Friday, May 4, 2012

Buried Treasure on Lyle Hill



He was the kindest, most gentle man I have ever known, and I loved him for it.

My dad was born at home in Greenock, Scotland in 1910. Thirty-nine years later, I followed suit. Unfortunately, I never met his dad, a crane operator in the Greenock torpedo factory, as he died shortly before I was born.

I don't know a lot about Dad's life before me - just snippets of stories about his childhood and youth, like the time he acquired a permanently deformed fingernail after one of his friends, startled by a frog, dropped a heavy storm drain grate; and later, when he sang tenor songs out the window of the YMCA to impress the girls in the street below.

Then came war. I've already written about how Mum and Dad met as pen pals.

Most of my earliest memories are of Dad taking me places - to the beach, to the Italian ice cream shop, and to my favourite place - the top of Lyle Hill.

Greenock and Gourock on the Clyde from Lyle Hill
There was a circle of indentations in the ground near the summit. Dad said if I tried digging in them I might be lucky and find buried treasure. I dug in one but didn't find anything. Dad suggested I try a different one. I did, and found a penny! He suggested some others, and I dug up more coins, even a sixpence! On our way home, I suspect he did a lot of internal grinning, and I was bursting with excitement to tell Mum all about our adventure. It was easily ten years later when I was marveling to him about the coins on Lyle Hill that he finally confessed to planting them.

In 1957, we emigrated to Victoria, British Columbia in Canada. Dad said he would have been more homesick, but was comforted by the similarity of the landscape and the mountains across the water.

Victoria on the Strait of Juan de Fuca from Gonzales Hill
Again, my memories of Dad's life in Victoria seem to be just snippets: my mum often playing his favourite melody, "Moonlight Sonata" on the piano for him; our suspicion that he was colour blind because of the blue trees in his paintings; and later, signs of his advancing Alzheimer's when the last batch of the blackberry wine he made every year turned to vinegar and he 'solved' the problem by adding large amounts of sugar...

Except for The Upper Room, a daily devotional he read every morning while eating his porridge alone (he was up and off to work before the rest of the house stirred), the only books he seemed to read were westerns. One summer we drove to California, and as we passed through Oregon, we came upon the Rogue River. Suddenly, Dad was like a little kid, so excited to see for himself the river he had read about in Zane Grey's stories.

Dad was a gifted carpenter. He loved to build furniture and fix things, and would never accept payment for the work he did for our friends. I still cherish his old hand tools with his name stamped into their wooden handles. We used to walk along the cliff top and he would identify different kinds of wood washed up on the beach below and then go down, saw them into chunks, and lug them back to his workshop in the basement.

After almost forty years, it was finally time for Mum and Dad to leave their house and move into a condo. I don't recall Dad ever getting angry or saying an unkind word, but on their last day there, Dad went down to the basement, fired up his table saw and cut some wood for the last time. As the noise of the saw echoed through the house, we knew how he felt.

Although he gave up driving, much to everyone's relief, he continued to go on long bicycle rides with Mum every day well into his 80's. It was a sad day when we realized it was time for him to stop, because his dementia had progressed to the point that he would cycle off and get lost if not closely watched, and because he would pedal so slowly that he fell over turning corners.

Mum used to do jigsaw puzzles. One night, she woke up to find Dad standing over the puzzle eating the pieces. After that, we moved him into a nursing home. He didn't complain, but expressed his disapproval by catching pneumonia and dying peacefully about a week after he arrived.

All my life, I never told Dad how I felt about him until, in his last hours, I thanked him for being my dad and told him that I loved him. I don't know if he heard me, but I hope so.

If I could have only half of his kindness, I would be a very lucky man.

17 comments:

  1. This was very powerful and poignant David! The buried treasure, that your Dad buried. And especially the part where your Dad went to the basement to run his table saw and cut his last piece of wood - that nearly did me in! So hard to watch parents age like that. How interesting that the landscapes are soooo similar! And how wonderful for you that you got to tell him how you felt in his last hours. What a blessing.

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    1. PS - My great grandparents on both sides (originally from the UK - one may have even been from Scotland) lived in Nova Scotia before coming to the U.S. I got a chance to go to Nova Scotia 20 years ago to see the areas where they had lived and it absolutely amazed me that the places they lived in New England looked very similar to the places they lived in Nova Scotia... One was from Digby, the other Shubenacadie...

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    2. Thanks, Christine! Yes, even though it seemed to happen very gradually, it was hard to watch him get old.

      Shubenacadie? Easy for you to say :)

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  2. This post made me tear up :) These stories are so precious, thank you for sharing. Prompted me to find a photo of my grandfather, great grandparents and family that emigrated from Scotland around 1905. Isn't it neat the way Lyle Hill and Gonzales Hill views are so similar. Your Dad does look like a gentle and very kind man.

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    1. Thank you, Susan. It's nice to visit the past once in a while and rummage through the old photos.

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  3. David, thank you for this lovely and memorable post!

    Barry

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  4. Thank you for sharing your fond memories of this remarkable man. In his best of days I'm certain he was very proud of you as well. ...Both masters intent on living purposely gentle.

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    1. Thanks, Bea, he really was remarkable ... although I think the word 'master' would make him (and me) run full tilt in the opposite direction :)

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  5. oh what beautiful writing... what a beautiful story. Your blog is always a treat. Gassho. _/|\_

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    1. Oh Kel, thank you - so nice to see and read you again! Gassho back. _/|\_

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  6. I was very moved by this post, David. (I lost my mum to Alzheimer's, late last year, and my dad has dementia.)

    I am sure your dad heard you. (He sounds wonderful.) The sense of hearing I think is very sensitive towards the end, and I believe people are especially psychically open at that time anyway.

    I had occasion to be in Greenock/Gourock last month, though accidentally: driving up the Hebrides with my daughter doing a stint at the wheel we missed the Erskine Bridge and merrily bowled along on the wrong side of the Clyde for quite a while. just as beautiful as the other bank!

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    1. Thanks, Roselle. I'm sorry to hear about your parents - wishing all the best for you and your dad.

      Yes Gourock is definitely not the Hebrides. Good thing you stopped or you could have ended up in Wales :) I never made it to the other side of the Clyde, except for little holidays at Dunoon.

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  7. I'm terribly late to this post, but so glad I finally read it. I think that, whether you said it aloud or not, your dad knew you loved him. It was evident in your lives together. What a place the world would be if most dad's were as kind and loving as yours. You have really brought him to life in this post -- I miss him and I never even knew him!

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    1. Thanks, Tara. I'm really touched that you miss him.

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  8. David, I drank in your words! I feel your dad heard you. You got it in!

    I love how Thich Nhat Hanh says our ancesters are in our hands, we've only to look, to see!

    I've added your blog to my favorites now that I'm on Google Chrome...had to start over!

    Thank you so much, I'll be back! I love Snow Branches.
    Connie (Nelson Ahlberg)

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    1. Connie, thank you so much for these kind words. I also appreciate your kind words over at your blog Honoring Those You Love.

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