I’m not gonna say exactly who, but one of the girls in the back row is in the process of pooing her pants as this picture is being snapped. She will proudly tell me so as we march in double file back to our classroom. She isn’t smelly quite yet, but I feel compelled to tell her that sitting down is going to give her a fresh perspective on her new sense of bodily freedom. In the row in front of poopy-pants is Dayton (glasses and pointy haircut), who has a crush on another, less incontinent girl in that same row above.

Down at lower left, I’m concocting a cunning plan: back in class we’re going to have to make crayon pictures based on fairy tales of our choice. I’ve settled upon The Princess And The Pea. Her immense bedspread will be of such deep and unrelenting blue that my blue and blueish crayons will run out, and I’ll have to ask Agnes in the front row if I can borrow hers. To her, this will be a matter of saying OK and handing me a crayon. To me, well, here I am sixty years later, telling you about that moment.

John F Kennedy was not yet President, and the Beatles were still teenagers. My lazy “activist” dad made me wear a Ban the Bomb beanie and go door-to-door with leftist leaflets. Our grown-up neighbours were practising the Twist in their front yards, for all to see! The smell of barbecuing was everywhere, and boys were starting to sniff around my sister, the “vivacious” junior high undergrad. If you turned up at the Ringer’s Drugs parking lot Thursday after school, an honest and enthusiastic young man would sell you a Duncan Spin-Top for 29 cents, and give you a free lesson in making it do tricks. Who could have known that this, for us prairie winter-hardened, mostly white kids of all ages, would be as good as life would ever get? Someone shoulda said.

Ringer's Drugs | Winnipegland
40+ Spinning Tops 1960's & 70's ideas | spinning top, spinning, vintage toys

Winnipeg I Never Knew

My father got to (sort of) meet the Marx Brothers, out of character​, in some bar in Winnipeg, in the early 50s, probably 53. Just to get this out of the way, yes, Harpo spoke. My father was still a serious drinker in those days, so only remembered that these were hard boys. He was also what they call a happy drunk, so will have avoided any confrontation with the big stars. Hence the “sort of met”. Happy drunks stay away from hard boys. Trust me on this: I’ve outlived several people.

I assume it was the Rancho Don Carlos. Have a look at how hip this joint was. I am not kidding.


A while ago I thought I could bring you some nostalgic bits and pieces about Winnipeg’s Golden Age, but I soon realized that my own Winnipeg was minute, maybe two square miles taking in the Garry building at Point Road, the Fort Garry Public Library, the Lount Development, General Byng School and the adjacent baseball diamond. When we moved down the highway a bit, we lived spittin’ distance from the folk club where you could see Neil Young and Joni Mitchell on the same bill, a year or two before they were megastars. Maybe Randy Bachman, too, and certainly Rick Neufeld (this should sort out the true Manitobans!) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SyCEqKD8g7k

But you had to be drinking age (18? 21?) to get in. So, although it seems Winnipeg was quite a happening place in those days, I knew nothing of it.

Suddenly, readers, I feel this narrative has nowhere to go. So that’s it. I’ll be back in a day or two, reflecting on a girl from our school named Noreen, who died at 14. She wasn’t special to me at all, but her 6-day dying still troubles me. By no accounting did she deserve it,

Norman Hewitt, hunter and farmer

Because it is not just memory, or nostalgia, but actual time travel—the real thing—I am having to ease back into Winnipegland. I’m going to start by offering again some stuff about my grandfather, the farmer and hunter Norman Hewitt, 1889-1960. If you’ve ever driven past Hewitt Lake in Saskatchewan, that was us.

My cousin Sarah once asked if I had much memory of our grandfather, and I surprised myself with what was still there. I answered her thus:

“Yes, I remember him quite well. He was a bit gruff, or maybe just taciturn, but no more intimidating than any man of that age. I spent a week with him and his third wife Hazel at their Carlyle home the summer of 1958, and these are the things he let me do:

  • He let me fetch coal from the cellar, and said I probably wouldn’t enjoy eating it, and to resist the temptation.
  • He let me tidy up the garage and hammer nails into various things I found there.
  • He let me go with him mornings (by car!) the block and a half to Main Street, where he and his cronies, rather than go into the beer parlour or coffee shop, would just park their cars and then circulate, stopping to lean on the hood of this car or that, and chat about who knew what. There were occasional silences that went on for a while till one of them said ‘yep….’. It could’ve have been ‘yip’. Either way, the ritual was daily except Sundays.
  • He let me go with him to the lake for a semi-pro baseball game, complete with hot dog and Orange Crush. And an Oh Henry!
  • He let me pick peas from the garden and eat as many as I liked while doing so.
  • He let me sit at the kitchen table and eat peanut butter cookies while Hazel, who clearly had stepped right out of a Norman Rockwell painting and into his life, baked another batch, plus several loaves of bread and some pies: cherry, rhubarb, pumpkin….
  • He let me sleep in a sleeping bag on the floor next to a pile of empties. When I asked what Seagram’s Rye was, and why all the empties, the answer was ‘Never mind.’

So yes,  I do remember him, in all his gruff and taciturn glory. I never saw him alive again, so I’m glad he let me do all that good stuff when we both had the time.

Point Road at Pembina, Endlessly

In the spring of 1965, Herman’s Hermits were briefly bigger than the Beatles, and Glenn Templeton forced me to join him on a double date. Being twelve, and a young twelve at that, I understood that “dating” was really the preserve of the big kids, like Wally Cleaver and Patty Duke. I didn’t feel too put upon, though, because my date, Yvonne Kebalo, was pretty and bright and had hair down to her waist. But really, the whole thing was an elaborate pretext for Glenn to spend time with Jerri-Lynn Barrett, who was, I think, a year older than us, and possibly unavailable to Glenn in other than the innocent context of a double date. She could display a set of braces like nobody’s business, though, and I’m sure most of our classmates wished they too could have had misaligned teeth.
We went 5-pin bowling at Garry Bowl, had a late lunch at Chicken Delight, and walked home. Glenn and I sang personalized versions of Mrs Brown You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter along the way. I moved away later that year, and never saw Glenn again. But I never forgot him, and how he introduced me to a new stage of life. He died last year; I hope he got to see Jerri-Lynn again.
Garry Bowl.  Although the merchandise and dream-laden 1100-block  Pembina Highway of my childhood is now a desolate biggish-block near-nothingness, the Garry Bowl building still stands, at the intersection with Point Road.
It was once the Garry Theatre. When I was 5, my brother pulled me on a toboggan two miles there and back to see Bambi. I didn’t freak out, as everyone claims to have done during the fire scenes. Possibly I was more frightened of Mr Douglas (imagine a malign Daddy Warbucks), the live-in manager of the Garry Theatre and, as it evolved, Garry Bowl and then Garry Billiards: whatever succeeding sub-generations needed it to be.. Now it is a non-chain pizza joint, a perfectly worthy re-purposing of what must by now be an official Heritage Building, despite its utter lack of architectural merit. If Mr Douglas is still there, he’ll be about 125, or maybe 350-ish or more. Sometimes I think both he and that indestructible and evolving little building are just biding their time until Stephen King comes along to lock them into a novel.

I Know That My Oedema Liveth

I Know That My Oedema Liveth
It’s another JFK anniversary and, as I promised in my last post fully three years ago, I’ve taken time to share today’s Camelot reverie with young Olivia, who will now be in high school.

I’m still pleased with Dropsy as a bit of writing, but it’s clear that it was ill-considered to have placed a Winnipegland story a world away from the Canadian Prairies and well beyond the 1970 time frontier I had set for myself. It’s taken all this time to get close to recovering the Winnipegland groove; I return to its strictures with humility.

I have some snippets of memory ready to be written up, such as why, when your Cub Scout (then, Wolf Cub) ears are severely frostbitten, it’s useful that your troop leader served on the Eastern Front. How, when your mother sends you to ShopEasy for percolator-grind coffee, Modess Regular Flow, and a pack of Matinée Regular Filtertips, neither you nor the cashier bats an eyelid, because you are six, and have no idea what any of the items are, but only that they can all be had for a dollar and change. Or why it seemed like a good idea to lay your head down on the track in hopes of “hearing” the approaching train, then chickening out by replacing your head with a penny and feeling it wafer-thin and still hot after the train had passed.

“Dropsy” is an archaic term for the condition now known as oedema, or fluid retention. I guess there’s something Morrisettish in the fact that exactly three years after that little story, I find myself suffering slightly a case of this very affliction. I tell people I have dropsy and receive only blank looks in return.

​Here’s the song:


I remember our wonderful Miss Loewen telling us in September of 1963, “Class, apart from all you will learn this year to prepare you for junior high, the real world has plenty in store for you before you finish Grade Six. In a couple of months, President Kennedy will be shot and killed, and then shortly after Christmas some English boys named Beatles will appear on Ed Sullivan and change your lives. A couple of weeks after that, Cassius Clay will become Heavyweight Champion of the World. He will have a minor chart hit with a passable semi-sung rendition of Stand By Me, and then he’ll convert to Islam—something you’ve almost certainly never heard of—and change his name to Muhammad Ali. A few weeks later Billy Noble will go on his first date, a double, but not with the girl of his dreams. Not this time and not ever.”

I also remember my father explaining solipsism to me, but I don’t remember why. My best guess is that he’d noticed I was more guilty of it than any eleven year-old ought to be, perhaps even more guilty than was he himself. Half a century later I still can not claim to be free of solipsism, but I do have my moments.

Image result for twilight journal amazon

Half a century later and ten thousand miles away, in my annual JFK reverie, I picked up a small Twilight journal book from beside the kerb at my bus stop. Inside the front cover I was informed that its owner was Olivia, also eleven years old. There was no address or school mentioned, but there was a phone number which I decided it would be best not to call; I would leave this task to the bus company’s lost property office. This was not a diary as such, though there were some jottings in pencil here and there in amongst glued-in pictures of animals such as dolphins and chimpanzees. The handwriting was tidy, the spelling will improve, and I learned that Olivia’s best friend (forever) Ella is pretty much indispensable. There was no gushiness about this, nor any self-pity in the short passage I memorized before giving the little book to the driver. Olivia wrote, “In three sleeps and two days I will be going up to Cloverdale House [not its real name] which is a place where kids can go for a few days for some peace and quiet and so their parents can sort things out. It’s fun there and they let you stay up late. I can’t wait.”

So now, November 22 is the day each year when I will think for a while not only about JFK and Jackie in Dallas and in Camelot, but also about Olivia. I’ll hope that Ella stayed constant, and that Cloverdale House was all the outside help Olivia needed while she waited to be free. I’ll hope she didn’t lose her journal on purpose, only to be haunted by its mysterious and unwelcome return.

Before I knew exactly how this little piece would go, I gave it the title Dropsy simply because I’ve always loved the word; it was a letdown to find it refers to a pretty prosaic malady involving excess accumulation of fluid in various regions of the body. I would prefer dropsy to be some gothic prank that Olivia and Ella and maybe two or three others might play at school to scare the hell out of their teachers, and then write about in their matching black journals. Whatever. The title stays.


This One Doesn’t Really Count

In my Winnipegland there is no 21st century. In fact nothing much happens post-1970, and I try to ignore that it’s 21st century technology that gives Winnipegland a readership at all, or indeed a writer. I ought to be more grateful, and today I am, because the next reader will be my five thousandth.

I’m back with Winnipegland after a few months in the highly overrated here and now, and although I haven’t been writing for Winnipegland lately, its backlist of 38 miniatures has been receiving visitors every day, and now I’m coming to a motivating milestone . Five thousand is hardly what folks call viral, but in my post-1970 career in the business of real books, it was often the number that for publishers indicated critical mass: work worth publishing, if hardly bestseller-list-bound. That’s viral enough for me.

If you’re reading Winnipegland today, why not leave a comment and claim number 5000 status, or near as dammit? I’d love to have some personal sense of the special reader who reassured me that Winnipegland is where I should stay.

Again With The Library Paste

My father liked to say, “You can fix anything with library paste,” but I never saw him prove it, so maybe he was just high on the stuff. It did smell great, I must admit. From 1952 until 1970, which is to say for my entire childhood, my father ran the Manitoba country library service from a central repository located within the university, in Winnipeg. All of this library’s borrowers were in remote areas (as far north as the shores of Hudson’s Bay!) not served by libraries of their own, and thus there was no walk-in custom. Everything was by mail which went by rail, road and river (yes, in canoes).

In “Daddy’s Library” were my father, about forty thousand books, and seven or eight female staff who, from memory, actually did look like the caricature librarians you’d see on TV and in movies or comic books, complete with severe hairstyles and pointy glasses. But, perhaps relaxed by the ever-present fumes of library paste, they were always very pleasant to me, and of course in this library there was no rule of silence. One of the ladies was known as Pat, but the other ladies all had the same name, which was Miss, and to the three year old me this made perfect sense.

In 1955/56 I attended the university’s nursery school, conveniently located one floor down in the same building as the library, so every weekday afternoon my father would come to take me upstairs till his working day finished, and I would have the run of the place. The Misses would set me to little jobs, often employing library paste, and I think I learned to read by osmosis a while before I started school. Until I grasped that there was a world outside the library and our home, I was inclined to greet any new little playmate with the question: “What library does your daddy work in?”

I grew up to spend a life in the world of books in Canada but mostly in New Zealand, and mostly selling rather than lending. My own child similarly grew up in a world of books, pottering around and learning in “Daddy’s Bookshop”. And if anything went wrong or was broken, I would assure her that, “You can fix anything with library paste.” She never asked me to prove it, and perhaps we’ll never know if it’s true.

​[ Here is another little Winnipegland librarian story: https://winnipegland.wordpress.com/2014/09/28/the-old-man-and-the-lake/ ]

Toys For Every Girl And Boy

I’ve never found it difficult to become besotted, and re-besotted comes just as easily, be it one month or fifty years later.


The musicology of this little 1965 masterpiece—its Baroque origin, its since-corrected misattribution to Johann S Bach, its inspired Motown arrangement—is fairly well known, but I offer A Lover’s Concerto here  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7B4YW5-gy0Y   simply as a 2:45 minute respite from despair, cynicism, affectedness, and things masquerading as love that aren’t love at all.

The song has been covered many, many times, but so far I’ve heard no one but Barbara Harris and The Toys do justice to the disarmingly straightforward lyrics. The song is not about sex, and yet, of course, the Supremes’ version is dripping with the stuff. Cilla Black’s recording was strident, bossy, hurtful to the ear… am I allowed to say Germanic? The Divine One, Sarah Vaughan, seemed to miss the point with a swingingly pleasant but overly sophisticated reading. And even Barbara Harris herself, all grown up and professional twenty-odd years later, was a little too streetwise to convince as a wide-eyed romantic.

The lyrics by Denny Randell and Sandy Linzer lie sufficiently well upon the page for me to provide them here, sparing you the bother of picking them up from some execrable karaoke screen. As you can see, they are hardly sassy or brazen.

How gentle is the rain
That falls softly on the meadow
Birds high up on the trees
Serenade the clouds with their melody

Oh! See there beyond the hills
The bright colors of the rainbow
Some magic from above
Made this day for us
Just to fall in love

You hold me in your arms
And say once again you love me
And if your love is true
Everything will be just as wonderful

Now, I belong to you
From this day until forever
Just love me tenderly
And I’ll give to you
Every part of me

Oh! Don’t ever make me cry
Through long lonely nights without love
Be always true to me
Keep this day in your heart eternally…

Occasionally I’m asked if I’m staying busy and not letting the head go soft in my retirement, and just lately I’m inclined to answer that my days are pretty much taken up with the composition of a single sentence which doesn’t run on, and yet deals fully with the notion that the above lyrics, although displaying the writers’ familiarity with the works of the 19th century German Romantic poets whose hydrologically, botanically and ornithologically charged banalities were often set to music in the Lieder of Franz Schubert et al, by earning and parking their nature study merit badge in the first six lines, deftly avoid an effete, faux-innocent obfuscation of what is, after all, a love song to a human being, not to some winged halfwitted critter flitting in the foliage and fouling every brook and pond in sight. But I don’t.


L-R June Montiero, Barbara Parritt, and Barbara Harris

Beatrice, The Beav’, And A Thing That Went Beep In The Night

Across our street in the summer of 1960 lived a three year old curly-top redhead known as Little Beatrice (pronounced btreece to rhyme with geese), and all I remember about her is the little song she sang the day the Caterpillars came and scraped off the six inch layer of crabgrass and rocky soil that were the Barkers’ front yard, in preparation for the laying of new Kentucky Bluegrass sod. I won’t go off on some folksy tangent here about Kentucky Bluegrass; it was just the standard choice for new lawns in our neighbourhood.

On the day between the removal of the old and the arrival of the new, Little Beatrice popped out of her front door, surveyed the scene in bemusement, and then, after a minute or two, and approximately to the tune of Three Blind Mice, began to sing: “The yard ran away! The yard ran away!” Enchanting! In hindsight, I think this may have been my first intimation (being only seven myself) of just how impossibly cute and clever a toddler can be. Little Beatrice is pushing sixty now, God willing, and almost certainly has no memory of that inconsequential episode, but  her little ditty has stayed with me ever since, and I like to think she’d be slightly charmed to know that I still sing it silently to myself whenever something I expect to be there… isn’t.

I had it in mind to turn that tiny moment into some sort of existential jewel, but it wouldn’t come, so I’ve simply deposited it on the page unadorned. Similarly, I’ve been thinking for days about how to take the night before I turned five, two years earlier— the night Sputnik One was launched and Leave It to Beaver premiered—and turn it into a Cold War parable: maybe something about a shared moment of childlike wonder across the ideological divide. Similarly, no such luck.

Actually I don’t remember the first time I “met” the Cleaver family, and even once I did I was decades away from realizing that I was watching anything other than a rather realistic (yes, it was actually like that!) depiction of a WASP suburban boy’s life often spookily similar to my own. It turns out I was also partaking of Great Art. Maybe I’ll elaborate upon this sometime. Or not, if I find I have nothing new to add to Beaverology.

I do remember the Sputnik flight, though I don’t remember actually seeing the thing . All of our Biscayne Bay neighbours were out on their front porches; every few minutes someone would shout, “Oh look! There it goes!” and then some killjoy (probably named Gord) would yell back something along the lines of, “No it’s not, you jerk! Any schoolkid knows that’s just Bellatrix or, under its Bayer designation, Gamma Orionis! Sheesh!”


The next day there was a little fifth birthday party for me, and Billy Eakin (two from left, top row) gave me (sitting, left) a three-stage rocket like the one that had put Sputnik into orbit. I was crestfallen, though, to find that it wouldn’t blast off if you lit it, because it was actually soap. It looked more realistic than the one above, but the rope on the end was a giveaway.

Oh well. Next bathtime I asked my mother for my rocket soap, but she said, “Oh no, it’s the wrong shape for soap, and you could take an eye out with the pointy end, or strangle yourself with the rope. We’ll keep it in its wrapper and give it to one of your cousins for Christmas. Years from now this will be called regifting and will carry a social stigma, but here in 1957 it’s just what you do with unwanted, life-threatening, rocket-shaped soap-on-a-rope.”  As always, thank you, mum, for yet another existential jewel.