My dad always knew what to say to me. He just didn’t use too many words. His look spoke volumes. His eyes could make me feel ten feet tall or in a flash could reduce me to a little boy. To say he was a quiet man dismisses his personality too easily.
He was the bravest man I will ever know. I’m not talking about going to war in a far off land, though he did just that. I was told that when he came back from the war he was so changed. I used to hear stories of his rowdy days as a teenager. When he came home, however, he couldn’t speak above a whisper. The constant sound of explosions had made his mind beg for peace and quiet. His mind told him that if he was quiet, maybe the world would be quiet. My father was told by the Doctors that he couldn’t work and had to take long quiet walks to allow himself to ease back into life. My father’s reply was quite simple. He said, “Who’s going to pay the bills?” With that one question he again showed his bravery. He started working and also applied for Veteran’s assistance because there were not too many jobs that didn’t require talking. Years later, I saw the letter he received from the Army. One sentence has remained with me for almost forty years. “There is insufficient evidence that your present condition was caused by your service to His Majesty’s Army” Only a brave man could swallow that and go on. My Father worked as a caretaker at the Canada Post in Sydney. His friends at the Legion branch 12 gave him and my Mother an apartment in exchange for being the caretakers of the Legion. Between these two things our family got along just fine. One day in 1958 my Parents were leaning on the railing of the upper hall of the Legion, waiting for the wax they had just put on the floor to dry. My Dad was smoking his pipe and my Mother a cigarette. While they waited they talked. In the middle of the conversation my Mother said,” Do you realize that you’re talking in a normal voice?” My Dad was excited and between them they decided to surprise my brother and sister and I. We were upstairs in the apartment, watching TV. My parents snuck up the stairs and my Father came into the room and yelled at us. Unfortunately, for him, all that came out was a whisper. It took a little more time but his voice did return for good that year.
We lived in that apartment until 1964. Once again something happened to change our lives. The Legion building fund had finally grown to the point where a new Legion could be built. The site, however, was the same. That June we went from a nine room apartment to a three room house. My parents made the summer feel like a vacation at a cottage. They hoped that my Father would find another job that paid enough to get someplace a little bigger. We had no running water and our heat was a coal stove in the kitchen. The outhouse was in the woods about 100 feet from the house. Our well was a hole in the ground with a piece of plywood over it. When winter came the vacation was over. It was time for my Father to be brave again. About two weeks before Christmas he made his decision. He came home from the Post Office, where he worked at night and told my Mother he was leaving. He had taken a few dollars out of the savings account and was catching a ride with one of my cousins to Toronto. He told my Mother he would send for us as soon as he found work. My Dad left his beloved Cape Breton and found work in Toronto. We moved up on March 18th 1965.
Ten years later my Father almost went back to where he had been right after the war. His life fell apart when my Mother died. Dad was not alone as my handicapped brother still lived with him. He once again found a way to go on. He met and married his second wife about seven years later. I was glad to see him smile again. My Step-Mother helped to make him live life again. They were together until the end.
The end did not come quickly or easily for my Dad. He found out in June of 2000 that he had prostate cancer. After treatments failed to halt it and he knew he was not going to get better, he was, for the last time, brave. He wanted to be at home and die with dignity. I remember the last time I saw him alive. I helped him get up out of bed and into the living room and to his chair. He wouldn’t lie in bed while people were visiting. We talked and laughed even though I knew every minute was painful for him. Morphine can only do so much. I held him close that day because I knew it would be my last chance. I told him I loved him. He told me he loved me too and said the last words I would hear from him, “Be brave”