When I was a child, there was a man in my life that taught me about integrity, honour and basic human decency. He taught me that a man’s greatest strength was his word and his ability, his determination, to live by it. As a child being raised by a single mother, I found in this man an example of how to live my life, how to push towards my goals, the naysayers be damned. He was my grandfather and ten years ago he lost his fight with bowel-cancer and my family lost its patriarch, a tribe lost its chief.
Manford Oram Wilson, or Norman to most folk, had come from a hard world. As the oldest of a dozen children, living on a farm in New Brunswick, Norm had dropped out of school to work, had lied about his age to join the Navy during World War II and had gone to great lengths to ensure the well-being of his siblings. Much of my grandfather’s past lies in shadows, for he did not often speak of those days to me, or to anyone. As I understand it, Norm had done everything he could to help out his family, including a stint as a bare-knuckle boxer, fighting for extra money to bring home. So, let me focus on what I do know, those moments that I can vividly remember that helped to shape me.
I think that the first lesson that I really learned from the man was the sense of equality. His marriage to my grandmother was a partnership, where both shared duties equally. Both of them cooked, they baked, they cleaned the house and each spent time with their children and grandchildren. He was not a man who believed in ‘woman’s work’, nor did he wish to have a wife who would stay at home to ‘tend to the homestead’. He saw my grandmother, not a thing to possess, but a woman that he was lucky to share his life with. In the end, he saw her as a person, a human being, and one that he couldn’t be without.
I can remember cold days, spent on the frozen creek behind his house, where he taught me how to play hockey. Where he taught me not to give up just because I couldn’t do something well the first time. If I missed a shot, or stumbled on my skates, he would just chuckle and encourage me to get up and try again. Like Rico from Starship Troopers would say, ‘Never give up, never surrender!’ Thanks to those cold days out on the frozen creek, I was able to develop into a decent player.
But, if there is one memory that I can’t help but focus on, as I muse on Norman, it’s the day we – my grandmother and I – took him to hospital for his diagnosis.
We were sitting on either side of his bed, he having just come out of the examination room, curtained off from the rest of the world. We were quiet, awaiting the news, too anxious to even breathe, when the doctor entered our little cocoon. When he gave us the news, that Norman had developed bowel cancer, I can distinctly remember the sound that my grandmother made; a gasp that was so heartbreaking that I’m tearing up as I write about it. For me the world just stopped, as did my heart. It had hit me like a Mack Truck, full on and I couldn’t even make a sound.
I remember looking at him, his eyes level and his expression ‘all-business’. He just looked the doctor in the eye and said, ‘Okay Doc, what do we need to do?’ No shock, no dread, not even a flinch. I saw a man staring death in the eye, unwilling to give it the satisfaction of seeing him shaken. He was cold iron in that moment and it was then that I realized the man’s true strength. When the doctor left, Norman spent the next few minutes comforting my grandmother, who to her credit was doing all she could to hold back the grief.
Over the next few months, as he dealt with the chemotherapy and with the cancer that was rapidly spreading throughout his body, I cannot recall ever seeing that strength, that determination to greet death with stoic acceptance, falter. Never once did he allow it to lessen his love of his life and his family, never did he allow it get the better of him, until the day it finally took him.
Two Friday’s ago it would have been his 86th birthday. I guess I just want the world to know that I miss him.
A Frozen Creek – The Microsoft Office Clip Art Collection
Cold Days On A Frozen Creek – Insecte – Wikimedia Creative Commons
Guest Author Bio
Marshall is an aspiring novelist and writer, who stops by to offer his thoughts, opinions and musings, hoping to share and even gain a little bit of perspective. He is married (to a wonderful woman), lives in South Central Ontario and may or may not have a small addiction to video games.
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