Sunday, April 12, 2020

One of my best teachers...

The United Church built by two of my great grandfathers
in my grandfather's "home town" of Sovereign, SK
Some time ago I wrote this about my grandfather; one of my best teachers. On March 30, 2013 at 4:00 in the morning, exactly ten years to the day after my grandmother passed away, he died in Nepean, ON. I always reflect on his life and his passing at this time of year, but particularly this year I've been thinking a lot lately about how he'd react and respond to the current state of the world amidst the global pandemic. It's interesting to also reflect on the fact that I am now the age of my grandfather when I was born. He lived through several humanity threatening conditions in his days, and I wish I could talk to him about all that. Anyone who knows me really, really well will know that much of what I am as a person and a man came from him.

Born near Milestone Sask. in 1918, my grandfather moved to a farm near Sovereign, Sask. with his parents, eventually taking over the farm and marrying my grandmother, Emily in 1939. In addition to farming my grandfather also taught himself how to be an electrician and wired almost all of the homes in the immediate area around Sovereign. I actually have the Devry Institute distance education electrical manuals that he used to study for his electrical ticket way back in the 50's.

In his spare time he worked as a mechanic, curled, coached a woman's hockey team, dabbled in amateur theater, built two homes and even sold, installed and repaired the first televisions in the area. He was an active member of the Sovereign Masonic Lodge #192 and was a Life Member. In 1956 he took his family to Saskatoon where he soon found permanent employment as a Control Room Operator and subsequently a System Dispatcher with Saskatchewan Power. The next 29 years saw him move from Saskatoon to Squaw Rapids, then Estevan and finally back to Saskatoon where he eventually retired.
As I mentioned in the original post about my grandfather, he became a passionate student and user of the computer by which he vicariously traveled the world and met many more new online friends. In 2005, he moved to Ottawa where he spent the last eight years in relative good health.

My grandfather had a reputation among his family and in his neighborhood as a "Mr. Fix-it". It didn't matter what he put his hand to, he could return it to working condition, untangle it, clean it, fix it or just plain figure out how it worked. This gentle, hard working man had an insatiable curiosity, truly believed in the Golden Rule and lived by the 10 Commandments. Ironically, he also hated museums and antiques. He said they reminded him of too many hard times, but those were the times of necessity and resourcefulness that taught him how to renew things and make them last.

My grandfather turned ninety-five years old this past January. I firmly believe that he made it that long because of the learner he was. When I wrote the post about my kids skype-ing with their great-grampa, my grandfather was well into his ninety's, and still learning. He continued to be amazed and interested in so many things, right up to the time when the pain of asbestosis finally became too much for him. He worked in power plants for many years and had a great deal of exposure to asbestos before anyone knew just how harmful it is.

I have so many memories about what he taught me. At the time, I have to admit his teachings often felt more like lectures; especially in my teen years, but now I remember every single one of them as purposeful and sincere, whether I wanted to hear it at the time or not. I remember everything he told me and showed me, even more intently than usual since he passed away.

When I speak with little kids, I remember to get down close to the ground so we can speak on their turf. My grandfather used to roll around on the living room floor with us, and often we'd play chess while laying on our bellies back at the old house in Saskatoon. He was always the one adult in the room who had a lot of time for the kids; he had a way of sharing his time that was very authentic and respectful. I've often wondered if he was like that in part owing to the fact that he barely had a childhood himself during the Great Depression when he took over the farm before he was in his mid teens.

I've been waking up earlier lately. My grandfather took over many of the daily operations of the farm when he was a teenager after his father left to work building roads in the north. He never missed a sunrise, and the first thing he did was surmise what had to be done that day before it got too hot, or before the snow got too deep. Afternoon's were for family... music, talking, playing games. In the old days he played in a big band called the Sovereign Silvertons, and was no stranger to the back country halls of central Saskatchewan. He taught himself how to play the clarinet and the saxophone, and never missed an opportunity to share his view about how music helped you feel better about things.

My grandfather was a respectful and humble man. He taught me it was right to return things cleaner and in better shape than when I borrowed them. He taught me that good deeds don't always go noticed, and quite often aren't reciprocated, but that you do them anyways. He taught me that if something was worth doing, it was worth doing well, and it usually didn't take much extra time than doing it wrong anyway. He taught me that with careful analysis and a keen eye, just about anything can be figured out, taken apart, put back together and made useful again. Last summer I brushed off the urge to buy a new lawn mower, and with $60 worth of new parts and some elbow grease, I rejuvenated that twenty five year old Lawn Boy to cut grass for at least one more summer. 

We miss you Grandpa... really, really miss you. You have always been, and will remain in our hearts as we live through you and what you've taught so many of us. As I confront life's most recent challenges and decisions, your words are echoing louder and more importantly than ever.

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