Alive and Well and Living in Torontoby Ev McTaggart (nee Clarke), BA, BA(Ed.)'70
Tempus fugit and all that. I can hardly believe I'm old enough to have graduated from university 30 years ago. I look in the mirror and say, “Geez, I don't look it.” Amazing what surgical knives and collagen injections can do, isn't it?
I deserve to look older than I do. I should be a withered, arthritis-crippled hag because I've packed a lot into the past three decades. With my ex-husband, David, a consulting electrical engineer, I moved 12 times in 16 years, an aging experience in itself. (There was an up side to moving so often: I rarely had to clean kitchen cupboards between moves.) Even after David and I amicably split in 1984, I couldn't break the moving habit, so over the next five years I moved from St. Catharines, Ont., to three different houses in Niagara Falls, 10 miles away. To quit cold turkey, I bought a baby grand piano, an acquisition that makes one think twice about changing residences.
After graduation and a short stint at Newfoundland Telephone (cut short by the engineer's next transfer), I moved to Nova Scotia where I worked with a PR firm that handled Liberal Party business. At the tender age of 22, I had to ferry Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau on his whirlwind re-election tour of Halifax and Yarmouth. He rewarded me with a kiss on the cheek. I didn't wash my cheek for two days.
I lived in Iran for two-and-a-half years just prior to the fall of Shah Reza Pahlavi, I taught in a private school and was a founding member of the self-styled Canadian Expeditionary Force, a hardy, extremely curious group dedicated to exploring Zoroastrian fire towers, climbing Mount Damavand, enduring the Dante's Inferno known as the Persian Gulf, and seeing how many wandering tribes we could encounter while camping overnight in the Iranian deserts. My special claim to fame was sneaking into the Ayatollah Khomeini's mosque in Qom on the Islamic holy day—and living to make apologies to all alumni who are followers of Mohammed. Post-Iran, I had two children, the first at an age when my mother's generation had long abandoned childbearing as a sport. When I made up my mind to reproduce, I didn't waste any time. Mind you, by the time I made up my mind, I didn't have much time left to waste. And besides, I thought lightning couldn't strike twice in the same place.
These same two offspring had such a checkered past, they are the subjects of my first book, Six Stitches and a Week, a collection of silly verses about their childhood exploits. My second book for kids, Princess Alyssa Finds a Frog, is a modern — dare I say feminist? — take on the old “beautiful princess-frog prince” fairy tale. So far, it hasn't seen the light of publishing day, but it's languishing in the editorial offices of Penguin Books. Dozens of other kids' books, short stories, poems, songs—so-called “artistic” works—take up space in my office files or, at any one time, take up space in some publisher's office. In other words, I have a whole lot of nothing happening. My latest labour, a novel for people already past puberty, is into re-writes under the mentorship of novelist and professor Susan Swan. A year-long project so far, it will probably never see light either, but it has been an interesting experiment.
When the children were little and my writing skills honed by writing about them, with several writing friends and the financial backing of a Niagara newspaper, I helped found a general interest magazine called What's Up Niagara. The very first magazine article was about the beer-loving brains behind mega-game Trivial Pursuit. That was one of my favourite interviews. The game was beginning to have a modest success, but the guys were still shrink-wrapping the boxes themselves from a bare building in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Already though, the Montreal Gazette mailroom boy who'd invested $1,000 was on his way to becoming a millionaire. I said I might have a spare thousand, did they need any more investors? Unfortunately, they didn't. If I had asked them two years before when they were desperate, well.... Timing is everything, isn't it?
Since early 1985 I have been part-owner of Niagara Helicopters, a helicopter sightseeing company in Niagara Falls. We bought a ramshackle, some say fly-by-night, operation and built it into a major Niagara Falls tourist attraction with five state-of-the-art Bell 407 helicopters. For 13 years, acting as marketing director, travelling around the world to trade shows, entertaining clients after hours, answering phones till all hours of the night and morning, I never had a moment I could call my own. Writing consisted of speeches, radio ads, magazine ads and submissions to Transport Canada. Necessary, but not exactly creative.
On the positive side, those years did wonders for my ability to name-drop. Kathleen Turner shook her head anxiously — “No, no, don't tell anyone” — when I recognized her name on a credit card proffered for ride payment. Formula One champion racer Michael Schumacher kissed my cheek, both sides — I had sudden flashbacks to the Trudeau years — and his irrepressible teammate, Eddie Irvine, gave me his Ferrari shirt—off his back—in the middle of a Montreal airfield. Lech Walesa clutched my arm as I escorted him from a helicopter and into the waiting arms of thousands of assembled onlookers. Canadian astronaut Julie Payette told me she liked my Laurel pantsuit. I thought she looked quite fetching in her blue forces jumpsuit. Thanks to Niagara Helicopters, I claim to be the only woman who's ever turned down Robert de Niro. Mind you, all he asked for was a helicopter charter, but we were too busy. I tried to offer him a rain-check, but shoot! he and Jane Fonda had finished shooting their film the day before. Timing, again. Still, it makes a good story to tell the grandchildren.
After some health problems (the less said the better) not to mention a monumental domestic dispute with my partner in love and business, I moved again and started work on the above novel. I still own my shares in Niagara Helicopters, but I'm not involved in the day-to-day operations. I now live (and write full-time) on the edge of Toronto, overlooking Lake Ontario and a fabulous view of the Toronto downtown skyline. Seven floors below are the wonderful waterfront bike and walking trails and acre upon acre of parks. I not only have time to smell the roses; through my binoculars, I can watch baby geese hatch. You know you're really getting on when you own binoculars and a bird book. On the other hand, I can still dance a pretty mean tango.
I'd particularly like to hear from some people I've lost contact with over the years. I'll use first names only. You know who you are: Carol, Phil G., Patsy, Roger, Fred, Grace, Mac, Linda, Bill, Gloria, Bob K., Janice, and Ed.
Friends and former classmates can reach Ev via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.