Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Wedding Photo – Songs of Innocence and Experience

For their homework in our on-going Writing Your Life class, Bob and Lorraine Tadman each  wrote about their wedding photo – without reference to what the other was writing. For Valentine’s Day, here are their stories…

An Unexpected Journey
With apologies to Bilbo Baggins
by Bob Tadman

This is our wedding picture… our one and only wedding picture. My newly minted mother-in-law with her Brownie Box camera captured this happy moment and it is the only photo I really need to remind me that that was the best decision of my entire life. 

That one captured moment marks the beginning of a new and grand adventure that would take the two of us to amazing places both actual and metaphorical, that neither of us could have imagined at the time.

I met Lorraine when we both worked in Fairview Mall in North Toronto. I was a busboy working in the Rib O’ Beef on the lower level of the Mall. She was a waitress in Le Comteur or The Counter Restaurant. The Counter was on the second level, right above the Rib O’ Beef.

The same company out of Quebec owned both restaurants. All the Counter waitresses came to work through the Rib O’ Beef. They had to change in the staff room on the first level and then take the elevator up to the Counter above. That’s how it was that I first spotted her; the pretty waitress with her hair up in a bun, her groovy wire frame glasses and her neat, white, almost nurse’s cap, tightly bobby pinned to her hair, waiting for the elevator.

I was on my dinner break in the back room. As I looked up from my Rib O’ Beef rib dinner, our eyes met for a brief moment. We smiled at each other, said nothing and I took note. She was pretty. However, I wouldn’t see her again until the day they closed the old Rib O’ Beef.

Apparently, ribs were out. When I came into work after school, I was ushered through the front door by old Claire, the head waitress and directed to a waiting bench. The tables and chairs had all been removed and were stacked in shadows at the back of the big dining room. It was a long bench. The restaurant managers, Monsieur Crapelle and Mademoiselle Jeanette were sitting in a rather dim light at a table in the middle of the restaurant speaking to the cook.

A long line of waiters, waitresses and busboys sat along that bench like birds on a wire, waiting to be told their fate. I took my spot at the end of the line. As a busboy, I didn’t think it was going to go well for me but then there was whispered talk of holiday pay and I liked the sound of that.

When I finally moved to sit in the chair opposite Monsieur and Mademoiselle, I learned that in fact, they liked my work. They thought I had a bright future. They wanted me to manage the Ice Cream Kiosk upstairs in the Counter. The Kiosk was a six by six corner of the restaurant that faced out into the Mall. From there, they sold soft ice cream (chocolate, vanilla and mixed), hot dogs and orange julep. They wanted me to manage the Kiosk!

The next day, I came to the mall early and eager to be shown the ropes. It all seemed pretty straightforward... hot dog in the bun, bun in the bag, Julep in the cup, until it came to putting the ice cream in the cone. It was the twist of the wrist to make the cones that took me a good half hour and a pot load of soft ice cream before I could make them to spec.

Then the door that led back into the restaurant closed and there I was, in my jeans, Tee shirt, white apron and army boots looking out from two 4 X 6 windows into the mall and serving up ice cream, hot dogs and julep to the multitudes. And that’s when I saw Lorraine for the second time.

She was on her break and she appeared at my kiosk window for ice cream. A mixed cone. In the next few moments, as I expertly created her cone and she slowly ate it, we talked enough for me to learn that she worked one of the U-shaped counters in the restaurant. She worked thirty-nine hours a week. Thirty-nine, because at 40 hours, they would have to pay her full-time wages at 95 cents an hour verses the part-time 60 cents.

She was in grade thirteen in John A. Macdonald high school and she lived on Silver Spruce and she was fifteen years old! Fifteen. In grade thirteen! I on the other hand was nineteen in grade twelve. I attended (sometimes) George Vanier, my eighth high school. Lorraine, fifteen in grade thirteen; me, nineteen in grade twelve. That pretty much gives you all you need to extrapolate the difference between the two of us.

Lorraine and I became the best of friends. I’d say “just friends” but there really was no “just” about it. No, we didn’t get romantic. Ever. But we spent all of our time together. We quickly discovered that we shared a common faith though with very different backgrounds. Lorraine had been born in the US of A. Queens, New York City, to an Irish mother and an Italian father. She had attended convent schools all her life and John A. was her first ‘protestant’ school experience.

Me? I was a Jesus Freak… a pot sucking hippie street person who had experienced a “road to Damascus” religious conversion not six months earlier. It made for interesting conversation. We talked faith and philosophy, social justice, the real purpose of life and whatever would we do if Jesus came back tomorrow.

I loved to hear her talk. She was smart and really well read... She listened and asked questions and made me feel like I could really think and make sense. She also gave me sage advice on how to better treat my girlfriend Jean. Apparently, I needed to call her more. Who knew?

At work, we looked forward to our break times, which we had engineered with Monsieur Crapelle and Mademoiselle Jeanette to coincide. At break, we would climb the steel ladder in the back of the kitchen to the attic crawl space above the restaurant and we would pray together. And what did the management think of all this? Mademoiselle Jeanette called us Saint Lorraine and Saint Bob. She told us we were their best workers... at 39 hours a week and 60 cents an hour.

It wasn’t long before we started to make plans. Big plans. Convinced that Jesus was returning any day, we decided to quit school and our jobs at The Counter, and to go to work on the streets of Toronto reaching out to the poor and homeless. The fact that we were soon to become poor and homeless ourselves didn’t factor into our thinking. We were going on what Lorraine described as a pilgrimage. Lorraine had fancy religious language for everything.

We left in the spring (when all good adventures are launched) and headed on foot, towards Yonge Street. We had prearranged a stop at the Cenacle Convent on Bayview Ave., to “make a retreat” (Lorraine’s idea) so that we could register our mission with God. This was all quite new to me. I had begun my born-again, saved and sanctified life as a true protestant. To me, all things Catholic were a little scary and not to be completely trusted. But there we were. A testament to how much this new and wonderful person in my life meant to me.

After our retreat, we ended up actually working out of the Young Street Mission. We were regulars at The Toronto Catacombs, a gathering every Thursday evening of anywhere between fifteen hundred and two thousand very enthusiastic Jesus People. We met at St. Paul’s Anglican church on Bloor Street. Lorraine and I played guitar and sang as part of the Music Ministry and every weekend took part in outreaches to churches and special events all over Ontario.

When we finally understood how we really felt about each other, we were apparently, the last to know. How we discovered that for ourselves and how we decided to actually get married is another story.

Bottom line... On November 8th, 1972, we stood in Ron Armstrong’s living room. Ron was the Anglican Priest who had two weeks earlier agreed to marry us. The altar was his big, new colour TV set neatly adorned with a white doily borrowed from the church Altar Guild. That’s when we said our “I do’s” and that’s when Lorraine’s mother lifted her Brownie Box Camera and captured the moment.

To say that I had that day found my Soul Mate in Lorraine doesn’t really get hold of what our friendship and love was then or what it has become now. It’s close, but just too over used. What can to be said, is that when I look at this picture, I see the beginning of a new and exciting adventure, which set off that day, a little over forty years ago and continues. It’s an adventure so packed with deep purpose, great deeds, miracles and romance, it would make any hobbit drool with envy.

by Lorraine Tadman

Our only wedding picture was taken with a Brownie Box Camera. It is a small 3x5, black and white photo that we have since enlarged into a fuzzy 8x10, to fit into its stately 11x14 frame, to hang upon our living room wall. Hands clasped, eyes radiant, we exude happiness. 

Such was the moment. Two glowing Jesus people hippies, both in long white cotton gowns, (embroidered bohemian style), both of us with long hair, parted in the middle, (Bob's trimmed, along with his moustache, for the occasion), both of us wearing brown leather sandals on our bare feet below. Our feet you do not see.

Some indigenous peoples believe that the camera captures the soul. And perhaps there is some truth in that. Our wedding picture pulsates with a life of its own – “soul”, as it were, emanating. Hand in hand, side by side, together - in those idealistic early 70's - the days of communes and hitchhiking and crunchy granola. In capturing our friendship, yes, you could say, that brownie box had indeed captured something of “soul.”

In other ways, a picture is a mirror, an image of images, re-presented and elusively frozen, from time, in time. Art developed, reflected, and twice refracted. And the art of the photograph, all the more. We are not the same two people who stand still, side by side, gazing at you, gazing at us, gazing at the camera, though we still stand side by side.

Biologists say that each of us completely regenerates every seven years. Bodily, we are not the same. And now, as we count our marriage as having circled the sun some forty one times, you could say that we have been different selves, at least five and a half times over.

Escape artists, we are, regular Houdinis, looking at you, looking at us, looking at us, no longer there. We disappear, while we are here. And then, we are there. A kind of cogito ergo sum writ large. We are here. And the real art, our friendship, the side by side-ness of it all continues, the film develops, re-creating us in the dark room we call time. 

But let me tell you what you do not see, the story behind the story...

"It was a dark and stormy night…"

"Oh no," you say, "that is the worst of all possible beginnings!"

But it was a dark and stormy night!

A Wednesday night, in fact. November the 8th, 1972. It was raining and it was cold, blustery and wildly wet. It had been a blinding drive from downtown Toronto to Streetsville, where we were married in the Anglican priest's living room. 

Ron Armstrong was his name. His wife, June, made tea and sandwiches. We invited our families, such as they were, and a few friends to gather around us.

The TV set was covered with a white linen cloth and served as the altar, where we had our first marriage communion. We used the 1959 Common Prayer Book, the one where I, as wife to be, promised to love, honour and obey. We sang and played guitar. We exchanged our vows and our rings. Was it really the worst of all possible beginnings, that dark and stormy night?

My bouquet had been composed of three roses, two red, for Bob and I, and one white, for Jesus, who (we fervently believed) would hold our marriage together. A threefold cord. The symbolism came from the biblical book of Ecclesiastes, chapter 4: "Two are better than one;” it says, “with good reward for their labour...if one prevail, two shall withstand, and a threefold cord is not quickly broken."

Three roses. A threefold cord. The bible, and its promises, and its seeming strong, rope tight security were all important to me. I was all of 17, Bob, 21. I had left home at fourteen. My mother's boyfriend, a violent alcoholic. (You don't stay, in such a situation, at fourteen years of age.) Bob had been my best friend, when I came to Toronto. He was strong. He was loving. And he was wise. See how his fingers intertwine with mine? His strong hand beneath my own? A threefold cord, holding me fast, my anchor in the storm.

But I will tell you more, more of what you do not see, looking at us, looking at you, framed by our pledge to have and to hold, to love and to cherish, in good times and in bad. The photographic film that only over time, and in time, gradually comes to light. The living art, the developing, reflective, refracting art.

You do not see our children, or our grandchildren, or the home we created. You do not see the years of our penurious student life. You do not see our victories or our triumphs. Our growing up, our learning to tell the truth. You do not see the loss of our son to schizophrenia, our tears as we held each other close. You do not see our relinquishing of religion, our embrace of ambiguity, the emotional healing, the courage to be.

The Brownie Box may have been magic, but it could not capture these things. Only soul, or something of soul, enlarged and framed can now grace our wall. Our wedding photo in the living room. Where its art remains, soulful yes, but when all is whispered and done, Houdini.

Bob Tadman is a recently retired elementary school principal, and Lorraine, an Anglican priest. They are both enjoying a new phase in their life adventure: with storytelling, music, art and photography, new forays into writing, travel and fun! But with all of that said, spending more time with their grandchildren tops any list!

See Brian Henry's schedule here, including writing workshops and creative writing courses in Kingston, Peterborough, Toronto, Mississauga, Brampton, Georgetown, Milton, Oakville, Burlington, St. Catharines, Hamilton, Dundas, Kitchener, Guelph, London, Woodstock, Orangeville, Newmarket, Barrie, Orillia, Gravenhurst, Gravenhurst, Sudbury, Muskoka, Peel, Halton, the GTA, Ontario and beyond.

1 comment:

  1. I woke up this morning at 5:00, feeling ripped off because 5 hours of sleep is just simply not enough. The only positive side of that - on a Monday work morning, no less! - is that I had time to myself to think. Which was particularly good as it was impossible to slide back into sleep anyway.

    One of the thoughts concerned my teenage years as a Jesus freak. I remember the powerful drama of my drunken father, having one of his many drunken rages. At first, he used to only drink (and rage) on weekends. Eventually that changed and we got to see his performance every day of the week. The man was 300 pounds at least, and every single ounce was dedicated to his anger, which he often took out on my mom. As a 15 year old boy of only 128 pounds, I had nothing to say and no recourse back then. I was afraid all the time, never knowing if today would be the day he would murder my mom - or one of his kids. (Side note: she survived, as did we all)

    My only real escape back then was church. And one of the highlights of the Jesus life was making a trip down to Toronto from Oshawa on Thursday nights - there to participate in Toronto Catacombs, which later became Christian Church on a Hill.

    As I lay in bed lost in thought this morning, I vividly remembered Bob and Lorraine. Both of them shone which such grace and joy in that place. They were only two out of a great many musicians, but I distinctly recall Lorraine singing about Jesus asking Peter to be a fisher of men.

    I recall experiencing such an intense and painful sense of joy and love for God when she sang. I could see it so clearly: she was just a channel for God's love. And so there, in that huge cathedral, with the music filling the place and swirling around those ancient pillars, I experienced a euphoric joy and gladness, shared with everyone in the place. I remember wondering if it was possible to capture that moment; perhaps put it in a jar so that I could take it with me everywhere I went.

    Even back then, in my spiritual and emotional immaturity, I knew of the importance of that moment.

    Today, though I still believe in and love God, I simply have no use for religion. I have no patience or tolerance for the dogma that seeks to entrap people in man-made rules and instruction. I wondered, as I lay in my bed this morning, whether my current state of mind, transplanted back then to those Thursday nights in the Anglican cathedral, would have somehow marred the experience; would have negated it.

    I can only conclude that it would not. My young immature mind knew the truth of that time, and it was a truth that one simply can't dismiss, much like the truth of the sun's daily rising. That the gentle joyful folk of that place - including and especially the Tadmans - were conduits of God's grace and love. I'll always cherish that time and those people.

    After getting up and settling in to work this morning, I decided to do a Google search for Bob and Lorraine - and that's how I ended up reading this beautiful Valentine's day blog. I hope they're doing well, and that they get a chance to read this comment.


    Doug P owless a.k.a. wolfshades


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