There are those who claim that old folks get tedious maybe even maudlin when they begin to reminisce. I may once have shared that opinion. But now I have changed my point of view. Those stories that family history that provide a view into my ancestor’s long gone world now have a fascination and reveal truths about my own origin and my own makeup which I could never learn in any other way!
I was an immigrant kid. When I was twelve years old (1956), my aunt and my 75-year old grandfather a newly retired barber emigrated from Holland to Canada. They came to live with us in our house. In retrospect it was kind of an interesting story, but not much of which I was really interested in at the time. You see, as a kid, I was kind of dense. Out of it, if you must know!
My grandfather was born and raised on an island in the Rhine River delta. The (pre-WW2) family pictures I have seen show lots of nature sand and dunes. But all of that is now gone. This area was massively “re-engineered” to serve the needs of the Dutch people and the commercial requirements of Europe and the Common Market. It began with the “New Waterway”. The “Delta Works” were implemented after major flooding in 1953 to prevent another such catastrophe. The “Europoort” was built to further Common Market commerce and international trade.
My grandfather had been a barber all his life. From age twelve, he had shaved faces and cut hair. He would recount how early in the morning he would bicycle to rich client’s homes to shave their faces. What a mental image! My grandfather a teenage boy with straight razor strop shaving the well-to-do of the Dutch countryside.
My grandfather was a great story teller, a talent he undoubtedly cultivated during his years as a barber. One story he would tell is how early one morning he arrived at a rich client’s residence to find that the client had passed away in the night! But not to worry! The client’s face still needed to be presentable for viewing. In those times it was normal to do the viewing of the deceased in the home. So my young grandfather ended up in the bed shaving the face of the now deceased client.
My grandfather liked to go fishing. And I liked to go fishing too. So, my grandfather, my brother Peter and I would go fishing. We would walk down to the Valley Inn, located on the north-western end of Burlington Bay. We would carry our fishing poles, our bait and other stuff. As kids, I don’t think we ever thought seriously about any of this. We were going fishing and that was all there was to it.
My grandfather, was 75 years old. He usually dressed in his suit to go fishing. Or to go anywhere. He walked along with us, his cane in his hand, to go and enjoy the day’s outing. And, make no mistake about it! He took his fishing seriously! We would end up sitting on the edge of the water, fishing poles in hand, hoping to catch something serious to take home for supper.
So what did we catch on our fishing expeditions? I can’t remember any specific day and what we would have caught. What I do remember was that we would catch sunfish, perch, catfish, and occasionally other types of fish. No matter, any and all of these were promptly gutted, cleaned and taken home and fried up in a pan on the stove.
I do remember one particular day, though! My grandfather had been sitting at the edge of the water for a long, long time, without even a nibble. Then all of a sudden, he yelled! I got one! His bobber went up and down, up and down in major fashion. He believed he had finally made the catch of his lifetime!
We rushed over to him to help him haul in his big catch. His rod bent. He reeled in this catch of a lifetime. Slowly, cautiously, he pulled it in. Understandably he did not want to break his line on this big, big fish. We were all surprised when it broke the surface. No one was more surprised than he was. His big catch was a snapping turtle! Needles to say, we did not have turtle soup that night!