Last week I wrote about how, in July, 1953, my sister forced me to return to PEI from Toronto. I had two days alone on the train to consider my next move. Well before I arrived in Charlottetown I’d concluded that my future still lay in Toronto, not PEI. I also realized that I’d have to let some time go by before returning to Toronto because when I went back there it was going to be to stay, regardless of what anyone had to say about it.
Because I’d capitulated in the face of Mae’s adamancy and the lack of support from anyone else, she hadn’t had to carry through on her threat to telephone home; in fact, she hadn’t even written home about the fiasco. So as far as friends and relatives in PEI were concerned I was simply back from another trip to Toronto.
The strawberry harvest season was just beginning when I arrived back in Morell, so for the next two or three weeks I, along with about a dozen other people of all ages from Morell, hopped in the back of Punkin Jay’s truck every evening about 5:30 (except Sunday, of course) for the ten-mile trip to the Mt. Stewart Strawberry Exchange, where we spent the next five hours or so pulling the hulls off strawberries, returning to Morell about 11:30, once again in the back of the truck. We were paid by the box, and I made between four and six dollars per night, depending on the size of the berries allotted to me and how hard I worked.
Shortly after the strawberry season ended I found out that the Co-op store in Morell was having trouble finding an egg grader. At that time two of the three general stores in Morell, the Co-op and Dingwell & Rossiter’s, bought eggs from farmers within about a twenty mile radius of Morell, some of which they sold but most of which were shipped all over the Maritimes.
I spoke to the manager of the Co-op, Byron Webster, and told him I’d be willing to learn how to grade eggs. Byron had actually started his career at the Co-op as an egg grader, and another senior Co-op employee, Doug MacEwen, who was married to my sister, Edith, was also at one time a certified egg grader. Byron figured that he and Doug could train me sufficiently that I could be certified. That turned out to be the case and before long I was the official Co-op egg grader, earning twenty-two dollars a week.
After the novelty wore off, which took about two weeks, it turned out to be a not very enjoyable occupation. By the nature of the job (holding eggs up to an intense light) the grading had to be done in a dark, cold room. When I had no eggs to grade, which was at least half the time, I was assigned menial, boring tasks around the store. I worked from eight until six (with an hour off for lunch) on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday; eight until noon on Wednesday; and, eight in the morning until ten at night on Saturday (with an hour off for each of lunch and dinner) which didn’t leave a lot of time for the normal pursuits of a healthy teenager. I stuck it out until November, gave two week’s notice, and quit.
My plan was to head for Toronto in early January, but for some administrative reason it took longer than anticipated for my father to obtain the necessary railway pass. In the meantime I worked four nights a week setting up pins at the local bowling alley. By working two lanes at a time I could make about three dollars a night, so by the time I had the pass I’d saved a bit money. My father gave me ten dollars, which was probably every penny he could spare, so I had around fifty bucks.
It wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be to convince my parents that it was fine for a fifteen-year-old to head off to Toronto to find work, but I did. My sister Edith wasn’t exactly thrilled with the idea, and my PEI brothers, Ronnie and Art, didn’t even know of my plans.
Edith was the only one who corresponded with the folks in Toronto and she reluctantly agreed not to let them know I was coming. I didn’t want Mae planning her resistance before I even got there.
At 6:00 am on Tuesday, February 9, 1954, my father drove me to Charlottetown in Doug’s old pick-up truck to catch the train for the mainland.
Just before I boarded the train, lugging my one suitcase and a paper bag containing two ham sandwiches and an apple, my father said to me, “Lyman, you have your pass and it’s good for three months. If things don’t work out, the longest it can take you to get back to Morell is three days; and you can’t starve in three days, so you have nothing to worry about.”
The train pulled out right on time at 7:00 am and I was sure my father was right: I had nothing to worry about.
Next week: back in Toronto, and maybe there were some things to worry about.