Precious Memories

My father, if he were still alive, would be celebrating his 90th birthday today. He died on this date, five years ago, mere minutes after I left his hospital bed. It is as if he waited for me to leave.

He wasn’t famous. When I Google his name there are seven results, only one of which, a wedding record on a genealogical site, is him. But you don’t have to be famous to hear the words “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

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One of the last pictures of my father, taken a few months before he died.

There is a lot I could say about him. I spoke at his funeral and talked about how I learned to be a father from him. I think I have been a pretty good father, and I have my dad to thank for that.

One of his interests in his later years was genealogical research. What I know about family I know from conversations with him and from the printed material he left behind. I have mentioned my Scottish heritage here, but there is a German side to the family also that I would have been unaware of if not for him.

Today, in rather random fashion, I am going to let my father entertain you. Just a couple of stories that he wrote down when he recorded our family tree. The first involves the building of the family home in Arnprior, Ontario, in 1925, the house he was born in and that I still drive by and look at every few years. I remember this house well – my paternal grandmother lived there until she was well into her nineties. But I hadn’t heard about its construction.

The house was built by a family friend, Mr. James Rivett, with the help?? of my grandfather who was a pretty good carpenter and cabinetmaker. I assume that mother and dad drew up the floor plan and specifications, but, from what my mother has told me, Mr. Rivett built it as if it was his own and according to his ideas of how it should be. It soon developed into a tug-of-war between Mr. Rivett and my grandfather. Apparently, in the evening, my grandfather would go over to the house to see what progress had been made, and, if he didn’t like what had been done, he would tear it out and rebuild according to how he thought it should be.

My father’s family were poor. I’ve always known that. They came from the wrong side of the tracks in a town where the railway tracks really did make a difference. My grandfather lost his job during the Great Depression and the family wound up on welfare. Here is his description of how that system worked, much different from today’s social assistance.

There was no such thing as getting a cheque and then deciding which store you would patronize. They issued vouchers for a specific store. A separate voucher was issued for groceries, meat and tickets were issued for bread and milk.

A family of five received $2.50 per week for groceries, $2.00 per week for meat. Also nine quarts of milk and seven loaves of bread per week. If you wished you could substitute the bread tickets for a 100 pound bag of flour every six weeks and you could bake your own bread, which is what mother did.

You were allowed one cord of wood every six weeks, regardless of the severity of the weather. I recall on one occasion when the supply was exhausted before being renewed and dad took the door off between the kitchen and the dining room and cut it up to keep the fires going until morning.

My memory is somewhat hazy – it has been 20 years since that house was sold. I remember going there with my father to remove the last of the family possessions, but I don’t remember taking pictures. But as I recall, they never did replace that door.

Today is a day for memories. I am thankful that my dad chose to jot down some of his. Today our family celebrates his life and legacy. After church we’ll go to his favourite restaurant and I expect his favourite waitress will serve us. We’ll laugh a lot and maybe cry a little. And that is how it should be.

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