I don’t mean this series of posts to be or become an exposé of my family’s little secrets. I have not discussed this series with my family members at all. I’m sure they would have very different memories and impressions of the lives we shared than I do. I use some of the incidents and events I know about or have some impression of as a means of expressing my sense of the complexity of life and especially of relationships both personal and social.
Life is complicated. Relationships are complicated. People are complicated. Take my father, for instance. He was intelligent, generous, level headed and kind hearted, but at times he had fits of anger that were shocking because they were so out of character for him. He teased us mercilessly, sometimes to distress. He could be, and was, physically violent on rare occasions. We never spoke of such things so I have no way of knowing what were the deep-seated causes of his rare bouts of uncontrollable anger. He was never violent towards my mother that I know of, but he beat my older sisters one time that I recall very vividly. From what I remember, my sisters were whining and complaining about doing the dishes or some such thing, probably yelling and screaming, fighting amongst themselves when my father, for some reason had had enough of it. He let fly with a pot that was handy, hitting them with it repeatedly until they were all cowered on the floor, weeping and in shock. I might have been six or seven years old at the time and I remember cowering myself in the hallway, by the bathroom door wondering what could possibly be going on. To this day as I think about it, I can still feel the sense of fear that overwhelmed me at the time. I don’t recall anyone discussing it much after the fact, but it was traumatic and definitely left an impression. That I do recall.
He hit me too on the odd occasion for various reasons. I was no angel as a child and I may not always have conducted myself with the propriety and reasonableness that should, of course, inform the actions of all well-behaved five year old boys. I remember one time when at about six years of age, maybe seven, I smacked a kid (accidentally, of course) over the head with a garden hoe drawing a substantial amount of blood. No serious damage done, but you know how head wounds can bleed. I got ‘the strap’ for that one. When my father got home from work that day and my mother had conferred with him telling him of all the sordid details of my great misdead, his duty (I presume he saw it as that) would be to clinically administer several blows to my open hand with a rubber and leather strap he had gotten from his workplace and which he kept on a kitchen shelf for just such occasions. He did not draw blood, but in his mind I had to learn that there were consequences for what I had done. The logical course of action was for him to hit me, a perfectly acceptable and even expected thing to do at the time.
My father was driven by a sense of duty to his church, his family, and French-Canadian tradition. He did not question his duty to have as many children as God expected of him and he took great joy in each of us. He was ill-educated in the formal sense. He never learned to read nor write although he could do rudimentary arithmetic. He might have made it only to grade four in school but it was not because he was incapable of schoolwork, but because he was needed to work on the farm in Alberta and for other reasons not of concern here for the moment. He seldom drank alcohol and didn’t smoke but he did gamble every once in a while. He was what most people would have called “a good man” in the day. He worked hard and rose to management positions in lumber mills around the Lower Mainland in spite of his illiteracy.
I don’t know if what I am about to write is true or not, but it may very well be given the time. It was 1945, June 22nd. The war would be over soon. Normally this day would be a time for celebration, but this day would not be one of those. This day my father’s wife, Yvonne, would die in childbirth. She was an otherwise healthy 29 year old woman who had already given him five daughters. This day, something would go horribly wrong in the delivery room and Yvonne would bleed to death. Her newborn son would also die in the deIivery room. I heard it said that Yvonne died because my father couldn’t afford a blood transfusion that would have saved her life. I don’t know that to be true, but just imagining what he had to go through with his wife dying in childbirth and five young daughters to look after at home I expect that he was wrought with anger, panic and despair no matter how his wife had died. He may have believed that it was God’s will. I’m certain my father thought about that wretched day in 1945 every subsequent day of his life.