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The Father Chronicles

The Bear Hunter

Bear Claw
Bear Claw
Taken March 1, 2008 with Canon PowerShot A550

I found this bear claw in a box full of little trinkets and treasures in my father’s closet nearly a year ago. It was in the same box with his pocket watch, along with some other neat stuff.

This was during my Walk-About days, when I would hoof it all the way across town once a week, to see my parents at The Old-Age Home, have a visit, a meal and a story, and then hoof it all the way back. I had a tight ass, then, dammit. Not even a year ago. Man, things change fast.

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It Helps If the Whole Family Is Crazy Oh Mother...!

Aunt Blanche

Aunt Blanche - 192?
Aunt Blanche – 192?

Aunt Blanche was my mother’s older sister. She was the first born – and she wasn’t very old before my grandmother realized she was a little, well, different. I suppose the proper, “politically correct” term to describe Blanche would be mentally challenged. She never went to school, never held a job, and never married.

I have a photo of Ky, when she was about 4, that looks just like Blanche. Ky hates that picture, which is why I’m going to dig it up someday and post it, ‘cuz I think it’s cute that she looks like a modern-day version of my Aunt Blanche, and I’m the Mom, and she can’t stop me.

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Oh Mother...!

Great Aunt Emma

"Emma's Knight"Taken October 20, 2007 with Canon PowerShot A550
“Emma’s Knight”
Taken October 20, 2007 with Canon PowerShot A550

I must apologize to the memory of my Great Aunt Emma, for this horrible photo of her painting. It’s a water-colour, framed behind glass, hanging in an awkward niche in my parents’ small space. To get the shot at all, I had to jam myself between the fake gas fireplace and the stereo stand, straddling something or other – it might have been a speaker; I don’t remember. I imagine Emma, if she could somehow see them, would marvel at both the fireplace and the electronics in the stand, not to mention the annoying blinds that caused me problems with the reflection shining on her painting, 70-odd years after her death.

The knight in the painting is Emma’s depiction of a Crusader, having his sword blessed before setting off to convert the heathenish sinners into unwavering faith in a God they’d never heard of.

And if you can’t convert ’em, hell – run ’em through.

When I was little, I used to stare at Emma’s painting for hours at a time. I thought, then, that it was Joan of Arc. I used to imagine that maybe Emma felt a little like Joan: misunderstood… ostracized… martyred. Well… “martyred”, I guess, came later for Emma.

She was my mother’s father’s sister, one of three. As you can see, Emma was an artistic soul, at a time and in a place where that was unusual. The time was the late 1800’s or early 1900’s, and the place was a teeny-tiny farming community on the Manitoulin Island – a community of hard-working, God-fearing, good people. “Haweaters”, they still proudly call themselves, and I’m just as proud to be descended from them.

Emma was a “difficult” girl. She was not exactly… dependable. Her moods were sometimes… erratic. Her actions often confused people.

Sometimes, she could be extremely morose. Depressed. Her family worried over her. At other times, she became violently angry, and frightened them. There were days that she was giddy, and loud, or just plain “odd”. There were also days, and weeks, and probably whole months at a stretch that she was just plain “Emma, herself”, and they would be relieved and nervous at the same time, wondering which Emma would be there next, and hoping by some miracle that her “fits” had passed for good this time.

My mother believes, now, that Emma might have had Bi-Polar Disorder, or what at one time was called Manic Depression. I think my mother might be right, but that was an unheard-of condition way back then. And I’m guessing you have a pretty good idea where Emma ended up.

It must have been a difficult decision, sending her away. Committing her to an asylum. The Nut House. Booby Hatch, Funny Farm, Loony Bin. Horrible, terrible names, I know. Back then, though, they were horrible, terrible places to be “institutionalized” – places where, if you were shut up into them, whether by your family, or by a magistrate, you would be shut up with other people that may very well have started out with troubles similar to yours, but over time had really been driven literally mad. By the time you met your fellow inmates, most would be dangerous, psychotic, unrecognizable versions of themselves. And you would probably end up the same way. And back then, they almost never let you out.

Emma’s sisters, Marjorie and Lavinia, would go and visit her when they could afford the trip to Toronto. Sometimes, she didn’t care if she saw them or not. Maybe during those times, she didn’t realize who they were. But there were also visits when Emma was “Emma, herself”, her perfectly normal “self”, the sister they loved. Those visits were especially hard for Marj and Vine, because Emma would cry, and beg them to please, please, just let her come home. She hated it in the asylum. The other patients frightened her. She was going crazy. Please, please, just take her home. But they couldn’t take her home, and they would have to say good-bye and leave her in that awful place, alone.

After awhile, they didn’t visit anymore.

Emma died some time during the Great Depression. My mother doesn’t know if she was still in that asylum or not, but she was still in Toronto when she died. No one had any money then. No one could afford to travel.

There was a man who came from the Manitoulin, who lived in Toronto at the time. He saw Emma’s obituary in the newspaper, and recognizing the family name, he decided to go to the funeral. He knew Emma’s people, and he wanted to give his condolences. He wasn’t able to.

He was the only person there.

Not-So-Random Song for the Day: “Eleanor Rigby” – The Beatles

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Oh Mother...!

Jimmy Prentice & the Radio

Philco_Radio_1941
Philco Radio, 1941

Jimmy Prentice was somewhat of a local oddball, to hear my parents talk. I don’t know if he actually had a home, or not. My mother talks about how sometimes, just before dinner was set to be “lifted”, Gramma would be looking out the kitchen window, and say, “Better put another plate on,” and they knew Jimmy was walking across the field.

He’d come in and have dinner with the family, and afterward, off he’d go with the men to do the afternoon chores. They had a farm of dairy cows – help with the chores was welcomed, and well worth a meal or two, even during the Depression. More than likely, Jimmy would be in for supper that night, too. And then for breakfast in the morning…

He’d stay on a few days (or weeks), help with the farm, eat with the family, sleep wherever there was room. Then he’d mosey off across the field; to the next farm, maybe, or into town.

One winter evening, during the War, Grampa opened the door to a very, very sick Jimmy Prentice. Flu was a pretty serious thing to come down with back then, and Grampa put him right to bed. He was sick for a long time.

Gramma and Grampa fed him up, cleaned him up, generally took care of him for the duration. No way would Grampa turn Jimmy out. Not because it was winter on the Manitoulin. Not because Jimmy had the flu. Nope. Jimmy Prentice had a radio.

Now, Grampa wasn’t necessarily against technology, but in the early ’40s, with farmhands and livestock to feed, not to mention 8 kids (minus Bill, who was overseas fighting a War), purchasing a radio was not high up on his list of priorities, to say the least. They got “The Family Herald” once a week for the War news; what did they need a radio for?

Family_Herald
The Family Herald

The Family Herald would be read cover-to-cover by Grampa, the day it came. Then Gramma got her turn, and then it was passed around the household until everyone had had a chance to read it through. Sometimes, clippings would be mailed out to a sister or an Aunt. By the time the next issue came to the farm, the last would be in tatters, most likely relegated to the outhouse, where it was read again, and reread, and then “recycled”.

Letters from Bill (and he wrote to everybody from overseas) would also be passed around. Sometimes the letters were delayed, or lost altogether. News was shared. As worried as they were, the family knew that last month, at least, Bill was alive.

And then… Grampa discovered that the War News could come every supper-time, if somebody turned Jimmy Prentice’s radio on. Meals became sombre affairs, quiet, other than the static-y voice coming out of that little box on the sideboard. No one dared make a peep, for fear Grampa would shout them back to silence. World War II got closer to home.

Of course, over the next several weeks, Jimmy Prentice got better. Pretty soon, he was taking supper at the table, listening to the radio, and then, slowly, out helping with the chores again. Eventually, he decided it was time to mosey over the field to wherever it was he would go; the next farm, maybe, or into town. And, of course, he took his radio with him when he went.

Supper was eerily silent for the next few days. Grampa was out of sorts without the static-y voice on the sideboard. Withdrawal. They all missed Jimmy Prentice’s radio. The Family Herald was days away yet, and the news in it would be “old” news. Bill seemed farther away than ever, and World War II might never end…

And so, one day, Grampa came home with a radio of his own, and everything seemed that much better. The world was smaller again, and if it – the world or the War – should finally come to an end, he would be among the first to know.
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“There’ll be bluebirds over
The white cliffs of Dover,
Tomorrow
Just you wait and see.

There’ll be joy and laughter
And peace ever after,
Tomorrow
When the world is free.

The shepherd will tend his sheep
The valley will bloom again,
And Jimmy will go to sleep
In his own little room again.

There’ll be bluebirds over
The white cliffs of Dover,
Tomorrow
Just you wait and see.”

Not-So-Random Song for the Day: “The White Cliffs of Dover” – Vera Lynn

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The Landlady

Don’t Say “Tapioca” to Ruby.

My Dad calls this "Fish Eyes" Taken October, 2007 with 6275i Camera Phone
My Dad calls this “Fish Eyes”
Taken October, 2007 with 6275i Camera Phone

After my Saturday Walk-About to my parents’, I trotted back chock full of stories: “Aunt Blanche” stories… “Jimmy Prentice” stories… stories, stories, stories. I think my parents may be jealous of the “Ruby” stories getting all the blog-time around here, because I get one memory after another now, without even asking. I was all set to tell my mother’s “Aunt Blanche & the Peddler” story, or if not that one, her Jimmy Prentice & the Radio” story, or even my dad’s “Let Me Tell You About the Time I Fought the Bear and Still Have the Scar to Prove It” story, but Ruby blew them all away because of tapioca.