Wednesday, September 15, 2010


One item that was perennially on Ivaan's to-do list was to write a book.  He intended to call it The Cabbagetown Kid.  It was to be a collection of his stories about growing up in Cabbagetown.   Although I've heard the stories a dozen times, the closest we ever got to working on his book was buying him a portable tape recorder so he could dictate the stories.   He used the tape recorder to make notes of funny thoughts and interesting ideas he had during the day, and had me transcribe them into his journal every evening.  But he never got around to dictating the stories for The Cabbagetown Kid, so I think I'll tell some of the stories on his behalf.

Ivaan's parents bought a house at 42 Wyatt Avenue shortly after they moved to Toronto from Smoky Lake, Alberta.  The first winter in their new house was so cold that Ivaan sometimes stayed home from school, ripping up layers of old linoleum from the floors and burning it in the coal furnace to keep the pipes from freezing.  The basement had an earth floor.  Ivaan's father acquired a load of used bricks from a Tepperman Wreckers demolition site and had them delivered to their front yard.  Ivaan's job was to knock all the mortar off the bricks, and then build a basement floor out of them.  The hammer he used to break off the mortar wore out completely before he floor was completed and it too was thrown into the furnace.  His parents collected partial rolls of wallpaper and used them to paper the walls of the house.  Their father would bring home bags of over-ripe fruit and they would cut it up, discarding the inedible parts, and make fruit salad out of the rest.  Ivaan was an incredibly picky eater.  If he saw as much as a drop of oil floating on top of his bowl of borsch, he would refuse to touch it.  His mother despaired of getting him to eat.  In March of 1953, Ivaan was absent from school for ten consecutive days, suffering from what Dr. Volpe, their family doctor, described as "Spring Fever".  His prescription?  Keep him at home and feed him grapes.   The first food Ivaan remembers enjoying was a ham sandwich, prepared by the mother of his friends Len and Bo.  As a matter of fact, he enjoyed it so much, he asked her to make him another.  His mother, incredibly relieved and mortified at the same time, had to call Len and Bo's mother to ask what the sandwich was made of, so she could replicate it at home.

Ivaan was desperate to have school lunches like his classmates brought:  two pieces of white bread, spread lightly with mustard and nothing else.  He wanted pre-sliced bread, not thick hand-sliced European rye bread sandwiches prepared by his mother.  Ivaan's parents were not easily fooled.  They insisted that white sliced bread was not for sandwiches, it was only for the toaster, a fact which was clearly proven by the name on the plastic bread bag:  Toastmaster.  Ivaan's father was horrified by Canadian eating habits, particularly eating canned goods.  He told his children that Canadians were too lazy to chew, and that food in cans was pre-chewed.

In Part 2 of The Cabbagetown Kid, I'll tell you about  what accidentally became Ivaan's first paying job:  delivering vegetables.  I'll also tell you the story about Telephone Etiquette:  what Ivaan used to call the Pan Pilipenko Story.

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