Early in our relationship, Cass and I fell in love with Toronto, one of the most beautiful cities. Anywhere. It was only natural, I suppose, living in Buffalo, New York, a quick drive to the Peace Bridge and then only 90-minutes to downtown. Hippies that we were in the late 1960’s, we couldn’t help but appreciate Yorkville. In those days, Yorkville was like New York City’s Greenwich Village. Hippie haven. Inexpensive shopping. The place to be. We always stayed at the Delta Chelsea hotel, which offered wonderful rooms at reasonable prices in the middle of all the action. Once checked in, we walked endlessly, shopped until we ran out of money, which happened pretty quickly in those still-student days. Our favorite place to explore was the waterfront, overwhelmed by great restaurants lined up one after the other. We loved strolling the local neighborhoods, content to buy the many artistic trinkets displayed on the streets by true artisans no older than we were. Arriving Friday afternoon, we typically left on Sunday afternoon. Never enough time, but all we could afford.
Jennifer was born in November, 1970. Jessica was born in September, 1973. So, as you might expect, our Toronto adventures were put on hiatus until the kids were old enough to travel with us. The first opportunity to revisit Toronto as a young family finally arrived in 1976. Although the kids were very young, we had always done everything together. To say they were well behaved would be an understatement. Not because we were tyrant parents. On the contrary, we just didn’t treat them like children. Rather, they were encouraged to participate in our conversations wherever we went. Neither of them ever spoke baby-talk. They listened intently. They knew what was expected of them at the dinner table, in conversations with us and others, and they understood how to be polite. When we told them about our planned weekend trip to Toronto, they were excited, eager to share our memories of this beautiful city. Naturally, we booked a room at the Delta Chelsea for a Friday afternoon, per our custom.
The adventure began when we lined up to cross the Peace Bridge in downtown Buffalo. We stopped at the Canadian Custom Agent’s booth as required. The agent glanced at us politely, even smiled at the kids in the back seat.
“Where are you headed?” he asked.
“Pleasure or business?”
“Pleasure,” I answered.
“How long do you plan on staying?”
“Just until Sunday, sir.”
“Enjoy your time in Toronto, then. And please be careful.”
“We will, and thank you.”
At this point in the telling of this story, I should tell you that as a youngster I craved attention in a family that wasn’t quick to offer it. So I told corny jokes. Yeah, I was pretty obnoxious. Probably still am, but I can’t help myself.
We checked into the hotel, dragging two large, heavy suitcases for Cass and me and two small ones for the kids. Believe it or not, the desk clerk actually remembered Cass and me from our visits years before. After smiling at our now family of four, he asked “Do you need help with your bags?”
“No thanks, they can walk,” I answered without a moment’s hesitation.
The clerk was at a loss for words. Cass looked at him, shaking her head while hiding a slight smile. “Still the same old Jeff, I’m afraid,” she said.
“Ahh, yes, now I remember!” he laughed.
To this day, Jenn and Jess remember that encounter, not the first clue to their father’s corny jokes. Some things never change, I guess. We spent the weekend together no differently than Cass and I had spent all those weekends years earlier. The girls had the time of their young lives, enjoying everything and everybody, undoubtedly creating their own memories for future reflection. Before departing on Sunday, we found a quaint little hole-in-the-wall gift store in Yorkville. A nice little tea pot on display in the window caught Cass’s discerning eye, so we entered the store and bought the tea pot. Something to remember Toronto by. Put it in the trunk of the car. Headed for the Peace Bridge for the drive back to Buffalo. Of course, we stopped at the American Custom Agent’s booth. Now, before I conclude this story, I must remind you that I had the bushiest beard ever seen on man. And long curls on top of my head. All the way down to my shoulders. Dressed in the grubby garb of the day. You remember, right? I pulled to a slow stop at the booth. The agent eyed me carefully. Very carefully. He looked across at Cass sitting in the passenger seat, no doubt wondering what this attractive young lady was doing with me in this beat-up old Pontiac. Then, he noticed the kids in the back seat.
“How long have you been in Canada?”
“Since Friday,” I answered.
“Where did you stay?” he asked quickly, perhaps trying to catch me off guard.
“At the Delta Chelsea in Toronto.”
“Was this a business trip or pleasure?” he prodded.
“Pleasure,” I replied.
“Did you purchase anything while you were in Canada?”
“Yes, sir, we did.”
“Anything you’d like to claim?” This question confused me dummy that I am.
“No,” I said.
He looked at me with that hard Custom’s Agent stare. “I thought you just said you purchased something!”
“ . . . Sorry, I was a little confused by your question.”
“What did you purchase?” he bellowed.
“Oh, just a little pot.”
End of Story.