Family Matters/Expectations of Grandpa Jack

Jack (my grandfather) was born in August of 1889. He grew up on Spencer Street and his mother was Rosie  and his father was Joseph : Rose was born in Wayne County, Michigan in 1868 and Joseph was born in 1866 in Harrington, Oxford County, Ontario. They were married September 4, 1888.  Jack (officially John) had a sister Mary who died as an infant and a sister Lilly born 2 years after him who died in 1928. His brother Thomas Henry was born in 1895 and died in 1941. Jack’s father, Joseph, lived until 1946, longer than three of his children. Rose died in 1954. Jack married Mary Ellen on August 15, 1914.

I never heard much about the courting except the story about how the couple would go ice skating at the arena. Mary Ellen used to talk about how Jack/John would walk all the way from his home to her house, a distance of probably close to two miles, then they would go to the arena, probably another 3/4 ths of a mile and then he would walk her home and then walk home himself. I cannot remember hearing any other stories like this.

John’s father Joseph worked for the CFM (Canadian or Canada Furniture Manufacturers or Manufacturing)which was later taken over by Wood and Mosaic and Jack also worked there for a time. For one year, Joseph was transferred to work in Fenelon Falls, Ontario and Jack went with him.Fenelon Falls 2 Ever after that time, Jack took his mother and father to Fenelon Falls every year by automobile and after they died, he continued to go himself every year. He kept the picture at right on his dresser and after Jack’s death his grandson kept it on his dresser and then passed it to Jack’s granddaughter (me) when he died in February 2007. Now it sits on my dresser. On his trips, Jack made a regular stop at Lindsay, Ontario at a restaurant where the owners expected his visit. In Fenelon Falls he always visited “Mac” and Harry in the haberdashery shop which was right beside the lock.  Below right there is a picture of the bottom of an ashtray autographed in 1947 by the men who ran the haberdashery shop.ashtray 1 Jack’s children, Mary Ellen and his son Bob’s wife were passengers on some of the trips  and later his son Donald and Don’s wife Florence and a granddaughter (myself) and grandson of his youngest daughter would accompany Jack on the annual day trip.

I have heard my mother say that Jack’s mother Rosie was something of a tyrant. She was a very short woman who was sturdy but not overweight. Her eyes were piercing now that I think about it and she wore her iron gray hair in a bun on the top of the head. After his father died in 1946, Jack visited his mother regularly several evenings a week and always once on a weekend. They would sit in the kitchen. I was often there but can’t summon up any of the conversations. The little house had a trap door in the kitchen and my grandfather would sometimes have to go down and check something, perhaps a furnace or the plumbing? I don’t recall if he cut the grass there or not but I suspect he did. His nephew Jack was there some of the time but he was not viewed in a positive light as I recall. There were conversations about nephew Jack’s mother Lil who was married to Jack’s brother Tom who died the year I was born. There seemed to be considerable concern about both Lil and Jack. Looking back I wish I had been more curious about the conversations.

Jack (my grandfather) was a worrier. Did this stem from his father’s relationship with him or from his mother’s way of being. His nephew had not been very successful in his life and Jack felt a responsibility there. Both his sister-in-law and his nephew lived in the little family cottage for a chunk of time. Was that home mortgage free? My grandfather was always the one who did repairs and/or called a plumber etc. No one there had transportation but I don’t remember whether my grandfather took his mother for groceries or to the doctor or dentist. When his family was older and during the war years he took groceries every week to his daughter-in-law’s row house where she was raising five youngsters. So doubtless he saw that his mother got to a grocery store too.

When his boys grew up, he drove them to the barracks set up in the Canadian National Exhibition grounds in Toronto when they had leave to come home. His oldest daughter probably needed help although she had a full time job and her husband went overseas after 1942. His son Bob was in the air force and his wife and children received the groceries mentioned in the above paragraph every week. His youngest daughter, my mother, came home to live with her two children after the war ended. And his own mother lived until 1954. So Jack had his hands full taking responsibility for and care of a large number of people. Jack picking cherriesAt home he dug and planted a very large garden, raised a batch of chickens every year, selling eggs and killing the chickens for food as needed, and cut his own grass with a push mower. No wonder the screen door didn’t get fixed sometimes! Viewed like this it is impossible to begrudge him the night out at the Masonic Lodge  which was the only break he had from all these responsibilities, not to mention the stresses and strains of a job as a floor supervisor in a large textile factory. Those meetings and polishing the automobile he owned after the war were his greatest pleasures.

It is so easy with hindsight to look back at our grandparents (and our parents of course) and make judgments about how they were and what they did and then, when we ourselves get older and take stock, we realize or should realize how heavy the demands of family (extended family) sat upon the shoulders of men like my grandfather. His mother didn’t have the option of a retirement home or a nursing home, his sister-in-law and nephew did not have access to the wide range of social services we take for granted, the only automobile in the extended family was that of my grandfather.  He suffered from serious migraines in his later years and became pretty difficult at times. Interestingly enough, he never stopped calling his own living children on Sundays and, as a grandchild who had lived in his home although now married with a child of my own, I received a long distance call every Sunday evening. The bar he set for himself was very high but he reached it.