I bet I was the only ten-year-old kid who knew that the address of The Toronto Star was 1 Yonge Street, Toronto. I knew this piece of completely useless information because at the tender age of five years old, I had a paper route – The Toronto Star. I exaggerate slightly. The route was actually my older brother’s but, I had been given the responsibility of delivering a single paper to one out-of-the-way customer: Mrs. Wilson– about ten doors north of our house. I got paid 5 cents per week for this. It was much to my embarrassment though, when the phone would ring while all nine of us were ensconced at the supper table and Mom would look at me and say, Morgan, did you deliver your paper? Invariably I had forgotten. I would have been too busy at play to think of it. I had to then drop my fork and run off with Mrs. Wilson’s paper. As the years went by I was given more and more of the route to deliver and customers to collect from and one day I found that the whole route was mine – handed down from Matt to Mark to Job and finally, to me.
The Saturday Star was so heavy that, in order for me to be able to deliver all the papers from one load, I had to lug the bag to the top of our front, concrete stoop. I would sit on the third step and back into the head-sling of the loaded paper bag and then, leaning way over until my nose was almost touching the ground, I would stagger forward and allow the full weight of the bag to sit on my back. Not a parent-figure in site to worry about me injuring my neck. I often wondered how badly off I would be if I were to just fall the wrong way? Or, if I were to stumble, out-of-control onto the street, would the car that hit me be damaged by the sack of papers on my back or would I just simply be crushed beneath them?
Most of my paper route, thankfully, was in an eight-story apartment building, just down the hill from us that we imaginatively called, ‘The Apartments’. When I was still quite little, I wasn’t able to reach the buttons for the seventh and eighth floors on the elevator’s button panel. Alas, I had the ultimate solution. I would lumber into the elevator and somehow drop my paper bag off my head, without wrenching my wee neck, and stand on the full paper bag in order to reach the button for the top floor. I would then deliver the papers on the descending floors, using the heavy bag to hold the elevator door open as I progressed. When the bag was no longer heavy enough to hold the elevator door open, I would carry the bag, deliver the papers and then take the flight of stairs down to the next floor. The whole process was quite an art.
My career as an earner started then. I was a papergirl from age 5 to 15. I started to baby-sit at the age of 12. I bussed at the Crock & Block restaurant at the age of 15 while living with my sister Eva. I then had various serving jobs: Lafayette, O’Toole’s, Silky’s, and July’s Restaurant for five summers until joining the army at 19. Dad did not believe in giving us an allowance. We had to earn everything we ever got.
It was at Silky’s in Walden that I experienced working for the most dysfunctional couple of crazy people I have ever encountered. I hated working there because of it and dreaded each shift. Tom, the chief cook and owner would SCREAM at his wife, Darlene all the live long day:
BUTTER RIGHT TO THE EDGE OF THE BREAD FOR FUCK SAKES!
RIGHT TO THE FUCKIN EDGE!!!
GET IT OUT HOT!!!
YOU BLOODY STUPID BITCH.
Oh Lord did I detest that place. The tension should have been on the menu because it was the most abundant item they produced. I just now googled the place. It is still open. Unbelievable.
Why put up with it? I was in grade 12 and needed a job. My sister Amy had helped me get the job through a friend of a friend and I was ever so grateful. Amy always had so many connections made through her work as a hairstylist. By this time, Mom was living in a tiny apartment with her alcoholic boyfriend and working as a server for minimum wage at cafeteria-style restaurant in Woolworth downtown. I would go visit her and she would look so tired. So worn out. Oh god. It would break my heart. This was her reality after raising seven children and keeping a wonderful home for us for 26 years. She did not come out of the divorce well. I could not ask her for a penny. She worked so hard and made so little.
At that time, my younger brother and I had a bedroom each in the basement of our bungalow and Dad was upstairs. I had been getting a couple of shifts per week at O’T’s Restaurant, but, it went bankrupt and it wasn’t long before I was without money. One particular day, having spent my savings, I had to ask Dad for money for necessities: menstrual pads.
He turned my down.
He would not give me five bucks for pads.
I was seething.
I hated him.
I was forced to use cotton t-shirts cut into rags which would inevitably shift and fall out of my underwear. Nice. God I hated him. It was incredible how much I hated him. I feel that hatred even now, decades later. To do that to me was so hurtful and so unnecessary.
And not giving me money for necessities, when he had plenty of money, was just one of his many faults and hurtful ways. Why would he want me to be without causing discomfort, mess, odours? Why would he not help his daughter? Who does that???
The other ways of hurting were worse.
Like when he would come barging into my room, even though my door was closed, and catch me half-dressed or naked but with the old, ‘Sorry, sorry. I didn’t know you were dressing.’
Or, he would forcibly hold me down, while I struggled wildly. He would then lick my face with his very wet, gross, warm tongue – his bad breath washing over me as I would scream, ‘GROSS!!’
‘I just want to give my daughter a little kiss.’
Or, he would comment on my developing body:
‘You’re getting rather hippy, Morgan, you better watch it, you don’t want to get fat.’
Or, he would routinely reach out and touch my bum as I would be walking past him and then exclaim, ‘Yippee!‘ in a falsetto voice.
Then there were the many times his robe would mysteriously open and there would be hairy, wrinkled genitals for all to see. Oh god. I would be mortified when he would inevitably do this with teenaged Flo and Sally visiting. Show us his penis, by accident of course, and then giggle about it as he snuck away back to his fart-stinking room.
With all that I have read, learned and experienced in life regarding body image and now as a parent, here is one truism: never comment on a child’s body except to say how lucky we are to have one that does so much for us. Our body is truly a marvel which should be loved, respected, adorned, nourished, cleaned, clothed and loved some more.
So, my relationship with Dad was love / hate for sure. At times I would love him for his silliness and his zest for life and enthusiasm about certain topics: sport, recreation, small business, celebration. Dad loved to laugh. He would often have us all in stitches at the supper table, recounting his Skollard Hall days in a falsetto voice. He liked that falsetto voice. I do truly think he was doing his best to father us the best way he could, considering the factors at play in his upbringing and his generation and with the added factor of the Catholic guilt monitoring all that he did. Another factor in the break down of his marriage was mental illness…
continued in Make Work Your Favorite Part 2