Mature Life Features

Cecil Scaglione, Editor

More from the Old Newspaperboy No. V

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Milt Robinson is perched prominently in my memory banks. I have no idea what ever happened to him and I remember little about him. But his image still glistens in my brain. He was the first person I saw when I got my first pair of glasses. And he watched me make a spectacle of myself as I stumbled over a block or so of Main Street as my brain adjusted to my new spectacles. I was nine years old.

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From the beginning. Much of my first decade on earth was spent learning how to see. Fortunately, I was far-sighted and, by squinting and crossing my eyes, learned to read people’s body language and movements, and facial expressions as well as lips. This all helped me tremendously for the rest of my life.

I don’t ever remember not being able to read, but I had to look cross-eyed to make out the words, or anything else I wanted to see clearly.

While I was born in town (in an apartment my mother rented over a small grocery store at the corner of First Avenue and Wylde Street just down the hill from St. Vincent de Paul Church) almost all my earliest years were spent in Feronia, a hamlet that was a seven-mile walk from town and is now a suburban enclave of North Bay.

After enrolling when I was 5 years old in the one-room schoolhouse that housed grades one through 10, I skipped grade two because I could read and knew my addition and subtraction tables and was Miss Brunella Guenther’s star pupil until our family moved into town on New Year’s Day 1943. My father finally snagged a spot with the section gang working out of the main yard (where the round house and maintenance facilities were) of the Temiskaming & Northern Ontario Railway, which later became the Ontario Northland Railway.

School resumed for me at St. Rita’s Separate School when the Christmas holiday ended. Other than being a stranger in the schoolyard for a bit, the major memorable event that spring was beginning to sell newspapers – The North Bay Daily Nugget — on the street.

I’d tried taking on a weekend Toronto Star route. That’s when I saw German prisoners of war in their denim overalls and smocks with the large red circle on their backs stretching their legs around the Canadian National Railways station when I picked up the papers early Friday mornings. The POWs were being herded out to camps/farms out West.

The Star route lasted only three weeks because the four brothers who had the route before me made the collections the day before I delivered the papers and the route manager didn’t do anything about it. Fortunately, my mother deterred him – loudly — from extracting payment from me for the papers. That whole episode became part of my education.

When school resumed in the fall, among the earliest events was a visit by the school nurse. One of her chores was to give everyone an eye test. The only thing I recall about that is the look on her face that made me think I was really stupid. She was just amazed that I could function as well as I did. She got the news to my parents that I had a vision problem.

As it turned out, my mother had begun cleaning downtown offices for a few clients to augment our income. (We also took in roomers for the three upstairs bedrooms in the large house we rented). One customer was Ken Barry, who happened to be an optometrist. And he outfitted me with my first pair of glasses — appurtenances I wore for more than six decades until I had my cataracts lasered and replaced by tri-focal inserts nine years ago.

Back to Milt Robinson. As I said, I remember very little about him but I recall he was a classmate because we both ran downtown after the final afternoon school bell to purchase our armfuls of Nuggets to sell on the street. After a quick paper-sales run through downtown, we scooted into Ken Barry’s office to get my new glasses. Mr. Barry was a bit of a blur because everything happened so quickly. When I stepped outside the office, the first person I ever saw with clarity was Milt Robinson.

And I still see him clearly.

 -30-

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Written by Cecil Scaglione

May 30, 2015 at 8:43 am

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