In June 1943, sweltering summer heat enveloped South Western Ontario earlier in the season than usual. At that time, there were no public swimming pools in St. Thomas where a young lad could dip into the cool refreshing water during the hot, hazy days. Never the less, Bobby and his best buddy Paul found a perfect place to skinny dip; Dod’s Pond. It was well known in the community that the Dod cattle bathed in that water hole. When their horrified parents found out about the swimming escapades, they warned the kids to stay away from the contaminated water.
One unbearably muggy day, after languishing around Paul’s house, the boys snuck down to the waterhole to swim anyway. Bobby was worried sick that his mother would find out that he had disobeyed her. On the way back home, the boys stopped by Paul’s backyard where they picked an enormous bouquet of lush, fragrant lavender lilacs for Bobby to give to his mother. On the way home, instead of the usual shortcut, Bobby walked down the main street of town cradling the flowers in his arms so those who saw him would bear witness to the wonderful gift.
As he neared the Grand Central Hotel, he noticed a crowd had gathered outside the main doors. A man wearing a fedora with a camera slung around his neck
approached and asked; “What’re you up to son?”
“My name is Bobby and hey, you’re not my dad!” he snapped. The man chuckled “Oh, I see.” Where did you get those beautiful lilacs?” “Ahh..umm” Bobby stammered. “They’re for my mother”
“I see, well did you know that America’s Sweetheart, Mary Pickford, loves lilacs too?”
“O-K.. who is she?” Bobby asked as he contemplated whether to tell the man the shenanigans he and Paul had been up to that day.
The man abruptly responded with “now look Bobby, Mary Pickford is a famous Hollywood movie star and will be coming right through the lobby of this hotel any second now. If you just walk right up to her to present this bouquet of lilacs, I will take your picture for the newspaper”.
Well, it didn’t take much to convince Bobby that it would be a great headliner to add to his hall of fame, so he agreed. Next thing he knew, the man pushed him by the shoulder and guided him up the walk and into the entrance of the hotel lobby where the atmosphere was buzzing with excitement.
Through the crowd, Bobby could see two burly men in suits walking on either side of a tiny, fragile lady as they lead her toward the door. Assuming this was the movie star; Bobby stepped up and held out the armful of lilacs. Miss Pickford bent over to smell them, raised her head looking Bobby straight in the eyes, then in a sweet, soft voice asked; “Why, young man, are these flowers for me?”
The crowd applauded and flashbulbs popped all around them as she gathered the flowers into her arms, smiling broadly to the cameras. Then the entourage pushed Bobby aside, continued out the door of the hotel, with the crowd in tow, and climbed into an idling limousine.
Dazed, Bobby stood still in his spot for what seemed like an eternity, all alone in the deafening silence of the hotel lobby. Glancing down at his hands, he realized a small handful of brilliant fuchsia sweet pea blooms tied onto an elastic wristband were clenched between his fingers. He vaguely remembered Miss Pickford sliding them from her impeccably manicured hand and squeezing them into his sweaty palms in exchange for the lilac bouquet. He hadn’t fully registered the surreal incident in his mind until that very moment. He awkwardly turned and slowly headed out the lobby doors. During the walk home, he pondered the events of the day. Apparently, he did have a perfect alibi for being late for supper.
The big social news of the summer “Mary Pickford Gracious Guest” appeared in the Women`s Activities section on page 10 of the local newspaper the following day. When Bobby walked into the kitchen for breakfast, he noticed mother Pearl sitting at the table quietly reading the article. She glanced up, slowly rose out of her chair and asked; “Bobby, what were you up to yesterday afternoon?” He stammered “Oh, Paul and I were just goofing around at his house; just talking ‘n stuff..ya know”. Pearl picked up the newspaper, turned it toward Bobby pointing to the article and wondered out loud; “were those supposed to be my lilacs?”
Canadian motion picture star Mary Pickford appeared in St. Thomas on June 3rd 1943 to help raise money for the St. Thomas Lions Club, which had volunteered support to 15 child war victims through the Lions War Funds `Waifs and Strays Society` in Britain and the Isle of Malta. Miss Pickford donated Toronto property located on Glenwood Crescent at O`Connor Drive, where a small home was built for the sole purpose of donating the net proceeds of “share” sales to the cause. Valued at $15,000.00, the home was raffled off through $1.00 share purchases.
For information on America’s Sweetheart, Mary Pickford go to the Mary Pickford Foundation at www.marypickford.org
For photos and stories about Canadian motion picture star go to The Rob Brooks Mary Pickford Collection, Toronto at http://www.211university.ca/
For information about Lion`s Club activities in St.Thomas, go to