My parents put up with my aimless jobbing about and accepted without rancor the probability that I would never amount to much. Especially when after taking a journalism
course, I failed at newspaper work and resorted to touring with country—and-western bands. Playing the music l hated most.
· Pop grumbled a bit.
“l still think we should never have bought him those damned drums.”
“At least he’s not in jail.” Mom said. “Like the boys of two ladies l met at the bingo.”
Mom had great tolerance. She was fascinated by fallen idols. Not just my father, but people of great stature, esteemed for their moral authority. Role models. She liked to learn again and again that they were just like us. Mom was no angel.
She had a special sympathy for Edward McCue, Your Gospel Singer, who came out of the radio every day when l was eating breakfast before setting off for public school.
“THROW out the lifeline. THROW out the lifeline.” he sang as if he had it in his hands and was about to hurl it through the radio speaker. Between hymns Edward warned his listeners about sins they were comfortable with, in particular the drinking of alcohol.
Mom had his number. Whenever he began to wheeze and strike improbable notes on the organ, she’d say, “Hear that? He’s hitting the booze again.” And sure enough,Edward would take leave of absence for a few weeks. “He’s drying out,” Mom said. “l wonder if he goes to Homewood.” When he returned, voice like a bullhorn, fingers
executing fancy arpeggios on the organ, Mom would say “Good for Edward. He’s kicked it again.”
She learned from Hush that his real name was not Edward McCue, but Bert Shrubsall, which brought him even closer to earth. She loved the tabloids; Hush. Inside Catidential, and Flash Weekly, back issues of which raised the cushion on our Morris chair a good three inches. The Morris chair was in our kitchen, close to the wood stove, inviting visitors in winter to plop down and their hands, unaware of the squalor beneath. She favoured Flash Weekly, she said,because it always hinted that it knew more than it was telling. lts editor was Lou Ruby,father of Clayton Ruby, one of Canada’s most eminent Criminal defense lawyers. Mom’s long subscription to Flash Weekly arguably contributed handedly to Clayton’s tuition fees at Osgoode Hall.
Pop favoured Police Gazette and third hand copies of Sun Bathing slipped to him by Uncle Billy Spring. S an Bathing, a pictorial monthly for nudists, was edited by a puritanical little man named Mervin Mounce.
Pop hid his magazines under smelly fish flat seed boxes in his tiny backyard greenhouse, a lean—to on the garage. Mom knew he had them and said they were “common.”
One day Pop pulled a Flash Weekly out from under the Morris chair cushion and said, “Don’t let the neighbors know you read this trash!”
Mom traded them with the neighbors. Every afternoon when I set off for school I heard the “Happy Gang” singing their theme song, “When you’re smiling? The show, on CBC radio, was built around Bert Pearl, “Five Feet—Two of Sunshine.”
Mom had his number too. Off stage he wasn’t always five foot-two of sunshine. He was an alcoholic bi-polar with a sexual compass pointing south who threw terrible tantrums that frightened the studio security guards. During his frequent holidays from the show, Mom wondered if he was in Homewood with Edward McCue.
Homewood sanatorium in Guelph, now euphemized to Homewood Health Centre, treated many show business performers over the years, including a few big names from Hollywood. It was renowned for its professional treatment and strict confidentiality.
Whenever Bert returned to the airwaves, Mom rejoiced as she did with Edward McCue. “I guess they can’t help it,” she’d say. “It takes all kinds.”
She loved to see the big guys brought to earth, guys like Jimmy Swaggart, the TV evangelist who emerged from a brothel to find that someone had let the air out of his tires.
While he tried desperately to inflate them with a hand pump, the media showed up in force with their cameras. They had been tipped off by a rival preacher piquecl that Jimmy had refused to allow him a choice spot on his TV show. “They preach against vanity but they are as vain as everybody else,” Mom said. Too bad she wasn’t around for the Austin Awakening, the ultimate assault on vanity in 2001.
The pastor of a Pentecostal tabernacle in Austin, Texas, Rev. Kenneth Phillips, while delivering a sermon against vanity, became so divinely inspired that he ripped off his toupee and hurled it into the congregation. A hair piece he had worn day and night for 20 years. This spectacular embracing of humility brought his congregation to its feet and then its knees. Some people spoke in the tongues. Following Phillip’s example, men ripped off their toupees and women their wigs and tossed them every which way.
Fortunately the Awakening was videotaped with a good soundtrack. The ripping off of toupees cemented down with Tornado tape and the poccata poccata of those secured with suction cups speaks a sermon without words.
Reverend Phillip’s son, Randy, an associate minister, coined “The Austin Awakening” and arranged for the distribution of the video to tabernacles everywhere. It has been much in demand. Get the one with the digital soundtrack.
Mom wasn’t the least bit religious and so never went to church. Neither did Pop, nor l. Sister Shirley did. Indeed she is the oldest member of First United Church in Galt, 76 years a member and counting. l am the oldest non—rnember. Shirley remembers the
scandal over discrepancies in the church cash ledgers back in the 40s. Another story.