Downhome Magazine

Me and Sally Ann

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I left home in late August of 1966. I remember it well because it was Come Home Year and despite all the money the government spend on promoting the event, I still got it wrong. The railway was on strike at the time so I had to fly to Montreal and then take a bus to my final destination which was Brockvile, ON. I was sixteen years old at the time and had my seventeenth birthday in transit.

It was very exciting and scary at the same time. For I had not been more than forty minutes from home in my life and that was to visit my nan. My uncle Brendan, my mom's youngest brother, went over the plan with me a hundred times until he was sure I had it right. He was accustomed to travelling through Montreal for his work. But I was still on my own and my mother was very worried of me getting lost or worse.

I went to school on the mainland from September of that year until June 1967. (I visited Montreal again for Expo '67 where I was lucky enough to get Gordon Lightfoot's autograph at the Canadian Pavilion. He was doing a soundcheck for the song he wrote for Canada's 100th birthday, "The Canadian Railroad Trilogy.") There was a Christmas and Easter break at school and since I couldn't afford to fly home, I went to Toronto. My two oldest brothers were working there and I stayed at my brother's boarding house until my dad's sister, who lived in the city, took me to stay with her and her husband. I stayed with her daughter and her family at Easter.

When June rolled around I decided to go to Toronto and look for a summer job because there was no work at home. It would be over three years before I would get back home. There was a construction strike in Toronto that summer and this created a ripple effect in the job market. I did manage to find a job in Don Mills - a distant suburb of Toronto. The job paid $65.00 a week salary. Needless to say, I didn't get rich that summer. The $65.00 was gross pay in more ways than one - there were deductions from that for income tax, OHIP medical insurance, unemployment insurance and Canada Pension.

On weeks when I was lucky enough to work two evenings of overtime - which paid $2 a hour - I would clear the huge sum of $48.00 from which I paid $20.00 for room and board, and a little over $2.00 for transit, leaving me with $26.00 a week to live on. Believe it or not I did manage to open my first bank account and save a few dollars. My job in Don Mills was very far from my home base - it took over two hours each morning to get to work, half of that on the high-speed subway system. I was so far from the city core that the transit system called it Zone 2 and I had to pay almost twice the regular fare to get there. There was a point where the bus driver would stop and check that everyone had paid the right amount for Zone 2. If they hadn't, they either paid or got off the bus.

Remember, I was young, far from home, living in the largest city in the country where the only people I knew were the relatives I had never even seen before coming to Toronto. I had no friends to go to if I needed help, I never saw the people I worked with outside of work and I was very quiet and shy at the time. Not well-equipped to deal with life in the real world of the big city. A couple of weeks into my job I found that I didn't have enough bus fare to get back home one day. Around the middle of the week I found myself short of bus tickets with no money to buy more.

Like I said, I was young, shy, and more than a little ashamed that I had allowed this to happen. I could have asked my cousin whom I boarded with for a couple of dollars, but she was still sleeping when I left early for work. That evening, when the bus stopped at the checkpoint of Zone 2 and Zone 1, I had to get off the bus. At first I said, what the heck, I can walk home, simple, just follow the same route I took to get here. I didn't realize how far the high speed subway could travel in an hour, not to mention the lengthy street car ride before and the bus after I left the subway.

I forgot for the moment that I was in the largest city in the country and the enormous distance between here and my boarding house. Well I started walking. After two hours of this I was getting nowhere. It was hot, the concrete sidewalk was hotter still, I was tired from the heat and all the walking, not to mention the thirst. It would have taken a day to walk home. It was a desperate situation until I saw a sign in the distance for the Salvation Army. Now, I didn't know much about the organization, I being a good Catholic boy from rural Newfoundland where every religion had its own church, school, hospital, cemetery and its very own Heaven and Hell. I did know they had a reputation for helping people in need of help, regardless of their religion or anything like that.

So I decided to go in to the building when I got abreast of it. When I entered, there was only one person there. He was in a small office. The gentleman in the office came out when I approached and asked how could he help me. I said, "Sir, I need fifteen cents to buy a bus ticket to get home." (I should mention that a glass of draft beer cost five cents in Toronto at this time.) I told him I had started to walk home but it was hot and I was very tired. He asked me where I lived and I told him, and he smiled and said "That's a very long way. Too far to walk."

I guess this man, who was dressed in his uniform, was accustomed to dealing with young people in trouble. I could tell he didn't want me to leave. He asked me over and over again if there was anything else he could do for me. But I said, "No thank you, I just need fifteen cents for a bus ticket." He was trying to help me, and I understood that, but I told him I had a job, a place to stay and I would get something to eat when I got home. Just so you don't get me wrong - he didn't refuse to help me, he just thought I needed more. Which I'm sure he would have given me had I asked for in. In the end, he went into the small office, opened a drawer behind the counter and took out the fifteen cents and gave it to me. When he placed the coins in my hand he held my arm for a moment and asked me one more time if there was anything else he could do for me. I thanked him for his kindness and told him I would return the money when I got paid. He said there was no need to do that.

One evening about a week later, I got off the bus outside the Salvation Army building and went inside. The same gentleman was sitting in the office. He came around the corner as he had done the week before and asked me how he could help me. I said, "Sir, you may not remember me, but last week I came in here and asked you for fifteen cents for a bus ticket and you gave it to me." It was the fifteen cents that made him remember and he shook my hand and asked how I was doing. "Well," I said, "and today I've come back to repay my loan." The gentleman told me there was no need, it was nothing. But I told him it meant a great deal to me at the time, and I placed the fifteen cents in his hand.

God bless the Salvation Army and the good deeds they do without asking who or what you are. The young man did not forget, the old man he has become has not forgotten either, even though that was long ago.

Cyril Griffin
New Perlican

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