My father died on May 20, 2016. He was 89.
I wrote and delivered this eulogy for my dad as part of the funeral service.
When I was young, Dad worked as a firefighter at an industrial park that had previously been a World War II air base. I didn’t see him fight fires but I remember holiday parties in the fire hall. The prankster firemen would put the kids in Scott air packs and then leave us, totally immobilized, for long enough to have a good laugh. One time in the winter we went back to the no-longer-active airfield and went tobogganing on the runways, with our toboggan pulled behind the car! You couldn’t do anything like that today.
Later he was a paint crew chief when all the old air force buildings were repainted. He also worked as a snowplow wingman, clearing the roads and highways in the southwestern Ontario snow belt. The crews operated out of a base about 25 kilometers from our home, so in winter he’d disappear out into the storm and drive down an awful stretch of highway to the depot, to plow the roads so that everyone else would be safe.
Over the years he also spent a lot of time helping his sister and her husband with their farm at the edge of town.
His last job before he retired was at the local hospital doing maintenance. I still have books stored in cardboard boxes from a catheter manufacturer. I remember him driving the hospital float in the town parade, a flatbed semi-trailer with a full mock operating theatre and a large artificial cake at the front. I think that cake made a number of subsequent prank appearances on lawns around town afterward.
Dad worked very hard over the years, and he relaxed when he could.
One of my most consistent memories is of Dad sitting in his La-z-boy recliner in the living room. We just called it "the big chair" and over many years he wore out several of them. Tan or beige or brown, covered in cloth or Naugahyde, it was Dad’s personal place of relaxation. It sometimes hosted a cat or a child or a smattering of little green army men, but after a long day on his feet, it was Dad's spot. Feet up, from there he could listen to classic country music on the 8-track, Dolly Parton or Johnny Cash or the Oak Ridge Boys. He would do a crossword puzzle or word search there too, or enjoy a sweet like a handful of chocolate rosebuds. He would watch sports on the TV, particularly the Toronto Maple Leafs and Toronto Blue Jays (and before they existed, the Detroit Tigers). He loved the characters. How he would laugh about the antics of favorite players like Lanny McDonald, Tie Domi, Dave Stieb, and George Bell.
Other shows were enjoyed from the dining room at mealtime. Foremost was the News, of course. Dad tolerated us babbling at the table until the weather came on. Then if we failed to quickly put a lid on it, up would come a big index finger to signal for silence. Silence was expected for that brief period of the day, or at lunch for the farm report on CFPL-TV with host Ross Daly discussing soy bean and and pork belly futures. If the News wasn’t on, we would endure such CKCO-TV fare as Polka Time with Walter Ostanek or Big Top Talent with Oopsy the clown in his lime green outfit.
We'd play cards at the dining room table, War or Go Fish when we were kids, Cribbage or Rummoli as we got old enough, or he called "Knock behind the dealer" which may have a less family-oriented name outside the home. He also liked to play Euchre or 500 with his sister or at lodge.
He was often out in the garage, building or fixing something. He was adamant about the superiority of the Robertson screwdriver and screws, going so far as to take something with Phillips or slot screws apart, set them aside, and replace them all with proper screws. I only came to appreciate this as an adult, after stripping several cheap slot screws in a store-bought shelving unit, when I found myself discarding them all and replacing them with proper Roberson screws.
He was always handy, able to improvise solutions with materials on hand. Every summer he’d put up a temporary above-ground pool in the yard for us, even though he seldom used it himself. Bigger pools got fenced in with re-purposed chicken coop fence, unsightly but highly effective at deterring unwelcome guests.
He worked from plans to make the huge, heavy airplane swing we had in the yard, which was years of fun for all the neighborhood kids—even if my sister still has the scar from a poorly planned underduck. He also used plans to make us a wooden play set for our Star Wars action figures, even if the appeal of Star Wars eluded him. He made our large sandbox, another source of much neighborhood fun over the years. He fixed lawnmowers, bicycles, small appliances, his moped, and anything else that needed work.
He loved the outdoors, and he loved to drive. Road trips to "see the sights" were a favorite activity. Our most epic was a Western Canada road trip in our station wagon, pulling a camper trailer behind, when I was about 7. It seemed that we encountered many of the plagues of Egypt on that trip—tornadoes, floods, hail storms, and faulty radiators. But we saw many amazing things, even if his extended build-up of the famous "fur fish" in Sault Ste. Marie turned out to be a prank. I remember when we abandoned a campground in Alberta just before it was flooded out, moving safely to higher ground. I remember when he wisely refused to swim in a somewhat rusty looking lake in the Rockies, and everyone else got very sick. I remember his rescue of my sister just before she would have tumbled into an icy creek.
He liked fishing, and he often took me to fish at various local spots. I did not understand until much later that the point of this was not actually catching fish, but just being out by the water. He was happy sitting by the water in a folding lawn chair, and if no fish came, it was not a problem.
I’ll think of him that way now, by a river, in a baseball cap and a pair of brown work pants—never shorts—and a plaid short-sleeve top with a pocket for his glasses, fishing pole placed in a makeshift holder. Taking an occasional glance at the little red and white bobber, and an occasional pull at a cool beverage. Enjoying the breeze and the sunshine.