It is sometime in the mid 1950’s. You don’t keep exact track of those kinds of things when you’re, say, 10 years old. I can remember we had a Frigidaire with a freezer just large enough to hold its one metal ice cube tray, a pound of bacon, a pint of Neapolitan ice cream, and not much else. My parents had lived through the 1930’s and, to a great extent and in the lingering spirit of the times, continued some of their Depression era practices. While we didn’t save Christmas paper, virtually shredded in the morning hysteria, certain ribbons and bows were tucked away with a smile and a nod. We had two kinds of kitchen cord. The good cord was white and ropy, had been purchased with actual money at the dime store, and was used almost exclusively for tying food such as chicken legs and spice cloths. The other cord had been rescued from parcels received, the ends then tied together to make one ball of mismatched twine for everyday use – mailing out our own parcels, tying up the tomato plants, and so forth. Not a whole lot of money was earned but not a whole lot of money was spent either.
We had three sets of glasses. First, there were the everyday glasses that that came from generations of tumblers, that hadn’t been broken yet. Next, were the good glasses: our lightly amber coloured stemware. The dining room table was set with these glasses once or twice a year, but I cannot recall actually ever being allowed to use one. The third set were our bird glasses: eight tall frosted glasses decorated with four different birds – bluebird, cardinal, goldfinch, and oriole – in two different poses. We used the bird glasses when the everyday glasses weren’t enough but the stem ware was too much. We bought the glasses at our downtown A&P which has since closed. At the A&P the glasses were filled with cottage cheese that was a little more expensive than the Silverwoods Dairy brand, but only a little more expensive, and the glasses were irresistible. There was also a matching pitcher that you could buy somehow by sending away actual cash. We never had the pitcher, nor did I ever see one in any of the relatives’ or neighbours’ homes, since the pitcher cost actual cash money and sending away cash for any reason was viewed as entirely resistible.
My father never really asked for special treatment. Mostly his priorities in action were my mother and me, with three minor exceptions. The first was his brass ashtray on his workbench in the basement where he hand rolled Old Chum tobacco in Vogue papers and smoked one or two cigarettes a day. Next, was his battered straw gardening hat he continued to wear year after year in spite of the quiet earnest protestations of my mother. And finally, the red cardinal bird glass, the one where the bird was standing up, was his and off limits to anyone else even when he wasn’t around to use it.
I wrote the following verse reflecting recently on a Southern Ontario small city childhood filled with warmth, and in loving memory of a father who, except for listening to the ball games on the floor model walnut radio in the living room, and his red cardinal glass, was selfless.
The red cardinal glass on the counter is mine.
Sure, the ones all shelved neatly behind cupboard doors
The oriole, goldfinch, the bluebird, they’re yours.
But the one standing proudly and red – mine, mine, mine.
You can’t fill it with liquids, you know, laissez faire.
That single malt scotch, plainly does not belong,
That extra old cognac would just be all wrong.
My cardinal holds water, maybe vin ordinaire
The finch that is gold, OK that is yours too,
The oriole that’s covered in yellow and black,
If I grab them by bad luck, I’ll put them right back,
And you can definitely have the bird that is blue
See the red cardinal glass on the counter, don’t whine.
It’s faded a bit, OK more than a little
But it is not yours to malign or belittle
That red cardinal glass over there
It is mine.