A & W Days (1973)

Four of my siblings work at the same fast food place. There are some bumps in the road but also a happy ending…

Part-time jobs were an absolute necessity in the my family. We each had one, early in life, and a paper route.  There never seemed to be enough money to go around…at one point in the 70s, my eldest brother Matt was the manager of the A&W fast food joint in Barrie, Canada. He would have been 17 at the time. While in that position, he managed to hire three of our siblings: Eva age 19, Amy 18 and Mark 14 (Mark lied about his age). So, four of us were working there and those were the days of delivery to the car window by waitresses in uniform. The tray would hang off the window and would be filled with the order of those in the car: root beer, burgers, fries, that kind of thing.

One time, Matt was working with Mark and with a friend, who is now deceased due to drugs, Byron Hedgeman. Hedgeman had been cleaning the stainless steel counters with a mixture of bleach and water when a bus pulled up and there was a massive order placed. Everyone was working madly to fill the order. Sadly, the javex and water combination got wiped up in a rather cavalier way. Then, Matt slid a burger to Hedgeman who put it in the bun and the burger must have gone through the javex. The next day a man came into the front of the A&W and this man’s face was green. He had ‘bags under bags under bags’ beneath his eyes (My brother Matt tells this story and his huge sausage fingers come up to form the semi-circle under each of his eyes indicating just how sick and tired the customer appeared to be — whenever Matt does this we roll laughing because of his sausages and because of the unfortunate look on his face).

The man then tells Matt that he was deathly sick, throwing up all night, after eating the burger from A&W. Matt looks at Hedgeman and they are sure of what must have happened to this man’s burger. The javex! Matt offers the guy a couple of coupons for free burgers. The man looks at Matt and says: are you kidding? I will NEVER eat in this effing place again!! 

One very good thing came of the A&W days…Matt met June and they have been happily married since June was 19 and Matt was 20. They have two adult children and four, grandchildren.

A little while after meeting and falling in love with June, it became apparent that Dad did not approve of the relationship. Matt would spend hours talking to June on the phone. He had a basement bedroom in our family bungalow on Pearl Street in Barrie. Matt was serious about his phone calling so he got himself his own extension phone, a trick we all thought was quite outstanding because at the time, teens NEVER had their own phone.

In his day, Dad had been a very skilled hockey player and that was before the players wore helmets.  His nose was broken a handful of times and was nearly flattened to his face because of it.  Dad lived for hockey and he had an ambition to produce another serious player from one of his four sons. To that end, Dad and Mom would make us a back-yard rink every winter and Dad would force the boys to take a hundred shots a day. Of course there would always be broken kitchen windows and neighbours’ windows too, sometimes. Almost all of us could skate, holding a chair, before we could walk.  Luke was quite little but he managed to memorize hockey stats and NHL teams and rosters.  It was impressive. How’s that for true Canadians, eh? So, Matt had been doing well with his hockey. Dad bought him a new pair of CCM Super Tacks skates.

SUPERTACKS

These would have been very expensive on a teacher’s salary who has seven children. Whenever these skates were spoken of, a hush would fall over the room. They were absolutely the ticket to the NHL. They were the very best skates to own back then.

Dad, not approving of Matt and June’s relationship, sat Matt down one day and said he wanted him to move out. Matt was 17. Matt asked why. Dad said Matt was a bad influence on the other children. He then took back the skates. Matt asked why he would do that. Dad said he knew Matt wasn’t seriously into hockey if he was going to take up with a girl. Matt said it was crazy to take them back but, Dad did anyway. He took them back and put them in a well-known hiding place: under the head of his bed. Matt found them a few days later and took them back.

So Matt and June found a small apartment in a really old house in downtown Barrie. They paid $70 per month rent and Matt was making that much in one week at A&W. Matt could see that he would be needing to do something more lucrative in order to live a more comfortable life. While living in that first apartment, Matt had a pair of leather shoes, just one pair. He would wear them to work. Soon, the sole started to come unattached from one of the shoes. Always a quick problem solver, Matt found a thumb tack to hold his shoe together so he could still wear them to work. One day, he couldn’t find this all-important tack for his shoe. He was running around with his shoe sole flapping yelling,  ‘June, help me find my tack!! I’m gonna be late!’  He finally found the tack and got off to work just in time.

Matt went on to get his papers in Electrical Contracting. He worked for decades in downtown Toronto and all over the city in commercial Electricity making a very good living. He worked hard and he always had lots of work. June managed the business office and, in so doing, had the flexibility to be home to raise their two children. Sam was a honeymoon baby and ended up playing in the show (yes, the NHL – Dad got his wish but one generation removed). Sam now does commentating and consulting. Sally is a restaurateur and city counselor for her city. All this wonderful success happened due to the A&W days.

And here they are now. Such a wonderful couple who are the best of friends.

Pigs CAN Fly (1971)

A road-trip with my big sister comes to a hilarious, um, outcome.

My two big sisters were Irish twins — born ten months apart.  They had the most awesome bedrooms down the basement of our little red-brick bungalow in Barrie.  Their faux wood paneled walls and wall-to-wall carpeted bedrooms were not only super cool and trendy, but they were adjoined so that if you wanted to go into Eva’s room, you had to first walk through Amy’s.  Eva had a single bed in her room with an afghan on it that she crocheted herself.  She was (and still is) very creative and multi-talented – always making something, or writing a poem, baking, painting a paint-by-number or organizing a get-together.  Eva’s zest for life is contagious.  People flock to Eva, wanting to be apart of her exciting and enthusiastic life.

Eva also had throw cushions on the bed with hand-stitched whimsical hippos, frogs and turtles.  Her room was so interesting that I would love to just sit and look at everything and wonder at how she must have made it.  Eva was twelve years my senior, my God-mother and I adored her.  I was so lucky.

Amy’s room sported a double bed and a walk-in closet that had its very own light and light switch.  As a little girl I would imagine it to be my play house and I would wish I was big enough to wear some of Amy’s great clothes.  Amy is a very gentle soul. She has many friends and many we call Amy’s Men.  She listens well and can empathize with just about everyone she meets.  She hears her clients all day while she expertly works on their hair and makes them feel good about themselves.  People love Amy from the moment they meet her and look into her beautiful blue, kind eyes.  She is one of those soft-spoken, nice people that everyone wants to associate with. Amy 11 years older than I and I also adored her, she was the most beautiful woman, on the inside and out, that I knew and I was very proud to be her little sister.  Amy and Eva pretty much raised me from the time I was a tiny.

One night when I was seven years old, I was curled up beside Amy who was reading her homework assignment to me aloud. She was attending the Barrie School of Hairdressing at the time.  I shared Amy’s double bed with her. Eva walked in, all excited, and announced that she was going to Windsor to attend Mark’s graduation from Law School.  Mark was a school friend of hers who lived down the hill and who just loved Eva.  He wanted her as a girlfriend but, unfortunately, Eva really never could muster up those kinds of feelings for him.  Eva however, still really liked him as a friend and was looking forward to the adventure of going down to Windsor to attend his grad.  We would, of course, stay with our relatives and not at his apartment (which he shared with some other guy).  I guess I was a type of chaperone for this mission and would keep Eva, my big sister that I was in awe of, company while she drove.

We started out early in the day in Eva’s new, green, 1974 Maverick –“The Mav”.  The plan was that we would pull off the highway about once every hour so that Eva wouldn’t be too tired by the time we got there.  It’s about a 6-hour road trip to Windsor and sure enough we pulled off for a break each hour.  Eva would buy us a treat and we would sometimes gas up the Mav and then we would be on the road again.  The trip took us on multi-lane, fast 400-series highways all the way to Windsor which is situated on the border with The States.  We sung all kinds of great tunes.  Eva is a talented singer and loves to entertain.  We sang Band On the Run, Country Roads, Out on a Date, Maggie May and more.  My big sister Eve was so much fun!  I could hardly believe the adventure I was having and how lucky I was (compared to my four brothers and Amy who had to stay at home).

We arrived in good time and I was amazed at the absolutely largest bridge I had ever laid eyes on.  Eva said that was the bridge to The States and that it was a mile long.

Holy Cow! I thought.

We found Mark’s apartment and he and his roomie welcomed us in with open arms.  There was lots of smiling and some cute flirting going on.  Eva was an expert joker and loved to wittingly poke fun.  Mark would get all shy, blush, wave his hand and say,

Oh Eva!

He opened the fridge to offer us a refreshment.  Eva politely declined but, I couldn’t help but notice that all of their food, even the peanut butter was in there.  Yuck! Cold peanut butter, I thought.  We were big peanut butter eaters in our household.  Mom would buy peanut butter by the gallon bucket and it would be gone in a week.  We would usually find a butter knife in the emptying bucket.  One of us had just left it in there.

We NEVER put peanut butter in the fridge!

I had to ask.  I was so curious.  Why do you have all that food in the fridge?  It turned out that their apartment, which was actually in a really old huge brick house, probably out of the Victorian era, had bugs – cock roaches.  Keeping food in the fridge deterred these pests.

Suddenly I had to use the toilet.

Eva said she would come in with me to freshen up while I used the toilet.  As we walked into the bathroom I noticed that the bathtub was different from our late 70s model in our brick bungalow at home.  This tub had feet.  Everything looked different and old, but really neat at the same time.  Eva explained antiques to me as she applied some blush, mascara, then some blue eye-shadow and a bit of pinkish lipstick.  I can remember feeling like I was learning a lot on this trip.

I did a poop, wiped, and hopped off the toilet, yanking up my jeans and turning to look at it.  There, in the bowl, was the biggest, fattest poop I had ever produced, or seen produced, in my young life.  It was huge and it curled all the way around the toilet bowl!  I was pointing at it and saying:

Wow, Eva, take a look at this!

When I noticed the look of utter horror on my big sister’s face.

Flush it, Martha! she ordered, before it stinks up this place really bad!

I reached over and pulled on the ancient flushing lever.  I couldn’t figure out why my oldest sister wasn’t as amazed by what I had produced as I was.  The massive, man-poop was going to be gone in an instant so I watched it closely as it was going to disappear down the hole.  Around and around and around it went but…

it…

did…

not…

go…

down.

Instead it proceeded to float up higher to the rim of the bowl.  Geez! I was amazed at its size and bulk.

Eva hadn’t been watching.  She had been brushing her long, dazzling hair.

Look Eva, it’s not going down.  I said.  I wasn’t the least bit disturbed by this.

Oh NO Martha, she said in dismay as she pushed her shiny, straight brown hair behind her ears, They’re gonna think I did that! indicating with her head nod my big prize poop.

 So?

Oh never mind, you’re too young to understand.  We’ve got to do something before they wonder what the heck is going on in here!

Eva looked frantically around the bathroom until her eyes fell on a scoop beside the toilet that had been fashioned out of an old bleach bottle.

The rest of it happened pretty quickly.

She opened the window.

She grabbed the scoop.

She fished out the huge poop coil and,

she tossed it straight out the window!!!!

When I looked out to see where it landed, there it was: a large brown lump, below the window, on a small roof, about ten feet away from my wide-eyed wondering face.

Eva simply closed the window and the curtain, took one last glance in the mirror and quickly washed her hands. She then plastered a somewhat nervous looking smile on her face, took my hand and opened the bathroom door.

Years later, after recounting this story to my best girl friend Kelly, she was doubled over laughing then stood straight up and while smiling widely said,

Who says pigs can’t fly?

We both laughed some more.

*********************

When in Australia in 1994, I told this story to a group of women with whom I was working at a tomato and garlic farm.  (At the time, Dean and I were doing our best to make money in order to be able to continue our travels to Nepal and India.)  We were standing in a circle around a huge wooden crate of fresh picked garlic and we were cleaning it of it’s extra layers and roots.  It was mind-numbingly boring work, but better in the barn doing this work than out under the scorching sun.  Anyway, I asked the ladies if they wanted to hear a story.  Of course they did and said, ‘Ah mate. Let’s hear it!’.  A few minutes later they were bent over double laughing at this story.  Some manager came over to ask if everyone was okay.  They all waved at him that we were fine, breathless with hilarity. I was quite pleased that they found it that funny.  Anyway, I will never forget relating this story to those ladies in the Ozzie barn.