BOOMERBROADcast

Enjoy, laugh, disagree or simply empathize with those who lived life in THE sixties and are now rockin' life in THEIR sixties, and beyond.


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Is there really a Santa Claus?


Boomer gals looked to Helen Gurley Brown for divine guidance in the sixties.

Every boomer gal worth her salt in the sixties read the best-seller Sex and The Single Girl by Helen Gurley Brown. Our lives were modeled around the latest COSMO decrees as our entire generation was creating a new world order. We also read Coffee, Tea or Me? about two high-flying stewardesses (as they were called in ancient times) living the swinging single life. There was even a movie and television series made of the book. We aspired to live exciting lives as modern gals enjoying beginning careers and the freedom of the sexual revolution—just like Helen Gurley Brown, Trudy Baker and Rachel Jones. Reading about Trudy and Rachel’s escapades as they flew the friendly skies in search of adventure was enough to make this boomer high-tail it to an Air Canada recruiting (cattle) call in their old Toronto head office on Bloor Street in 1971. Although I was turned down, a friend of mine was deemed to have the requisite ‘sex appeal’ and was hired. Fortunately, my life eventually turned out OK despite the rejection by Air Canada.

Last week, to my everlasting horror, I learned that Trudy and Rachel were totally fictional characters created by ghost writer Donald Bain. I thought the original Coffee, Tea or Me book was non-fiction. It was Bain’s obituary in the newspaper that alerted me to the fact my role models were neither real nor particularly authorly. Bain, who was an airline publicist and pilot himself, based the book on stories from conversations with a couple of Eastern Airline flight attendants, but they were inspiration only. Donald Bain, who was eighty-two years old when he passed away also authored all forty-six of the Murder She Wrote mystery novels, which were turned into the popular television series starring Jessica Fletcher, his alter-ego played by Angela Lansbury. He’s what is known in the biz as a ghost writer. We all know they exist and routinely pen autobiographies for semi-literate celebs and famous people who lack the wherewithal to compose their own story. Mr. Bain was so prolific writing for others, that it was fifty years before he finally had a book published under his own name. At least HGB wrote her own material so I’m somewhat mollified.

Imagine my shock when a major totem of my swinging sixties days suddenly came crashing down. The problem this bit of information has created is profound. It has undermined my entire belief system. For fifty years I actually thought Trudy Baker and Rachel Jones were real people, role models I could aspire to. I’m now considering the possibility that there might be further deception in what I read on a daily basis. What if those long-ago stunning magazine shots of Jean Shrimpton and Twiggy had been air-brushed and they really weren’t that drop-dead gorgeous? Was I bowing down to false idols? Perhaps Resdan really didn’t cure dandruff and Bonne Belle’s 1006 Lotion wasn’t the solution to my acne problems? Here are some other sixties’ assumptions that have been called into question as a result of that bit of revealing news about Coffee, Tea or Me:

  • “I’ll still respect you in the morning.”
  • Men prefer to marry virgins.
  • Your engagement ring should cost the equivalent of three months’ wages of your beloved (I rather liked this one although it meant he’d be so far in hock you’d never be able to scrape together the down payment on a house.)
  • A woman’s place is in the home.
  • Marriage is forever.
  • Smoking makes you look sexy.

The end of innocence

The possibilities and implications of those decisions based on standard assumptions in the sixties have influenced my entire life. Where would I be today if Air Canada had deemed me sexy enough to hire? Are my wrinkles now the result of applying tank trucks full of harsh astringent to my face to combat acne fifty years ago? Boomer gals were raised to do as we were told, not question authority and to be patient; the rewards will come to those who are deserving. We have all since learned those premises are total bull crap. I know for sure that being a good girl who doesn’t rock the boat in business did not serve me well. In retrospect, I wish I’d been a whole lot more assertive in insisting on equal pay and recognition for work performed. I did well enough, but I could have done better if I’d cast aside so many of those standards of behaviour baby boomer gals were raised with. Self-promotion, equal rights, speaking up were issues we were just starting to dip our toes into. By the time we realized these traits were assets in business not liabilities, we were often past our career prime and nearing retirement. We got the ball rolling but there’s still a lot of work to do. You’re welcome, Xers, Y’s and millennials who think feminism is passé.

Some things never change. Buyer beware.

The upshot of this experience is that I’m going to be a lot more discriminating about everything I read and am told from now on. From now on I’m going to be a lot more skeptical about the claims made by the cosmetics companies about the efficacy of their ‘anti-aging’ potions. It’s entirely possible they could be selling me a bill of goods. A shocking prospect to consider. Do you suppose food conglomerates are not being totally honest with us as well? Can I really lose weight and stay regular on fat-free yogurt? We learned too late that chewing Dentyne gum does not replace brushing. The ramifications of questioning all those early assumptions are mind-boggling.

My brain’s straining from the implications of the simple discovery that a book I read in sixties and considered to be non-fiction was in fact a total fabrication. I’ve always put all my faith in media being unbiased, just like in the days of Walter Cronkite. Now I’m forced to consider that my entire value system is flawed and now I’m too old to ‘be anything I want to be’. I should have clued in when Air Canada didn’t think so and chose to reject me. Next thing you know someone will be trying to tell me there’s no Santa Claus. If that proves to be another deception, then that definitely proves there’s no advantage in being a good girl. It’s taken me awhile to catch on but from now on, I’m my own boss living by my own rules. It’s about time.

To order Coffee, Tea or Me from Amazon click here.

To order Sex and the Single Girl from Amazon click here.

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What a difference a scale makes


Mother’s little helper. Wish I’d bought one of these little scales years ago.

Sometimes we spend an inordinate amount of time in an attempt to save money when spending the money in the first place would save us a great deal of time. Such was the case in my recent purchase of a kitchen scale—one of those nifty little digital jobs for weighing food items in recipes. In more than fifty years of doing my own cooking and baking, I could never see the value in investing in a scale. I had a large supply of measuring cups, spoons, scoops and various gadgets that allowed me to calculate the correct quantity of flour, sugar or other ingredients. And, yes, many times I also employed a pocket calculator to convert imperial to metric or vice versa.

The other day I dug out my nearly one-hundred-year-old recipe for dark Christmas fruitcake. My mother would traditionally make it every year while Dad was away deer hunting in early November so it would have about six weeks to season and ripen in time for Christmas. When she got beyond making it herself, I would go and stay with her for the week Dad was away and make it myself in her kitchen. The first time I couldn’t find a bowl big enough to contain all the ingredients so I had to wash out a cooler, dump all the ingredients in and do the mixing with my hands.

My ancient recipe for Christmas cake called for one jar of red cherries and one jar of green cherries. How much do you reckon that is?

The difficulties associated with working with such an old recipe include interpreting quantities of the listed ingredients. The recipe originally came to my mother in the fifties from a girlhood friend of hers who got it from her aunt who, with her husband owned the dairy in our small town. It called for one jar of red cherries and one jar of green cherries but gave no indication of what size the jar should be. I could take a guess at around twelve ounces each but that brought up another problem. The ingredients in the store today are now labelled in odd metric sizes like 375 g or 2 kg which always presents nearly insurmountable problems for someone like me with zero aptitude for math and conversions. Despite forty-plus years since Canada’s conversion to the metric system, I’m still thoroughly and utterly imperial. When I pass on I’ll be buried in a six-foot coffin and dropped into a six-foot pit. No metrics involved. When I buy a Christmas or Thanksgiving turkey, don’t ask me to do a quick mental calculation to convert the size from kilograms to pounds. I can’t do it, so I just eyeball the size and hope for the best. Usually I cook two turkeys just to be on the safe side and enjoy the bounty of the leftovers.

The sheet of paper with the old Christmas cake recipe on it has numerous calculations scribbled on the side of the page after my attempts to nail down the quantities in language I can understand but I’m never confident I get it right. This year, after all this time, I picked up a little President’s Choice digital scale (less than $30.00) with my groceries and I can’t begin to tell you how much I love it. And it works in imperial as well as metric. I simply put the empty bowl on the scale, hit zero then add the raisins or whatever until it shows the two pounds, one-quarter pound or whatever quantity is needed of nuts, currants or glazed fruit. No calculator, no Google, no brains required. Right up my alley. I don’t know why I waited so long. Just think of the painful hours I could have eliminated with my pocket calculator or Googling conversation charts over the years trying to adapt recipes to something I could understand. My mother would be proud. If you don’t already have a little digital countertop scale, pick one up. It’s a good investment by anyone’s measure. Believe me.

Footnote: The one scale I’ve never been able to find is something to measure butter when the wrapper has been cut away. This is further complicated by the fact that many American recipes call for one stick or two sticks of butter and in Canada butter is sold in a solid pound, unless you want to pay extra for ‘sticks’. At one time I saved the little strip along the closing flap from a Tenderflake lard package but lost it and now that I never make anything requiring lard, I’m lost without that little cardboard measuring strip. I think I’m going to have to create my own, get it laminated and put it on Etsy. I’m bound to make a fortune. Or I could simply buy a pound of lard, save the measuring strip and call it a day.

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Dreaming of a whiter shade of pale . . . and other old lady fantasies


We’re never satisfied.

We’re never satisfied are we? If we’re blessed with natural curls we spend all our days with the flat iron or depending on our ethnicity, subjecting our hair to harsh chemical treatments. If we have straight hair, we’re forever frying it with the curling iron and spraying the bejeezus out of it in our quest for natural-looking curls. If we have glorious red hair, we want blonde. In fact, as many of us age, regardless of our natural colour we opt for blonde—all-over or strategic tone-on-tone highlights—to soften the face. I was a serious user of Clairol’s shampoo-in Light n’Easy Strawberry Blonde in my early twenties but the upkeep was tiresome and hard on my hair.

Then, there was that time I accidentally bleached my entire head during an impulsive and disastrous late-night attempt at brightening up my look. I had to go to work the next day with orange straw for hair, looking like a scarecrow. When I tried applying a light ash blonde shampoo-in colour to tone it down, my hair turned green. That fiasco was followed by lashings of cheap yellow shampoo to fix it but basically my hair was so damaged I just had to wait until it all grew out. Most of us have similar stories. I soon resorted to minimal impact, safe highlights and have been a dedicated fan for fifty years.

Maye Musk. Maybe in my next life.

Many baby boomer websites and blogs are now glorifying grey and white hair, letting our natural beauty shine. Canadian-born super model Maye Musk (mother of Tesla founder Elon Musk) represents the pinnacle of what I aspire to look like. Slim, fine-featured and gorgeous with a shock of lovely white hair, she’s the personification of aging gracefully. For those women who starting turning grey in their late teens or twenties, early intervention at the salon was followed by a lifetime of time-consuming maintenance and the accompanying hefty financial commitment. On the plus side, technical advances in professional hair colouring have made it so much easier to keep our locks looking beautiful long past our best-before dates.

When I look at pictures of Ali McGraw, Helen Mirren, Glenn Close, Maye Musk and other ladies of my generation sporting gorgeous white hair, I’m truly envious. I loved Meryl Streep’s hair/wig in The Devil Wears Prada. But there’s a caveat. Half-way doesn’t have the same effect. It’s the drama of pure white hair juxtaposed with great cheekbones and stylish, colourful fashions that achieves that crescendo. Even though I’m seventy years old (ouch, still can’t believe that number), my own natural hair colour has little to no gray. Don’t know why that happened, but when my natural growth reaches the one or two-inch mark, I totter off for a high-light refresh. Some might consider me lucky to not have to worry about touching up grey roots every three or four weeks, but, I want to look like Maye Musk. Sigh . . .

Am I now paying the price for all those years of sleeping on brush rollers in high school?

My friend Perry has the kind of pure white hair I would kill for. She wears it short and sporty and it sets off her perfect skin and large blue eyes so beautifully. Meanwhile, I motor on with my light mousey colour enhanced with blonde highlights. Maybe, like Marie Antoinette I need a good shock, like facing the guillotine (although turning seventy came close) to give me the white hair I covet. But then I wouldn’t be around to enjoy it so where’s the fun in that?

At the rate it’s thinning, I should be thankful I have any hair at all. I’m tempted to sprinkle a little Miracle Grow on my scalp. It can’t hurt. When I was at the hairdresser’s a couple of weeks ago, the young woman in the next chair actually had the bottom half of the back of her head shaved below the occipital bone so her perfect bob would fall properly. I’m watching this in stunned amazement as my stylist carefully cut my hair one strand at a time to preserve as much volume as possible. I nearly pass out with envy. Some of us have so much and others so little. Please pass the estrogen. I could use a top-up of that too. I’m entitled to my fantasies.

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There’s no business like shoe business


While we can understand Carrie Bradshaw’s appetite for shoes, most of us don’t have her budget.

You’ll definitely feel less guilty about what you spend on shoes when you learn that design mogul Michael Kors Holdings Ltd. just shelled out $1.5 billion to buy Jimmy Choo Ltd. I know I felt vindicated when I compared that shoe purchase to my own weakness for buying too many pairs of FitFlops™. At least my brand of choice provides a level of comfort. Fabulous shoes are like little magic carpets. When we’re wearing great shoes we feel like we can soar above the crowds. We achieve a level of fabulousness that is unmatched and unrelated to size. Yummy shoes are works of art, transporters of emotion, a reflection of our personality. Regardless of our waistline, when our feet look great, we feel great.

It’s obvious to women that most shoes today are designed by men. The styles offered are tantamount to foot binding and even that’s illegal in a certain country not known for a strong history of human rights. Do the stores actually sell those five-inch heels to real women, of any age? So many shoes today are not designed to actually walk in but should be displayed in a curio cabinet or alongside the crystal decanters on your diningroom buffet. And who uses crystal decanters any more. They’re obsolete; their practicality has been usurped by their lack of practicality, which is why I see so many Louboutins, Valentinos and Jimmy Choos on a resale site I like to spy on (my guilty pleasure), with the notation “worn once”.

This must be what heaven looks like.

Boomers are past wearing stilettos. We had our day several decades ago when we could run to work in high heels, eschew arch supports and gad about town in flat-footed cheap sneakers. Who among us hasn’t fallen off our platforms and twisted an ankle? We’re now in the market for industrial strength arch supports and deeply cushioned soles. Many of us swear by Birkies although my foot doc isn’t a fan saying Birkenstock soles are too hard. Others prefer sneakers. I’ve had good luck with Eileen Fisher shoes (only when I can get them on sale) while anything by Franco Sarto cripples my feet. One thing I have learned over the years is that good shoes are worth the extra money. They’re more comfortable; they last longer and they generally fit better. Quality leather is flexible and it breathes. If you’ve ever been afflicted with plantar fasciitis (an inflamed ligament running from the ball of the foot to the heel which generates severe pain when you put your heel down) or other foot ailments, you’re forever diligent about footwear.

With some research and consultation with friends, stylish, comfortable footwear can be found. The internet and various fashion blogs for baby boomer women are helpful in finding what is comfortable and fashionable for our generation. It’s not mission impossible. My personal favourite brand is FitFlop™ designed by a British foot doctor. I own several pair of the sandals and now that they’ve started producing sneakers and other shoes and boots, I’m expanding my inventory. The soles are soft with a slight rise at the heel and good arch supports. I normally wear a size 7 shoe but FitFlops fit large so I wear a size 6 in the sandals and a 6.5 in shoes. Absolutely love ’em. Here’s a link to Amazon if you want to check them out. Click here for FitFlop on Amazon.

I’m not sure Michael Kors got good value for their $1.5 billion investment in Jimmy Choo but we’ve all made our share of mistakes in shoe purchases over the years and have the dust collectors in the backs of our closets to prove it. Shoes evoke such intense attachments, even our mistakes are hard to part with. I’d love to hear your comments on what footwear works and doesn’t work for you. Tell me your stories (click Leave a Comment, above, top left), the good, the bad and the ugly so we can share and learn from our experiences.

What shoes work best for you?

 

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How to prevent a cold . . . and not get fat


Colds are not fun.

A couple of years ago I posted my personal treatment program for the common cold (Step right up, try my guaranteed cold remedy). I can now take that advice a step further and suggest how you can prevent getting a cold in the first place. And, in the course of my research it was revealed that my latest discovery has a marvelous spin-off benefit—preventing weight gain. In medical circles I think this is called “off-labeling” where a treatment for one ailment has an unexpected side benefit. That’s what happened when the experts noticed that the medication used to treat glaucoma also grew thicker, longer eyelashes. Voila: Latisse.

Whenever my husband and I travel on vacation, he always gets a cold. Usually he catches it on the plane going over but on our latest vacation he held off until the final couple of days before we came home. Three years ago he generously shared his germs with an entire bus load of more than forty people touring French and Belgian war sites with us. We were very popular. This predilection for getting sick on vacation is so assured that he loads up on Canadian cold remedies from the drugstore before we leave to take along with us. I must confess right up front here that when I get sick he’s a virtual Florence Nightingale. He brings me soup, runs the household and generally gives me the time, space and resources I need to recover. He’s sympathetic, helpful and nurturing. When he gets sick, however, I turn into an evil witch. I chastise him for not washing his hands frequently enough; I refuse to touch him or anything he has touched; I avoid his air space and generally treat him like a pariah. And this is a guy who toughs it out with minimal complaining when he gets sick; he’s not one who displays the typical behaviours of a “man cold”.

France’s secret defense system against sickness and obesity.

Anyway, back to the point of my story. We recently celebrated my seventieth birthday and his seventy-fifth by taking a trip to France. We spent a few days in Paris where it was cold and wet (while it was 30 degrees C in Toronto) before traveling to catch a river cruise down the Rhône River to Marseilles. Everything was going well until a couple of days before the end of our trip when he started to complain about a sore throat and started blowing through forests of Kleenex. The barriers flew up. I washed my hands obsessively. I turned my head when he sneezed. I only touched common door knobs, taps and other items through the protection of a sanitizing wipe. (Fortunately, I’d stock-piled a supply of President’s Choice wipes before we left.) I employed my usual regimen of avoidance/prevention measures.  In the past, these measures rarely worked and I always still managed to catch his cold. This time, for the first time ever, I did not. We’ve been home for several days now so I’m past the typical three-day incubation period for catching a cold. I’m miraculously symptom-free and he’s now better.

The only conclusion I can derive from this experience is that a trip to the south of France is the secret to preventing colds. Essential to this regimen is obviously the daily consumption of copious amounts of fresh French baguettes, pounds of exotic frommages, particularly sharp blue and Camembert, crèpes set alight with generous splashings of Grande Marnier, gelato at least twice a day, delectable wines with every meal and at various times throughout the day, regular consumption of crème caramel or crème brulée, and assorted chocolate and pastry treats daily. And, when we weighed ourselves after we arrived home, we were practically the same as when we left. I can only surmise that all the walking we did from the gelato shops to the cafés and patisseries kept us fit, so similar exercise is definitely an essential component of the plan.

The French lifestyle is obviously highly conducive to healthy living.

This doesn’t account for why he got a cold under the same conditions I experienced but that’s not the issue. I didn’t. Therefore, my research is anecdotal but I’m not one to nit-pick. French women have it figured out. Not only do they stay slim as gazelles on a daily diet of crusty baguettes, delicious wines, exotic cheeses and assorted patisserie treats, they probably don’t get colds either. So, the next time my honey starts sniffing, I’m bolting for the south of France. It works for me. Merci beaucoup mes chères.

Click here to read Step right up . . . try my guaranteed cold remedy.

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Remember when laundry was a chore?


Some friends and I were discussing laundry the other day (our lives really are more interesting than this conversation would lead you to think), making the inevitable comparisons between how it’s done today and how it was done when we were growing up in the fifties and sixties. Our mothers had wringer washers and clothes were hung outside to dry, which was a giant leap in terms of convenience compared to how their mothers handled laundry. My grandmother raised eight kids washing everything by hand and only got her first wringer washer when her eldest son bought her one when he got his first job.

The upside was we could do four loads at the same time.

While living in various cheap apartments and bed-sits during my early working life, I was accustomed to taking the laundry, a box of detergent and a bag of quarters in my bundle buggy down the street a few blocks to the laundromat, or later, when I advanced in the world, having facilities conveniently located in the basement of my apartment building. That was luxury. When my husband and I bought our first (town)house in Pickering in the seventies, the greatest thrill was having my own washing machine and it didn’t require coins. I no longer had to use the same machine as hundreds of other people who’d put heaven-knows-what in the load before mine. At the time, we couldn’t afford five appliances and I really really wanted a dishwasher (my first) so I had to forgo a clothes dryer to stay within our four-appliance budget (fridge, stove, washer, dishwasher). It was three years before I got a dryer to sit alongside my beloved automatic washer. A friend who also bought her first house at the same time installed an old coin-operated washer and dryer that had been discarded from her family’s campground laundry building. She, too, could use it without coins. Such lucky girls. And to think young marrieds today can’t imagine living without all the mod cons including granite countertops.

And they called wringer washers a modern convenience.

Decades later, I still love my washer and dryer and it’s probably because I clearly remember when laundry was not such an easy chore for me and my boomer friends. When I was in high school in the early sixties and I did the household laundry it was in the “cellar” with our wringer washing machine sitting alongside a dual-tub concrete laundry sink. For those readers who weren’t born then, all the washing was done with the same tub of water that was recycled into the left laundry tub before being pumped back into the machine for each subsequent load and so on until darks were washed last. After several loads of sheets, towels and clothing, the darks were the least likely to show the residual effects of washing in water recycled from previous loads. This handy feature was called a “suds-saver”. The right side of the concrete laundry tub was then used for hand-rinsing the clothes in cold water before being manually fed into the wringer. A wooden stick was handy for keeping your fingers out of the rollers but not always successful and many women suffered painful hand injuries.

As kids, we thought frozen longjohns were hilarious.

In summer we hung clothes outside in the breezes where they dried quickly and the sheets and pillowcases smelled heavenly when you put them back on the bed. In winter, the clothes froze solid on the outside line and always made us kids laugh at jeans and pyjamas stiff as boards when we brought them in. When clothes weren’t dried in a warm dryer, everything had to be ironed—socks, underwear, towels, even pyjamas because everything was stiff and wrinkled. In the days before steam irons, everything had to be ‘dampened’. Remember that? At our house we used an old Pepsi bottle filled with water and a corked sprinkler gadget in the neck. We’d sprinkle all the clothes and roll them in damp towels that waited rolled up like cordwood in the bathtub until they were ready to be ironed. Cotton was the primary fabric used in clothing then (wool was hand washed in cold water) so wrinkles abounded.

They call this work? Not in my world.

Recalling those sequences of work with my friends reminded me of how lucky we are today. Not only do we have so many fabrics that require minimal care and no ironing, we are blessed with washing machines and dryers that do everything but dispense our wine. I load the machine, tap a setting and with a few ping ping pings, technology does all the work. But old habits die hard. I still hang sheets outside and I’m genetically programmed to always do the darks last, even though I don’t need to. No more cellars, no more recycled water, dipping hands in freezing rinse water, feeding clothes into the wringer one piece at a time, dampening everything for ironing and blessedly, no more work. Even our laundry rooms now get ‘decorated’ to be cheerful, efficient and enjoyable. I may not know how to use my cell phone to its full capability or how to program all the settings on my TV but I sure know how to tap out those laundry settings. And how to pour a nice cold glass of wine while technology does all the work. We’ve come a long way baby.

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I gobbled up The Edible Woman


I still have my original paperback copy.

It was probably the popularity of the television series The Handmaid’s Tale based on the book written by Margaret Atwood that reignited my interest in her writing. I must confess though that I did not like the book when I read it thirty years ago. Just too weird for my taste, but I absolutely loved the television series and can’t wait for season two. Perhaps I’ve evolved and I finally get it. In discussing the series with a friend who also disliked the book, I suggested she read The Edible Woman, a wonderful book written by Atwood in the late 1960s. So, the other day I unearthed my old, yellowed paperback copy of The Edible Woman to lend her. Although I’ve already read it two or three times since it was first published in 1969, I couldn’t resist the urge to take a quick peak inside. Then I couldn’t stop reading. It’s a time capsule of life in Toronto when there were still typewriters on our desks at work, girdles in our dresser drawers and hi-fi’s in our apartments. The sixties vernacular came crashing back through familiar-sounding descriptions of the clothing, social attitudes and physical surroundings. I was reminded of the difference in our moral standards. Back then gays were still referred to as queer, unmarried couples could not share a hotel room and young women often quit work when they married.

Parts I and III of the book are written in the first person, narrated by Marian, a recent university graduate. The reason Part II is written in second person becomes evident at the end of the book. She works for Seymour Surveys finessing the language in market research questionnaires for such products as beer, sanitary pads and canned rice pudding. Marian has an uninspired relationship with an articling law student named Peter whom she plans to marry and shares a flat with Ainsley who reminded me of the selfish roommate Meredith in Georgy Girl, played by Charlotte Rampling. Various other characters move through her daily life causing her to question herself and her choices. She has a secret friend Duncan who has a thing for laundromats and the life of her married friend Clara represents everything abhorrent to her. Marian’s life as a twenty-something will sound so familiar to those of us who were never quite totally happy or unhappy at that stage in our lives. There’s an overlying veil of dissatisfaction reminiscent of Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar.

Toronto, as it looked when Marian worked downtown for Seymour Surveys.

Toronto in the late sixties looked very different from today with about one-third the current population and Atwood’s detailed descriptions took me back more than fifty years. She doesn’t specify street names or neighbourhoods and I had fun figuring out where things took place from my memories of Toronto at that time. I could visualize the flat shared by Marian and Ainsley being located in the Annex district just northwest of The University of Toronto. I once shared a flat in the Roncesvalles area with two other girls, that was amazingly similar to theirs. There was no privacy door between our flat and the Polish landlady who lived with her daughters on the main floor so our activities were under her constant scrutiny. Banging her broom handle on her kitchen ceiling to warn us to keep the noise down and being subjected to her constant scrutiny was a part of daily life. Marian’s friend Len also had an apartment that sounded identical to one I once occupied on Vaughan Road.

Nostalgia abounds. When Marion describes her boyfriend Peter’s new apartment in a huge new development complex south of Bloor Street I could picture it in St. James Town. Like Peter, a friend of mine moved in while the building was still was under construction and the elevators didn’t work. Back then it was still considered a hip address comparable to today’s Liberty District south of King Street. The sixties clothing worn by Marian and Ainsley is so familiar, right down to the circular virgin pin worn on the dress of one of her co-workers. Atwood’s characters meet for a drink one evening in a lounge atop the Park Plaza Hotel at Yonge and Bloor Streets, a scene I could picture so vividly having visited the same spot in 1967 with a date and stood on the same terrace looking south toward Queen’s Park.

Yorkville Village in the sixties before it was gentrified.

Before the acceptance of such taken-for-granted rights as gender equality, young women were expected to marry before having children and there was still a degree of reverence for ‘saving yourself’ until marriage. We wrote letters home; we took our bag of dirty laundry on the bus to the laundromat when we ran out of clean clothes and we had to be twenty-one to drink legally. Our spartan apartments were furnished with junk and hand-me-downs. We were subject to the tyranny of landlords and we had jobs not careers.

The message or moral of the story (which you will have to read the book to understand) will ring true for so many women who came into womanhood in the heady days of the sixties. In fact I blogged about the issue for Valentines Day three years ago. This early book by Margaret Atwood turned me into a fan of her writing. If you’re a boomer and feel like burying yourself in a delicious blanket of nostalgia, read or re-read The Edible Woman, still one of my favourites. The message is universal and something today’s millenials can learn from. I had so much fun time-traveling back to life in downtown Toronto during the late sixties. We’ve come a long way baby.

Click here to order The Edible Woman by Margaret Atwood from Amazon.com

Click here to read I love you but I love me too

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