I spent Sunday with my parents because my Dad, while he insists on outliving every doctor’s prognosis, is very clearly dying. The cancer treatments have prolonged his life, but they are not working any more. The well-muscled arms that once shovelled snow off the driveway as if it were just heaps of Styrofoam are now just bones held together by skin and sinew and a walk just as far as the condominium’s garden takes a lot of energy. He sits in one of the chairs in the shade and waits for my mother to come back from her walk down into the Don Valley where they now live.
But there’s a lot about him that hasn’t changed.
When I told him that one of the attractions of Miramichi (where I’ve applied for a job) is that it is very close to the ocean, he insisted that there’s a great chunk of the province of PQ between Miramichi and the ocean. I was about to tell him that he was wrong, thought about it and said “I guess I’m not remembering it right then.” He must have expected me to argue, so he repeated it in a more forceful tone. I looked at him and said “Do you really want to fight?” He almost smiled when he said no
After he finished his coffee, he disappeared into his den. My mum said he as probably having a nap. As it turns out, he wasn’t – he came back with a map of the Atlantic Provinces and a very rare apology.
My dad had been forced to start working when he was 16 years old. By that time he’d already helped his mother and baby brother make their way from a city that was about to be bombed out to a safer place, walking at night, sleeping in ditches by day and spending weeks on foot bouncing back and forth between enemy lines. When they did reach safer territory, like many other internal refugees, he was put to work on a farm. The city boy learned to hitch horses to farm wagons and to harvest hay.
When the war was over, there was no schooling to be had for those who had missed the schooling they should have had. So, he read books and watched others and taught himself whatever he needed to know as he went along.
The skill he was proudest of was mathematics. And he was well-known as an amateur chess master both to his colleagues and in the Scarborough neighbourhood where we lived. He traded those skills: piano lessons for his kids from a high school music whiz who really wanted to improve his chess skills. When we moved to Willowdale, he did the same –chess lessons for the church organist in exchange for piano lessons for his kids.
My dad is still brilliant at mathematical puzzles – he has the kind of mind that would have led him into engineering under different circumstances. Instead, he worked as a machinist – proud of the fact that he sometimes had to correct the engineers.
He wanted his sons to get the best education possible and did everything he could to help them. Learning, school, education: it’s all important to him.
Meanwhile, my mum has also recovered somewhat – it seems that her dementia was more likely delirium: her medications have been changed recently and she seems more “with it.” I did something I’d never done in all my struggles with education and endorsement. I told her how dreadfully disappointed I was that that I had lost my denominational validation. And then I told her that I was currently considering a denominational switch. I was so surprised that she was happy to hear that.
As important as my education has been, putting it to real use is even more important to me. I know I have a gift and I want to – NEED to use it. My parents’ gifts were diminished by earthly powers beyond their control.
My Spirit wrestling has resulted in changes beyond any I’d have foreseen – and now I need to pay back, by not hiding my light under a bushel.