Age four is the age I most remember childhood beginning
at. My brother was born a few days after my own birthday, and I see him carried into our new two storey duplex at 91
Rue LaPalme, my mom carefully holds him, looking down at his small face, my father holding the door for her.
She's wearing a spring coat, and I'm wearing a pale green cotton dress, a favourite,
because there's a cat embroidered on the pocket, with a white starched border to match my white starched Peter Pan collar.
I look at my mother and father with the new baby, standing near the bottom
of the staircase. It's a jolting moment for a small child, a new baby appears on the horizon.
Hundreds of other memories, either neutral or quite happy, fill up the time period
before I begin school.
The rooms of the small house are large to me. Then there's the yard to
play in, and the streets around LaPalme.
In the den, the room to the left as we come in, Dad teaches me how to read my
Little Golden Books. I learn the words by hearing him repeat them, and on my volition, I use a lead pencil to draw a
line through each word as I know it. My early books are full of these lines.
His few picture books interest me. One is a book of types of dogs.
Another is a Teach Yourself French book, always a big topic in Quebec. The French book features stick people roaming
the world learning French at circuses, ballets, and department stores. Alas, the French book dominates my visual arts
imagination, and I begin creating hundreds of sketches of stick people roaming through the streets of Montreal, eating ice
cream cones, playing in sandboxes, flying kites, taking their dolls to the Montreal Doll Hospital.
My parents are tolerant of all my leisurely activities. I learn to read, I
skate in the winters and swim in the summers. One effort to impose maturity upon me, Modelling Lessons to combat shyness,
My mother enrolls me at Child Modelling Classes, they've promoted themselves
as teaching children to be more outgoing, less shy and introspective. The prize students are two obnoxiously conceited
golden haired twins, with flaxen ringlets, I pass them quietly, like a tabby cat walking past two costly Siamese.
At our end-of-course fashion show, I make a permanent impression upon the school
and all the parents in attendance, I am so totally nervous due to my uncured shyness, that I cannot open my easy-to-open winter
coat, the buttons are so large they stick in my tiny hands.
Because no one is on the stage to tell me what to do, I keep trying and trying
to get it right, instead of just giving it up, and going on to the next thing to do, running off the stage. Finally
a mother in the front row gets up and helps me unbutton the coat.
So, a success at reading and books, and a total flop at glamour and self-promotion.
Our mother all stayed at home then, with no exceptions. Our fathers all
held down paying jobs, with no exceptions. And we all lived in Real Houses, houses that had lawns and trees and flower
beds and driveways.
We drew these houses in our drawings with red bricks for walls, and chimneys
with smoke puffing out of them for Santa to find in the winter, and windows with wood shutters.
The den was mostly brown and blue, Dad's colours, and the living room to the
right was red and blue. This was where the television set went. It was exciting then to have television, a new
invention. I can well understand how people in China felt when they first received televisions, because we shared that
feeling too in Canada.
No worries about too much sex or violence on television then, because there was
no no sex or violence on television, and not much anywhere else, except for the sort of sexuality that went on discreetly
in the bedrooms of married couples.
With so much time on our hands, fun occupied a place in our domestic days.
Neighbours dropped in and out throughout the week. Mostly mothers for coffee and goodies from the Pom Bakery Truck.
Not only did we have more time, more trucks came right to the doors of our homes.
Every morning held its Canadian excitements.
First the clinking of real glass milk bottles, and Mom calling out, Don't forget
to put the milk bottles out, Ross, as your dad left for work. The local milkman was the first to arrive.
Then the excitement of real letters, arriving from other parts of Canada.
These were not ads nor government letters - they had real stamps on them, and a good day contained three or four real letters.
As the cost of postage stamps rose, the inflation took away this great daily joy.
Best of all was the Pom Bakery Truck man, whose truck opened up at the back to
showcase raspberry Danishes, cinammon buns, raisin breads, butter tarts, bran muffins, plain donuts, jelly donuts, and a whole
world of accessories for morning coffee time.
A diaper service truck, boring yet necessary, might pull up around the same time.
And every few days a department store delivery from the mail order pages in the Montreal Star newspaper.
Eva, a Hungarian Canadian, dropped over most morning to have coffee with us.
She had a pretty yet saddened face I associated with the sufferings of the people of Europe. They had lived closer to
the war than we had, and you could see that in their faces. Her eyes were large, brown, longlashed, and sensitive.
Later her son became my brother's best friend.
Our friends in Montreal were quite international, I had two Irish Catholic friends
a couple of blocks away, a Greek Orthodox girl up at the end of Rue Lapalme, and other Jewish friends.
Montreal like New York City or London or Paris had a certain wonderful Organic
Multi-culturalism to it, that enriched our lives so much, we would not see that this Organic Multi-culturalism differs greatly
from legally enforced Multi-Culturalism, a political idea that carries political bias. (More on that idea elsewhere,
as these stories are about childhood really.)