Category Archives: Albert Langevin

Only Child on Losing a Parent to Cancer

Sharon at 13 with Mom and Dad

When your mother or father is terminally ill and dies when you are still a child, you lose a part of your life, but more importantly you lose a part of yourself. Your mother or your father is no longer there and the hole that was once him or her follows you around like a bad omen.

Especially if you are an only child like me. Yes, I know, I’m a senior now, but that happened to me when I was growing up. Dad was diagnosed with lung cancer at age 58 and I wasn’t quite 10. That was back in the late 1950s when the treatment options for cancer were limited to cut and burn. The link between smoking and cancer was known then, but a lot of it was hidden from public view. Tobacco companies were keeping their mouths shut about it. Here is a much later than 1950s study that covers that issue.

Dad had half a lung removed for the cancer. But that wasn’t the end of it. Two years later cancer spread to his brain and he had to cope with that for four more years. So did Mom and me. I inadvertently found a unique way for Mom and me to do so. But it wasn’t until later years when I was around Dad’s age of death , that I realized what Mom and I were doing back then. What had been foremost in my mind after Dad’s cancer returned was me pulling away from him emotionally because I was afraid he would die. Deep down that was probably something I knew. It scared me and as a pre-teen and teenager that was how I coped. I am not proud of this.

I wrote a personal essay about Dad’s cancer and something Mom and I were doing at the same time after he returned home from his second stay in hospital. The memoir piece was just published in the online magazine The Smart Set which is a publication of Drexel University in Philadelphia. Perhaps what Mom and I were doing did help, maybe even my Dad. We don’t always know or realize these things at the time.

Here is the link to “Don’t Look Down” in The Smart Set Magazine.

Cheers.

Sharon

Only Child Writes

Only Child’s Dad when younger

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Filed under 1950s, Albert Langevin, cancer, Death and Dying, Health, Mom and Dad, Piano

Only Child on fears about getting old

Only Child with Mom and Dad in the early 1960s.

Only Child with Mom and Dad in the early 1960s.

A artist friend has sent out a survey of four questions on aging for those 60 years and over. The survey is in connection with an art show she is exhibiting in fall 2017. I haven’t done the survey yet, but the first question has really got me thinking. Her question?

As a woman approaching/over the age of 60, what is my greatest fear?

Before I answer it, I’m going back to my mother and my father as their lives as seniors or almost seniors are influencing me.

My father had some form of cancer the last six years of his life. An operation that removed half a lung stopped the cancer there, but it spread to his brain and surfaced twice in two different places. Radiation stopped it in the one area, but four years later it returned in another area of his brain. That one killed him. He was 66, So much for three times is a charm – unless it is a bad charm.  At least Mom and I were with him at the end. I was 16 and despite expecting this to happen, still felt the loss. We had all gone through so much suffering and for this?

After Dad died, Mom was never the same. She had lost her soul mate and her body began to betray her. Arthritis appeared in mega-doses – rheumatoid arthritis in her hands, feet and ankles, causing much pain and disfigurement. If that weren’t enough, God threw in something just as bad – schleroderma – which attacked her insides and her face – hard puffy cheeks and a low (as in not loud, not timbre) almost squeaky voice. She had lost her autonomy and no  matter what her youngest sister and I did, she got worse. She decided to downsize to an apartment and so began the long job of getting rid of stuff. Looking back, I wished I had done more. But I was a typical late teens adolescent, although I was working at my first job as a secretary for the Ontario Government. My boyfriend (later my husband) stepped in to help and organized the two of us to at least get some of the smaller stuff to the apartment, stuff we didn’t want to go in the moving truck. He didn’t have a car or drive then. So there we were, making many trips back and forth (a five-block walk) with as much stuff as possible crammed into her bundle buggy.  And once we were moved to the apartment, I took over most of the grocery shopping, including paying for groceries. But she helped – she taught me how to budget and how to shop. Something I use to this day.

Mom would visit her sister on her sister’s farm in western Ontario but that brought problems too. She fell on the steps (two steps) and back home, she fell off her vanity bench. The latter sent her into a coma and despite an operation, she died five days later, officially of a brain aneurysm. I say arthritis killed her. It happened to fast and I, at 22, was in a daze. Her sister, my godmother, took me back to the farm to heal. But a few days don’t heal. Especially when Mom died at 63.

So, here I sit, in my late 60s, surpassing both my parents in age, and faced with Ramune’s first question.

As a woman approaching/over the age of 60, what is my greatest fear?

It’s a multiple answer, hung together by three words “losing my health.” The litany for that goes something like this. “I fear getting cancer, any cancer, stroke or aneurysm, completing losing any of my senses (and in the last year I’ve had a taste of temporarily losing 85 per cent of my hearing and being threatened with going blind in one eye), losing my mobility and losing my mind.”

Any of those could put me over the deep end. I am not one to wait it out and/or live life not to its fullest. I would like to live to 80, barring the above happening (and I do have health issues which at this point I live with – complaining a lot of course). If any of the above in quotations happens, get me out of here.

Funny, I don’t even consider heart issues as a fear. Maybe I think I could deal with that?

What is  your greatest fear in life? No matter what your age now.

Comments, please.

Cheers.

Sharon

Only Child Writes

Only Child and her Dad on the veranda of house where she grew up.

Only Child at 13  and her Dad on the veranda of house where she grew up.

The teenage Only Child with her late mother who inspired her to do good deeds

The teenage Only Child with her late mother

 

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Filed under 1950s, 1960s, Albert Langevin, cancer, Dad, Death and Dying, Family, Health Seniors, Mom and Dad, Only child, Seniors

Remembering Dad for his birthday anniversary June 4

Only Child and her Dad on the veranda of house where she grew up.

Only Child and her Dad on the veranda of house where she grew up.

Growing up – back in the grey ages of course, I spent some time with my dad doing simple things. He seemed to take on the role of teacher as well as parent. Family members used to say he was proud of his little princess. Yes, that was me. Hard to believe it now as I’ve turned into a motor-mouth opinionated person. There is a back story there but that’s not for today’s post. Today, I want to honour my late father – Albert Louis Joseph Eugene Langevin – because the anniversary of his birthday is this Saturday, June 4.

Dad was born in Montreal, Quebec in 1899. The Langevin family moved to Toronto when Dad was five – or so I’ve been told. Doing research in the Toronto City Might Directories for the early 1900s doesn’t show the Langevin family living anywhere in Toronto until  a few years later. And believe me I have looked in all the earlier directories – bending on my knees and moving four heavy directories at a time to a table on the second floor at the Toronto Reference Library. But some of the family history I didn’t know comes out in these short, simple directory listings. For example, I knew Dad didn’t serve in either World War – too young for the first war and too old for the second. But one of his brothers, Uncle Paul, did serve in the First World War. Considering Paul’s age at the time it wouldn’t surprise me if be lied about his age to get in. That was done back then.  From 1918 Dad worked for the Grand Trunk Railway and then the Canadian National Railway when the latter swallowed up the former. Dad worked in the main Toronto office, then on Front Street and connected to the big Union Station on Toronto’s Front Street. Most of his work life there was as a time-keeper. That might explain his penchant for insisting everyone and everything always be on time – no excuses. But his job gave Mom and I free train rides and that’s how we travelled for our summer holidays – to my Mom’s family farms near Lucknow and Mildmay, Ontario and longer trips to Detroit (more of Mom’s relatives there), Buffalo, Rochester, New York City and Quebec province.

Only Child's Mom and Dad a few years after they were married

Only Child’s Mom and Dad a few years after they were married

Dad married my Mom, Julia, when he was 40 in November 1939 and by the time I came along he was 49. He was often mistaken for my grandfather with his then grey, and later white hair. Yes, he spoke French in his earlier years, but lost that ability over the years living in Toronto. It was actually embarrassing when he, Mom and I went for a holiday in Quebec province when I was 14. We got away with English only in Montreal but not in Quebec City. Dad had to find a bilingual cab driver who helped us find a bed and breakfast to stay.

Only Child's late Dad under Mom's rose archway

Only Child’s late Dad under Mom’s rose archway

Mom was the gardener in the family – with me learning the green thumb tricks from her. But Dad had a few up his sleeve. When he mowed the lawn – with a push mower – he also showed me how to do it and let me do a bit. Same for watering the lawn. But when it came to the trees and shrubs in the front and back yard, he could be a bear.

You see, my friends and I used to set up our dolls and their “houses” (turned over doll or small people suitcases) for rooms. We would have kid-sized dishes and then we would go get “food” for our dolls. “Food” wasn’t berries from the garden, but we would pick and pull leaves from the big and small shrubs. Dad caught us at it once and came charging out into the backyard and gave us you know what for doing damage to trees.

Dad also taught me to ride a bicycle – but not until I was almost 10. I would sit on this 28 inch wheel bike with my short legs and feel barely reaching the peddles and feel terrified that I would fall off. But Dad held onto the front handle with one hand and the back of the seat with the other and steered me along the street. That got me some teasing plus from my friend the Bully. But I did learn to ride the bike on my own, albeit just on the immediate neighbourhood streets which had little traffic. My favourite place to ride a bike was on country roads by my cousins near Lucknow, Ontario. I would ride one of the boy’s bikes or one of the girl’s bikes – depends on whom I was riding with. The terrain might have been tough (gravel roads, not paved) but the only traffic – if any – was the odd car and tractor.

Dad also was very protective, perhaps over-protective as shown by his teaching methods. But I still loved him.

But, when he got cancer in his brain when I was 12, things changed so much. I found myself distancing myself from him. In hindsight I think it was a protective measure for when he was gone. Mom and I knew that the cancer would eventually kill him and it did when I was 16. He was 66 when he died.

I still miss you Dad.

Sharon

Only Child Writes

Only Child with her parents at grandpa's farm near Mildmay, Ontario

Only Child with her parents at grandpa’s farm near Mildmay, Ontario. Sharon is holding one of her many dolls

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Filed under 1950s, 1960s, Albert Langevin, Canadian National Railway, cancer, Gardening, Mom and Dad, Only child, Toronto, Train travel

Only Child honours Dad on his anniversary

Only child's Dad when he worked for the railway

Only child’s Dad when he worked for the railway

Losing a parent can be devastating, but particularly if you are a child. My dad, Albert Langevin,  died from brain cancer at 66 on November 15, 1965. That is a double whammy as I was only 16 at the time. But if truth be told, Mom and I had lost Dad years before that to cancer, starting with the first cancer hit in his lungs a few months before my 10th birthday. Surgery of half a lung removed got rid of it there, but cancer being cancer, it spread to his brain two and a half years later. Mom and I thought he would die. And we had the talk.

One day Mom corrals me in the kitchen.

“Sharon, I have something to tell you,” she begins, as we stand, facing each other. This isn’t sit-down business. “Your father has cancer of the brain.”

“Is he going to live?”

“I don’t know.”

Our hug does not reassure. (excerpted from You Can Go Home – Deconstructing the Demons, copyright 2013 Sharon A. Crawford)

So Mom called in the “troops” in the form of one of her older sisters to help out at the house so she could spend more time with Dad and often I joined her.

Aunt Gretchen now joins the litany of worriers hovering around Dad as he continues to vomit and endure the headaches. She brings her dumpy flowered housedresses, straight black hair, black oxfords, and bricks of blue cheese that stink up our fridge and would probably kill Dad if he were home and could keep anything down. I don’t remember Gretchen ever setting foot in the hospital, but she rules the home front. She commandeers the cooking and washing up after dinner, supposedly a blessing for mother and me…

 

Gretchen’s answer is to pray. I still hold onto religion then, so our impromptu female trinity prays rosaries, as if strumming the circle of beads and muttering praises and pleas will make my father whole and keep him alive.

     

St. Michael’s Hospital radiatesa friendlier air than Western, maybe because the chief guardian angel resides there. And St. Mike must have listened to our prayers, because one day when mother and I walk into his room, Dad smiles at us.

 

“I ate a cheese sandwich, and it stayed down,” he says. [Author Note: not blue cheese]

     

Soon after Dad returns to our house and Aunt Gretchen returns to hers. (excerpted from You Can Go Home – Deconstructing the Demons, copyright 2013 Sharon A. Crawford)

That wasn’t the end of the cancer but four years later would be Dad’s end.

I like to remember Dad for more than just his cancer. He taught me to ride my bicycle, leading me along our street and the dead end crescent adjoining it. I was nine and a half, maybe a bit old to be just learning to ride a bike as my best friend The Bully told me. Looking back I realize that Dad holding the bike bars and leading me around along our street helped neutralize this Bully’s remarks. True, Dad was overprotective, as elderly parents often are, but he tried to protect me from The Bully.

Dad gave me the gift of being a railway/train-riding enthusiast. Dad worked as a timekeeper for the old CNR (when CN was CNR and had passenger service) so Mom and I got free passes. Our annual holidays to Grandpa’s and my godmother’s farms near Walkerton, Ontario, trips to visit the Detroit, Michigan relatives, and tourist trips to Buffalo, Rochester and New York City were all courtesy of Dad.

Dad’s railway job (an office one at the CNR office when it was in Toronto) may have induced his obsession with all things (including the kitchen wall clock and his watch) being on time. We had to arrive at Toronto’s Union Station very early so he could be first in line to get on the train. Once we were allowed on, Dad cased the joint by walking up and down the coach aisles until he found the perfect seat. Then he would grab the top of the seat back and slide the seat backwards, creating two double seats facing each. I know, this dates me, but it was a great answer to keep families travelling together.

One of our trips to Detroit, when I was five was memorable because when the train arrived at Windsor, Ontario, a boat took us, train and all across the Detroit River.

 

Enter the Landsdowne Ferry in 1891, at 312 feet, the longest ferry on the Great Lakes. That summer of 1954, Mom, Dad and I were fortunate to take one of its last runs because in September 1955 or 1956, depending on your source, the CNR pulled the plug on passenger railway/ferry service. Once again passengers had to disembark from a train at Windsor and board an American train at Detroit. This time a bus carried them through the Detroit-Windsor tunnel.

 

But to a five-year old, the river run is a big sea adventure filled with rollicking train coaches and the screech of metal wheels on steel rails as the train jerks and jolts onto the long open freighter. Instead of the train whistle, we get the foghorn call of the boat and the floor seems to zig and zag. I hang onto the seat, but I also look out the window. The train appears to be moving on water, as if its wheels are kicking through the river…

 

We head to the back of the train and I gasp. The doorway is wide open and an expansion gate blocks our exit out onto the boat. On the other side of the gate the top of the boat sits level with the tracks, and beyond is the city of Windsor, fast disappearing as the boat-train sloshes and kicks its way through the dark green Detroit River. (excerpted from You Can Go Home – Deconstructing the Demons, copyright 2013 Sharon A. Crawford.

Sometimes in November I can feel Dad’s spirit here in my house. In 2005, on the 40th anniversary of his death, I heard his spirit rush through the house, through the back hallway.

I don’t know if he will re-appear so dramatically this year, but I know he is here.

Love you and miss you Dad.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

Only Child Writes

Dad's last picture

Dad’s last picture

Only Child at 13 and Dad on veranda of house where she grew up

Only Child at 13 and Dad on veranda of house where she grew up

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Filed under 1950s, 1960s, Albert Langevin, Canadian National Railway, Death and Dying, Elderly parents, Family, Mom and Dad, Only child memoir, Railways, Sharon A. Crawford, Vacations

Only Child’s win of ABC Blog award official

Only Child won this award. Part of the criteria when winning is to post their logo, so here it is.

One of the criteria for those who receive the ABC award from its creator, Alyson, of the Thought Palette blog (http://thethoughtpalette.co.uk/abc-award/) is to nominate other blogs and also to share briefly something about yourself, from A to Z.

I  recently wrote about my blog being nominated for an ABC award in this  post

https://onlychildwrites.wordpress.com/2012/03/06/only-child-abc-blog-award-nominee-on-memoir/ Now that it is official (thank you Alyson for awarding me this and Trisha http://trishadm.wordpress.com/2012/02/27/alphabet-soup-the-abc-award/for nominating me), it is time for me to do the A to Z list of  things which have meaning for me. In line with this blog’s content about writing my memoir, including all the offshoots into health, living the only person syndrome, time management, etc., and of course, my parents, cousins and my son and his partner, here is my short list.

A is for ABC Award (I couldn’t resist) but it is also A for my mother’s middle name “Amelia” and my middle name “Anne,” and for Alison, my son’s partner, and Alyson who gave me this award.

B is for blogging.

C is for Crawford, my last name.

D is for death, in relation to my parents. I still grieve.

E is for empathy with others who are only children – any age.

F is for my family.

G is for good, which despite all the ups and downs, I feel my life is (well 80 per cent anyway).

H is for my health, what is good about it, but maybe for some of the bad as it teaches me lessons and makes me curious to find answers.

I is for inspiration which fuels my imagination.

J is for Joker – a mild word to describe whatever causes the snafus in my life.

K is for Kleenex, something I use a lot, for allergies, for crying when sad, and when really exasperated.

L is for Langevin, my father’s last name and the name I was born with. I still use it, too.

M is for memoir, and also for Martin, my son.

N is for Nancy, an “old” friend from school – grade to high school, whom I reconnected with at a high school reunion almost ten years ago.

O is for ostrich, the way I used to handle problems and sometimes do now, at least as a delaying tactic.

P is for parents – mine – Julia and Albert.

Q is for quiet – something as an only child and now only adult person you can get lots of.

R is for retreat, something the nuns at my grade school and one of the high schools sent us to.

S is for my son, Martin and also my first name, Sharon. My mother once told me she had also thought to call me “Sheila.”

T is for Tim, a childhood friend who stood up for me against The Bully. I reconnected with him 12 years ago.

U is for umbrella – I had a synchronistic, almost psychic experience with an umbrella left in a park and my mother’s spirit in the fall of 2005.

V is for the first letter of the last name of three cousins on my dad’s side of the family. We used to go to their home sometimes for Christmas dinner.

W is for writing. What else for a writer?

X is for xylophone, which as a child I used to play (a very tiny xylophone).

Y is for yellow, the colour of the sun. In my childhood and today I prefer sunny (and warm) days.

Z is for Zoomer, what I am in age and partly in spirit now. My spirit is also with my childhood.

Now, it is my turn to nominate other bloggers for the ABC Award. I have a few in mind and will report in a future blog post once I have done so.

In the meantime, there is a Facebook page for ABC Award blog winners. Check out the comment with my blog post at https://onlychildwrites.wordpress.com/2012/03/06/only-child-abc-blog-award-nominee-on-memoir/ and go to https://www.facebook.com/ABCaward?bookmark_t=page

Cheers.

Sharon Langevin Crawford

Only Child Writes

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Filed under ABC Blog Award, Albert Langevin, Alphabet list, Blog Award, Cousins, Death and Dying, Family and Friends, Health, Lists, Martin Crawford, Memoir content, Mom and Dad, Only child, School reunions, Sharon Crawford, Zoomers

Only Child on too much research in memoir

Only Child's Dad when he worked for the railway

In last week’s session  in my Crafting the Personal Memoir taught in my home, I covered incorporating research information to the actual memoir without overdoing it. I used an example from my memoir and the old version is a doozie.

Old version beginning of Chapter  Riding the Rails with Dad:

If you’re going to travel on the train with my Dad, be prepared to get up early and arrive at the station long before the steam engine is fired up, long before the conductor and trainman arrive, and long before anyone else stands in line for Platform 7 or 9 for Guelph. Dad had to be first in line at Union Station and that dictated our family schedule during the late 1950s and early 1960s when we travelled by train to my Grandpa’s and Aunt Rita’s farms.

What did I expect when Dad worked as a timekeeper for Canadian National Railways since 1918? Just before the 20th century, Canada had three transcontinental railways: the Canadian Pacific Railway – the one tied in with Confederation, the Grand Trunk Railway and the Canadian Northern Railway. From 1900, railway lines had increased from 27,000 to 77,760 km (16,777.02 to 48,317.82 miles) but the extra construction and World War I had the latter two railway companies rolling on shaky financial tracks. So, in 1917, the federal government followed a Royal Commission recommendation and joined the Canadian Northern Railway with the Canadian Government Railways. The year my Dad Joined CNR, this amalgamated railway took on the moniker of Canadian National Railways. One year later another railway, the Grand Trunk Pacific jumped tracks to become part of this federal family.[i]

As timekeeper, Dad must’ve had his work cut out for him. Sure, the merger had reduced railway operating expenses, but the equipment to keep the railway running needed a big overhaul. The purchase of 8,450 new cars, 163 locomotives and 200 passenger cars,[ii] required much re-scheduling of train runs, both freight and passenger. Dad didn’t actually stand outside on the platforms and time trains coming in and going out – not like a bus inspector. He worked in the CNR Office on Front St. West, adjacent to Union Station in Toronto. He kept track and analyzed train run times from reports. Railway schedules were based on the Uniform Code of Operating Rules, until 1990 when the Canadian Rail Operations Rules came into effect. Despite “Rules,” train accidents occurred, and in 1907, the year my Mom was born, nearly 600 people, most of them railway employees, died in train accidents. Again, Dad entered the CNR workforce at an ideal time for him, as the total number of railway accidents declined after the Frst World War. [iii] But his clerk’s salary was lower than that of the more skilled engineers or conductors who actually rode the rails as part of their jobs.

(Copyright 2005 Sharon Crawford, excerpted from You Can Go Home: Deconstructing the Demons earlier version)

Yawn. As you can see it even included footnotes (which I’ve deleted here.) Too much information and while I tried to connect it with my Dad it just doesn’t work. After the feedback from the summer workshop with Ken McGoogan at the University of Toronto in 2005, I made several changes. Below is the version in the manuscript I’m now pitching to agents.

Chapter 7 – Riding the Rails with Dad

If you’re going to travel on the train with Albert Langevin, be prepared to get up early and arrive at the station long before the steam engine is fired up, long before the conductor and trainman arrive, and long before anyone else stands in line at Platform 9 for Guelph, Ontario. My Dad has to be first in line at Toronto’s Union Station. His “typical CNR” style dictated our family schedule during the late 1950s and early 1960s when we travelled by train to my Grandpa’s and my godmother’s farms.

On the way to Union Station, Dad sits in the front seat of the taxi, the better to play navigator. Mom and I, with my doll Darlene, sit in the back. 

“The best way to get to Union Station,” Dad says, looking down at his watch, “is to take Broadview down to Eastern Avenue, then take Eastern Avenue to Front Street.” He scowls over at the driver. “We don’t want to miss our train.”

Not likely. Unless we get stuck in traffic on this pre-Don Valley Parkway day in the late 1950s, we will arrive an hour and a half early at Union Station.

The driver makes a right turn and Dad jumps into attack mode.

“I said to take Broadview to Eastern. We’re on Gerrard St. now. Turn left at Parliament and go down Parliament to Front Street.” Dad removes his watch and is practically shaking it at the driver.

(Copyright 2011 Sharon Crawford, excerpted from You Can Go Home: Deconstructing the Demons).

As you can see I deleted all the railway history here – some of the other history is still in the chapter later on but in narrative as I saw it back then, not as my research now stated it. The watch was incorporated as narrative in this version and more on the watch and Dad as timekeeper is incorporated into narrative in Chapter 1. The rest is as they say, history.

The idea is not only to connect the history to you but to do it in a way that is more in story-telling mode than lecture-mode. Also make sure that the history you are including is really relevant and necessary to your story. For example, does the reader really care how many railway accidents occurred when my Dad started working for the (then) CNR?

I welcome any comments on this and how others deal with research in their memoir or have difficulty dealing with the research. I call too much research “researchitis.”

Cheers.

Sharon Crawford

Only Child Writes



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Filed under Albert Langevin, Canadian National Railway, Memoir writing, Memoir writing course, Only child, Only child memoir, Railways, Research memoir writing, Sharon Crawford, Union Station Toronto, Vacations