Sunday, June 16, 2013

Happy Father's Day, Dad

He would have been 108 if he were alive for Father's Day, 2013. He died in July of 1996, in his 91st year. George Cusden, born in Alvinston, Ontario, son of a Baptist clergy father and a kindergarten teacher mother. The eldest of four, he was raised in Baptist clergy manses in Alvinston, Woodstock, Thornbury and Parry Sound, where he finally settled, began work in a sawmill and later transitioned to a more general store, including hardware, building supplies and later English bone china.
A speech impediment collared him throughout his nine decades, particulary noticeable whenever he was tired, or anxious; yet he loved to participate in and to watch sporting events, especially hockey and baseball. While 'serving' his customers, as opposed to 'selling' something to them, his conversation centred on their needs, their budgets and their hopes, not only for the project they were currently undertaking, but also for the long-term success of their children and grandchildren.
A quiet man, more taciturn than demonstative, and more passive aggressive than pugilistic, he demonstrated a kind of dry, self-depricating wit, surprising anyone near with its timing. He was disciplined about both his "invoices" that required extending in order for the components to be "priced" and displayed on store shelves for sale, and about garden, lawn and snow-shovelling chores around the house.
He married a nurse, three years after her graduation from St. Michael's Hospital's Nursing program in 1934, after waiting a year for his prospective in-laws to approve of the marriage. Finally, still without their formal consent, his fiance announced to him first and then to her parents, "We are getting married in your living room this Friday night!"
Negotiations were not the order of the family, apparently. Edicts, final edicts, were more the norm.
A similar "edict" appeared a few years later, from the same source, now his spouse. After lunch one day, she announced to his surprise, "I need a house and I need it right away!"
Knowing the implications of both acceding to her wishes and of the failure to do so, he approached another merchant, a jeweller, to inquire about the purchase of the home in which the jeweller's mother then resided.
"Yes, you can buy the house, for $3000, but you can't have it until October, when she will be moving out!" came the jeweller's response. Neither of the buyers had set foot inside the building, a small brick salt-box, before they completed the purchase. Trust of the owner/seller was more the norm in the mid-30's that it is in the twenty-first century.
Interior decorating, as a process of renewal both for the building and for their 'spirits', seemed also to be something to which they devoted considerable energy, over their nearly quarter-century in that house.
Gyptex, a kind of interior ivory-coloured white-wash, dappled by sponges to evoke images of exterior stucco, plus burlap bagging as a wainscotting was supplanted by a 'new' wallboard made mostly of paper, as a simulated (unconvincingly) wood panelling a few years later. An auto was out of the question for several decades, as tight money flowed sparingly into new 'decorations' which always included hand-made draperies.
There was never any doubt, from either my sister or me, about who was in charge in our home; it was our mother. Perhaps it was more her delivery than her content that generated her 'force' of character.
Father, on the other hand, was molded from compassionate DNA, one presumes more from his father than his mother. A gentle demeanour and a normally happy smile greeted all who encountered him either in the store or on the way to or from, along the sidewalks he frequented.
Occasionally, he would permit himself a golf game, perhaps twice in the half-century I knew him, and although his scores were never really memorable, there was clear evidence that had he afforded himself the time to practice, he could have achieved a relatively low handicap. He had strength in his arms and upper body, one assumes from all the heavy lifting of all those bags of cement he carried to customers cars and trucks over the years.
While her lexicon of verbal directives and invectives were loud and frequent, his silence, by comparison lives on through strings of memories in which his "presence" is the most memorable and notable aspect. He brought a kind of calm reassurance, a deliberate patience that whatever it was that needed attention, could be solved...so there was always hope accompanying the look on his face, the sound of his voice and the strength of his erect physique.
It is that hope, that confidence, that most revered of qualities, the comfort he enjoyed in his own skin, (even if that comfort was disturbed by his anxiety) that remains most indellible in my honour and privilege to have been blessed with his presence in my life.
Happy Father's Day, Dad!

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