My Opa would have been 90 years old today. He died several years back of a complication of his heart condition. He was the most interesting man I ever knew. He survived more than most could endure and by the time I came into his life, he was a positive, upbeat, optimistic person. I would sit up for hours late at night listening to his stories. He had some fairly gruesome ones, and I noticed as I got older he gave me more and more details. He was practical and smart. Once when I was in university I watched him figure out the measurements for a triangular piece he wanted to add to the house. With his 5th grade education, he had developed his own form of trigonometry. He thought the notes I took from my Russian-speaking Calculus teacher were cumbersome and inelegant. He fixed them for me, in Russian. He could have been Leibnitz. Did I mention he spoke six languages? When he retired he was a low-level manager at a sewage plant.
He was happy. He’d built a house by himself. He had a winter place in Florida. He’d helped his daughters and granddaughter through university, and saw us into good marriages. He experimented with moonshine in his basement. He was a farmer, and he knew a lot about how the land worked, how everything around him grew and how you could use it. He was a hard worker.
He would often sit out on his deck overlooking the swamps of Georgian Bay in the evenings after a long day of manual labour. He’d move on from his coffee (black) to his whiskey (neat). He’d smoke his pipe and watch the sun go down. He knew every bird, by sound or sight. He knew their habits and their lifecycles. He loved to watch them, though it was his wife who might rescue one. He believed nature should sort itself out.
He was an amazing teacher. He never would tell a child not to ask questions, he answered every single one no matter how many, or how fast they came. He took everyone seriously, would never talk down to anyone no matter their age or station. His sense of humour was whip quick and dry. He always told ridiculous jokes, but with a twinkle in his eye that dared you not to laugh, and he kinda laughed at you when you did, but not in a mean way. It was complicated.
He would throw big parties in his family homes. Family members numbering in the hundreds would sometimes show up to dance on his dance floors and listen to his music. He was an avid collector of vinyl and DJ’d every family party. His wife and the women would make delectable food for days and he would man the bar and the record player. And he could dance. He could whirl a woman around a dance floor with grace and style whether waltz or polka or disco funk. When he drank rye, the cowlick on his head would come loose and stick up like a rooster.
He would dance and drink until the last guest went home, which was often well into the next day.
He was generous and careful. He was absolutely loyal. He was always good to his family. There was no man I trusted more with my heart, with my thoughts.
Since he died, I’ve felt him with me nearly every day. He is a strong spirit who never seems far away. I have only to reach out a little in my mind and he is there; a comfort, always.
Tonight I will put out his pipe and a glass of Canadian Club for him. I may listen to some of his records and have a toast. He was larger than life to me always, and now in death, I find he is still not so far away.
To you Opa: you are a large part of me that lives on.
You can read a short story about my Opa here: The Witch at the Door