In spite of Covid still haunting our lives, of produce spilling out of our vegetable garden faster than we can process it and, in spite of heat and humidity, I finally have a new writing project, a memoir about my unorthodox childhood.
The first nine years of my life were idyllic. I was an only child, my working mother was glamourous and an expert horsewoman; my father, who could sing like the pop singer Bing Crosby, worked in the book business in Winnipeg and we boarded race horses in our fancy barn. Scotty, our kindly hired man looked after the horses and did general maintenance. My grandmother, whom I adored, looked after me.
What I didn’t know was that my father was an alcoholic, a gambler and a show biz wannabe and the year I was nine, everything fell apart. The house was sold; we moved to Ontario – 5 moves and 5 schools in a year and a half; my parents ran two chicken farms – the first outside what was called Galt and the second north of Baltimore. Here we raised broilers for the 1950’s fried chicken craze and, from age eleven to fourteen, I spent my summers killing chickens in a dark shed behind our house.
All this time, my father who had long given up his own show business aspirations, focused them on me. I was a natural, he said and, evenings after supper, I learned to belt out the tunes of pop ballads with my father singing harmony above. I became proficient at tap dancing and later ballet. In high school, I went into every play I could, some at school and some with the local Opera and Drama Guild. My dad said I was going to be a star and he used Judy Garland as my role model! When I was nearly fourteen, my dad talked a local dance band into having me as their singer.
Before we left Charleswood, I was an excellent pupil at school; five rapid moves and the fact I was dyslexic (unknown to most teachers in the forties and fifties) reduced me to thinking I had little intelligence. I convinced myself I didn’t care – I was headed for a show biz career and likely fame and fortune.
Early in 1959, everything changed. Our high school drama club took The Ugly Duckling to the Kingston Drama Festival at Queen’s University. After the event, we attended a party at a former Cobourg student’s home. I was flying high having been given an Honourable Mention as the maid Ducebella. Jim Manning, then a student at Queen’s, came to the party. The rest is history and, although we didn’t date until later that summer, I decided to give up my theatrical aspirations for marriage and domesticity and vowed I would be a perfect wife, that this wonderful man would completely erase my troubled past and unrealistic aspirations. Ah the thoughts of a twenty year old, all confidence, no experience.
How did I become a writer? That’s another memoir!