Saturday, June 19, 2010

Happy Father's Day, Dad, in what would have been your 105th year!

He passed away in July, 1996, after a brief illness. He died of three cancer tumours, and because of his age, no surgery nor testing proved which was primary and which secondary. In his 91st year, the eldest child of a Baptist pastor and his kindergarten-teacher wife, he was a man of honour, good humour and exceptional tolerance; one of those people from whom no one ever heard a negative word about another.
He went to work at seventeen, helping his mother with household bills, and providing a little extra for his two sisters each to acquire Nursing Degrees. Starting in a lumber yard, he transferred to a hardware/general store, where he remained for fifty years, rising to the level of manager of several departments including hardware,sporting goods including fishing tackle, and building products, as well as fine china.
The business operated in a "tourist" town, in which at least 75% of total sales were transacted between the 24th of May and Labour Day each year, with American tourists spending the large proportion of those dollars. A few platinum Canadian customers, like John David Eaton and the rest of the Eaton family were among those who asked for "George" when they returned after the winter.
He loved a good joke, and when he told one, he rarely released a smile, so dry was his wit. Once, while watching television after moving from our home town approximately 90 miles northeast, he heard a news story about a casino coming to a First Nations reserve just north of the town they had left. Quietly, almost whispering, he spoke so my mother could hear, "Gee, it's too bad we moved; we could have gone there!"
Neither of them ever even thought about going to a casino for their entertainment.
With his large arms and hands, he carried tonnes of cement bags to his customers' vehicles, hundreds of pounds of nails to their waiting trucks, and then, in his spare time, polished a piece of ironwood driftwood into a beautiful table lamp which sits proudly in the corner of our living room.
An avid sportsman, he helped with regattas in his youth, fished and boated on the Georgian Bay, even when the wind and weather warned against it, walked gingerly and quickly across the top of a CPR freight train, across the high bridge over the Seguin River, at its mouth into the Georgian Bay, in order not to be caught in the box car he and his friend had ridden from MacTier, following an evening baseball game, in order to be back in town in time for a local dance. They sat and waited, once debarked, in order to determine the speed of the train when it passed after taking on water, in order to confirm the sound judgement of their decision.
They would have been killed, had they waited to jump, judging by the speed of the train, was their verdict.
He loved to play golf, and joined me once; he loved to listen to and watch Toronto Maple Leaf hockey games on radio and later on television. And he was devoted to his five grand children, four girls and one boy, each of whom would have made him proud with their adult lives. Also he would have dearly loved and enjoyed his three great grand daughters.
Leaving school before finishing high school left him a little shy about his own intellectual capacity which no one on earth would, could or ever did question. He dreamt of graduating from dentistry, but could not, or did not summon the courage to attend, when prompted by his wife, after their marriage, and her graduation from St. Michael's Hospital School Of Nursing.
Finding himself the only sibling still alive, after the death and burial of his brother and two sisters, he complained about being the last.
" Why did I have to bury all three of them?" he would mutter rhetorically.
Years before his health failed, he was busy cleaning out his closet, "with these things that I wont need any more" and after one final lunch at home, breaking up his last hospital stay, when asked, "Would you like to do that again?" he replied matter-of-factly, "No, thanks."
We knew that he knew that his days were short, numbered, and were constantly reminded by his own mantra: "Too soon old, and too late schmart" as the Pennsylvania Dutch would have said it.
He was a model of measured approach to everything with which he felt familiar, and remained frustrated to the end, about those things over which he had no control and with which he had no idea how to cope.
A driver to music festivals in my youth, a spectator at hockey games in early adulthood, a quiet and attentive listener to the poetry of Robert Service as his father had been, a student of the latest technological advances in the hardware industry, he invited me to join him in his own hardware store, when I was nineteen and there was a store for sale across the main street from where he worked.
I turned his invitation down, because I had no knowledge of hardware, and no interest in learning about it, to the degree he had achieved; however, in any other endeavor, I would have walked across hot white coals to be with and to support his wishes, and I trust he knew that.
Happy Father's Day, Dad, in what would have been your 105th year!

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