Well, I took my athletic fantasies home. When my parents took the bus into Victoria to see a movie, I had hours to play. I played hockey with the best. Using hockey sticks I made from laths and box nails. My puck was a ketchup bottle top. I ran through the house up the right wing and down the left. I was in on every goal, I kept box scores and was often the first star. Sybil became suspicious when she began to notice strange marks on walls and doors. My fantasy athletic career was not confined to hockey. I was addicted to baseball. I played for the New York Yankees with Ruth, Gehrig, Berra and others. I used a bat, I had acquired from Kresges for 50 cents. I hit rocks in the field and corn patch. Same as hockey, I was great. I kept box scores here too. My other sport was boxing. Jim was supposedly a great fighter. Men feared him. I feared him. I didn't like to fight but I really wanted to try boxing. I felt the referee would keep me from harm. So, I went down town to the boxing club. My parents provided little support. Jim disregarded me and Sybil was afraid I would get hurt. Well, getting hit hurts. I had very limited skills and they did not improve. Still, Boxing speaks to something within me and I remain fascinated with the spectacle it provides.
Jim was a skilled man but he was angry and violent and often victimized. Outside the house, he was disregarded and disliked. He failed repeatedly. Still, he was arrogant and selfish to a fault. When my Uncle Walter passed, a small inheritance came our way. Sybil promised me a baseball glove. Jim found an old child's toy with no pocket and insisted that it was good enough for me, It was certainly good enough to be useless and bring more shame on me. He took the bulk of the money, bought a Model A Ford and left for Cowichan Bay ostensively to find work. When he ran through the money he finally returned. He simply thought he owned everything we possessed. He was awful to Sybil. When they were playing bridge and her bid wasn't to his liking. He would fly into a rage turn over the card table and call her a stupid cow. I loved music and wanted a guitar. My Christmas present was a child's instrument that couldn't be tuned. My friend and I got permission to pick a field of volunteer daffodils. I tied 10 bunches of 2 dozen and sold them on a street corner. They sold like hot cakes for 25 cents each. Suddenly, I was a successful business man. Sybil gave me an Alka Seltzer bottle for the coins all 10 of them. Then Jim decided they were his to pay his and Sybil's admission to the movies. I complained and he slugged me. This was one time Sybil stopped him. A frightful row broke out where Jim asserted that since he was the head of the household everything belonged to him. In essence, we were lucky to get anything in return. While he was in the house, I sought sanctuary outside or in my room. When my parents were out: my fantasies were allowed to fill the house and beyond. I had come to enjoy being alone.
Gordon Head as I knew it was rural and agricultural. San Juan Avenue was about a dozen small holdings, the largest of which were the Townsend and Wild Farms. I was friendly with Bob and Dave Wild and I eventually worked on the Alec Townsend's farm. The Head had an interesting social hierarchy. The cultural headquarters seemed to be the "Manor House" known as Strangewood, the residence of Mrs. McMullen who was rarely seen. It was the site of the "Garden Party" held each summer. It was situated on Margaret's Point next to Margaret's Bay. Still, the Head was dominated by the land holdings of 2 families, the Paddons and the Vantreights. The Vantreight's, who many people assumed were Dutch, were Irish. They were dominant as they had the largest working farm. Both the Paddons and the Vantreights were focussing on a new cash cow, Daffodils. It was the Vantreights who came to play a significant role in my youth and early adulthood.
The five acres of burnt out farm land we lived on belonged to E. O. Duke, a retired politician from Alberta. We paid $50/ month in rent. It was with Duke that I began to see another side of Jim Allan. Jim was easily rendered subservient. He readily "sucked up" to certain people. Early on in 1948 we planted cauliflower, cabbage and Brussel Sprouts. My stepfather extended the risk by leasing another field. Jim and I planted every plant with a spade and my bent back. Dawn to dusk seven days a week.
I was 12 that summer. Jim and I sold produce off the back of an old truck like the Chinese market gardeners did to families temporarily housed in the Gordon Head Army Camp (now the site of the University of Victoria) Many veterans had financial hardship after the war. Returning from war they had difficulty finding work and affording housing. This was a breeding ground for anger and ill-will, especially when veteran's who had never been overseas were able to prosper using programs like The Veteran's Land Act. Many vets were left out in the cold. Jim was one of these. He never fully recovered from being injured in England while on active duty. Clerks in Victoria didn't believe that sitting on an unexploded bomb while removing the fuse constituted danger. So, he seemed to qualify for nothing. If it wasn't for my mother's dogged determination over more than a decade he would never have finally received the medical pension he deserved. Later, I learned others who were in Italy and fought from Pachino to Ortona, a terribly bloody campaign, were bitter because they were often ignored socially and by the DVA (Department Of Veteran's Affairs) because they hadn't been to France.
So, back to the summer of '48. where Jim set out to prove he was no farmer. Our most successful crop was "couch grass" and weeds. The farm had an orchard and apples, plums, pears, and cherries were sold in the Gordon Head Army Camp. Sybil had strawberries, peas, potatoes and it infuriated Jim when she was able to grow things that he couldn't. She was good with people. He wasn't. I did most of the weeding. I did all the hoeing. The farm was an economic disaster. We sold a 100 pound sack of potatoes for $1. The cauliflowers that didn't rot in the field were sold for less than the plants cost and I froze my fingers picking the Brussel Sprouts on winter mornings before school and daily suffered the pain of returning circulation.
I knew we were poor. I felt it. Jim, it seemed, knew how to get into debt but he never learned how to get out of it. He never cared about paying or holding up his end. The families integrity and survival became my mother's job. Jim made loud threatening noises but hid behind her while she dealt with the bill collectors. Our saving grace was reduced quickly to a few chickens and of all things a walnut tree, a big mature one, I spread a tarp under it. climbed it and shook it and stained my fingers brown removing the green husks. People bought the nuts. Also walnuts could be pickled if picked before the shells developed. The tree was profitable. Jim convinced the Dukes to venture into the walnut business. E. O. Duke's money bought the trees and a tractor. A Fordson tractor was the one to have but Jim bought an Earthmaster. Anyway, I wanted to drive the tractor. Jim let me. I ploughed, disced, and harrowed the farm. the harrow picked up piles of couch grass roots that needed to be burnt. Since I enjoyed the work, Jim went into the tractor service business. I was his free driver.
Several of the local Chinese market gardeners hired the tractor and the machine and I provided a service that they called "Turn em over. Cut em up."
Eventually Jim planted walnut trees, Sybil kept me from this task even when I was available as Jim had to resort to using stumping powder to break the hard pan. The young trees never grew. They never produced a single nut. It seemed to me that Jim ignored the fact that it would have taken 10 to 20 years before they produced any profit even if they had been planted in fertile ground. To keep the tractor business going In the summer of 1950, Jim rented it to Alec Townsend. I went with the tractor.
A throwback, Alec used to work his farm with a horse and I made pocket money on occasion mucking out the stall. and doing other odd jobs. Unlike ours, this was a 25 acre functional farm lost in the 1930's. Townie lived in a big stone house with a monkey puzzle tree in front. Out buildings and a barn were behind the house. A war vet, like Jim, Townie had married a cockney London barmaid named Chrissie. She was shunned by all the women on the Head even Sybil. Alec and his friend from the Tyndall Avenue end of San Juan Avenue, Red Dunnett had been through the horrors of the Italian campaign together all the way to Ortona. Their downfall was booze: cheap whiskey and beer. Both were happy drunks at any time of day. Truthfully, I learned more about farming from Townie than I ever did from Jim.
Alec Townsend grew the greatest corn on Gordon Head and I learned his secret when I was "Big Man on Tractor". I used a cultivator bar and blades that I set for the width of his corn rows. Then, I did what the old horse had done with Townie walking behind. I dug furrows between the rows. I dug three at a time. The horse could only manage one but Townie had loved the horse. The Percheron had been alive. I had known the animal. The tractor was useful but it wasn't a horse.
Shortly after finishing the cornfield, A-1 Septic Tank Service showed up and pumped their tanker truck into the furrows, They kept coming back until the whole farm smelt like a sewer. The anaerobic bacteria died quickly and the smell dissipated.Townie had learned about "night soil" from the Chinese market gardeners that dotted the agricultural landscape around Victoria. "The corn grew as high as an elephant's eye" the truth of that lyric was right before my eyes. The crop was delicious and was enjoyed throughout the city without concern. How times have changed.
Townsend's farm crew were teenagers. They were older than me and jealous of my position. I didn't care. Alec respected my work. He was tough and rough around the edges but otherwise a decent man. It was a great summer. When, I finished. Alec paid Jim. For working all summer, I had been promised a new bike for my birthday by Sybil. Jim counted the money. He had a change of heart.. It was his. Nothing was to go to E.O. Duke for the tractor and certainly nothing was there for me. Sybil stood her ground and I finally got a brand new three speed Raleigh roadster. to replace the piece of junk I had learned to ride on. I was in heaven as I rode around Gordon Head. I was in heaven as I rode to school to start the eighth grade.
Back to school we came, the two room school had expanded to three. The primary grades 1-4 filled 2 rooms, the new room and the old primary one. The intermediate room still housed the remaining 4 grades. Lloyd Main, who later was a colleague of mine, had been the principal and my teacher from the time I arrived in 1948. From the window to the blackboard were 4 rows of desks on runners. Each row contained a grade. I started near the window in Grade 5 and progressed across the rows until I reached the real slate blackboard side in Grade eight for the 1950-51 school year. Life was simple at Gordon Head School but often embarrassing. On my first day in 1948, the boys directed me to the washroom in the basement at one end of the building. It was the girls end. I was mortified. Gender segregation was important then. Boys played with boys and girls with girls. In the Spring softball was played in a very small enclosed area behind the school. It was boys only. The girls left us alone and we were forbidden to bother them.. We never entered the large girl's basement. Instead played ping pong in the boy's basement at the other end of the building even though there wasn't enough room.
Mr. Main loved athletics. But he had to reach across grades to field a team, only in soccer and only boys. We played 2 games with Doncaster School in my Grade 7 year. One at Gordon Head's Majestic Park, a field with goalposts installed by Lloyd Main and volunteers and the other was at Reynolds Road some miles away. We had to ride our bikes to get there, quite an adventure. But there I was a slow-footed asthmatic with little skill and no soccer boots. Lloyd Main knew I was smart but he quickly relegated me to the ash heap of manhood like my grandfather and Jim had done before him and he kept that opinion even when he was my colleague. He was a benevolent beast explaining how I was being out coached by one of his favourite young male teachers. Offering me advice to assist me. Hell! at least my grandfather never tried to help me learn to smell drains. One time when, as an adult, I was playing organized basketball. He incredulously asked. "Where did you learn to play basketball?" It was not a question but an utterance of total disbelief.
Main, as he was known by the boys, used the strap. He usually used it when he had lost his temper and was out of control. It hurt. His job was difficult at best. He had four grades to teach, one in each row, and a school to run, All for less than $200 per month. There was no secretary and he had to answer the phone located in the office next to our classroom. To answer it he had to leave the class unattended. We, the boys that is, were mostly mischievous rather than bad. It was seen as a mark of courage if you pulled a prank. Our dangerous principal was most often the target. I wanted the kids approval so I was encouraged by others to "commit suicide." There was an old wind up Victrola in the back with several thick records all by Enrico Caruso. This will give you some idea how ancient the device was. So, one day the phone takes Mr. Main away. Showing off, I boldly leave my desk, travel to the back of the class, wind up the record player and Caruso fills the room and beyond. Everyone appears very impressed with my swashbuckling act. The record ends. No Main. Barry Sharpe said, "I dare you to do it again!" Somewhat frightened I took the bait. As I wound up the machine, I boastfully said, " Wouldn't old Main be surprised if he could see me now." A familiar voice next to my ear said calmly, "No, I wouldn't! Go to the office, take the strap out of the desk drawer and wait for me. I went home late and sore that day. The incident remained with both of us. We often recalled it through many decades as colleagues. Still, discipline sometimes went too far. Throwing chalk one day, got everyone strapped across the buttocks even the innocent. The innocent girls were horrified and terrified. Lloyd that day appeared berserk with rage. There were no repercussions. Parents gave schools much more latitude then. In the other classroom, the elderly primary teacher was even more direct. She simply took care of business with an eighteen inch maple ruler across the backs of tender young hands. She was a legend.
At Gordon Head School, I fell in love. I checked my perception by asking Sybil to explain to me about love; not sex. She told me I would know my love when I saw her. I checked my perception. I had seen her. I went on the Gordon Head bus to town, bought my usual Rowntrees Clear Gums and saw a movie, "The Westerner" with Gary Cooper. In the course of the story he begs the woman he loves for a lock of her hair. The next day in school. I asked the girl who sat in front of me, "the apple of my eye", for a lock of her hair. She refused. I took it anyway. The very next day I was moved and punished severely. Neither mother nor child was impressed with my romantic zeal. Home alone in my room, I lost myself in Booth Tarkington's, Penrod and Sam, my romantic Bible. The "Heart of Marjorie Jones" escaped Penrod but he loved her still. Penrod and I were soulmates on a noble quest. In fantasy there is no rejection.
As an adult school principal, I observed for years the early adolescent yearnings of many Penrods and Daves I often read Tarkington to my classes to accompany my joy with A.A. Milne and Pooh. My experience helped me to realize that I had been misled by Mummy, Sybil. Here was a woman who was left by her lover to raise his bastard child. Here was a woman locked into a marriage with an abusive husband and she was assuring me that "Some Enchanted Evening I Would Find My True Love". How much more helpful it would have been had I learned how to develop a caring friendship before producing scissors and cutting hair.
In September 1950, I dismounted my new bike in the bike racks under the new classroom at Gordon Head School. I was in for a surprise. Lloyd Main was gone. Over the summer he had been made the principal of the new View Royal School. Walter Kitley had come to replace him. These men were like night and day. Where Lloyd prized discipline, manhood and athletics. Walt was a gentle cerebral soul. He gave me the opportunity to do almost anything I wished. He encouraged me to think. His was not a world of stick and ball sports. He gave me license to grow. In some ways it was a mistake. After Frank and Jim and Lloyd controlling and suppressing me. Walt gave me the opportunity to take advantage of him and I did. Throughout the school year I took that advantage and in so doing missed a "golden opportunity". It took me years to develop self-discipline in any setting. I had learned too well to expect external control. Even if my work was messy, school was easy. I hoped for praise and reward for obviously substandard performance in nearly everything I did. I rarely got it. For solace, I fell back on playing "Sleepy", the victim, always "looking for the easy way out."
We had a Boys Club in the Old Gordon Head Hall. Where we played floor hockey. Actually we used a disc with a hole in the middle and a broom handle for a stick. We had goals. The two lengths of half inch irrigation pipe I liberated from the farm were bent in a tree crotch. Jim never knew where the pipe went. I could play this game and I became a fanatic. I also discovered if I organized and managed things I had the power to determine my own fate. I got to participate and play whether I performed well or not. When we had a square dance with girls. I was the caller singing, "Oh Johnny Oh!" while I danced. An emerging awareness of power and control warmed my being. By assuming leadership, I could assure my participation and inclusion. The Saanich Parks Summer Softball League is an example of where I was given an unwanted job, managing the Majestic Park Team. Quickly this gave me the opportunity to control my fate and everyone else's. I made up the roster and the lineup and I kept the statistics and looked after the equipment. In turn, I rewarded myself by batting second and playing second base. To achieve success, I chose boys with real athletic ability to fill out the team. As a group we were very successful. As a player, I was somewhat dismal, but I was fanatically loyal, passionate, ruthless and demanding. I readily picked up on the bullying skills I had learned at Jim's knee. In my quest, I was selfish to a fault and my ethics could always be compromised if I got what I wanted. The ends justified the means. Underlying everything, this became my modus operandi; my modus vivendi.
For four years, I had lived a rather isolated existence on a Gordon Head defined by the Vancouver Island Coach Lines bus route with stops at both ends of San Juan Avenue. The Tyndall Avenue stop adjacent to Wrenshall's Gordon Head Store was where I departed for Victoria and the Gordon Head Road stop at the other end of San Juan was where I returned. The bus operated out of the Broughton Street bus station and It ran once an hour. I finished Grade Eight in June 1951. I took over a friend's paper route and rode around Gordon head each afternoon delivering all 15 papers. I worked on my bike getting it ready for my emergence into High School.