In the mornings, Sam would always make me a bowl of instant oatmeal. She always put lots of brown sugar and milk on it, and I loved it that way! Being kind of small, I’d have to sit on my knees to reach the table properly. Perched on my chair, I’d hungrily shovel down my oatmeal while regarding the educational information on the empty packet.
The kitchen radio was always tuned to CFAX, and many mornings I would hear the “whistling” jingle for “Dollar Forty-nine Day” at Eatons, followed by the synthetic sounding “Dar-dar-Darrr” that announced the morning newscast. Armed with such nutritional and informational nourishments, I would begin my day.
I don’t remember ever going to Kindergarten or pre-school, but when I was about four, I would ride a bus to go to a place called “G. R. Pearkes”. The bus was in fact just a yellow van with a big pink or blue smiling cartoon bunny painted on the back doors. It was the “Bunny Bus”, the Easter Seal bus. On my way to “school”, I used to enjoy staring at the lines on the road and watch them seem to straighten out as they went under the van.
A bus driver I remember was a man named Mr. Finnegan, which was also the name of Casey’s puppet dog companion on the “Mr. Dressup” show (which I loved).
Mr. Finnegan wasn’t anywhere near as much fun to watch as his puppet dog namesake, except for maybe one occasion:
Mr. Finnegan had left the bus parked momentarily while he went to take care of some business – probably to go to the bathroom. One of the girls on the bus was monkeying around in the front seat, pretending to drive, and cracking us all up. The excitement level was getting pretty darn high, since we would all have been skinned alive if we were caught screwing around with the controls.
Then, all of a sudden, the bus started to move – she had kicked it out of park, and we were slowly rolling forward! After a panic-stricken few seconds of this, Finnegan burst into the cab and jammed his foot on the emergency brake, which sent us lurching forward in our seats. I don’t remember exactly what he said, but I do remember the decibel level at which he said them! They were loud, adult words aimed at all of us! I can just imagine him seeing the Easter Bunny bus roll out of control as he comes out into the parking lot, probably still doing up his fly. Picture the Happy Bunny waving bye-bye to Mr. Finnegan…
Another time, riding to “school”, I was struck by just how different some of my fellow passengers were from me. It was fall or early winter, and I was all dressed up in my Elmer Fudd style cap and a large duffel coat. Sitting right across from me was this large boy, probably in his early teens. He had a kind of “vegged out” expression and a heavy brow that I had not noticed before. I had probably seen this guy or someone like him on the bus many times, but I had never before noticed the differences between us. It scared me a little and made me feel a little weird, like maybe my bus was different or something. I recall that after that, I always felt slightly resentful of having to ride the Bunny Bus because I knew it meant that I was somehow different from other kids.
I’m not sure whether G. R. Pearkes was a school or a hospital or some combination of both, but I was told that it was named after a famous Doctor. I have since learned that Pearkes was not a Doctor, but in fact the Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia, who had a keen interest in the welfare of handicapped children.
I was sent there because I needed physiotherapy. It was something to do with my coordination, and my left leg being weaker than my right leg. All I remember now was the comfort I enjoyed in taking part in various non-competitive, one-on-one activities, such as swimming and doing therapeutic exercises. The physiotherapy included walking with a ball between my knees, walking on the outside edges of my feet, walking on my heels, and swimming. It was actually all kind of fun, especially swimming which was my favourite activity. I remember that the people there were very friendly and nice. I wish school were always like that…