As mentioned in a previous episode, after Gramp stopped being a Presbyterian minister and became a hearing aid salesman, life changed for Nan. Around 1963, Irving and Jean Kaine, my maternal grandparents, rented out their home in Toronto and moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania for a time where Gramp got a job at Gimbels Department store. Nan took everything in stride and always on the look out for some thing new, decided to fulfill a lifelong dream to take typing course! For a while, her rambling letters to us were neatly typed. I continue to marvel at her ability to embrace change and take on challenges. A great example to us all.
We did not lose touch with Nan as Windsor, Ontario where we lived was only 5 hours away from Pittsburgh. My mother, Doris, drove me, aged 12 and the three boys, Timothy, 9, Jonathan, 8, and Christopher, 6, to celebrate the Canadian Thanksgiving with Nan and Gramp in Pittsburgh. This was one of many journeys that my mother took us on in our decrepit but beloved Morris Minor Traveller station wagon. My parents, always the rebels, had a penchant for British cars even though they were not well suited to the Canadian climate. My father, who had basically abandoned us at this point, would turn up out of the blue to bring us a car or to paint the front door of our dull gray aluminum war time house fire engine red. The Morris Minor he left us had fragrant, cracked maroon leather seats, wood trim and a rear brake light regularly repainted with red nail polish as the cover had broken and parts were hard to get in Canada. The car was very small so on long trips, my mother would take out the front passenger seat and put our luggage beside her while me and my brothers slept in the back compartment, a head in each corner with feet meeting in the middle. We often left in the middle of the night to reduce the inevitable bickering in the back.
Pittsburgh is a very hilly city and the Morris Minor was designed for the relatively flat English landscape so we had real adventures getting around Pittsburgh as my mother tried to avoid steep hills. The car’s struggle to get up the hills reminded me of the train in the children’s story, “The Little Engine that Could”.
Other than the hills, we certainly had a grand time on our visit with Nan and Gramp. I was thrilled with the stylish black trench coat and red tartan outfit, and the boys were proud of the black and white pointy toed shoes that we got on a shopping spree in the bargain basement at Gimbels Department Store when we went to see Gramp at work. We saw our first coloured television and enjoyed a fabulous Thanksgiving dinner.
However an incident that happened at the dinner has followed me for over 50 years. I was devastated and started sobbing when the turkey was brought to the table already carved. I realize now it was because I yearned for the family depicted in the Norman Rockwell painting of a Thanksgiving dinner and somehow the presentation of the whole uncarved turkey at the table was an integral part of the dream. To this day, when we are at family get-togethers having turkey, someone checks with me to see if I will be upset if it is not brought to the table whole! I have assured them that I am okay after all these years but inside I recognize that a perfectly set table and the presentation of the glistening bird gives me a sense of predictability and well being that was not always present in my home.