Tuesday, January 16, 2007

My Dad - Life in the Fast Lane?

January 13 1917 seems to have been a rather uneventful news day. The only major event that I turned up by “googling” that date was the stranding of the USS Milwaukee on Samoa beach during an effort to free a stranded submarine. The big news was about WW1 and the use of submarines and the debate about whether the US should enter the war – which happened in April 1917.

However, for my family this was a very important day. It was the day Mervyn Howard Reynolds Whitfield, my father, was born to Howard and Robena (Cann) Whitfield. He was the 7th of 9 children and to-day is the only surviving member of his siblings.

Saturday January 13 2007 Dad celebrated his 90th birthday. I mentioned in an earlier postings (in September and October) that we had a early family celebration of this event on (Canadian) Thanksgiving weekend October 7-8). I posted a couple of pictures and a short description of that event about halfway through my October 21 post (Click HERE)

The birthday celebration this year started on Friday afternoon.

I have to back track a little to explain. After my Dad had been retired for several years, a golf course opened in Livingstone Creek about a mile and a half( 2 km) from where my Dad lived at Maple Ridge (10 km east of Thessalon on Hwy 17). Dad, who was always active, decided he would give it a try and so at age 70 he took to the links.

About 6 years ago, after he had moved to Sault Ste. Marie, he met Don Holmberg and Bob Vachon on the Maplewood golf course and they became golfing buddies.

In the fall, Don and Bob asked him if he wanted to start bowling with them and so at about age 84 Dad started bowling 3 afternoons a week from September to April.

Thus it was that Bob Wooley who operates the bowling alley decided to have a cake for Dad and invite the media on Friday afternoon celebration. The response was overwhelming. MCTV News came and had blurb on TV about this event. The Sault Star reporter showed up and Dad was front page news Saturday morning (click HERE) . The local on-line news service http://www.soonews.ca/ posted an article and video (click HERE).

The picture shows Dad with his teamates Doreen, Dody and Don M. in the Friday seniors league. (Don Holmberg is on another team and I didn't have a picture of him. BobVachon has stopped bowling and went south this year)

Friday night 22 members of his immediate family took him for dinner at North 82. The group included 7 of 8 children and 6 of their spouses, 5 grandchildren and a couple of spouses/dates and my niece’s step-daughter.

My sister Ruby, her husband Art and my brother Lawrence had come from Southern Ontario and my brother John and his wife Diane had come from Thunder Bay.

Saturday night a similar number but slightly different group of family was present for the picture shown above.

Saturday, on his birthday, the family hosted a “come & go” reception at the Little Rapids Community Heritage Centre.

The building originally was a one room school house and 5 of my Dad’s 8 children went to this school for at least a portion of their school years. It is located about 3 km from the farm that my Dad & Mom owned in the 40’s and where I was born in 1944.

The party was well attended with approximately 150 visitors (in a building that had capacity for about 70 maximum at any one time).

The big surprise was that my brother Elwood from Arkansas had decided at the last minute to come. He drove 20 hours non-stop from Little Rock to be here.
He had been “home” for the family reunion in October and we didn’t expect him to make the trip again—especially in winter. However, he made the trip safely and joined the other 7 of us so that all 8 children were present.

The family photo shows left to right Charlie (me) and Linda, John & Diane, Jason and Diamond Rancourt, Lawrence, (his wife Lily was unable to be there), my Dad (sitting), Ruby & Art Ford, Goldie & Morris Whitehead. Elwood & Shirley, Rob & Marilyn. In Morris' defence before those who know him start saying that it is typical for him to sit while Goldie stands -- he is recovering from hip replacement in December and can only stand using a walker.

I should also brag that Linda made the did the decorations at the hall including designing and making the 90 poster. (Anyone need to borrow this -- It would also work for a 60th event.). Of course my sisters and others did a great job with refreshments and other preparations.

My Dad was born in Thessalon Ontario and he lived in the Thessalon (North Livingstone/ Maple Ridge) area until 1997. (when he was 80). That year he and my mother Jean moved to a nursing home in Sault Ste. Marie. Following her death in 1999, he moved to an apartment on Shannon Road where he still lives. His apartment is about a 5 minute walk from our house. We pick him up to go to church services and visit frequently to help out with minor problems. Linda’s friend Kim comes in every couple of weeks to clean his apartment. My sister Diamond visits to check on his meds. My brother Rob and Marilyn have him over for meals often as do we on occasion. Linda sends him a plate of food once in a while but he still has a strong desire to live independently and look after himself. He does have some health problems and we think it will soon be time to look for assisted living facilities but that’s for later.

When my Dad & Mom were married in May 1937 they stayed at my grandparents farm in North Livingstone where my 2 oldest siblings were born. Around 1940, they moved to a farm (5 km west of my grandparents’ farm) just off the Chapleau Hwy (129) on what is now called the Ingram Road. They remained there until 1952, when they moved their family to start a general store on Hwy 17 at Maple Ridge. There were 7 children by then. The youngest of my brothers, Lawrence, was born in 1956.

While on the farm Dad worked at many outside ventures to supplement the meager farm income and meet the needs of a growing family. He cut firewood and delivered it to town. He worked in the bush camps in winter cutting logs and pulp wood. In the late 40’s he started a school bus service and he continued that operation after moving to the store through to around 1958.

By 1964 many of the family had left home so the store was sold and Mom & Dad and the 2 youngest moved into a house right behind the store and they remained there until 1997 when my mother’s health required them to move toa nursing home in Sault Ste. Marie.

Following the store, Dad became certified as a carpenter and worked in house construction and renovations for several years. In the late seventies, he took apposition as by-Laws enforcement officer for 4 townships along the North Shore. His major duties were building inspections and dealing with errant dogs. This was a partnership with my Mom who did the paper work and arranged appointments and often traveled with him on his rounds. He retired in 1982 but continued to do a lot of cabinet making for family and friends in between his travels to the west coast, Texas and Florida, visits with family and trips to Meaford and Manitoulin Island to visit my Aunts and Uncles who lived in those places.

All in all, Dad lived in Thessalon Township for 80 years and in only 4 residences all within a 5 km radius of his parents home. – with the exception of some winters he spent working away in Meaford before he was married.

Well, that the facts don’t measure the man. The title “Life in the fast lane” is NOT a description of his life. It came to mind as I read the Sault Star headline “Life in the bowling lane”. But even that title is misleading. As Dad said in his interview it isn’t about the bowling - it is about the friends he has made and the sharing of time with other people that he loves most.

My Dad is a quiet unassuming, hardworking individual. He has been a Christian since his youth. The building for the North Livingstone congregation sat just across the road from his parent’s home on land donated by his father. He & Mom were ”pillars” in the congregation until they moved to Sault Ste.Marie. He remains faithful in attendance at Pinehill. Dad has served as an elder at the North Livingstone (now Thessalon) church for several years.

He isn’t perfect but his love for family and for God have been obvious through most of his life. Neither he or my mother were able to go to High School although, as my Dad likes to recount, my Mom dearly wanted to go on to be a school teacher but it just wasn’t possible in that day and place. Mom had a strong desire that her children get an education and she was supported by Dad in carrying this out. All eight children completed high school. 6 of 8 have university degrees and 2 of us have doctorates.

He has 8 children, 25 grandchildren, 35 great grandchildren (with one more on the way) and 3 great-great children. Many of these have "inherited" his commitment to serving God. My sister Ruby and my youngest brother Lawrence both served in the mission field and this service has continued into following generations. My parents built a strong legacy of love and I am honored to be their son.

I had prepared a PowerPointfor the family reunion and I modified it for presentation at the party on Saturday. Dad had given us a bit of a scare having been in hospital with some heart problems for a couple of days in early January. However, he has bounced back, and as you see him bowling, the words in the last slide seem to sum it all up.

“He golfs, He bowls, like the energizer bunny he keeps on going.”

Happy Birthday Dad!!!

God Bless
Charlie & Linda


Bill said...

This is a beautiful post! A fitting tribute for a very special man. You are blessed, indeed, that he is your father. We have been blessed by your willingness to share his story and yours with us here!

Spiritual Oasis Blog

Neva said...

Thank you for visiting my blog. I logged a response in the comment section. I thought your post today was quite a tribute to your father.I will visit your blog again. And will keep your prodigals in my prayers also.

In Him