It was Saturday. We were five days into April. British Columbia was one hundred years old. A lot of the province’s men had grown luxuriant beards to commemorate the event because beards were fashionable in 1858, and the lumberjacks of yore wore them. At the age of 9, I couldn’t have grown a beard if I’d wanted to, and more important by leaps and bounds than the provincial centenary was the fact that Capitol Hill School was closed on Saturday.
I was up earlier on weekends than on school days, but I could never beat my Oma out of the sack. When I entered the kitchen, she was stirring the ingredients for pannekoek. A pannekoek is thinner than a Canadian pancake and thicker than a crepe. Oma’s pannekoek were a foot in diameter and could accommodate whatever filling one wanted to fill them with had enough room for a breakfast of bacon and eggs.We generally spread fruit or jam over their crisp tops, then rolled them up and cut them into bite sized bits.
Full of pannekoek, I walked out of the laundry room door and hopped on the bike that never knew a lock, and zoomed down the steep driveway and down Grant Street to the trail leading to Lindy’s place. I leaned the bike against a tree and raced into the bush. In a minute I was in the field behind Lindy’s house my runners soaked in dew. That field was easily a couple of acres, both of them fallow for a long, long time. Today, they lie under a dozens of very valuable homes. Then, they were home to ring necked pheasants, all manner of rodents, raccoons, prowling cats, and the occasional deer.
As I neared the small shacklike domicile that housed a family of five, a dog, and three cats, Trixie, Lindy’s black and white mutt, barked until I was within recognizable distance then scampered out to greet me. The salient feature of Lindy’s place was that it was small. There were no master bedrooms — in fact, the entire place wasn’t much larger than a master bedroom — no ensuite plumbing or ensuite closets were in evidence. The word “ensuite” was in nobody’s lexicon (at least, nobody outside of Quebec) in those days when B.C. had just turned 100.
I don’t remember whether I called out Lindy’s name or knocked. We did both back then, more often the former. Lindy came to the door and ushered me in. The television set was on.
In 1958, television was a new invention. It’s introduction was a groundbreaking event. I recalled walking down Renfrew Avenue with my mother one evening, a mere three years earlier, and seeing people crowded around the window of the hardware store staring transfixed through the window at what I later learned was a test pattern, a grey and white and black image of an indigenous leader wearing a full war bonnet. The head and shoulders of the chief was set in the centre of a lot of lines and over the letters CBUFT, which I later learned were the call letters of the local Canadian Broadcasting Corporation affiliate.
Nothing on the screen of that vacuum tube television was moving. There was no sound. It was as if the throng was staring, fully absorbed, at one slide in a slide show. But, come to think of it, a slide show would have had the same magnetic appeal, for there were no slide shows then. There were no slides. There were no single lens reflex cameras, just point and shoot models of the Kodak kind.
In the internet/cell phone age, when the bulk of our waking hours are accompanied by non-stop streaming images and compressed sound, it’s hard to imagine the kind of fascination with a static image, or the deep absorption audiences had with moving pictures on cinematic screens (which had only been synchronized with sound two decades earlier, by the way). When he was an adolescent, my dad had played the piano accompaniment to silent films and developed a life long affection for Greta Garbo, Laurel and Hardy, and that amazing acrobat, Buster Keaton, in the process.
Lindy’s family had a television. It was a little bit smaller than our DuMont with its impressive wood cabinet. Both of those machines were powerful enough, thanks to their antennae, to access two channels, KVOS TV, whose signal originated in Bellingham Washington, and CBUFT, the CBC feed pulsating from Vancouver, but linked to the National feed.
Lindy’s brother, Lloyd, and his dad, were staring at the screen. Each of them had a collapsible TV tray, an invention more recent than television, propped up in front of them. They were staring intently at the TV as Lindy’s mom bustled about in the nook she called her kitchen.
A black and white image of some ocean landscape (all images on TV in those days were black and white and shades of grey, of course) was projecting from the screen.
Lindy’s mom dropped hearty servings of bacon and eggs onto the TV trays.
“What are they watching?” I asked Lindy when she appeared dressed to play.
… to be continued…