STEFF - "UNPLUGGED"
I guess some people like to write about themselves. These are probably the same souls who wear flashy clothes and speak loudly. Personally, I don't because I never really considered my life or "doings" worth the trouble. BUT, I have been coerced and cajoled into putting pen-to-paper (actually fingers-to-keyboard - but all famous writers say this). The reason? "For the sake of posterity," according to my dear and long suffering mate.
Posterity? To date (May, 1995) at the ripening age of fifty-six years, I have few heirs of any kind except those diminishing few on my head, and my two bachelor sons. Both my offspring, though in "quality" relationships with the finest young ladies one could imagine, have spurned formalizing this fact with anything so antiquated as marriage or, more importantly, by the production of little heirs (heirlettes?) who conceivably would be the only ones even slightly interested in reading this pseudo biography.(This has now (2012) changed as I have two wonderful daughters-in-law and two incredible grand-children!!!)
Ah well! Being retired does leave some spare time and I might just as well put down a few facts, while I still remember them. I can always use this as a reference in later years (if I remember that I did this, and where I put it). Therefore the following tome is a collection of events, mostly true but produced under duress, relating to the life and times of Major Stephan Garry Wayne Stephanson, (Retired), CDII, P Eng (Ont), B Sc (Eng); aka: Steff, Steffie, plus some other pseudonyms not fit for inclusion here.
THE EARLY YEARS
Vignettes of my preschool days are all a little misty as I am not sure whether I truly remember them, or simply recall hearing about them from my relatives.
I was born (of course) on the seventh of October 1938. Even at birth I had a hard time of it and was actually paralysed on one side for a short time. This probably lead to my propensity to view things in a lopsided manner in later life according to my peers. Nevertheless, to my parents, Florence (neé Johnson) and Stephan, I was their treasure and they doted on me in a manner I only wish I had deserved. My early pictures (first steps) show a well-fed, blond tot, happily staggering across the lawn - an ambulatory fashion I was to duplicate later in my life. But I'm getting ahead of myself - dark revelations later! I was also allergic to wheat and eggs which led to a rather limited diet for one so young. My folks quickly devised a "spoon & duck" routine to be employed whenever I was being fed in my high chair so as to avoid the inevitable sneeze replete with whatever had been in the spoon! Fortunately, I out grew this particular allergy, only to have it replaced in later years with allergies to dust, fur and my wife's voice (according to Judy, I have "selective" hearing).
Our next door neighbours had a beautiful Irish Setter named Pal that decided for whatever reason to adopt me. I was three or four at the time and had developed a serious addiction to climbing things. In one case, my mother watched as I attempted to climb a woodpile in our back yard. As soon as I started to climb, the dog would grab me by the seat of my pants and pull me down. Evidently, I was getting furious and scolded the dog to the best of my ability and in terms I probably considered shocking at that age, but to know avail. The dog would patiently absorb my ranting and pull me down each and every time I tried to climb. I did succeed in escaping my canine baby sitter one time though. My mother heard horrible moaning and yelps and thought that the setter had been hurt. She rushed outside and found the dog part way up another neighbours fire escape, howling as though it had suffered a terminal injury. I was the cause of the dog's anxiety. There I stood, perched atop the fire escape, singing to the world. I DO remember the spanking I got for that little episode!
Dad didn't much like Pal though, and probably with just cause. One day he tried to get me to come in for supper. I was having a great time playing with the dog and told him I really didn't feel like it. When he came to retrieve his naughty off-spring, he was confronted by a large, red, intimidating setter. No amount of orders or cajoling would convince my canine friend to release me to my now fuming father. There was a stand-off until my neighbours were called in for assistance and dragged the still vigilante animal back to its domicile. As for me, I believe I got my just desserts (and I don't mean goodies)!
Around this time, I was being indoctrinated into the religious side of life by my mother, probably at my grandmothers’ urging. On learning the Lord’s Prayer, I would dutifully recite it at bedtime while my mother listened to ensure I included everyone in my blessings. She advised me that when I was through, I should close with “Amen”. After a few months of this nightly routine, one evening I asked mom if she said “A women” following her prayers. I, in my childish logic had thought the closing phrase was “A man”!
My association with animals had some negatives though. Two incidents in particular I do remember vividly. When I was very young, I remember crawling under the kitchen table in my paternal grandmother's house "chasing" after a small dog which I suppose I had been tormenting. Cornered, and probably not familiar with the unworldiness of small children, it defended itself by biting me. I learned a valuable lesson that day! Another occasion up at my relatives farm in the interlake region near Ashern, Manitoba, I was chased by a very large (to me) goose. I soon learned that one should never underestimate birds! This beast gave me a thorough thrashing with its large wings before someone chased it away. Evidently I had been chasing its chicks so it was entirely within its rights.
I remember a "remarkable" haircut I got from my cousin Beverly (Aunt Aurora George's daughter) when I was probably five. We had been playing on the front porch when somehow the topic of how scruffy I looked was raised. Bev, who was about 10 or so, suggested she could fix this and proceeded to use her play nurse's kit scissors accordingly. By tilting an old veranda chair backwards with me in it, she was just able to reach the top of my head. Once or twice the chair fell over with my head contacting the floor with sufficient force to knock me sillier than I already was. Unfortunately, she had not yet developed a sense of artistic balance. The result of this experiment in “haute coiffure” was that no matter how she tried, the hair on one side of my head always ended up longer than the other. Of course, this just had to be rectified - so more snipping! My mother screamed when she saw me and what little of my (at that time) blond locks were left. You might say she was underwhelmed. Beverly was "called" home shortly thereafter.
There was the winter when I was about five or so when I succeeded, like other prairie youths were bent to do, at getting my tongue frozen to an iron post in our back yard. I think it was Grandma Johnson (maternal side as both grandmothers were living with us) who bailed me out of this one. A bit of hot water and I was free, except for a few genetic tongue prints left on the post. Why, you may ask, did I put my little tongue on a sub-zero, dirty old metal post in mid-winter? I suppose, "Because it was there!" Why do little boys do many of the crazy things they do? In defence of my gender, I can plead intellectual curiosity but don't know if this will stand up to close scrutiny, especially after you read the about next incident.
At nearly the same age I came very close to ending up a basket case. Behind our house on William Ave. and down the lane was a railway track and overpass. I had been warned many, many times to stay away from this hazard BUT, of course, this merely piqued my curiosity SO I had to go and check it out! I wasn’t satisfied to just look it over. I decided to climb the overpass and ended up inside it among all the steel and concrete. You guessed it - I went just a little too far and slipped. I frantically grabbed the lip and was hanging there - about one minute away from dropping to the street below as my strength was rapidly waning!
All of a sudden I felt two strong hands grab me and drag me to safety. It was a woman from a neighbouring house. She caught her breath, looked me up and down, then pulled down my pants and gave me a real good spanking! She didn’t say a word; I didn’t say a word. I quickly took off home, rubbing my bottom and vowing never to do such a stupid thing again. I didn’t! Well, not exactly the same thing. And, I didn’t tell my mother about this incident. I owe that lady that saved me a big thank you, but, as fate decrees, never saw her again. In later years my buddies and I used to jump the freight trains that slowly moved across the overpass. I decided that this wasn’t the answer when a boy I only slightly knew, slipped under the wheels and had both his legs cut off. I guess I wasn’t that stupid!
My first "formal" education was quite an experience. The kindergarten I attended was privately run as public kindergartens did not start up until many years later. The lady running the school was a real character! She would pick up and deliver all the kids in her great big old Essex limousine. Down the street we'd go, kids hanging out all the windows, yelling remarks at the pedestrians and especially at other drivers who were casting aspersions at our chauffeur, probably with just cause. She held the classes at her rambling home. I emphasized the word because they were the antithesis of anything seen in present day education. You basically could do anything you wanted at any time as long as no one got hurt too badly! Noise and confusion were the norm. My major was Sand Box 302 and I graduated "Magna Cum Laude", with a minor in Banging Drums 106 (Introductory).
I vividly remember my first days at "real" school. Actually, I was looking forward to Grade One BUT, everyone kept telling me "Don't worry, its not too bad!" The result was that by the day it came to march down William Avenue to Montcalm Primary School, I was petrified. It would seem that this same "calming" speech had been given to many of my peers as the first few hours in class were total bedlam! The poor teacher (Old Miss Marquis-probably about 25) had her hands full with six year olds wailing and making runs for the door, wetting themselves and generally turning the event into a three ring circus. But I quickly got over my trepidations and enjoyed Grade One thoroughly, especially the yellow cardboard letters we used for spelling practice - they were rather tasty!
My early education years were during and just shortly after the 2nd World War. Most things were rationed and "exotic" foods such as bananas were very hard to come by. One morning, Mom gave me a banana to take to the teacher. I guess she or Dad had been lucky (or black market) to get a bunch of these yellow beauties. I dutifully presented the hard-to-come-by fruit to my teacher. She thanked me profusely and carefully placed it on the front of her desk for all to see. When I got home, Mom asked me how the teacher liked her gift. I said fine and left it at that. It wasn't until later at a parent/teacher interview that it was revealed that at morning recess, I had approached the teacher and asked for the banana back "'Cause I was hungry from seeing it just sitting there!"
It was just about this time that it was discovered that I needed glasses. I guess I had been getting things wrong on a disproportionate number of occasions in comparison to what was my standard, brilliant manner (I was a smart little bugger). While the glasses helped my studies immensely, they made me prone to the taunts and jibes by the other boys who felt that wearing glasses was tantamount to donning a skirt and perfume. Needless to say, I had to prove them wrong by defending my gender through seemingly endless scuffles that invariably resulted in my glasses being broken. My poor father was continually mending them, and defending my actions to my mother who couldn’t quite understand this “male” compulsion towards self destruction. I wasn’t a good fighter. My best weapon was to damage the opponents fist with my chin. Actually, I was “easy to grab but hard to let go of” and generally my opponents thought twice before trying me on again.
By grade three, my eyesight had deteriorated so badly that I was taken out of school supposedly as a measure to preserve or “heal” my vision. Obviously this was pretty archaic thinking by modern day standards. Nevertheless, I was deterred from reading or movies - to me a fate worse than death. On several occasions my parents caught me reading by flashlight under my bed covers and I could tell just how much having to put restrictions on me hurt them. In any case, I graduated to grade four even though I missed a third of the year and my eyes did not get any worse. Unfortunately, they didn’t get any better either, but I managed.
I did have several rather interesting pets - one was a chicken. Yes, that's right, a chicken! It all started one Sunday afternoon when I was about seven or eight. I happened to be looking out our living room window and spotted a farm truck loaded with poultry parked across the street. Live chickens were in crates and one of the crates was broken. A large orange and white chicken had made a successful attempt at escape and was scrambling across the street dodging the traffic in a rather uncoordinated fashion. I ran downstairs, passing a Grandmother who asked where I was heading with such haste. I threw a reply over my shoulder which, as I found out later, my Grandmother interpreted as "I am chasing a Chinese Canadian." (Chink rather than chicken - political correctness was unknown at this early period of ethnic diversity in the new colony).
In any case, I caught up with the chicken in our back yard. By the time I returned to the street, the truck was gone and by accident, I was now the proud owner of a prime piece of poultry! An old wooden box became "Daisy's" new home. She became tame enough for me to pet and would actually settle on my chest as I stretched out on the grass in the warm summer sun. She even laid several eggs and I was very proud of her tasty contributions to the family table. Unfortunately (from my standpoint), Dad said we couldn't keep Daisy, but he had a friend at work who would take good care of her. I reluctantly agreed, and one Saturday afternoon, Daisy and Dad headed off down the road in his old Chevy. On Sunday, Mom made a really special dinner - roast chicken of course. I was so naive I didn't even suspect a thing! In retrospect, I guess Daisy was the tastiest pet I ever had.
Perhaps my folks felt a little guilty about Daisy's demise. In any case, the next Christmas I received a real pet, a dog! On Christmas morning, just as I was opening a present, my parents called to me in a tone I hadn't heard before. When I turned around, there was the cutest, fattest puppy I'd ever seen trundling towards me with a large bow around its neck. Attached to the bow was a card stating, "Garry, my name is Pal." No doubt the name came from my earlier love of the setter next door. I now appreciate that as we lived on the third floor of my grandmother's house, this decision to get me a dog must have resulted only after a considerable amount of soul-searching (and heated discussion) on my parents part.
I must admit that my first crack at being a dog owner was pretty much a failure. After all my promises regarding care and training, my good intentions lasted about a month. It was NOT easy to try and "potty" train a dog when you have to go down three flights and then thrust (or drag) the animal outside in mid-winter Winnipeg. The result was continuing "accidents" so the carpets and stairs took on an odour reminiscent of a kennel! My grandmother was certainly not impressed and made several suggestions that Pal should receive the same fate as Daisy, excluding the ritual meal.
As Pal matured, he developed several traits which did not endear him to the other residents. For whatever primordial reason, he loved to go out and roll in the horse manure deposited by the various delivery vehicles (Yes in my time, horses still had their place for hauling the milk, ice, and bread waggons). Of course this did not enhance his image, nor did running away when called (somewhat unclear of the concept). He also loved to get on the bus, much to the chagrin of the bus driver and the poor family member making the journey.
Although in time I began to appreciate that even in dog terms he was one card short of a deck, I still loved him. But one of his most ardent supporters, my mother, was rapidly losing her patience. At Easter, she had spent hours baking and decorating special cookies for the occasion. They were all laid out on the kitchen table when she left the room for only an instant. On return, she was horrified to see Pal up on the table cramming the cookies down his throat as rapidly as he could, row by row. She screamed, and Dad rushed in, evaluated the situation, and then proceeded to swing Pal around his head by the tail, finally releasing him like a giant slingshot! I found this a little unnerving and so did Pal. He bounced off the wall and did not land like a cat on his four feet, but rather slid on his back across the floor, through the doorway and down the stairs. Pal was not hurt but unfortunately did not seem to learn anything from his first flight.
Pal’s crowning glory was his on-going dispute with an army sergeant who was renting rooms in the house next door. This twit did not have an IQ much higher than Pal’s so in many ways they suited each other, except Pal was the size of a terrier and the sergeant had the stature of a redwood! He claimed that Pal had constantly barked and threatened him. I find this hard to believe as Pal was normally so good natured and friendly to all - definitely not a watchdog! He also said the dog tried to bite him and, perhaps so as Pal was sporting a wound over one eye. The question of course is who did what to whom first!
Well, my folks were hauled into court with the charge being "Letting a dog run at large", a hardly disputable accusation as Pal did have the run of the neighbourhood. Mom however felt that the soldier was morally at fault due to his obnoxious personality and the immense size disparity. She announced she would rather go to jail, than pay the fine at which time my dad evidently just about passed out! Cooler heads prevailed and they paid the fine. The court episode got a big write up in the paper and my dad was “dogged” by barking co-workers for several weeks.
For Pal, it meant shipping him to the farm, much to my chagrin. I visited him that summer, and the reunion was right out of “the boy and his dog” books! Unfortunately, later that fall Pal took on a hay-mowing machine and came out the loser. My mom advised me of his demise while we were shopping down town. The choice of location for this tete-à-tete was excellent with crowds all around us at a street light as it ensured I would control my emotions to avoid embarrassment to the both of us. This was the first time I had to do this, and I did a reasonable job of it. I think my mom was more visibly emotional than I was.
Junior High School
For grades seven through nine, I attended Sir Hugh John MacDonald Junior High School, also on William Ave., and about ten blocks from my house. It was about this time that I was hit with two overpowering effects: peer pressure and puberty! Peer pressure simply insured that no one got into trouble by themselves, but usually as a group. I must admit I was coerced to do stuff I knew was wrong but I felt was necessary for me to remain part of the pack! As for girls, well things were happening to my body that I couldn't fathom as sex lectures were nonexistent at that time. I remember my friends and I discussing child birth and concluding babies were ejected through a woman's bellybutton. Also, there were many times I missed my stop while riding the bus because the sight of pretty girls turned on my recently acquired puberty sex switches which made standing rather embarrassing!!!
Growing Up in the ‘50s
It is probably no surprise that my peers and I had many of the same hang-ups as the teens of today. But things were a bit simpler then. For example, I had my own car complete with insurance when I was 16: the car cost $100, the insurance $125. “The Pill” had not yet arrived so although our hormones seemingly raged 24 hours a day (at least for males), we did not have the sexual freedom of the “Sexy Sixties”. We had ONE TV channel, but I’m not sure this was any great drawback considering the quality of much of our programs today!
What I remember the most vividly though is our dress fashions. Being typical teenagers, we strove for difference as a way of expressing our individuality. And, of course, that difference became conformity to a standard dress code just sufficiently gross to totally aggravate adults, yet emulate all the others in our peer group! The “Zoot Suit” was the in thing. It consisted of a ludicrously long jacket, plus “Drapes”. Drapes were pants that were very wide at the knee and very narrow at the ankle - 30" knee and 12" cuff for example. The popular colours were charcoal and pink. There were even two-tone cars produced in this colour scheme. Brylcream and Vaseline Hair Tonic just had to be used with the result that we all looked like we had just emerged from a grease pit! Long, pointy shoes were in vogue so permanent toe deformity was a possibility for those of us whose feet did not fit this pattern (most of us).
We did have a problem with this attire in Winnipeg however as it was basically designed for warmer climes - not Portage and Main in February! Not wearing a hat so your hair wouldn’t get messed usually resulted in frozen hair AND ears which didn’t harmonize well with the rest of the outfit though this wasn’t easy to notice considering the already outlandish appearance we generated. We had to wear overshoes of course, but left the buckles undone (zippers weren’t common, or cool) which often led to the buckles on one boot accidently hooking together with those on the other. Falling flat on one’s face wasn’t considered “cool”, but was a hazard we stoically faced to be different yet the same.
When I see the youth of today doing their thing it's quite obvious that really not too much has changed!