During my first year in Toronto, my older brother and his new wife moved up to the city to look for work. Now, why my brother did not come alone still remains a mystery to me. It was easy in those days for a man to find lodging anywhere in the city. However, it was almost impossible to find a place for a man and his wife unless you had relatives that could put you up for a while. I was still at my first job making my $65.00 a week minus all the deductions. My brother and his wife did stay with some cousins of ours for a while but it was clear they needed their own place.
Our cousin, who worked high steel at the time, did manage to find my brother a job with the company he worked for. The situation in Toronto in the construction industry was such that you worked six weeks without a paycheck when you first started. The first six weeks' pay was held back so that you would have steady income between future jobs. This was good in a way, but very hard starting out.
My brother was new to the city and like me had never been away from home in his life. By this time I had a working knowledge of the city due to the fact that I had to travel almost all the way across it to get to my job. I used to say at the time I knew the city like the back of my hand: dirty, wrinkled and full of knuckleheads.
So I took my brother to the union office where he had to get a work permit. We managed to find a place to life and I moved in with them. Now my brother had a good job which would pay good money if only you could survive the first six weeks with no pay. We had to make do with a meager $48.00 or less each week depending on whether there was any overtime.
Imagine, if you will, three adults living n a rented flat in a house where the mice and the cockroaches were in a constant battle to outbreed one another. Not the ideal location, but all we could afford, or should I say, I could afford. I forget how much the rent was for the flat but it couldn't have been much. We were working on a budget of $48.00 or less a week for rent, groceries and transportation to and from work for two men.
We spent most of my money on transit, believe it or not, because I had to show my brother how to get to his job sites which changed from time to time. That meant we had to travel to the site together and return, and sometimes repeat the trip to make sure he got the instructions right. You see, my brother had gotten lost going to the corner store the first few days he was in the city, so there was cause for worry.
With the rent paid, the bus tickets secured, there wasn't much left for food. We sat down one night at the kitchen table counting mice and cockroaches just to see who was winning the battle for breeding supremacy, sizing up our situation. We came to the conclusion that belt-tightening was definitely the order of the day. We had to go seven weeks before things would improve.
It came down to the fact we had less than five dollars for groceries. A box of pancake mix and a bottle of syrup did the trick with money to spare. So my brother, his pregnant wife and I went on a steady diet of pancakes and syrup for breakfast, dinner (on weekends) and supper. It was all we could afford. I thought sometimes that we should cook some of the many mice, just so we could have some meat for a change and perhaps give the cockroaches a leg up in the breeding war with the mice. Needless to say, our first pork chop dinner seven weeks later felt like a banquet in a five-star hotel.
Even today, over fifty years later, I still get stomach sick when I see a box of Aunt Jemima pancakes on a grocery store shelf. (Please don't think I'm racist, I love the woman, she kept me alive for weeks back in the old days of the mid '60s.)
Things got better in time, we moved out of the flat into a much better place. My brother and I were both getting paid every week and a few months later a beautiful little baby girl made us a family of four. I don't know who won the war between the mice and the cockroaches, maybe it's still going on. Anyway, my money is still on the roaches.