Chapter One: Elementary School
Chapter Two: High School and Golf
Chapter Three: UBC
Chapter Four: Social Work, Teaching and Riverboating
Chapter Five: L.O.V.E..and Pantyhose Diplomacy
Chapter Six: Boating and Correspondence
Chapter Seven: L.O.V.E. , Defection and Marriage
Chapter Eight: Arrest and Release
Chapter Nine: Life at Ardmore Golf Course
Chapter 10: Connections to the KGB
Chapter One: Elementary School
When I was a small child in McTavish Road Elementary School no one had ever thought about a disease called dyslexia. But I had it, bad. No one knew that it was a disorder that involved difficulty in learning to read or interpret’ sight words’, letters, and other symbols so that the victim afflicted looked like an imbecile. Authorities determined that I must be dumb or disadvantaged, or even ‘special’ since I always wanted to spell things the way they sounded. I was a clod on the consonants that were silent. I was an idiot at spelling plurals. I fell into a veritable spell when spelling. I was a child with a phobia for sight words. “Spell the plural of house”, she would say. I would think of one mouse and two mice and spell ‘hice’ for the plural of house to laughter erupting around me. Teacher asks me to read ( Reed ), “I read the book.” Now say the same sentence with ‘he’ instead of ‘I’ and I say -‘He reed the book.’ No, it should be ‘He red ( read ) the book. Laughter. Therefore, I hated the spelling competitions in the classroom that my elementary teacher loved. Forced to the peril of performance, my continual failure was ridiculed. The teacher would force me to stand and attempt to spell words that could not be sounded out. My past failures could have predicted my new stumbles. Miss Stevens demanded that I sound out the words, phonetically. How could I when English has so many sight words. They aggravated my dyslexia, a linguistic constipation of sorts brought on by sounding out words with phony phonetics like, say; “Beware of heard, a dreadful word, that looks like beard and sounds like bird.” Forced to read aloud I felt real pain, and became the bane of the teacher’s existence. I got no extra help, and was labelled ‘a problem child’.
The teacher had a compulsion to throw chalk brushes at my head when I stuttered, and then blurted something out. The reason became evident later when she was diagnosed with MS. That was consuming whatever patience she had. The sarcasms that dropped from the teacher’s mouth were like cluster bombs. I felt the impulse to start crying, but refused with a grimace and clenched my fists. I lost whatever self-esteem I might previously have had from a one parent home. My dad had been at war in the RCAF. During those years I competed with my two older brothers for attention. One was twelve years older, the other three years older. They were my jail keepers. It was then I yearned to rebel and learned to fight.
Anyway, the other kids in grade three who could read and write mocked me. That made me angry and depressed. Had I been older and disparaged on social media, I might have become a mass shooter.
One day when I got ambushed at recess and called a retard, I took action with my own fists. The brats didn’t know that this city kid had gone to the Lord Athlone School For Boys in Vancouver. This boarding school emphasized calisthenics, and manly stuff like boxing. I had not learned how to read, because of my undiagnosed ‘disease’ for sight words, but I had been boxing since grade one. The boxing mitts had been giant watermelons on my tiny arms. Now, my bare fists, freed from padding, paid pugilist dividends in the faces of my tormentors. I would back away, and wasp sing their noses to blood with quick left jabs. Next I would rush the opponents to the inside, pummel their guts. I paid no more attention to the ‘Marquess of Queensberry’ rules. I became an angry kid that soon caused havoc in the school yard. After that I was punished by the ‘District Physical Education Instructor’ and got detentions for a week. The District Superintendent summoned my parents to a meeting. I was thrashed at home.
Nevertheless I became even more precocious. I learned how to seek revenge for injustice. Having conquered the head bully I became the leader of the big boys I had bruised. What could I or we sabotage? Who would help? There was one classroom, a cloakroom, and an entrance hall with ‘groove and tongue’ wood floors. Should I spill something hard to clean up?
There was a basement with a coal furnace. Should I lock the teacher in the basement? I did that once by jamming the door with a wooden wedge when she went to check the furnace. There were two outhouses for boys and girls. Should I lock her in the outhouse? I tried to do that but failed. When I found several boxes of powdered chalk – pink, yellow and brown, I became a suicide kid with a mission. I waited for recess when the teacher was supervising the baseball diamond. While another kid kept watch, I snuck into the school and scattered powdered chalk, coal dust and teak oil on the wooden plank floors. Next I hurled a bucket of cold water to smear it all for good measure. And fled.
My parents were summoned for an interview. Miss Stevens, the teacher, had convinced the school board to hold an emergency meeting. No begging for leniency by my parents could save me from immediate expulsion. Miss Stevens insisted that I be expelled for a year. That would give my parents time to remediate my many problems. She had made a damning list; I had bloodied several noses; I had put lumps of coal in her coat pocket; I had tried to lock her in the girls outhouse. The worst of all my crimes was the last, the blast from my miracle bomb- the mixture of water, oil, coal dust and multi-coloured chalk powder that shut the school down for a day.
I had ended my grade three career in December just in time to suffer the consequences from Santa Claus. I was young, upset and knew who Santa was. Christmas looked like peril itself. But I had no thoughts of remediation, whatever that was.
My father was the disciplinarian in my family. From the look on his face, and the stern tone of his voice, I knew that even milk and cookies left in the kitchen for Santa Claus would not help me. I would get more than the leather slipper over my nude bum. After I had dropped my trousers, put my belly on a chair, my Dad would beat my bare buttocks hard for misbehavior but this time he used his belt instead of the hated slippers. The belt was worse. Then my dad announced that the punishment was for my own good. This ‘goodness’ had all started when he returned from the war. Strangely, I never hated my Dad for this, maybe because I had missed him as a ‘hero image’, the missing dad at war.
I was told that since no school board wanted to trust me inside a school, I would have to fail grade three. All my buddies would graduate to grade four. I would never see them again. For the whole summer, the next fall, the next winter, the next spring and next summer I would be sentenced to hard labour at the house of a retired British school teacher by the name of Mrs. Margaret Wardle who lived on Lochside Drive. I had better accept my fate whether it was in a pokey, pen, clink, jug, brig, cooler, cage, or slammer. My father would deliver me like an inmate on her doorstep on his drive to work in Victoria, and unlock me for an evening reprieve on his homeward return. Although no monitor-cuff was attached to my ankle I had better obey Mrs. Wardle’s every order. He threatened me with “hell to pay” if I were to do any vicious deeds. That sounded real bad. From my first look at the place I knew that I had been sent up the river to “The Big House”.
Mrs. Wardle lived in the biggest house I had ever seen. It looked over the sea not a river. From the living room I could see Mt. Baker. Mrs. Elizabeth Wardle was a warm, welcoming and kind person. Mrs. Wardle never made mention of the fact that I was a criminal. It was like no one had told her of my atrocities, or that I was to be pelted, and punished for purloining chalk powder and pilfering coal chunks. Instead, she gave me chocolate chip cookies, muffins, jam and milk. It was as good as it gets for criminals ‘sent up the river’ who then suddenly get day parole to play golf or ski.
It was Christmas, and she spoke to me with encouragement. Her home glowed and sparkled with real a fir Christmas tree, and decorations. She was Mrs. Christmas Claus for sure, and never made me feel embarrassed. She thought that my phobia for sight words could be thought of as a wonderful predilection, preference, fancy, or penchant, even a soft spot for vowels. She taught be some Esperanto phrases, a language she considered to have the best phonetic alphabet for use as an international auxiliary language. Each letter always had the same sound. Wow! Suddenly I was the ‘best vowel kid on the block’. Mrs. Wardle had me humming, singing and playing with vowels. She for some time banished sight words from my sight. Heaven had descended. My disease of dyslexia had gone into remission, perhaps never to return.
Mrs. Wardle said that when I was ready she would read to me a very wonderful story. We could read it together. It was about a Mole, rats, mice and other creatures, and about messing about in boats. And so it began one night just after Christmas when Mrs. Wardle asked my parents to let me overnight with her great grandchildren. She read to me this introduction to ‘Wind In The Willows’ by author Kenneth Grahame.
“ Never in his life had he seen a river before – sleek, sinuous, full-bodied animal, chasing and chuckling, gripping things with a gurgle and leaving them with a laugh, to fling itself on fresh playmates that shook themselves free, and were caught again and held again. All was a-shake and a-shiver – glints and gleams and sparkles, rustle and swirl, chatter and bubble. The mole was bewitched, entranced, fascinated. By the side of the river he trotted as one trots, when very small, by the side of a man who holds one spellbound by exciting stories; and when tired at last, he sat on the bank, while the river still chattered on to him, a babbling procession of the best stories in the world, sent from the heart of the earth to be told at last to the insatiable sea.”
“Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.”
I would visit Mrs. Wardle for the next ten years. She became my friend and mentor. She became my adopted grandmother after that horrendous Christmas of my expulsion. After the introduction she read me ‘Dulce Domum’ or ‘home sweet home’ about the homecoming of ‘mole’ at Christmas when all the field mice came to sing Christmas carols, and mole fell asleep;
‘…in great joy and excitement. But ere he closed his eyes he let them wander round his old room, mellow in the glow of the firelight that played or rested on familiar and friendly things…”
Thus I embarked on a new career path. I learned to love words, and ‘familiar and friendly things’ and I left my failures and criminality in the past. I would seek out water everywhere on rivers, lakes, and oceans. I would mess about in a rafts and boats, build a riverboat, paddle canoes, stage outward-bound sagas, and sail a catboat to ‘moonlight moorings on the Salish Sea’ and get married to a girl who spoke Esperanto and Czech but not English. How childhood events can set future sailing instructions!
When I drop hook in the Salish Sea by bay, cove, sand spit, gorge, inlet, bight, estuary, fjord, sound, channel or passage I wait for a sunrise or a sunset and begin to write about my life after Mrs. Wardle.
These stories are based on real experiences that arise from the babbling rivers that flow from my heart down to the Salish Sea.
My childhood battle with dyslexia, my rebellion, my punishment and my redemption by Mrs. Wardle left me a rebel looking for a cause. I adopted causes, took positions and ignored those who would call me eccentric.
Chapter Two: High School and Golf
Chapter Three: UBC
Chapter Four: Social Work, Teaching and Riverboating
Chapter Five: L.O.V.E..and Pantyhose Diplomacy
I had canoodled under blankets at Sunset Beach, North Saanich, but I had never loved a girl that would have my child. That was when huge secrecy was needed in Pharmacies to get condums one way or another. At the age of thirty-three I now wanted to start a family, be able to share his my with a wife and children. My body wanted that. My mind told me that. My Dad and mom had said that I was almost too late for it. So one evening I read the ads in a dating newspaper columns, again. This was before classy online dating services like eHarmony, Match, Mate1, Zoosk, and LoveMate. Once more, I read the ‘woman wants man’ ads. That didn’t work. Next I went to a mating agency on a littered back street, gave my details and got matched. None of the dates worked. Almost in a depression, I picked up a copy of ‘Heroldo’, an Esperanto gazette. I had learned Esperanto in childhood from my tutor, Mrs Wardle, because of my chronic case of dyslexia.
At the multi ethnic University of British Columbia I had been president of the United Nations Club. I loved the study of International affairs, and appreciated the fact that one common non-ethnic language could help bring better communication and perhaps, a better chance of world peace.
In ‘Heroldo’, right before my eyes I found L.O.V.E. The writer wrote that while the ‘Universal Esperanto Association’ promoted the language, ‘The Language Organization Voicing Esperanto’ practiced it big time. L.O.V.E. functioned as a matchmaker for speakers of Esperanto. Speakers who didn’t know the language of the other sex could canoodle via Esperanto and fall in love. At this moment in history, girls encased in eastern European poverty, and stricken by communist propaganda yearned for western men and escape to freedom.
L.O.V.E. was a movement that had happened across borders and regimes for years. Dictators like Hitler, Stalin and Franco had reviled it as a ‘dangerous language’. Practitioners of Esperanto used L.O.V.E. as a diplomacy of friendship. Already ten thousand or more couples were bearing children for a new world disorder. They communicated as friends across borders but quarreled about aspects of Esperanto grammar like ‘ita’ and ‘ata’.
I dove into a mental mirage of visions, expectations and challenges. Surfacing for air I filled my mind with a mania of possibilities. An E-copy of Shakespeare’s “Romio kaj Julieto” in my hands I surveyed the world stage. Europe was divided between the U.S.S.R. (Warsaw Pack ) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization ( NATO ) , and the ‘Iron Curtain’ more than inhibited travel.
I got excited. This had potential for more drama, more spice, and more danger than any old Capulet-Montague Shakespearean family quarrel. I fantasized! A capitalist boy takes a communist bride when both regimes are opposed to love and cooperation. My ‘love’ and I would challenge the prolonged mutual state of hostility between two empires or hegemonies, capitalist and communist. We would oppose and conquer the prejudice and duplicity of capitalist- communist propaganda. I would spirit my bride through a barbwire no-man’s land and across dark borders to a sunrise in the ‘true north strong and free’, Canada. For facing danger we would reap reward. I took my mind on an imaginary trip. It was one of those occasions when my eccentric bent took over.
I figured that some cute communist girls might want to marry a Canadian for freedom and prosperity in the west, one of those who wanted more than collective farms, authoritarianism, five year plans and barbed wire.
I advertised for female pen pals behind the ‘Iron Curtain’. I exchanged photos and we shared our interests, hobbies and preferences, all that dating type of stuff. Many months later I had chosen fifteen to visit out of thirty-nine replies. My travel bags sat eagerly awaiting my departure.
My Dad was dead so it was only my Mom who got furious about my hallucinations.
‘Dangerous hallucinations’ she called them. Had I lost my mind?
I planned to visit Czechoslovakia first – great girl there – she really intrigued me. Her story was special. After that I would travel to Hungary, then continue to East Germany before going to Poland and Russia. My mother frantically warned, “ Don’t go. Canadian Embassies in communist Europe can not protect you “ she said. I responded that if the young Pierre Elliot Trudeau could travel throughout communist Eastern Europe, so could I. It didn’t help any. She hated Trudeau.
Sofia, the woman in Czechoslovakia, had written to me why she had learned Esperanto. I decided to learn it she said, “When I and colleagues stopped a column of Russian tanks in Brno by standing in front of them.” This had occurred during the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 after the so-called Prague Spring.
Sofia had been working in Brno as a cartographer at the time when Alexander Dubček and other reformers sought to liberalize the Communist government—creating “socialism with a human face”. The Communist party’s influence on the country would be loosened. He sought to win popular support for the Communist government by eliminating its worst, most repressive features, allowing greater freedom of expression and tolerating political and social organizations not under Communist control.
The program of reform gained momentum, leading to pressures for further liberalization and democratization. At the same time, hardline Communists in Czechoslovakia and the leaders of other Warsaw Pack countries pressured Dubček to rein in the Prague Spring. Though Dubček wanted to oversee the reform movement, he refused to resort to any draconian measures to do so.
On the night of 20–21 August 1968, Warsaw Pack forces entered Czechoslovakia. Giant Russian troop transport planes at the same moment over Bratislava and Prague asked over emergency landing permissions. On landing troops stormed out and seized the airports. Simultaneously tanks crossed the border. The occupying armies quickly seized control of Prague and the Central Committee’s building, taking Dubček and other reformers into Soviet custody. But, before they were arrested, Dubček urged the people not to resist militarily.
Nevertheless, the Czech and Slovak population led a non-violent resistance which delayed full loss of control to the Warsaw Pact forces for a full eight months. The Soviets had calculated on control in four days.
Sofia and her cartographer colleagues had been working at their desks when they heard the rumble of tanks in the main street of Brno. They had had time to make a plan of action. They stood across the street and linked their hands, hand to hand. They demanded to debate with the tank drivers- to question why they had invaded?
The confrontation lasted twenty-four hours as more people joined the demonstration. The tank column had been temporarily immobilized, peacefully.
During the aftermath of the invasion Sofia saw a poster that announced an evening Esperanto course. “Learn Esperanto, the Talk of the World for Friendship” it read. Sofia knew about it since it had been widely taught in her home town of Bystrice by a friend of her Dad. A world language of friendship seemed to be an antidote for that repressive atmosphere. She joined the evening course. She learned it rapidly. It was easy to learn since it is designed that way. Soon she reached out for pen pals. I became one of them.
So I got serious about my plans and asked questions. My pen pal girls told me that the communist governments would take thirty percent of the real value of my dollars for the state bureaucracy. So I decided to smuggle US dollars into Eastern Europe. My mother swelled up into tears when I announced my plan of hiding US currency between my bare feet and my socks. She begged me to stop my mania for danger. I should see a shrink for therapy!
I flew to Prague with fifty dollar bills stuffed between my socks and bare feet. When I walked the isle to use the washroom I could feel and hear the bills slide. I had the feeling that I was taller. After landing, my feet began to perspire. My feet took over my concentration. Feet, feet, I could only think feet. By the time I got to the customs and immigration station my feet seemed soaked like in a leaky gumboot. I was red faced, dizzy and regretful of my foolishness. Communist soldiers with submachine guns patrolled past me. They seemed to be looking at my feet. I swallowed a nervous flow of saliva.
Officials examined by passport. Next they opened my luggage. I had one backpack with a sleeping bag, and one suitcase. I was worried about my feet but also my sleeping bag. I had heard that pantyhose could not be bought behind the Iron Curtain. Alluring advertisements had leaked through cracks in the wall. Woman wanted panty hose to enhance the beauty of their legs and bums. I could just feel the pleasure of unfolding and dressing legs and bums with pantyhose. So I had purchased a stock in cellophane bags enhanced by images of tanned beauties who modeled them.
Next the border guards opened my backpack. Everything seemed to be in order. I thought that I was passed through. No one asked to open my sleeping bag.
“Show me your foreign currency that you will use to buy Czech krona” demanded an official.
Was all about to be lost? The fifties under my socks seemed to swell. I showed them a booklet of AMEX traveller’s cheques. The moment passed, and I was admitted.
Fortunately, they did not ask me to undress or take off my shoes and socks! I walked into the arrivals area full of relief and satisfaction that I had beaten the corrupt currency exchange system. My heart was trembling. I was not in a steady state of mind to meet my first date.
I had arranged different dates to meet three girls in Czechoslovakia, one in Prague, one in Brno and one in Bratislava. I had told them all about my arrival time in Prague.
I looked for my Prague girl. Her name was Tania. I expected to see her holding a ‘green star’, the symbol of Esperanto, or the words ‘L.O.V.E. ’ or ESPERANTO. These had been my suggestions. From three corners of the arrivals terminal I saw ‘L.O.V.E.’ approaching. I recognized black haired Tania from Prague who waved, and then I recognized red haired Malinda from Bratislava who hadn’t yet seen me. Why was she here? Bratislava is at the other end of the country like Halifax from Vancouver. I had not realized that because Czechoslovakia is so small compared to Canada that I shouldn’t have given my arrival times to all three Czech girls. How naïve! Next another L.O.V.E. sign approached from another direction. That was the one carried by a man. I wanted to disappear, but I was standing tall on sweaty fifty-dollar bills. Beads of sweat dripped down my nose. What to do?
I spotted a sign with an arrow that said ‘WC MUZI’, the men’s washroom. I darted for the door, entered and stared at my confused face dripping above the hand basins. The door opened and ‘L.O.V.E.’ walked in, the sign carried by the man. Holding a photo of me he introduced himself as the brother of Sofia Pavletova. Sofia was working and had sent him to meet me with a proposal that I meet her in Pardubice for a trip to the mountains on the border with Poland. He explained in broken English enriched by pointing his fingers at a map, and at Esperanto text that his sister had sent. I wondered whether he was aware that black haired Tania was holding a ‘L.O.V.E.’ sign outside the ‘can’. Perhaps red haired Malinda was there as well. Had she spotted me? Was my mania for adventure about to explode?
I scribbled a note in Esperanto in my diary, tore it out and gave it to Sofia’s brother. I accepted Sofia’s invitation and shook Tadeo’s hand in a confident manner. I tried to explain that I needed to stay in the washroom for a while because of a need to change clothing. Really I wanted to get the fifties out of my socks, also to avoid the other two women. He left.
When I finally emerged from the WC red haired Malinda had vanished. Perhaps she had never seen me. Or had she seen me, a free ‘whatever’ decadent capitalist, according to Communist propaganda, entering the washroom followed by a man carrying a ‘L.O.V.E.’ sign. Homophobic hate hissed behind the ‘Iron Curtain’.
Black haired Tania approached with blinking eyes of compassion. She had assumed that I was still recovering from ‘flight sickness’ or was otherwise ill. She showed compassion and care as we chatted in Esperanto. We would take a ‘street car’ through Prague, visit some historic sites, have dinner, and enjoy friendship for several days. Tania never asked me about the man that held the ‘L.O.V.E.’ sign and followed me into the ‘MUZI’. She also never asked me to overnight in her apartment. My pantyhose stayed in my sleeping bag. Failure!
I needed to get Czech currency. Tania arranged a meeting with another Esperanto speaker. We traded money at dusk by a park bench beneath a heroic statue of the conquering ‘Lenin’. The black market deal would assist members of L.O.V.E., and deprive the communist regime of profit from foreign exchange. I walked away with a grin on my face under the clenched fist and stern eyes of a gigantic statue of Lenin.
Continuing my faltering campaign I took a bus to Pardubice. I waited at the train station. Sofia was to arrive mid morning from Brno. Since I could not decipher the Czech signage I ended up sitting on the wrong platform. Several trains arrived, passengers departed, trains left, time passed and I saw no ‘L.O.V.E.’ sign. I walked here and there looking. I began to suspect that her brother had revealed the truth of my arrival in Prague- the other woman. Then I spotted her directly above me on a raised platform. I viewed the most elegant legs and form of a fine lady. Legs just waiting for the application of pantyhose. She carried no sign but I spotted what appeared to be a small green embroidered star, the Esperanto emblem. As I ascended more and more of her gorgeous body appeared. When her lips and beautiful face started to speak eloquently and intelligently in flawless Esperanto, with a perfect universal accent, I should have realized that my days as a single man were numbered. Only speakers of Esperanto can appreciate the sexy aspect of correctly used accusatives, linking correlatives, the imaginative use of suffices, and the picturing of complex ideas by agglutination. Any language lover, any linguist would be touched, would want to be touched, by such an entrancing lady.
We travelled to Poland for what was called ‘The Golden Autumnal Gathering’. This was held on highlands along the Czech/Polish border. Many advocates of L.O.V.E. participated from more than a dozen countries. At first we had separate rooms in the mountain resort. Preparations for a costume ball led to more intimacy. I suggested to Olga that I dress her up as a ‘Blood Indian’. She would be a chief’s daughter and I would be her suitor. We needed to make the costumes from available materials. The hunt for those was fun and easy since we would need to leave a lot of exposed flesh. I insisted on dressing her in pantyhose but she refused saying that it wouldn’t be authentic. We dressing each other up, adjusting the other’s costume, fitting and conforming each fabric to each human body part just so. Enough skin needed to be exposed for reality! We won first prize.
The next day Sofia, a trained ‘cartographer’ in charge of a government mapmaking department in Brno, led me on a hike up a mountain. She had worked as a surveyor in hilly regions of her country. She had carried tripods and measuring devices and was competent with maps- after all she had made them. So I assumed that we could not get lost on a Polish mountain. As night approached and the moon arose in a star filled sky we had lost our way. We would cuddle, kiss, canoodle and talk in the language of L.O.V.E. in the mossy highlands until the foggy, foggy dew caressed the flowers of sunrise. I didn’t complain.
I spent a week with Sofia and finally got to dress her in pantyhose. Then my calling to promote L.O.V.E. throughout eastern Europe took over. A man of high ethical standards could not let my quest for a wife, that had morphed into a pantyhose diplomacy, end in but one communist country. The Berlin Wall needed to fall. ‘L.O.V.E. can conquer all’ haven’t I heard that? It would take time. Even a rain drop, drop by drop can bore a hole through granite! So the wall and the Iron Curtain would tremble and finally fall. Red communist commissars would cringe as I continued my quest for peace and friendship across borders. I was like Ulysses ready to shine in use as my mania for high purpose took hold, renewed: Never for a moment think that I was possessed by personal self interest!
” Yet all experience is an arch wherethrough
Gleams that untraveled world, whose margin fades
For ever and for ever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnished, not to shine in use!”
‘Ulysses’ by Alfred Lord Tennyson
Chapter Six: Boating and Correspondence
Chapter Seven: L.O.V.E. , Defection and Marriage
When I got back to Canada East German soldiers had just fatally shot a women trying to escape the red communist regime by scaling the Berlin Wall. The unrest that had begun. The desire to break that wall brick by brick got stronger. The American presidant, Ronald Reagan, had just demanded aloud at the Brandenburg gate,” Mr Gorbecxov, take down this wall.”
I carried an empty sleeping bag; I had applied all the pantyhose. It had gone walking away in East Germany, Poland, Hungary and Bulgaria. My one-on-one pantyhose diplomacy of international friendship via L.O.V.E. and Esperanto was over. I would go back to work.
The couplings of men and women across borders via the Language Organization Voicing Esperanto had reached the tens of thousands. To be honest, there were other factors at work that led to the collapse of the Berlin Wall. Really, I said that. So my mania must be getting under control. But who can predict the immense impact of even the smallest drop of love on a teeter- totter that is balanced equally between love and hate. Margaret Mead said it like this, “ Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
My Mom was happy that I had not been locked up in a communist jail. She met me with open arms, hugs and kisses. She put me to work in our family business in North Saanich, BC, Canada. Ardmore Golf Course Ltd operated the oldest nine hole golf course in North America. A British Lord had built it in 1886.
I kept up a steady pen pal correspondence in Esperanto with three of the girls I had dated. However, the girl from Brno whose family lived in Bystrice pod Hostynem, Czechoslovkia, was my favorite. I thought of Sofia with me on the golf course. I thought of her as a lover, as a mother. I thought of her as a golfer. I thought of her as a sailor. I thought of her.
The post office was too slow. I waited too long for the letters. So I tried phoning. That was impossible because of the broken down telephone services in communist Czechoslovakia. I could hardly hear her voice. Moreover , I could hear crackles and buzzing. I learned that all calls to western countries were being monitored by communist spies.
After a fretful few months, I decided to make a marriage proposal. I couldn’t use the phone. I didn’t have time or ticket to fly. The mail was too slow. No internet either in those days. So I would send a telegram.
I went to Victoria. The telegraph office was in a federal government building on Government Street. I went to the service desk where I asked for the telegraph form. I would write my proposal in Esperanto by a pen they provided to me. I wrote note after note. I couldn’t get the words out of my head correctly. I asked for another telegram form. The attendant looked at one of a discarded forms and said, ‘I hope she accepts your marriage proposal. He was a speaker of Esperanto and a member of L.O.V.E. I completed a good one and Dave Jorgensen tapped it into the telegraph wires. Hours stretched into days. Days became endless before the reply arrived. Dave Jorgensen phoned. He read her reply. YES, YES! Sofia accepted my offer of marriage. She wrote that she would need to ask permission to leave her country to marry me; that she would need to remain a Czech citizen while living in Canada. When my mom heard that, she said that Sofia must be a ‘soviet spy’. ‘Drop her right away’, she said. ‘What could she spy on in North Saanich’, I replied.
A month later a letter arrived from Sofia. The communist commissars had refused permission. They told Olga that as a cartographer in the Warsaw Pack she had too much classified information to be allowed to go to a NATO country. However, she said that she had been placed on a Czech government delegation to deliver a paper on cartography at an international conference in London, England. She said that she could visit the Canadian Embassy to learn more about Canada.
I read between the lines. She was being careful in her wording because communist agents would read her telegram. L.O.V.E. had assisted in defections from delegations and sport teams in the past. Sofia was hinting without words that I arrange something through the Canadian embassy.
I discussed the matter with Dave Jorgensen. Dave had L.O.V.E. contacts in Ottawa and London. I bought a one way Air Canada flight for Sofia. Dave forwarded the ticket to Ottawa with a request for a Canadian visa. The L.O.V.E. assistant in Ottawa forwarded the package to a helper in the our embassy in London. Instructions were given to expect the arrival of Sofia.
All I could do now was wait. Her delegation would be tightly controlled. The presenters would be herded by keepers. Deliver the papers and return to Prague immediately were the marching orders. Would Sofia be able to get to the Canadian embassy? She would deliver her paper on the 21st of July. So I had booked her flight for the 22nd.
I threw myself into work to allay the anxiety. I had planned the Pacific Esperanto Convention. It was to occur in Victoria beginning on July 23th. I made final arrangements at the Strathcona Hotel and booked the Deep Cove Chalet in North Saanich for a luncheon and for a possible marriage if Sofia arrived. Eighty-five people had registered from nations that border the Pacific Ocean.
I could have no prediction that Sofia would arrive at the Victoria International Airport on the evening of the 23rd July, 1972. As I waited in the arrivals area I imagined the worse. She had been apprehended when she tried to wave down a London taxi. Perhaps she was on her flight back to Prague in hand cuffs.
I waited with tensed muscles in face, arms and neck. If she got here, I wanted to marry her immediately to give her the protection of becoming a ‘landed immigrant’. At that time, Canadian law stated that a foreign woman became a ‘landed immigrant’ immediately upon marriage with a Canadian man. The application for Canadian citizenship could follow in a year.
And finally there she was – Sofia coming as like a model on a run way walk. I saw her coming from the plane on the run way. Soon through the door came my mate to be, my love via L.O.V.E. The marriage could happen. Hello, I had no plans for the wedding. Who could I get to perform the ceremony. I had not planned for a minister, for a cake, for photographs, not for anything.
Sofia and I went to the Strathcona Hotel for the night. The next morning registered Esperanto speakers offered to help. One registrant was of the ‘Bahai’ faith and could do a ceremony performed in the Esperanto translations of prayers. I had been raised in the Anglican Church at Holy Trinity in North Saanich. But given the time frame – go with what you have, I thought.My Mom wouldn’t care because she had lost her faith when my Dad had died too young. Mom could get the cake at the Sidney Bakery.
On the 26th of July, 1972 we were joined in wed lock on the lawns of the Deep Cove Chalet.
The ceremony was held beneath a balcony where a man in shorts was sun bathing. Slippers dangled from his toes over a railing above our heads. Just as we were pronounced man and wife one of his slippers fell between us, plunk, before we could do the customary kiss. Did that something forebode?
When the convention ended we headed off for a honey moon. Again this was short term planning. I thought to take Sofia to Tofino and long beach first. We did that. We walked beside the sea and surf and enjoyed small town art galleries. Sofia loved the gallery and paintings of ….
Next we returned home, got my canoe, tent, sleeping bag and supplies and headed to Vancouver by a B.C. Ferry. I had convinced Sofia that a canoe trip in the Bowron Lake Provincial Park would give her a David Sazuki introduction to wild Canada. Part of what attracted me to her was that she was an outdoorswoman who had carried surveyor tripods and packs in the Tatra Mountains.
On the way to Bowron Lake we stopped at the historic gold fever town of Barkerville. We enjoyed items like the old western facades, hitching rails, horses and buggies, a waterfall and a placer gold separation display. We panned for gold; we drank and ate in a saloon; we watched a dancing girl routine; we took snap shots. Finally, we decided to walk to the replica court house of Judge Mathew Baillie Begbie. A re-enactment of a court case was about to begin with the so called ‘Hanging Judge’ presiding. But we were late. The court room was full. We walked in as a sheriff was about to choose the ‘accused’ from the audience. We were it. We were theatrically arrested and put in the cubicle for the prisoners.
We were accused of fraudulently changing the boundaries of pacer claims. By those actions we were likely to make millions. During interrogation the prosecutor soon discovered from me that Sofia could not speak a word of English, that she was a qualified surveyor. We could both speak in a language that the court had never heard of. These facts alone were enough to convict us beyond any reasonable doubt. Nevertheless, witnessed were called, actors all, who proffered evidence of our heinous chicanery. Judge Mathew Baillie Begbie stood up. His black robe and white wig appeared stark against the shuttered window panes. All in the court were ordered to rise as the court clerk was handed a scroll that contained the verdict of our guilt. Our punishment was hard labour in the reconstruction of a wooden board walk to border the main street, a two hundred dollar fine. At the end of the performance we were thanked for our participation and given a parchment scroll with our names affixed, details of our evil deeds noted, and our punishment proclaimed.
We drove to Bowron Lake Provincial Park. There we embarked on a ten day circuit of all ten lakes. I was an experienced canoeist but canoes were new to Sofia. Some portaging would be a necessity. We had come prepared with an excellent wood canvas canoe, life jackets, bear spray, bailor, sunscreen, water proof clothing, utensils and lots of food. I had rigged ‘tump lines’ to our back packs so that we could portage like fur traders or ‘courier de bois’. ‘Tump lines’ are strips of leather four inches wide attached to the load and that fitted around the forehead. By leaning forward the top of your head supports the weight. One can carry more per trip.
The weather was good. The trip excellent. Could our tent canoodling lead to our first child? On one occasion we welcomed a nude couple into our camp. They had been asleep in their tent when it was knocked down by a bear that had smelled open food. They had fled naked to their canoe, paddled across the lake and arrived at our campsite. Awakened we shared coffee with them until morning when they paddled back to their campsite with our can of bear spray.
We returned to North Saanich to begin life together at Ardmore Golf Course. Sofia started to learn English. To help her progress faster, I put her to work serving sandwiches, coffee, tea and cookies in the clubhouse café. This was a tiring experience for her because she had to avoid the delivery of wrong food while facing the illogical aspects of English grammar, spelling and pronunciation that had caused my dyslexia in elementary school.
We had just started to settle in to a routine of married life when a letter arrived from the brother of Sofia. The government of Czechoslovakia had declared that Sofia was a fugitive, unlawfully abroad. She was ordered to return immediately to face house arrest and monetary penalties. Were she to disobey these orders for more than one month the penalties would increase. Moreover, her brother would be demoted in his profession and her father would lose half of his pension.
How could our marriage survive if it caused that kind of suffering? Right at the start, was everything about to unravel? Was this the slipper of warning that had fallen beween us at our garden wedding? The bottom fell out of my stomach. My heart ached. My head spun.
Much emotional talk ensued. Sofia wanted to return to face the consequences and prevent the problems for her brother and dad. She rationalized that later she could get permission to leave. If not, could I move to Czechoslovakia? I thought, would I like that? Then I remembered what my dad used to say. If you were wearing the other person’s shoe, what would you do?
There was a L.O.V.E. house in Ottawa run by a clerk-translator in the Canadian Senate. I phoned Mr. Lorcan oHuiginn and explained the terrible circumstance that we were in. He invited us to use a room. He would arrange a meeting for us with an official in the Department of External Affairs. We flew to Ottawa. Lengthy consultations gave us little hope that the Canadian Government could do anything to help us. “Don’t return”, was their advice.
We stayed in Ottawa for another week. I phoned home. I told mom that we were returning to Czechoslovakia. In tears she pleaded for me to stay. ‘Let Sofia go’, she said.’ You have been told that you can not be protected. And how do you know for sure that she isn’t a spy. Maybe they want her back to give her instructions.” She feared that she would lose me so she would invent any argument, I thought.
The members of the Ottawa branch of L.O.V.E. staged a big farewell party for us. We sang the Esperanto anthem, The Hope ( La Espero ) and booked a flight for Prague, and prepared for the worse. I think I prayed for the first time in many years.
Chapter Eight: Arrest and Release
The flight to Prague could have been a good thing. Tourists like the city. It has a great reputation. We could have been thinking of walking on the …. We could have been looking forward to sharing our wedding photo album with Sofia’s mom, dad and brother. But my thoughts were about the police. Would the police arrest Olga. Would we be handcuffed and dragged away to a Gulag – that had been my mothers’ dire prediction.
I had packed some memorabilia for sharing. Some of the photos from the wedding, from Tofino, from the canoe trip, from Barkerville. I did it robotically. I chose this and that, and I tried to act normal. How about a Czech-Esperanto-English dictionary. I had a ‘pan-European passport’, a novel product that predicted the European Union. It was promoted by S.A.T. or ‘Stateless Europe’ an affiliate of L.O.V.E.. For some reason I took that. One of the items that I packed in my stunned mental condition was the hilarious tourist document, the official looking court scroll that contained the Provincial Courts’ accusations against us from our Barkerville honeymoon, our the conviction and punishment assigned to us by Judge Mathew Baillie Begbie.
Circling over Prague, heavy rain, cross winds and down drafts shook the plane. Planes were late, backed up in their priority sequence for landing and departure. No one would be meeting us. Sofia’s Mom and dad would be at their home under house arrest. Brother would be working. I had dressed this time like a business man or university grad – white shirt and tie, grey pants and blazer, hundred dollar bills in a leather wallet, no pack sack, no pantyhose in a sleeping bag, no fifties under my socks. I still hoped that the Canadian status of Sofia as a ‘landed immigrant’ with a twelve month passage to Canadian citizenship was going to help us.
The plane stopped short of the gray terminal building. The peeling paint suggested that it had seen better times. Armoured personnel carriers were stationed near the entrance to the reception lounge. The passengers were herded into separate lines, foreigners and returning citizens. Czech soldiers stood on guard with submachine guns lowered, their faces stony.
When Sofia showed her Czech passport she was shunted into a short line for citizens behind a screen. I learned later that she was immediately arrested as a fugitive. She was taken to a special room where she was strip searched, and interrogated. I wouldn’t see her for two hours.
I was interrogated as well. I could see that we were known as a couple. I was complicit in Sofia’s defection from the London delegation of Czech cartographers. Anything and everything would be used against me. First they found the ‘stateless pan European passport’. They had never seen one, and treated it as subversive. The dictionary that had Esperanto in it was even worse. That associated me with L.O.V.E. which was considered the carrier of a ‘dangerous language’. But when the guards found the ‘sentencing document’, the souvenir, tourist parchment concerning the fake charges against us in Barkerville all hell broke loose.
The Czech official tried to read it. He was proud of a super important, and incriminating find. He swung his hand, and by that command, summoned other personnel, an interpreter, and positioned two soldiers on either side of me. Evidently he had gotten from the document that I had recently committed a crime in Canada. Perhaps I was a Canadian fugitive. I was an international criminal if you consider that I had raided a Czech delegation in London of a female cartographer with state secrets. I was a threat to national security. My explanations in English that the document was a tourist souvenir were met by stern derision. They assumed I was an arrogant western capitalist who was mocking them. In their eyes I was a decadent subversive from the west.
I was led away. Guards on either side, guns lowered; they followed me. The official took me to a holding cell where I was deposited like a lump of coal with Sofia. Several hours later we were taken to a black police van. Police agents took us to the holding cells in Prague. We were held in separate cells until the next morning.
In the morning Sofia was sternly reminded of the seriousness of her crime. She had travelled to an enemy NATO country after defection from a delegation. No further mention was made of our ‘crimes’ in Barkerville.
We were given directions to go by train directly to the family home. We would be accompanied by an agent who would allow us to stop nowhere, and talk to no one. Upon arrival, we would be put under house arrest. We could leave the house only when summoned to hearings, or with permission of the local police chief for meetings with lawyers, or for whatever could be approved. Time and directions of all comings and goings needed to be filed with the police office. They needed to control and track every detail of our movements.
Having arrived in Bystrice por Hostymen, the town where the family home was situated, we began our dark episode of confinement, and controlled travels for further interrogations and negotiations.
Waiting rooms, there were no waiting rooms. I would could never have imagined that I would ever miss waiting rooms. Any meeting we had to attend we would have to await the slow grind of bureaucracy. But there were no waiting rooms. You stood in a dark corridor or sat on an unpadded, wooden bench if lucky. The colourless plaster of the walls flaked. There was no conditioning for air either up or down, often drafts chilled my feet. My mind remembered western waiting rooms, pastel colours, tasteful curtains, good lighting, magazines, soft music and comfortable chairs and warmth. I missed a cheerful greeter to welcome you. I longed for western waiting rooms. My bum developed hardened skin, calluses. My mind got hardened.
My ears gave me a headache, not the ears themselves but it was the total use of a language I could not understand. Czech was used totally. Sofia responded to questions during interrogations often barked loudly in Czech. She was too tired to translate for me, and often nervously upset. Occasionally I was questioned in broken English but then the real conversation switched to Czech. Boom, I was alone, isolated by a language barrier, in an atmosphere of confrontation that worried me. The power of the ‘red’ communist politburo hovered over each technocrat who had better watch over his back. People were afraid of getting a bad report, or to be discovered with western inclinations, sympathies.
My throat became raw. My eyes could feel particles in city air when I was passed by a truck. The vehicles in Czechoslovakia spewed our choking fumes. The factories belched out yellow smoke. Two stroke motorcycles disgorged stink and noise. Coal was burned in most furnaces, in businesses and homes. We had just come from a Canadian park, pristine lakes and the Salish Sea. The contrast was stark. Circumstances can foul attitudes. I had not felt this way three months earlier when I was first meeting Sofia. I had felt included and befriended by Esperanto speakers. L.O.V.E. had helped me ignore some of the practical problems in an otherwise interesting, historic and beautiful country.
We would relax during evenings in the family home. I would ask questions. Why had interrogators pummeled Sofia with lashing tongues? What were they saying? Everything sounded bad. Sofia would try to calm me down. I was misinterpreting the sound of the voices, she said. The local official wanted five thousand US dollars immediately before expediting the case. Was this bribery? Sofia’s dad disliked how we were treated. He decided to come to our rescue. He would ask for a favour from a high ranking official in the Communist Party because of his patriotic activities during the German occupation. One evening he asked Sofia to explain to me the history of their family during the war years. That would set the scene and explain his plan of intervening on our behalf with the communist bureaucracy.
I came to understand the following:
Sofia’s dad and fellow workers were Czech patriots. Some went into the hills to fight secretly as partisans against the occupying German army. Sofia’s dad decided to help supply the partisans. He would use the factory he managed to hide a clandestine supply centre.
The Pavlatov home sat in a two acre garden on the border of a factory called IMPREGNA that manufactured telegraph and telephone poles and railway cross ties. Acres of poles and railway cross ties were stored in the compound.
There were several huge wooden buildings clad with corrugated iron. In one, workers accepted the raw tree trunks and processed them into sizes. A creamy mist arose from another. This was the site where machines impregnated the wood with creosote. High pressure and heat was applied in the process. This was the most disagreeable place of any to work. Beside it stood a tower that contained a reservoir tank with one million litres of creosote. A smaller administration building sat close to the entrance gate.
Sofia’s dad was the factory’s chief executive officer during and after WW11. As C.E.O. he did the accounting, supervised operations and reported financial results. He acted as if obedient to his German masters but found methods to inflate the cost of production. The extra money he funneled into a revenue stream for the partisan resistance. The partisans used the money to buy supplies for the guerilla campaign.
The one building where Nazi officers would not want to go was the one where machines impregnated the wood with creosote. The smell was foul, the steam nauseating. Sofia’s dad chose this place for clandestine storage of partisan supplies.
Daily, delivery trucks arrived and departed. The tanker trunks that delivered the creosote were modified for the partisan guerilla effort. Workers in the creosote building hid all manner of crucial supplies in secret compartments.
To coordinate the drop-offs and pick-ups partisans operated a clandestine radio transmitter. It was always on the move between homes and factory. Security required that it not stay long in one location. The punishment for helping the partisans was death by firing squad. The risk to the factory families was huge. Two of the Nazi officers stayed in an attached part of the main house. Had the aggressive anti-Nazi activity been discovered the SS would have ordered a mass execution as they had done in Lidice.
The events that occurred in Czechoslovakia in 1938 would lead to the mass killing of all the citizens of Lidice in 1942. The country was young. It had been formed only after the end of World War 1. The Moravians, Czechs and Slovaks were fiercely proud of their new nationhood.
So when their nationhood was threatened by Hitler’s Germany, and Neville Chamberlain, Prime Minister of England, flew to Prague to negociate peace by appeasement the few homes in Moravia with radios
After the Munich Agreement of September 1938, Hitler’s Nazi troops occupied the ethnic-German border regions of Bohemia and Moravia (the Sudetenland). Soon afterwards Hungary received territory in southern Slovakia and Ruthenia. Czechoslovakia ceased to exist in March 1939, when Hitler occupied the rest of the Czech lands, and the remaining part of Slovakia became a Nazi puppet state.
The Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia had tragic consequences for Lidice. In order to suppress the growing anti-Fascist resistance movement, security police chief SS Reinherd Heydrich was appointed deputy ‘Reichs-protektor’ in September 1941. During his short reign of terror, 5000 anti-Fascist fighters and their helpers were imprisoned, and then summarily executed.
When partisans made an atempt on the life of SS R. Heydrich, all men of the village of Lidice were rounded up and taken to the farmstead of the Horák family on the edge of the village. Ten men were shot at a time.
On June 10, 1942, the Nazi regime announced that it had destroyed the small village of Lidice, Czechoslovakia, killing every adult male and some fifty-two women. All surviving women and children were then deported to concentration camps, or were sent to the greater Reich to work in factories for the war effort. The Nazi’s then proudly proclaimed that the village of Lidice, it’s residents, and its very name, were now forever blotted from memory.
That horrific atrocity was in the minds of each partisan as they went about daily routines that involved support of fellow partisans. Everything concerning the activities to undermine the Nazi occupation had to be kept concealed from Sofia and her brother. They couldn’t be allowed to know anything. Childish chatter could be fatal.
Within this complex milieu of crime, courage, and carnage the secrecy of a small group of patriots had to be protected. They worked in the railway cross tie factory, and in the surrounding hills they continued at great risk to fight for their country.
It was not a coincidence that many of the partisans in Bystrice pod Hostynem spoke Esperanto.
Theodore Ĉejka, the first teacher of Esperanto, and the father of Esperanto in Moravia, had done all his important work in Bystrice. People had followed him and Dr. Zamenhof like devotees of celebrity rock stars. After WW1, they were popular leaders of a movement for world peace and security. The League of Nations had been formed and China had proposed that Esperanto be taught in all the member states. The leaders of L.O.V.E. ( The Language Organization Voicing Esperanto ) were acclaimed in the streets in manifestations of worker solidarity across borders. The Pan-European ‘Esperanto’ railway workers association had been formed.
Face to face friendships via Esperanto had extended across borders. Germans, French and Czechs had hung out and befriended each other with mutual respect. Some could still expect the best in Germans and blamed the hideous Nazi regime. After Lidice, it was harder not to blame all Germans. However, the factory workers continued to offer medical treatment to German soldiers from the factory first aid clinic.
German soldiers in Bystrice respected how they were treated. That in itself helped protect the partisans. The goal of the partisans in Bystrice was to destroy transportation infrastructure. That would cause problems for the occupying Nazi regime.
While only several dozens of the partisans had learned to speak Esperanto fluently they had all known Ĉejka personally or knew about him. They were aware of the internal ideal of Esperanto, that international friendship, tolerance and mutual respect was carried by the language like a garment. Of any place in the region Bystrice por Hostynem had the highest concentration of Esperanto speakers in Moravia since that is where Theodore Ĉejka was born and where he founded the L.O.V.E. movement.
Sofia’s dad decided that we would ask Theodore Ĉejka and a group of former partisans to a reunion in his home. They would celebrate, drink and remember those days of great risk. The group would include Petr Poltanov who currently held a high position in the communist regime. Sofia’s dad needed to talk with him. He could call in some favours. Surely he could rekindle the memory of the heroism in Bystrice. Sofia’s dad was modest of character but thought that his daughter should not be treated as a criminal.
Chapter Nine: Life at Ardmore Golf Course
Chapter 10: Connections to the KGB