Category Archives: Short stories

Danny Dambiski

Today I was watching a news clip of republican presidential candidate, he who’s name I will not say, thinking he reminded me of someone from my childhood, Danny Dambiski.

Danny Dambiski was this horrible kid in my grade one class. He had to be a good twenty pounds heavier and four inches taller than all the other children, and he was a total bully. He was forever pushing other kids around, mocking Mrs Millard the sixty plus schoolmarm, and doing whatever it took to get the smallest crumb of attention.

 At Show-and-Tell one day Danny stood up in front of the class with a crisp new copy of Mr Whiskers, the current class reader, saying it was a present he’d received from his parents. Mrs Millard totally called him out yanking the book from his hands and holding it up so everyone could see the Board of Education stamp on the inside cover, lamely scribbled over with Danny’s handwritten name right beside it. She then dragged Danny by the ear out of eyesight into the cloakroom where she proceeded to give him a strap. The class sat still listening to the repeated smacks coming from the cloakroom. After an uncomfortable silence smug Danny Dambiski sauntered back into the classroom grinning ear to ear followed by an exhausted and dishevelled Mrs Millard.

 

 

Lunch Surprise

Montebello Park

I grew up in a small town in Southern Ontario the youngest of six to a Dutch immigrant couple. For grades seven and eight my mother  pulled me out of public school and put me in a  super right religious private school because my two older brothers had wreaked so much havoc in junior high that it was thought I wouldn’t stand a chance with the same last name. This story is about my mother and the lunches she made for me during this period of my life.

School

Every day for the full two tortuous years of junior high my mother made me lunch. It was always two sandwiches, one to two pieces of fruit,  cookies, or homemade banana bread,  or boter cake (pronounced ‘boater kook’ – one of Mum’s famous baked goodies), and a drink. Everything was in reusable plastic containers and packed into my backpack before breakfast. The drink came in a burnt orange Tupperware cup with a leak-proof plastic lid. Mostly it was  chocolate milk made from the ubiquitous Nestlé’s Quik Powder with the bunny on the label and our staple four quart bottle of homogenized milk. Sometimes it would be orange juice (from frozen concentrate), or my favourite white grape juice, but mostly it was chocolate milk. Room temperature by the time I drank it, but I didn’t mind. Mum had the idea that the powder was also a preservative keeping the milk from going sour.

Wedding Photo

My parents met in the country of their birth in the 1940’s. Mum was born in the year of the stock market crash. At 24 she sailed to Canada to marry Dad shortly after his family had immigrated here. By the time I was eleven she was a well established classic 1970’s dutiful housewife. Her days filled with cleaning house, laundry (ringer washer and clotheslines in the backyard) planning and making meals for her brood of six and the bread winning philandering husband.

Mom's Hair Icon

On Saturdays she spent her morning at the hairdresser getting dyes and permanents when needed, and the once-a-week roller-set to ensure a fresh dome Church Lady lid for Sundays. Sundays she dragged me to church, always dressed in her Sunday finest, one of two immaculately kept permanent-press skirt suits. Powder or navy blue. Garnished with a pristine white blouse complete with a dainty frill or embroidery flourish, an understated gold cross and chain, a  modest European wedding ring set, with pearl drop earrings. Makeup was limited to the smallest amount of a quiet shade of lipstick applied to the lips and smudged onto her cheekbones. Anything more would have seemed whorish.

Family Dinner

Dutch was rarely spoken by the time I came around but Mum’s English was delivered with a heavy accent.  Nightly readings of the King James bible after dinner were a struggle. Once she broke from her solemn and awkward reading of the Shakespearean text exclaiming “All these Thous and doths! Why can’t they just talk plain English!?” We all rolled with laughter.

Hazel

By the time I was in Junior High my parents had separated. Dad moved out to live with his girlfriend and the we all stayed with Mum in the house. Mum got a job housekeeping for an old retired couple that lived a block away. At home things started breaking down with Mum’s spotless housekeeping standards. Dusting and vacuuming was done only once a week and we were asked to make our own beds in the morning. Still there was breakfast every morning and dinner at night and my lunch packed for me every day.

Lunch Box

These lunches were huge with a nice variety. Most times I would share it with Joanna Strooband who always had the same lunch of a single slice of processed cheese between two pieces of lightly buttered preservative-rich white bread. She totally would have suffered from afflictions caused by malnourishment if it weren’t for Mum’s lunches.

Spring Day

In 1975 on a beautiful spring day at the peak of the breakdown of Mum’s housekeeping standards something out of the ordinary happened with the contents of my lunch. Janet and I were sitting at a desk with the plastic container buffet spread out. We were enjoying Black Forest ham, Edam cheese, French’s mustard, sliced dill pickle on bakery fresh sourdough when I popped the lid on that burnt orange plastic cup. This was a not chocolate milk, orange juice, or white grape juice. Janet and I took turns looking, sniffing and guessing what this deep dark bluey-red liquid might be. Then we tasted it. Janet guessed grape juice. Immediately I recognized it as the special beverage served sparingly at Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter. In an excited whisper, so as not to attract the attention of fellow classmates or our extra snoopy eighth grade teacher, I spoke its contents. Mum had packed a full eight ounces of extra sweet red table wine! Janet and I took turns finishing it.

Asleep at School

After lunch no one noticed the unusual redness of our cheeks or our boisterous giddiness in the playground. During our afternoon classes no one suspected a thing when the two of us seemed sleepy.

Mum in the Kitchen

That evening I asked Mum, “Was that red wine in my lunch today?” Quickly she replied, “We were out of milk and juice. I couldn’t send you to school without a drink!”

Toronto Gay Pride 1981

I attended one of the first Gay Pride celebrations in Toronto.

U of T

The ‘parade’ was held on the running track at U of T campus in downtown Toronto. People gathered in the centre of the track and at some point those that came to watch spread out to the perimeter, and those in the parade walked around the track two to three times.

In attendance there were no more than 200 people, including those in the parade, those that came to watch, and the half dozen police that lurked on the outskirts to ‘keep the peace’.

PFLAG

Of the participants, there were no ‘sponsors’ or floats, only individuals and various groups, a few with hand-made banners. I remember the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence as well as PFLAG being there.

It was my first exposure to PFLAG. I was so moved by the concept of supportive family and friends of GBLT people, who were not GBLT persons themselves. It brought more than one tear to my eye.

This was a protest. There was no sanction by the city. The police were there not there to ‘serve and protect’. All felt their disdain and distance. Concerns of arrests were discussed among all.

Afterwards, several people dispersed, but some lingered and shared picnic fare.

Sisters

Overall it was a quiet, peaceful, empowering and poignant affair that I am so grateful to have experienced and will always cherish.

In a Nutshell

My life has been a total gay adventure: working in theatre, dance, film/tv, IT, and food & beverage. I spent 16 years based out of Toronto, then relocated to Vancouver almost 20 years ago. I have traveled a lot and lived in Japan 6 months, China for more than 6 months, and spent a whole year before turning 30 trekking Mediterranean Europe, Egypt, Israel and Turkey. Subsequently my net worth is nil, but my memories are rich… I am currently the general manager for a great catering company. Over the years I’ve been married to 4 men and a lesbian, no children, and am currently quite happily single.

Tied to the Cloths Line

From first days of walking until after my third birthday, Mum would strap me into a tight harness, at the end of a long rope, attached to the even longer cloths line. An ingenious kenneling technique allowing her to get on with the endless chores of a 1960’s housewife with six kids, and expanding the playpen into a large patch of grass, framed with gardens, hedges, a large pear tree, and gravel driveway. I’d busy myself for hours digging, squishing, pebble flicking, bug watching, cat peek-a-booing, and shrubbery fort exploring. We didn’t have a TV.

Play harness

Dirty

BabyinsinkMy earliest memory is between one and two years old, after playing in the backyard, standing filthy at the porch kitchen door. Mum heaves me up and through the kitchen to the circa 1950’s deep porcelain sink. Completely disrobing me during the flight from door to pantry, sitting me bare bum on the kitchen counter, legs dangling in the basin. Gotta get me clean before I get the whole house dirty. A threadbare washcloth lathers with Ivory under running water. In less than a minute I’m soaped, rinsed, wiped, and dried down with a tea towel, digging deep into nostrils and ears. It’s a good memory.

Adventures in Potty Training

I wrote this story over 12 years ago and submitted to CBC’s Vinyl Cafe.
Stuart McLean read it on one of his tours and it was subsequently broadcast.

Adventures in Potty Training
Telling stories is one of our favourite things to do at family gatherings. Amazingly enough, this story remained untold for over twenty years, until our last family reunion, in 2001. The story goes like this—My sister, brother-in-law and their 3 year old son were out shopping for house wares. They went to a massive warehouse space that had all kinds of mock rooms set up to show off all the various furnishings. While looking at a display model of a shower stall, my sister noticed my nephew was missing and went looking for him. Walking past a display set up of a full bathroom my sister hears, “Mom!” She looks over and sees her son sitting on a display toilet with his pants at his ankles. Now my sister is thinking, “Oh please don’t let me be too late”, but the next thing my nephew says, “I need wipe, Mom!” makes it oh too clear that she is indeed, too late. It’s at this time in the story my sister shares her inner monologue. Her primary reaction is unadulterated mortification, but then she sees her son who has been potty training and has up until now, never gotten to the advance stage of getting on the pot without coaxing or prompting. How could she possibly chastise him, when he has finally done what she has been asking him to do for months? It is the right apparatus, after all. And he is only three. Quietly my sister pulled her son’s pants up, while he shyly protested, “Wipe?” “Not this time”, she whispered lovingly in his ear, while she closed the lid of the defiled display model. With son in tow, she briskly walked over to her husband and curtly announced they were leaving. Without any further explanation they exited with my somewhat baffled brother-in-law following behind. Once out the door my sister’s conscience tugged at her—she felt bad for the salesperson that would lift the lid, but way too mortified to actually do anything about it. Their business was done.