I came across a couple of photos buried deep in my computer’s hard drive this week that were taken in 1953. I was six that year.
I remember the circumstances of one of them. We lived in at 448 Mornington Ave in London, Ontario and this was a Halloween party for me and my friends in the neighborhood. It looks like we were all dressed as hobos. Hobo costumes may seem to be a bit unimaginative but they were not expensive to create.
A television was a new item in Canadian homes. The first CBC television stations opened just the year before, in 1952. The local station had only 4 hours of programming per day and the rest of the time it was a black and white test pattern.
I am not sure if I had ever been to a movie. Play was in a sandbox in the back yard. My imagination would have been stimulated by picture books like Winnie the Pooh, Peter Pan and my favourite of all – Nursery Tales That Children Love. I still have that book. I smells a bit musty but I treasure it as something from my childhood. Inside the front cover is an inscription – “TO JOHN, FROM GRAMP.” And I did love those stories. The Gingerbread Boy, Peter Rabbit, The Three Little Pigs. My favourite was Little Black Sambo – probably now banned as being politically incorrect. But maybe it set me dreaming of Africa even then.
My mom (anyone who knew her will be able to image this) had decided that to liven up the Halloween party we would all go down into the basement in the dark and she would pass around little bowls of stuff that were supposed to represent body parts. Cold spaghetti was brains. Peeled grapes were suppose to be eyeballs. My Mom was not as creepy as this now sounds. In addition she had decide to make the basement dark and spooky by tying a piece of colored cloth around the bare light bulb that lit the basement stairs. Mid way through the ghost story, the cloth caught fire. We abandoned the bowls of body parts and scrambled upstairs and outside to safety. I don’t think Mom tried that trick again.
Earlier in 1953 Queen Elizabeth was crowned, her father, King George having died the previous year. I remember playing in the back yard on that June day and admiring the wooden nickel that we had been given at school to commemorate the occasion. I layed on the grass watching the clouds whiz by and knowing that something historical was happening that day but having no real sense of what if was.
I was the same age as Prince Charles. I used to think that maybe some day we could be friends. I did shake hands with him and chat ever so briefly when he and Diana visited Kingston in 1991. That was as chummy as we got. Charles probably doesn’t remember the moment as vividly as I do. His hand was not soft and princely but rough and more like that of a gardener. Mine was probably sweaty like so many others he had encountered.
The Stratford festival opened in 1953. My grandparents had friends in Stratford named Helen and Bob, who were somehow involved with the festival and they attended early performances that were done in a big tent. They went to parties with the likes of Tyrone Guthrie and Alec Guinness who starred in the first production of Richard III.
Although I was only six, I walked to school myself. It was about eight blocks away and over a level railway crossing for the main CP line. Today parents line up in the schoolyard to scoop up their kids as they emerge from school. Innocence (or at least the feeling of innocence) lost and replaced now by paranoia and suspicion.
My cat was named Tippy. My brother was/is named Bob. Both were about 18 months old. My grandparents were ten years younger than I am now and I thought of them as old. I now have five grandchildren of my own.
I was probably having fun at that Halloween party and have had a lot more fun over the past 60 years.
Time flies when you’re having fun.
Loved this reminiscence! I too loved Little Black Sambo – he was such a clever little boy. It was actually set in India not Africa, interestingly enough. I have a couple of books from way back then as well – I seem to have chewed their edges (must have got my teeth late!).
You are right about it supposedly being in India…but look at these original illustrations. Not very Indian, I think.
Yes indeed Sambo was in India. They were tigers running around the tree and stealing his clothes. He LOOKS African, however as does Black Mumbo who serves up the “Hundred and Sixty-nine” pancakes that Sambo eats because he was so hungry.
I’m still trying to find a copy of Sambo – I didn’t find it so much incorrect as enchanting – the exotic locale, the image of the tigers running around the trees and turning into butter…I loved those little golden books. My kids did too. I miss those days of imagination. When we moved to Annapolis Royal, and when we lived in Shilo, MB, it was safe enough to tell the kids to go outside and play, and they did – climbing all through a ravine, exploring the short grass prairie. I’m glad they had those times and the space in their schedule to do nothing but imagine.
Thanks for your contribution to this discussion. I hope you can see the other comments added about this.
I also found this story enchanting and exotic and when I was six didn’t really care if it was India or Africa. Wild animals and a resourceful kid and pancakes were enough for me. I think likely the title these days would be different and Sambo would have less of a stereotypic name but the story would resonate just as much. Since unearthing this book, i now want to read these stories to my grandchildren. Summer project.
This read was a lovely trip down Memory Lane.
Coronation: Our school board gave out medals as souvenirs. I recall, that on behalf of the entire school, a boy and a girl were chosen to go up on the stage and accept theirs from a Trustee. I was thrilled to be chosen as the girl…most likely because my British mother had dressed me that day in red, white and blue. I wore a red neckerchief, white blouse, blue skirt and a hairband of red poppies, white daisies and blue cornflowers. I probably looked quite dorky by today’s standards. Yes, that portrait of Queen Elizabeth II was in every classroom. The IODE donated them. Years later, as a young teacher, the same portrait was in my classroom. One day a little girl, stood in front of that picture of Her Majesty, looking at it in awe. Finally she said, “Mrs. Shannon, you sure are beautiful when you dress up in your Queen’s outfit.”
Little Black Sambo: It was a real favourite and we were allowed to read it to our classes, but had to leave out the word, “Black.” He was just” Little Sambo”. Crazy, because the pictures and other wording played into a racial stereotype. The book, however, is still in print today and can be ordered from Amazon. They even have a Kindle edition.
See my comment below.
I have written previously about events that stick in the mind. Interesting how we who were around when Queen Elizabeth was crowned have distinct and vivid memories of that even though we were not really fully aware of its significance.
The Sambo story has, no doubt, been modified since its original publication in 1908. The original and a few early variations had some very stereotypical illustrations of people of colour. Check this one out. https://archive.org/stream/storyoflittlebla1903bann#page/n9/mode/2up
I have always been aware of the reference to India and the fact that tigers were of Indian and not African origin but the illustrations, even in the 1940’s versions, have the family looking more like African Americans than people from India. The original version would have been quite frightening, in fact, to a kid. I like my version of Sambo better than the earlier ones. I guess, like Mickey Mouse, the illustrations change with time. Even the names Sambo and Mumbo and Jumbo could be interpreted as racist – and are not very Indian.
No matter. The story is a happy one with a child who emerges unscathed by the jealous greedy tigers and gets pancakes in the end.