picker, and me, the uncoordinated pipsqueak. Good times.

Of course on days such as this, there was always the torture wall with the wooden rungs and the Marine Corps-style ropes upon which we were meant to hoist ourselves up without any a) assistance from below and b) grips to hold onto other than the dang rope that ripped shreds out of your hands. I believe my big triumph in this event was to actually reach the point where my feet couldn’t touch the floor.

If indoor activities were intimidating, they were nothing compared to the dreaded Track and Field events that came around every Spring. Apart from mere humiliation with the Long Jump and Standing Broad Jump, the most terrifying thing for me was the High Jump. I don’t know whether I was afraid of looking bad or getting hurt. Wait. Yes I do, I was definitely afraid of getting hurt. The ironic thing was that I was really, really good at the game “Jumpsies”. Remember that? You would interconnect a bunch of elastic bands to create a length about 5 feet long, then two people would each hold an end and they would put it at different heights: ankle, knee, thigh, hip, waist, underarm, shoulder, ear and top of the head. The idea was, you would take turns jumping over, but the difference between “jumpsies” and High Jump was that you could touch the line and push it down in order to jump it. With the High Jump, if you couldn’t get enough elevation, you were going down hard along with the bamboo pole that rested between the two ends.

I remember one time I was so fearful of doing the High Jump that I hid under my desk in the classroom as everyone filed out for Track and Field day. I had no intention of going out to do it. I was petrified. The sad thing is, no one even noticed I was missing— not my classmates and not the teachers. No wonder I quit gym class as soon as I was able after Grade Ten.

I did nearly have one shining moment of glory — it wasn’t all busted fingers from flying volleyballs, or nicked shins from random field hockey sticks. We were having a running competition around the big gym in my junior high class. Teams of three were making circuits of the gym from corner to corner all the way around. I was doing really well. I was actually ahead of the two other people on my team and they were no slackers. I was pretty pleased with myself when I rounded a corner and I tripped over my own feet. Splat! I hit the cold, hard gym floor and my bare knees skidded me to a halt. Limping off to the sidelines, I realized once and for all that I would never be any kind of athlete.

It’s funny how some things never leave your memory. I carried the hurt and frustration and fear of being inadequate at sports for years. Even as an adult I would never join any teams for softball or play any sort of sport, ever.

A few years ago, while working for a big insurance company in town, I buried my fears and took one last shot at performing something athletic.

We were having a carnival on the front lawn and there was a dunking booth set up. I didn’t sit in the booth and let people take shots at me, I actually lined up to try my hand at putting somebody in the tank. I was in a fairly long line-up waiting my turn to hit the target and dunk one of the senior vice-presidents of the company. Frankly, I didn’t think I had a hope in H.E. double hockey-sticks, but I waited my turn (albeit a little apprehensively).

When it came, I took the ball in my right hand, stepped up to the mark, said a quick prayer and hurled it at the black circle on the flat disc. Whomp! It hit dead centre and clunk-splash, down went the Veep and I was the only one to sink him! I had finally done it! At last, I was vindicated after all those years, and it felt good.

Kathleen Mortensen©2009

Posted in 20th Century, anecdotes, childhood, memoirs, personal history

The Easy-Bake Oven Mystery

The other day, I was in the parking lot of my local grocery store. I spend a good deal of time at grocery stores, being not just a lover of food, but also a lover of shopping for food as well. As I made my way into the store, I passed the back of a car where a woman was loading her groceries and I noticed a box tucked in the trunk. It was a new-toy box and it housed a modern-day Easy-Bake Oven. I almost said to her, “Oh, some little girl’s going to be very happy this Christmas!” For some reason, I didn’t, but it did make me think: what little girl wasn’t happy to receive the Kenner Easy-Bake Oven? Or perhaps, what little boy? I mean Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsay had to start somewhere, right?

Okay, so maybe they didn’t actually have one, but you know what I mean.

As a child, I loved to fool around in the kitchen, helping my mom with stirring batter and adding garnishes and mixing various wet and dry ingredients. I used to go to the library regularly and often would come home with big kid-sized books filled with fun, easy recipes to help children learn their way around a kitchen.

When the Easy-Bake Oven came out in the late Sixties, I wanted one desperately. I wrote to Santa and asked for one nicely. I pleaded with my mother to make sure that Santa knew I was a good girl and I deserved the shiny turquoise, tin oven with the silver cake pans and the accompanying cookbooks. I even appealed to my father to put in a good word (little did I know, that he had a real “in” in the Santa department).

When Christmas morning came, I was crushed to discover no EBO! Actually, I was incredulous! Still, I put on a brave face and accepted the Barbie doll house, the new doll-clothes and even the target-shooter (the one where the chicken laid the egg whenever I hit the cardboard barnyard with my rubber-tipped missile from the plastic gun) that curiously, Santa wanted me to have.

The most devastating thing about that Christmas, was that my good school-friend, Janey Thomas got the exact Easy-Bake that I wanted. It was turquoise and shiny and chock full of pans and spatulas and recipe books. Janey made no bones about how wonderful Santa had been to her and I was turquoise, er, green with envy.

I was already jealous of Janey because her grandmother was a knitter. She used to knit Janey fantastic doll clothes for her Barbies and one summer, she even knit a funky bikini bathing suit for Janey, herself. My grandmother, ironically, was the baker. She baked wonderful rolls, pies, cakes and her specialty was homemade donuts. When she came to visit from Nova Scotia once a year, she would bake up a storm, but she couldn’t knit a stitch.

So, why was I the one with no Easy-Bake Oven? To this day, it still baffles me, but a stint with Janey Thomas’s oven laid all my keen fascination to rest.

One day, I was over at her house and she suggested we play with her Easy-Bake Oven. I remember how much fun it was for a budding chef like me, to empty the packets of cake mix in the tin cake-pans and add the water (or milk–I can’t recall), stir it all together and pop them in the two-story oven. It even had a light inside to do the baking. When the cakes came out not long after, we iced them with green frosting and then we had to eat every last morsel.

I’m not sure whether it was all the sugar, the excitement at finally getting to use an EBO, or a combination of both, but when I got home, I spent most of that night barfing up all that Easy-Bake Oven goodness into our toilet.

I never mentioned that particular toy ever again and eventually, I taught myself how to knit.

Kathleen Mortensen©2009

Posted in 20th Century, anecdotes, childhood, memoirs, personal history

A Room of One’s Own

As a little girl, I was fortunate to have a father who had a good job and a mother who had good taste. This facilitated a number of things to my benefit: plentiful food on the table, a charming and well-appointed wardrobe and a lovely big bedroom in the bungalow on Triangle Road.

I was an only child until the age of 9, and this put me in quite a position to be spoiled by mother and father. I was Daddy’s little girl and Mommy’s angel. I had lovely ringlets and big green eyes and was not shy with it, so people were generally drawn to my chattiness, my sweet demeanour and my little coquettish smile. My grandmother apparently thought I was too fussed over and even my aunt warned my mother that she spent too much time worrying about me and not letting me be a kid like my cousin, Janet.

For most of my childhood, youth and young adulthood, I had the most wonderful bedroom. In it, I spent many happy hours reading the likes of the Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew and Agatha Christie, colouring in my bird and animal colouring books, playing with Barbie and Dawn dolls and later doing homework, listening to loud music on vinyl records and dressing up for dates.

Mine was no ordinary little girl’s room. When we first moved to the brand new house in the 60s subdivision of Sherwood Homelands, I had the big back bedroom with the hardwood floor and a large sliding window with a view to the backyard and the public junior high school beyond. Many mornings I woke to the songs of my favourite birds: the robin, the cardinal and the blue-jay. I would watch as the buses pulled into the schoolyard each morning, just before I headed off on foot to St. Francis Catholic school.

The decor was not typical for a child; there was no ornate, girly white furniture, like my friend Janey had in her bedroom. There was no captain’s bed with storage underneath; my room was furnished with twin beds handed down from my cousin. These were serviceable, Colonial-style, stained-wood with box-spring and mattress and my mother kitted them out with funky, floral sheets and cherry-red, waled -corduroy bedspreads. The walls were papered in pink and white stripes and the window was draped in the most unique fabric of heavy cream linen with brush-stroke pink and navy-blue women’s heads in stylish hats. I spent many moments staring at those heads and imagining myself in those hats. Perhaps this is why I love hats so much today.

Artwork was also a feature in my fantastic bedroom; those ubiquitous 1960s doe-eyed girls in harlequin and ballet costumes framed in plastic narrow rectangles were paired up on the wall of my room. I had a favourite grey-wood framed, faux-oil of two cats with big sad eyes in pride of place over my bed. Always, there was a frond of dried-up Pascal palm tucked in behind the frame to keep me mindful of my Catholic faith.

When my three-year old adopted sister came into my life, I soon realized that I would have to share my bedroom with her and I was not a bit happy. Pretty soon, she was in the bed next to mine with a collection of new stuffed toys to rival my own menagerie of Teddy, Doggie and Pinky the pajama-bag poodle. Then it was a trip to Hanover, to Smitty’s furniture where we picked out an enormous royal blue square-edged dresser, matching cube night-tables and ladder-back chairs in blue and white.

It sounds awful to admit it now, but I was not a very nice new sister. Once the novelty of having her around had worn off, when we were in the privacy of “my” room, if she were making funny noises and I couldn’t sleep, I would pinch her nose to get her to close her mouth. (This doesn’t work with partners, these days, I just move to another room.)

It turns out, my sister had adenoidal problems and had to go into the hospital to have them removed. (Well, at least I had my room back for a spell anyway.) Much to my chagrin, she survived the operation and came back home, so we had a few years of tussles and sibling scuffles until we were teenagers. At this time, she moved into the guest room next-door with the big double bed reserved for my grandmother when she came to visit from Cape Breton. I finally had “my” room back.

In my teen years, I outgrew the pink stripes and the red spreads. I had seen mural wall-paper in a magazine and I really liked the look of an autumn forest. I convinced my dad to buy it and to redecorate my room. It was fantastic! It covered one wall completely and the rest of the walls were painted in a neutral taupe colour. I loved to lie at the foot of my new queen-sized bed and look in wonder at those paths through the gold-leafed woods. Not surprisingly, I often thought of Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken”.

The clunky cube furniture moved next-door with my sister and I claimed my mom and dad’s old “silver-mink” mirrored and upright dressers for my own. They just went so much better with the woodsy look. I now had long, dark brown heavy drapes that kept the cold winter drafts at bay and the hat-ladies, sadly, went into storage in a wooden box in the basement, never to be seen again.

There was one really strange thing about my new mural. Lying on the bed one evening, I happened to scan the photo and my eyes came to rest in the top left-hand corner. There, I could make out the image of a dark-haired, moustached man in a white shirt with a wide, dark tie. I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me, but looking more closely, I could not deny that he was there. I wondered who this could possibly be. Was it the photographer putting his own image into his work for posterity? I’ll never know, but it was a little disconcerting to have this man who looked not a little like Adolf Hitler peering down at me from the top of my wall.

It seems I was never really meant to have a room of my own, after all.

Kat Mortensen©2009