A glimpse into the life of a girl growing up in a small town in southern Ontario, Canada….

My stepfather was the town garbage man, which meant an unpleasant stigma, and unkind teasing from the kids at school. But it also meant dented cans of soup or fruit, bags of perfectly wearable clothing, and even boxes of books, that Clifford would bring home from the garbage… Beautiful Joe, Uncle Titus in the Country, and a host of others that I treasured as I was growing up. They aren’t garbage men any more. Last I heard they were sanitary engineers and had to have a Grade 12 education before they were hired. And they aren’t allowed to bring anything home from the garbage. Sheesh… it’s against the law around here to scavenge at the rural dumps!

Sleeping in the same large room with my three brothers and one sister, when I was 12 and they were newborn to ten years old. Ah, the innocence of childhood… it never even occurred to me that some people would consider that scandalous.

Riding my bike for miles and miles alone out in the country–without a helmet!! Driving all over the province and over a thousand miles to New Brunswick to visit the grandparents–without a seatbelt!! Cars didn’t even have seatbelts in those days, and I never saw such thing as a carseat. Mothers held their babies on their laps… and I never knew of a single death because of it.

Memorial Park and the two small canons that could be cranked up or down… my brothers were not the only ones who liked to climb up and sit on them. The little log bridge over the stream and tiny waterfall… and the quicksand at the far end of the park, where my five-year-old brother lost one of his brand new rubber boots, and I had to race home and face inevitable punishment for disobeying and letting him go near the quicksand in the first place. How well I remember that day! My cousins had come for an unexpected visit, and I didn’t get to play with them because I was banished to my room for the duration.

The marshy woods behind Park School, where we crossed a narrow stream on stepping stones, and picked thimbleberries in the summer time.

We didn’t have a car or a telephone for years, because we didn’t need them. Almost everyone we cared to know, lived within walking distance from home.

I was five years old before I saw my first television and Granny Cummins let me watch The Howdy Doody Show. I was nearly nine before we bought a TV of our own. The Professor’s Hideaway, Annette Funicello & the Mousketeers, and Captain Kangaroo were the first shows I remember watching on our own TV. My Aunt Mary was the first person I knew to own a colour TV.

I saw a few movies in a theatre before I ever saw a TV set. At age three, I thought those were real people up there on the big screen, and was decidedly confused as to where the swimming pool and the bathing beauties went when the lights came on!

Watching Disney movies in the basement at the Catholic church every Saturday afternoon, and buying a bag of chips and pop for a mere 25¢. Chocolate bars and bags of chips came in two sizes… small ones for 5¢ and big ones for 10¢!

Almond cookies from the Chinese restaurant, or a bag of chips with hockey coins in them, waiting at the foot of my bed every Saturday and Sunday morning, after my parents went to the hotel the night before, followed by a late night trip down the street to the restaurant.

Saddle shoes and go-go boots… Maple leaf tartan kilts… Chatty Cathy dolls… 3-year-old dolls! Large record albums (33rpm) for $4.99… 45’s for 49¢. Candy cigarettes… chewy wax candies with syrup inside… Mexican jumping beans… two pieces of bubble gum for a penny… the very first bendable Barbies!!

I used to laugh at the stories my parents and my friends’ parents would tell about all the changes they had seen since they were growing up. I don’t laugh any more. It makes me sad to think of all the little pieces of wilderness that have disappeared. Even where we live now, I have seen such changes in the past three years, and it makes me sad. With each change, we lose something. And yet at the same time, I believe we baby boomers have the best of both worlds. Not only do we get to read the books, listen to the music, and watch the movies of today, but we get the digitally remastered and vastly improved versions of our old favourites we grew up with. Yes, I look back with nostalgia on the “good old days” of my childhood… but I wouldn’t go back even if I could. Today is even better.

And by the way… lest from my memories you are tempted to think I lived in the dark ages? I was born in 1953.

© Willena Flewelling


  1. It’s amazing on reflecting back on one’s life. Thanks for sharing your trip down memory lane with us, Willena. I love to hear about how people grew up.
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  2. I think we had some similarities growing up WiIllena.
    My Dad had a gas station for 35 years, we also visited grandparents in New Brunswick.
    I do remember some of the things you mentioned in your post. Nice to go down memory lane. Thanks for sharing.
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