There Is Life Outside School

In my third year teaching in Portage la Prairie, I was on the divisional salary negotiating team with a young teacher named Wilma. After the meetings, we would often go to the Mayfair Polynesian Room for a Mai Tai. It didn’t get any further than that because it was usually on the same day as her CGIT (Canadian Girls in Training) church group. The closest we ever got to real dating was our trips to Winnipeg for a seafood platter at the Ivanhoe restaurant.

Wilma and I got engaged, much to the relief of my brother and his wife, who thought I would never get married. Now they could stop worrying about me. When we visited them in Regina prior to our engagement, Joan, Cliff’s wife, took me aside and encouraged me to not let Wilma get away. It was good advice. We had still not been on a real date. We tried a few times to go on a date or to spend a quiet evening by ourselves but seemed always to have someone else added onto our twosome which made it more like a party than a date. Marriage seemed like the best way to go if we were going to be able to spend any private time together.
One night when we were sitting in the Triumph, I decided to make the big move.
In my most seductive voice, I suggested, “Will you marry me?”
Wilma replied, almost in her teacher voice, “I have no intention of getting married, and if I did, it wouldn’t be to someone like you.”
I wasn’t sure if I should pursue the question of what kind of a person she would marry, or what kind of person she thought I was.
So I just ignored the comment and thought to myself, “Well, I guess it’s going to take longer than I thought.”
We became engaged (without a ring) two weeks later.
We continued our non-dating until July when Wilma flew to Montreal to take a French language course at McGill University. I stayed in Portage to mark departmental final exams in Winnipeg (I was short of money at the time …as usual).
When I finished marking, I hopped on a Greyhound Bus and set off to Montreal. It wasn’t that I was following her. I just had a sudden urge to visit Montreal. If I had thought to check how far away it was or how long it would take to get there, I might have taken a faster means of transportation. But then, I was too busy marking exam papers to plan my life.

Thirty-six hours later I arrived in Montreal and found a rooming house with a cheap room for rent. It was just a room with a bed and a chair, not even a sink. The washroom was down the hall and around the corner. I soon discovered ‘near beer’. It was unique to the province of Quebec at that time. Every grocery store sold quart-size bottles of good, cold, low alcohol beer.
I usually walked to the University in the late afternoon to meet Wilma after class. We would have dinner, walk around for a while and sit in the park. One evening we discovered that the park was considered closed after dark when a security person with a German Shepherd dog discovered us and suggested, in rapid and emphatic French, we go elsewhere. It was alright because Wilma needed to get back to her residence to be ready for class in the morning. I walked her to the residence door and then headed back to my room. On the way, I picked up a quart or two of beer at a corner store to sip on for the evening. I never had any trouble finding a friend or two at the rooming house to keep me company … and share my beer . . . and carry on one-way conversations in French. I was a good listener.

Wilma had made plans to go on tour overseas to join a couple of her girl friends
immediately after her course ended. I saw her to the airport, kissed her goodbye, told her I thought God meant us to be together, and she flew off to find her foreign knight in shining armor riding a white horse. At least, that was what she told me. My year would be spent back in Portage teaching eager students … and being supportive to the others. I went back to my room and had a couple of beers with my recently made friends whose names I never knew. They were nice guys and I did improve my spoken French a little. The next morning I hopped a bus for another day-and-a-half trip back to Portage.
Wilma and I exchanged letters by mail, which was a painfully slow method of communication. She phoned her parents (and thus me, if she called at dinner time) occasionally. She toured Holland, East and West Germany, the British Isles, France, Italy, and Russia.
On the ship from St. Petersburg, she was invited to be the guest at the captain’s table. Since it was a Russian ship, there was a lot of caviar and dancing. But the captain didn’t steal her heart, and docking in London ended that interlude.
While Wilma was overseas, I went to Winnipeg and purchased an engagement ring. We had previously looked at rings so I sort of knew what she would like, and I knew her ring size from a goldstone ring I had bought her when I first decided she was the one for me. I couldn’t bring the ring back with me because it needed to be sized. When she arrived in Winnipeg the timing wasn’t right to pick up the ring before I met her at the airport so we went back to Portage without the ring.
While she was away, she had decided she wanted to get engaged. I wasn’t making any move towards giving her a ring, so she dropped ‘hints’. I ignored the hints and they kept getting less and less subtle. I arranged for us to go to Winnipeg for shopping and dinner at Rae and Jerry’s. At this point she might have become suspicious because Rae and Jerry’s was not our usual kind of dining place. It was expensive, old-fashioned and formal, and let’s face it, that does not describe me very well. We went shopping, and on the pretense of going to the washroom (what would we guys ever do without the pretense of a washroom break to escape from our girl friend) I got away and picked up the ring. Before we went in for dinner I proposed and she accepted the ring. She even managed to act surprised. We went back there for dinner on our 25th Anniversary and it looked exactly the same. Some things never change. It is still a popular restaurant for the older, richer crowd. We were married in Portage on July 18, 1964 with two ministers officiating. It never hurts to have a backup minister, but neither of us tried to escape.

We found a nice little ‘starter home’ in Portage. It was a 1 ½ story, 3 bedroom, ‘wartime’ house. It was within easy walking distance from PCI where we taught and an elementary school for our kids-to-be. We didn’t shop around much because we thought we would probably be moving soon anyway. Our house shared a fence with our next-door neighbor. She was a lovely lady to have as a neighbor, except that she kept a very neat lawn, a small tidy, weed-free vegetable garden and a little patch of sweet peas. I was never able to pass muster in keeping up with her.
However, she did once say that I ‘hung out a good wash’.
There was never a weed out of place. She taught piano, which made it convenient for both our children to get a solid foundation in piano and a love of music. We lived there for 28 years before moving one block over.
When we did get around to moving, we only moved one street over and could carry most of our things just across the street and down the back lane. The movers for our fridge and freezer were used to being able to catch their breath on the drive from the person’s old house to their new one. With us, it was less than two minutes.
We had more than our share of parties over the years. We had fondue parties when they were popular, and wine and cheese parties. I was never much of a wine drinker but I used to love picking out an interesting variety of wines, and cheeses which in those days were cheaper by far than they are now.
The Portage School Division accidentally attracted a teacher (Georges) and his wife (Josette) all the way from France to join our staff. He thought from the name that Portage la Prairie must be a French community. It isn’t. I was glad to see I was not the only one to make major moves without doing all the research. He came to one of our wine and cheese parties and we played ‘guess where the wine is from’. Wilma and I didn’t succeed in guessing much beyond whether it was red or white and what the percentage of alcohol was. It turns out his family in France owned a winery. He was able not only to identify the country and region but could tell the condition of the vineyard and the history of its grapes. Of course, he might have been making up half of what he said and we’d have had no way of knowing. Even if he were, it was impressive. He and his wife were always an entertaining addition to our parties.
Even as a young child, Anita liked to take the easiest route. She wanted to communicate before she was ready to talk, so she invented her own system of making an ‘hhhuuhhh’ sound and then inflecting it, like you might do to make it sound like a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’. Her ‘I don’t know’ was unmistakable and frequently used. In high school her friends would ask Anita questions just to hear her distinctive ‘I’d’ll’no’ response.
Ken, on the other hand, didn’t talk until he was 3-years-old. He was waiting until he could speak in correct, complete sentences. In most things, Ken preferred to wait until he was sure of himself. He didn’t like to practice in public. Anita and Ken got along well with each other as children, with the notable exceptions of trading collected stamps and playing Boggle.

Because Wilma and I were both teachers, we liked to travel. After our children were born we bought a ‘normal’ car so we could take them with us on road trips to Vancouver, the east coast and the United States. We did some tenting with my old but still sturdy tent with all the usual experiences associated with tents. As the children got bigger, the tent seemed to get smaller. We bought an old school bus and I removed the seats converting it into a camper. The back nine feet were the master bedroom with a hide-a-bed, which could be folded up to make a nice play area for Ken and Anita. It was complete with all the comforts of home and served us nobly until the price of gas made motels with a swimming pool look more attractive.
And then, we also purchased a cottage at Delta, 20 minutes north of Portage, on Lake Manitoba. We bought it sort of by default. Wilma’s parents had had a cottage when Wilma was growing up and they were talking about getting a cottage again. They had found a nice one at a reasonable price just before Gard (Wilma’s dad) died suddenly. So what could we do? We bought it, even though we had a camper bus at the time.
For a couple of years we had a cottage with a camper bus parked in its back yard. One winter we had it parked in the lane beside our house for a teenager to live in, when the Children’s Aid couldn’t find a home placement for him

The cottage was a great place for our children. Our next-door neighbor, Clarice, was a resource teacher in the school system with two girls and a boy a bit older than ours. Delta had a perfect beach for children. It was shallow at the edge and sloped gently for many yards before getting deep enough to really swim. Our children and hers played together and spent hours on the beach making castles in the sand. Her son, Allen, taught Ken (and us) how to make drip castles from wet sand. The Brown’s cottage was an A-frame with a ‘fireman’ pole through a hole between the two levels. Anita in particular loved sliding down and never hurt herself … at least not enough for her to let us notice. One time, or so I was told many years later, Ken accidentally knocked Anita down the hole from the second floor, but Allen was there to catch her. Ken thought it was a pretty fun activity and tried to do it again . . . but Anita was smarter the second time.

It was when we were at Delta that I had cause to make my first trip to the hospital since having my tonsils out at age 24. I was mowing the grass around our outdoor ‘biffy’ across the road from our cottage. The grass was a bit high and the push mower was balky. To help it along I gave it a push with my foot. The whooshy sound made me think I had run over a piece of cardboard, but when I looked down I saw it was my shoe that had slipped under the mower. I felt no pain in walking back to the cottage. I sat on the step and started to remove the remnants of my shoe. I had started to remove my blood-soaked sock when it occurred to me that my toes might come off with the sock, and I didn't know how I would carry a severed toe or two on the 20-minute drive to the Portage hospital emergency room. The big toe had a chip out of the bone but other than that it was just fine except I had to use crutches for a few weeks—stairs became a new experience for me.

Years later, Delta was again the scene of my next medical problem, and my first contact with our present doctor, Dr. Lou. I woke up in the early morning hours with a sharp pain in the left side of my chest. It became very painful if I tried to take a deep breath, so I followed the advice I would have given the children—I didn’t take a deep breath.
I waited until after everyone was up (why ruin their night’s sleep) before suggesting to Wilma that I thought I should visit the hospital. I was on a hospital bed with an oxygen tube in my nose when a young man (he looked to be about 17 years old), clad in a white hospital gown, came in to examine me. He had a, roundish, clean-shaven, youthful face.
My initial thought was, “Good grief. Why do I have a high school ‘work education program’ student coming in to look at me?”
Dr. Lou asked me if I could take a deep breath. I wasn't sure what answer to give. There were only two possible answers, ‘yes’ or ‘no’. But it was like those infernal ‘true’ or ‘false’ questions on an exam. Neither answer would be completely correct. Yes, I could take a deep breath but I was sure it would kill me if I did. So really, the answer should be, no. I don't recall whether or not I explained all this to him—probably not.
“Does that hurt?” he asked, pushing in just the right place to elicit a reaction that made a verbal response totally redundant.
He gave me a prescription and sent me on my way.
My (non-verbal) reaction was, “Yeah. As if that’s going to cure my heart attack. I want to see a real doctor.”
Twenty-four hours later I was 100% cured. He explained later that it was just a virus infection on the end of one of my ribs—not something that would have occurred to me. I still think he had no business figuring that out with one question and a well placed poke. I must admit I have had infinite respect for his wisdom skill since that time. After all, he likes old cars, and that counts for a lot. Granted, they are American cars, but then, no one is perfect.
Over the years, he has poked, prodded and tapped me in what appear to be randomly chosen places. Somehow, he seems to know what it all means and has succeeded in keeping me healthy for years. He also knows me well enough to know I will to almost anything to avoid taking medication. When my sugar level and cholesterol level were getting high, he drew me a diagram explaining how those levels and my blood pressure were indicating I was getting close to needing medication.
“What should I do about a diet,” I asked him.
“If it’s worth eating, then you can’t eat it,” he replied.
It was good advice.

I must mention the time I fell off a chair and threw my shoulder out of joint—and no, I was sober at the time. I was given a shot of morphine, twice, and was a bit light-headed. I was wheeled to the X-Ray lab over my protestations that I could walk. When I arrived, I hopped off the gurney, walked over to the machine, stood there for my X-ray, and then hopped back onto the gurney. Someone must have told Dr. Lou that I was not as sedated as I needed to be. Back in the examination room, I recall Dr. Lou coming in through the door with a vial and syringe in his hand.
“This should work for you,” he said.
And that was the last thing I remembered until I woke up much later. I had no memory of his walking toward me from the doorway, let alone being injected, or the apparent pain —Wilma says he told her to leave the room because there would be significant yelling and screaming from me— while he was forcing my shoulder back into position. That was a clear, obvious example of retrograde memory loss—one in which events prior to a trauma are forgotten. I can understand anterograde amnesia (loss of memory of events after the trauma) because you are unconscious and hence the events just do not register in your brain.  But I find memory loss of events you have already experienced to be strange because you have experienced the events and maybe even responded to them.
So, how do they get erased retroactively?  I have this small germ of a theory that maybe it is like the time-delay on live television in which the broadcast is electronically delayed for a few seconds in order to delete profanity and such. Maybe all of life is on a twenty-second time-delay. I chose twenty seconds because I estimate that to be about the length of time for Dr. Lou to have walked from the door to me and get the injection into my system. Try thinking about that for a while—or at least for twenty seconds.

Our children both had birthdays in July so it was logical to have the parties at Delta where there was lots of sandy space, water in which to play and a wood fire for wieners and marshmallows. We would fill our camper bus with the guests in Portage and drive them to Delta.
After one of the parties for Ken, at which I had taken movies, played ‘fish’ over a hanging blanket, supervised races and had (I thought) been generally front-and-center, I was tucking Ken into bed.
With his eyes mostly closed, he looked up at me and said, “I had a lovely party, Daddy. Were you there?”
That pretty well sums up our boy, Ken. He always threw himself into whatever he was doing so thoroughly he didn’t notice his surroundings. He still doesn’t drink alcohol, smoke or swear. He just never found time for that sort of nonsense.
Both our children got on a fast track out of our home and each left around age 16. We tried not to take it personally. Ken was always ahead of his time in school. He liked school by just ignoring everything around him. He took Grade 8 and 9 in one year, moving up midyear. The top Grade 9 students were relieved to find that they would still be able to win the academic awards because the school created a special award for Ken and maintained the other awards for the rest of the grade. We were very pleased that they took this step to clear the path for Ken and avoid hard feelings with his classmates. He then did Grades 10, 11 and 12 in two years by taking courses by correspondence. He had decided he wanted to get out of high school and into some meaningful education as quickly as possible.
Ken always had a great ability to set priorities and, although he worked constantly, he made time for his piano, playing sax in the school jazz band and playing badminton. He graduated with the Governor General’s Award (just like his mother), and headed off to the University of Waterloo, in Ontario. He chose to go there because it had an excellent reputation in Mathematics and Computer Science.

Sometimes Anita says she is lazy, but I prefer to think of it as being efficient. She likes to shop for clothing in the marked down section, not because it saves money, but because it cuts down on the number of decisions. Anita says her taking the easiest route is in the Taoist way of a stream finding its path. It flows along the easiest route.
When Anita chose a musical instrument in addition to the piano, she decided on the oboe because no one else in her grade played one and thus she would be assured of a place on band trips. The oboe is arguably one of the most difficult orchestral instruments to play, which would seem to contradict my earlier statement that she tended to chose the easiest route. It is, however, one of the lightest and easiest instruments to carry around (I guess the piccolo wasn’t an option), so I rest my case. I like to think Anita took after me. After all, she did place third in a local photo beauty contest when she was three years old—and my mother always said I was a cute boy until I turned four. Anita just stayed cuter longer than I did.
Somewhere, Anita got the idea to attend the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto the same summer that Wilma decided to take a real-life immersion in French in Jonquière in Quebec. It may or may not be a coincidence that this was the same time that we were serving as a volunteer Children’s Aid home for a teenager who had run himself out of homes that would take him. I decided this would be a good excuse for me to take a bit of a holiday by flying there with her to help her get established in the university residence. The University of Toronto was not in session making inexpensive accommodation available nearby.
We had a lot of fun looking at cars in parking lots. I rented a tiny compact car for the week and whenever we encounter a Porsche on the street I would race it from one stoplight to the next. I rarely won, and then it was only because I was lucky in guessing which lane to be in. The Porsche driver probably didn’t even know he was in a race.
It was a nice bonding experience for me, and I experienced pangs of regret when my week was up and I had to fly home leaving Anita at the mercy of the big city.
After I had left, Ken planned to have Anita visit him in Waterloo for a weekend. He arranged for a friend (whom Anita didn’t know) to pick up Anita on the sidewalk in front of a particular subway station in Toronto. As requested, Anita was waiting on the sidewalk at the appointed time when a car drove up.
The driver rolled down the window, and called out, “Get in.”
Anita, having been brought up to be obedient, hopped into the car and they drove off. Fortunately, it was the right fellow. Anita did admit later that she should have checked to see if the driver actually was someone who knew who she was. But then, if you have a guardian angel to look after you, little details like this are looked after for you.

Anita didn’t enjoy school much. Unlike Ken, she took school seriously and that can be a bad scene for a thoughtful youngster. She got good grades but didn’t think she deserved them because the work was so easy. This made her feel vaguely guilty and also she hated the attitude some of the other students had toward her high marks. At the end of Grade 10, Wilma and I decided Anita would do better in a more challenging school system. St. John’s-Ravenscourt (SJR) in Winnipeg was an obvious choice as a school with very high academic standards. SJR had been ‘boys only’ private school up until two years before Anita went there, so girls were still a bit of a novelty for them.
In Grade 9 and 10 it was evident that Anita had high ability in Math. She placed at or near the top of various provincial Math contests in Grade 10 and 11. The school system reacted to this by having her sit in the hallway to work on her own, and they just ignored her in the area of Math because she was good at it. Consequently, by the end of Grade 10 she had not actually attended any Math classes since Grade 8.
Anita needed to have her official Mathematics standings in order to fit into the SJR program. The program at SJR was generally a grade level more advanced than the public system so she would need to have her Grade 11 Mathematics to be on a par with other students. I arranged with the Department of Education to get the whole year of Mathematics correspondence course at once so she could go through it during the summer. I also had to arrange a special sitting for her to write the final exam so she would have a final mark for SJR when school started. It helped that I had done this sort of thing before with special students in my regular work in the Portage School Division. The transition to the academic rigor of SJR had its traumatic moments but was ultimately successful academically and personally for her.
Anita made some good friends in her two years there, including the fine young man she would eventually marry—although it did take them 7 more years to actually get engaged because they liked to discuss things thoroughly. As a married couple they still don’t make decisions without discussing all possible options . . . and often a few impossible ones.

Travel has always been a major part of our family life. When Ken was 8 and Anita 5, we flew overseas to London with my seventy-eight-year-old mother. She was in good health but needed a cane (except sometimes when we left a restaurant she didn’t realize she needed it until we had traveled several miles away).
We rented a car in London and drove north to Sherwood Forest to fulfill Anita’s dream of seeing the area made famous by the legends of Robin Hood. We saw Little John’s grave, thatched roofs (even one on a bird house) and a 600-year-old hollow tree like the one in which Robin Hood used to hold meetings.
Then on to Wales, stopping at Caernarvon Castle, which extended Ken’s fascination with drawing the maze of train tracks in a rail yard to drawing schematics of the castle turrets, passages, and stairs. Escher would have been proud of him.
Ireland was the main focus of our trip partly because Wilma’s mother, Frances, always maintained she was Irish (her brother, Hugh, always maintained he was Scottish even though they had the same parents). Ireland was just what one would expect. It was green, friendly, scenic, and often was moist with the gentle Irish mist. We kissed the Blarney stone, went to the Cliffs of Moher (much to my mother’s delight), kissed the Blarney Stone, climbed the Cashel tower and Ken rode a little Irish donkey. Ken and Anita tried, unsuccessfully, to herd a flock of sheep on the grounds of an abandoned monastery. I didn’t offer any advice, but a Collie dog would have been very helpful.
We went to Bunratty Castle for their medieval banquet. It was a great show with costumes, eating good food with our fingers, being threatened with time in the dungeon and a lot of laughter for everyone. My mother was delighted to receive a compliment on how elegant she looked in her long gown. We did the full tourist tour of Southern Ireland.
Anita had her 5th birthday in Wales and Ken had his 8th in Ireland. Whenever we had traveled in the United States, we would ‘collect’ states, often making small detours or crossing a bridge just to catch the corner of a new one.
On this trip, Anita wanted to have visited as many countries as she was years old. On the way back to London, we detoured briefly into Scotland because, if you counted the United States, Scotland made up her five. Young people make life so much more fun.
The day we were leaving London for home I think Ken would have gladly stayed behind if he could have lived in the London Museum, but he stoically accepted his fate of going back to Canada.

After Ken’s first year at the University of Waterloo, the four of us went on another trip overseas. We felt that Ken, at age 17, was too young to work for the summer and in another year he would have his own life and be too old to want to travel with his family. We decided to head overseas and tour Europe by car.
We (mostly me) felt an air-conditioned rental car would be a good idea, but soon discovered that European people don’t consider air conditioning to be as essential as we did. There were few companies offering that option, and the ones that did charged as much for it as an extra as they did for the car rental itself. But it would be July, and the driving from place to place was a major part of our plans. As it turned out, there were several times we were most grateful for a supply of cool air flowing through the car.
We wanted this trip to be a memorable one. When I was planning the trip I discovered it was possible to stay in castles in Germany on the Rhine River, in Spain, and in Portugal. There were also old state-run monasteries, castles and paradores in Spain and pousadas in Portugal. These were rustic historic places that had been modified (slightly) for tourist accommodation. We never knew what to expect, other than they would be very interesting, steeped in history and situated well outside the cities. The prices were very reasonable compared to a modern hotel and the ambience was astonishing. The meals were often peculiar to the region, as were the wines. One of Anita’s favorite memories is of having chocolate brioches at breakfast. Making reservations in the days before the Internet was a challenge and required planning well in advance. The postal service was slow but telephoning to a foreign country was not very effective if the people at each end of the telephone spoke a different language.

We flew to New York and from there to Paris. A train took us to Milan for our rental a car. We left Milan in a rather nice Italian car (only the fancier models had air conditioning) for an elaborate road trip through Holland, France, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Italy, San Marino, Monaco, Spain, Portugal, Morocco (just a day trip to ride a camel and see the markets), and Andorra. We went to enough small countries and principalities to more than make up the prerequisite fourteen countries to match Anita’s age. We also tried to hit most of the standard tourist places as well.

We were tempted to go to a Bull Fight in Spain, but opted for the gentler version of it in Portugal. The Portuguese version of bullfighting is almost gentle and is called ‘bloodless’ because they do not kill the bull in the ring as is done in Spain. The first part of the ‘show’ consists of a horseman dressed in a traditional costume fighting the bull from the back of a specially trained horse in order to stick a few small javelins into the back of the bull. Then one or more matadors taunt the bull with a red cape in a manner similar to the Spanish fight, except they are not armed with swords. The finale, and most exciting part, is when a group of eight men, often locals from nearby villages, storm into the ring in their ordinary work clothes, without any protection or weapons, and attempt to subdue the bull using only their own skill and strength. The sight of one of these apparently fearless men holding the bull’s tail while others assaulted its body and another one throwing himself between the bull’s horns to grasp its head was an exhilarating mixture of humor and fear. Although the men won by wrestling the bull to the ground in the fight we saw, it was an even battle with more likelihood of a person being hurt or killed than for any damage to the bull.

That year, Ken celebrated his 17th birthday in Paris and Anita celebrated her 14th birthday in Lisbon.
We left our car in Madrid and took a very efficient night train back to Paris.
The plane had a stopover in London but not long enough for us to get out of the airport. We flew back to New York, arriving several hours before our flight back to Winnipeg. Having nothing better to do, we went to a Broadway play.
We were dead tired from our flight from Paris to London and then New York, but fortunately the show was a loud and exuberant production of ‘Dreamgirls’. I kept being startled back into wakefulness during the performance. We were glad to get back to the slower pace of Portage.

Ken and Anita had left home for university—Ken to Waterloo in Ontario, and from there to Berkeley in San Francisco; Anita to Western University in London, Ontario. I decided this would be a good time for me to decide what I wanted to do when I grew up.
Some people would say this was a classic case of midlife crisis. I was about the right age to have one. However, I already had a red sports car and I’d never been of the right temperament to run off with a younger woman. Besides, I had already married a young one.

My trip through life so far had been great, but I still wasn’t sure where I was going. Inspired by my friend, Joe, I decided to do research for writing a novel that would include a life-style rather different from mine. San Francisco offered a wildly cosmopolitan and interesting environment. Also, Ken was living in Berkeley nearby so I would have some contact with reality.

I located a small residential hotel near the downtown area on the corner of Sutter and Larkin. It was really the second story of building with a restaurant/bar on the main floor. It seemed ideal and it was really inexpensive because they normally rented on a monthly basis. I paid my first week’s rent with the loose money I happened to have in my pocket at the time. It had all I needed—a room with a bed. The clothes closet consisted of three coat hangers on the back of the only door. The room was cleaned once a week, which was more than adequate.
A heavy, locked, metal gate at street level controlled entry to the long, wide flight of stairs leading from street level to the second floor. The stairs served as an impromptu meeting place for the residents. If you sat at the top to the stairs you would get to meet everyone sooner or later as they came and went.
I thought the location was ideal because I was sure I would be safe here, even though it was a rough neighbourhood. Half a block down from the hotel there was a very ritzy, high priced hotel. I assumed anyone wanting to mug someone for money would look there and pick on a rich guy and not an obviously poor looking guy staying in a cheap hotel.
Around the corner and a block down the street was a bar frequented by a dozen flamboyantly dressed hookers who plied their trade all around the hotel where I stayed. This would mean that if someone were looking for a person to mug just for the fun of it, they would chose one of the hookers, and I would be relatively safe. I could just blend safely into the scenery.
I usually stopped in at that bar for a drink on my way home to the hotel after an afternoon of walking and sightseeing, and an evening of talking with the street people. The hookers quickly accepted me as just a friendly old guy and not a potential customer. They would kid around with each other, put on makeup and generally be themselves. They were very amusing and sometimes showed off just for the fun of it.
There was a small group of street people who hung out near my hotel. I often bought a large pizza for my supper so I would have some of it to share with them. I was their friend. One evening we were talking about the bar and the ladies of the night.
One of my friends said, “You know what they are don’t you?”
“I assume they are hookers,” I suggested tentatively.
“I guess you could call them that.”
“What else would you call them?” I asked.
They looked at each other and laughed.  “Why don’t you take one home and you’ll find out.”
We changed the subject. I was obviously missing something here. After I left them, I stopped in at the bar and looked at my hooker buddies more critically. They were young, wore a lot of makeup, were thin and had very sexy legs. Then I noticed that their drinks were served in larger glasses than the customers, even though they were filled less than half way. The little hamster in my head started running faster to dredge up memories from my past and to put them together. Ah, men have larger hands than women. I looked more critically and observed my hooker friends all had thin waists but also very narrow hips. I signalled one of them to come and sit with me.
“I’m doing research for a book, and I’d like to ask you something, if you don’t mind,” I said, using the opening gambit I usually use to avoid people taking my questions too personally.
“Sure sweetie, but I could sure use a drink.”
“Ok, but you’ll have to answer more than one question then.”
It’s too bad I can’t deduct drinks from my income tax as a business expense, I thought. I signalled the bartender and he brought me another beer and a large glass with two inches of pink liquid in it for my friend.
“I don’t mean to be rude or anything, but are you a man?” I asked, as casually as I could muster.
I was rewarded with a sexy smile—I had braced myself for a slap—and an answer that was enough for me to assume I was right.
“Well, sweetie, there is really only one way to find out for sure now, isn’t there.”
I had just officially met my first transvestite, or at least, my first transvestite hooker . . . and his/her fellow transvestite hookers.

When I first came to San Francisco, Ken used to pick me up every evening and we would have dinner and see the sights of the city. After a few of his marathon ‘entertain my father’ sessions, I had to suggest that, much as I enjoyed his company, every night was more than I could handle. I had to do my slumming after I left him and that made it late into the night, and I wasn’t as young as I used to be.
I distinctly got the impression he didn’t really approve of my direct approach to research when he made it very clear I was not to actually become a street beggar for a few days. I hadn’t told him that I was planning to play the role of street beggar for a few days so I could see what it was like from their point of view. But he is an unusually perceptive person.
One evening I was standing on the corner near my hotel waiting for him when I heard a husky feminine voice behind me say, “Are you waiting for me?”
Thinking it was one of the ubiquitous transvestite hookers, I kept looking straight ahead.
“I think I’m the person you are waiting for me,” the voice continued.
“No, thanks. I’m pretty sure you’re not,” I replied, still staring straight ahead so as to avoid eye contact.
“You are waiting for Ashley, aren’t you?” the voice persisted.
I took a chance and turned around to find a very attractive young lady looking at me expectantly. I could tell she was not a transvestite. Her hands weren’t large like a man’s, and there were other obvious clues for someone as observant as I. It turned out that Ashley was Ken’s girlfriend and he thought it would be convenient for us to meet on the corner so he could drive by to pick us both up at once.
It is almost impossible to find a parking place in San Francisco, so it really did make good sense . . . to him, anyway.


~ Young Love ~

The four of us were sitting around the table talking. Anita was in junior high and Ken was in high school. Anita was talking about the interpersonal relationships (gossiping, dating, fighting, etc.) among the boys and girls in the school.
Ken: “Was all this happening when I was there?”

Anita to Henry when they met at SJR: “I’m Anita Shirriff.”
Henry: “Oh, I recognize that name. It’s right below mine on the Cayley Mathematics Competition list.”
Anita (to herself): “Humph.”
They didn’t go out on a date until other students told them they would be perfect for each other and they should go out together. They eventually got married.


~ We Can Only Hope ~

Wilma, her parents, Frances and Gard, and I drove her to Winnipeg for her flight to Montreal. We had some extra time so we did some ‘window shopping’ at a jewellery store. We saw a nice 12 place setting of fancy, gold edged dishes. They were being discontinued so all their extra items in that pattern were included at no extra cost.
Me (fishing for information): “Those are nice. Maybe we should buy them.”
Wilma (being coy): “Well, not unless we are getting married.”
Me: “I guess we shouldn’t then?”
Wilma (joking, I think): “I might find my Prince Charming overseas.”
After we saw Wilma off on the plane, her parents and I returned (with encouragement from Frances) to the store and I bought three heavy boxes of fine china to store in my bachelor pad.

~ Big Deal ~

Anita was planning to go to Toronto (at age 14) to study Music Theory at the Toronto Royal Conservatory.
Wilma: How will you manage to get along all on your own in a strange big city?”
Anita: “I’ve been in Paris, London and New York all in one day. I think I can handle Toronto for the summer.”


~ Research is Important ~

Wilma, talking to one of her friends in Winnipeg, said (of me): “He’s a nice enough person, but not much of a kisser.”
Friend (smiling broadly): “Oh. I wouldn’t say that.”
Wilma was furious, for reasons she didn’t want to admit.


~It Never Hurts To Ask ~

Wilma on the phone to me: “I’m wondering if I should come home sooner than we had planned?”
Me: “It’s up to you. I’ll be glad to see you whenever you get here.”
Wilma: “I could cancel my last tour if you wanted.”
Me: “Don’t come home early on my account.”
She didn’t, but she wasn’t pleased with me.



On another occasion, with a different friend, Wilma told one of her Winnipeg friends that she was getting married to me.
Friend: “You mean you are marrying that rabble rouser?”
Wilma didn’t find out until much later just what her friend meant.



~ Found Out ~

My son, Ken, sitting down to write his final 2nd-year Math exam at Waterloo University, looks up to a professor supervising nearby.
“Excuse me. Do you know who is the professor for this course?” he asks.
Professor: “Yes. I am.”
Ken: “Oh . . . And what is your name, please?”
Ken was awarded the gold medal for excellence in Math. Not so much for class attendance.
I wonder if there is a DNA marker for this trait.


~ Found Out ~

My son, Ken, sitting down to write his final 2nd-year Math exam at Waterloo University, looks up to a professor supervising nearby.
“Excuse me. Do you know who is the professor for this course?” he asks.
Professor: “Yes. I am.”
Ken: “Oh . . . And what is your name, please?”
Ken was awarded the gold medal for excellence in Math. Not so much for class attendance.
I wonder if there is a DNA marker for this trait.