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Did you ever get rid of something and later regret it?

This fabulous Pat McDonagh coat would be just as stylish today as it was when I bought it forty years ago. Mine was a different, better colour of tweed.

Back in the 1970s when I was finally making decent money, living the life of a modern career gal who had to put her best fashion foot forward, I invested in a winter coat at the Your Choice store in Scarborough Town Centre, that cost an embarrassing amount of money. It was by Canadian designer Pat McDonagh. Made of black and grey wool tweed shot through with cobalt blue, it came almost to my ankles, had giant banded sleeves and shoulder pads, and a large, soft, open pleat down the flared back. I. Absolutely. Loved. That. Coat. I wore it with a cobalt blue scarf, tall boots and felt like a million dollars whenever I put it on. Why oh why did I ever get rid of it? Did I consign it or just stuff it into the bag for Goodwill? I was so casual about its disposal I can’t even remember where it went. I regret it soooo much and wish I still had that coat.

My friend Perry had the rare privilege of living in swinging London in the sixties. Boomers will remember London was the epicenter of the fashion universe and one of the hippest stores at that time was Biba. Vogue’s Anna Wintour actually worked in the fitting rooms at Biba back then. According to Perry, “Biba was near where I used to live in London and was a mecca for all the dollybirds. I bought one of her Victorian-style lamps in velvet with a long fringe around the edge in a colour called Oxblood. It was my proudest possession. I sold it recently in a garage sale for $10.00.” Original Biba items now command hefty prices on eBay and perhaps if Perry had been a bit more discriminating about how she sold it, she could have supplemented her old age wine budget significantly.

The other night I was watching a television rerun of Carnal Knowledge from 1971 starring Jack Nicholson. There’s a quick scene toward the end of the movie where he’s flipping through a slide show of his previous lovers for his old college friend played by Art Garfunkle. In a quick couple of seconds, he skips over a black and white shot of a lean, dark-haired girl lounging in a Bentwood rocker. That shot instantly transported me back forty-eight years to when I first started to work for EllisDon. I was sharing an apartment with my friend Joan from my 1965-67 Willard Hall days. We lived downtown on Alexander Street behind Maple Leaf Gardens. We were both broke, in transition, and the decor in our apartment reflected our pecuniary status. We had a rollaway cot in the living room that served as a couch. Beside it was a side table we’d fashioned from two stacks of old copies of the Yellow Pages. The nicest piece of furniture we had was a “chrome suite”, an arborite kitchen table with four avocado green vinyl chairs.

The Bentwood rocker I purchased in 1971 was my idea of the ultimate in decorating chic.

In celebration of my new high-paying job ($115.00 per week; it was 1971), I went to Cargo Canada (an earlier incarnation of Pier I Imports) on Yorkville Avenue, before it became gentrified. There, I purchased a Bentwood rocker that elevated our decor to stratospheric levels. I had to splurge on a cab to get it home and buy a Philips screwdriver to put it together. I loved and was so proud of that chair—even though it had the peculiar habit of traveling across the floor whenever I rocked in it. A couple of years ago, after kicking around in my basement for too many years, I reluctantly sold it at a yard sale. As soon as I saw that chair on Carnal Knowledge I missed it and desperately wanted it back. Sigh!

And, what about all the lovely gold jewelry we’ve sold over the years for next to nothing? The retailer would weigh it, give us a pittance for its karat value and if there happened to be any precious stones like diamonds in the pieces . . . well . . . we’d get nothing extra for them. No wonder retailers love buying our old jewelry. Our taste in jewelry changes and often we inherit pieces that aren’t to our taste so we’re happy to unload it for whatever we can get. What can you do?

It’s not just big-ticket items we regret disposing of. In the 1980s I had a CoverGirl eye shadow in a colour called “Brick” that I tossed and I’ve never been able to find one I liked as much. Or that Elizabeth Arden lipstick from the seventies in the most perfect shade ever invented called Pink Coral. It’s funny how we remember such incidentals. We’ve all mourned lipsticks that the cosmetics companies quit producing and spend hours scouring the internet for end-of-line deals on discontinued cosmetics.

My friend Terry has kept something I hope she never gets rid of. Every so often she brings out a tiny, lime-green leather mini-skirt that she used to wear in the sixties. It’s probably a foot wide and a foot long and originally had a matching jacket. “My father was always horrified when I walked out the door in that outfit, with long brown leather boots” she said. That always brings on howls of laughter when we see it and we start comparing stories of some of the outfits we wore back when. I think she should mount it in a shadow box and display it on the wall. It’s a priceless example of when boomer fashion and boomers were actually cool.

Vintage cars are guaranteed to evoke fond memories.

If we asked the men in our lives what item they wish they still owned it would likely be an old car. Maybe that’s why boomers love going to vintage car shows. We look at those shiny old Mustangs, Chevys and Ford Fairlaines that evoke memories of all the fun we had steaming up the windows in them with Phil Spector’s wall-to-wall sound blasting on the car radio. I’ve kept my black and white Beatles bubble gum cards from 1963 and still have a few of my well-used old 45s and LPs, but have nothing to play them on. Can’t bring myself to part with them though. My husband still has the marked decks of playing cards he used to cheat with when he attended Ryerson in the early sixties. He loves to bring them out and baffle the grandkids with their secret powers.

I’ve kept both of my wedding dresses. I sewed the first one myself and can’t believe that I was once that skinny. It still has a little swipe of makeup on the neckline from having difficulty changing out of it when the zipper stuck. I had to get into my ‘going-away outfit’ (remember them?) after the reception that day in 1974. Wedding dresses back then were much more modest than they are today. We would have never considered displaying cleavage or bare shoulders in a wedding dress. Times were different. I also still have the wedding album from my first wedding in 1974 even though I never look at it and rarely keep photos of anything today. In fact, I don’t even take many photos these days because I can’t be bothered keeping track of them, and I’m horribly selfie-averse.

There are probably other things I wish I’d kept but the larger problem has now become keeping too much. We don’t miss those big old stereos, the huge televisions we spent way too much money on when big screens first hit the market, our wardrobes of sweat-inducing crimpolene or that orange shag rug that had to be raked after it was vacuumed. We all have garages, basements, closets and even storage units full of crap we know we should get rid of. But, it’s hard to part with the story of our lives as represented by various possessions. Thanks to our hoarding habits, decluttering has now become a highly profitable multi-million dollar industry. There are quite a few old boyfriends I’m thankful I kicked to the curb and too many fashion mistakes I happily kissed goodbye.  If I could have one thing back, though, I think it would be that Pat McDonagh winter coat. It would still work and I still miss it. What about you? What have you given away that you still wish you had?

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My past is now officially an historical site

The Maclean-Hunter Building at University and Dundas, where it all began for this boomer.

You know you’re old when the once-modern building where you landed your first job has been designated an historical site. On Monday, July 5th, 1965 I walked into the shiny marble lobby of the Maclean-Hunter Building at 481 University Avenue in Toronto to begin my first full-time job. Bell Canada leased space in the building and they’d hired me to start work as a clerk-typist, beginning the week after I finished high school. I was 17 years old and wore a pink and white gingham dress and new white high heels purchased especially for this big day. The day before, my parents dropped me off at the door of Willard Hall, 20 Gerrard Street East, a four-storey boarding house operated by the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, where I would live for the next two years.

I had arrived from small town Ontario, in the first wave of baby boomers to be released into life as adults in the big city. Willard Hall was full of eager boomer girls like me. We’d all left our small town homes to take jobs as secretaries, switchboard operators, clerks and stenographers for Bell Canada, Ontario Hydro and various insurance companies. Some, like my room-mate Liz wore the traditional white gloves issued by “Manpower” as they began temporary work while awaiting a permanent positions.

I remember that day in July 1965 so clearly. Sitting at the reception desk in the lobby of the Maclean Hunter building was an attractive blonde woman wearing a smart navy blue uniform. She was official-looking and seemed to know most of the people entering the lobby, greeting suited businessmen, women and couriers with a smile and “Good morning”. Her demeanor screamed big city and professional and I wanted to be just like her—very Doris Day. I took the elevator to the fifth floor where I met my new boss and was introduced around the office. My job was to provide clerk-typist services to half a dozen managers in the Buildings, Vehicles and Supplies Department of what was then called The Bell Telephone Company of Canada. My salary was $55.50 a week, more money than I’d ever seen in my life, much better than the sixty-five cents an hour I’d been earning as a carhop in high school. A year later when I moved to Bell’s office tower at 76 Adelaide Street West, they still employed white-gloved uniformed elevator operators.

Bassel’s Restaurant on Yonge St. at Gerrard was where all the Willard Hall girls would go for coffee and a smoke.

Very quickly I made friends with another new hire, also named Linda (but with an “i”) and we soon became known as The Linda’s. We took our breaks together, shared office gossip and generally became attached at the hip—my new BFF, had that acronym existed back then. Linda was a city girl from Scarborough and I had so much to learn about sophisticated Toronto ways from her. In the evenings, she took modelling classes at Patricia Stevens Modelling School which absorbed most of her wages. Linda introduced me to my first compact of blusher, a major beauty revelation for this young townie.

Linda and I ate our lunch in the Maclean-Hunter subsidized cafeteria on the main floor of the University and Dundas building. We paid a nominal amount to load our plates with the daily special, always ordering mashed potatoes and gravy because we were both skinny and wanted to put on weight. Imagine that! That same cafeteria dispatched coffee carts throughout the building mid-morning and mid-afternoon each day when Linda and I would enjoy a hot styrofoam cup of tea and a butter tart wrapped in cellophane. All the mashed potatoes, gravy and butter tarts have since more than done their job to my great chagrin.

In the sixties, Chinatown was still located on Dundas Street between University Avenue and Bay Street. At the age of eighteen I experienced Chinese food for the first time in my life, sharing the ubiquitous “Dinner For Two” with Linda one day at lunchtime. The menu combo remains fixed in my memory: fried rice, chow mein, sweet and sour spare ribs and egg rolls. Authentic Asian or what! I loved to browse the exotic items for sale in the shops along Dundas Street but will never forget my horror the first time I saw dead, roasted Peking ducks hanging in the windows of butcher shops.

Toronto in the sixties, especially Yorkville was vastly different from what we see today.

There was an office tower at 20 Edward Street behind the Maclean-Hunter building that housed Edward’s Books and a drug store on the main floor. We loved going into the drug store on our lunch hour and spritzing ourselves with the tester perfumes that we couldn’t afford to buy, coming back to the office reeking of fake lilacs or the high-class L’air du Temps. Living at Willard Hall, I was able to walk the back streets behind The Hospital for Sick Children to get to work, saving money on subways and soon familiarizing myself with downtown Toronto. Back then, Toronto was much smaller, only a million people, and our weekends were spent cruising “The Village” to observe the hippies on Yorkville Avenue.

The new and improved United Building proposed for 481 University Avenue.

According to an article in The Globe and Mail, 481 University Avenue is now slated to be gutted. The façade will be saved for its historical value while the inner building will be demolished and replaced by a 45-storey tower housing condos and commercial space. Renamed The United Building it will replace the old Maclean-Hunter Building and wipe out any trace of the launching pad of a very famous person—ME.  No brass plaque will mark the spot where I got my start in the working world and there will be no time capsule full of my memories buried in the foundation. But those memories remain. It strikes me as somewhat ironic that more than fifty years later I have evolved from starting work as a typist in the head office building of a major publishing company to being a minor self-published author tapping out blogs for baby boomers. Life really has come full circle and I’m so full of happy memories that began in the old Maclean-Hunter Building. Onward and upward. Literally.

To order a copy of my new book from Amazon, click here.

Great gift for yourself or a friend.

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