Image: the Bank of Commerce building on the southeast corner of Ouellette and Sandwich [Riverside Drive]; from "Garden Gateway to Canada" (Morrison)
August 1920: Donald Trustcott feels trapped in a role he inherited from his father, but when he meets the lovely Susan Guildford - a stenographer at the bank branch - the world seems to open up for him.
It came as no surprise because Gerrard Trustcott’s family medical history had already predetermined that he should die of heart failure at a relatively young age. What did come as a surprise was that despite the forewarning and his success as a financial advisor, he left his family with little more than his name and reputation.
A couple of weeks after the funeral, his widow, Jennie, and their sons, Donald and Alex, removed from Hamilton down to Windsor to live with Jennie’s sister and her husband. The Trustcotts were welcome to stay with the MacGillivarys until Donald - the eldest - established himself and could afford to buy his family a place of their own.
Gerrard Trustcott had always intended for Donald to follow him into the world of finance and so after attending Windsor Business College, Donald was encouraged by his mother and the MacGillivarys to make himself known to the main branches of the several banks operating in the Border Cities. His letters of introduction led to three interviews.
As it turned out, someone of influence recognized the family name – a Mr. Horace Guildford at the Bank of Commerce. Mr. Guildford remembered Donald’s father from the bank’s annual meetings in Toronto. From behind his oak desk, in an office that overlooked the traffic on the Detroit River, Mr. Guildford spoke kindly of Mr. Trustcott and at the end of their conversation Donald was offered the position of bank teller. He graciously accepted.
But Mr. Guildford was not the only member of that family upon whom Donald had made an impression. Mr. Guildford’s daughter, Susan, worked at the bank as a stenographer. When the staff manager was bringing Donald around and making introductions, they ran into Susan who was just coming out of a boardroom meeting.
“Pleased to meet you, Mr. Trustcott.”
Donald wasn’t imagining it: the young lady was blushing. The staff manager must have noticed too because he made a noise in his throat and moved Donald along toward the loans department.
After several months of a job well done, Donald was promoted to Account Manager for Great War Veterans. All the while he and Susan became quite friendly – but conscious to reserve anything beyond their usual morning salutations for outside the realm of the bank.
Donald thought a way to work around this would be for them to join one of the city’s many social clubs. Donald had already been meaning to join the Amateur Astronomer’s Club and so consulted with Susan by letter. She confessed to being a bit of a stargazer herself and wrote back saying it was a wonderful idea.
The club’s first meeting – a discussion of the annual Perseids meteor shower - was scheduled for an upcoming Tuesday, with their first outdoor observation the following Friday on a beach just east of the city, across from Peche Island. Donald knew it well.
The group traveled in three vehicles and consisted of the club president, Dr. Vandercamp, his wife, and a dozen members including Donald and Susan. They parked on the shoulder of Riverside Drive and paired off. It was a clear August night with no moon and a soft breeze coming in off the lake – ideal conditions.
“This is a good spot,” said Donald. “I’ll set us up.”
A telescope wasn’t necessary for tonight’s exercise but most members brought their own anyway.
Donald splayed the legs of the tripod and removed the caps from the lens and eyepiece. Looking through the eyepiece, he made some adjustments, checked his guidebook, made a few more adjustments, checked the eyepiece again, and then tightened everything up.
“Here - have a look.”
Susan leaned in over the eyepiece.
“Amazing. Is that Sagittarius?”
She stepped back and Donald leaned in.
“To the right, yes.”
“May I have another look?”
This time she leaned in before Donald had a chance to step back. Their cheeks were almost touching. "Amazing," she said again, and then straightened up and looked toward the heavens with her naked eye. “I’m lost with the degrees and the minutes and the quadrants. But you’re very good with all of that - the numbers, I mean.”
"No, you’re a natural.”
Donald knew he was supposed to take that as a compliment, but it made him cringe. It wasn’t him.
He looked over at the other couples scattered across the beach. This was the moment he had been hoping for, one where he could open up and share with Susan his hopes and dreams and then maybe she would do the same and they would have touched each other in a way that would somehow make everything else in this life more bearable.
“Susan, have you ever wondered - ?”
“Donald, I have something to tell you.”
“Oh - okay.”
“I’m sorry - I interrupted you.”
“No, go ahead.”
She took a short breath.
“I might be leaving the bank.”
Donald hoped Susan couldn't see how his face fell.
“Well, it was never meant to be permanent.”
“I had no idea.”
“I told father I’d rather be a stenographer at a law office or in the courts – maybe eventually Osgoode Hall. I'll have to go back to school, but father’s being very supportive and he knows some people and - .”
“It sounds like your mind is already made up.”
“I guess it is in a way." Her smile was bright and genuine. "Doesn’t it sound exciting?”
“Yes, yes it does. I’m very happy for you. You’ll be brilliant.”
“You know, father has great hopes for you as well. You’re like a son to him. I hope you don’t mind me telling you this, but he says you’re doing a splendid job and there may be another promotion in the works - you’ll be able to afford that place for you and your family.”
“Your father’s been very kind to me, Susan.” Donald looked up at the stars again, the cursed stars. “I’d be foolish not to take full advantage of any opportunity that he brought my way.”
“I know you’ll make us all proud, Donald. Now, you were going to tell me something?”
copyright Michael Januska, 2011