Growing Up in Vienna – Part 3

A Small Town is a Close Town

When you live in a place as small as Vienna, you inevitably know most of the people, through school, sports, part time jobs, church or otherwise. This was certainly the case in my life. There are so many people that influenced me in one way or another and of course have left memories that I have had tucked away for many years.

Ruth Ann Horton, Pat McDonald, Francis Ryan and others were tasked with babysitting the “Wolfe kids”. I suspect Kim was a handful, but I was a quiet, respectful, obedient child :). That is my story and I’m sticking to it. When mom had her brain surgery and was hospitalized for several weeks, Audrey Roloson stayed with Kim and I for several weeks, likely helping mom around the house as well as babysitting.

Vern Soper was a standardbred horse owner, trainer and driver. I went to many races in London with dad, often with Gord Brackenbury or Vern’s brother Cliff along for the entertainment. I was allowed to bet on one race each occasion and one time won 11 dollars. I was so excited! I had already planned to buy a new hockey stick, when Gord told me it was customary to pay for dinner on the way home. My heart sunk, until he started to laugh – catastrophe averted.

John and Barb Csinos grew tobacco and were so very kind to our family. John and Barb had a boat and every year went to Lake Nippissing to vacation at Kervin’s Cottages (later owned by Larry and Vivian Fricker). We were invited to come for a week between planting and harvesting tobacco, in late June. Often Ted and Ruth Beattie and their family joined the fun. I recall many fish fries, laughter, swimming and my first chance to water ski. I think I was under the water more than on top, but eventually I mastered it. This no doubt helped to shape and nurture my love of the north.

I was friends with Bob Sofalvi and often stayed at their house as a young lad. I was in awe of the first colour tv I ever saw and I can still recall, watching Saturday afternoon baseball from Dodger Stadium, with the legendary Vin Scully calling the game. Bob’s mom was an awesome cook and I remember coming home and telling mom about the cool things I ate there.

There were the Bradt’s, the Causyn’s, the Thompson’s, the Neville’s, the Underhill’s – all of whom impacted my life in myriad ways.

Max Underhill did custom trucking like my dad, when I was small. But he was an entrepreneur of sorts as well. Max eventually started a fertilizer plant to service the local farmers, and built his own farming business into a large operation that is still run by his grandchildren. They were also a very kind and generous family. Max always called my Dad “Peewee”, for reasons unknown to me.

Gray and Audrey Thompson lived on “top of the hill”, not far from the Catholic school. I was friends with Paul for a long time as kids, before high school sent us in different directions. In the same way I was friends with Gary and Glenn McCurdy, twins and fellow sports nuts. Their dad built a skating rink in their back yard and on one occasion I took a puck to the head during our scrimmage. I was wearing a toque at the time, so aside from a little pain, I continued to play all day. When I got home, my toque was covered in blood and I needed a couple of stitches. I guess what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

I played fastball at 17, with the Port Burwell Vikings men’s team. I remember Bob Todd being a terrific pitcher and brother Doug could really throw a knuckleball. Larry Loucks and brother Gord were also very good players. Fastball had a huge following when we were kids. The Blue Jays started to change that, as hardball leagues for kids started to pop up.

As teenagers, several of us more passionate ball players got permission to build a hardball diamond behind the community centre. I recall taking dad’s tractor and harrows to the diamond to smooth it out. We eventually had lights installed. A pretty big undertaking for a small village and a bunch of ambitious kids. I was too old to play in the league but there was a bantam age team that played in the Southern Counties league.

Death – A Common Companion

Tragedy seemed a common thread in our little town. Aside from the accidents on the tunnel road,  there seemed to be more than our share of life altering moments. Car accidents and various other calamities changed the course of several families lives when I was growing up.

No Words to Comfort

I recall the Andrews parent’s had a terrible car accident in which Mrs Andrews perished. The Huber kids lost both parents in an equally tragic accident. Joe Racz died in an electrical accident when his corn elevator touched a power line.

My good friend Mike Underhill, perished in a barn fire at 19 years old (more on that another time). The Teall’s were touched by tragedy on more than one occasion and in fact adopted the Huber kids after their parents died, I believe. My friend John Teall passed away in his early 20’s from Hodgkin’s disease and his older brother Howard a few years later (2004) from another form of cancer. Their father George also died way too young. Ron Foris and at least one brother died in separate car accidents.

John Teall had married Josie Geurtjens before he passed, leaving her to grieve as a very young widow. Josie’s dad was a tobacco farmer and also died quite young. I played fastball with John Geurtjens, Josie’s bother. He was a very quiet guy with a kind smile – and hurt me more than once catching him. John was a big guy and had large hands as I recall. Playing a mean 3rd base, he threw a very heavy ball!

Linda Brown’s (Millard) dad died suddenly in 1976, as did Emil, Pete and Hannah Hartman’s father Arnold, when the kids were teens or young adults.

One of the Caswell’s died tragically when a tree fell on him while he was cutting wood

Ralph Honsinger passed at the young age of 53 – affecting both Wynne and Jim more then I ever knew at the time.

In grade 4, a school mate (I believe Sharon Gibbons) was pulled out of class – her dad had died suddenly.

My Aunt Grace Wolfe drowned after leaving the house for a walk, early one evening. After a frantic search they found her, but too late. It was a terribly sad moment.

Out of respect for the families and in the event my memory is not 100 percent clear, I will avoid details. These tragedies change you as a person. I can’t imagine how they may have impacted and shaped the lives of these families forevermore.

It seemed a lot for such a small village. Cancer seemed to be a constant companion. It has been suggested many times that there may have been a link to all the chemicals that were put on the tobacco plants, to manage the weeds and to make the plants grow stronger. Though there was plenty of speculation, nothing was ever proven conclusively – or at least acknowledged. Cancer is one of many horrible diseases that touch so many families.

The Dark Side

We are all the same

Today, racism and violence in the world is exposed through visual images on tv. It is hard to imagine how one human can treat another like that, just for being different. Growing up in a small village in the 60s seemed almost pollyannish looking back. But it wasn’t without its dark side. Biases run deep, and without being exposed to and accepting of different races, cultures and world views, we are doomed to repeat history.

Growing up in Vienna, we had limited exposure to real world issues. There was no cable tv, or satellite back then and only a handful of channels, all delivered via antenna and sometimes “rabbit ears” on top of the black and white tv. Programming ended at midnight and restarted in the morning. we were often limited to local news, unless some huge world event happened – like the assassination of JFK, or the moon landing.

There were no black people, no Asians, no gay people, no Jews, no one different from us, with an over zealous sense of self importance. I am ashamed to say that I heard racial and sexual slurs on a regular basis – and I may have been guilty myself from time to time.

“Your perception is your reality”, a wise friend once told me. Transient workers became targets of inebriated locals, trying to impose their superiority on the vulnerable. Quebecois were referred to as “frogs”. Feeding off each others testosterone, a Saturday night at the hotel could lead to a beating of an innocent transient worker, simply for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Not all my memories of growing up make me proud. But good fortune has blessed me with the ability to work and travel in different countries and be exposed to all walks of life. I am proud to say I have friends and colleagues from many races, cultures and sexual orientation. I have had the pleasure of sharing time and personal stories with many of these same people. These experiences have shaped my worldview to be much more accepting and indeed embracing of different cultures, religions and perspectives.

What I have learned is that we are all the same. Despite our skin colour, religious beliefs, or sexual orientation, we have the same hopes and dreams, fears and anxieties. Fathers and mothers worry about their kids future, no matter where they are from. Young people have the same hopes and dreams no matter their skin colour. I have learned that Muslim’s are kind and loving souls, as are Catholics, Protestants and Jews. They are just as horrified by the violence of extremism as we are.

I am proud of my roots, and will always have deep ties to Vienna. I am also blessed to have experienced a bigger world and embraced change. Life changes you. We all make mistakes, but if we learn from them, it is called experience.

We are not born to be unaccepting. We are taught to be unaccepting.

Viva la difference

16 responses to “Growing Up in Vienna – Part 3”

  1. Thank you for another well written look back at our very humble beginnings. You are so right, and it is so sad, how many we lost, too soon. Including my father, at just 53. I still can’t believe just how truly and incredibly naive I was when I left our little village at 18 years of age. Younger people today, with a world of information at their fingertips, couldn’t possibly understand how isolated and small our lives were in those times.

    • Hey Wynne,

      I completely forgot to add that to my post. I had it written and forgot – so I just added about your dad.

      Yes, we were pretty isolated – though we didn’t know it at the time. I remember Pete Hartman and others kicking the crap out of transient workers just because they could. It made me nauseous.


  2. Hi Kent you bring tears to me when I read this Wendy reminds us this past week of the passing of Mike May12 I often think back to all the great times we had growing up thank you take care

    • Hey Pat,

      I remember that day like it was yesterday. I drove like a madman with my Camaro to tell dad. He was working the fields. I was so emotional, I could barely see for tears. I still tear up when I think of Mike. I had his picture in my house for many years.


  3. As much as so many want to idolize those “simpler” times, and most of us think fondly of our childhoods in our little villages, I am glad you have also included the darker side. I too remember some of the casual violence and macho testosterone that era also included. Life is complex and varied.

  4. Hi Kent, as usual, your stories revive memories, both good and bad. A couple of corrections, or at least my different memories. I believe Ted Caswell was electrocuted when he stepped out of his dump truck while the load was tipped up, touching live hydro wires. It was a few years later when his son, Dave was killed by a falling tree branch while he was logging in the bush. Another son, Don, was killed in a car accident at the first bridge coming from Straffordville.
    I remember Arnold Hartmann well, but his kids were grown, married and had children when he passed. Emil and Arnold used to come to my store. I had a $1 bet with Emil over something, maybe a ball game. I lost, so I taped a dollar bill to the side of a box, folded the flaps over it and filled the box with shredded newspaper. Arnold and Emil both had a good laugh while trying to find the cash.
    Whether we have the same memories or not, thank you for bringing them to our attention. One memory brings forth so many others. It’s good to remember.
    P.S. I think I may have you confused with Kent Emerson. So you’re correct, we do not know each other.

    • Hi Erna,

      Thanks again for following along. I admit I may be foggy on a couple of details. It has been a long time and I certainly don’t want to get details wrong on tragic events. I’ll try to edit a little to account for my memory. I was pretty sure that Emil and Pete were teenagers, but wasn’t sure about Hannah. Emil and I are only a year or 2 apart.

      Thanks for the comments. It is important that I get as much right as possible when it comes to these things.


  5. Kent: You missed your calling, you should’ve been a writer. ( I guess maybe you are, but more professionally). I enjoy your stories, some of the people in your stories I recognize. Keep writing we will keep reading.

    • Hi Marilyn,

      It’s good to hear from you and thanks for reading. Not sure how good I am at this, but it mostly started as a retirement project and to give my kids some context around my life to look back on when I am no longer here (hope that’s not for a while lol).

      I have found that the more I write, the more I remember. An unintended benefit has been hearing from people that I have not heard from in decades. It’s been fun.

      Stay well.


  6. I enjoy these stories as well. Brings back a lot of memories. My father also died young at 50 after suffering for 10 years with multiple sclerosis. I remember hearing the news about Joe Ratz and 2 others being electrocuted by a freak accident. A lot of sad accidents and deaths for sure for such a small village. I still live next door to where I grew up longing about the good old days. We no longer have the baseball diamond you helped with. Our council at the time decided we didn’t need it for the kids. I remember being the antenna turner for the black and white tv lol

    • HI Pat,

      I always enjoy your comments. I didn’t know that about your dad, but I was likely pretty young. I really made me pause when I started writing this one, about how many people died of tragic circumstances. It really makes you reflect on how lucky we are, but also how much sadness we have endured in our lifetime.


  7. Great write up Kent, I to grew up in Vienna. My grandmother ran a restaurant there Kay Herron and my parents purchased the garage off of Ted and Ruth. I have been out of Vienna for years but never forget my roots. Thank you,

    • Thanks Trevor,

      I remember Kay well. As a little guy I used to go there for ice cream. I mentioned the restaurant in an earlier post, though I don’t recall them buying the garage, but I may have been gone by then.

      Thanks for reading and passing on your memories.


  8. Thanks for the reminders of our roots. I have won many a bet on my birth certificate as it states Vienna was my birth place! We had an idyllic childhood and I fell blessed to have grown up in such a beautiful place. Keep writing!!!

    • Thanks for reading Penny. I appreciate the feedback.

      I find the more I write, the more I remember. For a small village of 400 people there sure are a lot of memories to draw on.


  9. Many names that are familiar and many stories to be told. I am well aware of how the death angel spent too much time around Pitview Farms little community.

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