Monday, April 07, 2008

Blogging Winchester: Father

Talking with Dad at the breakfast table. Mother and Father spend a long breakfast every day here enjoying each other's company and the idyllic view through the picture window. The little dog, Hershey, likes me well enough, but protests that I have stolen her chair in the sun, so I set up another one with a pillow for her morning doze.

Dad and I get to talking. Despite the stroke, he is the same man who has regaled his friends and family over the decades ... the stroke just seems to make it a little more difficult to get in gear. There is a pause before he speaks, but I am accustomed to it. We spoke about Winchester ... he noted that the town had raised millions of dollars at the behest of the provincial government for the local hospital. The fate of regional hospitals will tell a lot about the future of places like Winchester, and the tendency of the modern way of thinking is that these places are inefficient. But a town like this raises the issue of whether efficiency that destroys simple living is really efficient. And it is the more germane given the aging population, and particularly the aging population in little towns and the countryside.

Dad says, "The very nature of this area ... I would say that seniors form the biggest chunk of this population ... how they look after their seniors is pretty wonderful ... each community has a center that caters to the seniors ..." Government needs to understand those natural confluences and use them to advantage. The ultimate truth is that the electronic revolution makes that easier not more difficult ... but government thinks with its feet and its hindquarters ... it goes where it is chased by the loudest and richest of its tormentors.

Dad has this idea to create a Heritage Society in Winchester that could help in things like this. He has spoken about how the annual Winchester Dairy Fest has become little more than a craft fair now, and it ought to have things like a triathlon and a softball festival and a gospel festival. The first two are pretty obvious ... why not add some events to increase participating and excitement ... but the gospel idea is actually quite inspired. Dad thinks that a Heritage Society would be the ideal organ to plan something like that. And I think that the newly renovated "Old Town Hall" which has a community theater and various offices would be the perfect center. Of course, these sorts of organization need a mover and shaker, and that takes someone a lot of their time.

Back to the gospel festival ... like a lot of old towns, this place is lousy with churches, and at least two of them are quite spectacular. And the area surrounding has dozens of gospel singers ... albeit, an aging population ... that would be ecstatic to perform for a festival crowd. Remember, again, that George Beverly Shea came from here. Dad says that he never saw a place with so many pianists. When they do the annual mid-winter Festival of Lights parade down Main Street, there is a women in a bubble who plays the piano. And he added that it is pretty difficult to sing a hymn that he hasn't heard, but they had a couple in the common room here last week who pulled one out. Dad listed a bunch of people he thought he could approach to kick off the idea ... I tossed in the notion of calling it "Gospel and More" so you could invite a bunch of folk singers. Of course, you'd have the perfect venue with these churches ... maybe have a series of nights first in one and then in another.

Odd, of course, that an old atheist like me would be shilling for churches, but churches and their music played a big role in our family and where I come from. As in the notion that theology is bunk but the history of religion is fascinating, I would say that the social agenda of churches is noxious but the community aspect fills in often for what is lacking elsewise.

Dad is a lifelong atheist ... at least since he became an adult ... but like so many in his generation, he was raised in the church, and from that he knows all the hymn. When we were kids, he'd pile the family into the car ... there are six of us all told ... and we'd sing songs as we drove around in the country. Once we had cleared the non-hymns which the kids knew, Mother and Father would carry on singing hymn after hymn from their childhood experiences with religion. Sure we squabbled a bit as human beings will do, but those long drives are a deep part of our family memory.

So Dad and I got to talking about his childhood religious experience. He tells me that they didn't have a church in Kirkland Lake where he grew up, but that they rented the Oddfellows Hall. Wednesday prayer meeting was at their house ... but my grandfather, whom we called Papa and whom Dad calls Pop, was an atheist. Dad says that the bedroom was right off the living room, and Papa would just lie on the bed with his legs crossed and not say a word. Dad says that he had to sing solos while Mrs. Robinson played the pump organ. Old John B. Cunningham would arrive carrying this old organ by a handle like a suitcase. I've been to Kirkland Lake only twice, and flew over it once. I'll write about those visits on another occasion.

My grandmother was known to her five sets of grandchildren by five different names: Mudder, Minnie, Nanna, Grandma, and Meemee. We called her Meemee. Dad says she was a member of a breakaway sect called The Regular Baptist Church, led by Dr. T.T. Shields who was pastor of the Jarvis Street Baptist Church at Dundas or Gerard, Father thinks, in Toronto ... and they were much more right wing than the mainstream. I am not sure if this link on Wikipedia refers to the same group which appears to be focused on Appalachia.

But Meemee always felt a little used ... like she was always a soft touch for a free meal ... and she broke from them when she moved to Toronto. Reverend R. C. Slade (or perhaps Harold Slade) from Timmins joined Shields, and Meemee thought of him as one of those who had used her unfairly. That was the end of religion for Meemee, at least in the organized sense. But Dad, a teenager in high school after they moved to Toronto, got involved with the First Baptist Church in Mimico at the corner of Hillside Avenue and George Street with a short minister named Rev. Wentworth. Dad says the good reverend didn't think much of him ... he relates the story of how he wrote a column on Baptist youth for the local paper and he used the word "female", and that was a big no-no ... he got called on the carpet by Rev. Wentworth. He was involved with a network of young people from the Baptist church who tried to establish a Christian fellowship in the high school. They called it the Inter-School Christian Fellowship (ISCF) based on the college Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF) at the college level.

I asked if he had ever discussed this with Papa, and Dad remembers only once saying "Well you have to admit that if people do subscribe to Christianity, it makes them better people," but Papa didn't agree with that. Papa worked for Ritchie Cut Stone where they cut stone for facades of buildings. Papa was a blacksmith, and he made the stone-cutting blades for detail work. Papa had been a blacksmith in the gold mines in Timmins and Kirkland Lake, but he was also an activist, likely a fellow traveler of the communists, and the family, deeply split, was driven out of Kirkland Lake after the strike of winter 1942-43. Dad thinks everybody was living in one house ... Uncle Lockie, who was a "loud union member" and Aunt Madeleine, and Uncle Dave, who was crossing the picket line, and Aunt Rose, and uncles Gene and Vic as well who were younger and unmarried. Dad remembers that Uncle Lockie was basically an apprentice to Papa in the mine blacksmithy. Later my mother helped Uncle Lockie with the arithmetic he needed to get a license as a crane operator in Toronto, a job he held until the day he died at work some time in the 70s.

Dad quit high school in grade 11 and got a job at Loblaws (a Canadian grocery chain) and then CPR Telegraph. The family moved to Alderwood at about the same time as Mother's family moved to Alderwood, and that is where they met. They started dating within a short while, and they have been together ever since. A nearly 60 year love affair.

Lucky for me!
Photos by Arod in Winchester today: Hershey at the window, the United Church, and a mural on the side of Shadboldt's Hardware Store at Main and St. Lawrence.

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