PART ONE – Darkness to Light (cont.)
During this time at MIT, I received a call in Winnipeg from my mother, who was very upset with me. Archie and a friend of his had gone to the Exhibition Grounds and elsewhere in Dauphin with a pellet gun and shot up a bunch of windows in public buildings.
“Why didn’t you tell me this was going to happen?” she asked. “Why did you put him up to it? Why didn’t you stop him? What kind of brother are you?!”
I was amazed. I had nothing to do with it or Archie, being busy in school and work 200 miles away. I knew nothing of it, yet my mother blamed me for Archie’s stunts and crimes. For some reason, it seemed that my mother had it in for me from early childhood. I protested, and I think she realized she was wrong for blaming me, but she never apologized; however, I look back and think that I could have been more understanding with her in her fears and humiliation.
Once while visiting Ron and Barb Hrehirchuk (my sister and her husband), I was playing with their boy, Ron Junior, in the living room, with several other guests present. Ronnie was about three or four years old. I picked him up by the ankles and swung him around. He was enjoying it, but his pants began to pull upward, exposing his underwear (and perhaps partially more).
We had all been drinking, so I don’t know what my reflexes were like or how long it took to notice something amiss, but my sister suddenly screamed at me in front of everyone, cursing me and demanding that I let Ronnie down. I was startled. Wow, right out of nowhere!
I am sure I was at fault for what I did, but I had no intention of embarrassing or hurting Ron. I certainly didn’t think Barbara’s harsh public reaction was called for.
Years later, I came to what I believed a feasible conclusion as to why she reacted that way. Chickens had come home to roost.
Being Head Housekeeper at the Dauphin General Hospital, my father had his regular schedule to maintain as well as tending to unexpected circumstances, like cleaning the morgue and other situations where occasional messes were made. Sometimes the nurses in training residences had parties, and his men would have to clean up after them.
One day he took me to their residence and showed me a suite. It was a mess that would take several extra hours of labor. “Victor,” he said, “that’s what women are like. Whatever you do, don’t ever get married.”
Men have parties and make messes, too. Men generally get more physically and personally violent and brutal. I know that my father had his share of problems with my mother, and that may have prompted his remarks. Regardless, those words impacted me. I thought, “Most people marry; if they didn’t, there would be no families. Why would he tell his son not to marry?” I was surprised he expressed himself to me that way. We didn’t talk about it, and he never said anything of the like again. I now suspect he had conflict with Mom, but I didn’t have a clue then.
One of the best friends I ever had in the unbelieving world was Gerry McClintock. He was also in Business Administration and planned to work with Continental Grain, with whom he later became president. Gerry was an affable man – generous, good-humored, popular, and considerate. The Lord gave me a good friend in him. I also appreciated his parents, his brother, Ken, and his sister, Kathy.
In my first year in Winnipeg, I met Livia Phillips at the Winnipeg Children’s Hospital nurse’s residence on a double date. She was a student nurse, the daughter of a Ukrainian farmer of Vita, Manitoba. We ended up spending a good portion of our lives together, until one day she severely, publicly scolded me for making a wrong turn in the country to a riverside wiener roast.
I suppose she was particularly upset because there was a line of cars depending on us to lead the way, a way with which I was not too familiar. It was not long before we found the right way, but I resolved that night that we were done. I could not accept the possibility of living with a woman who would, suddenly and without warning, blow up at me, especially publicly.
Here was another person who needed help, but all I could think about was myself, incapable of helping anyone. It was simply not in me to understand or care.
After hearing this one, nobody will ever want to kiss me again, but then, I’m married, so that’s good! One evening, Livia and I were double-dating with Rick Harrison and Sandy, whom he later married. We had all been drinking, and as we were in the foyer kissing goodnight, I turned to leave through the two sets of glass double doors. There was a string of saliva stretching from Livia’s mouth to my mouth.
Perhaps I have greatly exaggerated the situation in my mind over the years, but it seemed that only the doors put an end to the endless string that would have followed me to the parking lot. I do not recall too many events more embarrassing than that one. It wasn’t Livia’s; it was mine. I have SSS – super strength saliva – shades of Spider Man?
Livia, if you ever read this, I wish you well, and for what it is worth, I apologize for all my selfishness. You used to laugh a lot with me; you might find this funny.
My next home in Winnipeg with Walter Lewis was a much nicer place – 122 Home Street; light housekeeping again, rented from Lydia Kisel, a separated woman with two or three young sons. One day her husband, Mike, dropped by and broke down crying, talking to me about their separation. I was surprised that he should confide in me, a young stranger. He was broken, and she was bitter and cruelly cynical, running around with men. I recall their boys being very sad, Donnie their eldest, being one. Here was yet another example in my experience of a woman leaving a man.
Shortly thereafter she had breast cancer and a double mastectomy. Had she known before she turned on her husband, or did it happen after, or even perhaps because, she turned on him? One day we will know these things.
I now wish I could have helped so many troubled and hurting people that came my way. Yet it seems there are as many hurting people today, and I feel just as helpless. Unless they are prepared to take responsibility for themselves, take constructive criticism, and listen to the truth, can they be helped?
I also know that unless God opens the door, we can do nothing. Many don’t think they need help or are reluctant to admit they need it, unless circumstances overwhelm them. As the writer of Ecclesiastes declares, there is a time for everything, suffering and healing, laughing and crying, winning and losing.
I went to a drinking party one day in an apartment of some friends from Business Administration. I was sure I had just purchased a large pack of Rothman’s, with only two or three cigarettes used. Going for another cigarette, my pack was gone from the end table. It was not usual for others to steal that sort of thing among friends. It was mysterious to me, and I even wondered if I was not mistaken, being drunk.
About a month later, one of those friends invited me into his bedroom. I thought, “Uh oh, is he homosexual, propositioning me?” I went, and with a strange look in his eye and sound in his voice, he said, “Come here – I want to show you something,” motioning me to his dresser. I cautiously approached; he opened a drawer and gazed at the contents with a dreamy, almost crazed, expression.
“Look at this!” he quietly exclaimed with passion, as though secretly showing me Tutankhamen’s buried treasure, or as Gollum viewed “the ring.” I saw a drawer full of cigarette packages, neatly enclosed in plastic held with one or two rubber bands. And there was a pack of Rothman’s on top.
I didn’t think Gary meant any harm and immediately understood he was a kleptomaniac with a fixation on cigarettes. I did not ask for the cigarettes or talk to him about his problem.
At Home Street, I began to take voice lessons. I was enthralled by The Sound of Music, with Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer. I was moved by the romance, the music, and the virtues of the characters, and I wanted to sing. But I did not have confidence in myself or my teacher, there was nowhere to practice privately, and there was nobody to push, encourage, or direct me.
So I’m not a singer…but I believe I could have been. Obviously, the true driving ambition that needs to be there was not there. But one day, music and singing would come.
Walter Lewis and I got along, although he had his friends and I had mine for the most part. When he was finished with Medical Lab training, I had to find elsewhere to live. I then joined Fred Slater, a fellow Business Administration student from Toronto, and we found another place, not nice, but cheap, on Fawcett Avenue.
We found out that Billy Graham was coming to preach at the Winnipeg stadium… for free! Because he was a celebrity, we went to see him. He had a powerful delivery and charisma, and I was attracted to him. When he gave the invitation to come forward, I wanted to go forward and told Fred. He decided to go with me.
When we got to the stage, I was very disappointed to get an older, rather dull-dressed, man to pray “the sinner’s prayer” with me. But I followed his instructions and went through the motions. This was now my second exposure to what was called “the Gospel” and evangelical Christianity.
Afterwards we put away the alcohol, tried hard not to smoke, and tore down the Playboy centerfolds from our walls. We tried drinking tomato juice at the bars with the boys while they drank beer, and they couldn’t help but laugh at us. We lasted about three days and packed it all in. On my part, it was not without at least a tiny bit of guilt, along with the embarrassment of not being able to follow through.
As was my custom and nature, I did another very foolish thing. Fred was quite sensitive, and I was a brute. I had the habit of putting lots of pepper on my food, while he did not like any. One day, I decided to give him some anyway. He burst out in surprisingly great anger and gave me notice that he was leaving. He left and never did forgive me. I couldn’t understand what the big deal was.
So I moved in with Rick Steinke to a basement suite at his relatives’ place on Bannatyne Avenue. Rick was a quiet Commerce grad, also hired by the Bay as a management trainee. He excelled to “Mr. Manitoba” or runner-up in bodybuilding, played acoustic – mostly Gordon Lightfoot – and enjoyed his liquor. He hung out with some guys who aspired to be professional hockey players. A bit more on him later… regretfully.
Around this time, Lois Szmon, my mother’s sister who was only a year older than I, was living and working in Edmonton, and we all came home for Christmas. The Szmon family got together at Lois’ Aunt Cary Schaeffer’s in Gilbert Plains. On this visit, a peculiar and portentous thing happened, more than met the eye: Lois made a deal with me that if I married first, I would owe her a dollar, and vice versa.
It was the only such future transaction I would ever make with anyone that I can remember. The strange thing is that there would be an infinitely greater connection between us than we ever dreamed could exist, of greater import than has occurred with many.
My friends and I did a fair bit of blind dating in Winnipeg. I met a young and pretty brunette at a party, Jan Delorme, whom I now realize was rather mischievous, though I did not discern it then. As I drove her home, we agreed on a date for the following weekend.
I was looking forward to that night, but when my friend, his date, and I came to pick her up in St. Vital, she was not there. I was embarrassed and crestfallen; the only thing I could think of doing was to proceed with the planned evening and get drunk. In days to follow, wondering if there was an innocent error or plausible excuse, I tried calling her, but she did not return my calls. That was not the only rejection I had known in my life, but it had an impact on me. There would be more and greater ones.
While a fair bit of my story is about self-destruction in many ways, I would like to point out a few of the more common ways people hurt themselves, ways that many do not even think about. I am sorry I used Head and Shoulders shampoo; I suspect I would have more hair today (not to mention health), if not for that caustic scalper. I am sorry I used Secret antiperspirant deodorant, Brut and any other cosmetic shave lotions, along with other toiletries, cleaners, and cold remedies, like Dimetapp and Contac C.
We live in a world of chemicals – toiletries, household cleansers, and pharmaceuticals – that are killing us. Companies marketing them are there for the money, not for our health. I did not know it then; I do now.
I used to perspire a lot, so much so that my suit armpits showed large white rings. Wearing absorption pads did not always help. Little did I know that polyester suits, shirts, and T-shirts would do this to someone.
Though I wore only leather shoes, I wore nylon and polyester hosiery and my feet perspired until my shoes turned white on the sides, the sweat penetrating and eventually cracking the leather.
I bought Harts and Florsheims, good shoes in those days, to comfort my feet on the cement floors at the Bay, to no avail. I was overweight, I drank, and I smoked. I ate bachelor fare, which was more about taste than health and nutrition. I was an ignorant, self-destructive slob. If I had any understanding, I wouldn’t have known what to do with it.
Only in recent years have I realized that polyester and other synthetic materials are not the materials to wear if you want comfort and don’t wish to sweat and stink. I try a polyester T-shirt and I stink; I try a cotton one and I do much better. In those days, everything I wore was polyester – suits, socks, shirts, and T-shirts. I didn’t have to iron anything, it lasted “forever” and looked good, but I sweated and stunk. So the best thing for people to do was to admire the iron-free man from a distance.
While at MIT and shortly after, I did something that I regret to this day. A pretty woman, Pat Dennis, perhaps infatuated with my comedy and guitar playing, began approaching me. I was uncomfortable at first, knowing she was engaged. I also knew the man to whom she was engaged – Bob Southam, one of my classmates in Business Administration, whom I appreciated. He was quite simply a nice guy. He was even handsome and well off, an uncommon combination. Pat prevailed with me, however, persuading me that she was not in love with Bob, and that I need not worry about it. She intended to break it off with him, which she did.
Her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Joe Dennis, though friendly and respectful, were not receptive of me as her suitor, hoping that Bob would be her husband. Pat insisted on me, and Bob left. Pat and I dated for about a year, and I loved her, but I was not comfortable that she ought to be my wife. She was also not quite prepared to marry me, either.
One day I was very frank with her about my feelings and thoughts concerning her, which indicated that I was not in deep love with her. She immediately severed all communications, without notice. I tried calling her parents’ place (she lived with them); her mother, Mrs. Dennis, answered and told me she wasn’t in. This happened a few times until I got the message. Brokenhearted, I went on with my life, but it was not quite the end of the story. I would be surprised to hear from her again.
Here is the primary regret and purpose for my account of this incident. Years later, I came to believe that Bob Southam had been the man appointed of God for Pat. Her parents appreciated him, and Bob and Pat seemed made and meant for each other. I came to deeply regret that I had not recognized these things, honored them, and counseled Pat in that direction. Bob had been very hurt by her rejection, and he was noble enough to honestly and openly admit it. God grant that Bob was comforted, and that Pat finally found her way.
Throughout the terms, I hardly did my homework and certainly did not read my textbooks, so when exams approached, I had to cram, taking bennies, and drinking a lot of coffee to stay awake most, if not all, of the night for many days in nearly a two-week stretch. I once fell asleep on the exam paper in the finals, and Mr. Trenholm gently awakened me.
For decades after that, I had nightmares of exams approaching, not having opened my books, three weeks away, two weeks, one week, three days, tomorrow… and still somehow I hadn’t cracked a book. I was also in fear of having wasted my time and money and still falling short of what was needed to complete my education.
But again, all those nasty dreams would be dealt with in a most marvelous manner.
A strange thing occurred when I was home in Dauphin for a few days from Winnipeg. My cousin Christine Hafichuk, her fiancé – Alan Tough, one or two others, and I had something to drink. I got it into our heads to go garden raiding, something that others had often mentioned as a prank. Why? I have no idea. It was as though a bout of insanity took hold of us, and we raided fresh produce from strangers’ gardens. It wasn’t even Halloween, when pranks were the custom.
Incredibly, I showed off the vegetables in my trunk the next day to my parents and Aunt Mary and told them to help themselves. My father was stunned and greatly chagrined. “I never thought I raised my kids to do anything like this!” he murmured plaintively. My aunt said nothing.
I think my father tried to scare me, saying the police were out looking for the raiders. Maybe they were, but how would he know? I look back at that incident with great shame, wondering what got into me. Devils? Plain foolishness? What? It wasn’t drunkenness; every now and then, insanity would come and take a bite as it pleased.
The day came when, in spite of myself, I received the Diploma of Applied Arts in Business Administration. As graduates from MIT, Gerry McClintock, Dave Miller, Don Pierson, and I united to take a two-week car trip to California in Gerry’s black ‘56 Chevy or Olds. We were out for a good time, staying in cheap motels, drinking all the way there and back.
In San Francisco, a black man who “saw us coming” approached us on the street. He offered us black sex, which we paid for but did not get, he tricking us and disappearing with the money. I was also openly and unabashedly propositioned by a big, strong black homosexual on the street and talked my way out of getting possibly accosted. The guys and I went to strip shows and generally searched for cheap pleasures. We did not pay much attention to the tourist attractions, though we saw places like the Golden Gate Bridge, if we happened to be passing by.
In San Diego, we gazed at the naval base as we continued on to Mexico. In Tijuana, I purchased hundreds of dollars worth of black velvet paintings, had them shipped back to Winnipeg, and sold them or gave them away as gifts. One man running a market booth wanted to sell me an acoustic guitar for $80. I dickered with him for an hour or more down to $30, and then someone warned me that their guitars warp after a short time, so I decided not to buy it. The vendor was enraged.
We took the legendary “Tijuana Taxi Ride” where they drive you all over the city to take you where you want to go, from a spot that might have been but a decent walk to the destination. Of course, they charge you for it. We were looking for live sex shows, bestiality and all, but did not see them. We did see sex movies in dumpy motels full of prostitutes who encouraged us to buy their services. We didn’t do so, not out of virtue, but because we were afraid of STDs and being robbed. We had watched dancing girls literally scratching themselves from “crabs” (an STD) and decided to keep our health.
In Hollywood, Los Angeles, we stayed with cousin Bob Prestayko – Fred and Mary’s only son – and his common-law wife, Zeta, an alcoholic. Both were secretly taking drugs, yet we somehow knew it. Bob had been in California for several years and tried to accomplish his goal of being a singing star. He changed his surname to Eastman, thinking that since the entertainment business was largely Jewish, he might get the break he needed – as if they wouldn’t know.
Reportedly, he never made it because of stage fright, but he did indeed have a very good crooning voice, like that of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Perry Como, Andy Williams, Tony Bennett, Pat Boone, Al Martino, Johnny Mathis, Bing Crosby, and such others… even Michael Bublé, who wasn’t born yet!
Speaking of Bing Crosby, Bob took us to a bar Gene Autry owned. Bob spotted two of Bing’s sons walking in, Dennis and Phil, I believe. We could have introduced ourselves or not bothered, but Bob was going to show us how “in” he was with those in Hollywood and stardom, so he immediately approached them and acted as though they were longtime buddies, introducing them to us. (Bob was always self-important.)
Dennis was not about to take it lightly. He politely shook our hands, but then turned to Bob and publicly rebuked him for his presumption and pretence. “I don’t know you! I’ve never met you before in my life!”
Bob was embarrassed but unrepentant. It was more important for him to appear to be somebody than to be honest and real. He shrugged it off and continued as though nothing had happened. There was truly something psychologically amiss with Bob. I was somewhat embarrassed that he, my cousin, should act that way, and the boys had a good laugh about it for the next several days. I laughed with them in my beer. Upon reflection, I began to strongly suspect Bob was a sociopath, a man with his own reality or at least severed from the general reality.
Gerry and Don ended up having a fight. Alarmed at the conflict, I shouted for them to stop (Dave and I both did) and threatened that if they didn’t smarten up, I would leave them all right there. (I wasn’t really about to do that, but they stopped. They didn’t really want to fight, anyway.)
We then headed to the beach for some midsummer California sun and tan, and we got some. The smog obscured the sun, so we thought it was not a problem to be out there. We started with no tan and were on the beach for at least six hours with only our trunks and no lotion. We were pink in an hour, red in two, rust in six, peeling within a few days, and much whiter and lighter thereafter.
Gerry could barely walk for the next few days, almost as though he were hamstrung, his legs at about a 140 degree angle at the knees, moving around like a crab, only not nearly as fast. But we all lived to continue to be fools for a while longer.
When first joining the Bay retail store at Portage and Memorial as an executive trainee, I rented at the Martello Apartments on Broadway. During that time I became involved intimately with several girls. I recall the day I lost my virginity. I felt badly and even cried. I expected that there would be a sense of victory or pride but, instead, I had a sense of shame. (You wouldn’t know it, hearing me talk to the guys.)
It is amazing, however, how the conscience hardens so swiftly. I did not hesitate with the next girl, and I felt half the guilt. After the third or fourth, I was looking forward to more. That’s how it works. It goes from uncomfortable to easy and pleasurable. With repetition, vice becomes desirable, and one can grow proud of a shameful thing.
What is the answer? Don’t start; keep yourself chaste; save yourself for your destined lifelong partner, should you receive one. Consequences wait in the wings for those who don’t wait, I assure you.
I met Candy Shea at the bottom of the stairs in my Housewares department at the Bay. She was a pretty woman in her late teens, slightly plump, a bit shy, but friendly. Candy had some class, and she dressed and presented herself well. I soon struck up a conversation with this particular shopper and began to try for a date. Though I was devoid of skills to woo, impress, or flatter her, I finally succeeded in getting what seemed a reluctant consent. She was either playing hard to get or was naturally skeptical of dating a perfect stranger. But at the end of the day, it seems she decided a Bay junior executive may not be that great a risk.
I was surprised when I arrived at her home days later to find that she remained committed to our agreement. I thought she might stand me up. We dated several times, and I enjoyed her in many ways, one of them not as I ought. If I had known she was the daughter of the Minister of the Department of Transportation in Manitoba, I might not have been so bold with her.
One day, she posed a question to me: “What would you say if I told you I was going to have a baby? How would you feel about it?” I thought, “Uh oh, why is she asking me this? I think I’ll pretend there is nothing to it, like nothing really happened, and she’s just asking.” My reply was, “I wouldn’t want that to happen.”
I assumed that girls took the pill, or they wouldn’t indulge in sex. I also assumed that the pill was foolproof and that their diligence in taking it was as well. How naïve! I didn’t ask what they did, and frankly, I didn’t really care. I never wore a condom. Somehow, I didn’t believe that it should ever happen to me that I should have a child out of wedlock. Just like young guys go to war thinking they are invincible. I guess it’s a denial of undesirable reality, a trait inherent in all.
I didn’t realize I was playing with lives – her life, her parents’ lives, the potential child’s life, and the lives of all those involved! Fornicators and adulterers are very foolish, shortsighted, and selfish people, living for short-term, small-time pleasure with potential long-term, big-time implications and consequences.
Candy began to cry and answered, “Then, if I did have a baby, seeing you wouldn’t want it, I would never tell you if I had it, not ever. You would never know your child.” Unless I am missing something, she was pregnant and tested the waters to see what my reaction would be, hoping I would be receptive. Whether I was simply stupid or in denial or both (I expect both), I didn’t get it. I didn’t ask her plainly, and I didn’t want to know. I chose to ignore the whole thing, so much so that I didn’t call her anymore.
Close to a year later, I saw her at the Bay again – with a baby carriage. I was still hiding my head in the sand, not willing to believe my eyes. I said, “Hi,” and barely looked at the child. She looked like she was holding true to her word and said nothing, though her expression was telling me something I wasn’t able to perceive in my absurd obtuseness.
Do I have a son or daughter out there that is over forty now? How many are the children out there who don’t know who their biological father or mother is, and what is happening to them? How do they feel? How would I feel if we met?
If I were to meet my son or daughter (though they are not my child because I don’t deserve to have them), would they love me as a father? No, I don’t see how. A parent and child relationship is much more than biological; it is social, spiritual, a matter not only of the body, but of the mind and heart.
Having said that, I hope that the son or daughter I might have had would know that I want to do whatever is right and good for him or her. I would want to love them as my own, though I know that mere flesh and blood isn’t what it is all about. It occurs to me I could be a grandfather or even a great grandfather now, for all I know, but not in the living and true sense.
I marvel at Candy’s resolve in trying times. The Lord grant you mercy and all that you need, Candy, and your son or daughter, mine or not.