I’m short. My father was short; my mother was short; my three sisters are short. I never knew my paternal grandfather but my other three grandparents were all short. For goodness’ sake, we were all short. I did hear someone wiser than I say, “You measure a man from the shoulders up, not down,” but the trouble with being short is that you get overlooked. I know that lots of people who were short made it. Napoleon was short and he made it. My friend and engineering classmate Fred Doty was short but quarterbacked the Toronto Argonaut Football team to three consecutive Grey Cups back in the forties. The Argos have never had it so good since Doty’s days. But taller people seem to have an advantage over us.
For me being short carried with it both insult and advantage. One recess time at Dundas Public School, Edgar Olmstead, a big guy, was chasing another big guy. He had blood in his eye. As they ran past me, Edgar stumbled over my foot. His first reaction was an enraged, “Who did that? I’ll beat the ………” Then he looked at me and said, “Oh. It’s only you,” and he continued to chase the other guy. It was an insult that carried a blessing.
I didn’t have a lot of difficulty with the academic side of Public School but I was far behind my peers physically and socially. In my bathing suit while swimming in the Black Crick at the Hope Street Bridge I looked pretty pathetic. When on parade with the Boy Scouts, (First Dundas troop) I looked skinny in my short pants. We called those pants stove pipes. Not only that but my Boy Scout knee socks were usually at half-mast because of my skinny legs.
Further insults came in High School days. I was still lagging behind. We had a big mouth in our class, who was always trying to impress us with his knowledge of hit tunes on the radio. He thought we should all know about these important things. One Friday afternoon he announced, “Anybody who comes in Monday morning and doesn’t know the titles of the ‘Top Ten’ gets thumped.” I didn’t have a clue. Monday morning came and in Wood Shop he took a poll. When he came to me I confessed ignorance of names of the “Top Ten.” He looked at me and announced “I won’t waste my energy on you.” It was like being saved from one hurt only to be subjected to another.
I didn’t fare much better at university either. At the ripe old age of seventeen I enrolled in Civil Engineering at the University of Toronto weighing in at 108 pounds, and standing five foot four. It was 1944 and the war was still on. It was required of all the men at university that they enroll in the Canadian Officer’s Training Corps. This meant that on the week-ends, they would have to march up and down with wooden rifles and learn things useful in winning the war if it were still going after graduation. It was assumed that if you were smart enough to be in university you should be smart enough to be an officer. The main benefit of being in the C.O.T.C. was that you got an army uniform which could be a real advantage when hitch-hiking home on week-ends.
So I reported as requested. They did a cursory physical. The results- “Too short.” “ Too light.” “Physique inadequate.” I was rejected for duty. This meant that my Saturday afternoons enabled me to either hitch-hike home for the week-end early or I could go to Varsity Stadium and watch semi-professional football games while my class-mates were doing left-rights on the back campus. It was pretty good football too. This was the time before the two leagues joined to create the Canadian Football League. One league was called the Ontario Rugby Football Union or O.R.F.U. I can’t remember the name of the other league. Hamilton had two teams back then, the Wildcats and the Tigers. Now you know why their present team is an amalgamation called the Tiger-Cats. Back in the forties on a Saturday afternoon Balmy Beach might be playing the Hamilton Wildcats with Joe Krol firing passes to Royal Copeland and Abe Zvonkin, never wearing a helmet, playing on the line. I was just a spectator when it came to the heavy sports. I was short.
When I first arrived at university I was informed that Hart House, was the recreational and social centre for men students. It had a barber shop, a pool- (sorry, billiards) room, library, chapel, music room, theatre, debates room, squash courts, basketball courts, indoor running track, dining hall and a swimming pool. It was named after Hart Massey of the famous Massey family. He died in World War I. (Women weren’t allowed to be members of Hart House until the sixties.) Well, I approached the Hall Porter and asked, “Which way to the swimming pool?” He looked at me with kind of a funny smile and said, “I’m sorry, sonny, but it’s only for university students.” It took me some time, even after I showed him my “Admit to Lectures” card, to convince him that I was truly a university student.
Then there were the university dances. They were usually held at the Royal York Hotel with top of the line bands to dance to. I certainly didn’t know any girls in Toronto so who could I ask? One of my class-mates, Jimmy Walker, even as a freshman, was a big man on campus. He was a graduate of North Toronto Collegiate which boasted the prettiest girls in Toronto. He said, “I know lots of girls, I’ll get you a date.” It was all arranged.
On the evening of the dance, I rode the street-car up Yonge Street to North Toronto and walked the five blocks to the home of my blind date. She looked at me and gulped but figured she was stuck. Off we went on the street-car to the Royal York. We danced some but when she got other offers she quickly accepted. After the dance, I was hoping against hope that she wouldn’t want to go to some restaurant for a snack before going home. It would have meant getting off the street-car somewhere, costing me money that I really didn’t have, and then having to pay for two more street-car tickets to get her home. Thankfully she declined to extend the evening so I took her straight back to her fancy house.
Bert Michnick, my roommate at the Co-op residence where I lived, had told me, as I was leaving to pick up my date, “If you don’t kiss her goodnight you don’t get back in here tonight.” So as I approached the door returning my date to her house, I told her about my
roommate’s threat. “So can I kiss you goodnight?” I asked tentatively. Her generous reply was, “Are you kidding?” I fled. I never saw her again. I don’t remember her name.
Fortunately, by the time I had reached my fourth year at University, I had grown to about five foot seven and a half. That was an improvement over the days at High School sweater hops when a girl would dance with me and at the same time be looking over my head in search of better prospects. One time I attended a dance in Dundas at the I.O.F. Hall which was above Bertram’s bakery. (Or was it the I.O.O.F hall?) Anyway it was put on by the ‘42 Club. This was a group of teens from Dundas High School who organized social events like dances and wiener roasts. There were a lot of kids there that I knew. The music was at least familiar although I still couldn’t list the Top ten on the Hit Parade. Among the bands that were popular in those days were Glen Miller with the Sweetest Music This Side of Heaven, Tommy Dorsey, Tex Beneke, Les Brown and His Band of Renown, and the hot trumpet player Harry James who was married to Betty Grable. Canadian bands included Mart Kenney and His Western Gentlemen, Nick Stout, Trump Davidson, Darkie Wicken and Gordie Brown. Eph Slote and his orchestra held forth in the old music hall to the delight of those who loved square and country dancing.
The popular singers of the day were The McGuire Sisters, Babs and the Bobolinks, Johnny Rae, Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra and Vaughan Monroe whose signature tune was “Racing With the Moon.” Elvis had not yet appeared, and the Beatles were still in diapers. There seemed to be a lot of travel songs in those days. “Fly Me to the Moon” “Chatanooga Choo Choo” “Slow Boat to China” “Gonna Take a Sentimental Journey” and “Take the ‘A’ Train” were all popular. Was there a longing to get out of town?
But back to my night at 42 Club. I was dancing happily with Betty Millard and at the end of the number the M.C. called for a lady’s tag. Making a bee-line for me was Betty’s sister, Dollie. I was pleased to see her approach and reached out to dance with her. But suddenly Dollie was gone and Betty too. The next thing I saw was the two sisters whirling around the floor together doing intricate steps which they had obviously practiced at home. I was left standing there crushed. After that, when lady’s tag was called I would head for the pop
cooler. I talked to Betty at her 50th wedding anniversary. She was married to Don Norton and for years they had run the general store at Lynden. I didn’t have the heart to tell her of the stinging disappointment that I suffered some 60 years before when she abandoned me to dance with her sister. I don’t think being short had anything to do with it but it was just another in a series of rejections that needed some memory healing. I’m O.K. now.