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Saturday, May 24, 2008

FREE SPIRIT

BRITANNIA HIGH SCHOOL


Last weekend it was the 100th anniversary of the high school I used to attend (and where I still sometimes go to take Spanish classes). There was a lunch on the afternoon of Friday May 16 for my grad class, the class of '52. We meet every year for lunch and each month some of the women also go for lunch so we've kept in touch -- a grand bunch of people who I always enjoy seeing again.

That evening there was a reunion for all years at the school and the classrooms were designated to the grad class years. They had beer and wine sales in the hallways where once us kids used to congregate in between classes. You could go from room to room finding other old school chums. So it was a lot of fun. The following night there was a gala at the Agradome with various well-known bands including the Dal Richards orchestra which has been playing around town for as many years as we grads can remember. A real touch of nostalgia. Of course there were rock bands and others for the sake of the young present-day students. There was also a lot of entertainment at the school that day but I didn't attend.

In all it was a wonderful reunion weekend. We were each given a beautiful book commemorating the school's venerable age with lots of mementos in it to remind us of our long-ago school days.
SCHOOL HALLWAY

Recently I indulged in some high school memory writing for a new project and display that is at the Royal B.C. Museum. The other weekend when my friend and I were in Victoria for our freebie weekend at the Spinnaker's Brew Pub and guest house, we also had media passes for the museum "Free Spirit" presentation. It's all about the people of B.C. and their history. There were many objects on display reminding you of the past and one of these was this hideous electric hair perm machine that was in use up to the mid '50's. I noticed there weren't any stories submitted to go along with it, but I had one. So I wrote it and submitted it, and you can now see it on-line on http://freespiritbc.com/peoplehistory/stories/ -- under "School Days"
But because this is all about my high school and the reunion, I thought I'd post it here too.

A BAD HAIR DAY (1952)

Back in 1952 when I was soon to graduate from Britannia High School in Vancouver, there was a popular hair style called the ‘poodle cut’. It was a short hair cut, permed into a soft curly style resembling a poodle’s pom-pom. A lot of my classmates were having their hair styled this way for our grad, and I wanted to be like them.

It happened that my Mom and little sister both came down with scarlet fever and were quarantined as they did in those days and I had to go and stay with a family friend, a very kind old lady named Mrs. Grey. I told Mrs. Grey how much I wanted a poodle cut. So one day she gave me some money and told me to go up to Commercial Drive and make a hair appointment.

Up to this time, my Mom always cut and permed my hair. So it was quite a thrill for this teenager to have an appointment at a real beauty salon. I felt somewhat daunted when I saw the electric perm machine, something left over from the ’30’s, a kind of weird thing like you‘d see in a mad scientist‘s lab. But I was determined to get my ‘poodle cut‘. The woman cut my hair, then rolled it up in the perm rollers. The perm machine worked on electricity. As I sat under it, I could feel it sear my scalp and I smelled burning hair. When the procedure was finished and the rollers were removed, to my horror I looked as if I had been zapped by 220 volts of lightening! My hair was frizzed like a Hottentots. You couldn’t even get a comb through it. What a frizzy mess! I was in tears. I wouldn’t go out without a kerchief on for days and even missed school because I was so embarrassed. How could I face my class-mates looking like such a freak? I didn’t realize I was pre-dating the Afro hair style of the late ‘60’s and ‘70’s.

Fortunately, my Mom soon recovered enough for me to return home. She immediately set to work on my ruined mop with her clippers. She had to cut off most of my hair. Even then it was still tight and frizzy. When I returned to school, the older guy that I had a crush on started calling me Puppy Dog. He’d pat me on the head every time I passed him in the hall. At least he was paying attention to me. After all, I did look like a poodle!


This is me after Mom cut off most of the frizzy perm.
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Friday, May 23, 2008

MY WRITER'S LIFE

THE VANCOUVER SUN TOWER

I have been so busy lately that I haven't even had time to blog. Here's one of the reasons why: I wrote a small contribution to the Downtown Memory Project that Simon Fraser University, downtown campus, was holding.
My little story of how I got my start as a copy-runner at the Vancouver Sun newspaper was chosen to be displayed on the wall at the Harbour Centre downtown (site of the SFU downtown campus.) Here's my story:

THE SUN TOWER: Memoirs of a writer

A building in the downtown east side of Vancouver that inspires memories, is the old Sun tower at the corner of Beatty and Pender Streets. Imagine my thrill in 1952, a 17 year old aspiring writer just out of high school, when I was hired as a copy runner in the Sun’s editorial department. On the fourth floor of that tower, my future was shaped. I was privileged to become part of an editorial staff that included Hal Straight,managing editor, and renown writers like Jack Webster, Paul St. Pierre, Barry Broadfoot, Clyde Gilmore, Pierre Burton and Simma Holt.
My post was the centre of the busy editorial room, answering the booming calls of “Copy!” to put the squares of newsprint containing their stories into the tubes that were sent by pipe to the composing room. My world was the clatter of typewriters, the smell of newsprint, the demanding calls of reporters sending me on errands. I aspired to become a crime reporter and Simma Holt wanted to train me for her desk job taking police calls. But the city editor wouldn’t accept a 17 year old preacher’s kid for this role, so I joined the news library staff where I was put in charge of the bio and crime files. The reporters were my mentors. I was encouraged to write, and years later my journalism experience in the Sun led me to become a published travel writer. I’m a full time writer now, writing both travel and historical fiction novels, teaching writing classes for the V.S.B. I owe all of this to my seven years at the Vancouver Sun. Each time I pass that tower I remember those exciting, happy days that launched my writing career.


ME, POSING AS A FRAZZLED REPORTER, '53

I have a lot of wonderful memories of those years I worked in the newsroom, first as a copy-runner and then as a news librarian. It was, without a doubt, the best job I ever had in my life and it was certainly instrumental in leading the way to me becoming a travel writer as well as all the encouragement I got at the time from the reporters for the historical writing I was doing back then.

It was quite an honor to have my little piece chosen to go on display for this project. Later it will be on-line and perhaps later published in an anthology of Downtown Memories.

ME, POSING IN FRONT OF MY CONTRIBUTION
FOR THE DOWNTOWN MEMORY PROJECT.
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