Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Fiction #69: Terence M. Green

Names

Found them on the internet. A moment of idleness (not uncommon, of late). My teachers. St. Monica’s School, Toronto. Back when.

Grade 1: Sister Rosemary (1952-53)
Grade 2: Clara Cosgrove (1953-54)
Grade 3/4: Nancy McGauley (1954-55)
Grade 5: Wilma Lecour (1955-56)
Grade 6/7: Philomena Gettings (1956-58)
Grade 8: Mother Mary Louise (1958-59)

Two nuns, four single ladies. No kindergarten. Skipped grade 3 (2-to-4, right into Nancy’s split class). 

Those names. The first ones. Who knew? As kids, we heard rumours. Their private lives were a mystery. Except for Philomena. We had the dope on her. She lived in an apartment on Eglinton. A customer on my newspaper route. When I made the rounds, collecting my sixty cents every Saturday morning, she’d come to the door wearing a bathrobe, hair in curlers. I was speechless. Out of Context. Like landing on Pluto.

Those nun-names. Sister Rosemary. We were babies in grade 1. She had a kindness that accepted that. Michael, Harriet, Leo, Linda, Frankie were in the class. Michael, with the Irish last name, was my friend. Lived around the corner on Anderson Avenue. He had a TV. I watched Superman (brought to you by Kellogg’s), starring George Reeves, at his house on Wednesday nights. Harriet had a British-sounding last name. She asked me over after school one day to play at her house. I remember hiding behind her sofa. I phoned home and told my mother that I was at a girl named Harriet’s house. When I got home, everyone teased me. Leo and Linda were twins with a French last name. I phoned Leo once on a Saturday and asked him to go with me to the double feature (Charge at Feather River with Guy Madison was one of them) at the Mount Pleasant theatre. I heard him ask his mother. She told him he couldn’t go. Frankie had an Italian name. His father owned a fruit and vegetable store on Yonge Street. He used to pick Frankie up from school in his blue truck. One day I got a ride in the truck too.

Mother Mary Louise wrestled with the grade 8 hormones. Strict, even nervous on occasion. She cried and left the room once when we were acting up. I remember a nice kid, Vito (a new name to me), volunteering to go get her. She came back and we apologized. Sam, beside me, slicked his black hair back in a duck-tail, smiled. Like Fabian. Sam’s an OK name. Fabian, though. You gotta admit. That’s a name.

The others: Clara, Nancy, Wilma, Philomena. No one has those names today. Well, maybe Nancy. Yeah, OK. Nancy. The others, though. Jeez. Beacons in the mist. Unreal. Like the Bat Signal.

Nancy was the youngest of them. By a hair. Her name tells you that. She taught us about Martin Frobisher, Stanley and Livingstone, volcanos (Mt. Popocatépetl), adobe houses and the times-tables (hickory-stick pointer, chalk dial on the board).

Wilma? 40-50ish. A veteran. Grayish. Very nice lady. Gave us no homework on weekends, endearing her to us. Can’t remember a single lesson. Remember Mike, her nephew, was in the class.

Philomena? Another veteran. 40-50. (My newspaper lady.) Drove a two-tone ’55 Chevy, wore hats that looked like overturned soup bowls. Tall, gangly. Had a temper. Scary to a ten-year-old. Most
memorable moment: reading Robert W. Service’s The Cremation of Sam McGee and affecting all the French-Canadian accents. Loved it.

Clara? Senior member. Guess: 50-60. White hair (or was it merely gray?). Taught in an old portable (with a pot-bellied stove) at the back of the school. Gave me the strap once. No idea why. (Hold your hand out. I was 7 years old.) I learned my numbers well, though. Unpredictable moods. I liked her. Go figure.

Single ladies. Childless mothers, all theory, sailing an uncharted sea, career options, like their names, circumscribed by the times.

Hindsight: I give Philomena (incredible name) her due. She was pretty astute. On one report card, she wrote: Terry is a dreamer. She was right. I close my eyes. I’m dreaming her life as I write this. Like she said I could.

End of an era, near Yonge and Eglinton. Gone, like the corner Woolworth’s and Dominion Stores there (more names), Fran’s and Theodore’s Restaurants, Axford’s and Tamblyn’s Drug Stores, Laura Secord (2-cent lollipops), the Lobraico Funeral Home (Gothic), Hunt’s Bakery (air-conditioned), The Doggie in the Window Pet Store. There are tumbleweeds blowin’ about the closed-off subway bus terminals there (open for business: 1954).

Now the Internet. Google. Now there’s a name.

Terry is a dreamer. 

I move the cursor. Left-click, right-click. They’re all in there. What happened. Stories. Names.

*

Terence M. Green is the author of 7 novels and a collection of stories.

His novel
Shadow of Ashland was selected as a “Top 3 Fiction Pick of the Year” by The Edmonton Journal, “The Book You Have to Read” by Entertainment Weekly, and was broadcast as a dramatic reading on CBC Radio to over 400 stations nation-wide.

A teacher of English and Creative Writing for over 40 years, a former writer-in-residence at Hamilton, Ontario’s Mohawk College, he has conducted writing workshops from Florida to the Yukon. He is currently in his twelfth year of teaching creative writing at Western University, London, Ontario.

He lives with his family in Toronto.

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