PART ONE – Darkness to Light (cont.)
Don McLeod (Gerry McClintock’s cousin) took on a car salesman’s job and dropped by our Eldridge home sometime between 1968 and 1970 with a new Dodge Challenger, hoping to sell us. There was something about that car that captured my imagination. I sat behind the wheel and was impressed by the sight and feel, but I knew there was no way I could afford to buy it without getting into financial trouble. The time would come, however….
One day several of us singles were drinking in our home in Charleswood. My roommate, Dave, was entertaining a girl, and I decided to imitate a Ukrainian Catholic priest, blessing and marrying them (I was still nominally Catholic at the time). Though I was drunk, I must say that, in conscience, I was uncomfortable with what I was doing. Today I see the fallacy of the Catholic Church and its presumptuous power exercised over souls in the Name of God (I didn’t see it then), but I still would not do what I did.
One morning as I was driving my Isuzu to work, I hit ice. At that time, I was financially desperate, with debt payments consuming almost my entire income. Another accident was more than I could bear. As the car skidded straight for a large tree, I shouted, “God, no!” (There was a plea for mercy in the spirit of the shout, though I don’t recall any other words.)
The car swerved away from the tree, climbed onto the sidewalk, passed between that tree and another, and got back on the road. The path of the car made no sense; I was amazed and, needless to say, so very relieved. I think the scare and perhaps the reprieve from above made me seek a little harder to correct my ways.
Many years later, something very similar would happen to me.
The Bay came to be a pressure cooker for me. As a management trainee, my immediate boss was the department manager. I started under Eugene Bunka in Basement Housewares. While he was easy to get along with, he really did not take the time to train me as a department manager. He was soon replaced by Don Sproule, not a trainer either, then Bob Richards, a young Bachelor of Commerce graduate who, while willing to teach me, was not capable.
I remember getting emotionally and romantically involved with a married woman, Cheryl Norrington, at the Bay. She was going through a hard time in her marriage. We were in the Bay curling league, which met each week, and we went to the bar with others afterwards. She found solace and comfort with me because of her situation, though I didn’t know it at the time.
Had we followed through, it would not have been good. A negative or selfish foundation is never a true one. As it turned out, she reconciled with her husband, Ted, and I was told that things were better for them, for which I am thankful. I met Ted once and appreciated him.
The potential for adultery lurks everywhere, a dangerous predator.
Because I was too cheap to pay for monthly parking at the Bay, I would park blocks away on a residential street, never in the same place. I did not always pay attention to where I parked, particularly when I had a hangover. More than once, at the end of the day, I would search for my car up one street and down another, beginning to wonder if someone had stolen it.
What foolishness! A recurring nightmare developed as a result, troubling me for many years. But with all those other dreams, it would be taken care of.
Drunken parties are nowhere to be for many reasons. One of the lesser reasons not commonly considered is that if you are the last to leave, the choice of shoes and coats becomes rather limited. I once had an old pair of shoes waiting for me, to replace a quality new pair. I believe I also had a coat taken at one time. A recurring nightmare developed – which would also be taken care of. Are you looking forward to how that happened?
Yet, I still consider, when I remove my shoes somewhere, if it is safe to do so.
Gerry McClintock, Dave Miller, and I somehow got it into our heads to have a party at our place, 4810 Eldridge Avenue – a big one. This was in the dead of a Winnipeg winter. As we frequented the many pubs, beginning six to eight weeks before the date of the party, we passed on messages to everyone. All were welcome to the BYOB (bring your own booze) party, friends and strangers alike.
When the time came, it was a cold night, somewhere between -20 and -30 degrees Fahrenheit. We thought the party was going to bomb. We thought wrong. They came, with their own booze – cars and cars of them from many parts of Winnipeg. The streets were crammed with parked vehicles on both sides for blocks in all directions. Every square foot, including the stairs of the house, was jammed with people coming and going until the wee hours of the morning. People drank, smoked, danced, and talked. Apparently all had a good time.
We wondered if the neighbors would complain about us and if the police were going to show up, but it didn’t happen.
Did we have a mess on our hands to clean for the next few days! Strangely enough, however, there was nothing stolen or damaged except the towel bar was partially pulled off the soft, finished drywall in the bathroom, obviously a tiny, unintended drunken accident. That was it!
As I write this, I realize how utterly foolish we were to do such a thing. I don’t know that many would dare do that today, 40 years later.
George and Betty, our next door neighbors, talked and laughed about it, Marcel and Marie Marchessault talked and laughed about it (both older couples), as did other neighbors; they did not scold or fault us. Nobody experienced any kind of overt harm, although I suspect some neighbors could have had a bit of a sleepless night, wondering what was going on or what might happen.
One day there was a wedding or celebration of some kind at a community hall in Gilbert Plains. Uncle Fred and Aunt Delores Molnar were there from Calgary, and I was in from Winnipeg. I always enjoyed Fred’s company. He had a sense of humor and this deep, full, uninhibited laugh. We would joke and have a lot of fun.
We were drinking, getting to feel good, ended up challenging each other, and began to wrestle. Suddenly we were down, grappling and rolling together on the dusty dance floor. I had Fred in a headlock (I wasn’t doing too badly – Fred was a few inches taller than I and a rather fit man). Suddenly, a crowd gathered around us and men came to break us up, concerned that a nasty brawl had broken out. With dirty suits, we got up from the floor, laughing. The crowd was relieved and Delores embarrassed, as were a few others, though some seemed rather entertained by it all.
Why do I tell of this incident with Uncle Fred? Log it in your memories for the future; you will hear “the rest of the story.”
At the Bay, Bob Richards, my department manager, played piano, an assistant department manager played bass, and Barry Cloutier, an assistant in Traffic, played drums. We tried to put together a band. It was hard finding a place to practice. A school gave us permission to use a classroom once a week or so.
One evening we brought in a six-pack of beer, the janitor saw it, kicked us out, and that was the end of our practice site, and our band. However much I tried to get a music band going, it didn’t work out.
For the sake of honoring them now, more than I did when they worked for me, I would like to mention some of the staff, those I remember, in the Basement (Budget) Housewares/Toys/Lamps/Pictures/Luggage/Sporting Goods Department(s) (a conglomerate department):
The main supervisor, a competent lady, whose name I must admit I don’t remember! Funny how some people fade from memory – I almost forgot her altogether. I do recall that she used to talk with glowing praise about the former manager, Earl Barrish, Eugene Bunka’s immediate predecessor.
Mary Klopko, a responsible and conscientious supervisor;
Marge Howells, in charge of Luggage, Pictures, and Lamps;
Rose Sowa of Toys and Sporting Goods;
Angie, a temperamental cashier, though efficient.
Richard, a part-time stock boy and conscientious university student.
Another stock boy, Ron, was a violinist whom I had met before, cousin to my cousin Brian Romanchuk, a coincidence in a province of a million.
There was Marianne, the outdated blonde bombshell who was usually moody and uncooperative. In trying to correct her, she haughtily “sang” me the Johnny Paycheck song, long before it came out, “Take Your Job and Shove It.” I was surprised, annoyed, relieved, and amused, all at once. The staff was glad to see her go.
The outstanding member on staff there, not for performance so much as for trouble, was Kerry Darragh. Officially, he was a stock boy, but his personality and idiosyncrasies made him almost everything else – salesperson, cashier, display artist, you name it. Kerry was a high school dropout, intelligent, fun loving, and full of devilry. He seemed to have no scruples, yet he somehow had the knack of sociably interacting with any around him. A character.
As the assistant department manager, I was responsible for him, but having been in the department longer, he knew more than I and would toy with me. As a supervisory challenge, he made up for the rest of the staff put together. His surname could have been spelled, “Dare-ah.” He would try anything to sneak out of work. He would lie, cheat, flatter, promise, beg, borrow, or steal. He kept up with the times in hairstyle, fashions, fads, movies, jokes, shave lotions, nightclubs, martial arts, and pretty girls. He was funny, frivolous, and frustrating, not to mention self-destructive.
I must say that the pressure was on to perform. The economy was strained, and the retail business was changing on an intensified scale by 1970 and becoming more competitive. When I first arrived there in 1967, the store manager was Don Rogers, succeeded temporarily by the District Superintendent, Mr. Evans, then by Bob Peters, known as the “axe man.” Lower management lived in fear.
My senior executive, John Behan, was on me, and I was on the staff. I could often see the strain in their faces. Julie, the supervisor in Basement Smallwares, another department over which I was manager, was so nervous at times she would tremble, but she was an excellent staff member in every way, conscientious, capable, and faithful. I wish I had had understanding for all these people.
To the ladies, their husbands, children, and all those related that I affected adversely, I apologize. Thank you for your faithfulness under pressure.
The Bay had six floors. Often I would take the stairs rather than the elevator or escalator. For some reason it caused confusion in my mind. What floor am I on? What department am I in? Where is best to cross the floor? This developed into a recurring nightmare to last for nearly three decades…which would be taken care of, as the others.
Needing an assistant, and seeing me accomplishing very little as an assistant manager in the Housewares department, Ted Cronkite, manager of Basement Budget Women’s, Men’s, and Children’s Shoes, approached Mr. Behan to have me transferred to his department. I thought, “Maybe now I’ll get somewhere.”
It turned out to be a daytime nightmare. Ted was one who tried to appear nice, but was the very opposite. He was a tense man, not faring well under pressure, and with my obvious ineptitude as a shoe merchant, he became quite contemptuous of me. I was ready to leave the Bay.
After some time, Ted received a promotion as an eastern central buyer. When his replacement, Art Wakin, took over as manager, the nightmare turned into a most welcome pleasantry. Art was one who made it up the ranks in the Bay by hard work, without the benefit of an advanced education. I appreciated his down-to-earth considerateness. He was a patient, caring, hard-working boss who knew his business and stood under pressure well, and a sincere, though impersonal, friend. If you’re there, Art, thank you and your wife both. When I met up with him a while later, he had left the Bay for Bata Shoes, I believe.
Bob Sargent, a favorite of Cronkite’s, was a young fellow who tried very hard to climb the ladder of success in the shoe business at the Bay, without education, and failed. I think Ted thought of him as his personal assistant manager trainee, yet Ted had asked for me as his assistant – mixed signals, I would say. With Ted Cronkite’s influence, Bob resented my presence as assistant manager, and I had the impression he was made to feel that I was interfering with his career opportunity.
There was also Wayne Pittendreigh, whom I met at MIT. He and I shared an interest in rock ‘n roll and did some jamming together with the hopes of starting a band, which never materialized. Wayne was countryish, fun-loving, seemingly carefree (though not really), and had a lively sense of humor. He liked to tease, but he was never nasty about it. He eventually met Linda, a nurse, and married. He went on to become a photography professor in Ryerson University, Toronto.
Others in the Bay Basement Shoes were Bill Keller, Jim Gibbons, Al Johnson, Joe Boivin, Cliff Rowe, Ann Polonski, Bertha Asselin, Mrs. Katz, Mrs. McCaskill, and several others, whose names now escape me.
When Mr. Behan finally promoted me to manager, he was my direct authority. While I liked the man, he could be rather rough and exasperated with me. He was always on my case, deservedly so. He should have fired me! I was incompetent and often late for work, being hung over.
He would get angry, growl, curse, scold, and emotionally jump up and down. Being no more than five foot three, and an expressive tyrant of sorts, Mr. Behan very much reminded me of the king in the cartoon strip, “The Wizard of Id.” The managers got a kick out of him, joking behind his back.
Still, I had respect for him. He knew his business, and he was able to communicate concepts and principles. I have sometimes thought that if I had been trained directly by him, with a little patience on his part, I could have learned retail management and enjoyed it. As it was, I attracted a lot of his wrath, because I was quite ineffective as a manager. In spite of all this, he frequently gave me promotions. I could not comprehend what seemed to be mixed signals.
There were three junior executives I recall in our Basement division, Maurice McCarthy and Terry Lawrie, university grads, both friendly, decent fellows. They were both married.
And there was Rick Edwards, who was from MIT, and who, I believe, was our college president and valedictorian. Rick seemed head and shoulders above me in business and social know-how, besides being about six foot six. He soon married Diane, a tall, pretty woman from MIT, and it appeared the world was at his feet.
Years later, I found him at the Bay in Regina as a senior executive merchandise manager of a division of several departments. On the marital side, he and his college bride had divorced. I spoke to him of how God had changed my life, and he was listening, though he said nothing.
Among other Basement Division managers, there was Howard Davey of Ladies’ Wear – a rather suave fellow who trained Terry Lawrie; Don Sproule of Housewares and later Hardware – not so suave, but an okay guy; Charlie Klein, over Men’s Furnishings, who came in from the northern Bay stores, and whom I met again years later with his wife after the spiritual change in my life; Ron, who ran Men’s Furnishings for a while; Don Brennick, a renegade manager of Men’s Budget Suits; and Mark Blumes, who replaced Brennick when he was appointed buyer in eastern Canada. Mark later left the Bay and began a chain across Canada called Mark’s Work Wearhouse, a business that continues to this day, though Mark died of heart disease years ago.
There is a proverb that says:
“Make no friendship with an angry man; and you shall not go up with a man of fury, lest you learn his ways and get a snare to your soul” (Proverbs 22:24-25 MKJV).
I learned to express myself in anger to those below me, even as John Behan and Ted Cronkite did with me. Indeed, anger is a snare to the soul. This I know, because it has been a very difficult problem for me, but God has been faithful to help.
Take the advice of this proverb if you can, before it is too late. Habitual anger establishes itself and, like many bad habits, is well nigh impossible to eliminate or control.
I am told that those sexually abused are more inclined to become such abusers, so I suppose this principle works in all areas, with both man and beast. I have seen vicious dogs, made vicious by certain kinds of abuse.
On one Bay Day sale, the biggest sale of the year with the best sale prices at the Bay, I was called upon to help in the Grocery department. They had a “9:30 AM Special” – T-bone steaks for $1 per lb. People came rushing down the stairs to the grocery department, not only tripping over, but even tripping, one another.
Arriving at the sales counter, they jostled madly for the meat. There was no limit on quantities purchased, but there was a limit on quantities available. When people cried for more, I filled a grocery cart in the back. As I approached the swinging metal doors to take the steaks to the floor, I was accosted in the doorway. In a minute, the steaks were gone.
I felt like a diver in a bloody fish tank full of sharks. The next cart of steaks I sent rolling through the doors by itself. Such madness! Such greed! People were fighting each other for the bargain. Some of the staff were quite uneasy about what they were seeing in human nature.
I have another regret in my past that I wish to relate for others’ sakes. Jim Puls and I were best friends in Dauphin before I moved to Winnipeg. When I was working at the Bay, Jim was getting married in Dauphin to Eileen, a Ukrainian girl we had met together at a party in Gilbert Plains a year or two before.
When we first met her, there was some competition between Jim and me. I was a bit jealous that Jim won Eileen’s favor. I didn’t want to face the apparent defeat at the wedding. This was silly or stupid of me, but it was what was going on, I confess with embarrassment.
I was also expecting Jim to make me his best man, but when I moved to Winnipeg, he developed a closer friendship in Dauphin with another acquaintance, Don Kadeschuk, a friendly fellow, and Jim decided on Don instead. I was invited and asked to usher, if even that, and I was disappointed about it.
Added to these things, I had used up my weekends off at the Bay, and I was afraid that I could not press for so much as one more.
In retrospect, I believe the right thing would have been to honor a friend, even if I had lost the honor with him to a degree. I should have put a friend before my ego and career. But I didn’t do it, being cowardly, petty, and generally stupid. I know Jim was offended because he casually brought it up more than once; still, he remained friendly and receptive of me.
I was never any good at treating friends as friends. I was selfish, self-centered, insecure, highly insensitive of others’ feelings and wishes, yet very sensitive of my own, so easily offended. I was never “connected” to anyone. I could see people mourning over the death or loss of friends but could never relate to it.
Amway spawned an avalanche of a fairly uncommon breed of businesses when it began in 1959 as a multilevel wholesale/retail organization of independent distributors who would personally sponsor others into their individual branches, known as downlines. With Amway’s fabulous success, many other wealth-seekers entered the market trying to capitalize on a “pyramid” marketing scheme (Amway was not exactly the same as this, but many people deemed it so).
Theoretically (and legally), distributors were to sell retail and encourage a minimum amount of personal, direct retail sales by their distributors to qualify monthly as Amway distributors in good standing. After all, without product reaching the ultimate consumer, there would be no business. The problem was, many wished to be distributors making big money sponsoring others who would sell, without having to sell product themselves, especially laundry detergent, a primary product of Amway.
In came those companies to do just that – sponsor for the big bucks and ignore the retail sales to the consumer – a recipe for sure disaster, not as much for those who started at the ground floor as for those who would be left standing in the frenzied musical chairs grab for wealth.
I started receiving surprise calls from people I hadn’t heard from in years and with whom I never had much to do. They tried to sponsor me into businesses that promised unusually prompt wealth and independence. One such call was from Orest, whom I knew from the Catholic Church in Dauphin.
In the initial call, Orest would not tell me the name of the company or the nature of the business or product. He only told me he wanted to bring me to a meeting where I would learn of a wonderful, if not unbelievable, business opportunity that was fresh on the market, something I would not want to miss. He wouldn’t accept my driving independently to the meeting; instead, he picked me up.
I have never been to a meeting charged with more enthusiasm, real or fake. The hoopla was obviously intended to sweep people off their feet and get them to pull out their checkbooks and join on the spot. The promise was that anybody signing up was going to make phenomenal amounts of money in short order with little effort.
It would be so easy! There were so many benefits to being self-employed. We would be set for life with no more demanding bosses, no more time cards to punch, free to come and go, having downline people working for us while we celebrated, slept in every day, and generally enjoyed our many carefree pleasures. We would have tax write-offs while taking holidays, claiming all our entertainment as business expenses! A few persons stood up and testified to having made many times more in months than they and others had made in years of hard work.
Holiday Magic was the company, a distributor of unique cosmetics. I recall that the primary sales package for a distributorship was $5,000, which was a lot of money to the average individual in those days.
I disappointed Orest, not having the money even if I wanted to sign up. I might have been able to borrow it, as he suggested, but thankfully, I wasn’t “positive-minded” enough to fall for the get-rich-quick scheme. I later heard reports of many with inventories of cosmetics “rotting” in their closets and basements, making payments on loans they incurred to get sucked…uh…rich.
I believe my parents’ Silver Anniversary was in 1969 at the Dauphin Ukrainian Catholic Hall. I have only one memory of the event.
Well into the evening, my father took my mother by the hand and began to prance along the perimeter of the main dance hall before the people who sat against the walls all around. He proceeded to do some kind of strange dance/walk combination. It was awkward, erratic, pretentious, and without form or pattern, except that it was plain uncoordinated and silly.
He was not pretending to be funny. He was serious and emotional. I believe he was trying to express or display some sort of worth or importance of both this occasion and himself, as though he felt he needed to get something out of this milestone in his life. Otherwise, it seemed he had nothing else to offer, no speech, nothing.
How did his friends and family take it? I saw my mother quietly and humbly sticking with him through the ordeal, which lasted perhaps five minutes. As their son, I felt more badly for them than for myself. As the people watched, some seemed embarrassed by his strange contortions, but most seemed to understand and overlooked his weakness. He was known to do silly things, though this seemed to be the first formal, public scene of such. Perhaps those looking on were sympathetic with my mother, who seemed to take it well, without any resistance or significant trouble with humiliation.
I think people understand that we are all fools deep down, to be honest about it, and we are all capable of the same things, no matter what they are. Perhaps they sensed that my father was brave enough to be silly before all, whereas they would not dare make their weakness manifest publicly. Indeed, I think it may even have endeared him to some. Certainly, he was not going to be a threat to anyone’s dignity.
He was not drunk that I know of, though some certainly would have suspected it, and I expect that he was likely feeling good from some liquor. It was a strange scene. If one were to ask him why he did it, I don’t know that he would be able to answer. Except for perhaps the hard-hearted cynic who does not know his own capacity for the same, I suspect each of us knows we can do bizarre and foolish things that have no explanation.
When Ken Buehner, our roomer, did not pay his rent (which Dave and I split 50/50), he gave me some Queen Anne cookware as partial payment. I kept the cookware for my share of the rent due, but I should have shared it with Dave. When Dave complained of injustice, I brushed him off. The day would come when he would receive his share back from my pocket, dozens of times over. (Dave, it never occurred to me to apologize to you for that incident. In fact, I forgot about it for years to come. I apologize now. I’m very sorry.)
Beware of gigglers. Everything is funny when nothing is funny.
Henry Broccanier giggled a lot. He betrayed my father.
Ed Boyechko was forever giggling and forever betraying me. His brother Dennis also giggled. They were insecure, being raised in an insecure home, where the father scorned and openly mocked the mother. Parent against parent breeds insecurity in children. How can it not?
Mike Trepanier (of whom you will hear more) was ever giggling. He betrayed me.
There was Norm “Tree” Morrison, who left me owing his share of the rent of an apartment; he was always giggling.
And there was Ken Buehner, who forever giggled and left David Miller and me with rent due and never returned – from which further complications arose, by my great foolishness.