After a great summer at the lake, I went to Waterloo University for part of first term when I was told by my father that he would not be helping with the expense. He had always told me that I would be the only one of seven to go to University and that he would pay my way. Well, he was wrong on both parts of that sentence. My little brother Luke finished with a degree or two, with no financial help. I made it to University but was left high and dry when he refused to help with the fees. In desperation I even called my Grandfather, whom everyone knew to be well-off and with whom I had always had a strong relationship. He flat-out refused me saying that all his money was ‘tied up’ in certificates. So there I was, nineteen at a huge University, two hours from home, with their accounts receivable people hounding me to make a payment. I had worked the previous summers and had plowed every penny of my savings into the first payment for residence and for my books. I had no money left. I tried to find a job but that too fell flat, as jobs were not meant for first-years. Thinking very, very hard about my current options, and not wanting to just walk away without a plan for my next move, I sat down to contemplate…then an idea struck…THE ARMY!
Recruiters had come to my high school the previous year with posters and glossy pictures of the kind of life you could have in the army. (It was just like that scene in the 1980 comedy Private Benjamin when Goldie Hawn looks at the glossy pictures of what she thinks of as military yachts and she is SOLD on joining the US Navy.) I had been told, after an aptitude test result years before, that I would do well in uniform. Hmmm. That caused pause for reflection. I pulled out the phone book for the city of Kitchener-Waterloo and found out the location of the recruiting centre. I put on some nice clothes and smoothed my curls into a braid, hopped on the city bus and made my way there. I walked in to find a young man in uniform sitting behind the desk. He asked me all about my high school life and extra-curricular activities. When he heard that I was active and sporty and had good marks, he told me that I was, in his words: Officer Material.
‘Wonderful,’ I said. ‘What next?’ He told me to come back with a thousand word essay about why I wanted to get in the forces. He said there would be an aptitude test when I returned. I went back to residence on a mission. From there, I wrote the essay, took and passed the test and checked out of Waterloo University.
The week I arrived back in Barrie, I moved in with my Mom and her alcoholic, ex-navy boy-friend, Earl. We would call him Earl-the-Pearl. I had no bedroom. I slept on the couch. I found two jobs serving tables. One at a five-star restaurant and the other at a bar on the opposite end of town. Living in this way brought me down. It was a tough winter. All my high school friends were away at Uni except Kelly who was at the Georgian College. Thankfully I had a good steady job to go to every day. My boss at the five-star was a womanizing prick from North Africa, who would lean in to talk to me just a little too closely, and constantly comment on the breasts of female customers. Creepy. At least I had a steady gig and it got me up and out and talking to people and making a bit of money every day. The chef at the five-star restaurant taught me one or two things about the joy of good food. He was extreme in his thinking and very sharp in his opinions. He always had a hot lunch set aside for me.
In April, at the restaurant, just after lunch when it was quiet, the landline phone behind the bar rang. A voice told me, ‘You have been accepted to the Regular Officer Training Program of the Canadian Armed Forces. You will need to swear in downtown Toronto. We will mail your instructions to you. Do you understand?’
Holy shit. I got in! My mind began to race…what will this entail???
Earl-the-Pearl let me use his red pickup to drive down to the recruiting centre. On the way down the multi-lane highway something terrifying happened. On a dirty-weather day with all kinds of slush and dirt on the highway, I ran out of windshield wash. My windshield suddenly became dark brown and opaque. I couldn’t see a thing and I was in the middle lane. I rolled the windows down and while praying, white-knuckling and sweating, moved over to the shoulder. Sweaty and breathing heavy I realized that I had just escaped a very bad situation. I sat with my hood up and waited for a few minutes, thinking. Just then, a good Samaritan came along and filled my reservoir with windshield wash then helped me clean my windshield with a handful of snow. I vowed to one day be as kind as this man. I made it to the ceremony on time and met some folks who are still my friends today, thirty plus years later.
Next was Basic Training which would begin in June and last for six weeks. At that point, I didn’t know where I would be sent, after basic, but had been informed that the Canadian Forces would be sending me to University and that I would also receive a salary while at school. So they would feed, dress, house and educate me, as well as pay me. Geesh. That sounded promising!
Basic Training took place in Chilliwack, BC at the Officer Candidate School. The six weeks went by in a blur of early morning running, push ups, inspections, weapons training, map and compass training and combat field training: marksmanship, marching with rucksack and the beginnings of how to issue Orders, among many other things like: combat first-aid, introduction to code and de-coding, bed-making with sharp corners, folding shirts into an exact square, sock-rolling, knot-tying and more. I found it fascinating, most of the time, and did well on this training, passing in the top third of my platoon: Nine Platoon – DOGS OF WAR!!!