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Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Getting to Know Dawn Nevills - Part 2

…...well; you know what they say: give a man a fish, he eats for a day: teach him how to fish, and the wide ocean is his horizon, along with all of its vistas, challenges and possibilities.

Such was my time at the CEC ("Canada Employment Center", as it was known in those days) in St. Catharines, along with my part-time job at Brights Wines, in the Pen Centre, St. Catharines, which I had a bus pass to get to, having neither a license nor a car until well into my 20's - just wasn't in the budget; my summer job experiences with P.A.L.S. (Preservation of Agricultural Land Society) and the media with whom we came in contact, and from whom we learned useful, savvy skills, as we researched and delved into government policy, one "very orchard" summer; my carpentry experience building sets; my wardrobe experience making costumes; (both minor/specialty service hands-on activities required for my undergraduate degree within the Theatre program) my hospitality experience working with SAGA Foods (where I worked my way up from line server to Weekend Solo Sub Shop Lady-in- Residence and Head Waitress on shift for breakfast, lunch and dinner shifts at Decew Residence, alongside the Chef and permanent Saga employees, supervising line staff responsible for feeding several hundred residence students at every sitting, within 3 years, as well as various hospitality functions occurring periodically within the University) in between my "theory classes".

Then, like the inevitable fishing trawler, came opportunity:. a new wine boutique with "specialty storage" - or "bottle on the side", as we called it, unlike the LCBO facings, which stood the bottles up and dried out the corks in the process - had an opening for a new manager, and despite not having a driver's license or a car, I was up for the challenge, despite the fact that it meant I had to move. It was off to Masonville Place, a brand new mall extravaganza in the North of London, and my very own wine boutique for T.G. Bright and Co. - Brights Wines.

Until I found accomodations, I carpooled with three men from Strathroy, while boarding with a friend's Mom, for the first 3 months: a jewellery store owner/operator, a car salesman, and an account executive for a law firm - a new one with three lawyers freshly articled....it was a heady group with lots of laughter and much affection: mostly crazy, but ever hopeful....and me in my early twenties.....what I lacked in ability to take my turn driving I tried to make up for in motivation and enthusiasm....and kept three fine friends in the process, through the years. They tell me I told the best jokes. I give all the credit for those to The Teamsters. The world is sorely in need of more of both, in many senses.  We were all pretty poor, but ready to pull the numbers without stepping all over each other or anyone else to get there....and it showed.

It soon became apparent that 40 hours a week at 8 dollars an hour was not going to pay much more than the rent on my tiny three story walk up (no elevator, but the bus stop was outside the front door), and my bus pass (one transfer from downtown Richmond Street from the Old South End to get to Fanshawe and Masonville Place...and my little store), so I took two other part-time jobs: two nights a week from 5:15 - 9:15 selling microwaves at the Micro-Cooking store next to mine (I made fast friends with the supervisor there, especially when we needed a spotter to run to the ladies' room or to run for any other reason - including to hail down the delivery truck in the back of the building and get the orange parking cones out in the parking spot behind our stores before anyone parked there, so we could receive OUR deliveries, without anyone casing our stores, in the process, which meant we both split two days a week having to get there at 6:30 before anyone else, to get the cones and spots, instead of four, and had another employee do a morning shift one day a week for a breather), and either two nights or one night and a Saturday shift working at Addition-Elle clothing, where I put my fashion sense and my self-esteem building skills to good use as a saleslady - and built a clientele list of some successful "amply proportioned" ladies in the process. I called them my "Rubinesques" - ballerinas, cha-cha queens, Boardroom Babes, and Tango Tiaras of tomorrow, and all smart, chic, wonderful women in an age when "emplowerment", "girl power" and "mutual encouragement for strength and dream achievement" were often shadowed and overlooked by power shoulders and deeply male-dominated sales environments: especially mine. There were very few female entrepeneurs in the liquor and hospitality industry in Canada in those days, and the ones who persevered were tough, funny.....really good at what they did, really kind while they did it, and clearly loved doing it. There was no backstabbing, and a surprising and earnest lack of the immaturity which has dogged so many women trained to be Barbies as the only means to arm-candy achievement in any world, but particularly business. We celebrated our successes together, and helped each other up, and dusted each other off, when things were not looking good. It was a very heady time of growth and achievement, in a Traditional World. I still remember the bank accounts Manager at Canada Trust who mentored me along, while I ran that store: she outshone my own regional manager at quiet and genuine success achievement and celebration, and her sensitivity and acute observance of those struggling and in need of encouragement, to this day, have stayed with me. Everyone loved her: tough as nails, as kind as the day was long, as real and true to her deep and ethical integrity as the kindest minister I ever met: Margo Christodoulou, I think Greece lost an Indira Ghandi in you - but I'm glad Canada gained one. I bet you were a great Mom, too. No one else joked about putting on weight just so they could come and have me dress them for success - and meant it.

It sure made the cheesecake Christmas gifts guilt-free in a Jane Fonda leg warmer world, though, didn't it? Smile. But we still wanted to look like her. Still do!

And CHRISTMAS! Christmas was so filled with good cheer and friendships and homemade and laughter and long hours and "your turn for coffee" in that frenetic, retail world, I can't even begin to tell you: best buds with the hairdresser, lunch pals with the shoe salesman (who always managed to find the cutest pumps without busting the budget, the back, or the heel heightflight barrier - oh, "layaway lover" - that was our name for him. And boy, did he have a bevy. Laughter. To "have lunch" was to succeed, on the days when we had staff coverage and 30 minutes to squeeze each other's hands and wish each other well at the mall's Chinese food emporium.....that was all we had time for, (or the inclination, frankly, in a more committed, more results-conscious age) as we helped each other towards our dreams, unchained, unabused, unrobbed...unbroken. The mall manager for Cadillac Fairview in those days, one Scott Baird, used to ask me where I was working, when he saw me in the mall - and laughed, as I looked panicked for a second.....

And dance!!! Wow, could we dance on a Saturday night. And all of us found time for hobbies, and families, too, incredibly: I immediately plunged into the world of the London Community Players, local community theatre, and kept up the singing, as a local musician, that I began in my late teens, at least one weekend a month, as the calls and opportunities presented themselves. I was BUSY.

I built sets and used carpentry skills in Ted DeMarsh's "Tomorrow Box"; hung lights and operated them for another LCP large production; worked on costumes and front of house. In between work and art....time for a "kitchen sink" pizza at Joe Kool's; a beer or two at The Ceeps in London; rehearsals and late nights in a tiny 99-seat old house theatre down the street from Copps Build all and "Anthony's on the Thames", the last of which where we had late-night discussions about art, and music, and dance, and causes and cures, and live performance,  until the staffs' rueful, affectionate looks at watches, and our dwindling pooled beer budgets, signalled the garlic bread with cheese, the soup of the day leftovers, and the cooks's "platter nosh combos" at an end once again.... that incredible little house 99-seat theatre with an impossible seating incline, irascible lighting challenges, the weirdest accoustics on the planet, and where we built our sets and put on our anxious, concerned amateur theatre presentations in an atmosphere of very high standards and audience competition with the likes of  The Grand Theatre, University of Western Ontario, and Philip's...possibly the world's coolest little jazz room.

One of my greatest achievements during that time? - besides organizing a wine tour of London Chamber of Commerce participants to Niagara-on-the-Lake wineries, and snagging the first true vinifera storage cellar for "good grape" small harvest pre-Vintages, in North London, in addition to  being the most frequent visitor to Pickle's Restaurant on Richmond Street and Piccadilly, in London, Ontario at 2 in the morning? (the only place you could purchase food until 3 am screaming hot, after late rehearsals): a win for Best Actress,  South Western Ontario Drama League, as Deirdre, a slightly mentally challenged young woman victimized by a predator, (after months and months of consultation, study, and gentle conversations with proud members of the intellectually challenged community) in the London Community Players' production of UWO faculty member and author Ed Procunier's production of "The Higher Mountains", where I played opposite London radio personality Mitch O'Connor, the Man with the Golden Voice. I saved a copy of the stellar review from the notoriously stingy-with-praise London Free Press Theatre Critic at the time, Doug....what the heck was his name again? Darn...oh, that's right...."Bane"..grin.Go figure. That year the Festival Awards Ceremony was held in.....you guessed it.....Sarnia, Ontario. 

My Grandmother Mackey's favourite live theatre group at the time - and for many years afterwards, including the time we both went to see them in Toronto, live?, after which we planned our next outing together to St. Jacob's market in the heart of "heart and hands country?"- The Famous People Players. xo

What could possibly come next?