by John Hall

My dad's older sister Laura was married to Norman Guthrie and lived on Amroth Avenue in the East End of Toronto. She grew peaches in her back yard and I always looked forward to visiting her. Rarely did we go to Toronto unless it was to go to the CNE or some other event and Aunt Laura's house was the place to stay while we visited. If we hadn't been welcomed there we would have stayed home as hotels were expensive and money was certainly in short supply during the depression. Aunt Laura had been born in Port Hope and because most of her relatives and childhood friends still lived there she visited us regularly. She had a very good friend in Phyllis Smith, an unmarried schoolteacher who lived in a large house opposite the Public school on Pine Street. I believe the house is called 'Pinecrest ' or 'Pinehurst' now, but I always called it 'Miss Smith's house'. Aunt Laura always referred to her as 'Phyllis', but to us she was always 'Miss Smith'.

Aunt Laura was a short, dark haired lady with a somewhat husky voice who had to know the reason for anything she didn't understand. If she didn't like what you were doing or she disagreed with what you were saying, there was no beating about the bush, she let you know in no uncertain terms. To some people who didn't really know her, she came on strong and was referred to as 'Maggie Pepper'. To those who knew her, she was a good, loyal friend who would come to your aid with all guns firing if anyone was picking on you. She was absolutely fearless and it was said of her that if you broke every bone in her body, she would try to beat you to death with her eyelashes. In spite of her reputation she had a heart of gold and her friends were as loyal to her as she was to them, but some did like to tease her, just a bit.

Aunt Laura had gone to school with a young man who left at an early age to become a butcher. His name was Walter Roberts and by the time I was a boy he owned, with his brother, a prosperous grocery store. I believe he also owned a farm outside the town where he raised and slaughtered his own beef. Later, the two brothers separated and opened two stores, one down town on Ontario Street, the other on the corner of Ridout and Bramley streets. I believe the two businesses were totally independent of each other and were created as a result of some disagreement. That may not have been the case, but it was the local gossip and widely believed. When Aunt Laura came to town she remained fiercely loyal to the business operated by Walter, even though he teased her every time she went into the store. My father on the other hand, remained loyal to both and bought from each. Walter's brother Ralston was known as 'Boots' and he was called that by most of the people I knew. I never knew how he got such a nickname and I never thought to ask. He was just 'Boots', but I called him 'Mr Roberts'.

I remember one occasion going into the store owned by Walter Roberts with Aunt Laura when he spotted her coming and decided to tease her a bit. As I said before, she was short and Walter decided to let on he didn't see her when she stood in front of the meat cases. These were large with glass fronts so the customer could see the meat on trays inside. The tops of the cases were about a foot higher than Aunt Laura and Walter placed himself behind a case where he would have to look over the top where Aunt Laura couldn't be seen, or at least that's what he tried to let on. Aunt Laura looked at the trays in the case and said in her husky voice, "I'll have two pounds of the stewing beef, a pound of liver and a pound of bacon, please." Walter let on he didn't know where the voice was coming from and said, "Hello, is there somebody there?" and looked in every direction but where Aunt Laura was standing. She knew of course she was being teased, and said, "You know damned well where I am, Walter Roberts, so just get the meat." He then leaned over the counter and said, "Why it's Laura, sorry about the floor there, I'll get it fixed so the next time you come, you won't have to stand in the hole and I'll be able to see you." Of course there was no hole and he was just teasing her about being short, something that had apparently started when they were in school together. After a bit more banter, and a bit more teasing, he put the meat on the scale to weigh it. When he did, Aunt Laura casually said, "Take your damned thumb off the scales, Walter Roberts, I'm tired of paying for that every time I come in here." He roared with laughter and said, "Why Laura, selling that thumb bought me my new car." Aunt Laura also laughed and said, "That may be Walter, but take your thumb off the scales or I'll come around there and you won't be able to drive that car or walk either." He laughed again and said, "Laura, come sit down and let's have a good talk about the good old days, and they did."