Today, Sunday, September 10, we’re celebrating my Dad’s 90th birthday. His birthdate is September 11, 1933. Plans are simple. We’re having a casual family lunch and then a cake and ice cream party for more family and friends. Everyone seems to be looking forward to the get-together.
As I write this newsletter, earlier in the week, I’m finalizing a few party details and listening to the party playlist. It has, I hope, many of my Dad’s favourite singers from the “country and western” 1950 & ’60’s stars. These days, my son always tells me that “it’s country, not country and western, Mom.” But it was c& w back then. The play list includes Gunfighter Ballads by Marty Robbins, Folsom Prison Blues by Johnny Cash, I’m so Lonesome I Could Cry by Hank Williams, Crazy by Patsy Cline, Crystal Chandeliers by Charley Pride, Jolene by Dolly Parton, Don’t Come Home a Drinkin’ with Lovin’ on Your Mind by Loretta Lynn and much more.
Every time I listen to one of these songs, I’m transported back to riding in a pick up truck with my Dad or sitting on the living room floor while I played one of these albums over and over again.
Back to the 90th Birthday…
It seems to me at 64 years of age, that 90 is still alot of years. Not that long ago, my Dad said “I’ve been pretty lucky to have the life I’ve had.” And he has had lots of luck and fun, opportunities, hardships and tragedies. It’s nice to know that he can settle himself on the positive side.
He started life in a multi-generational home with no electricity or plumbing. In the first month of his life his oldest sister, 2 years old, was lost to a fire that consumed her nightgown. His 19-year-old mother was left to care for another sister, one year old, and him. They carried on. His father, mother, sister, a younger brother and he lived in a brick farmhouse on a farm with his grandmother and uncle. Another sister was added to the family when he was 16.
Even in the big house, privacy was scarce. He slept with his grandmother until he was 12 and then moved into his uncle’s room. There was no plumbing until a small bedroom became a bathroom after he left home to be married. The radio was popular and later supported by a television that the whole community came to watch.
He was just school age when the Second World War began. But he became a big fan of the aircraft that was manufactured to win the fight. He collected labels from Canada Corn Starch and Beehive Corn Syrup to submit for pictures of British Fighters and Bombers. “They had kids doing there work for them,” he told me recently of the company’s marketing scheme. At the time, it fueled a life-long love of aviation that would see him restore a rare, vintage war plane.
The 1930’s and 40’s while rife with tragedy also brought modernization to the farm. His father bought his first tractor in 1939 and it was showcased at the International Plowing Match in Elgin County that year. Mechanization brought comfort and convenience, but also ended lots of things. The day the work horses, King and Rose, were sold still brings tears to my Dad’s eyes. “It was a terrible day. Everybody in the family cried. You know, we talked to those horses every day, sometimes all day long.”
My Dad’s teen years were spent much different than his parents. Gospel music gave way to honky-tonk tunes. His generation had bigger and faster cars, more access to alcohol and lots of opportunities to dance. Fist fights were common. Many of his friendships from those times lasted as long as the bodies held out. A few years ago, when one of his last friends from those early years died, my Dad told me “I don’t have anybody to tell lies to anymore.”
In the late 1950’s he built the home that my parents still live in. They bought the corner lot off the farm from his uncle for $1, although my Mom says she doesn’t think any money changed hands. Dad dismantled an old store in Muirkirk to scrounge the lumber to build the house. The first winter, they spent living underground in the basement as the walls and roof were framed above them. When he went to the bank to borrow $700 for all the windows in the house, he was turned down. The banker sent him to a private lender in Rodney.
“I went to see him and he never got out of his bed,” my Dad recalled. “It was dark in there and all I wanted to do was ask for the money for the windows and all he wanted to do was to talk about me. We never did talk about the windows, he just asked me how much I needed and that was it.”
In the 1980’s, my Dad was having about the same type of luck with the banks. They were charging him, like many other businesses and farmers, as high as 24 percent on his business loans and as he says, he wasn’t allowed to talk to the bankers at that point.
Hard times end and good times don’t go on forever. Over the years, my Dad has endured the tragic news that police officers drive into your yard to deliver.
I’ve seen him sad.
But more often, I’ve seen him laugh. Really hard.
I’ve seen him come home filthy from digging ditches and excavating all day long. Then he would clean up, put on a suit and go out dancing with my Mom.
My parents travelled over a big swath of North America from Mexico to the Yukon and from Vancouver to the islands off of Newfoundland in their small single engine airplanes. They have taken airlines, trains, and ships to Australia and Europe South America and Asia. They haven’t seen it all, but they’ve tried.
They’ve had good luck, back luck and some times no luck at all. But it is a life worth celebrating.
So here’s to 90 years.