When I turned 13, we moved from Ahuntsic to Park Extension in Montreal. Dad, father of five rowdy, quarrelsome girls was champ when it came to finding cheap ground-floor rentals. We were noisy and Maman was tired of the people downstairs complaining.
The humble building was a ground floor of a duplex without a basement. Damp and dark, instead of dry and dark; as in our former locale, it had the advantage of a tiny, packed dirt backyard and a beat-up little apple tree. Maman adopted it immediately.
Upstairs lived two body-builders and their wives. The two women were big-breasted, foul-mouthed red-lipped, cigarette smokers of great beauty. And they wore “short-shorts”! The males on Bloomfield Avenue were always interested. The women, well…
The porch on the second floor was covered so the men worked on their bench press outside when the weather was warm. The neighbouring women stood on their back porches hanging out lots of laundry, admiring the muscle ripples. Their rock and roll on CJAD was always on full blast.
Maman grumbled – she did not like short-shorts, swearing, beer-guzzling or rock and roll. To mollify her, Dad bought her a new Mixmaster, an electric kettle, and an electric curling iron! No more burnt hair!
From Bloomfield, it was a short walk to the Querbes Street Deli, where, to Dad’s delight, the best ever, biggest ever, garlic dill pickles were sold. Treats to go with his passion; smoked meat and rye bread, carried home, wrapped in thick brown waxed paper.
After their Friday night sandwich treats, the adults (a cute uncle and my aunt, Dad and Maman) took off for the 25cent movies at the Querbes Theatre, where you could view the newsreel, two cartoons, and two movies. I was the babysitter. Three hours of freedom from adults!
I would tune in the radio station to the same one they played upstairs – full blast. My second junior sister and I would dance rock and roll like crazy.
One evening, the women upstairs asked me to come up to their flat to visit, and offered me some beer! So while I sat up there, my four junior sisters, bribed into silence with shares of my chips and coke which were my babysitting payment, played games and destroyed the house.
The husbands were out, and so their wives talked to me about what I did in school, what my Dad did, and so on. They liked Dad, they said. They also liked that the cute blond fellow who was my uncle, living one block down.
But best of all, we talked about dancing and dresses. They opened their closets and showed me the loveliest evening dresses I had ever seen! I fell in love – with dresses and lipstick and high-heeled shoes and cars with long- long fins on the back – which their husbands drove.
Time speeds when distracted by forbidden pleasure – My parents got home. I was marched downstairs by Dad, who sadly turned down the offer of a beer by the beauties wearing the short-shorts. But, thanks to their charms, Dad toned down Maman’s fury. To cut the smell of beer on my breath, he gave me peppermints to eat and, walking in, he said to Maman: “They were only showing her their dresses and lipstick. Our oldest is growing up and this is girls’ stuff, you know. She doesn’t have an older sister. Maybe we should let her have a nice lipstick for her birthday – not red – (seeing Maman’s eyes flare up) – just a nice pink. What about that, eh?” Derelict babysitter I was, but off the hook. No punishment.
I did get a nice pink lipstick for my birthday, and that whole summer, I was in love with dresses and dreamed of someday being like the girls upstairs.