Wednesday, July 08, 2009

The Ladies of Ardill's



It was in the fall of 1969 that we arrived in Canada from England; complete greenhorns, mere children, when it came to our new country; love, marriage--and just about anything else.

We moved into a one bedroom apartment on Temperance Street in Aurora, and the first urgent thing was to find work. We were limited by the fact that we had no car and no telephone for our first year. Both of these were luxuries we could not afford.

Paul had apprenticed in England for five years as a grinder and polisher of surgical needles, but since that trade didn't exist in Canada, he found work in a nearby factory.

I soon found a job too, at a small department store that had been owned by a family in Aurora for three generations. It stood on the corner of Yonge and Wellington. There were a couple of guys working downstairs in the ski shop but it is the ladies that I remember most. I became one of the ladies of Ardill's.

Peggy was short and trim and wiry of build. She wore her auburn hair cut close to her head, framing a face with keen brown eyes and high cheekbones. Peggy worked in dry goods, measuring and cutting fabric and selling sewing patterns. She also changed the window displays. Peggy was probably in her early forties, but she wore hot pants, which were shorts worn beneath a mini dress that opened from the waist to show off the hot pants beneath.

Bev was also short and slim. A nimble, energetic woman, with gray hair, worn in a bouffant style.

Marg was older, and solidly built. A large woman, with gray hair, glasses and an air of no nonsense.

The office was inhabited by Grace, the daughter of missionaries. She had never married and lived alone. She had slightly wild looking, gray hair and an awkward gait as if she had a leg injury or had polio. She always looked a little distracted but she was kind and did what she could to make sure I understood things.

There was Sharon, a Barbie doll of a woman, with long, bleached hair, who wore sexy clothes and heels. She worked for spending money and to buy more clothes.

Ruth-Anne was still in high school and worked on Thursday and Friday evenings and Saturdays.

Dolly was a part-timer studying to be a nurse. She eyed my belly with anxiety as my due date approached. I didn't show much, even towards the end, and she obviously thought something was wrong. I could feel the baby moving around healthily and my doctor wasn't worried and so neither was I.

Bea was the lady I worked with every day and who showed me how to do the job. She too, had gray hair and was nearing retirement age. She was petite and wore her hair up in a French roll. I never saw it down or in any other style. She had dark brown eyes and a deep, throaty laugh and an old fashioned way of talking. She had never had children but crocheted a granny square afghan for our baby. She and her husband Ed were very kind and supportive to us and stayed in touch for many years after we both left Ardill's.

I felt as though I were learning my own language all over again. In England we called sweaters, jumpers, but I learned that when someone asked me for the jumpers, they were really asking where the pinafore dresses were. When someone asked me for a vest, instead of an undershirt, they wanted a waistcoat! There were many funny moments as both I and the customers tried to figure out what item of clothing they wanted in language I could understand.

Towards Christmas a shipment of artificial leather gloves and mittens arrived from Korea to be sold. I found the smell nauseating and several times had to beat a retreat from a customer to the washroom to escape the unbearably pungent stench and throw up.

As Christmas Eve drew closer, the lingerie department was afloat with desperate men looking for a gift for their wives and girlfriends--any gift at all would do and as they made their selections I wondered how they would be received. After Christmas I found out, as we were then afloat again, but with ladies this time, exchanging their gifts.

Another high school student worked with Ruth-Anne, and I noticed that her belly was swelling even faster than mine. Naively I thought that perhaps she had a stomach tumour or something else wrong physically. No one spoke about it, or not to me at least. It was only when she and Ruth-Anne visited me after Peter was born, that she told me she had had a baby too, but had given her up for adoption. She tenderly touched Peter and her eyes lingered on him wistfully. Peter is now 39 and I wonder if she and her daughter know one another now. I hope so.

The afghan that Bea crocheted for Peter came back out of the trunk it was stored in when our grandchildren were born. Victoria became extremely attached to it and loved it so much that it fell apart. One Christmas I took apart the individual surviving squares and sewed all of them by hand onto a soft, green fleece blanket. It was one of her most treasured presents that year. She is 10 now and still cherishes that blanket, with squares that were lovingly crocheted 40 years ago.

Ardills eventually moved from the corner of Yonge and Wellington to the Upper Canada Mall in Newmarket, but only for a short time before closing down. It doesn't matter; in my memory the ladies of Ardills live on.

8 comments:

Susan said...

Wow, your well never runs dry! I loved reading this and thinking about you looking for vests in the underwear department! It's a good thing we didn't work together then... :)

Deidra said...

I love the idea that your first home as a married couple was on a street named Temperance. That is absolutely perfect!

Dave Hingsburger said...

Deidra, I thought the same, how fun! Like Susan I too am so pleased to be learning more about you and Paul and sharing in the journey. Now how did you get from a lady of ardill to the headmistress of a house for many?

Belinda said...

Aah, Dave, that story is coming too, but not quite yet.

That was my university education and I would not trade it for all the world.

Marilyn said...

I was so eager to read this this morning, but had to set the computer aside until late in the day. I enjoyed every bit of it!

Belinda said...

Marilyn, you are a paragon of self discipline! :) What an example for me to follow. I'm glad you enjoyed. :)

Stuart Wright said...

Cool story. We lived in Aurora in the 60s/early 70s and were dear friends of the Ardills. My mom and Lyn Ardill were best friends and played tennis and skiied for many years. We used to go to their cottage on Lake Simcoe all the time. Sadly, Lyn Ardill passed away a few years ago. A great lady.

Belinda Burston said...

So sorry to hear about Lyn's death Stuart. I'm so glad that you found this story and that it hopefully rekindled some fond memories of those long ago days that feel like just yesterday!