The past is prologue
Sometimes in life you seem to be losing control. When the future is uncertain, the only safe place to go is to the past. Not the places you visited, or the various jobs you held, but the family members you knew who are no longer around. On my father’s side my only recollection of his father is of a moustache and pipe behind the wheel of car coming down his driveway near the small town of Nottawa, near Collingwood. As for my paternal grandmother, I was a scared young lad being pulled to toward her open coffin. My mother might have thought I viewed her, but I closed my eyes.
My maternal grandparents lived in the west end of Toronto, an easy drive from Guelph where we lived, so the visits were more regular. My grandfather was a druggist but suffered several minor heart attacks so retired around the time he was fifty. He was told watching television was bad for his health but he concluded it was okay to stand in the hallway and stick his head around the corner of the door into the living room where the TV was. At 11:45 a.m. on weekdays, no conversations or other noises were allowed as he listened to Gordon Sinclair, the opinionated radio broadcaster.
As an only child, my neighbours were important in deepening my knowledge of the world. On one side was a retired dentist. I would sit on a stool in his basement as he tied flies for his fishing and talked about life. Another neighbour studiously showed me his stamp collection and got me started with a huge bag of stamps from many countries. A third neighbour, whose living room was so full of Victorian furniture you couldn’t move, saw me as a replacement for her son who didn’t come home after the Second World War. He parachuted into France to help the resistance, was captured, and later died in Buchenwald.
My father used to engage me in work around the house like removing wallpaper and painting. The only handyman things I can do today are what he taught me. My mother and I would often talk late into the evening until my father, already in bed, would call, “Come to bed, you silly people.” I only wish I could recall details of those conversations. What I do know is that from her I learned what matters most in life: kindness, empathy, and caring for others more than yourself.