Swapping e-mails with an old friend a few days ago and he reminded me of “a time on Whiteside Street when times were tough (for you).”
I hadn’t thought of Whiteside Street, which makes its timorous beginning off Tillicum near Carey Road, for decades, but those few words brought memories flooding back, memories of when times were tough – but we never knew it. Or at least never admitted when we were hurting.
We’re talking here about 1949. I had been in Canada for a year, had graduated from 12-months on the city of Victoria garbage scows with the exalted title of deckhand at $37.50 a week, to bread truck driver for the princely sum of $50 a week and cut prices on day old bread and aging cakes.
The Bank of Montreal on Government at Bastion deemed me reliable enough to loan me a thousand dollars – if I could find someone to guarantee they’d get their money if their trust proved unfounded. The late Don Snobelen co-signed for me and with the bank loan and a little I’d managed to save a down payment was made on our first house on Whiteside.
I exaggerate when I call it a house. In reality it was a tiny four room shack. A living room and bedroom in front with a lean-to kitchen and listed “second bedroom” at the rear. The kitchen door was also the back door opening on a gloomy alcove with a cupboard like shower attached to one side.
The shower walls were originally tin advertising signs and very old. We never did use the evil looking box. My first wife, Joyce, was of hardy Lancashire stock with a preference for galvanized bathtubs which could be scrubbed clean after each use in front of the kitchen – wood and coal – stove.
There was no indoor plumbing other than a kitchen sink and the wretched shower. “The bathroom” was an outhouse. Whiteside Street in ’49 was still very rural although our house was the only one lacking what everyone else on the street regarded as a civilized bathroom.
It was a year before we caught up and graduated to septic tank and the eventual glories of hot water on tap and baths galore. With help of friends we dug the septic tank site ourselves and helped a contractor as day labour to build a bathroom, a new large living room and bedroom on the front with the old rooms converted to accommodate growing family.
And before I forget we replaced the old roof which had leaked prodigiously. We used to say it only had to cloud over for the roof to start leaking. It is a fact that on rain-threatening nights we would place assorted pots and pans in their designated leak-catching places before going to bed.
Tough times? On looking back I suppose they were but we were too busy battling to make a living – and progress – to spend time fretting about how hard fate was treating us.
I don’t think we were an unusual family living a tougher life than most; I don’t think we had it tougher than today’s young people. I think we were fortunate in that we lacked today’s all too prevalent feeling of entitlement because we were just grateful to be alive, to have survived the murderous years of WW2.
So, if you are young and feel times are tough – you’re right. They are tough years, and always were for most of us as we made our way through unknown country to our existing comfortable pews.
Not easy, but it can be done. We “comfortable” ones are proof of that.