Monday, August 14, 2017

Rio de Janeiro

In 1986 my son-in-law's company sent him  to Rio de Janeiro  on assignment  and  because  he would be gone for at least a year,  my daughter and  their eight month old baby accompanied  him.   Shortly before they returned home,  they suggested it would be an opportunity for me to see Brazil and  encouraged me to visit  I had some unused holidays  so no problem, but my husband couldn't  get away and I would have to travel  on my own.

Everything was set up and soon  I was  on my way.  First a flight to Toronto, connecting flight to Miami and finally another plane change to Rio, what could possibly go wrong?   It all went smoothly until I reached Miami where I was informed that my Argentine Airlines flight had mechanical problems and would not be heading out  to Rio until the next morning.  However, the airline would provide me with a hotel room and meal voucher for the night and  assured me we would be on our way by dawn.  How to inform my family of the delay and what if they were not at home or already waiting at the airport when I called.  Finally I decided to call my husband  and have him phone and bring them up to date  as I had no idea when I would be arriving in Brazil.  Their apartment was almost an hour drive from the airport and phone calls to the airport about flights would be answered in Portuguese.  I was quite concerned about them getting the correct flight information as I thought it would be  evening when I arrived.  I really did not know what I would do if they had not received the message and I was stranded overnight in a foreign airport.

I have always been a nervous flyer and knowing my plane was having problems  did not make the evening any better for me.  A party was going on in the hotel room adjoining  mine (I made sure the door was locked between the rooms) so getting some rest after a challenging day was not easy but eventually I drifted off.  The next morning I was in the departure lounge bright and early but there was still no word on when the plane would be ready.  One hour, two hours, finally after more than four  hours we were told that we could start boarding.  The plane was full and as soon as I sat down, it was obvious to me that English was not the first language of my fellow passengers.  Everyone would be quiet when the attendants made an announcement in Portuguese  but would start chatting loudly again when the message was repeated in English.  I couldn't hear a word of what they were saying. However, we were soon  flying off to Rio and just the thought of it was exciting.  At one point I looked down and in the bright cloudless sky, was able to see a long curved line through the South American forest, it was the Amazon River.  The day long flight continued  and I  was treated to  a  great lunch and supper along with free beverages.   The meals  provided by the airline were impressive as this was back in the days when airline food was tasty and would be served on china dishes with real cutlery,  Finally, darkness was falling and with it the buildup of thunder clouds and rain.  It  reminded me of an old song, "What do they do on a rainy night in Rio?"  Then the pilot announced that we would be arriving in Rio in 30 minutes and we should have our seats upright and seat belts on.  As we approached  Rio, I heard a click and a groan from underneath the plane and nothing else, a few minutes later the same click and groan and nothing. This pattern of click and groan continued.   Everyone grew silent as the passengers realized the wheels were not coming down.  We started circling over Rio, the attendants were strapped in their seats and every few minutes, we heard the  ominous sound of the click and groan again.  When I saw one of the stewardesses crossing herself I knew we were in trouble.  This high tension drama continued as we circled  through storm clouds and watched the flashes of lightning.  I was already imagining the news headlines, "Canadian among those lost in Brazil crash" - ooh, think of something else.  It was now after 10 p.m. and this ordeal had lasted for over half  an hour, the silence in the plane was deafening.  Suddenly we heard, click, plunk!  The wheels were down, everyone applauded and cheered,  we were safe!   The plane landed and soon I was back on the terra firma.  As I left the plane, in single file the passengers were slowly walking through a long grey passageway and I noticed there were  armed guards standing  along the way.  I felt like I could disappear into  one of the side rooms and no one would notice.  Travelling alone, I was quite uneasy so spotting my family when I emerged at the other end was a big relief.   A customs agent who examined my passport must have thought I looked nervous so gave me a big smile and said, "Bon jour!"  I felt much better.  My luggage was not on the carousel so that was the next challenge.  Evidently it had arrived on an earlier flight and was placed in the airport manager's office for safekeeping along with the luggage of another passenger who had also been delayed in Miami. Years later when I once again visited Rio, the airport had been upgraded and the scary grey passageway was gone.

Almost 24 hours  after leaving home,  I was relieved to be safe and sound in Rio.  After a long drive we finally reached the  apartment compound and  were confronted by an armed guard at the entrance.  He  was checking out everyone entering the large  fenced enclosure  which was home to some  five thousand people.  He didn't just have a revolver, he had an assault rifle so no one was going to argue with him. I soon found this type of security and very high walls were  commonplace in Rio.  Life in the apartment presented challenges and one of  the biggest was dealing with local water.  The water was not safe to drink or even to brush one's teeth. When my daughter  bathed the baby she would fill  a small inflatable children's pool with bottled water and place it in the bathtub.   The toilet was an odd experience, when it was flushed, the water from the tank which was high up on the wall, ran down and bubbled up with a great flurry into  the toilet before finally draining down.  One tended to flush, then step back as far as possible to avoid being splashed by the contents of the toilet.

Ten days flew by quickly with much sightseeing and visits to the famous beaches noteworthy for their  curvaceous women in skimpy bikinis.  At a local bargain store a soft drink brand was being featured and  free samples of the soft drink  mixed with rum were being handed out.   In other stores coffee and chocolate were the big attractions. 

Finally it was time to return home  after a memorable visit.

Friday, August 11, 2017

The Joy of Cruising

As I get  older and long distance  travel ends, I enjoy browsing through  photo albums and remembering some great holidays.  The original idea for one interesting trip originated in Arizona when we spotted an ad for a repositioning cruise.  This cruise  was described as reasonably priced and involved a month at sea.  I read further and  was surprised when I  saw the  extensive itinerary, I could hardly wait to dash off  and sign on the dotted line.  My husband looked at the ad and agreed with me.  We learned that the ship was part of the Royal Olympic Cruiseline and was  in South America for the winter, but would be heading back to its summer home in Athens, Greece in March.
At the travel agent's we reviewed the itinerary, across the Atlantic Ocean, Rio de Janiereo to Athens, Greece, 28 days on the Royal Olympic Odysseus (must be good if it was named for a Greek God). We  marveled at the reasonable price we were getting so soon were heading  home  to prepare for the “big trip.”  This included visas for  Brazil and yellow fever shots for Africa, then  we were on our way.    Enroute, we had an overnight stop in Atlanta and arrived just in time for a torrential rain storm.  It didn’t slow us down though, we visited  CNN and watched some of shows  being taped.  
The next morning we continued our flight south and eventually landed in Rio de Janiero which I found had changed a lot since my previous trip  fifteen years before.   Our shuttle bus was waiting and we quickly headed to the dock for our ship, but when we got there we couldn’t see a cruise ship, only an old rundown boat (in car terms, think clunker) which was quite small and had obviously seen better days.  We went closer and looked at the side – Odysseus was the name painted in bold letters.  After the initial shock, we realized this was it so we headed through customs and up the gangplank where we were welcomed aboard. We eventually learned that this ship was quite old and had been owned by a number of cruiselines  before being acquired by the Greek company.  It had a passenger capacity of 400 but because we were on a long repositioning cruise, the ship was far from full, in fact there were only 128 passengers.   The cabins were spacious but one would have to be generous to consider them as good as utility grade.  The kitchen was down the hall from us and all the crew were smokers so there was always the smell of smoke seeping into the room.  Some of the entertainers were in the next room and they tended to party late at night.  Nevertheless, it looked like an exciting adventure was about to begin and the  passengers were quickly getting to know  each other.  One of our table companions introduced herself as the owner of  a motel in Florida and proceeded to tell us how much she needed this holiday because she worked so hard cleaning up the messes left by foreigners in her establishment.   When we mentioned that we were Canadians  she quickly added a footnote to her story and explained that her Canadian customers were always very clean.  I found that reassuring.
There were many adventures including a day tour of Rio de Janiero which included visiting the very famous Corcovada, Christ the Redeemer statue.  Finally,  we set sail and our first stop was Salvadore, Brazil for another day of touring, then out to sea where we began our trip across the Atlantic Ocean.  When we reached  the equator there was an initiation ceremony held by Neptune and his helpers for first time crossers.  My husband  had crossed before so he just sat and laughed as I had spaghetti and tomato sauce dumped on me (we were told to wear our bathing suits) and then hosed down and given a certificate as proof of participation.  There was a small swimming pool on board so after a good hosing down, everyone jumped into the pool.
We had good weather for the crossing, days  around 90 F., and a little cooler  in the evenings.  After dinner we had a number of  guest lecturers who gave us  presentations on various topics including the history of cruise ships.  There were dancers who performed on several occasions and had doubled as Neptune's helpers during our initiation ceremony.   Safety was important, especially when it came to fire prevention.  A crew member who was responsible for the alarm system on board would check out the fire alarm system at various stations on the ship at set times throughout the day.  One of the alarm systems was at the edge of the stage in the entertainment area.  Each evening, as we were watching a cabaret show or a comedian the safety inspector would walk up to the stage to check the fire alarm.  Early on in the cruise it became obvious that this would become a daily practice and the audience soon started clapping when he would enter the room.   It took us six days to cross the Atlantic and putting one’s clock ahead by an hour each day is a challenge to getting a good sleep at night but we were usually so tired at the end of the day that we slept no matter what the time was.  The  ship’s crew did a good job  keeping us entertained and we met many interesting people including a former ambassador.
Finally it was "Land Ho" as we  reached the Canary Islands, then to Africa and Dakar, Senegal, a place of extreme poverty.  We  bought a number of souvenirs but since we had not booked a tour we were hesitant to go very far from the dock.  I remember being approached and asked  for  soap.  The next day was the Greek Easter celebration and  the Captain, first officers and crew performed Greek dances for us.  We continued to Lisbon, Portugal,  Barcelona and Cadiz, Spain and  toured a fascinating place called Alhambra.  Our tour guide for Alhambra was a Spanish man who surprised us when he started talking Japanese to some other tourists.  He noticed our bewilderment and exclaimed that his mother was Japanese and that was why he was fluent in Japanese as well as Spanish and English.  Alhambra had amazing architecture and a strong colourful history.
The journey continued with something new every day including Messina, Sicily (where we could see Mount Etna in the distance) the Isle of Capri (where I got lost for about an hour when our tour guide took off her red coat and I couldn't find her)  Rome, Monte Carlo and eventually, because we were on a small ship, we were able to go through the Corinth Canal to Greece. This was a canal that had been started by Napoleon but not completed until much later. We had a full day in a small Greek town and the next day we docked in Athens and were ready to head home.  The ship was sold not long after that but for us, it had been an  unforgettable adventure.  There was one final twist however.  Our shuttle bus to the airport was delayed because a woman had lost her luggage.  Eventually it was found and we were finally on our way with little time to spare.  We ran into the airport, checked our luggage, went through customs and onto our plane.  As we were about to take off we were informed that the baggage handlers had just gone on a wildcat strike and would not continue loading our luggage.  When we got home only one bag arrived with us.  The other had to be retrieved from the airport a week later.


Thursday, March 10, 2016

Saskatoon in 1946

By the end of April, 1946 we finally moved to Saskatoon.  It had been a long winter with mother and children staying with the grandparents on the farm and Dad staying with his father in the city.  

When we returned to Saskatoon after the war, Dad thought he would be able to get some sort of Veteran's housing since he had a family, but because he had only been to Alaska and not overseas, he was not high on the priority list.  Available houses were almost non existent in Saskatoon and when he did find a house, his hope of moving in soon fell through.  He purchased a tenant occupied house, but when he tried to get them to move out they flatly refused. They had no place to go, so it looked like a lengthy battle with an elderly couple was about to ensue.  Finally my father said they could stay if they bought the house from him and they agreed.  Back to house hunting again.  In April he put an offer in on a house on Main Street, a few blocks from Broadway Avenue and soon we moved into our new home.

My Great Grandma Atkinson in 1946
with Dad, Bill and me

It was a small two storey older house with three bedrooms and bathroom upstairs.  The main floor had a small kitchen with an old fashioned wood burning kitchen range and a refrigerator which my parents had just purchased, a dining room and a living room which had been given many layers of wall paper over the years.  In the basement there was a big coal burning furnace and in the corner, a coal room with a chute leading from the outside for incoming coal. There were two heat vents on the main floor, but only one on the second floor and it was on the floor in the middle of the hall.  Once my father had stoked the furnace and added coal in the morning, there was an ongoing competition by the children  to see who would get to stand on the hot air vent as the warm air rose to the second floor.  We would shove each other around as we tried to gain possession of the valuable territory on the vent and bask in the comfort of the warm air making its way upstairs. 

About a year after we moved in, my parents got rid of the wood burning range and purchased a propane stove.  It was before the days of natural gas so the stove was connected to a large propane tank outside the house.  

For my parents, owning a home was something new, and having delivery of milk and bread to the door was a great convenience.   When he saw us moving in, the milkman from Co-op Dairy stopped by the house, welcomed mother to the neighbourhood and offered her daily milk delivery.  My mother enthusiastically agreed and all was fine.  That is, until a few hours later the nice milkman from Purity Dairies showed up at the door to welcome her and  convinced her that he too would provide great service.  She couldn't resist and said yes to him as well.  Fortunately, when the milkman from Palm Dairy arrived at the house, my father happened to be home and he was able to prevent her agreeing to have three milkmen.  However, we had two milkmen for as long as we lived in the house, they delivered on alternate days and my mother just didn't have the heart to discontinue either one.  I might add that milk in those days was being delivered by horse and wagon so it probably confused the horses who usually knew the route quite well but would stop at our house every day, not realizing it was supposed to be every other day.   In addition to  daily milk deliveries, we also had  bread delivery, also by horse and wagon.  As you can well imagine, the amount of time spent by horses in front of our house was evident by the manure that was accumulating. 

My Great Grandma Atkinson, my father's grandmother lived about two blocks away from us and in those days, kept a few chickens in her backyard. She was a lovely lady and I used to enjoy visiting her.

I noticed by 2015 our old house had been demolished and a new house built in its place.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Communication now and then

I was sitting in a busy waiting room recently and as I looked around,  it seemed everyone was connected to a phone with a screen and were typing or receiving messages, totally oblivious to anyone else in the room.   The receivers of the messages might be someone nearby or maybe they were across the world, because,  with the easy spread of thought and ideas, no one is ever out of touch. When you think about it, what is happening is absolutely amazing. This type of communication might seem ordinary, common place, whatever you want to call it in our modern world, but for me as a senior, it is mind boggling,  something  we never could have imagined.  In my childhood there was a Dick Tracy comic strip and the main characters had wrist radios, walkie talkies I suspect, that they used to communicate.  That was considered quite futuristic, certainly not something that would happen in our lifetime.
My grandparents worked together on the farm

As I watched the instant communication going on around me, I thought back to my grandparents' farm where we had spent a few months after the Second World War.  At that time, the only lifeline to the outside world was a party line telephone. You would lift up the receiver and turn a crank on the side to get the central operator or a specific number of crank turns to get a neighbour. There was no privacy, everyone listened in on each other's calls. That party line really was the lifeline for the early farmers, "Quick, we need a midwife," "Send help, there's been an accident," "Sad news, our son is missing in action," "Good news, our daughter is getting married."

When my grandparents got married on August 28, 1901 in Mascouche Rapids, Quebec, it was their intention to homestead in Saskatchewan.  That dream was finally fulfilled in May, 1905 when my grandfather first set foot on his own homestead land eight miles from the present town of Rosetown, Sask.  Grandpa had shipped his household effects, equipment and lumber for his house to Saskatoon as there was no railway to Rosetown at that time. Everything then had to be hauled about a hundred miles by horse and wagon to the future farm.

  His father also staked a homestead claim as did a cousin who settled nearby.  On June 30, 1905 my grandmother and young son  Norman reached Saskatoon by train and two days later arrived by horse and buggy at the homestead land where a tent awaited them as their temporary residence.

Communication, there was none.  No phones, letter writing meant dropping letters off at the post office when you went to town.  It was isolation.  Although my grandparents were not yet thirty, they only saw their family members twice more in their lifetimes when they took train trips east many years later.  My grandfather's father, who had accompanied them west, passed away less than a year later. Phone lines eventually went in but luxuries like running water and inside plumbing and electricity were not available until the 1950s.

No wonder I look at communication today with such astonishment.

My grandparents with nine grandchildren in 1946
Three more  Mary, Donna and Bob were born later
Back row: Eunice, Judy, Grandma, Alan, Grandpa, Earl
Front row: Diane, Shirley, Norma, Bill (standing), Jim (in front)

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Another winter on the farm

The old farm house had two small upstairs bedrooms with steep, sloped ceilings while  downstairs there was  a small  bedroom just large enough for a double bed. Also on the main floor was a dry bathroom with a chemical toilet and a sitting room which was used as a kitchen in the winter.
Mother and family in front of Grandpa's Willis car
We had no electricity or running water and relied on the Aladdin lamp and coal oil lamps for light.  My grandparents, who were now in their late sixties, had us underfoot once again, only this time there were three children. When I think back to those days, it must have been hard on everyone.

During our time on the farm in 1942 my brother who was two at the time and I shared the chesterfield bed in the sitting room with mother.  However in 1945, as the chesterfield bed was not big enough to handle mother and three children, in desperation, they shifted me to an upstairs bedroom.  

In the sitting room, the kitchen range and a wood burning space heater generated the heat for the small farm house.  There was a door off the sitting room leading  to a steep staircase to the upstairs. Heating this small house was difficult so in an effort to keep the main floor warm, this door was only opened late in the day when heat was needed for the upstairs bedroom. Unfortunately, when you have a  cold winter, not much heat drifted up when the door was opened.

The combination of a cold January, an unheated upstairs bedroom and freezing cold bedding that was beyond the ability of a mere hot water bottle to warm up, made for a terrible sleeping setup for me.  Whenever I think back to that upstairs room on the farm, I can't help but think that if there was a gold medal for  the  coldest place I've ever slept, this would have been the winner by far. I have never been so cold in all my life.  I had lots of blankets piled on top of me, but as a skinny nine year old, I wasn't able to generate enough body heat to warm the bed so would stay in one place and not move a muscle all night, the sheets around me were like ice cubes.  If I unfortunately had to get up during the night and use the chamber pot, it and the hot water bottle which I had finally shoved aside, would be frozen in the morning.

The extreme cold persisted through much of January but finally, as we got through February and into March the weather started to moderate and I was able to give up the rides to school on the stone boat, and walk the half mile on my own.  It had been so cold and there had been so much drifting snow that the caragana shelter belt surrounding the farm was covered in snow and a very hard crust had formed on top.  It seemed quite odd that I was able to walk over the tall hedge on this crust of hard snow without sinking, but it was  probably similar to the crust of snow that forms on ski slopes.

Meanwhile, my father had returned to work in Saskatoon.  He  was staying with his father in a small one bedroom apartment over a store on Broadway Avenue  while trying to find a place for our family to live.  His two younger siblings had also returned from Victoria so all  four of them were in the tiny apartment.  

Getting back to our pre-war lives was proving to be quite challenging.
My grandparent's farm

Picture of the farm house

Monday, February 29, 2016

Country School

After the war my father went house hunting in Saskatoon, but soon found it was more difficult than he expected.  It looked like we would be at the farm for a while, so my mother enrolled me in a small country school until we got settled.  Cleland School, located about nine miles from Rosetown, was the same school my mother had attended as a child, and was located a half mile from my grandparents' farm.  In mid December 1945 I started my new school.
My mother attended Cleland School in 1924
She was third from the left, second row

Cleland School was the type of turn of the century schoolhouse you would see today if you were to visit any of the heritage villages located across Canada, but in 1945 small rural schools such as this were still in use in many places including Saskatchewan.  To describe the school, I would say there were about twenty desks in the classroom, but only nine students and they were seated in rows by grade; three first graders, two second graders including my cousin Diane, then I think there were two in grade six.  I was the only one in grade four and a boy named Russ was in grade nine taking his classes by correspondence with the teacher overseeing his work.  The map of the Dominion of Canada hung on the wall along with a picture of King George VI, and the alphabet was carefully written in chalk across the top of the blackboard in upper and lower case.

Russ helped out by arriving early in the morning to start the fire in the pot bellied stove and would make sure there was a supply of wood to keep the classroom warm during the day.  Outside there was a small barn and many students rode their horses to school, while others, including me relied on other means of transportation, including a horse drawn stone boat.  A nearby farmer, Mr. Black would take his son to school each day on a stone boat, which had a wooden frame about six feet square and looked like a small raft.  It was a cold winter with a lot of snow, so my grandparents asked if he would swing by and provide transportation for me as well.  Riding the half mile to school on a stone boat was quite a unique experience.

Each morning the teacher, Miss Purse would make sure all the students had work on hand, then would start teaching the grade ones and gradually make her way across the room, one grade at a time.  At lunchtime we would all sit around a big table with the teacher and chat as we ate our sandwiches, sometimes playing games like "I spy with my little eye" or just discussing events on the farm.

Soon after I enrolled, it was Christmas and a community supper at the school was a big occasion for the local farm families.  The tables were set up in the school basement and people crowded into the room, loaded down with roasted turkeys, home baking and all the goodies that make up a marvellous holiday feast.  I can't think of any  celebration at school that could ever surpass Christmas at Cleland that winter.  Everyone was so happy that the war was over and families were back together again.  Even Santa Claus made an appearance.

I attended Cleland for five months before we moved to Saskatoon where I went   to my third school in Grade Four.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Travel in 1945

Remembering our train trip to Saskatoon in December 1945,  there were no other travel options open to us.  Now, you can also fly, drive or go by bus from Vancouver to Saskatoon and can reach  your destination in a few hours,  not a couple of days.  Train travel is a great holiday adventure and the Canadian Rockies are spectacular,  but it was a long trip for a family anxious to get back home. As far as driving  a car from Vancouver to Saskatoon, not possible, the road was not even open in the winter.

There was a gravel road through the mountains which  had been completed in 1940 at great expense and connected Golden and Revelstoke.   It was called  the Big Bend Highway and was said to be drivable if you had nerves of steel.  Everyone had heard the horror stories about this highway, and even the thought of  having to back up on a switchback to allow another vehicle to  pass would send shivers up your spine.  One story I recall was from a family member who took the bus  to Vancouver in the early 1950s.   They were on a narrow, hairpin curve on the Big Bend, and the bus driver and  a woman driving a car coming toward him had both stopped and were arguing. The driver wanted the woman to back up so he could get the bus through but she was scared and refused.  Finally,  the bus driver had no choice but to back up.  For the passengers seeing the rear of the bus hanging over the steep mountain cliff as it slowly edged back, allowing the woman to pass was as frightening as it gets.  Everyone  breathed again when she was clear and the bus proceeded.

Sometimes, if people wanted their car on the other side of the mountains, they just shipped the vehicle by train and picked it up when they reached their destination.  Flying was not an option as the first commercial airline, Trans Canada Airlines, or TCA as it was known was just getting established at that time.

Oh well, you might say, at least people could keep in touch by phone.  Sorry, it was not so easy.  Long distance was expensive so calls  were a luxury and only placed when absolutely necessary.  We would write a list of subjects to be discussed, then rush through them to get off the phone in five minutes or less.  Christmas was the busiest time for calls and often you would try for hours to get a call through to someone in another city.  Unfortunately, many of these calls would start out with, "What's your weather like?" 

As for our trip to Saskatoon, my mother and children got off in the  Biggar, SK train station where we were picked up by my grandfather and once again taken to the farm.   My father continued on to Saskatoon to  check out his old job and find a house for the family.