Welcome to Wolfeish Musings, a forum to share stories of my life past and present, travels, anecdotes, experiences, insights, funny moments and more. I hope to keep the topics light and fun and possibly a little nostalgic. Perhaps it will spur others to share similar memories.
I grew up in a sleepy Southwestern Ontario village of about 400 people, in tobacco country. Originally called Shrewsbury, it was renamed Vienna by Samuel Edison (Grandfather of Thomas the inventor), who apparently felt it reminded him of Vienna, Austria. It is nestled in a valley on the edge of a meandering waterway called Otter Creek which flows into Lake Erie.
History buffs will tell you that at one time Vienna was a bustling town, chock full of many grist and lumber mills serving the surrounding area. Though hard to imagine today, Vienna was on the short list to be named the capital of Ontario, before a series of fires and floods ravaged the town on multiple occasions. When I was a small lad, it was simply home. It had a post office, a bank, 2 grocery stores, a hardware store, 2 garages, a thriving hotel where the locals could escape from reality from time to time and a barbershop/pool hall, all serving the local economy.
At 11 years old, my first official job was running the till and racking balls at Earl Smyth’s barber shop and pool hall. I was paid $.25/hr and all the pool I could play. It was not unusual for me to sell condoms – 3 to a pack – to local teenage boys feeling the testosterone pulsing through their extremities. I didn’t even know what a condom was at the time, but I knew it would hold a hell of a lot of water and you could ambush and soak unsuspecting targets if you played your cards right. At 50 cents a pack (about the same price as cigarettes), they were in high demand on a Friday night. For a buck, you could get both at the same time. Who knew there was a connection between sex and smokes? I figured there must be a party somewhere 😊
I have been called many nicknames…..Wolfie, Woofer, Wolfeman and Doc are some that stand out. For a brief time a co-worker called me Kunta Kinte, after the Roots character back in the 80s. My friend Rick Seys dubbed me Doc, and has never wavered from that. Most commonly I have been Woofer. Perhaps I will share the “Doc” story at some point.
Participation in sports often saddle us with nicknames that follow us for much of our lives. It’s a time honored tradition to have a moniker bestowed on you by your brothers or sisters in arms. My father had several…Peewee, Homer and Doc were 3 that I recall and it seemed to depend who he was with at the time, what he responded to. He never divulged the stories behind the nicknames before he passed way too early in life. His given name of Merlyn possibly made him a target for something catchy and unique.
My love of sports began early in life. In a small town, you had to play with bigger kids if you wanted to participate. I learned to skate on the local creek, playing with kids much older at times. I was introduced to fastball as a youngster and fell in love with the game– patterning myself after Pete Rose, the original Charlie Hustle – he of the head first slide. My knees took a beating – but in my mind I was a ferocious competitor and there was no other way to play than 100% effort – at times to my embarrassment. We played pick up soccer, touch football and scrub baseball all summer long. In the winter it was pond hockey every moment we could.
In my dreams I was a talented athlete, destined for the pros. Reality was different. I was an intense, hard working, undersized, middle of the pack player that dreamed of becoming more than I was capable of. Fortunately, those limitations didn’t dull my love for the game.
Eventually I turned to coaching as I got older and had kids of my own. For 25 years, I coached baseball, soccer and hockey (predominantly). Though I had successes as a coach, my intensity often became my achilles heal. It seemed I was always at odds with the officials, much to my detriment and that of the teams I coached at times. It was a lesson I learned much to late and I likely owe more than a few apologies to volunteers that gave their time to officiate minor sports.
Developing a Work Ethic
Growing up on a farm in those days was no picnic and dad was a tough task master. He grew up in the school of hard knocks and was determined to teach my sister and I that you only got out of life what you put in.
From early spring to late fall, there was work to do; plowing, discing, planting tobacco, hoeing weeds to allow the plants to grow strong, removing unwanted “suckers” from between the leaves and the stalk, “topping” each individual plant, to force it to stop growing taller and add weight to the leaves, priming, curing, and baling for eventual delivery to the market.
We were seldom allowed to sleep past 6:30am, rain or shine, searing heat or cold. Dad was a perfectionist and I wasn’t, so we were often at odds. It made for some difficult days, but there were no options. You were expected to contribute and pull your weight. He had a work ethic second to none and expected no less from us.
I recall one day when I had to take a load of grain to the local elevators – after a night out drinking with my friends. Dad made me get up at the usual time, and force fed me bacon and eggs along with a glass of milk. He said it would make me feel better. Well it certainly did! I had to pull over partway to my destination and throw up. Eventually I did feel better. These days no one would risk sending their kids on the road while still clearly under the influence. Back then, not getting the work done wasn’t an option.
As you get older you see things through a different lens. In retrospect I would not change a thing and it made me a better man. But there were times I thought I hated him – though of course I didn’t. I tried the same tactics on my kids growing up. I quickly discovered that in an urban setting there was no way to win that battle. Regardless, they all grew up with my dad’s work ethic, perhaps more as a result of DNA than my failed teachings. I’m sure at times they thought they hated me too – all part of being a good parent. If they don’t hate you at times, you aren’t trying hard enough. 😊