We had 2 elementary schools in Vienna – one Catholic and one Protestant. When my dad was a kid, there was a high school as well, adjacent to the public school. In the early years of public school, we used to do square dancing in the abandoned high school, for phys ed. In 1967, the high school was torn down and replaced with a brand new Community Centre. Friday night “teen town” dances were a regular occurrence and the scene of many budding romances and just maybe a little underage drinking. The drinking age was 21 at the time, was dropped briefly to 18 and in 1971 moved back to 19 where it remains today.
The elementary school had 4 classrooms, housing 2 grades to a each classroom. Most of the kids were bussed in from rural areas surrounding the village. I recall teachers like Barbara Bartlett, Kay Loft, Marni Weaver and Art Goethals…..and my mom as a supply teacher. It sucked having my mom at home and at school! Mrs Clark once gave me a whack over my knuckles with a ruler that I never forgot, or forgave. Perhaps surprisingly to some, I never got “the strap” – likely afraid that I would get it much worse when I got home. Those that got the strap at school, were often destined to get worse when they got home.
Doug Dutton, my first principal, reminded us to “watch our Ps and Qs” – to this day a curious phrase that I still don’t understand. In the winter months, if you were deemed to be acting out during recess, he would line up 2 rows of kids with snowballs and make you run the gauntlet, while you were pelted with snowballs. That would definitely not fly today. If I complained Dad would say, “Toughen up. It didn’t kill you.” I liked being the abuser rather than being the victim!
Dad was notorious for wielding his belt across the back of our knees as kids. Corporal punishment was not only accepted, it was expected back then. Kim and I would get into the odd scrap and when dad had enough of the arguing, he would inevitably take off his belt, signaling a whooping was about to unfold. Kim’s immediate instinct was to run. I learned it was better to take my medicine, as I quickly discovered he was more interested in catching her than hitting me. Apparently I was an early strategist.
The 2 schools did not mix much and I didn’t get to know many of the Catholic kids until we went to high school. That’s where my friendship with Rudy Gheysen blossomed and survived for over 50 years. Barb Csinos, Louie DeDecker, John Schwager and Rudy were some local kids that became friends from that tiny Catholic school on top of the hill.
On the other end of town, past the bridge toward Pt Burwell were a few homes dotted along the highway to the south. The Scott’s, Latimers, Bakers, and Clarkson’s were some of the families that inhabited south of the bridge. Garnett and Irene (“Toots”) Clarkson, were parents to my friend Dave and siblings John and Kim. Dave was the youngest guy I ever knew to have facial hair. I seem to recall that he could grow a full beard at 12 or 13 years old. Charismatic and quiet, he was a real ladies man as a teenager. I never knew where the name “Toots” came from and it was always a dilemma for me. Do I call her Mrs Clarkson, or Toots??? I’m pretty sure I went with Mrs Clarkson to be safe.
Not far from the Clarkson’s was a variety store, signaling the end of the village to the south. It was owned by several different families when I was growing up. A few hundred yards to the south was the “tunnel road”, that I referenced in an earlier post.
Ed Latimer had a huge impact on my professional life, though he may not be aware just how much. He was my boss when I worked at the local telephone company and gave me the confidence to try new things and to learn from my mistakes. Ed was instrumental in where I am today. I left Amtelecom (Aylmer and Malahide Telephone Company and now Eastlink) several times to try different ventures and Ed always welcomed me back. From professional advice, to putting his neck out to give me an opportunity, he always had my back.
In the early 80s and against many people’s advice, I left Bell Canada and moved to Nova Scotia to try my hand at sales in the school supply system (graduation rings, yearbooks, school photography). It was a horrible experience and I wanted to get back to Ontario badly. The east coast and the people were wonderful, but I quickly discovered I was not cut out for sales/cold calling. The move was very difficult on my wife and young son as well. Ed went out of his way to make a spot for me back home. I was so happy and swore to myself that I would never leave again.
As life would have it, fate intervened a year or 2 later and I was offered a job at Bell Canada that I didn’t feel I could turn down. I am sure Ed was disappointed and perhaps angry with me. I likely would have been as well, had the roles been reversed. Looking back, my career may have been much different had Ed Latimer not been part of it. A few years ago, I stopped to see him and his lovely wife Ruth Anne, to tell him how much I appreciated what he had done for me, though I am not sure I articulated it very well. I will be forever grateful for his friendship and guidance.
The 8 Pickell sisters and their mother lived in a small red tarpaper house close to the Latimer’s and near the bridge. I never knew their father. How they all managed to live in that little house was amazing to me. 9 women and only one bathroom??? Are you kidding me! Marie was my age, but I recall Cheryl, Linda and Gloria as well. I’m sure given time I would remember them all.
A Sporting Kind of Town
As I grew older, I always seemed to be in the middle of organizing something. Don’t have a ball diamond? Let’s build one. Don’t have a basketball court? Let’s figure it out. Maybe it was a harbinger of my career yet to unfold.
I have been friends with Wynne Honsinger even longer than Rudy. Wynne was instrumental in basketball nets being installed at the park and spent hours shooting hoops with Dale McCurdy and others. Through sheer determination, he turned out to be a reasonably good basketball player, and both a fine golfer and billiards player. He was also the brother of my future bother-in-law, Jim Honsinger. Quietly efficient might be a good way to describe his sporting prowess. He had the right temperament and patience to master those sports much better than I.
For a small village, we had lots of aspiring athletes, at least as far as local sports went. Of course there was no internet then and we had only 5 or 6 tv channels. We didn’t have a colour tv until I was about 10 or 11. As a result we had to make our own fun, and more times than not, it involved sports.
Ron McCurdy, Ivan Lockey and Ted Kennedy were often involved coaching kids in fastball, organizing and even driving us to other small towns for games. I played with a number of talented guys over the years like Leon Passmore, Kelvin Lockey, Gary Mattsche, Greg Volkaert and Brian Procunier. I’m pretty sure I made it uncomfortable at times for our catcher Rick DeClerq, with my throws home from right field.
We played hockey on the Otter Creek or Palmer’s Pond – an irrigation pond about a mile’s walk away. We could be seen walking with our skates, togues, gloves, snow shovels, and pucks, as we met together at a time and location previously agreed upon – no email or texting then – sheesh it would have been considered a fantasy in those days. Parents didn’t seem to be too concerned if we were gone for hours at a time. Saturday’s, a bus came through town to take us to Tillsonburg to the arena for public skating. If you were lucky you might get to hold a girls hand and dream about a kiss on the cheek.
I grew passionate about sports and spent as much time as I possibly could playing, strategizing, idolizing and mimicking my heroes. Much to my chagrin and constant ribbing, I have been a lifelong Maple Leafs fan and idolized Dave Keon. Somewhat embarrassingly, I am old enough to remember their last Stanley Cup and can still recite most of the names on that team.
Before the Blue Jays, I was a Minnesota Twins fan for some unknown reason even though I tried to emulate Pete Rose as a player. I was a slap hitter, ALWAYS slid headfirst and had decent speed on the basepaths and until I hurt my arm in my early 20s, a pretty strong and accurate outfield arm. That speed helped me in hockey as well. But as the saying goes “I had million dollar wheels and a 10 cent brain”. No one missed more breakaways, hit more posts or tripped over more bluelines than I did. It’s likely why I became an “oldtimer” and not an “all timer”.
Of course interests evolve and friends come and go as a result. Elementary school soon turned to high school and we were bussed to Tillsonburg to further our education. I trudged down the hill from the farm to the bus stop in front of Brown’s Hardware every day to catch the bus. It was not cool to tuck your shirt in, or button up your jacket, even in the winter. So I tried to beat the system by waiting till the last minute before undoing my jacket, so no one knew.
Along with a new school came new friends, first loves and expanded opportunities to play sports. I played fastball in the summer, hockey in the winter, ran cross country in the fall and played high school soccer in the spring.
I got my drivers license the day I turned 16 and within a year or 2, was driving my own car – a green 1967 Pontiac Parisienne, with which I paid $1700 of my hard earned tobacco money. Getting a drivers licence wasn’t as complicated as it is today. I had been driving tractors and farm vehicles since I was 11, so driving was far from new to me. I constantly filled up from the farm tanks, until one day dad told me I couldn’t anymore. I had to pay my own way like everyone else. I was indignant!! “But the gas is right here and free.” Growing up is hard. 😊I recall gas being about 35 cents/gallon at the time – a long way from $1.80/litre today.
With teenage years unfolding in front of us, girlfriends, part time jobs and sports became a busy part of our lives. I worked at KFC one fall during high school and hated it. What a greasy mess to clean up every night before closing! Some jerk would inevitably come in just before locking up, to keep you there longer. People that work in the service business deserve our respect and maybe a medal!
I played minor hockey in Tillsonburg and was blessed to have many volunteers coach our teams. I never forgot how selfless these people were to give of their time and to help shape my life.
Dick Cowell was the best hockey coach I ever had, He taught me so much about about the game and the strategy and commitment that goes into coaching. I credit him for planting the desire in me to emulate him for many years after. I doubt I ever came close to his knowledge of the game, but I enjoyed coaching a variety of teams for many years. I hope I was able to offer some positive life experiences to a few young men and women, like others did for me.
As teenagers, we drove to games all over SouthWestern Ontario, from Hickson to Highgate and from Kingsville to Kemptville. Hockey trips were from Dunneville to Dresden and every town in between. Our parents were seemingly unconcerned with us driving in all kinds of weather, periodically offering “be careful” as we piled into the car in the middle of a snowstorm.
Many of my relationships have been developed as a result of sports – either playing or coaching – not to mention many of my most cherished memories.
Growing up in Vienna has been a topic of discussion many times throughout my life. In many cases, people from the city can’t fathom living is such a small town.
I believe it shapes you to be creative, determined and entrepreneurial .