The Big Adventure on the way to school

As a mature toddler I attended Wendy House nursery school. It was held in the beautiful old house at 201 Sutherland Dr., the former home of a grandson of Leaside founder John Lea. Wendy House opened in 1939 and ran at least until 1965 when my sister attended. The owner of the school was Ms. Procunier, known to us as Proie.

We spent our days in spacious rooms with tiled fireplaces, large windows and glorious hardwood floors. Each day we played in the backyard, had naps on rugs and sang while Proie played the piano. I met my first boyfriend there, George.

We lived the humdrum existence of average four-year-olds until the day of the Big Adventure.

Each day we were driven to school in a limousine. The vehicle was exciting: it had jump seats!

One snowy morning we waited as the driver had to carry a girl with a broken leg to the car. He parked on the north side of Millwood (at Donegall) and crossed to the south. The mother opened the door and handed her daughter to him and then he turned towards us.

His facial expression froze and he started running. Then he ran back, thrust the girl at her mom and bolted towards us.

Our huge car was picking up speed as it rolled backwards down Millwood. The more immature in our group were laughing and waving at him. I have a clear memory of his face through the window as he frantically pulled on the car door.

As an older child I returned to Wendy House after school to take piano lessons from Proie.

I enjoyed waiting my turn in the “back parlour” at winter sunset. I did not enjoy the lessons.

The student ahead of me was a piano prodigy.  Her name was Donna Ko. Many will remember her parent’s elegant gift store in Sunnybrook Plaza.

The house was filled with glorious sound for an hour; then it was my turn.  Proie would be floating on a cloud of teaching pride that swiftly crashed to earth as I attacked the instrument.

Each week she would write pages of notes to guide my practice at home. I never had the courage to tell her that I could not read her handwriting. In later years the prodigy got a PhD in music. I did not.

The real memory of Wendy House was Proie. I grew up in a house that was all about serious. Proie gave me a love of whimsy by making me small terrariums, fireplace logs that burned in different colours and beautifully decorated cookies.

The Wendy House experience gave me a love of old houses, brief naps, kindness and a horror of lukewarm milk.