A British-styled creamed tea event to kick off the launch of my book, A Squatter in London: freshly baked scones, served with real butter, strawberry jam and clotted cream was enjoyed by all. Tunes by British musicians of the seventies helped to set the tone for a reading from my book. It was fun to celebrate with family and friends in not-quite-spring Saskatchewan!
It’s tough being a teenager. It’s even tougher when the fashion is poker-straight, super long hair and yours is shoulder-length and curly. It’s the sixties. I’m sitting in my classroom and I’m doing my best to ignore the screechy sound of my teacher scribbling math formulas with chalk onto the blackboard. I glance across the aisle with envy at my classmate Nadine – she with the poker-straight hair. I watch as she blinks away those perfectly-trimmed bangs tickling her eyelids while simultaneously flipping back her long mane of hair with a saucy little toss over her shoulders.
Nadine is my best friend, but she cannot possibly know the teenage angst those actions are causing me. I’m determined – then and there in that math classroom – that things must change. Somehow. Somehow, my hair will look every bit as stylish as Nadine’s. I’m still preoccupied with this hair thing when the bus drops me off at the end of the lane at our farm, four miles from the village.
“I need big rollers!” I exclaim to my parents upon entering the farmhouse.
“What’s wrong with the ones you have?” asks my mom.
“They’re not big enough!” I reply with that whiny, high-pitched, hard-done-by teenage wail. I already own a set of the largest, pink plastic hair rollers that the general store in my village has for sale. But they don’t get the job done. They really are too small to achieve the desired look.
Superhero Dad to the rescue. Resourceful farmer that he is, my dad has the perfect solution. He disappears into the tool shed and returns with a hammer, a large nail and a bunch of aluminum pop cans. He then sets to work hammering holes into the pop cans with the large nail. Voila! New, big rollers for me!
The next morning, I shampoo my hair. I roll strands of wet hair around my new metal rollers and attach them to my scalp with bobby pins. Then I head outside to air dry my hair in the warmth of the late spring sunshine. But not so fast. Oddly enough, thick wet hair and metal aren’t the best recipe for a quick dry – even if there are holes for aeration. I’m stuck wearing those cans on my head all afternoon. And, wouldn’t you know it? My parents have company. They stare at me like I’m some sort of alien creature but are kind enough not to say anything.
Finally, after about four hours or so, my hair appears to be dry and I gingerly remove one pop can roller after another and brush out my hair. I grab a mirror to assess the fruits of my labour and… well, the good news is that my hair is no longer curly. The bad news is that my entire head of hair including my bangs is now puffed out in a rounded, moon-like shape. Not at all like Nadine’s hairstyle! I race for my stash of metal hair clips and proceed to pin down my hair, bangs and all. I’m thinking this will flatten my hair and perhaps the bangs will catch onto my eyebrows and stay put. However, as soon as I remove the hair clips…sproing goes the hair on the sides. Sproing go the bangs creating a sausage roll on my forehead. Sproing. Sproing.
Time to call on the professionals. My neighbour and good friend Iris is this farming community’s master stylist. She is self-taught and just has a knack for styling people’s hair. Maybe she can help me with my dilemma.
“Sit down,” says Iris when I arrive at her house. “I have an idea.”
She disappears into another room and reappears with an ironing board and an iron. She asks me to lay my bouncy hair on the ironing board and begins to iron it, bangs and all. Finally. My hair is straight!
In the 1990s hair straightening irons became commercially available. It only took the world 30 years to catch up to what us resourceful, teenage farm girls had figured out back in 1967.
Venue booked. Book at printers. Fascinator ready.
“Let’s play hockey!” was an oft repeated phrase by kids growing up on the Canadian prairies. For me, a kid who grew up on a farm four miles from the village of Yellow Creek, Saskatchewan, that meant lacing up my skates and heading to the outdoor rink at recess with my classmates – boys and girls alike.
Meanwhile, back on the farm, hockey took a slightly different twist. Hockey pucks were expensive and had the curious habit of disappearing into snowbanks never to be seen again until spring thaw. So, frozen horse turds served as an admirable substitute in a game of barnyard shinny. When my older brother’s friends dropped by, play resumed on our private playground – the frozen slough in the midst of the Gryba bush. The Gryba family owned the mostly-uncleared piece of land across the grid road opposite to our farm but did not live there. Sheltered by an aspen grove, the frozen slough transformed into the ideal location for skating and playing hockey.
Layer. Layer. Layer – the secret ingredient to staying warm in frigid prairie winters. And wool. We wore woollen toques, scarves, sweaters, mitts and several pairs of socks. And a siwash sweater if you were lucky enough to own one. When you consider that cotton long johns and felt-lined boots we called “valyanky” were part of the ensemble, we were more than prepared to face the elements.
On days when friends would visit, we all would trudge through deep snow into the bush and select an area of the slough in which blowing wind had exposed the ice surface. Any remaining snow was quickly shovelled to the side, creating a rectangular ice rink. Then everyone plunked themselves down on a snowbank and proceeded to lace up their skates. And the hockey game began. The middle child of our family and the youngest of the boys, my brother Bobby, was the designated goalie. I on the other hand, the youngest sibling and a girl to boot, was the designated cheerleader. But being the least active of the bunch, my fingers and toes started to freeze and I soon went home.
Freezing was not an issue on the one occasion I was invited to visit the ice rink at my neighbour Bill’s place. Bill, whose nickname was Speedy, was my older brother’s close friend. The frozen slough on his farm wasn’t as big as the one in the Gryba bush, but it had one definite advantage. Speedy had built a hut in the bush near the slough. It came fully-equipped with a box stove and a log to sit on when lacing up your skates – the ultimate in luxury! Speedy earned his nickname from his rapid speech and unique skating style. Instead of graceful gliding, Speedy would charge down the ice like a bull on his skates much like Eddie Shack of the Toronto Maple Leafs. To prairie folks, there were only two NHL teams to cheer for – the Montreal Canadiens or the Toronto Maple Leafs. My entire family were Maple Leaf fans and Saturday nights would find us gathered around the radio listening to Foster Hewitt’s a play-by-play commentary on Hockey Night in Canada.
Our family didn’t own a television but several of our neighbours did. During the Stanley Cup playoffs, my dad, my brothers and I would rotate which neighbour we would visit to watch the playoffs on a snowy, black-and-white tv with only three channels, one of which was French. But it didn’t matter. We could actually see our heroes in action. And I knew them all. I knew their names, their numbers and the positions they played. I got quite a kick watching Eddie Shack and the unstoppable Saskatchewan-born goalie Johnny Bower who played without a goalie mask.
There were so many other talented players on the Leafs roster like Dave Keon, Ron Ellis, Bob Pulford and Tim Horton, but my favourite player was Frank Mahovlich. And my favourite place to watch the playoffs was at my friend Iris’s place. Unlike my mom who didn’t care for hockey at all, her mom would watch hockey with the rest of us. But she especially enjoyed the fights.
“Mom. MOM. Fight!” Iris would call out if her mom was in the kitchen. She rushed into the room, plunked herself down on the sofa and avidly viewed the action on tv. As soon as it was over, she would head back into the kitchen to resume preparing snacks for the guests.
The 1966-1967 season was an especially memorable one for me. The Leafs played the Canadiens in the finals. It was a fun time. It was an exciting time. It was a time when television was black-and-white, the NHL had six teams and the Toronto Maple Leafs won the Stanley Cup.
Maybe the curly-haired moppet in the frilly pink dress presented a threatening image to the barnyard animals. Whatever the reason, animals on our small family farm in the midst of the Saskatchewan prairie had a history of chasing me. First, the geese. Then the bulls. And then there was the ever-present rooster.
One day I’d decided enough was enough. No cocky little barnyard rooster was going to intimidate me. Selecting a sturdy stick as my weapon, my four or five year old self entered the barnyard to address my fears. On my way to the henhouse to collect eggs for breakfast, I’m suddenly aware of an abrupt scuffle behind me. Sure enough, that cocky bantam rooster is making a run at me. He’s about a foot away from attacking my bare leg when he feels the wrath of THE STICK. I’ve given him a hearty whack across his puffed-out breast. He shakes his head in shock at this human upstart and backs up a few paces. And charges at me again! I give him another whack. He shakes his head, retreats and charges at me a third time.
At this point, I’m not sure who’s more afraid – me or the rooster. The stick, the rooster and I are now flailing about like a whirling dervish. Charge. Whack. Retreat. Charge. Whack. Retreat. Charge. Whack. Finally, the rooster’s eyes roll, his entire body shudders and he retreats. He has conceded defeat to the little farm girl and never, ever attacks me again.