Friday, July 24, 2009

A 55th wedding anniversary

My mom and dad got married on this date in 1954. He was 31 and she was 22 when they married, apparently in a bit of a rush (no, she wasn't pregnant; Douglas was born on July 12, 1955).

My dad died very suddenly in 1986 at 63 years of age, of a heart attack, at home. He'd been retired for four years (after 36 years of teaching), and was involved in the Masonic temple, raising funds for a teachers' retirement home, travelling with Mom, bee-keeping and gardening at their huge rural property, setting up his work shop, and volunteering as a steward for the United Church. His own father had died of heart disease at age 59, just before he and my mom met at the school where they both worked.

Dad's first teaching job was at the Knowlton Academy in Quebec. He bought his first car without knowing how to drive. (He figured it out, though -- he was my first driving teacher, on an Austin Mini 4-speed, and he WAS a teacher at heart. I learned how to steer from him, which is the next best thing to know about driving, after how to stop.)

Mom's first year of teaching was in Buckingham, Quebec -- when she was 18! She graduated from high school in Aylmer, Quebec, then did an additional year in Ottawa, Ontario, to get "qualified" to teach. The next year she went to MacDonald College (at McGill University in Montreal) to get her teaching diploma. After her diploma her next job was in Waterloo, Quebec.

Teachers made pitiful wages in those days. Most teaching couples of my folks' acquaintance worked summer jobs. My Grade 5 teacher worked on her husband's dairy farm all year round. My father worked as the Arts & Crafts director at a boys' camp in the Quebec Laurentians for several years (including the summer I learned to walk; my brothers and I went to kids' camp in later years, mostly learning to develop a thick skin, along with canoeing and swimming); or Dad took extension and summer courses (Industrial Arts, Biology, History) in New Brunswick (we spent the summer camping in a tent), Montreal (MacDonald College; married couples' housing), and New York state (Oswego; camping again).

My mom went back to teaching full time when my dad entered university to get his BA in 1966 or so (anyway, he graduated in 1967; in 1979 I was the next BA in the family). A few years after he finished she studied for her Special Ed. diploma -- and got it, with excellent marks -- and she then taught full time again (we kids were mostly grown) until she retired in early 1988. (When she agreed to do some supply teaching a year or so later, she quit early: Sunday nights were stressful because of all she had to do to prepare for teaching on the Monday!)

I think Dad did a year full-time at Bishop's University (driving out to class from home early every morning, a one-hour trip), and Mom was the bread-winner. He needed at least a BA to continue teaching high school in Quebec. I remember he worked nights for a summer at a glass plant in town (he'd worked at the Rolls Royce engine plant in Montreal during WWII before he got his teaching certificate). We had Carnation Instant Milk, spaghetti, ground beef, oatmeal, and fresh produce (green beans, carrots, lettuce, chard, tomatoes) from the garden in the summer. I think the mortgage on the house they bought in early 1963 was about $90 a month.

So I'm recalling those years as I sit at the computer wondering how to get by on my EI (when it actually starts), without any fresh food from my property, or valuable/portable skills in a huge city where I have many contacts but no one (that I've contacted) to put me in a job. Feeling sorry for myself!

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