This is the collaboration we put together for Dad’s memorial service. After many many cuts, it’s still long. We could have written a book. There are just so many, many memories, and it’s impossible to reduce such a life to a few words.
Dad was born in Saugeen Township in 1914, the 8th of 11 children. When he was eight years old his mother died in childbirth along with his infant brother, leaving his Dad and older siblings to raise the younger ones. His younger brother died at age 12 after he was hit by a car while riding his bicycle. Dad left school in Grade 10 to help his dad farming. His Dad died at the age of 53, leaving 20 year old Hank and younger brother Dave to fend for themselves, and once the farm sold, they were left with no home. Dad survived 2 world wars, the dirty thirty’s, and his sadness with Mom when their first child, a daughter, was stillborn. And yet out of all of these early hardships, came a man with a gentle spirit, a love of life, and a sense of humour that endeared him to everyone.
He married Margaret Scott in 1942 and they bought a farm on the 6th of Suageen. In 1954 they moved to a farm om the 2nd of Arran Township where they lived until relocating to Port Elgin in 1997; and finally to the Southampton Care Centre after dad suffered a stroke in 2003.
During his lifetime, he was a member of Junior Farmers and president of the Bruce County Federation of Agriculture. He served on the Saugeen Township Council and was elected to the Arran Township council in 1961 where he served seven years as councillor and 5 years as Reeve. He was a member of the Ontario Good Roads Association and a volunteer at fall fairs and for the Children’s Aid Society. For all his many accomplishments, he was a very humble man. He solemnly explained one day that he’d acquired a new duty overseeing the landfill, so he supposed his official new title was “Chairman of the Dump”. One day in the 1990’s some of our family spent a few minutes standing on a bridge in Paisley while we waited to watch Kim act in a play. One of us said, “Hey! Dad! This bridge has your name on it!” The bridge had been built about thirty years earlier when he was Reeve, and for all that time, he had not known that his name was on its plaque. A typical politician would like that kind of tribute to himself, but Dad wasn’t that self-centered. His reaction was, “Why in heck would they put MY name on a bridge? Why not put the names of the guys who actually BUILT the thing?”
Dad had many stories about his life experiences. One that amazed us was his Dad buying a 1914 Model T Ford in which they made a yearly trip to Owen Sound. But since there were so many children, only half of them got to go at a time, half one year and half the next.
We all fondly remember Dad, the entertainer. Without him, we would have missed hearing songs like There Ain’t No Sense Sitting on the Fence All By Yourself in the Moonlight. He could recite lines he had learned decades ago – everything from “See my kitty Little Dot, very pretty, is she not?” to Wordsworth and Shakespeare. Some of the rhymes weren’t quite that lofty, though. One of his favourites was, “Kaiser Bill went up the hill to take a look at France. Kaiser Bill came down the hill with a bullet in his pants.” Another favourite of his grandchildren was about a crust of bread that comes back in the night, crawling up from the foot of the bed to torment the person who left it uneaten.
Our Dad was blessed with a wonderful sense of humour. He always had a joke to share or a story to tell. He commented often that he was a farmer outstanding in his field.
He had many other very wise and helpful expressions. We learned that someone we thought good looking might only “pass with a push” in Dad’s eyes. Or could also be deemed “Homelier than a Mud Fence”. When a mini-crisis hit, we were soothed by him saying, “Tis only a scratch I’m glad to say, said sunny, cheery Mary”. When we were going off to have a good time, he`d always advise us not to have any fun. He also, many times over, said to every one of us, “You know, you kids should be very grateful that I married your mother. Just think about that. You’re lucky I got you a smart & pretty mother otherwise who knows how you might have turned out”.
Although Dad was very sociable, he did like some quiet time. He would often retreat to his den to read, and he could keep reading, unfazed even while all kinds of household chaos raged around him.
This quiet, soft spoken man was sometimes known to become the anti-Hank at his grandchildren’s sporting events, when his voice boomed & echoed throughout the arena to cheer them on!
Linda and Ann went through a phase of pretending to star in their own television cooking show, mixing eggs, chop, hay and various vegetables from the garden in their sand pails, and then feeding it to the pigs. When our McCarrel cousins made their frequent visits to our farm, we would jump from one of the beams in the barn into a pile of hay below. When that got boring, we decided to make it a little more exciting by burying eggs in the hay! His only comment on these activities was to remark that he’d never become a rich man selling eggs anyway.
When we were young, Dad was the one who always felt that the consequences of our actions were sufficient discipline. When each of his daughters took a turn at filling the car up with diesel fuel from the farm tanks instead of gas, and he had to rescue the stranded drivers, he never said a word as he towed us home with the tractor. He knew our disappointment at an interrupted trip would make us much more careful the next time. However, when Dad did reprimand us for something, we certainly sat up and paid attention – mostly feeling ashamed that we had disappointed him.
A good education was very important to dad, and he contributed to ours by constantly interrupting us to correct our pronunciation or our grammar. We didn`t just milk cows, we were drilled on our multiplication tables at the same time. He is the reason we all love reading. He’s the one who taught us how to ace memory work and understand division. He’s the reason Verna got an A+ on a science project on weeds and wildflowers in grade six, because he walked with her through the fields, gathering samples and correctly naming them for her without looking anything up in a book. He would have been an excellent teacher, not only because he was great with kids, but because he was a natural philosopher, good at observing, reflecting, and questioning.
He was almost a magician when it came to playing cards, defeating his frustrated opponents with the most unlikely hands. With his little reckless streak in euchre he’d go it alone on four nines and a ten and somehow win. It was infuriating and funny at the same time. Yet if anyone else played crazily, he’d say “ ….according to Hoyle….” but his Hoyle must have been a distant cousin of the original, as Dad seemed to break all the rules and beat the odds to almost always come out on top! If you wanted to win at euchre, you picked Dad as your partner.
He regularly shared his views on politics and religion with us and Mom. He was not one to settle for the mediocre or to sit back without questioning the rightness of things, or without expressing his distaste at some of our political leaders. He had strong views on those who “stole from the poor to give to the rich”. But it was never an argument. Rather it was what mom would call a “lively discussion”.
Dad always quietly went about his business, avoiding a lot of fuss. When he discovered at age 88 that his driver’s license had expired, he chose a day when Mom was out, drove to Walkerton, took his test, and came back with his license. There really wasn’t much she could say after the fact!
Dad had a profound love for not just his own children and grandchildren, but for every child he knew. He has our greatest love and respect for his honesty, his gentle spirit, his humility, his kindness to his fellow man, his patience, his wisdom and his love and respect for every one of us as individuals.
When Verna was five or six, she had nightmares about death. Night after night, she woke up crying and calling for him. And night after night, he patiently came in to sit on the edge of her bed and reassure her. She tried to get him to promise that he would never die. He could have made it easy on himself by just telling her what she wanted to hear so that he could get back to sleep. But he didn’t lie to her. He said, “I will die someday, but I have no intentions of doing it for a long, long time. I promise I’ll try to be around for a very long time.” He lived up to that promise, but it still seems too soon.
In these last several months, he has missed Mom terribly. He now is where he wanted to be, with her again, and released from the limitations and challenges he faced over the past 5 years.
As we honour his life today, the tears we shed are not so much in sadness for the end of his life, but in sorrow for the great loss in OUR lives of our wonderful dad and grandpa.
We will miss him very much.