When I was growing up, dinnertime for Mom, Dad and me was sitting around the table in our small kitchen. Mom and Dad would sometimes be talking about the household budget while little ears lapped it up as well as the food – often leftover roast. But Dad had one habit that drove Mom crazy.
He looked at his watch, then up at the wall clock above the table, then back to his watch, lifting up the expansion band. I expected it to go “boing, boing,” but it was silent.
“Albert, do you have to keep doing that?” she would ask.
“Have to take it in to get regulated,” Dad replied. He had good reason for this.
You see, my late father worked for the railway, CN (or CNR as it was called back in the 50s and 60s). He was a timekeeper but he worked in the head office, then in downtown Toronto. As far as I know he wasn’t out on the tracks timing the trains. But who knows. The trains came in right by his office at Toronto’s Union Station.
He carried this penchant for time when the three of us rode the rails travelling in the summer. It was a free ride, and not just for Dad. Mother had the spouse’s free pass and until I turned 19 I had the child of the CN worker’s pass. Mom got unlimited free rides; I was limited to seven a year. But we never took more than three or four trips a year – and one would be not really a holiday. There were a lot of funerals in my family and a few weddings.
But that’s for another post. Today’s post is all about Dad and time. When we rode the rails, Dad made sure we arrived at Union Station early – sometimes two hours before train time. Did Dad think we would miss the train? No. He was just doing his job outside his job. No one missed his scrutiny – from the cab driver who drove us to Union Station – via a different route than Dad had dictated to who carried our luggage (not the red cap porter) to the trainman who collected our tickets once we had boarded the train. Dad’s favourite expression was “Typical CNR” which could be taken as either a bad review or I suppose even a small compliment. At any rate Dad and his watch kept close company.
But riding the rails had its fun, interesting and now looking back – nostalgic times. Nothing like the murder and other crimes that occur on the train to Hanover in my short story “Porcelain Doll” (Beyond theTripping Point, Blue Denim Press, 2012).
Consider the times we were travelling in – mid to late 1950s and early 1960s. Right when train travel in Ontario was still in its heyday – although not for much longer with the almighty automobile starting to take over. (Note: my parents didn’t drive so we had no car).
Our main annual trip was to visit the farm relatives on my mother’s side of the family. That took us to Mildmay Ontario (a few miles from Walkerton, the town that had the bad water scandal in 2000), and Lucknow, Ontario. Then we had to take three trains, which meant two changes. But what rides and what differences. The trains from Toronto to Guelph had diesel engines. The one from Guelph to Palmerston still had a steam engine whose noise used to scare me and my constant travelling companion, my doll Darlene. Guelph was also an interesting ride through. As that second train started out from Guelph, looking out the windows you could see the train was running on a track right in the middle of a street. It is still that setup today (although the trains are more modern) and it still makes me hold my breath when travelling through. The third train, with its short ride from Palmeston to Mildmay, was the most interesting. The “coach” we rode in was actually a sleeper car and Daddy would go into a short talk on the closed dark wooden bins above which came down and turned the area into a bedroom. I also remember the texture of the seats – they itched the back of my bare legs.
Dad has been long gone (he died of brain cancer, at 66. I was 16). However, I have inherited his penchant for time. I must get what is on my daily to-do list done that day and God help anyone or anything who interferes (Telemareters and long-winded acquaintances on the phone pay attention). But I also go after transit that is not on time, but not the CN, or VIA rail which has taken over the railway passenger service in most of Canada. No, it’s the city public transit, the TTC (Toronto Transit Commission) which more times than naught, messes up on its schedules. So I sometimes complain online about the incident. Couldn’t do that back in the day.
Guess I do have my father to thank for to be aware of time. And in line with that, on this upcoming Father’s Day I will honour my late father by thinking of him and toasting him – not with his favourite drink – beer, which I don’t really like – but wine. It’s the thought that counts. I’m sure Daddy would understand.Happy Father’s Day Daddy (wherever your spirit is), from your little railway brat.
How are you honouring your Dad this Father’s Day?
Only Child Writes