3 August 2008

Another anniversary

This weekend is the twelfth anniversary of my father's death. He died on the 5th, a Monday, but it was the Monday of the August long weekend. We were summoned to the hospital Sunday morning, right after Mass, and the family spent a long day and a long night, waiting for the inevitable. They snowed him with morphine, but he was aware of us. Cantankerous to the end, his final words were: "Shut up!"

I like remember Dad, and I've been recording his stories for my children. I thought I'd pull out one from my little collection of tales in honour of the old guy:

I said Dad almost got kicked out of the army during his initial training. The reason why he was almost kicked out is because he almost didn’t pass the physical. The reason he almost didn’t pass the physical was the same reason he almost died when he was seven.

One fine morning in the sunshine of his childhood my dad stepped out the front door of his home and off the front porch. He skipped down the path in front of his home, stopped at the side of the Dundurn street to check and see if any cars were coming at that precise moment. He then stepped out onto the road with the intention of crossing to the other side to get to store there, and was promptly run over by a car.

His parents rushed him to a doctor who examined Dad, put some stitches and a bandage on Dad's head (most likely without any aid from anaesthetics), before he gave his professional opinion. “I don’t know how he’s still alive,” said the doctor.

“What do you mean?” asked my grandmother. Dad didn’t look too bad to her eyes.

“Well,” said the doctor. “I think he can see a bus, or a streetcar, but there’s no way he can see a car.”

Grandma and Grandpa had Dad’s eyesight tested immediately. His vision was found to be gravely deficient and he was fitted with glasses. The short term effect was a very rapid improvement in his grades, as he could now see the blackboard. In fact, he turned out to be a gifted student, and was twice bumped up a grade. He also saw the part of the Niagara escarpment that ran through Hamilton, which is referred to locally as “The Mountain”, for the first time. Prior to that he wondered what people were talking about when they spoke of a “mountain”.

He wore glasses and carried a dent over his left temple from where the car hit him for the rest of his life.

After Dad signed up, the first part of his training brought him, as it did thousands of other recruits, at the horse stables on the Exhibition Grounds in Toronto. There, he later said, all the recruits caught a cough that lasted about three years. During the war, he said, you’d hear that cough, and know that someone nearby had come through the same place as yourself.

Everyone had a physical exam, and part of the physical was an eye examination. Although he wore glasses, Dad’s eyesight was still poor and he realized there was no honest way he’d pass the eye exam. So the night before his eyes were to be tested, he made friends with the recruit who was the office assistant for the eye doctor. Dad took the assistant out and bought him drinks the night through. In return, at Dad’s suggestion, the assistant happily handed over copies of all the eye charts, which Dad memorized for the next day.

At his exam the eye doctor was dumbfounded at Dad’s absolutely perfect vision. “There’s no way you can see those lines!” he said to Dad.

“There’s no way you can prove it,” Dad shot back.Resigned, busy, and perhaps under pressure to approve as many men as possible, the doctor relented and did not push the issue. Dad was approved, and ready for war.

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