In grade two, I had a half-Finnish teacher. She had long red hair and was very pretty. She was single and seemed to all of us students, to have a crush on the Principal, a handsome man named Mr. Wright, of all things. We all giggled and whispered whenever he’d come to the door to visit her. He was married, though, and left the school at the end of the year. My favourite subject was spelling, and I got nearly perfect in it. I still have trouble with the words that I got wrong that year, like rhthym, which makes no sense to me.
Our singing teacher, was the Grade Three teacher. She used to teach us Sunday School songs, back before such things would be forbidden. I learned a lot of Bible stories through those songs, because she would explain the story behind the song. In opening cermonies, we used to sing O Canada, God Save the Queen, and recite the Lord’s Prayer. How different now.
Our school also held a bi-annual fun night, which I attended in Kindergarten, grade 2,4,6, and 8. I could hardly stand the wait in the interval. It wasn’t a huge production: just carnival-type games after-hours at school. Even just going to school in the evening helped make it magical. The games cost 10 cents each, and you could get prizes from the fishing pond, which was just a barrier that you put a fishing rod over. I was given a few quarters to spend, but it never seemed like enough. I say this, because the fact that this was a highlight of my life, shows again how poor we were. There was never any hope of going to Disney World, and they didn’t have play places for kids like they do now. We had to make our own fun. We played games with the neighbourhood kids: hide and seek, tag, kick the can, Red Rover, Green Green Red, Simon Says, Mother May I? War, skipping, ball games and baseball. Some kids had marbles, but we couldn’t afford them.
In my class, there was a girl, who had a bird’s last name. She also, ironically had webbed feet. If I didn’t see it myself, I wouldn’t have believed it. She had a thin layer of skin between her first and second toe, on both feet.
At that time, we had a Finnish family move into our neighbourhood. They built a large house halfway up the hill. To me, they were rich. They weren’t, of course, but compared to us, they had everything. He was a contractor, and she was a cleaning lady, or as the Finns say, a ‘leaning lady.’
My friend, their daughter, also had an unpronounceable Finnish name that started with P. They had a sauna in their house, so I was there often. I slept over a lot, even on school nights. She had a double bed with pink satin sheets. She also had a clock radio and an organ. She was very independent. From an early age, she would cook her own breakfast.
Also, most summers we would visit various cottages, or “camps” as they’re called up North. There was one Finnish family who owned a camp on the same lake as my cousin (See My Favourite Place, Vacations). This particular camp was built on a “kallio”, which is a hill made of Canadian Shield Rock. The camp was made level by being raised up on bricks at the front. It never seemed very secure to me, but then it never fell over either. The “kallio” would slope down and the mossy slimy covering allowed you to slide down into the water.
I never liked driving there as a kid. You had to park up on the “kallio” and from where I was sitting in the car, I could only see out onto the lake, and when my Mom was backing up, I thought we’d roll right off the “kallio” into the lake. It was then that I realized I didn’t care for edges. I was hysterical. My mom had to let me out of the car so she could park it in peace, while I watched from safety.
This family had two daughters. The older one was chubby and the mom always drew attention to it, by making “diet pizza” and “diet brownies” for Shirley.
The dad was very harsh with them. He kept a switch tucked into the door jamb and he would use it on his daughters for the smallest reason, and even if we were around. I was afraid of him, even though he wouldn’t have threatened us. He was so different from my father. This man never seemed happy, except when he was drunk. Then he was just plain obnoxious. Once, he tipped my teenaged cousin off the air mattress she was lying on, on the dock, making her land on sharp rocks. I think he did it because she had her bathing suit top undone, and it fell off when he tipped her over. He made me nervous that way. He wall-papered the outhouse of their camp with pornography. As a little girl, I found it quite disturbing. What kind of man, with two daughters of his own, does that sort of thing?