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Writer's Corner- New Brunswick

The Man I Never Got to Know
by Anne-Marie Caissie

   I recall the day vividly, as if it were yesterday. It was after supper and I was seated at the end of the kitchen table deligently doing my homework. The silence of the room broken when the telephone rang. My mother standing nearest the phone picked up the receiver and said "hello". She listened but never uttered a word. She had a puzzled look on her face but did not show much emotion. She gradually pulled the receiver down close to her bosom and said to me "your father died today". I felt numb inside. The last time I saw my father was in June of 1971 and now it was three months later, September 26th and I would not have another opportunity to see him again. Many emotions ran through my young mind. I was 16 years old but I did not really know the forty-five year old man that just died. He and my mother had been separated from the time I was a toddler. My father always managed to make the effort to see me at least once a year. The usual talk surrounded how I was doing in school or about my friends. He always inquired too as to how my mother's partner was treating me, a normal fatherly question I suppose.

   A friend of the family was hired to drive my Mother, Grandmother LeBlanc and I to Parrsboro, Nova Scotia to attend the wake and funeral. I remember walking into the funeral home hoping to see a familiar face. It was then that the realization hit me that I was among strangers. The only relative of my father's that I had known briefly was my Grandmother Henwood. Unfortunately, she had passed away a couple of years ago so I couldn't count on her presence in the room. The times my Grandmother and I saw each other were sporadic but she always left me with a sense of being a kind and loving soul. She made the effort to come and see me regardless of her state of health. My Grandfather Henwood had died at the bottom of a coal mine from a heart attack in the early 1950's. Despite this sad occasion, I was delighted to finally get acquainted with my father's siblings. He had four sisters, Lila, Vivian, Leta and Gloria plus one younger brother Leo. My father had another brother Reginald who has been deceased for many years.

   From the vantage point of where I was seated, my eyes cast forlornly at my father laying peacefully in his casket. I thought how sad it was that I knew biologically he was my father, but I never had the opportunity to really get to know this man personally. I never knew what it was like for him growing up as a child, what his interests were or what talents he may have possessed. My emotions were very different from those adorned by his siblings who had indeed grown up with him. I did not know what I was supposed to feel.

   My father's funeral was to be held in a little country church outside of Parraborro, a place referred to as the Bay. Having the service at the church would give the country folk who loved my father an opportunity to pay respects to him as well. My father was like a drifter who would often leave the bay to travel to parts unknown to just show up unannounced on someone's doorstep. They graciously took him because they loved him unconditionally. The little church was packed to the rafters with family and friends wishing to bid farewell to the man they had grown to love and accept as one of their own.

   It was a custom in this area to leave the casket open in the church allowing mourners to view the remains until the service began. My Uncle Leo, was seated to my right. He suspected that the time had come to close the casket. He gently grabbed by hand and squeezed it. He leaned over and whispered to me in the kindest voice "this is going to be hard for you, sweetie". I realized that it would be the last time that we would view my father here on this earth again. My emotions were in tact until the words of "Amazing Grace" filled the church. I was unable to keep them locked inside me longer and I finally broke down and sobbed. Uncle Leo, sensing my need put his arm around me and pulled me close to him and just held me there tenderly.

   After the service, we walked slowly down the pebbled driveway to the old gravesite located across the road from the church. As the people gathered, I looked around at the tranquil surroundings. It was truly a peaceful refuge for an eternal resting-place. The late afternoon sun cast an array of sunshine over the bay. It was as if diamonds had been scattered over the water, just within reach for anyone to reach over and grab one and hold it in the palm of their hand. The day was calm with a gentle breeze casually making its presence known as if a feather was being swept across your face. The autumn foliage in the background was spectacular with the hues of red, yellow and green leaving a picture postcard memory for anyone present.

   Once the casket was lowered in the ground, dirt was sprinkled to symbolize ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Final prayers were recited, it was time to leave. When I envision the type of life my father led, the many hardships he endured regardless if they were of his own making, he was still one of God's children. You walked away with a sense that he was a peace at last and would not be tormented with pains from the past no longer. I think it was a kind and merciful God that called this young man home, in the prime of his life, to spare him of any distress that his life was likely to incur.

   Over thirty years has passed since my father departed from this earth. During that time I was able to visit and spend time with his siblings. They offered me tidbits here and there of my father's growing up years in the family. Aunt Leta told me that my father had never stopped loving my mother. Apparently he could sing and play guitar a bit. She smiles as she fondly remembers as teenagers how she would beg him to go the dances with her. She wanted the fellows there to see that even though she was dancing with her brother, she indeed knew how to dance and was just waiting to be asked.

   Nothing could compare to having had the opportunity to have known this man myself. Among the many things that I have learned is not to take your parents for granted because you never know when God will choose to take them home. If one or both or your parents are still living, take the time to ask them questions about their youth, their passions and dreams. Think of the wonderful stories you could share with your children and grandchildren. My heart grows lighter because I feel that no matter when my father chooses to look down on me, he will do so with a sense of pride in seeing the remarkable woman his daughter has become.


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