Wednesday, September 15, 2010

THE CABBAGETOWN KID, PART 2: Vegetable Delivery and The Pan Pilipenko Story

A favourite activity of the boys on Wyatt Avenue was to hitch a ride on the back bumper of the vegetable delivery truck.  This truck, which went slowly through the neighbourhood once a week, delivered fresh fruit and vegetables to homes along the delivery route, sometimes stopping to make "cold calls" on the off-chance that the lady of the house might need a basket of apples or a bag of potatoes.  If there were few deliveries to make on a particular street, the truck would pick up speed, but generally it was a slow-moving vehicle.  One Saturday morning when Ivaan was about eight, he jumped onto the rear bumper of the vegetable truck, holding on to the back railing, unbeknownst to the driver, just for the pleasure of a ride down their short street. However, the vehicle picked up speed, turned one corner, then another, and before long Ivaan was in unfamiliar territory.  The driver, glancing in the rear view mirror, eventually noticed his young stowaway and decided to put him to work.  The truck would stop at various homes and Ivaan would hop out of the rear of the truck, where he'd been assembling the next customer's order, deliver it to the door, collect payment and bring it back to the driver,  who would give him instructions about the upcoming order.  By lunchtime, both the driver and Ivaan had worked up an appetite, so the driver went into a restaurant and came out with two fried egg sandwiches.  At home, Ivaan would never have eaten a fried egg sandwich, but out in the fresh air, after a good morning's work, he had a hearty appetite, and enjoyed every mouthful.

Work continued until about four in the afternoon, when a police cruiser pulled up beside the vegetable delivery truck, and the officers asked the driver if he'd seen a dark-haired skinny kid about eight years old.  The driver turned his assistant over to the cops, but not before paying him his wages in full:  a dime.  Ivaan rode home in the police cruiser, to the relief, and then the wrath, of his mother, who promptly confiscated his hard-earned wages.  After all, ten cents was ten cents.  The story ended with a line with which Ivaan concluded most of his Cabbagetown stories:  "And then my mother KILLED me", he'd say.  "She killed me to DEATH".

Soon after moving into 42 Wyatt Avenue, the Kotulsky family got their own telephone.   This was in the early 1950s, and not every home had a phone of their own.  But the Kotulsky family was active in the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and community, so having a telephone enabled them to keep in touch with friends.  Another feature of immigrant life was evening classes for adults, to help them adapt to life in their new community,  by teaching English language basics and other life skills.  It was at one of these evening classes that Ivaan's father learned Proper Telephone Etiquette, and he was anxious to pass on this new-found knowledge to his wife and children.  So one Saturday afternoon, he gathered the family together -  his wife,  their daughter Nadia, and Ivaan - for an instructional session on the correct protocol for using their new telephone.  He demonstrated how to answer the telephone, in English and Ukrainian.  He pointed out that it was not necessary to shout into the mouthpiece.  He showed them proper dialling technique.  And then the family was ready for the big moment, actually placing a call to his friend, Pan Pilipenko.  (The title "Pan" is the Ukrainian equivalent of "Mr." )  He cleared his throat.  He dialled.  The phone could be heard ringing at the other end.  A voice answered.  Ivaan's father, enunciating clearly, replied, "Dobrii Vechir (Good afternoon).  Pan Pilipenko?"  He continued in English:   "Oh, sorry.  Wrong number." And, rather dismayed,  hung up the receiver.

That was the end of the family's lessons in telephone etiquette, but even decades later, Ivaan could be reduced to fits of helpless laughter, just by hearing the name Pilipenko, or hearing someone say, "Sorry, wrong number."

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