Category Archives: Vacations

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 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

Only child returns from holidays

Only Child's home sweet home and garden from the front.

You know the saying about holidays, “It’s good to get away but it is always nice to come home.” That seems to describe me when I go away for a holiday the last few years. I can make it for about a week and then I get homesick, not for the routine as one of my cousins suggested, but for my garden and house. Somehow seeing the homes and gardens of the many cousins I stayed with, gives me ideas; my mind follows that train of thought and you can get the picture here.

It didn’t used to be like this. When my son was growing up we flew to the east coast and west coast of Canada visiting friends and family. Often we were away for two or three weeks. I don’t recall becoming homesick although I do remember worrying about some fruit I forgot to put in the compost which was left to rot in the fridge. Well, some grapes left in the fridge this time round grew some white mold. But I had my friends next door checking the house and garden, watering plants, bringing in the little print mail I get, so when away I didn’t worry about the house and garden. I just missed them.

However, I needed this holiday away from work and dealing with the myriad of stuff requiring fixing, purging, etc. at my place. Therein is the crux for anyone working from home: sometimes you need to get away from it all wherever you chose as your destination (or in my case, five different destinations). While away I wrote nothing but personal email replies and edited nothing. In fact, I was so out of the writing/editing/loop that one of my Michigan cousins (a retired circuit judge) found a spelling inconsistency in road signs and pointed it out to me. But I took photos of cousins, friends and gardens and showed my garden and previous holiday photos to my cousins and friend, thanks to a memory stick.

Upon my return I went into a house sorting, gardening and then marketing (editing) frenzy, plus sorting out the business email (unlike some people I know, I don’t deal with business – online or by phone when on holidays and let my clients know beforehand.) That’s another key – don’t take the business with you, unless you are on a business trip. In this technology-based society, we forget to take breaks.

Take my two seat companions on the train to Strathroy, Ontario. No. 1 was a young male plugged into his Ipod until he got off one stop after the trip’s beginning. The young lady who next sat beside me began with her laptop, then moved to her e-reader and finally as the train rolled into London, Ontario, her Iphone. Except for the e-reader, where’s the relaxation in all that?

So, my only regret is I didn’t get my third train ride, the one home from Grimsby, Ontario. The train, coming from Albany, NY, got stuck for hours in Rochester. So VIA Rail arranged for a cab to pick up those of use coming from St. Catharines and Grimsby at the railway stations at train time. Good move for the six of us going to Toronto Union Station. The taxi (a big van) ride was smooth and we arrived about the same time as the train would have.  And I didn’t have to lug my bag and laptop up the steep train steps and try to make it along the narrow aisles without having my bag’s strap latch onto the back of the seat.

So, I tell myself. But, hey. I’m the daughter of a railway man and train travel is in my blood.

Now, I’m getting serious about taking the train to the east coast and west coast of Canada. Not this year. Now I have bills to pay, have to put food on the table, and there are house and yard repairs. (the hose sprung a big leak and needs replacing).

Where do you go to get away from it all? Do you go away? And do you keep yourself plugged in 24/7 like you do when at home and at work?

Cheers.

Sharon

Only Child Writes

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Filed under Balance, Cousins, Escaping problems, Family, Fruit, Gardening, Holidays, Home and Garden, Only child, Peace and quiet, Railways, Train Stations, Travel, Vacations

Only Child takes the train

Steam engine like those that fascinated and frightened Only Child when she was much younger. From http://www.copyright-free-photos.org.uk/trains/5-steam-engine.htm

Train travel is in my blood. When I look at all the security hoops of air travel, the current Air Canada customer service employees’ strike, and the high gasoline prices at the pumps, trains look better and better. As many of you have probably read in previous posts, my late father worked for CN Railways (then CNR) as a timekeeper. So, Mom, Dad and I rode the rails for free for our holidays. Back in those grey ages, trains had something else to draw me in – steam engines.  I write in my memoir about encountering a steam engine during one of these trips to my grandfather’s farm:

No steam engines on this train to Guelph – it rolled along pulled by one of the new whippersnappers called a diesel locomotive. But I get my steam engine at Guelph. We’re waiting outside on the Guelph platform for our train to Palmerston. I’m showing Darlene all the tracks way out beyond the station behind us. I see activity between two trains parked on parallel tracks. One train puffs a little steam; the other seems at rest except for the dollies of huge mailbags wheeled from it to the little puffer. The now familiar PA voice broadcasts, “Train #34 for Toronto now boarding on platform 2, Train #174 for Hamilton on platform 3, and Train #… Then I hear it … a distant whoo-oo, whoo-oo that steadily grows louder and then chug-chug- whoo-oo as another train rounds the corner. I put Darlene to my left ear and my right hand over my right ear; my purse dangles by its strap from my right arm. Thick charcoal smoke whirls up and behind the chimney top of the massive black engine charging into the station. The smoke resembles a cloud of dark incense, but smells like soot mixed with tar. This engine leads like a big black God with a stern round face who commands respect and suddenly I feel back in church. When this God grinds to a halt, its mixed bag of followers – mail cars, baggage cars and passenger cars – stop. I remove my hand and doll from my ears and fight the urge to kneel down. Mom grabs my arm and leads me to another trainman standing by another of those steel square footstools.

(Excerpted from You Can Go Home – Deconstructing the Demons, Chapter 7 – Riding the Rails with Dad, copyright 2011 Sharon Crawford. Darlene is/was one of my dolls.)

Of course, something else besides steam engines is missing from train travel today – all the routes to and stops at the small towns. Heck, many of the train station buildings are gone for good and for the small towns that still are on railway routes, the train station is like a tiny box, smaller than my living room. And these stops are often “flag stops,” i.e., the train doesn’t stop here unless someone gets off or on – and that information goes into the railway’s computer system, another change from coal and fire and water tanks along the way for those steam engines.

But some things about train travel remain – the more relaxed atmosphere inside and the scenery outside the window. Take the Canadian Rockies. An airplane-view in the sky shows small bumps below and a definite disconnect. Going through the Rockies by train puts you right there. And what about going through farmers’ fields on the Prairies and in southwestern Ontario? For those used to 21st century “essentials,” you can hook up to WiFi (or not) on trains; you can read, look out the window, talk to your seatmate, or snooze. And there is more room to put your bags – you can even bring them on board even though some railways limit the number. You aren’t patted down before getting on although signs in the larger railway stations do give security notices that you may need to open your bag for checking.

Then there are the old railway stations still left and open – from the huge Union Station in Toronto, Ontario, Canada to the smaller unique ones in Stratford and Kitchener, Ontario. Unfortunately if your are going to Grimsby and Strathroy, Ontario you get those box-stations.

So, like every summer vacation, I plan to take the train and enjoy despite one physical feature of them that remains – the narrow steel steps onto the train and the precarious and small steel footstool to hoist yourself and all your baggage onto the train.

Cheers.

Sharon

Only Child Writes

and teaches Memoir Writing workshops

for the Toronto Public Library. Next one: June 15/11

Danforth/Coxwell Branch http://www.torontopubliclibrary.ca

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Filed under Family, Memoir writing, Only child, Only child memoir, Public Transportation, Railways, Scenery, Steam engines, Train Stations, Train travel, Uncategorized, Vacations