The Melnick / Melnyk Family

Chapter 5

Education and Social life

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 to work.

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 “leave them 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.

Webmaster's Notes:

(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 The Origins Of Poker

Copyright © 2006 Robert Stephen Melnick. All rights reserved