"The Great Student Sit-in Swings On," blazoned the full-page headline of the Friday, February 23, 1968, edition of the Toronto Telegram. The photograph accompanying the story was dramatic. Spread over the full width of a page, it showed a mass of students gathered in OCA's auditorium. In the centre a number of students were playing their guitars. Most were smiling. The caption read, "Some students play guitar, others play cards or Chinese checkers as the Ontario College of Art student sit-in attracts 600 demonstrators to the combination cafeteria-auditorium yesterday." I was my first taste of the media's abilility to manipulate truth.
The story itself began with a sub-head of, "500 still boycotting their classes." The story was written by Robert Sutton, a Telegram staff reporter.
The furor all began when OCA principal Sydney Watson fired long-service teachers Aba Bayefsky and Eric Freifeld, whose appointments commented Watson, "were impossible." Both Bayefsky and Freifeld claimed secret deals were being forged by college management to drastically alter the drawing and painting curriculum. Both were summoned to the principal's office and given sealed envelopes in the presence of all department heads and a student council representative. Inside the envelopes were their dismissal notices. Drawing and painting students alleged that their number of hours of instruction were to be cut to a point in which the course would become meaningless. Principal Watson denied any such secret curriculum deals and the fight was on. Many claimed the resulting protest had the support of eighty percent of the student body. Student leaders from the University of Toronto, York University, Ryerson, Centennial College, and Glendon College, agreed to meet and offer support for the OCA protest. Brian Switzman, vice-president of the Canadian Union of Students, pledged support of other student-faculty groups. The "sit-in" was on, after all, this was the sixties and sit-ins were very popular. Principal Watson faced angry protesters and mass picket lines according to the newspaper report. The truth, however, was that only about 120 members of the drawing and painting department objected to the administration's curriculum changes. These 120 represented no more than ten percent of the college's 1030 students. In fact, the whole process of curriculum change had been democratically presented by the student council as part of an overall reform proposal. Drawing and painting students, however, were not represented because drawing and paintings students, by their own choice, had remained absent from participating in the student council. For some reason they did not want to be part of the democratic process for curriculum reform.
The student protest did not fare well with Toronto's business community either.
One Toronto design firm jumped at the opportunity of free publicity by publically claiming that OCA graduates were worthless. Hugh Spencer of Arthur & Spencer Ltd., sympathized with the student uprising and pronounced, "I can't afford to hire Ontario College of Art graduates because they are of no commercial value." He made another even bolder claim that OCA "had become isolated from the mainstream of life." It was a cheap shot based on media hype about a protest that was essentially the doings of a small group of students who had chosen not to resolve matters democratically. Most students featured in the impressive photograph of that day's Telegram knew little about what was going on. Most students were in the auditorium only to have lunch and no doubt as an added attraction, enjoy a rather festive break in current events. Many students, as well as members of management and faculty and other college associations, condemned the demonstrations.
When a protest march was organized to travel to the Ontario Legislature just a few blocks from OCA, the event drew many students simply because it looked like an anti-war demonstration complete with a ceremonial black coffin. It was "in" to march in any anti-war demonstration during those years. It made for good media as well as a great way to spend an afternoon away from classes. Some thought the unexpected revelry of the protest would get a spot in Canada's history books. We never got that spot. Most of us have forgotten the march.
I was too busy with my yearbook.
I was able to recall all these details with accuracy because I still have that page from the Toronto Telegram in my personal files. My experience with media manipulation was educational to say the least, because at the time, I knew many of the students in the photograph and they were not protesting. They were having lunch. It was more like a "mass eat-in," an event that occurred in our college every noon hour. If you look carefully at the photograph, there are three students standing at the back of the "Great Sit-in." They were Barry Grant, a female student whose name escapes me, and myself. The three of us were on our way to the yearbook production room under the stage. The only way to get there was through the auditorium.
We were frozen in a press photographer's attempt to create an impressive panorama for a protest that never really was. About a month later, despite reports by a local businessman that the college was "bankrupt of thought in the curriculum," as he boasted that his five European-trained designers employed by his firm were far superior, the Ontario College of Art, that infamous rebel art school, presented the local, national, and international design community, with an award-winning yearbook that silenced many critics and boosted each OCA graduate's chance to get a job and build a successful career in the visual arts.
Swiss Chalet and the Imperial Theatre
Amidst a very busy schedule of studio work and study at OCA, I was able to spend at least every other Saturday with Alice. Usually, she came to the city from Burlington, just west of Toronto. Our dates were wonderfully simple and romantically predictable. I lived just a few city blocks from a downtown Greyhound bus terminal at Dundas and Bay Street. By late afternoon Alice arrived and as we stood and embraced each other on the bus platform, it seemed like an episode from one of those hopelessly romantic, Hollywood, black & white movies. Momentarily caught, as if in the viewfinder of a motion-picture camera, we held each other. Around us the noise and clatter of buses, pedestrians, luggage carts, and PA systems, just didn't seem to matter. Puffs of steam and exhaust filled the air. Short of having a sunset to ride into, we held hands, walked close together, and headed towards Yonge Street. One large block over and about half a block up Yonge Street was the city's first and only Swiss Chalet Restaurant. Today the restaurant is a national chain bearing little resemblance to the actual Swiss Chalet on Yonge Street in 1965. Complete with decor and a staff dresscode that somehow made you think of the Swiss Alps, the restaurant was our favourite spot "on the strip." It was huge. Tables and booths had plenty of room for my long legs, and the food was generous and delicious. How can I ever forget their chicken dinners, great fries, and "Swiss Chalet sauce" for dipping. Over thirty years later, Swiss Chalet opened in Nanaimo, British Columbia. I knew the manager Mark Timpson, because he had worked for me as master chef in charge of a luxurious buffet diningroom at the Chemainus Theatre. The day I told Mark my story of the first Swiss Chalet on Yonge street, happened to be the day the manager from head office in Toronto was visiting Nanaimo. I got to tell him my story as well. He was so overwhelmed, he told all the staff about our dates and offered my entire family dinner "on the house".
Yonge Street was a busy, charismatic, and vibrant place in the sixties. You could not take a single step without avoiding sixties rock music pouring from loudspeakers everywhere. Every other establishment, at least so it seemed, was a café or club. After dinner we walked hand in hand down Yonge Street towards the Imperial Theatre. The Imperial was a grand movie theatre in the style and tradition of theatres long ago. Years later the Imperial would capitulate to a number of multi-screen, shoebox enclosures, a far cry from the original Imperial. But in 1965, the Imperial was imperial indeed. After we walked a modest incline at the entrance of the theatre, we came upon a huge staircase that wound majestically up the side of a grand foyer to land on a spaceous second floor. There we found our favourite spot snuggled reasonably close to the back. Yes, I admit, in the darkness of that theatre we stole many a kiss. Being of Dutch, meaning frugal background, however, I also made sure I caught most of the movie. After all, I did pay for the feature. Needless to say, Alice was worth every dollar. I remember that the whole affair of dinner and a movie for two was just about ten dollars. After our movie we made our way to the nearest subway stop from where we rode north to the end of the line only to catch a bus to where Alice's brother John lived. Usually I dropped Alice off, hoping to see her again the following morning when I took her back to the bus station. Sometimes she stayed a bit longer and we went to church together. We had perfected the art of sitting upright in our pew, looking perfectly pious, yet able to hold hands without being detected by those "devil-behind-glass" elders. Occasionally, when a date got too late and busses were no longer running, or we just missed the last one, I stayed at John's place as well. There was always a decent couch to sleep on. I remember feeling particularly daring knowing that Alice was sound asleep in the next room - with the door closed.
Even though I often shared my joys of meeting Alice with my classmates, our relationship remained very private. After all, Alice still attended highschool in Hamilton, while I was a college student.
Those rare times when my friends at OCA got to meet Alice, were very special. It seemed as if the entire class had fallen in love with her. Perhaps it was the novelty that she was neither a fellow student nor an artist. No doubt it was her blond hair, her shy disposition among all these college students, and her youthful looks, that captured their hearts. She was only sixteen when I first met her. As an artist I was caught up in a student's world of artistic temperament, forever philosophizing about the world's woes and our creative solutions to solve every problem. They were heady years. Alice seemed untouched by our artistic rhetoric and therefore had a sense of innocence about her, which made her even more attractive. Our favourite rendezvous was the Royal Ontario Museum. On a couple of occasions, her highschool class made the trip from Hamilton to Toronto, for a tour of the ROM. Both times fell on a Monday, precisely the day I had lectures at the museum as well as hours of drawing artifacts deep within the bowels of the museum's galleries. Lunch as usual, was in a crowded cafeteria-style room in the basement of the ROM. There our eyes would meet. Under the cautious and watchful glare of her teachers, Alice introduced me to her school friends and I introduced Alice to my college friends. For a brief moment cultures clashed as long-haired, hippy and "artsie" types, met clean-cut, well-groomed highschool types from the Hamilton District Christian Highschool. One can imagine the consternation the next day at school when Alice was asked to come to the principal's office.
"Who was that young man we saw you with at the ROM?" the inquisitors pried.
"Do you not know it is school policy that you cannot fraternize like that?"
"But he is my boyfriend," answered Alice.
Gasp-choke-catch-my-breath sounds eminated from the pricipal.
He breathed heavily.
"He is your boyfriend?
"Do your parents know? And who is this young man? He looks a lot older than you."
"Sure, my parents know him. They approve of our dating. He is Gerrit Verstraete and he is a confessed member of the First Christian Reformed Church of Taunton Road in Toronto, and a student at the Ontario College of Art."
A collective sigh heaved through the room. At least the principal was assured that despite this young man's "artsie" look and long hair, Gerrit Verstraete was one of the chosen, the predestined few. As an added bonus, the principal, and by noon no doubt the entire teaching staff, were assured, Gerrit Verstraete was also Dutch.
Praise God he wasn't one of those Canadians.
In the weeks and months that followed, whenever I was caught daydreaming during studio sessions in college, or when I sat staring in the school's front hallway, pretending to read the student union newspaper, they knew I was probably somewhere in my thoughts in Burlington. They walked past me and smiled. It was so obvious I had fallen in love.
I have often thought of those days and wondered why in God's plan, life after college had to change and become complicated. College life was innocent and simple. Falling in love was like flying with the eagles far above "the maddening crowd." Even though there were some rough moments when funds ran out and my next bursary had not yet been approved, there always were Alice and my friends for comfort. I also did not relish the thought of leaving Alice at the schoolyear's end to return to my summer job in Wallaceburg. Whether my school friends fought or got along, or when my best friend betrayed me, as well as stole my banjo, the OCA years were a bit of heaven on earth. Life was simple. Fellowship with friends and fellow students was warm and generous. The college was small enough that we all got a real sense of family. Most were in the same predicament with never enough time to finish projects, never enough sleep to keep up with weekends and parties, and never enough money. A few had rich parents. Their sons and daughters came to school in fancy cars and threw lavish parties. Most of us, however, were artists in every sense of the word: broke, in need of a decent home-cooked meal, and always looking for less expensive art supplies. Yet, they were good years.
As complicated as life became with children, mortgages, jobs, traumas and triumphs, and as uniquely blessed they all were, the OCA years stand as a very special "season" in my life. For four years I enjoyed my season of growing up as a young adult, free from the tethers of home and a Dutch immigrant church, and free to experience the pounding heartbeat of city life. My thoughts still wander to Yonge Street, Swiss Chalet, City Hall, and the infamous "Archer" sculpture by Henry Moore. I still fondly remember downtown alleyways as I explored and sketched my way through "field research" classes, Chinatown, the Imperial Theatre, the Grange Park behind the college, endless hours at the Royal Ontario Museum, "philosphers' walk" at the University of Toronto, and the Art Gallery of Ontario. Fish and chips from any of the curbside vendors and rumbling rides on TTC's ( Toronto Transit Commission ) Red Rockets, I will never forget. I also thoroughly enjoyed a week each year at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair. For one glorious week we were released from all studio classes to spend days sketching at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair, held each fall on the grounds of the Canadian National Exhibition. Each day was special. Each day meant comradery with fellow students as we traveled in groups. Each day we spread ourselves over the fair grounds to sketch and paint horses, cattle, wagons, vegetables, butter sculptures, old horse carriages, farm equipment, and crowds of willing people. OCA students were as much a feature attraction during that week, as were all the blue-ribbon competitions. The following week, we all gathered our bundles of sketches and submitted them in a bulky portfolio to be marked by a group of art instructors. Unless a student purposely chose to waste his or her time and take the week "off," it was virtually impossible to get a bad grade. Favourable grades were first of all determined by the degree of ambition and commitment we demonstrated in producing a week's volume of sketches. Quality of work, although important, was not nearly as important as quantity with a clear demonstration that we spent the week observing and learning. During the sixties the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair also featured many displays of free and delicious food as well as demonstrations by a variety of consumer product companies. I never packed a lunch because the fair's merchants offered plenty of free pizza slices, farmers' sausages, buttery deserts, and freshly-squeezed orange juice, from an abundance of kitchen-gadget demonstrations.
Some students created virtual masterpieces by producing huge oils and watercolour paintings instead of a bundle of sketches. They too received good grades. But I was not as confident in my early years as a student artist. Without any family or church support for the arts, I was too preoccupied to think career and getting a decent and well-paying job than to concern myself with the true heart of an artist. That would have to wait another twenty-five years. Yet, I threw myself into the joys and challenges of the annual winter fair. Each year my portfolio of work earned a resounding A. Sadly most of those drawings were lost or destroyed.
On the first day of college in 1964, I attended a lecture at the Royal Ontario Museum. After the lecture we were instructed to go to the Oriental displays and find a place to squat on the floor. For the rest of that morning we had to sketch ancient Chinaware, with the intent of painting a finished "plate" at home and on our own time. I was petrified. What if all these students were really good and I had only imagined my artistic skills based on some highschool yearbook and some coloured chalk murals on the cafeteria blackboard? Would I be able to face the embarrassment as all these student Michelangelos, da Vincis and Rembrandts, were to see my first feeble attempt at art? I did not dare draw a single line on my paper. After an hour of fumbling with my art supplies, I got up enough courage to walk around and look at the work of the other students. I breathed a big sigh of relief when I saw the quality and skill of their work.
"I can do that," I said to myself.
Confident I could match their abilities, I set out to sketch my plate. The next day I finished the drawing in shades of blue guache. Trembling I handed in my first assignment of my OCA adventure, and the first of hundreds of projects and assignments to follow during the next four years.
My China plate in blue received an A.
Since graduation in 1968, I have often returned to my college home. Somehow I could never quite leave the place. Call me an old romantic, but for the first time in my life, during the four years I attended the Ontario College of Art, now the Ontario College of Art & Design, I tasted the joy of creating a work of art and the pleasure of knowing I could make things beautiful. Whether I parked my car in front of the college or just around the corner at the University Settlement Building, where I used to swim and shower during my college years, it was as if I could walk back through time. I will always remember the swing of certain hallway doors and the look and feel of each floor as various departments took up residency there. The cafeteria has not changed much. Perhaps my foil and wax projectile is still stuck on its ceiling.
During the years when I owned an advertising agency I got to know David Owen Campbell, a special OCA instructor and Canadian drawing master. He was teaching evening life drawing classes and I needed a place to draw. We became friends and every Wednesday evening I joined his group to draw the human figure. He was then and remains to this day an excellent instructor. The opportunity to draw with David was a welcome relief from the hectic life of owning and running a business, a business that managed some twenty-six employees, with offices in Toronto and Ottawa, and a production schedule that made my infamous year as editor and designer of the college's yearbook look like childsplay. No sooner had five o'clock rolled around when I closed my office door. Within minutes I changed from suit, jacket and tie, into bluejeans and an old sweatshirt. Lacking a phonebooth in which to change I nevertheless changed from "adman" to "artman." I was careful not to schedule heavy meetings for late afternoon on Wednesdays. Quick to jump in my sporty Chevy Camaro, I left the office parking lot and made it within five minutes to my favourite mom-and-pop fish & chip store. Shortly afterwards I raced downtown, with the aroma of fish and chips filling my car with great appetite. I had to get to the college no later than six o'clock. The reason of course, was a practical one. After six, parking was not only plenty but free. However, if you came just five minutes too late there was not a parking spot to be found within blocks. Proximity to the Art Gallery of Ontario meant that on most nights Torontonians were cruising the streets looking for a spot to park in order to attend the latest exhibition of fine art at the AGO. Precisely at six I parked right in front of the college. That left a luxurious hour in which to savour my fish and chips and listen to the radio. "The World at Six" on CBC always had interesting stories. After all, next to home, my Camaro was a sanctuary where I spent many hours commuting back and forth to my downtown office, as well as endless hours of driving to Ottawa, New York, Michigan, Buffalo, and throughout southern Ontario. Flying was simply not a preferred choice of travel, for reasons I will explain later in my "Mid-Seventies Crisis".
The evening session with David and his students started at seven o'clock. Three hours later I left the building satisfied I had spent three quality hours of exhaustive figure drawing. For those who think drawing the human figure is a vain pursuit of art and at best an opportune time to stare at naked bodies, their lack of understanding and appreciation of the rigours and disciplines required to draw the most complicated yet most rewarding of all subjects, namely the human form, is evidence of an uncultured mind. I was taught during my OCA years, that if I could master drawing the human form, I could draw anything. I have lived to draw the human figure professionally for over three decades. My instructors were right. I can draw anything, with or without models, from memory or from direct observation. Later, as I spent many years drawing countless hundreds if not thousands of colourful cartoons for audio-visual presentations to be used in our ad agency's well-known "business theatre" productions, I came to fully appreciate my hours of drawing on Wednesday evenings and the discipline of quality art training at college.
I must close this chapter about the Ontario College of Art, for fear of slipping into some endless dream from which I choose not to awaken. Many stories and people remain locked in the files of my conscious and sub-conscious. Many I hope will continue to surface as a testimony to a time in my life worth every breath I gave it. Most assuredly, there were difficult times during those college years, but the years following OCA somehow managed to weed these times from memory, leaving only a bountiful harvest of good thoughts and memories to fill the picture albums of my student life. As I awake from my dreams, life continues to knock on my door. There is still much work to be done, masterpieces to create, spiritual truths to teach, and disciples to counsel, as well as budding artists to encourage, a wife and family to love and cherish, friends to love all over again, and all good reasons to wake up from my nostalgic slumber. To sleep is a waste. I aim to live and love my daylight hours to the fullest of my ability and strength, God helping me.
December 16, 1967
A Special Canadian Centennial Project
I want you to imagine this day like an Impressionist painting, as if Van Gogh or Cézanne had brushed thick strokes of vibrant colours onto a canvas lit by a brilliant sun. December 16, 1967, dawned as a very special day in my life. It was the day I married Alice Koops, the same year during which Canada celebrated her one-hundredth birthday. The day of our wedding was a palette of rich colours whose texture was the emotions and feelings that ran freely through our veins that day. Our wedding was about as homegrown as one could get. Together, we had planned this day for many months hoping somehow to manage on the smallest budget possible. Alice's father first objected to our wedding because I was still in college, about halfway through my fourth and final year of study. He was convinced marriage would adversely affect my studies. I assured Lukas and Aleida Koops that my fourth year was guaranteed to be an honours year because of my work on the art college's yearbook. My parents, Chris and Cornelia Verstraete, had already given their blessing months earlier. Alice began to buy bridal magazines leaving copies strategically placed on the family coffeetable. It took a while, but soon the tide turned towards genuine enthusiasm about our marriage. Alice was the last of six children in her family to get married; I was the first of seven. Alice's parents would have no one left to talk to besides themselves. My father and mother still had four at home and two away at college. Alice's maid-of-honour was her highschool friend Jill Vokes and my best man was my college chum, Peter de Haan.
To ensure we met our budget, we designed and baked our own wedding cake. Alice's sisters created the dresses for the bridal party, except for Alice's wedding dress which she bought at Eaton's department store. Peter's ensemble and my groom's suit were rented tuxedos. The service was held at the First Christian Reformed Church on Taunton Road in Toronto. Our pastor was Dr. Remkes Kooistra, a learned man and true friend of college and university students. He even made the trip downtown to visit Peter and I in our barren, third-floor, L-shaped room on John Street, during our first year at OCA. The entire wedding party was a joyful bunch of bridesmaids, flower girls, ushers and ringbearers, who were most of Alice's nieces and nephews, including Alice-Linda, Irene, Annette, Debbie, Luke, Richard, and Kim. My youngest sister Ingrid was the only Verstraete in the bridal party. My entire family lived in Wallaceburg, some three hours driving distance away, which would have made involvement in the wedding ceremony impractical. Everyone assembled for the momentous event. I was so thrilled at the prospect of marrying Alice, I in
vited as many college friends and classmates I knew to the wedding. Those who were part of my photography class became unofficial photographers for the day. I bought a bag full of film and told all of my photography friends to bring their cameras and shoot as many black and white pictures as time allowed. They gave the exposed film to me after the wedding. Alice's brother-in-law, Jake Ronda was the official photographer. Most of his pictures ended up having red eyes.
Little Debbie, the ring-bearer, promptly lost control of the rings that had been fastened to a small satin pillow. As she entered the church, one ring fell off the pillow and rolled a long, noisy and zigzag path along the floor until it was ceremoniously scooped up by one the the attendants. In the end, we assembled a large number of wonderful candid shots of the wedding. The most impressive of all pictures was a black and white shot of Alice and I walking down the isle, as husband and wife, and led by Dr. Remkes Kooistra towards the exit of the church. It looked like one of those unique press photographs from the journalistic archives of Life magazine. Despite the fact that the "official" photographs all suffered from "red-eye," at least in these black and white pictures, the bride was beautiful. As an Impressionist painting, she was beautiful in her white dress adorned with soft white daisies, the official flower of the wedding. The bridal party was dressed in royal-blue velvet and the maid-of-honour in a royal-blue velvet, aqua-blue "empire-waist" dress. Empire-waist dresses were the height of British pop fashion in those days. All the young female stars of the music industry wore them. Alice bore an uncanny resemblance to British pop singer, Marianne Faithful, with her long blond hair and wide bangs cut straight just above the eyebrows. I must admit, I looked rather dashing too in a black tuxedo and long hair. My long hair touched just above the collar and was still of conservative length by the day's standards. It would grow much longer in the years to come. Peter managed to smile despite his brown shoes which were no match for his black tux. He had simply forgotten that black tuxedos usually require black shoes. Fortunately everyone looked up at the handsome couple coming down the isle. Perhaps most visible in the crowd that Saturday afternoon was a young man in a grey and black Beattle jacket. He flashed a large camera as he shot frame after frame. He was David Findlay, another roommate during the OCA years. One pew over sat one of my special friends, Katherine "Kit" Harding. The church was quite full and smiles were everywhere. Dr. Kooistra used the event to preach a rather unconventional sermon perhaps hoping to touch the lives of so many art college students in his church for the occasion.
The wedding ceremony was followed by a reception in the church basement. Everyone was welcome and tables were laden with coffee, tea, soft drinks, and endless trays of rich and creamy, mouth-watering gebakjes or Dutch pastries. Immediate family was invited to a special dinner at a local restaurant, a steak house I think, somewhere on Bloor Street East. To keep the alcohol budget at a minimum, I had mixed a huge vat of alcohol and fruit juice to make a potent punch which I poured into a large vinegar jug made of green glass, and which stood in its own wicker basket. It was so large and heavy, it took two people to lift. It turned out to be quite an art to lift and tilt the jug to keep the punch bowl full. I had bought the jug at Toronto's Kensington Market, giving our wedding that artistic, bit-of-a-hippie, look. Years later the vinegar jug became a penny bank until the day we emptied it and somehow got rid of the vinegar jug as well.
Someone had spread rumours that certain plans were afoot to sabotage the honeymoon, at least to the extent of attempting to play some rather bizarre pranks on us. Anticipating the worst, we kept our honeymoon destination a total secret and threatened any effort to boobytrap the car with the wrath of Lukas Koops, Alice's father. All concluded without incident. Tired but happy, we both changed into our "going-away" clothes, said farewell, and headed towards the open road. It was a bright and starry December night as we slowly made our way north on highway 427. Our first stop was a luxury hotel right on the highway in Barrie. What a special way to end the day by falling asleep in each others arms.
The next day, after a small breakfast, we headed for Huntsville and its rustic Limberlost Lodge. The road was clear, but everywhere was evidence of a typical Ontario winter. Snow, ice, barren trees, and a pale sun that managed to cast a yellow light over the hilly landscape, led our way to Limberlost Lodge. It was an old but beautiful lodge built with huge timbers and posts. It was the week before ski season opened. Everyone was busy getting the lodge ready with a full complement of staff and supplies. I think we were the only guests that week. Of course that meant royal, red-carpet treatment. They were thrilled at having a honeymoon couple at the lodge. We had rented one of their cozy log cabins, off in the woods, near the main building. The cabin was luxurious, with lots of room framed by old timbers, pine furniture, and the coziest open fireplace that kept us hypnotized with a never-ending and blazing fire. We spent five glorious days getting to know each other intimately. We took long walks along pristine, winter-wonderland roads, through paths in the forest, and along a frozen lake. Alice had taken her skates and as she skated along the cleared portions of that frozen lake, I stood and watched and cheered. Between pale sunrises and spectacular winter sunsets we planted seeds of peace and joy that would last for decades. Dare I mention the frequent trips to the diningroom where sumptuous meals were served just to us? As I remember that warm and intimate honeymoon and as I write these words, I realize it has been over thirty-five years since that special wedding day.
Many couples make the mistake of whirlwind honeymoons, believing that if they do not see the world now, they will never see the world again. Planning and living through a wedding is stressful regardless of how well intended all participants are. When it is over, most if not all, are glad it is over. For Alice and I our wedding was no exception. The thought of flying to some European or Caribbean destination and all its accompanying panic and travel details was too much. Instead we chose a quiet log cabin in Ontario's wintery northland, amidst trees, evergreens, and friendly fieldmice, who had made our cabin "home" as well. Often, as we lay in bed, or sat snuggled in front of the fire, our little friends would scurry up the side of the stone chimney to disappear somewhere in the rafters.
When we returned, we made our little love nest in a small basement apartment on Lyons Avenue, just off Eglinton in Toronto's Italian west end. In our small kitchen we had breakfast together and every day we kissed each other goodbye as Alice left for her job at Valentine Travel Service and I left for college to spend yet another day in the room below the stage to work on the OCA yearbook. Sometimes Peter would come over for dinner. Sometimes Barry Grant came for dinner. He introduced us to Black Russsians, a heady but tasty drink that makes your head spin and your nerve-ends tingle. Alice had some trouble trying to avoid our landlady on laundry day. Our landlady was a friendly Italian mama. She loved the idea of having this special young couple in her basement apartment, hoping it would perhaps inspire her forty-five year old son, who still lived at home, and who desperately needed to get out and get a wife. Every laundry day we shared her old washing machine. Every laundry day she came downstairs to "talk to Alice," who didn't understand a word of the lady's feeble attempts at English, choked by a heavy Italian accent. After a year on Lyons Avenue we found a small studio apartment in a newer building on Bayview Avenue, just a block away from Valentine Travel Service and walking distance from grocery stores, shops, boutiques, and a bus stop to hustle me downtown to college. I remember those early years of our marriage as a very special time when we did everything together. Friday evening was laundromat evening. We both carried our bundle of laundry to the laundromat nextdoor to a big supermarket. As our clothes tumbled and dried, we did our weekly grocery shopping including Friday night's special treat, homemade pizza. At least we thought it was homemade, when in fact it came in a box and all we had to do was mix the ingredients, heat the oven, and spread an extra measure of spicy pepperoni over the otherwise pale Kraft pizza dinner. Nevertheless, it was our special meal together as husband and wife, newlyweds on a unique adventure called life. Our only contact with the world of entertainment was a small black and white television set that sat on an old chair in a corner somewhere. Occasionally our meagre budget allowed for an evening of Swiss Chalet and the Imperial Theatre. Our transportation was Toronto's fabled "Red Rockets," and the Subway, except for those rare occasions when Lukas Koops lent us his car. He was particularly generous when Alice and I wanted to visit my family in Wallaceburg.
We were in love and have been ever since. It seems ironic that after thirty-five years of marriage ( and counting ) and six children, we can see that time coming when it will be just the two of us again. Only this time we own a washer and dryer, and the pizzas are truly homemade, with a reputation that has earned Alice a measure of fame prompting one of the children to burst out loud, "mommy, your pizzas are still the best." The incident took place many years ago at a Mother's Pizza restaurant that we loved to visit. Mother's Pizzas were great but according to Wendy, mom's were better. When the staff heard my daughter's claim, they just stood there and smiled.