How did you learn to grow up and deal with what life has dealt you? What made you what you are? What has made you a success in life? How? Why? Who? Was it You?
Growing up and getting aimed in the right direction is a process of process. Getting through that process is what makes us responsible adults, would you agree?
When we were growing up in New Waterford we spent almost every waking hour outside either playing or doing some activity to make money. With all of the activity we did it could be the reason we never really got fat.
Television was yet to be invented as well as the computer. All we had was the radio. We were allowed to stay up until 8pm on Saturday night to listen to the hockey games. We also used to listen to boxing from Madison square Gardens in New York. This came with a price tag. To do so we had to scrub and wax the kitchen floor. There was no free lunch for kids in those days.
We played a game called “Lee-Hockers” or something like that. All I remember about it was it caused a lot of running around the neighborhood.
Oyster sales was another one but again I can’t remember what it was about.
We played a lot of rugby but we never had a ball. We used a burlap potato bag. We would fold it up and roll it into an oblong mass, tie it up and that was the ball. We would play with that by the hour.
We had a basement in our house where we would play hockey when it was raining outside. We spent hours doing that. We used a sponge ball. We would literally wear them out.
We belonged to the Boy Scouts. The weekly meetings were held in an old building. That building was taken over by the KOC years later and is still in use today.
Our meeting began with a game of rugby with that same type of ball. We played in the hall. After some time we would practice tying knots and all the other things we would learn as scouts. Mike Fleming was one of the scout leaders.
A couple of times we would be taken out for a day with the leaders or our priest. We had a nice priest Fr. Charles MacDonald. He took us out to Lingan Bay and bought us a potato sack of lobsters. We had a pot and cooked them on a fire near the church. What a feed. This activity aided in getting aimed in the right direction.
Another time we traveled with him to Fortress Louisbourg where we made a stew on the beach. We all took something to put into the pot and it was really good. I called it “Fortress” but it was only a small building with some artifacts in it. Actually it was called a museum but was very small. Later on when the mines were closing all over the place the government decided to build what is now Fortress Louisbourg.
We never had a new baseball. Once in awhile we would snag a baseball that was hit over the backstop at the local ball field and if they didn’t catch up with us we would take it home and play with that until the cover would be completely worn off. Then we would buy a roll of black electrical tape and tape it up and play with that until there was simply nothing left of it.
I remember one time when Mike was in high school. He made the football team and he got a football boot with knobs on it that were called cleats. He was so excited that he put them on and would run around the field near us. We would coax him to let us try them and we would do the same. Just run around and take corners trying not to slip and fall. The cleats would keep us from falling.
In the winter we spent countless hours skating and tobogganing at an area called the stumps. That was over at the top of Thompson Street where there are now houses and a seniors care center now. The trees were all cut down many years before and all that remained were the old stumps. There was a pond up behind the graveyard where houses are today. The water from the pond flowed slowly down the stump area and coated the entire area with ice. As it was on a hill it made for great but a little tricky skating and tobogganing. We loved it and spent almost every evening and weekend there.
We would find a huge plank somewhere and with a sled on each end we could get seating for about 8 people on it and it was crucial to getting aimed in the right direction and go like hell down as far as Leo Boudreau’s house on Acadia street. That was A.J. Boudreau’s father.
In those years nobody ever received an allowance such as they have today. We would get gifts of hockey gear at Christmas such as a stick or skates. A birthday gift would mean a baseball glove or the like. Nothing really fancy.
Active boys such as ourselves were expected to get along without handouts.
One year, Isabel was given a bicycle for her birthday. She put it in the garage overnight and it was stolen. We searched the entire town for it but no luck. I still remember the serial number we were searching for. 5N2399.
Of course poor papa had to shell out for another one for her. We wanted one also of course. Papa told us he would pay for half of a new bike but we would need to find the money for the other half. The new one would cost $39.95
We went at this quest to raise the $19.97 like devils possessed. We picked blueberries by the gallon and sold them around the neighborhood. When the berries were running out we would hitchhike to New Victoria where, up the hill behind the church grew fantastic berries. We would pick for hours and then hitch a ride home.
We cut trees from the woods behind the graveyard next to our home and made them into clothes props. At that time everyone hung out the washed clothes to dry on the clothesline. No one had clothes dryers. They were considered lucky to have a washer machine. A manual one with a wringer as well. Automatic washers were not invented for a long time after this time. We would sell the props for 50 cents.
Everyone needed kindling to get the fire started in either the furnace or the kitchen stove or fireplace. There were no oil furnaces or stoves in our coal mining town at that time. Everyone used coal. coal stoves in the kitchen. Coal fired furnaces in the basement.
We would never pass up the opportunity to gather small pieces of wood to sell as kindling. A few pickets from somebody’s fence, a branch from a dead tree or a board from a construction site would do.
Potatoes were sold by the 50 pound burlap bag at that time. We would find a bag somewhere and fill it with kindling and sell it in the area. We might get 25 cents for the bag full. With the 3 of us going at it we raised that bike money in less than 2 months. We kept the money in an old coffee can and hid it under the step of the garage.
I remember checking the money can one time after a rain. The coins were all rusted as the can was wet. We spent a long time cleaning the coins with steel wool to make them shiny again.
Finally we had our share and papa did his part and we had our shiny new CCM bicycle. We were so proud.
Raising money in that manner was common for us and it was getting aimed in the right direction. I remember when I was about 8 years old. I wanted to join the Boy Scout Cubs. They were like junior Boy Scouts. We needed to buy little uniforms. Cap, shirt and neckerchief. Again, I worked all summer to earn money for these items. I cut grass, sold newspapers with my paper route and cut kindling. I finally had enough money for my uniform.
When I was 10 years old I would go to papa’s store downtown on Plummer Ave. where I would clean the windows and walk to the post office to pick up the mail. I would empty the wastebasket into the furnace in the basement of Gorelik’s store which was next door to us. Louie Gorelik was the owner of the building and lived upstairs over the stores.
After those chores I would stand next to papa as he did his watch repairs. He was a master at it. He had the steadiest hands I ever saw. The store would close at 5 pm but he would work until about 6 or so. Then we would drive home.
At that time, 1945 the war was still going strong and a lot of the men in the town were overseas. The popular gift was a Ronson cigarette lighter. Papa sold hundreds of them. One problem with them was they had a spring that was subject to breaking quite often. They also needed to have wheels changed and new cotton batting installed. Papa did not have the time to do these menial repairs so I offered to do them. I bought a kit from him (yes I had to buy it) and I set up a little table at home where I would take the lighters apart and replace the worn or broken parts and get them working again. I would be paid for doing these repairs. I got half of the price papa would charge for the job. Not bad for a 10 year old kid.
By the time I was 12 I was taking old clocks apart and putting them together. I also was interested in taxidermy. Sent away for a little book on how to do it. I also bought a little kit on leather working and made a wallet. I was interested in doing anything and everything with my hands.
I bought a vice and some feathers and stuff for making fishing flies. Tom Leudy lived across from our house on George Street. I liked Tom as he was not only a nice man but he was tying flies as well. He would show me how to do things. I liked making more complicated flies for salmon fishing. I remember Derrick MacDonald who was the son of uncle Alex, was visiting with his wife Margaret and their little daughter Shauna, became very interested in my flies. He bought $10.00 worth of my salmon flies from me. I was amazed. All of these things helped in getting aimed in the right direction.
When I was growing up we had a set of encyclopedias in our home. I loved to take one of the books in hand and read all about the most fascinating things around us. I wanted to learn as much as I could. It didn’t seem to matter what subject. Just anything.
I built model airplanes. They came in a kit. There would be the plans in detail. The parts would be made out of balsa wood which was very light and quite soft. The parts would be pre stamped in the wood and I would break out these pieces, trip them with a knife and fit them together. A small tube of glue would be included and the parts would be glued together. The chassis would be readied and then the wings would be glued on. Then the whole body would be covered with the light tissue paper, wheels put on and the propeller. It didn’t have a motor. Just a block of wood in its place.
I made quite a few of these planes. This was a long time before the kits were made of plastic.
For some reason I was drawn to uniforms. I never gave it a thought at the time but at age 8 I joined the Cubs, then the Boy Scouts. Later at 13 or 14 I joined the Air Cadets. I had to go to Central School grounds for that. Thais was going into foreign territory as Central was where the protestants attended. We were catholic and not allowed down there. My how times have changed.
The Air Cadets were fun. We were taught about electricity and how it worked. I cannot remember the guys name who taught us but he was very good. We wore a uniform and finally we did not need to buy it. It was provided free of charge.
One summer we traveled by train to Prince Edward Island where in the town of Summerside there was an air base. We stayed there in a barracks. It was great fun. We got to fly in an old plane called a Beechcraft. It held about 7 people including the pilot. We each took a turn steering the plane. There wasn’t much room to move about so when One of the cadets went to change places with the cadet who just had his time at the wheel he accidentally pushed the wheel and the plane took a sharp turn to the right.
I remember seeing a red light on the dashboard start to flash. I could see it said low fuel on the light. I thought we were going to crash. Fortunately the pilot knew all about it and was actually on his approach to landing the plane.
I had no interest in school and wanted out. I was in grade 10 but doing poorly. That summer I would be 16 years of age and begged papa to let me quit and work with him to learn the watch-making trade. He didn’t want to let me out of school at first but he finally relented.
I liked working at learning the trade. I started on clocks and then pocket watches and finally wrist watches. I also learned to solder jewelry and rings. We repaired eye glasses as well.
By the time I was 18 I was pretty confident in my trade. Not the greatest but not too bad. But I was in a rut. Papa was only 50 years old at the time. What was I going to do? The business was too small for 2 people to earn a full living from it. The town was not growing. The Sydney area was growing and competition from Kmart and Woolco was heating up.
It was at that time that I decided to join the navy and see the world. This decision led me to getting aimed in the right direction.