By Rita Joan Dozlaw
Before immigrating to Canada from the Deep South, my grandma lived with us. For her comfort, daddy transformed our dining room into a private sanctuary for her. From outside her French door, I heard her say thank you a lot. I also often heard her apologize to my mother, “I’m so sorry, dear.” I wondered what she was always so sorry about.
Two dining room chairs graced grandma’s room. One had a custom-made cavity encasing a hidden shelf. The seat over the cavity was an ornately carved lid which you sat upon. Inside the chair, on that hidden shelf, sat a hand-painted, decorative wash basin which could be slipped in and out easily. It was a clever design. Grandma sat on her special chair like a fine lady. When I saw mother dump something down the toilet from that elegantly-painted bowl, I finally understood why grandma was so terribly sorry all the time. The beautiful bowl was grandma’s elaborate chamber pot/commode. It soon became my task to hold the door open for mother to hastily and gingerly go through… so as not to spill or splash a single drop.
The year I turned nine, we all waited on the tarmac to catch a plane to the foreign country of Canada.
I missed our no-show grandma and asked where she was. “Your old granny’s gone, dear.” I learned of death for the first time. In so many ways, the rite of passage haunted me.
In dreary Toronto, we lived on the ground floor of a three-story house on Spadina Road. My step brothers shared a room, and we three sisters slept on three twin-size beds lined side by side against a wall. Our mother called the room, “the girls’ dormitory.”
Winter was cruel in Toronto, but there was no way my fastidious southern mother would put her darling girls in hideous long brown stockings. We wore skimpy ankle socks so, on that first winter of 1950, our legs and toes froze. The following winters, bulky jackets, ugly leggings and babushkas or scratchy woolen kerchiefs kept us warm.
Before walking to our new school, mother commanded, “Your school is Huron Street School. Don’t let me ever hear you say urine street school!” Nevertheless, we taunted each other, “You’re going to urine street, na na nana na.” On our way, we collected tinfoil from inside discarded cigarette packages and made Christmas ornaments from it. Our shiny scrunched up balls of foil smelled like cigarettes. My younger sister started smoking as a kid—must’ve liked the smell of the tinfoil a little too much.
As a teen, I dated every Tom, Dick n’ … no, I didn’t like Harry. And then along came Jack who “robbed the cradle”, or so my daddy said. Before my parents returned to the U.S.A., they bought me a wedding gown and gave their blessing to the Canadian guy us kids called ‘Jack of all trades’ who, my parents said, took me off their hands. Jack and I married in a small chapel in May of 1959, and our three little Canucks were born in the ‘60s. To celebrate my all-Canadian family, I made a wonderful personal decision. I took out my own Canadian citizenship, one cheery autumn day, which I celebrate with pride every October.
Today Rita Joan Dozlaw and her husband live in the Thompson-Okanagan.
She is a regular contributer to the North Thompson Star/Journal.