Meet Clarence, my Dad, when he was thirty years old. In the background is a railcar similar to the one that he lived in while he was in Alaska. He met Mom there and that story was in last month’s Musings. Dad was born in Detroit, Michigan, Feb. 17, 1918, third oldest child—the same as me, except I have two older brothers and he had two older sisters. At age eighteen he left home and found work at the CC camps (Construction Crews). The depression was in full swing and if you were fit, able and willing to work, you could work building Nature Parks. He got paid a dollar a day and got free room and board, plus one hundred dollars per month was sent home to his parents.
Food wasn’t always plentiful, so some days Dad would go fishing. Since he didn’t own a fishing rod he improvised. He loved to play with dynamite and would build little rafts and send them downstream with a charge. After the blowout he would hunt around for any stunned or dead fish to barbecue. One day his little raft got tangled in the reeds under a bridge and that blew up too. They never did figure out who the culprit was.
Dad got an opportunity to travel in 1941 when he was twenty-three years old. He was sent to California to train as a soldier. War was declared that December and Clarence and his five brothers were whisked off to the South Pacific. Just before leaving, he married his sweetheart so that he would have someone to write to him. After a few years she decided that the anxiety of not knowing if he would ever come home was too much for her and wrote him a ‘Dear John’ letter.
Dad got lots of chances to practice his marksmanship during the war. He didn’t like killing, so he and a buddy would head into the hills with rounds of ammunition and empty their rifles into coconut trees, taking careful aim to kill each coconut. They also did some practise shooting in bat caves. Once he spotted some Japanese soldiers hiding out in the caves. They fired in a smoke grenade and took the soldiers back as captives. He became an explosives expert and helped to blow up holes to make latrines as the convoy moved onward and set up camps.
He had lots of ingenuity and when money and whiskey were in short supply for the enlisted men, he and a few buddies solved the problem. When the next convoy came through with supplies, the whiskey truck broke down and then went missing. Mike, my brother, laughed as he told me Dad’s story of how they buried it in a gravel pit. The officers suspected what happened, for every so often, whiskey was plentiful at a gathering. Michael said that when they needed cash they would sell some and they never got caught. I heard these stories from my brother because I didn’t see much of my Dad after I was twelve.
When the war ended in 1944, Dad went back to Detroit to work. After two months in one of the local factories he packed up his belonging and as he put it “stored them in a matchbox.” With the clothes on his back, he hitched a ride to Alaska and found work building bridges and roads. He was a self-taught carpenter with a keen mind as to how things should work. He was nine years older than Mom and once they were married in 1948 he was ready to settle down and raise a family. They moved to Michigan and he became a contractor. He built and renovated some of the warehouses for Abitibi and Heron Cement. In the summertime he built his own house and learned to work with different types of roofing materials. His business grew and in time most of my brothers learned how to shingle and do basic carpentry. He loved kids and spent lots of time changing diapers and making meals whenever he was home.
The weekends were spent working around the house and weekdays working for the dollar so that he could spend the money raising kids. I went to kindergarten and grade one in Alpena and then our family of seven left for Canada. Prior to moving we took several summer exploratory trips so my parents could make up their minds just where to settle. We travelled through California and Oregon visiting relatives before picking up Grandad in Grimshaw, Alberta. My parents loved the North and they preferred the hard work of surviving to the convenience of city life. When I was half way through grade six the separation occurred, for they could no longer live together. Dad took the boys and moved back to Michigan.
Clarence then started his own business, Brousseau Roofing and Contracting and as my brother David put it… “He ran a pretty tight ship, but with age he softened.” The one summer I went back to Michigan I got to help and learned to walk on roofs and help with cleanup. Weekends we went boating, for he had an unsinkable boat and he taught me to water ski.
When I got pregnant at age seventeen and Mom refused to allow me to get married, I phoned Dad and he said sure, he would even pay for the license. We had a simple wedding at his house; his sister made my cake and veil. I sewed myself a white dress so that my expanding stomach barely showed. After the wedding we moved to Montreal as Rae had relatives there and he found work at an elevator company. We moved into his Grandad’s living room for several months before his parents offered him a job and he flew home to Terrace. A week later he phoned and asked me join him. I cried all night, not wanting to go home and knowing I had no choice. Within a week I bought a train ticket and we found an apartment to rent. Life was simple and I even watched TV when I ironed.
I didn’t see my Dad for many years. We were both busy and visiting family was not high on his priority list. One summer he and Donald, my youngest brother, went to Mexico for a month during the summer. He loved the people and discovered how cheap it was to live. At age fifty-six he decided to take a trip to South America and check it out. On his return he drove up to Terrace to visit his three grandkids. I don’t remember much of his visit, other than looking at his photographs. He seemed impressed with a three-toed sloth sitting on the tail gate of his truck. It was early morning and he had found the sloth crawling through the wet grass. Dad lifted him onto the tail gate for he was quite friendly and the sloth sat still long enough for Dad to set up his tripod and camera and get in on the photograph.
I remember him going to a doctor in BC and saying something about his feces being like black tar. His energy was starting to fade and he drove home and started the fight to stay alive. They recommended chemo, which only made him worse. Mom went back to Michigan and tried her best to help him get better holistically. They tried Laetrille and some liver flushes, but it was too late. His liver was swollen to double its regular size and his pancreas wasn’t working properly. Michael looked after his needs for the last year as Dad sorted through his belongings. Since he had helped the three older boys through college, he thought it best that Michael get the house and business. I was given a hand-carved box that he made while he was in the South Seas and some cash. I also have most of his photographs and the letters we wrote to each other during my teen years.
Dad didn’t believe in insurance policies or wills so before he got transferred to the Saigaw Veterans’ Hospital to die he gave, sold or transferred everything he owned. When the doctors offered surgery, he replied, “The only thing you ever take is my wallet,” and refused. Dad died in 1978 – at sixty years old. His mind was clear – it was his body that failed him. He wasn’t interested in learning nutrition, exercise programs or detoxifying. He had decided he was too old to learn, till it was too late. I didn’t go to his funeral for it was a long trip and I knew it wasn’t important to him. Besides I was busy and broke raising a family.
Looking at his handwriting I get a good idea of who he was, and he was a lot like me. Busy, dependable, creative with spiritual tendencies. I think I have come to terms with my unconscious programming of Dad. Suppressed anger and needs that could never be spoken were so deeply buried that I forgot I buried them. With more memories of anger than of joy, I wonder why my body preferred to store the negative energy. I figure it must be part of our survival mechanism. With time and gentle guidance from my body, friends, family, dreams, angels and therapists, I have been able to look at most of the tension I hold in my body, and have been able to release it. With each release I get to use the energy that was used to hold the stuffed emotion in place for everyday living. Thank goodness I am figuring out the secret to having energy for I have created myself a busy life and I need all I can get.
May your Father’s Day be honoured by thinking of your Dad for a few minutes, and give gratitude for all his blessings. They were given with as much love as he could give at the time.