Monday, August 13, 2012

A Man of Letters

My father loved words.

 He was not what you'd call an educated man. He never went to college, never earned a university degree. In fact, he left his home in England in 1923 at the age of seventeen, having passed his high school "O Levels." He came to Canada, reconnected with some of his cousins here, found work, got married, and spent a number of years in the RCAF during and after World War II. He and my mother, an elementary school teacher, raised a family of five children.

A lifelong reader, Dad used to send for secondhand books, mostly classic literature, from a book dealer in England. I remember his look of eager anticipation as he opened his jackknife to cut the string that bound the neatly wrapped, brown paper package containing two or three of the books he'd been waiting for.

My father was the one we went to if one of us wanted to know the meaning of a word we'd come across in our own reading, even though we knew his answer would always be the same: "Look it up in the dictionary."

 
In Quebec City. Dad, my sister Mary, and myself. Wearing fur was the fashion in the Forties.
Dad had a large vocabulary and an elegant way of expressing himself in the many letters he wrote home to the "old country" or to us kids after we'd left the nest. When he and my mother — another avid reader— had both retired, they played a game of "Scrabble" together every evening for the rest of their lives. 

After his death, twenty years ago now, I chose several volumes of my father's treasured books for my own library. Dad owned a number of dictionaries and I claimed one, also his Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, Roget's Thesaurus of the English Language, Modern English Useage, and several volumes of his favourite classics that ranged from Charles Dickens to The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.

The five of us were fortunate to be raised by such loving and literate parents.

1 comment:

opobs said...

I've just spent the last hour scrolling through your entire blog and I'm loving these tiny little snippets of your family life and upbringing; a little insight into a part of my own family history which until two days ago I didn't know existed, a fascinating but brief glimpse of a branch of our family tree of the same generation as myself. Mike Stokes.