In this drawing, Melville artist Gordon Matthews has captured my father utterly. Firm chin and mouth, determined eyes tinged with compassion and some sadness. And, in the background, the church, symbol of the faith that sustained him, located in St. Victor, the community that formed him, and that he loved. The portrait hangs in the dining room, by the table. Its presence evokes Papa’s spirit that still imbues the dinner conversations he loved so much.
Today, January 21, in honour of what would be my father's 106th birthday, I reprise the inventory of lessons Papa taught me that I posted in 2013 on the anniversary of his death, with a few additions. Through his actions, always; he never preached.
Be grateful for the small moments. ("This is the life," he would say, sipping a bear with neighbours on the patio on a perfect summer day.)
Respect the power of nature. (Hail and tornadoes mean business).
Give up your dreams for those you love. (Even if it means you won’t be a pilot).
Be innovative. (No matter what your friends or neighbors might say.)
Read. (National Geographic, Popular Science, La Liberté et le Patriote, join book clubs).
Be informed. (Watch the news; know the world leaders and events. Current issues are important.)
Take classes. (It’s worth doing correspondence course assignments by hand on the kitchen table, by kerosene lamp if you have to.)
Do crossword puzzles, and play cards. (Keep French and English dictionaries on the kitchen cupboard for reference, and play cribbage and bridge at every opportunity. Oh, and never disrupt a flush.)
Take the time to yuck it up with friends over coffee and spirits. (In the shop, in the field, in the kithcen, no matter.)
Savor good food and good wine and good company. Linger over meals. (Memories are made around the dinner table).
Eat slowly. (Especially leaning against the wheel of the combine, in the field, during harvest.)
Find out how things work. (An internal combustion engine, a manual transmission, a computer).
Go to church. (Even when it’s a beautiful harvest day, and you have acres in swaths.)
Drive a manual transmission. (And parallel park, too, and start after being stopped on an incline.)
Do things right. (Read the instructions, learn to type on a QWERTY keyboard with the correct fingering; be systematic about things.)
Be proud of your heritage. Speak your first language. (French in my case; you made no effort to learn it).
Save. (A rainy day is just around the corner.)
Do what it takes. (Get up at 4 am, come home at midnight, fall asleep stirring your coffee with your finger, go to bed, and do it all over again, for weeks on end, year after year, for a lifetime.)
To my children and grand-children, my nephews and niece: This is your legacy. Hervé was a very wise man, tested in the fires of the Great Depression and the Dirty Thirties.
Happy Birthday, Papa. Thank you. Bonne fête, et merci. I hear your voice every day. Tu es toujours à mes côtés.