Saturday, May 2, 2009

A special day

The beginning of May has been special for as long as I can remember. When I was growing up the first two weeks of the month was one long celebration. Three family members shared their birthdays within the first eleven days of the month with Mother's Day caught up in the festivities: My Father, my Mother and then my Father's Mother. Usually a large family meal would occur somewhere in the middle but if my Father's birthday of May 2 fell on a weekend we would have two family parties with the second on the following weekend for my Mum's on the eighth and Mother's Day and a few days later have cake with my Grandma on the eleventh. The calendar and how the dates fell on the days of the week varied but we could always count on the lilac to be in bloom. As far as I know it was my father's favourite flower and he was pleased to see a vase full of blooms on the birthday dinner table.
My Dad was born in 1939 in Lloydminster, Alberta. The provincial boundary goes right through the city so that the hospital was on the Alberta side but my Dad's family lived in Saskatchewan. His parents waited a long time through the Depression before they had saved enough money to get married. My Grandma turned 34 nine days after my Dad was born. When he was a few months old, the war started and my Grandfather, who was too old to be sent overseas, started travelling around the country to train cavalry for the army. My Grandma packed up her infant son and followed him in her car and I believe spent most of the war doing just that. We are always told how a child's early experiences shape who they become and that may be true with my Dad. He had a sense of adventure and openness with people that may have come from that time and I believe that early travelling led to his career choices.
After the war they settled on Vancouver Island near Qualicum Beach which even then was an attractive destination for tourists. They owned a small general store with a gas pump and by then had another child, my Dad's little sister. When he would recount that time it seemed just like some of the idyllic childhoods of the movies: bicycles, paper routes, Davy-Crockett hats and swimming in the river. He was a smart kid but was happy to coast through school. He worked hard doing chores like most kids of his generation but relished free time in a way that may not even occur to many kids now.
When he finished high school he became a Navel Cadet at Venture and he loved being at sea. (The link is the only one I could find that refers to the programme as my father experienced it.) He was a good cadet and an able seaman but a French requirement was added while he was there and that was not so easy for him. They offered to teach him to fly which while not part of his original plan appealed to him. The writing was on the wall with the French language requirements in the Canadian Forces so he left the Navy when he was finished his officer's training. The camera, light meter and bible are all things that he had while still in the programme.
With his pilot's licence he worked as a private pilot for a Californian millionaire and travelled from Vancouver to Mexico. Unlike French, he was able to master conversational Spanish. It was during this time that his family sailed from Vancouver Island to spend the winter in Mexico and California in a boat that my Grandfather built. My Dad had helped his Father build the boat with the ultimate intention of sailing it to England where my Grandfather had left his parents many years before. Fifty years ago international travel was prohibitively expensive and if you left family members in another country it was assumed that you would never see them again. Unfortunately, my Grandfather never made it to England as he died of a heart attack the day before his sixtieth birthday on March 31, 1963. Around that time my Dad also spent time working for Canadian Pacific Airlines as a ticket agent I think with the hope of eventually flying for the airline and also helping his mother and sister settle into a new home.

The desk here was my Grandfather's and when he died it followed my Father and is now following me. I have great memories sitting at it as a small child and exploring its cubbies and drawers and I wonder if my Dad had similar memories when he was a child. The pewter mug in the previous photo was from my Dad's time at Venture and was stored in the desk and always contained a variety of pens (ball-point and fountain) and pencils (mechanical and regular wood) which may explain my love of writing instruments and certainly in part, my love of this desk. In the fall of 1964 he enrolled as a mature student at the University of Victoria. Here he was studying for a major in Geography with a minor in Economics. He was very active in student politics and had a busy social life. The other books on the shelf were his at this time. I believe that my Dad built the book rack for his mother when he was a little younger but I liked showing his books with something he made. While at university he worked at a bar/lounge as a bartender and at the liquor store over the Christmas holidays. I guess the mixing drinks book was homework! The Esquire Etiquette book is quite fascinating and contains still pertinent information. My father was interested in music and had this Stories of the Great Operas and the History of Jazz(which unfortunately was recently damaged beyond repair) His own father loved opera and would listen to the Met broadcasts on the radio every Saturday afternoon. My Grandfather felt that the mark of an educated man was not knowing everything but knowing how to find out. The other two are on the rack because they represent what my Dad was thinking about at the time(click on the picture to get a clearer look). Being born before the war made him too old to be part of the mass culture of the baby boom but he was not exactly a child of the depression either. We are all so created by the time and place in which we are born. The atlas and dictionary were a given for him as a university student but it was a good thing it was an Oxford dictionary or maybe my Mum would not have married him.

During the summers he worked as a bush pilot on the northern coast of British Columbia out of Prince Rupert. At that point he was flying out of a seaplane base and that is where he eventually met my mother who was also working at the base. Because of his officer's training and working as a pilot before he became a student he was actually two years behind her in studies despite being five years older. His life had seemed so rich with experience to that point, that when my Mum was getting to know him she thought that he was a good bit older than his twenty-eight years. After a brief courtship they married and by the Fall my Dad was in his last year of university. I was born the following February. Despite still having difficulties with French my father was made valedictorian of his graduating class. When his classes were over his little family moved back up north in a VW Beetle pulling a small trailer for him to resume his flying job.
After awhile the job moved us to the nearby Queen Charlotte Islands were he got to see the rich geographical variations as he flew over. I got to see it too as a passenger and now when I view his extensive collection of slide photographs taken with the camera pictured above and another bought after living there for a few years. My younger sister was born when I was almost two and with that our family was complete. We moved to Vancouver Island when I was about to start school and my Dad started working as a corporate pilot for a Victoria based logging and engineering company. My father was able to fly over even more of the province and even had a consulting role when the company was working on small airport and landing strip projects.
The economic downturn of the early '80's ended that job and the loss of a job that he loved was very difficult for him. He did continue flying and for five years worked for a company involved in fighting forest fires. Again this had him flying a part of Canada that he loved and even bought him to Yellowknife in Canada's north. In the winters, he investigated fatal aircraft accidents for the coroner's service which was often difficult but usually interesting. Unfortunately, due to mechanical faults and dangerous flying conditions, he also was in a fatal accident at the age of 49.

Happy Birthday Dad, I miss you.


Alison said...

Ahh! To our dads.

The zip foot in my purse picture is one that comes with my Pfaff machine. You can have it either to the left or to the right of the zip. First time I have used it so I am not familiar with any others.


gardener-b said...

a beautiful tribute to your were blessed.

50sgal said...

What a wonderful post and what a wonderful father. You were lucky and I think, he too, must have been lucky to have someone who seems as lovely as you. Bloggin is so good for the soul, non?

katurtle said...

Jenifir, I enjoyed reading about our family histroy from your point of view, it seems that our family is full of historians. My good wishes are being sent to you over the miles:)

Jenifir said...

I guess the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. The picture of you and your kids in the snow is still on my fridge, so I think of you often. Give my Mum your email :)