A few weeks ago, I found a nickel during my morning walk at the Promenade, in White Rock. However, I didn’t realize the significance of that five-cent coin, until today.
It has awakened a quiet voice from within – which has been silent for too many months. And it’s not that I’ve been sulking or feeling sorry for myself – it’s just that I had given up on a beautiful dream, and couldn’t imagine anything that would excite or inspire me enough to want to write again. I haven’t written a blog since my cousin Ruthie passed, in November 2016, although I did post a few photos of an exciting day walking on the edge of the CN Tower in Toronto, this past April.
But back to the nickel.
After finding the coin and almost dismissing it as of little value, I suddenly remembered a saying my Grandma Puffer used to tell me: “A penny can be the difference in your ability to pay a bill on time.” I’ve never forgotten that or the many other words of wisdom that came from her lips. But that was back in the ‘60’s – we don’t even have pennies anymore – here, in Canada!
And yet, as I stood there, beside the totem poles, I had a pressing urge to leave the coin there, on the bench, in the hope that a child, might find the nickel and be filled with the excitement of their sudden good fortune!
When you’re a kid, with nothing in your pants pockets but holes, finding a coin – of any denomination – is like finding sunken treasure! And for a brief moment in time, you’d hold it tightly, in the palm of your hand, for fear of losing it before you could share the news of your good fortune, with family and friends. But greatest of all, was the fact, that a nickel could buy a lot of candy at Pop Taylor’s store on Mary Street when I was a kid.
So, in an impulsive urge of shameless, self-promotion on various social media sites, I grabbed my cell phone and shot a short video clip of me leaving the nickel on a bench by the totem poles – stating that I hoped a kid might find the coin.
I remember smiling at those thoughts as I continued my daily walk along the Promenade.
After walking for another thirty minutes or so, I reached the halfway mark of my walk and turned to head back to my starting point, 1 ½ miles down the walkway. It wasn’t particularly busy, so I wondered if the coin would still be on the bench. And the more that I wondered, the more I became worried that the coin would be gone!
“Danny, why would you be so worried?” I asked myself.
“I don’t know,” I answered to myself, “but my worries are now becoming panic!”
But as I approached the totem poles and saw the bench, I noticed the coin basking in the sunlight! My heart was racing, and I was almost gasping with excitement, as I picked up the nickel. I was excited but didn’t know why? I studied the coin carefully – the usual beaver on one side and the Queen on the other. It was one of the older designs, with the octagon shape, and dated 1962. It was in good shape, so I shrugged my shoulders and put it in my pocket. Later, I put the coin in my wallet – as a good luck charm. Who knows what drew me to the nickel? But finding it sure made me feel like little Danny, again!
This morning, I was having a coffee and emptying junk from my wallet and noticed the coin. And when I held it in my hand, my eyes were drawing my attention to the date – 1962. And that’s when it all made sense!
Chapter 2 – ’55 Pontiac, Camp Samac, Duck Lake, Violet & Public Hair
A penny for your thoughts…. a nickel for your memories… and a dime for a coke!
I began to smile as my mind raced back to the year 1962. I was twelve years old and full of piss and vinegar! Or as one of my uncles used to say, “loaded for bear,” although I never knew what the term meant. Nevertheless, it became one of my favorite sayings, at the time.
Most of the mornings in 1962 were pretty hectic – especially, with six kids in the house! But my Ma was well-organized, and she would have made us our breakfast and then packed a lunch for the four oldest of us, and we headed out the door for the bike ride up Simcoe Street to Camp Samac for our swimming lessons. And inside our bag, Ma would put a dime for the Coca-Cola machine beside the pool area. And we would be there for the entire day: a lesson in the morning, followed by paddling the canoes during the two-hour lunch break and then back to the pool with our swim classmates for the afternoon.
And if we were lucky, and Ma had given us each a quarter (twenty-five cents), we could stop by the Tastee Freeze across the street from Camp Samac, for the long, exhausting ride home.
I also remember some mornings, when Ma would drive us, I would get the car keys from the counter and within a minute, I would be sitting in the driver seat of our ’55 Pontiac, with the radio on, listening to Dave Mickie, the AM jock from CKEY – which was the most popular radio station in Toronto in the early 60’s. Of course, I didn’t know how to drive – I was only twelve years old. But I would hold the steering wheel with both hands and pretend I was driving – complete with simulating high-speed racing along dangerous, mountainside roads and then faking a head-on crash but jumping from the car – just in time, as the car rolls off the cliff and down the mountainside, into Lake Ontario – at the same time that my two older, and infinitely more mature sisters, stood in the driveway, shaking their heads and waiting to tattle tale (rat on me).
But I loved that car. And I loved listening to the songs on the hit parade. I knew the words to every song – and would even perform them if I was alone. And one of my first major purchases with money from my paper route tips was a $6.00 Sanyo portable radio – complete with a blue leather case and a shiny, pop-up antennae. I remember laying in bed, every night, listening to CKEY until I fell asleep.
But Danny, this was supposed to be about 1962…
We were at a turning point in our life, anxiously awaiting becoming teenagers and having that almost-grown-up ‘teen’ word added to our age; we would be thirteen years old! And that, was “Cool, Daddy-O,” as Maynard the beatnik used to say on the Dobbie Gillis Show.
Camp Samac was also the place that I learned that teenagers had everything that grownups had and they got to do grown-up things, too! But the most shocking thing I learned at camp that summer, was that teenagers, like my swimming instructor, had hair growing in places that you only got to see if you were in a change room or nudist colony, and as far as I can remember, there weren’t any nudist colonies in the Shwa in ’62.
When I wasn’t swimming at Camp Samac, I would be playing sports at Connaught Park, but I was also beginning to notice girls. My cheeks are turning red, as I write this – I remember that feeling – of seeing someone special for the first time. Our eyes would meet, and a sudden spark or flash of interest would be exchanged – without a word spoken!
Her name was Violet M., and she was from Toronto.
But I met her at my uncle’s cottage on Duck Lake near Parry Sound, Ontario. The grownups were all gathered in the cottage, drinking beer and enjoying their holidays and suddenly they decided to become ‘match makers, ‘ and then, there we were – face-to-face in front of adults who endlessly tried to embarrass us. We’d leave and take a walk along the lakeshore. And we would talk – which was a first, for me. The only time I ever spoke to girls before then, was with my sisters and then ONLY if I had to. But talking to Violet was like talking to a grown up and being treated like I was a grownup, too! Afterall, she was already a teenager – and a very mature, thirteen-year-old, at that!
I still remember one of her questions – which at the time, I didn’t have an answer. She asked me whom I thought childbirth was the most difficult for – the mother or father? At the time, I didn’t know anything about the birds and bees; I just remember when my Ma was expecting my youngest brothers, that she had a big stomach. So of course, I answered that childbirth was most difficult for the father.
Violet simply shook her head and explained the complete birth process to me. It was obvious she had been told the facts of life (I still prefer the babies are delivered by a stork theory). And I remember feeling like a five-year-old. But she was a sweet person and made me feel… kinda… like a teenager!
Violet and I were together for the rest of our time at the lake that summer, and she was my first kiss. And I guess that it’s okay to kiss and tell now, these many years later. So here goes:
We were sitting at the end of the dock, with our legs dangling in the water, holding hands and I was fumbling at trying to kiss her without being too forward. There may have been a full moon that night because I have this image in my mind, of the moon’s reflection in her dark eyes. And then she quickly kissed me. And then we kissed again and again.
And that was also the last summer that I played sports or took swimming lessons. I achieved my Bronze Medallion which qualified me to be a lifeguard the next year after I turned thirteen years old. And little Danny’s mind was already thinking about the many, many girls that will surround him, as he sits high above the water, on a lifeguard tower, with a whistle on a rope necklace, hanging around his tanned neck and hairless chest.
Hairless? I thought back to the boys’ change room at Camp Samac and the teenage boys with armpit hair and hair around their you-know-what. At the time, I probably wondered if they’d still be able to make the farting noise with their hand under their hairy armpit, while the other arm moves up and down on the hand, resulting in an almost perfect duplication of the sound? (By the way, you can!)
I wondered if girls grew hair in their armpits and the other place(s), too? But I was very shy and awkward, in those days, so I never thought to ask Violet. But she would have been happy to tell me, in detail. So instead, I asked my Ma and learned that the hair that grows in that hidden area of the body is called ‘pubic hair.’ But that word didn’t make sense to me, so I figured that she must have meant to say ‘public.’ And for many years, it’s how I referred to it, although it wasn’t a subject that came up too often. And one last thing – why are public washrooms, not called Pubic Washrooms?
Anyways, after that summer, Violet and I used to write each other letters, but our worlds were far apart. She lived in Toronto, and although Oshawa is just 40 miles east, it might as well have been 5,000 miles when you’re a twelve-year-old kid with holes in your pockets. She was my first girlfriend and my first kiss. And up to that point, our talks were the closest I ever got to learn about the ‘birds ‘n bees.’ I used to hear my Ma arguing with my Dad about him not wanting to tell me the facts of life. And every time my Ma tried to tell me, I’d be too embarrassed to hear that kind of stuff from my mom, and I’d run out the door. I don’t think anyone ever told me the facts of life.
And although Violet and I never saw each other again in future summers at the lake, I never forgot her. And believe it or not – many years later, when I was in my twenties, I was in a store in Parry Sound and bumped into her at the checkout. Our eyes met, and for a brief moment, we stared at each other. The child in the stroller she was pushing began to cry, and that’s when I noticed that she was a mother and probably married. And at the time, so was I. So, I quickly glanced away and pretended not to recognize her. But as I passed her and opened the door to leave the store, I heard a faint… “Hi, Danny!”
I never turned around to answer and kept walking, but I wanted to take her in my arms and tell her that I still remember our first kiss. It was my first kiss – I’m not sure if it was hers or not. In baseball terms, I had finally made it to first base – with her as my coach – in the summer of ’62.
Chapter 3 – 8th Oshawa Sea Scouts, First Date, Football, Crutches & Amy
I can’t remember why I joined the 8th Oshawa Sea Scouts because none of the kids in the neighborhood were in Cubs or Scouts. And although the scout hall, where we had our meetings, was located next to the church that my family attended on Hillcroft Street, it wasn’t associated with any particular church or faith. But I remember that I liked the fact that the sea scout uniform was very different than what the regular boy scouts wore. Our shirt, shorts, and knee socks were all dark blue, and our neck scarf (tie) was black and white. And the white hat we wore was the same as the Sea Cadets and sailors in the Navy.
I don’t think that any of my classmates at North Simcoe school belonged to the 8th, but many of them were in regular scouts. And the 8th was the only sea scout troop in Oshawa, at the time.
The scout hall building where we met every Wednesday evening (during the school year), was torn down in the 70’s and the 8th was disbanded at the same time. I don’t remember why but I’m sure that it had to do with money. The 8th also had a small fleet of wooden rowboats (each held 6-8 scouts) that were kept in a lockup at the Oshawa harbor. We used to go there for some of our meetings in the summer and were taught how to row together, as a team.
The leader of sea scouts was known as the skipper or skip, and his assistants were called troop leaders. And within the 8th, there were smaller groups that each had a leader and assistant leader. The skipper and troop leaders were usually grown-ups – some married, some single, some who had kids in either the 8th Oshawa Cubs, Sea Scouts or Rovers. And one last thing about the 8th Oshawa Sea Scouts – we had two separate and distinct troops, namely Port and Starboard. I belonged to the Port troop, and our meetings were on Wednesday nights. The Starboard troop met on Thursday nights.
My greatest joys as a kid came during my years in the 8th Oshawa. There was only one low point – my Dad decided to get involved in scouting but became a troop leader into the Starboard troop! Their skipper’s name was Derek. I remember my Ma questioning my Dad’s decision to be in the Starboard troop and not my Port troop. I never heard his reasons, and I never asked my Ma, but I remember how hurt I was. But I kept the hurt hidden – maybe I was too proud to reveal my feelings. But it was just one more reason to feel rejected – the last boy to get picked on a team in the neighborhood. But there was one joy in having my dad being a scout leader in a different group – many of the ‘cool’ guys at school – none of whom, ever had time for me – suddenly became friendly. The reason for their sudden interest was my Dad. They were in the Starboard troop, and they would ask me what it was like to have such a cool dad! My Dad was a lot of things, but at the time, to me, he wasn’t so cool. I wonder if it ever bothered him that Skipper Derek’s son was in Starboard and it wasn’t a problem for father or son. But Dad’s reasons went to the grave with him. My dad wasn’t a bad person – he just wasn’t the type of father that little Danny needed. And if you don’t have an older brother to teach you things or to look out for you – who do you have?
And although I seldom mention people’s last name in my stories, I want to mention the Skipper of my Port troop. His name was Don Thompson, and he lived across the street from the scout hall. His mom and dad were very friendly, and they would be sitting on their front porch every Wednesday night and waved to us as we arrived for our meetings. He had a greater influence on me than any other person in my youth, and I know that he is probably in his late 70’s now and still involved in scouting.
My first date was also to an 8th Oshawa Sea Scout Christmas Party at Camp Samac that year. There was a girl at school that I was crazy over but although I was somewhat financially secure from my paper route, grass cutting and snow shoveling revenues – I wouldn’t have any means of transportation to get to her house in North Oshawa and from there, to Camp Samac. I don’t remember the girl’s name or much else about her except that it was my Ma who chauffeured me on my first date. But at least she didn’t see me holding the girl’s hand, much less, witnessing us kissing. But I remember the joy on my Ma’s face as she drove the car and tutored me on the “do’s and don’ts of dating.” My track record was beginning to improve – two girlfriends and lots of kisses in 1962.
But I also broke my leg playing football at my school that year and had to wear a cast for two months. It left me with a slight limp, which I still have to this day. I mention it because it meant that I couldn’t go outside for recess with the rest of the kids. I had to stay at my desk, with my teacher – the feared Mrs. Trotter. Most of the students referred to her by her first name, which was ‘Amy,’ but never to her face. But I became very close to this grade-eight teacher, and I owe her for an amazing lesson she taught me.
Mrs. Trotter’s appearance could be quite intimidating. But not because of her stature – she was shorter than most of her students. She also appeared to be very old. At the time, she seemed to be much older than my Ma and she may have even been older than both of my grandmothers. But that wasn’t why she was intimidating to me – it was because she never seemed to smile. And as a rambunctious, twelve-year-old boy, there were lots of things in life worth smiling about: namely, weekends, scouts, sports, Summers, candy etc.
But after a few days of silent and boring recesses spent sitting in the classroom alone with the ancient Mrs. Trotter, the silence was broken by her sudden outburst: “Danny!”
The school year had recently started, so I really didn’t know her at all – other than the rumors about her mean spirit. I don’t remember if all of the kids were afraid of her, but I was!
“Yes, Mrs. Trotter!” I stuttered, wide-eyed and surprised by her sudden interest in me.
But she didn’t say anything at first. She just stared at me and then it happened! Her stern face suddenly softened and a smile appeared on her face. It wasn’t the kind of ‘ear-to-ear’ smile that people get when they’re eating candy or doing neat stuff – but it was a smile, just the same!
Mrs. Trotter then began asking me about my family and what I did during the summer recess. Suddenly, I felt the warm glow of making a friendship with no boundaries. Yes, she was much older than me and there certainly wasn’t any physical attraction involved – although, she may have been the only woman teacher that I didn’t have a crush on. But after one of two recesses, I’d told her all that there was to know about ‘me’. And although I don’t remember her ever talking about her personal life, I felt like she was my first grown-up friend.
During subsequent recesses, I would amuse myself by walking around the classroom on my crutches; going to the boy’s washroom and/or by staring out the classroom windows. But our grade eight classroom was on the third floor and the windows didn’t face the playground – my line of vision was limited to Simcoe Street, which was one of the main streets in Oshawa. The other main street in Oshawa worth noting is King Street, which ran east to west. And the intersection of Simcoe and King Streets was known as the ‘Four Corners’ which was a popular landmark. But that’s another story.
I spent much of my youth on or around a ‘Simcoe’ either Simcoe Street, Lake Simcoe or Simcoe, Ontario. And in the Shwa, if you had lots of coins, you probably lived on Simcoe Street between Adelaide Street and Rossland Road. And if you were really affluent, and your backyard bordered on Alexandra Park, you could get into the Oshawa Fair and other neat events for free! You just had to climb your fence and then sneak into the park. Some of these wealthy tycoons even had gates that opened into the park!
The other thing you should know about Simcoe Street is that one of the prettiest and most popular girls at North Simcoe School was Beth R., the daughter of a prominent doctor, and they lived in a beautiful house on Simcoe Street. And although I was getting interested in girls, I didn’t have a girlfriend at school and Violet lived in Toronto, which although only thirty miles from the Shwa, it might as well have been 1,000 miles to a twelve-year-old, socially-awkward and insecure in the ways of love. And although Beth R., wasn’t in my class, she might as well have been at a private school because she had a boyfriend, who was also the most popular boy in school.
His name was Grant O., and I knew him fairly well, although we never hung out together. He lived down the street from me on Jarvis Street. Grant was very athletic and was interested in running. I used to see him running all of the time but can’t remember if he pursued it after leaving school. What I do remember about him is that he sold me his Oshawa Times newspaper route. And that paper route was an improvement over the Toronto Star newspaper route that I had had for a couple of years – because the Times was much lighter and the customers were more numerous, so your route wasn’t as large as the less-populated Star subscribers. I had that route until I started high school and then got a paper route at the Oshawa General Hospital.
Grant was in my grade nine class at OCVI but that was in 1963 when I was a grown-up teenager! The last that I saw of him was on a city bus, during my senior year at high school. He was working full-time and we chatted about stuff but I don’t remember what else we talked about.
But back to Beth R., the prettiest and most popular girl at Dr. SJ Philips elementary school (formerly North Simcoe School).
I didn’t know Beth, any more than I knew Grant because we traveled in different social circles. I don’t even recall ever having a conversation with Beth, although I think that she was in my sister’s class in high school. But I remember delivering newspapers to Beth’s family home on Simcoe Street. I wonder if she ever saw my buddies and I sneaking into the Oshawa Fair at Alexandra Park by cutting through her family’s backyard and jumping over their fence? If she did, at least she never ‘ratted’ me out! Because even in 1962, nobody liked a tattle-tale!
The next thing that I remember about Beth is crashing one of her parties when I was in high school. I was with a couple of my buddies and we were hoping to find where the good doctor’s booze was hidden. We were in the downstairs billiards room which had been locked and ‘off-limits’. One of the guys had used his comb to open the door (credit cards weren’t invented yet) but there wasn’t any booze. Come to think of it, I don’t remember seeing Beth or Grant for that matter – perhaps they were hiding in a secret room guarding the good doctor’s booze?
The next time I saw Beth was in the 70’s at the nurse’s office at the General Motors Truck Plant. I was both surprised and pleased that she recognized me and I asked if she and Grant ever got married? We exchanged family updates and said our goodbyes. She was still very pretty and married at the time but not to Grant. I asked who the lucky guy was? I’m not sure but I think it may have Bill H., who had been one of my fellow 8th Oshawa Sea Scouts.
My next Beth sighting was ‘virtual’. I had joined an internet social media group called Classmates, in hopes of connecting with some of my friends from the area. I hadn’t lived in Ontario since my move to Vancouver in 1982 but was getting more proficient on the internet. We became friends on Classmates and then our virtual friendship migrated to MySpace and then later to Facebook. We’re still friends on Facebook and we keep in touch and I think she’s read some of my blogs. I’m hoping to meet up with her for a plate of ‘shoestrings and a Coke’ at the Globe Restaurant on King Street, if and when I ever get to Ontario again.
As for the title of this blog – On The Nickel. Its meaning is also tied to the Tom Waits song by the same name. When he wrote the song, the title referred to a street where the homeless, alcoholics would gather. The street was 5th Street and when you were on it – you were ‘on the nickel.’
Not all of the homeless, alcoholic people On The Nickel, are strangers, though.
Because I have a younger brother who’s been battling addiction his entire adult life. He probably doesn’t remember much about Oshawa or North Simcoe School and I haven’t had any contact with him in almost two years. But I hope that there is still a little boy inside of him that has a lingering memory of what it used to be to like to have family, friends, love, and dreams. Having me as an older brother didn’t help him much and for that, I will always have regrets.
And finally, I know that this story began with a nickel that someone lost – and so now, I’m going to be searching for a ‘penny’ – because we no longer have pennies in Canada. And if I find one dated 1969, I’ll save it because that was the year of my first broken heart. But then again, I probably won’t write about it because the wounds are still deep, almost 5o years later.
Correction: I know of one penny that might still be in circulation in Canada. – and that penny is the former Mrs. Vitale of Tony ‘n Tina’s Wedding fame – my dear friend Penny D., a gal actually from the Jersey Shore! I haven’t seen her for several years – I wonder how she’s doing? If you see her, tell her that Nunzio says hello!