Sunday, February 10, 2008

Fran...My Children's Grandpa! ©

Story synopsis---A character sketch. A nostalgic look at "grandpa" whose life was lived in 3 centuries. Born in 1897 at the time of horses and buggies, gramophones, vaudeville, Morse code and the telegraph and before the automobile, airplanes, the talkies, radio, typewriters and household appliances, and died in 2003 after television, computers, the internet, space travel, international travel, wireless telephones, mp3 players, and everything else we take for granted. So much change in the way things were done...and so difficult to keep up!

Fran wasn’t really my children’s grandfather, but he was the closest they ever came to having one. He was my mother’s husband, a retired gentleman when he met my mother when she was in her late forties and he was in his late sixties.

Fran, or Frank, as I always called him from day one, subconsciously putting the “k” on the end of his name, either having not heard it properly when he was first introduced, or simply figured that not having the “k” stood him rather naked and exposed with a woman’s name. I never did think that his name might have been Francis which I later came to know over time. I never did change his name though in my own mind and continued to call him Frank up until the time he died as one of Canada’s remaining half dozen or so First War Veterans just months short of his 106th birthday.

Frank was a living human antique whose stories of the pre-history of his youth captivated everyone and led to many an interesting discussion. He never was able to understand the present however and such things as computers, electronic cameras, cell phones, and mp3 players mystified him. As a person who lived before all of these electronic gadgets, his handwriting was still a model of excellence, and he could not quite understand how all of that wonderful and powerful symphonic music came out of the miniature mp3 player I put on his head when he was 104 or so.

Frank had never been married before he met my mother and so he lived as a bachelor all those many years. Obviously over that time, Frank developed his own way of doing things and was living proof that “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”

Despite some shortcomings, Frank was very interesting and talkative, and an active, fit, and energetic person which were some of his good qualities. He was kindly to my children getting on the floor to play marbles with them even into his eighties and nineties. He was always inventing games for them to play.

Frank was always dressed up in clothing that looked as if it had been inherited from his father, a Toronto Anglican Church Canon, University Philosophy Professor, the Founder of Toronto’s St. Clement’s Private School, and ultimately a University President who died sometime in the early 1900’s. Frank’s clothing characterized his extraordinary care with money. He found things so expensive when he compared them to the prices of things in the early part of the century and seemed unable to escape a time warp that had imprisoned him there.

Physically, Frank was useless at anything that involved mechanics, fixing or building things, using tools, or driving a car, despite the fact that he perpetually gave advice about all of those things. Around any work site, he always found himself in the way and his involvement there was both a danger to himself and all others around.

I have no idea how he survived skating into his nineties and skiing, tobogganing, and such things which I always assumed would have been Hari Kari to him.

I remember wanting to fell a large white birch at my cottage one summer when Frank was in his nineties. As the tree was close to the cottage deck, I devised a roping system to insure the tree fell away from the cottage rather than on it. I strung a rope high on the tree, wrapped it around the trunk of a tree in the direction I wanted it to fall, and then brought the rope back to the cottage deck so that everyone there could pull on it, which in turn would guide the falling tree forward away from the cottage. I told everyone to let go when the tree starting falling.

On final inspection before the work, I noticed that Frank had wrapped the rope around his hand to anchor it firmly. I cautioned him not to do this as he wouldn’t be able to let go when the tree started falling and would be whisked off the deck and propelled through the air like Mary Poppins to land indignantly beside the fallen tree.

After these cautionary words, I proceeded to fell the tree with a chain saw. As the tree started to fall, I stopped to watch the marvel of my genius. At the same time out of the corner of my eye, I saw Mary Poppins flying across the deck.

Despite my instructions not to do so, I bet you can’t figure out who had wrapped the rope around their hand.

Was it one of my kids? No! It was Grandpa Frank.

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