I went to Waterloo University for one month when I was told by my father that he would not be helping with the expense. He had told me all my life that I would be the only one of seven to go to University and that he would pay my way. Well, he was wrong on both parts of that sentence. My little brother Luke finished with a degree or two, with no financial help. I made it to University but was left high and dry when he refused to help with the fees. I even called my Grandfather, whom everyone knew to be well-off and with whom I had always had a strong relationship. He flat-out refused me. So there I was, nineteen at a huge University with their accounts receivable people hounding me to make a payment. I had worked the previous summers and had plowed my savings into the first payment for residence and for my books. I had no money left. I tried to find a job but that too fell flat. Thinking very, very hard about my current options, and not wanting to just walk away without a plan for my next move, I sat down to contemplate…then an idea struck…THE ARMY.
Recruiters had come to my high school the previous year with posters and glossy pictures of the kind of life you could have in the army. (It was just like that scene in the comedy Private Benjamin when Goldie Hawn looks at the glossy pictures of what she thinks of as military yachts and she is SOLD on joining the US Navy.) I had been told, after an aptitude test result years before, that I would do well in uniform. Hmmm. That caused pause for reflection. I pulled out the phone book for the city of Kitchener-Waterloo and found out the location of the recruiting centre. I put on some nice clothes and did my hair, hopped on the city bus and made my way there. I walked in to find a young man in uniform sitting behind the desk. He asked me all about my high school life and extra-curricular activities. When he heard that I was active and sporty and had good marks, he told me that I was, in his words: Officer Material. Wonderful I said. What next. He told me to come back with a thousand word essay about why I wanted to get in the forces. He said there would be an aptitude test when I returned. I went back to rez on a mission. From there, I wrote the essay, took and passed the test and checked out of Waterloo University.
The week I arrived back in Walden, I moved in with my Mother and her alcoholic boy-friend. I had no bedroom. I slept on the couch. I found two jobs serving tables. One at a five-star restaurant and the other at a bar on the opposite end of town. Living in this way brought me down. It was a tough winter. All my high school friends were away at school except Flo who was at the Walden community college. Thankfully I had a good steady job to go to every day. My boss was a womanizing prick from North Africa, who would lean in to talk to me just a little too closely, but, that is another blog post. At least I had a steady gig and it got me up and out and talking to people and making a bit of money every day. The chef at the five-star restaurant taught me one or two things about the joy of good food. He was extreme in his thinking and very sharp in his opinions. Swiss.
In April I got the call that I had been accepted into the forces for Officer Training and would need to attend a swearing-in ceremony in downtown Toronto. Next was Basic Training which would begin in June and last for six weeks. At that point, I didn’t know where I would be sent, after basic, but had been informed that the Canadian Forces would be sending me to University and that I would also receive a salary while at school. That sounded promising.
Basic Training took place in Chilliwack, BC at the Officer Candidate School. The six weeks went by in a blur of running, push ups, inspections, weapons training, map and compass training and combat field training: how to erect a hoochie, dig a latrine, march with a rucksack and the beginnings of how to issue Orders, amoung many other things like: combat first-aid, introduction to code and de-coding, bed-making with sharp corners, folding shirts into an exact square, sock-rolling, knot-tying and more. I found it fascinating, most of the time, and did well on this training, passing in the top third of my platoon: ‘Nine Platoon – DOGS OF WAR’.
The word came down that after Basic Training, I would be going to Royal Roads Military College outside of Victoria, in Sooke, BC. I was told that the first month, or, ‘Recruit Term’ would be very difficult, but, that I should stay positive and it would pass quickly. ‘Difficult’ was an understatement: Recruit Term was hell on earth. I cried myself to sleep every night.
A typical day of Recruit Term began with pounding rock music at 5:30 am. Our wake-up song for our flight was April Wine’s What a Night. What a Night starts with a fire alarm bell mounted on a cymbal stand being rang at a fast pace. It truly was the perfect harsh sound to get the heart racing and get the panic started for the drills for the day. We had until the end of the song to be up, dressed, toileted, bed made and ‘layout’ ready for inspection. Everything in the room had to be ‘laid out’ to specific standards. For instance, our uniform shirts had to be folded to exactly 25 x 30 cm, ironed and TAPED into our top drawer. Socks had to be rolled into a tight little ball, in a specific manner that we were shown and TAPED into the drawer. Same with pants. Boots and gators had to be polished and spit-shone to a high-gloss. We had three uniforms in our closet which had to have all buttons done up and all lint removed. The problem was, there was absolutely no free-time to do these things. So, we did them in the middle of the night and we were all quite sleep deprived already from basic training.
After morning inspection, we were run, that is: we ran over to the next building to the mess hall for breakfast where we would try to choke down some food but we were constantly being yelled at and ‘steadied up’ by our superiors. ‘RECRUIT, DON’T YOU KNOW THAT YOU ARE NOT TO USE YOUR LEFT HAND TO EAT YOUR TOAST??! STEADY UP WHEN I ADDRESS YOU.’ At this point, with his face inches from mine, and he breathing terribly hard, hot breath, I would have to sit at attention with arms straight down my sides and with tight fists say, ‘YES MR MAYLOR. NO MR MAYLOR. I WILL DO BETTER MR MAYLOR’…suffice to say, with all of the interruptions and the stress of being inspected so closely by our superior cadets, it was nearly impossible to eat. After a couple of weeks of Recruit Term, my uniform pants were falling down as I ran.
After breakfast there would be hours of panic drills where we were made to complete some task and then stand for inspection. It may be to lay out our rifle with all parts displayed, by the end of the song. It may be to put on our dress uniform and then stand for inspection by the end of the song…remembering that our rooms and beds and cupboards and dresser had to be completely perfect, not just our person. There was a lot of insults and yelling: ‘RECRUIT, YOU ARE A COMPLETE BAG OF EXCREMENT. RECRUIT, YOU ARE AN EMBARRASSMENT TO THE CANADIAN ARMED FORCES. RECRUIT – GET DOWN AND GIVE ME 25 PUSH UPS ON YOUR KNUCKLES.’ It went on for hours. There would be another run over to the next building for lunch and a muster before lunch where we would have to stand in completely straight lines and have our uniform looking sharp – which was impossible after the previous activities. We would all be sweating, shirt tails hanging out, pants drooping, laces untied and females’ hair buns falling out. So more yelling and insults. ‘YOU PEOPLE ARE MAGGOTS – LESS THAN MAGGOTS. YOU SHOULD BE ASHAMED OF YOURSELVES. MARK TIME’!!!! This is where we would march in place with knees as high as our waist, sweating profusely. Next, try to eat. Not likely.
After lunch, we would be taken running, sometimes with rifles, for an hour or so in the woods of the College grounds. The woods were absolutely beautiful. A temperate rain forest. Our physical fitness instructor was Mr Snellwood. He was a kinder soul and once, at the beginning of Recruit Term, he sat us all down in the woods and tried to reassure us that we would all pass recruit term, as long as we stayed diligent and showed that we were working hard. I was sitting there thinking about the 3 more weeks that had to be endured. I thought he was sweet and kind, but, I also had serious doubts about whether I would pass or could ‘keep up’ with this system.
We were allowed a two-minute shower after running and then we were back at the panic drills. Every now and then, something not-so-hard was offered. Like: Chapel visit, uniform fitting, tour of the Japanese Gardens, tour of the boat shed, tour of Hatley Castle and then there were mini lectures like: etiquette in mess hall which was instruction on how to use all of the various cutlery and glasses that were part of a mess dinner function. As Officers, we would be attending these nice dinners several times per year, and we needed to know how to sit properly at a formal table and how to use the formal dining layout.
One time, they hauled us all out of bed early. And, I do mean, hauled. We were blind-folded and we were taken out into the back woods. This was the Escape and Evasion exercise. Our superior cadets were talking in bad Russian accents and we were to pretend that we had been captured by enemy forces. In the woods, they had us get down on our bellies and they told us that we would be set free and that there would be a prize for the first recruit to make it back to barracks without being re-captured. They left and we all got up and removed the blind folds. We all started wandering around. I hooked up with a couple of people and we began to walk. We had no idea which way to go and it was a large area, acres and acres of woodland. After walking for a couple of hours, we came upon a huge blackberry patch just completely laden with huge, shining, juicy blackberries. We fell on it and started to gorge ourselves. I must have had blackberry juice all over my face. They were better than delicious. They were scrumptious. And no one to ‘steady us up’….we thought. All of a sudden: RECRUITS HALT. HANDS UP. TURN AROUND. We were re-captured and would not be winning any prize today. The berries were worth it though.
After supper, we were given study time, or time to do some tasks that they wanted us to do. One evening they told us to write an essay about our lives so that our section commanders could get to know us better. I started off with the COSSA Basketball tournament that my Dad was coaching and then into the camp details and high school sportiness. I had heard our section commander say he was originally from Huntsville, Ontario which is just south of the where the camp is. So, I made sure to mention Huntsville. Later that evening, we gathered with our sister flight and some of the essays were read aloud. Mine was picked. I read it aloud and when I came to Huntsville, I looked up at Mr Maylor. He grinned at me. I had made a connection. Now I was a little more hopeful that I would make it through this hell month.
At bed time we had another routine to endure. We had to do 100 sit-ups in the hallway by pinning our toes under the heater and with knees bent and fingers laced behind the head, pump them off. There was a catch. We had to do 100 sit-ups, take a shower AND brush our teeth by the end of our ‘goodnight’ song: Stairway to Heaven. I did not wash my hair for 30 days. I kept it tightly braided and would wash just my bangs. There was one shower and two girls on our flight. The two of us showered together. Writing this thirty years later, it seems bazaar that we would shower together. But we did. We just did.
On the final day of Recruit Term, we had the obstacle course and all recruits had to pass this final test. The Obstacle Course was a 5 km course through the woods with obstacles the whole way. Most of the obstacles involved dunking the head fully under into mud to say, get under a barrier or to jump over a barrier only to land fully in mud. There was a rope wall to climb with a fall into a muddy pond; balance-beam fast crossing of a mud river with a necessary dismount into…you guessed it…MUD. I looked up at one obstacle to see a boy from my street back in Walden (he had actually been a boyfriend of mine but was now dating my ex-good friend). He was yelling at me to GO! YOU CAN DO THIS MORGAN. YOU CAN DO THIS MORGAN PLAYER – he kindly was not using the word recruit to cheer me on. I remember thinking in my exhausted haze that that was very kind of him.
The final obstacle, when exhausted and with mud in every orifice, was to swim across a deep, lily-pad covered pond in combat boots. This was an individual test. Ironically, we were not allowed to help each other on any part of the obstacle course. Ironic because up until that moment it was ALL team work. I recall thinking, when I got to the pond, this will be a piece of cake. I would think this way due to all the swimming in my childhood and even in lily-pad covered ponds. Thank goodness I passed it. Afterwards I showered for 30 minutes but still had mud in my ears. I passed Recruit Term at the top of my flight.
We then had a big celebration down at the cadet mess that was called, DECKS. We had a big supper and lots of drinks. We had been told to dress up in nice civilian clothes or, civvies. Now we females were visually checked out by the senior cadets. As a young woman with certain healthy curves, long dark wavy hair, green eyes, straight, white teeth and full lips with a good fashion sense –I wore a blue knit, V-neck dress with a wide belt synched tightly around my tiny waist and leather pumps. I turned some heads at this celebration. (I was not beautiful, nor was I pretty, but, I was certainly attractive and the ratio of women to men was 1:8, so good odds that I would turn some heads). What a difference a shower, clean hair, some lipstick and civvies can make. It was a fun night. I should mention that I have not often shrank from having a fun time at parties. I enjoy being quite silly and having conversations with all sorts, especially handsome young, athletic and intelligent men. I also don’t suffer fools. So, if the guy couldn’t keep up his end of an interesting, or, even silly conversation, then I would just move on.
The academic year began with classes, assignments, essays, exams and social experiences. The difference, at Military College is that almost every weekend was jam packed with military or varsity sport requirements in the form of parade and parade practice and athletic events and competitions. The schedule was brutal.
At Thanksgiving, a friend – Cindy and I, decided to get off campus and away from it all. We had been more or less locked up for a couple of months and ready to just wear our jeans and hit the open road for a wee adventure. With a back pack each, we hitch-hiked a couple hours up island to Lake Cowichan where we had booked a cabin for two nights. Our first ride got us most of the way there. Then, we were stuck for a bit on some country road with the sun going down over the next hill. This is nothing, I thought. We’ve just passed through hell and found some freedom. Nothin’ is getting me down now. On that note, a red pick-up pulled over to offer us a lift. The man inside was more than a little scary looking with wild eyes and even wilder hair. Cindy and I looked at each other, shrugged, and hopped in. He turned out to be a decent fellow and he dropped us at our rented cabin.
Next: what should we do with our free evening. We had heard tell of a dance in a hall nearby. We gussied ourselves up and with blue jeans and jean jackets and big hair, off we went…only to find five or six of our classmate cadets already there. Not sure how that happened exactly but it was sure to be fun. Well, when you work hard, it only seems natural to also play hard. That is what we did. We basically started dancing and didn’t stop for a few hours. At one point during Rock Lobster, we were all down on the hard-wood floor doing the worm. Yes, just like it sounds. Squirming. Full-body contact with the floor. It was hilarious. Likely one of the most fun nights of my entire life due to its spontaneity, timing and remote location. We ended up meeting a couple of local fellows that night and took them back to the cabin with us. Appetites were satiated, in a sense.
Come the summer, it was time to take French courses at Royal Military College (RMC) in Kingston, On. RMC is set on several areas with significant lake frontage and several huge piers on Lake Ontario. That summer was a lot of fun. Being in the city of Kingston was exciting and the summer sun would see us sunning on the big docks on campus and running and jumping off the piers and swimming in Lake Ontario. That was the summer my friend and I met a couple of guys while driving on the 401 to Toronto. Communications were done while driving side by side at high-speed via black sharpies and large note pads. Writing greetings and then holding them up to the window for the fellas in the nearby car to read. This was before cell phones, remember. We ended up asking them, by note, to meet us in downtown Toronto at MR GREEN JEANS restaurant in the Eaton’s Centre. They made it! And, we had a lovely dinner with them: Doug and J.R.. We went to the Hard Rock Café afterward until my bus was ready to depart for Walden. (My friend had already driven off to her home in Bradford and J.R. and Doug had already registered for the 10km run early the next morning in Toronto). J.R. and I ended up dating all summer until it was time for me to go back to Victoria, BC. Interestingly, he was a southern lad and a lieutenant in the US Army and was stationed across the border from Kingston in Fort Drum near Watertown, NY. It ended there, but, it had been fun.
Second year began at Royal Roads Military College (RRMC). My heart was not in it. I didn’t enjoy the academics. Several of my profs struggled with the English language, even my English prof. It was not how I wanted to spend my prime years. I made it known that I was interested in the program allowing a cadet to go straight into a career. I got it, but it was not until the following year. I was told I would become an Army Logistics Officer and that training would begin in October 1988 in Borden, Ontario. What would happen to me for the year???
I was put to work in the Castle, Hatley Castle at RRMC. Severely boring work, just managing paper and simple tasks. I had to do quite a bit of photocopying and would inevitably run into this same civilian woman working there. She would ask me every time I saw her: You’re still here? I would have thought they would have come up with a better occupation for you by now. Hmmm. Thanks. It’s not like I wasn’t already feeling like a fish out of water. I was then sent to Comox, BC, up island, to help with administration at the Air Traffic Control Tower. That was interesting. The best thing about it was learning how to use a word processor called Word Perfect. That came in handy later.
I began playing on a slow pitch team and met some good folks. One of them was Stevie Henderson. Steve was a lumberjack up in Tofino. He was also an avid mountain biker. He and his buddy and I would go on mountain biking day trips to Denman and Hornby Islands. Challenging trails but extremely fun too. Suddenly, it was time to go East.
I bought a new little car: a 1988 Chevrolet Sprint, 3 cylinder. I began the journey across Canada, stopping each night in a flea-bitten crap motel advertising colour tv, my ass sore and my eyes glazed over from the miles and miles of the day. It took me six days to arrive in London, Ontario at my eldest sister Eva’s house. I scared the living be-jesus out of her, walking into the house unannounced and finding her concentrating on something. She was so happy to see me, jumping up and down, screaming, crying and hugging me. No kidding. We Players take our greetings seriously. She wanted to know how long I could stay. I told her about heading to Borden for a course the next day. I could stay only one night. It was a nice time and we caught up on all the news.
It was a couple of hours drive to Base Borden where I started my clearing in process: getting the key to my single barracks room mainly. Classes started the very next morning for the Basic Logistics Officers Course. The first person I met on the course is now my husband. When I met him, we were both hanging up our Army issue trench coats. Our eyes met and he smiled at me and said hi. I saw stars. I was instantly in love with this very good looking dark haired, green-eyed man. Later we had an English grammar test and he achieved a perfect score. I knew then that it was him. He was gorgeous, sweet, gentle and intelligent. When I saw him kick a soccer ball, I swooned. It was poetry in motion.