May 20, 2013 (ISN) – Welcome to the second installment of Ken’s Blog, where historian Ken Warren takes us through some of his childhood memories, and shares with us the lives and times of his sports oriented family growing up in Saskatchewan and Manitoba in the 1900’s and beyond. In Part 2, Ken introduces us to some of the disciplines he experienced as a child as well as the liberation of Uncle Edgie and the summer Gordie Howe and Bert Olmstead came to Kindersley.
My worst two spankings came one from each parent.
To set the scene for Dad’s, let me say that Kindersley had no sewer system when I was four. Our toilet was in the house, and the poop pail was put in the back alley when it was full. A gentleman named Mr. Cuz would come along with his team of horses and a large tanker wagon (referred to as a ‘honey’ wagon) and empty the shit pail into it. I have no idea where Mr. Cuz emptied the honey wagon, and never thought to ask.
Anyway, to save space in the poop pail, we had a piss pot. Older brother Jim convinced four-year-old Ken that pee tasted really good. He dipped a bottle opener in the pee pot several times and had me lick it off. Suddenly J.E. appeared at the bathroom door. While I got smacked intensely, I’ll bet Jim couldn’t sit down for the next few hours.
Mom’s spanking came after Danny Turner asked me to play with him at night. I was about 7 and never allowed to go out at night except to go to the Anglican Church choir practice from 7 pm-8:30 pm. On this night I telephoned the minister’s wife and told her I wasn’t feeling well and would have to miss choir practice. I went out that night and played with Danny. I had a great time. However, the next day in conversation with Mom, the minister’s wife asked if I was feeling better. Obviously, Mom thought I had been at choir practice. My clothes came totally off and I ran and jumped around on my bed as my mom held my hand in her left hand and swung wildly at my butt with the back end of her hair brush in her right. When she finally got me down, my ass ended up the colour of Santa’s costume.
Spankings only occurred when you got caught. I don’t know how many times Jim and I broke the bed we shared by pretending we were Superman and flying from our dresser onto the bed. Eventually a slat would break and Dad would be called on to fix it.
I was just lying there and it broke, Dad.”
“Judas Priest,” he would say. “They don’t make them very good.”
Since every bed Jim and I, or Phil and I got had earlier been Mom and Dad’s bed, I suspect Dad was feeling a little guilty for having weakened the slats.
“It really wasn’t you, Dad. Sorry, it was us.”
German soldiers keeping their eye on the prisoners, Stalag 8B – Photo courtesy of Ken Warren (ISN)
Maybe our greatest days in Kindersley were the days that my Uncle Edgie came to town with my other uncles and their families. Edgie had been liberated from Stalag 8B by an approaching Russian army. The German guards at the prison had abandoned their posts and scattered to safety knowing that the vengeful Russians were not disposed to taking Nazi prisoners.
The Warren family on the porch after hearing of Uncle Edgie’s release – Photo courtesy of Ken Warren (ISN)
Now Edgie was back with us and he had gifts for Jim and me and Warner, our cousin. We got a German bayonet, a camera, and medals; Warner, with first choice, took the German helmet. He also got medals. Dad’s brothers and sister and many Kindersley friends celebrated Edgie’s safe return for four days of parties around town. It was a great occasion.
By 1946 I finally got the dreaded Miss Keeler for a teacher. She turned out not to be the witch that everybody had warned me she would be. In fact I liked her.
1947 and ’48 were banner years for the Kindersley Klippers, too. With so many good men like Joe Staples back from the war, the Klippers hockey team won the Saskatchewan championship both years. J.E. sent six Klippers up to the six-team NHL for tryouts. Rich Hickson made it with Detroit Red Wings; Fred Hucul was sent to Moose Jaw’s junior team, but later made it to the Black Hawks. Yes, Freddie Hucul played several years for the Black Hawks, and he should have had a Kindersley forward up there with him, too. J.E. sent Jim Dobni up to Chicago for a tryout. Jim was fast. Both he and Joe Shedlowski had beaten a world class speedskater in a ten times around the arena ice the year before, and Jim led the league in scoring in ’47. He had never been out of Saskatchewan, so this was not only an opportunity to play in the best league in the world, but also a chance to see some of the world. Jim boarded the CN passenger train in Kindersley with a sendoff of family, friends and a few fans wishing him well. He’d never been on a train before, but J.E., being a railway man, had made sure that Jim had lower berths to Toronto, and a compartment from T.O. to Chicago. Everybody knew that the tryout would be a formality; Jim had the skills to make it. He was big. He was fast, and he could score. So, if you know hockey, why don’t you know the name ‘Jim Dobni’? Because the moment he stepped out of Chicago’s railway station into the hustle and noise of the city streets he felt the skyscrapers had trapped him, the exhausts suffocated him, and the noise was deafening. Did this place have any open spaces, clear skies, and clean air? Who were these people, heads down, hurrying, bumping, frowning? Standing outside the Chicago railway station Jim Dobni decided he liked Kindersley better than Chicago, and would rather play for the Klippers with friends than with Chicago for money. He turned around and went back into the station and used his own money to buy a ticket back home.
Autograph photo of Gordie Howe – Photo courtesy of Ken Warren (ISN)
In the summer, NHLers Gordie Howe and Bert Olmstead came to Kindersley’s Sports Day playing on Sceptre’s visiting baseball team. Both of these great Nhlers stopped with their teammates to party at my house and John Staples place since both of our homes were on the same street and less than a block from the arena and the fair grounds. John was the oldest of the three Staples boys on the Klippers and within two years he became president of the Saskatchewan Amateur Hockey Association. When I think of Gordie Howe and baseball, I’m always reminded of a remark that Detroit Tiger Hall of Famer Al Kaline said of Gordie: “If Gordie had taken up boxing, he’d easily be the heavyweight world champion.” True or not, Gordie must have hung around the Tigers a lot, because he is referred to as Kaline’s roommate.
After the hockey season of 1948, J.E. wanted to move from telegraph operator to station master, so he bid on that type of job in Prairie River, Sask, a small village in the north of the province. He got the job. We’d be leaving his beloved Kindersley. I’ll never forget the large story on the front page of the Kindersley Clarion: KINDERSLEY’S LOSS IS PRAIRIE RIVER’S GAIN. I was proud of my old man!
THE VILLAGES OF PRAIRIE RIVER AND CONQUEST
Prairie River and Conquest were short stops for the Warren family, but full of misadventure. Prairie River was a village of about 250 people, mostly French Canadian. There was no running water or electricity in town, so when you went to the weekly movie you carried a lantern and would hear the generator chugging throughout the film to keep it playing. I was ten in Grade 5, Phil 6 in Grade 1, and Jim 14 in Grade 10.
At the family’s first movie, Billy Grant, a kid in Grade 6, invited me outside for a fight. I went outside and so did a dozen other Prairie River kids. Each time I wrestled Grant to the ground, the bigger kids would roll me over and put Billy on top. I worked hard to get the best of him again, and again they rolled me to the bottom. I didn’t learn until much later that Jim had been embarrassed sitting in the theatre feeling ashamed that he hadn’t gone outside to help me. That’s okay though because less than a month later 14-year-old Jim took on the town’s biggest and toughest kid, 16-year-old Myron Tymkiew, and beat him. Jim just establishes himself slower and more methodical than me.
Prairie River had a two-room school. One classroom was Grades 1-4; the other, Grades 5-10. Jim and Myron were the only kids in Grade 10, and this was the only time I was ever in the same classroom with Jim.
Miss Lutz, a middle-aged woman, was our teacher. She loved Jim; not just because he was a serious student; rather, I suspect, because he helped Myron get through Grade 10 just as much as Miss Lutz had. On the otherhand Miss Lutz hated Jim’s little brother. In fact, I still smile at how much she did hate me. For instance, on one occasion in Arithmetic we took our class-corrected exercise books up to her desk so she could post our scores. Four kids in front of me was my friend Nancy Krunik.
“Fourteen mistakes, Nancy,” Miss Lutz said. “My goodness, you’re going to have to study a lot harder.”
The next three kids had only a few mistakes, so they were cleared as acceptable. Then it was my turn.
“Nine mistakes, Kenneth!” Miss Lutz exclaimed. “Anybody with nine or more mistakes will be strapped.”
Poor Nancy had to come back and get the strap with me–though hers was quite a gentle beating.
Miss Lutz made her mark on me in many ways. Especially memorable was the afternoon she sat at the front of the class giving us a social studies report on how the prairies produced millions and millions of bushels of wheat. When she said millions, my mind jumped to the morning Arithmetic class where we had learned Roman Numerals. My hand shot up for a question.
“Yes?” Miss Lutz asked.
“Miss Lutz, what’s a million in Roman Numerals?”
“Kenneth, quietly get out of your seat and proceed to the cloakroom for your jacket. Put it on and quietly leave the building, and don’t ever come back to this classroom.”
Now, I don’t know if Miss Lutz thought that I was trying to piss her off, or if she was simply pissed off because she didn’t know the answer. Fact is, hardly anybody knows the answer, and I never learned it until I was a teacher myself and purposely looked it up. However, I can guarantee you that throughout the seventies and beyond, a kid would be praised for making the connection between his morning and afternoon learning. Being expelled for asking a question was not only excessive, it was unlawful, and wasn’t tolerated by my angry father. He told Miss Lutz as much in a note and sent me to school with it the next day. Mom said that Jim told her everytime my hand went up to ask a question he shuddered.
Prairie River was located in beautiful north Saskatchean forest country and, as a family of five, we would often trek through the woods to either one of two meadows that we had found deep in the woods and have a picnic lunch there. Sometimes just Jim and I would go there with his beautiful Irish Setter, Rusty. On our way to the meadow we’d push over large dead trees and wait excitedly for the thundering noise as they broke apart when hitting the ground. We pushed over many that day, but after pushing over one on the way back home, Jim said: “Okay, that’s enough.”
I wish I had listened to him, because soon after I came across one that I thought I could push over by myself. As it was quite a big, old rotten tree, I struggled, but finally tipped it over. As it fell, wouldn’t you know that Rusty ran right underneath its downward path and stopped. If you know Irish Setters, then you know they point with feathery tail extended and head and nose straight forward. I gulped. I could already see that beautiful long back breaking. In a flash, with the strength that fear and adrenalin gives one, Jim pushed the deadly timber to a safer fall. Oh, he was mad and bawled me out severely, but I just thanked the Lord that Jim had been there to save Rusty’s and my bacon.
We moved to Conquest, Saskatchewan, in the late fall of 1948 and what a winter befell us. The snowdrifts were twelve feet high, hard-packed and everywhere. Phil and I made four and five feet high tunnels several yards long. The CNR station, where we lived, was two and a half miles out of town. Every day we walked to school and back. While the railway station was quite isolated, we were lucky because the section foreman, Mr. Geib, lived nearby and had two boys my age and one Phil’s age. I had no idea how much strength that walking every day had added to my body. That is, not until we visited friends in Kindersley and I wrestled Jim McFarlane, who was two years older than me, and considered much stronger. I held him down and all my friends were so surprised, Jim and I had to have another go just to prove the first take-down and control hadn’t been a fluke. I was just as surprised of the positive results as everybody else. Probably shows you what walking can do for you no matter what your age.
There were other such incidents in Conquest. The first week that I was in school, I wrestled the toughest kid in my grade, a surprisingly stocky boy for 10 or 11, and beat him. Unfortunately my new friend, Stan Seay, laughed at him for losing and the kid, I can’t remember his name, kicked Stan in the stomach and burst his appendix.
At 14, my brother Jim, big for his age, played senior men’s hockey. I take some of the credit for Jim being good at hockey because there were times when he and I were the only ones in the rink. He had to score ten goals to my one. By the time he got to 8 or 9 goals, he would see that I was giving up and getting ready to quit, so he’d let me score one. Then he’d have to score a bunch to catch up, and get way ahead of me again. Then he’d let me score, pretending he fell, and I’d be re-charged. The bastard always won in the end though.
In my little peewee hockey league a nearby town to Conquest was Outlook, Sask. We had a great rallying cry: Look out, Outlook
Of the many railway stations that we lived in, Conquest was the only village or town that was served by both the Canadian National and Canadian Pacific Railways. Mr. Rempel was the CPR agent. He and his family had Christmas turkey at our place, and we had New Year’s turkey at his place. My Grade 5 class voted on which was the best railway and the CPR squeaked out a win–probably because their railway was right in town.