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Childhood
Draft of an autobiography of Doris McCarthy's early life leading up to purchase of and move into her own home "Fool's Paradise", Pages 1-8 1 CHILDHOOD Daddy was the engineer in charge of railways and bridges. One pretty little bridge that he had designed as well as supervised, spanned a waterway at Centre Island, close to where the ferry docked. Perhaps that is why we began to celebrate family birthdays at the island. On one such dayf before Daddy had joined us, a child fell into the lagoon near our picnic table. He couldn't swim, but Ken saw his flailing and jumped in to the rescue. His reward for heroism was the ordeal of travelling home by ferry and street car wrapped in Mother's ankle length sweater to cover his nakedness. Mother had her embarrassing moment on the street car one day when my clear childish treble asked her if the Holy Ghost wore a white sheet. We three children all went to Sunday School, at Saint Aidan's Anglican church on Queen Street until at five years of age I suddenly became a Presbyterian. On an especially important festival morning at Saint Aidan's the Sunday school children were taken up into the church for part of their program. Lacking a hat, I was turned away at the door and sent home. Mother's reaction was to take me over to the nearest competition, Kew Beach Presbyterian Church where, she assumed, the standards would be less ridiculous. However, the time came when I returned to St. Aidan's. The janitor at Kew Beach caught me stealing a good
Childhood
Draft of an autobiography of Doris McCarthy's early life leading up to purchase of and move into her own home "Fool's Paradise", Pages 1-8 2 hard candy from the big tub of them waiting to be put into Christmas stockings for the poor. I was ashamed ever to face him again, and made my own move back to join my brothers. This is my first public confession of this crime. We had moved to the Beach the year after it had become part of Toronto. Most of its homes had begun as summer cottages. None of the side roads were paved, but urbanization was proceeding at a great pace. New houses were springing up, and Mother and Daddy were looking for one. Sunday afternoons we went exploring the half-finished homes, climbing ladders to the second floor, comparing the floor plans, checking out the number of rooms. I did my own gleaning from the rubbish piles outside, finding beautiful little ceramic insulators and small blocks of wood just right for furnishing the doll's house that Daddy had helped me make out of a wooden box. In 1917 he and Mother settled on a house to buy. We were all around the dining-room table at a meal, when Daddy told us about it. "It's in the back yard of the big white house at the corner of Balsam and Pine", said Mother. "In the back yard?" I was appalled. I took my napkin ring to represent the yard, and put a crumb of bread in it. "You mean like that?" "Not quite", said Daddy. Indeed not quite like that, I discovered. Balsam Avenue turns at the top of the hill, and our new house, on land that was cut away from the big white house on the corner, faced down the good
Childhood
Draft of an autobiography of Doris McCarthy's early life leading up to purchase of and move into her own home "Fool's Paradise", Pages 1-8 3 steep hill, and commanded a view right to the lake. Our back yard was deep enough for a pleasant lawn with a big family garden swing, and beyond that a vegetable plot for our victory garden. We were still at war. Across the fence the neighbours on the north had a lot that ran into the woods and down at the back all the way to the fourth pond. Up in the great oaks behind their house the twins had a tree loft, with a ladder up to it. And the twins were my age. What more could anyone want? Mother was a capable woman, well able to run a home smoothly, (still with wonderful Florrie) and fling herself into all kinds of outside war work. She was organizing tag days, singing with the Mendelssohn Choir in benefit concerts, knitting "comforts for the Boys", and moving steadily up in the hierarchy of the "Daughters of the Empire", or IODE as everyone called it. She was handsome, straight, somewhat heavy, ("Am I as fat as that woman, George?"), with presence. When she walked across the room it was like watching a ship in full sail. She had a strong sense of drama. After my morning cuddle in bed with both my parents, when Daddy had vanished to the bathroom, she would tell me a fairy story, and I would be there in the big bed, watching her dress. Her long hair, after its brushing, was divided into hanks, each one tied with a shoe lace, before being twisted up into the fashionable pile on the top of her head. Meanwhile she was harrowing me with the story of Bluebeard. Her voice wavered between hope and terror. "Sister Anne - Sister Anne - is there good
Childhood
Draft of an autobiography of Doris McCarthy's early life leading up to purchase of and move into her own home "Fool's Paradise", Pages 1-8 4 anyone coming?" This was my cue to burst into tears, which I did every time. We both enjoyed our parts. We had a talking parrot in those days. On warm afternoons Polly was in the screened porch close to the street. Each man hurrying up Balsam Avenue after work was greeted with her raucus "Want a good dinner? Want a good dinner?" I liked best her self-taught imitation of Mother on the telephone. First the ring, two or three times, then "Hello?" then "Oh, Hel-lo!, rub-a-gub, rub-a-gub,rub-a-gub," long pause, then the very timbre of Mother's laughter, another pause, more rub-a-gub and eventually "Well Good-bye", in Mother's own lilt. Mother had been a professional singer in Montreal, soprano soloist in a big church on Sherbrooke Street, when Dad fell in love with her. She had won a scholarship to study opera in England, but her parents wouldn't or couldn't let her use it. A pity. Her voice was glorious, clear, true and strong. When I was playing with the Hoods down on McLean Avenue at supper time, Mother could walk to the top of the path through the woods to call me, and her voice carried the length of a city block. Besides, she had the temperament. My regret for her is tempered by the realization that her loss was my gain. I am very glad to have been born, and to have had such a father. The memory of the frustration she suffered at losing her chance for a career in music made her completely supportive of anything that had to do with my ambition to be an artist. good
Childhood
Draft of an autobiography of Doris McCarthy's early life leading up to purchase of and move into her own home "Fool's Paradise", Pages 1-8 5 Mother's family had its roots in Quebec city where Great-Grandmother Hunter had landed from Ireland, eighteen years old, a "ward in Chancery" and, so the story goes, had arrived alone and terrified at the door of a lawyer's office and had fainted into the arms of the lawyer's clerk, John Hunter. Her photograph at age eighty shows a strong Irish face, direct, confident. Of her twenty-one pregnancies only three children survived to maturity. Her one daughter, Mother's mother, married Grandpa Moffatt and moved eventually to Montreal, followed by the Hunter sons, so that by this time most of Mother's relatives were living there. The year I was seven Mother took me to visit them all. Grandma's flat was a Victorian stage set, with antimacassars, upholstered chairs with silk swags and tassels and fringes, lace doilies, wonderful arrangements of waxen flowers inside oval glass domes. On her dressing table was a pair of little silver horses pulling a carriage made of mother-of-pearl with silver wheels. On my dining-room table seventy years later, is a silver butter dish with a silver cow lying on its lid, that I first saw on her table in Montreal. Grandfather had a stereoscope, a marvellous peep-show which you held up to look through. There was a lens for each eye offering its own version of a scene, taken from fractionally different angles. I remember best Niagara Falls, incredibly three-dimensional, and interesting to me because I knew that Mother and Daddy has started married life good
Childhood
Draft of an autobiography of Doris McCarthy's early life leading up to purchase of and move into her own home "Fool's Paradise", Pages 1-8 6 there. One of Mother's favourite stories was of the day Daddy took her in a bucket down the big shaft where the water would fall eventually, water that would generate power to make electricity for all southern Ontario. He had been assistant chief engineer for that first hydro-electic development. Ken was born there, and Mother used to shop across the bridge in the States and come home with her purchases hidden under Ken's baby clothes. Daddy would have stopped that in a hurry if he had known. Uncle Charlie Moffatt, Mother's important doctor-brother, and Aunt Mabel, his wife, were both overseas in the war. It must have been later that I visited them in a very splendid house, with a maid in a black dress and frilly white apron who served lunch, which Aunt Mabel called "luncheon". Grandpa took Mother and me on a steamship down the Saint Lawrence River to Quebec City. There was a big flat island in the middle of the river and it had a lot of cows on it. Then we took another big boat across the river to Levis, and walked with Grandpa up a steep hill to a house that had its kitchen and its dining room in the basement underneath the parlor. Aunt Tilly and Aunt Pussy lived there with two other ladies who were their daughters, and were said to be some kind of cousins of mine. The time came when that Levis house was my stop-over on the way to the Gaspe painting ground, with one of the dear old aunties still there to welcome me, and the cousins full of interest in showing me historic Quebec. good
Childhood
Draft of an autobiography of Doris McCarthy's early life leading up to purchase of and move into her own home "Fool's Paradise", Pages 1-8 7 Sometime that next winter Florrie had to leave us. She had "taken service" to help her sister and brother tide over the years while they were all waiting for their apple orchard in the Okanagan Valley to reach maturity and start bearing apples. That time had come, and she was needed out west. We never forgot her. Every Christmas she sent us a loving letter full of news of the orchard and a big box of home-made chocolates. On my bedroom wall I had her photograph in a little silver frame. When I visited her twenty years later on my first trip west/ she looked just like that photograph, but instead of the tall woman I remembered, I found a little person who came hardly above my shoulder. I don't know which of us was happier to see the other. In the fall of 1918 there was the Sunday of the false alarm, when all the bells in Toronto rang for the end of the war, and then we found that it was not yet true. But the armistice came soon after, and I was taken uptown to the front porch of a house on University Avenue to see the Victory Parade, with broad ranks of men in khaki marching down the wide street, and everyone on the sidewalk waving flags and shouting and crying. The incident that underlined for me the return of peace was the Sunday morning that I went in to the kitchen where Mother was getting dinner. There was a pot on the stove, tightly covered. "Can you keep a secret?" Mother asked, and lifted the lid good
Childhood
Draft of an autobiography of Doris McCarthy's early life leading up to purchase of and move into her own home "Fool's Paradise", Pages 1-8 8 just enough to let me see and smell that the pot was full of potatoes. POTATOES. Was it two years since we had had them can smell them still. good