Being with Ruby:
She danced into your life, full of promise, waiting for the thing that mattered most - seeing her friends. She decorated them with praise and scratched the surface of negativity only a little. Usually it was so to lighten our hearts and instill within us with the sound of her laughter. We often saw her with her shining eyes and the excitement she felt. It seemed her light always captured the moment. We all looked at her and chorus like, mouthed the words: “Ruby is here –Oh the joy of it.”
Our circle of friends was holstered in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. We were on the poor side of the tracks, living in rentals that showed signs of wear. We lived each day in drab conditions, often taking walks before the darkness set in the summer to ease our minds from the conditions around us. That’s how we all met. First a couple of us and then over the summer it swelled to five. We soon were fast friends and shared with each other every day experiences. It seemed finding each other added to our wellbeing. Sharing came easy, even sacred, for all of us.
There was Monty Workman with his charitable way of looking at things. He was on the short side but not overweight, stern in looks with flashes of mischief. Monty had thick eyebrows, sandy colored hair and lots of it. One great quality was his ability to reason things out. It was cold in Winnipeg in the winter, often below zero. He shivered a lot in the cold weather, thus the nickname = SHAKY.
Pritchard Complete, nicknamed PERIOD, as he kept saying “And that’s final.” He was tall and slender with black hair combed to the tenth degree and pale blue eyes as big as fifty cent pieces. He had a way of walking that showed he was a lot to be reckoned with. One distinctive feature were his big ears that looked more like flaps. He was instilled with kindness and spoke no ill.
Bingo Jackson was well built with muscles and a stubborn chin to prove his natural strength. He was five foot eight inches tall and had almost dark eyes that seemed to reach out and stare one down. Piercing would be a good word. Finally, that wonderful smile that brought a lot of the sunshine to his face. His Natural name was Bingo and it suited him.
Then there was Gloria. Sweet, thoughtful Gloria with a sharp mind and bulging eyes that bugged out, giving an almost a comical look to her face, accented by her great mop of beautiful blond hair. She combed it to one side, falling on her shoulders. Her natural way of speaking sounded southern-like.
There was an old railroad station that was no longer in use and we would meet there after school. Our ages were about 12 to 14. Hanging out together was just a way to keep our hearts in tune and our minds busy with day to day happenings. We traded stories and experiences, often finding time to have running comments on things. Gloria was in one of her moods, complaining about her history teacher, who was also our history teacher. His name was Mr. Whitehead, and he taught several grades. Gloria said he talked and sounded like his voice box had hit a gravel pit. She mocked his sound, attaching great emphasis to the word “history.”
That was Monday. By Tuesday, Ruby zeroed in on the news of the day, talking about the Bennet buggy. It seemed horses were hitched to an old car that became the mode of transportation. Ruby laughed and said Bennet’s buggies saved on a lot of gas. Monty described them to a tee - one or two horses or oxen pulling an old car that was not running. Bennet was the Prime Minister and was blamed for the great depression, so the Bennet Buggy became the symbol for hard times in the depression.
Some unhappy news came from Bingo. His dad’s brother was laid off, leaving his family crushed and not knowing what to do. Bingo just sat there with his head in his hands, muttering that the money had dried up and several other families were part of the layoff. We all became quiet and soon Bingo began to talk. The weariness in his voice made us all feel sad so we broke up and went home.
We were in a better mood the following day when Bingo said his Dad’s brother was informed by his factory that the layoffs were set aside because the factory had received a large order. We all cheered and it was a happy occasion. Bingo’s remarks were: “God looks after us when we turn to him.” He went on to say, “we all had very little as a family but what we had we would share.”
The days went by until Ruby said one day that she often dreamed of having a fine new set of clothes from Sears Catalogue instead of the Good Will or the Salvation Army. Gloria piped in with, “I know what you mean. I get clothes my mother has altered and sometimes I feel like I’m wearing the same dresses for longer periods of time.” Shaky laughed and said the only style he knew was early Saint Vincent DePaul or late Salvation Army. He told us: “These pants I got on came with a warning – ‘wear them or else or else’ - what Mom said as I repeated it under my breath.”
Period sighed and told us there were times when he would have appreciated the Good Will store but the depression often made things less affordable and they had only potatoes to eat five times this week already.
Bingo seemed all too quiet. Gloria said, “Bingo, what are you thinking?” Bingo stood up and said: “I hate this depression. All I ever hear is things will get better. Boy, I can hardly wait. My dad says he only has part time work and lucky to have that. People are short-tempered when it comes to making due. They say there are fewer things to make do with.”
Shaky jumped up and said: “My Dad says black Tuesday, the day the stock market crashed, turned into Black Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and the rest of the year.”
“Yeh,” said Gloria. “My Mom said the motto now is “use it up, wear it out or do without.” Ruby said she read a quote from a newspaper. It read: “Why can’t you give my dad a job?”
Well, that was our life. None of us had a car in the family. Like Gloria said, it was the bus or shanks mare. Which meant walking? We walked everywhere and shoe leather was hard to come by. Period wanted to know what Hoovervilles were. Bingo said they were shelters for people without jobs or money. Tin shacks so to speak. So many people lost their homes because they ran out of money and had lost their jobs. We went back and forth, commenting on everyday things until one afternoon just after school. we heard about a new movie called The Grapes of Wrath. It starred Henry Fonda, John Carradine, and Ward Bond. It was the story of a family from the Midwest forced off their land due to drought conditions. They travelled to California, suffering the misfortunes of the homeless in the great depression. Monty said: “Fat chance we have of seeing that movie. I can’t afford to change my mind.” Period spoke up under his breath, “I couldn’t rub two nickels together, never mind the price of a theater ticket.” Gloria gave voice to a familiar picture of a family sitting alongside of a railroad track.
The Father, leaning against a rolled up tent and the two boys playing in the dirt. The older one being about 8 years old and wearing a short sleeve shirt and overalls with suspenders. The mother, having her head in her hands leaning up against a bag filled with some basic use items. They looked hungry and unwashed and down in the dumps. Bingo finally spoke up, describing three men leaning against the porch of a grocery store and gas station. Pretty soon a car rolled in with a family of seven with frying pans and buckets and other basic tools like a shovel, etc. tied to the back of the car with rope. The father, having used his last two dollars for gas, commented that they were heading west to find work. He said their farm had been a victim of the drought and the wind had blown hard enough to make a dust bowl that covered his farm. He went on to say they were on their last leg and did not see things getting better. There were two girls about six years old wearing dirty blouses and raggedy hair and starred longingly at the soft drink sign.
Gloria remembered seeing an older lady leaning up against a makeshift home, arms folded with a face about as sad as one can get. Gloria heard a noise and as she looked up, there was a girl using make shift crutches on a wood sidewalk.
Ruby as usual, sighed and said: “And we think we’ve got it bad. Our clothes are worn but not full of holes. We get two meals a day plus occasionally a candy bar. Sure I would like to see The Grapes of Wrath movie but at least were not living it.” Then she added, “What we can do to help?”
Shaky suddenly said in a loud voice: “Let’s earn enough money to buy some theatre tickets and have a Saturday movie.” Ruby said, “It’s good for you, Shaky,” but was interrupted by Monty saying, “How are we going to do that? Our folks are about as poor as a church mouse.” Gloria said, “My Mom says where there’s a will there is a way.” Bingo said, “You know guys, we can do it. Folks here can spare something. Let’s give it a try.” We all just stood there for a moment then unanimously said: Where do we start.? Gloria said, “Let’s meet tomorrow. I’ll put together a plan. Period, you talk to the theatre owner and tell him what we are going to do. Shaky, you go with him. Find out the number of people the theater can hold, what the cost will be and anything else we need to know. Monty, you figure out if we can get other kids to help.
Ruby said she could canvass the merchants and basically see how far they would go to help. “Bingo, find out what you can about the kids in our neighborhood and how many there would be to see a movie or two.”
“Ok,” Goria said, “Let’s meet tomorrow again and compare notes.” Shaky yelled: “Let’s be like the three musketeers -- “All for one and one for all.” We yelled our support for each other and separated.
Well we all showed up the next day and the news was both good and better, meaning the community would be behind it.
Gloria outlined her plan. Since it was the month of May she thought June would be a good time to have the movie. “Period,” Gloria said, “What did you find out?” “Well, "he said, "the theater holds 90 people and the theater owner said there would be two movies and a newsreel. The cost would be 25 cents a ticket. He also would include a candy bar. That’s his way of contributing. One thing the theater owner required was money up front.” “What about you, Ruby, What did you find out from the merchants?” Ruby said the merchants were receptive to the idea and need to have the event well organized. Bingo said: There are about 70 to 80 kids in the neighborhood. I found out by talking to the Principal of the school and help from some friends of mine who canvassed the area homes and the numbers backed up what the Principal told me.”
Gloria asked Monty and Ruby to get started with the merchants and try to have enough merchants to pay for 10 tickets each. She reminded them to get a receipt book to give to the merchants for their contribution.
Gloria said: “We are off to a good start. Let’s meet again in two days and take inventory.
The time for another meeting came and the results were good. All 90 tickets were sold. Gloria said she had taken the liberty of talking to the theater owner and they had decided on a date for the movie - June 15 - and the theater would open at 10 am and the movie would start at 10:30 am.
Gloria asked Bingo and Monty to keep an eye on the kids lining up to make sure there would be no rough housing. Tickets would be handed out at 10am.
Well, the money was delivered to the theater owner and the movies were ready. Adventures of Robin Hood and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Nothing could have been more special than all those kids having a great time eating their chocolate bars and watching the movies.
Once the weekend was over, we met at the old railroad station, excited about the success of our movie adventure. The merchants were praised by the community. The kids loved it. The theater owner said everyone was well behaved and our parents were pleased with the one for all and all for one guys. We sat there, feeling the glow of satisfaction. Ruby spoke for all of us when she said. “I’m happy for the short run and looking forward to our next adventure.” We all agreed with Shaky calling out: “You guys are great!” To which Period replied, “You’re just saying that because it’s true.”Digby --