When the children became
seven or eight years old, their mother decided that it would be good for
them to go to school and learn English. Up to this point, Ukrainian was the
only language spoken. Maria asked a neighbour, Joe Sobo, who was already
attending school and a few years older, to take Joe and Stone to school.
When they arrived there, Joe Sobo told the teacher their names but the
teacher misspelled the last name – Melnick instead of Melnyk. Thus, as many
other European names, Melnyk became anglicized and continues to be so.
School seemed to be a failure for everyone except possibly Ann. Joe, Stone,
and Peter hated school and usually played hooky three out of five days. They
were constantly being punished for not attending school. In one day Peter
received a strapping from six different teachers for playing hooky. First he
was strapped by Bronco, the truant officer, Ted Petrie, Mother Saint Agnes,
Mother Saint Thomas, his own teacher, Miss Nunn, and Miss Boyle. He was
strapped so many times because he would not cry. Their parents didn’t know
what went on in school for they could not read English and therefore, did
not understand what was written on report cards.
At home, Ivan would not allow the children to do any homework or to study.
However, Joe and Peter were able to complete grades seven and eight,
respectively. Stone went to grade ten but when his father found out how much
books cost, he would not allow him to continue his education. Nick went to
grade nine. Mike, the youngest child, completed grade ten partly because by
this time, old cultures and fashions were beginning to diminish slightly.
School for the girls was about the same. Sonia started at Villanova School.
Like all her brothers, she was able to complete grade five but then was
troubled with medical problems. By the time she recovered, she was much
older and bigger than the kids in her grade, therefore, she quit and became
her mother’s right hand maid.
For Ann things were different. She, unlike everyone else, loved school. She
was always a leader and came second or third in her class standing each
year. She became interested in art and after several months into grade nine,
Ann quit school and enrolled in an Art school in Holy Angles Convent. The
cost of each lesson was seventy-five cents. This was paid by her parents,
mainly her mother. Ivan still was not convinced of the usefulness of such an
education. Ann continued art school for about three or four years. She
returned to school in 1975 and successfully obtained a business degree.
Social kicks consisted of a number of games from swimming at English Lake to
tripping cops in back alleys. A lunch would be taken to the swimming hole.
It usually consisted of four or five potatoes for the boys. The potatoes
were then thrown into the fire and baked, a quick, easy, and most
importantly, a cheap lunch.
During the quiet of the evening, the boys would always think of some trick
to play. The local policemen – Ranny MacDonald, Carmichael (Baby Chaser),
John Munroe, Art Muggah, and Gordon MacLeod – would become extremely angry
when provoked. Such provoking was done by calling them names and throwing
stones. Every time the police would end up chasing the boys and out of
nowhere, a wire, strung ankle high, would appear in the back alley. The boys
would know where the wire was but the policemen were not so lucky and every
couple of days they would end up with the “gravel itch”.
Other games such as three-card poker, commonly called “brag” (1)were
often played. A penny up was used, a cent each hand. The so-called leader of
the gang was Mike Stevenson. He was the boss, the oldest and the biggest. He
also cheated the other boys. When a big pot came up, he would ask everyone
what they had in their hand. When everyone told him their cards, he would
say, “well I beat you” but never did he show his cards. The boys always
trusted him, or maybe they were too scared not to trust him. However, it was
not until a long time afterward that they finally caught on.
Another favourite pass time for the boys was to collect bottles and try to
get enough for a “show fare”, which was ten cents. The following story
suggested just what could happen when one went to collect bottles. It was
recalled by every member of the family and it goes something like this:
One hot, summer day in July the boys (Joe, age 13; Stone, age 12; Peter, age
10; and Nick, age 9) were asked to baby sit their youngest brother Mike who
was only about four or five months old. John Klemchuck was getting married
that day and the boys’ mother had to prepare for it.
The day started out fine. The boys decided to look for some bottles to get a
“show fare” for everyone. They went up Curries Lane, usually a very
productive area, to see what they could find. Stone happened to see that
Simon Davids’ cellar hatch was open. There was no basement, just a hole dug
underneath the house and boarded up with planks. He crawled into the cellar
to see if there were any bottles. In the process, he tripped over a bag of
bottles and took three or four out. Seeing that they were full of beer, the
boys emptied them on the ground. Stone then got some more bottles from the
cellar for now they would have enough for a show fare and a package of
cigarettes as well. Instead of spilling the beer out, the boys decided to
drink it. Poor little Mike had been neglected with all the commotion and he
had no more milk left in his bottle (an old Pepsi bottle with a nipple on
it). One of the boys replaced the nipple onto a beer bottle and gave it to
the baby to drink. The boys didn’t notice that Mikie was in the sun and
asleep. Just by chance, Gilbert Cormier passed by the boys on his way back
to work after lunch. By this time, the boys were pretty drunk and offered
Mr. Cormier a beer. Being such a hot day he drank the beer, then another and
another. Others were now on their way to and from work; each was greeted
with a cold beer. The incident turned into a party and no one made it back
Unfortunately, someone had seen Stone take the beer and informed Mrs. David.
She in return informed Maria Melnyk, the boys’ mother, and insisted on
payment for four full bags of beer. Maria replied,
“Me pay you for beer, you
poison my boys. You keep beer like that for my boys to get drunk – look at
my baby, Mikie, how sick! I’m a going to call police for you.” When the boys
got home, their father beat them. Punishment was usually with a cattail whip
and the boys were stripped and beaten. But their mother said
along they’re all drunk, they don’t feel anything, beat them tomorrow when
they are sober.”
Besides the above “games”, children took part in gang wars. In the
neighbourhood, it would be ethnic group against ethnic group and everyone
against the “niggers”. However, when the gangs from several blocks away
strolled in, it was everyone against the “Lingan Roaders”. The usual kicks
such as raiding gardens, building rafts and carts were also pastimes for the
boys and other children in the neighbourhood.
(1) Poker also resembles a
Renaissance game called Primero and a French game known as Brelan. In
England, Brelan eventually developed into a game named Brag or Bragg, a card
game where the possibility of bluffing is an important part of the game,
just as in Poker. Source
Origins Of Poker