In my previous blogs I have taken to using short quotes as a bit of a punch line at the end of the piece. But this time I have decided to offer some of the pithy sayings I heard used over and over during my youth. Though they were not original to my Dad, Bill, they did nonetheless speak to the wisdom of this humble man who did not have the benefit of a lot of formal education. He was born during WWI, survived on the prairies during the depression years and served in the medical corps of the Air Force during WWII. So he had a lot of life experience before my brothers and I arrived on the scene.
As with most families during the fifties and sixties, we were able to enjoy family excursions once we could afford a car. Ours was not always the most reliable vehicle on the road but it did afford us some freedom to leave the city without relying on Greyhound. And on those trips, we as children had no idea of time or mileage. The boys and I could often be heard chanting, “Are we there yet?” Bill would always reply,
“It is better to travel hopefully than to arrive.”
That remark often preceded a camping trip, where for example, we had to endure a night freezing in the car, clothing and sleeping bags soaking wet courtesy of a flash flood that had run through the tent – a tent pitched in the dark at the bottom of a ravine. Obviously, those unenviable spots had remained vacant until our arrival, other more seasoned campers having found higher ground during the daylight. I think I was in my teens before I realized that motels were available to those other than truckers hauling semi-loads of goods through the Rockies.
But upon reflection, I can see where Bill was coming from with that remark. It had nothing to do with his navigational skills but rather it was his philosophy of living each moment as it came. We cannot go back and change anything in the past, and the future is not yet ours, but there is only ‘what there is’. Still, I wish that I could go back now and relive those moments with my parents and siblings. I value so much the simplicity of those days.
“I don’t agree with what he said, but I would fight to the death his right to say it.”
With that bit of sage advice, we might fast forward to the present day where political correctness prevails to the extreme. Bill was a devout Christian, a tireless church worker, and would never have denied his commitment to his faith in deference to today’s popular (read liberal) attitudes. Bill was the product of an immigrant family, a family who like many thousands of others built this great country. And if he was here today, he would be the first one to admit that the country has benefited by the diversity of the population. But he would also have been disturbed by the fact that we are trending dangerously towards an imbalance wherein the priorities of the minorities are taking precedence over those of the majority. Sixty–eight percent of people in this country profess a Christian faith, though church attendance does not reflect that statistic. Daily prayer in schools has been abandoned. I suggest that most of us would be okay with a general nod to a higher power, whatever that might be, within the collective. Well maybe not those who think they have just materialized here on this planet. We can assume some folks would fall into that category. But why all the fuss? And what would it hurt to spend a few quiet moments each day reflecting on something other than one’s own ego?
“When my ship comes in, I’ll be at the airport.”
While this comment was not too hard to understand given that Bill’s home was located several hundred miles from the nearest body of salt water, we can read between the lines and gain a little insight into a life that had its financial challenges. A discharge from the Air Force at the end of WWII led to a couple of government jobs and eventually a career with an oil company. But there were some lean times. And though he never used the old cliché, ‘it’s not what you know, it’s who you know’, in his case his advancement was probably a lot about who he knew. I don’t think Bill had an enemy in the world and he would often advise us that you should never burn a bridge with your fellow man. Down the road you never knew when that person might come to have an impact on your life. I now realize what he meant, that one’s path does cross with that of others and there is a reason why we meet at those intersections. We are meant to meet certain individuals during our life and our interaction with them has a purpose. And speaking of purpose, this is what he had to say about that.
“Everyone has a purpose in life even if it’s only to serve as a horrible example.”
One doesn’t have to look too far to find countless examples to support this old bromide. History has provided stories of many such folk whose performances here on earth did not even rise to the level of mediocrity. I leave this subject to the imagination of the reader for each will have a personal inventory. Perhaps instead, we should all compile a list of those in our life whom we admire for setting good examples. Bill is at the top of my list.
In the sixty-one years I spent with Bill, I learned a lot from this patient and hard-working man. He died in his ninetieth year having spent just three weeks as a hospital patient during all those years. He instilled in my brothers and me a strong work ethic, the joy of family and the incalculable value of a sense of humour. Years ago when he and my mother moved to a new home, their next door neighbour stopped by to say hello. My brothers, who do bear a strong familial resemblance to one another, were there. Extending a hand to the neighbour Bill said, “Hi, I’m Larry and this is my son Darryl and my other son, Darryl. (Only those who recall the Bob Newhart years will understand this flash from the past). The neighbour looked from one to the other and then to Dad and asked, “Are they twins?”
So tams, toques and turbans off to you Bill, the most decent man I ever knew. You kept us all on the straight and narrow all those years, especially the neighbour who had fewer names to remember whenever any of Bill’s kin were about. I’m sure he pondered frequently my parent’s lack of imagination when doling out matching names for their children – Carol and her two brothers, Darryl and Darryl.