My Mil Col Experience ~ Army, part 2

“I never saw a wild thing sorry for itself. A small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough without ever having felt sorry for itself.”

D.H. Lawrence

The word came down that after Basic Training, I would be going to Royal Roads Military College outside of Victoria, BC. I was told that the first month, or, ‘Recruit Term’ would be very difficult, but, that I should stay positive and it would pass quickly.  ‘Difficult’ was a gross understatement: Recruit Term was hell on earth. I cried myself to sleep every night.

RRMCA typical day of Recruit Term began with pounding rock music at 5:30 am. The wake-up song for our flight was April Wine’s What a Night. What a Night starts with a fire alarm bell mounted on a cymbal stand being rang at a fast pace. It truly was the perfect harsh sound to get the heart racing and the panic started for the drills of the day. We had until the end of the song to be up, dressed, to the bathroom, bed made and ‘layout’ ready for inspection. Everything in the room had to be prepared to specific, exacting standards. For instance, our uniform shirts had to be folded to exactly 25 x 30 cm, ironed and TAPED into our top drawer. Socks had to be rolled into a tight little ball, in a specific manner that we were shown and TAPED into the drawer. Same with pants. Boots and leather gators had to be polished and spit-shone to a high-gloss. We had three uniforms in our closet which had to have all buttons done and all lint removed and hanging exactly two inches apart with all sleeves perfectly positioned. The problem was, there was absolutely no free-time to do these things. So, we did them in the middle of the night and we were all quite sleep deprived already from basic training.

After morning inspection, we were run, that is: we ran over to the next building to the mess hall for breakfast where we would try to choke down some food but we were constantly being screamed at and ‘steadied up’ by our superiors.

‘RECRUIT, DON’T YOU KNOW THAT YOU ARE NOT TO USE YOUR LEFT HAND TO EAT YOUR TOAST??! STEADY UP WHEN I ADDRESS YOU.’

At this point, with his face millimeters from mine, and he breathing terribly hard, hot breath, I would have to sit at attention with arms straight down my sides and with tight fists say, ‘YES MR MAYLOR. NO MR MAYLOR. I WILL DO BETTER MR MAYLOR’…suffice to say, with all of the interruptions and the stress of being inspected so closely by our superior cadets, it was nearly impossible to eat. After a couple of weeks of Recruit Term, my uniform pants were falling down as I ran.  Due to my past with anorexia, this would normally feel fine.  But, running with your pants falling off and senior cadets screaming at you, well, this was not so fine.

After breakfast there would be hours of panic drills where we were made to complete some task and then stand for inspection. It may be to lay out our stripped rifle with all parts displayed, by the end of the song. It may be to put on our dress uniform and then stand for inspection by the end of the song…remembering that our rooms and beds, trunks, cupboards, sink, desks and dresser had to be completely perfect, inside and out, not just our person. There was a lot of insults and yelling:

‘RECRUIT, YOU ARE A COMPLETE BAG.’

RECRUIT, YOU ARE AN EMBARRASSMENT TO THE CANADIAN ARMED FORCES. RECRUIT – GET DOWN AND GIVE ME 25 PUSH UPS ON YOUR KNUCKLES.’

It went on for hours. There would be another run over to the next building for lunch and a parade muster before lunch where we would have to stand in completely straight lines and have our uniform looking sharp – which was impossible after the previous activities. We would all be sweating and salt-stained, shirt tails hanging out, pants drooping, laces untied, baret atilt on our heads, and females’ hair buns falling out. So more yelling and insults.

‘YOU PEOPLE ARE A MESS, A COMPLETE MESS.

YOU SHOULD BE ASHAMED OF YOURSELVES.

MARK TIME’!!!!

This is where we would march in place with knees as high as our waist, sweating profusely. Next, into the beautiful mess hall with white linen, silver, crystal and table service.  Now, try to eat while being examined and corrected by the Senior Cadets.  Not likely.

After lunch, we would be taken, you guessed it, running, sometimes with rifles (called a rifle-run), for an hour or so in the woods of the College grounds. The woods were absolutely peaceful and beautiful.  A temperate rain forest.  But sweat was dripping down my face and fear was in my heart.   Our physical fitness instructor was Mr Snellwood. He was a kinder soul and once, at the beginning of Recruit Term, he sat us all down in the woods and tried to reassure us that we would all pass recruit term, as long as we stayed diligent and showed that we were working hard. I was sitting there thinking about the three more weeks that had to be endured and a tear escaped, rolling down my cheek. I thought he was sweet and kind, but, I also had serious doubts about whether I would pass or could ‘keep up’ with this system.

rainforest

We were allowed a two-minute shower after running and then we were back at the panic drills. Every now and then, something not-so-hard was offered. Like: Chapel visit, uniform fitting, tour of the incredible Japanese Gardens, or of the boat shed, or of Hatley Castle and then there were mini lectures like: etiquette in mess hall.  This was instruction on how to use all of the various cutlery and glasses that were part of a mess dinner function. As Officers, we would be attending these nice dinners several times per year, and we needed to know how to sit properly at a formal table and how to use the formal dining setting.

One time, they got us all out of bed at first light. We were blind-folded and we were taken out into the back woods. This was the Escape and Evasion exercise. Our superior cadets were talking in bad Russian accents and we were to pretend that we had been captured by enemy forces. In the woods, they had us get down on our bellies and they told us that we would be set free and that there would be a prize for the first recruit to make it back to barracks without being re-captured. They left and we, the captured, all got up and removed the blind folds. We started wandering around. I gathered with a couple of friends and we began to walk through the rainforest. We had no idea which way to go and it was a large area, acres and acres of woodland. After walking through the forest for a couple of hours, we came upon a huge blackberry patch just completely laden with huge, shining, juicy blackberries. We fell on it and started to gorge ourselves. I must have had blackberry juice all over my face. The berries were better than delicious. They were scrumptious. And no one to ‘steady us up’….we thought.

All of a sudden: RECRUITS HALT. HANDS UP. TURN AROUND! We were re-captured and would not be winning any prize today. The berries were worth it though.

blackberries

After supper, we were given two-hours of study time, or time to do some tasks that they wanted us to do. One evening they told us to write an essay about our former lives so that our section commanders could get to know us better. I started off with the COSSA Basketball tournament that my Dad was coaching when I came along and then into the camp details and high school sportiness. I had heard our section commander say he was originally from Huntsville, Ontario which is just south of the where the camp is. So, I made sure to mention Huntsville. Later that evening, we gathered with our sister flight and some of the essays were read aloud. Mine was picked. I read it aloud and when I came to Huntsville, I looked up at Mr Maylor. He grinned at me. I had made a connection. Now I was a little more hopeful that I would make it through this hell month.  Mr. Maylor was a behemoth: well over six feet tall with huge shoulders and muscles.  This guy would strap the largest weights possible to his body then with veins bulging in biceps and face of stone, pump off chin-ups.  Many chin-ups.  I just had to be on his good side, I figured.

At bed time we had another routine to endure. We had to do 100 sit-ups in the hallway by pinning our toes under the heater and with knees bent and fingers laced behind the head, pump them off. There was a catch. We had to do 100 sit-ups, take a shower AND brush our teeth by the end of our ‘goodnight’ song: Stairway to Heaven (8 minutes).  Consequently, I did not wash my hair for 30 days. I kept it tightly braided and would wash just my bangs. There was one shower and two girl recruits on our flight. The two of us showered together. Writing this thirty years later, it seems bazaar that we would shower together. But we did. We just did.

On the final day of Recruit Term, we had the obstacle course and all recruits had to pass this final test. The Obstacle Course was a 5 km course through the woods with obstacles the whole way. Most of the obstacles involved dunking the head fully under into mud to say, get under a barrier or to jump over a barrier only to land fully in mud. There was a rope wall to climb with a fall into a muddy pond; balance-beam fast crossing of a mud river with a necessary dismount into…you guessed it…MUD. I looked up at one obstacle to see a boy from my street back in Barrie (he had actually been my boyfriend but was now dating Sally, my good friend since kindergarten.  They are still together three decades later).  Anyway, that guy was yelling at me, ‘GO! YOU CAN DO THIS MMV!’ – he kindly was not using the word recruit to cheer me on. I remember thinking in my exhausted haze that that was very kind of him.

The final obstacle, when knackered and with mud in every orifice, was to swim across a deep, lily-pad covered pond in combat boots. This was an individual test. Ironically, we were not allowed to help each other on any part of the obstacle course. Ironic because up until that moment it was ALL team work: ‘RECRUITS – STAY TOGETHER — YOU’RE ONLY AS STRONG AS YOU’RE WEAKEST LINK’, they would scream at us.  I recall thinking, when I got to the pond, this will be a piece of cake. This was due to all the swimming in my childhood and even in lily-pad covered ponds. Thank goodness I passed it. Afterwards I showered for 30 minutes but still had mud in my ears. I ended up passing Recruit Term toward the top of my flight.  No idea how.

We then had a big celebration down at the cadet mess that was called, Decks. We had a big supper and lots of drinks. We had been told to dress up in nice civilian clothes or, ‘civvies’. Now we females were visually checked out by the senior cadets. As a young woman with certain healthy curves, long dark wavy hair, green eyes, straight, white teeth and full lips with a good fashion sense –I wore a blue knit, V-neck dress with a wide belt synched tightly around my tiny waist and leather pumps – I turned some heads at this celebration. (I was not beautiful, nor was I pretty, but, I was certainly attractive and the ratio of women to men was 1:8, so good odds that I would turn some heads). What a difference a shower, clean hair, some lipstick and civvies can make. It was a fun night. I should mention that I have not often shrank from having a fun time at parties.

The academic year began with classes, assignments, essays, exams and social experiences. The difference, at Military College is that almost every weekend was jam packed with military or varsity sport requirements in the form of parade and parade practice and athletic events and competitions. The schedule was brutal and cadets get very close, due to it.  One weekend we lost four cadets.  We were shattered.

cowichanOne long weekend, a friend – Cindy and I, decided to get off campus and away from it all. We had been more or less locked up for months and ready to just wear our jeans and hit the open road for a wee adventure.  With a back pack each, we hitch-hiked a couple hours up island to Lake Cowichan where we had booked a cabin for two nights. Our first ride got us most of the way there.  Then, we were stuck for a bit on some country road with the sun going down over the next hill.

‘This is nothing,’ I thought. ‘We’ve just passed through hell and found some freedom.  Nothin’ is getting me down now.’

On that note, a red pick-up pulled over to offer us a lift.  The man inside was more than a little scary looking with wild eyes and even wilder hair.  Cindy and I looked at each other, shrugged, and hopped in.  He turned out to be a decent fellow and he dropped us at our rented cabin.

Next: what should we do with our free evening?  We had heard tell of a dance in a countryside hall nearby.  We gussied ourselves up and with blue jeans and jean jackets and big hair (this was 1986 after all), off we went…only to find five or six of our classmate cadets already there.  Not sure how that happened exactly but it was sure to be fun. When you work hard, it only seems natural to also play hard.  That is what we did.  We basically started dancing and didn’t stop for hours.  At one point during Rock Lobster, we were all down on the hard-wood floor doing the worm.  Yes, just like it sounds. Squirming.  Full-body contact with the floor.  It was hilarious.  Likely one of the most fun nights of my entire life due to its spontaneity, timing, serendipity and remote location and laughter. We ended up meeting a couple of local fellows that night and took them back to our cabin.

Next Army Part 3

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All photos are courtesy of google images.

A & W Days

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.