My mother’s difficult decade

My mother only rarely ever spoke to me of the war years and I never formed the relevant questions that would have aided me in writing this rather superficial account of her life during that era. I am relying on supplementing my sparse knowledge with some photos that have come into my possession and records that are in the public domain.

She went to Mark’s Street school in Portrush and left when she was 15, to assist her parents on the farm at Glenmanus.

My mother in 1940 when she was 15, possibly when she finished school
A local bathing beauty, but I suspect that not more than her feet ever entered the cold North Atlantic waters

In the early years of World War II, Portrush and much of the north Ulster coast experienced an influx of soldiers and airmen. With its extensive beaches and hinterland, the area was ideal for training for the possible invasion of mainland Europe. And with a large number of military personnel, the local single girls were very much in demand. My mother had a close relationship with an airman called Harvey. Sadly he was killed in action shortly after their photo was taken. His death was the start of several difficult years for my mother.

With Harvey

Later that year, on 26 November, her mother died at home of a heart attack, caused by mitral valve disease. She was only 41 and my mother 17. According to my mother, my grandfather would not let her in to see her, as her skin had started to turn blue.

A photo probably taken in 1942

In 1942, she met my father, who was stationed in Portrush with the Middlesex Regiment. They were married in October in Ballywillan Church

My parents marriage on 17 October 1942

On 26 May 1943, my older sister, June Mary, was born. Less than three months later, my mother’s grandmother died, on 9 August. And in January of the following year, my sister died of meningitis and bronchial pneumonia.

The death certificate of June Mary Blackwood, aged eight months

Shortly after, the Middlesex started their transition, stage by stage, to the English Channel coast, preparing for the imminent invasion. My mother did not see my father again until early 1946. Their only communication was by heavily censored letters.

In July 1944, my grandfather remarried to Florence Stocks (née McDonnell), a widow. The marriage took place in the Catholic Church of St. Malachy in Coleraine. I cannot imagine that the Douglas and McCloskey families were enthusiastic about this new marriage. To get married in a Catholic Church, my grandfather must have had to go some form of initiation. And after the marriage, Florence would have moved into the Douglas farm at Seaview. Indeed, this sequence of events might explain why my mother never spoke fondly of her step-mother.

In late January 1946, after a long separation from my mother, my father was finally released from military duties and arrived back in Portrush from Lübeck, in northern Germany, where he ended up after hostilities ended . I was born nine months later.

I was never a photogenic child

I almost did not survive my first year. My mother left me sleeping in the pram in the shade, to later find me in full sun and unconscious with heat stroke. I don’t know what happened next, but I obviously recovered and to this day, I have had a high tolerance to heat.

In July 1948, when trans-Atlantic transportation had become more or less back to normal, my grandfather and Florence left Ireland from Cobh on the Marine Tiger, bound for New York and eventually Brampton in Canada. When I knew them in the late 1960’s, my grandfather was nearing retirement, driving a truck delivering lumber, and Florence was a nurse at the local hospital. My grandfather died in 1977 and Florence in 1984.

My grandfather and step-grandmother in their Brampton house in the mid-1960s

Before the Glenmanus farm was sold, my parents moved into a little wooden hut on the Glenmanus Road and my father rented a field opposite for his fledgling poultry farm. It was then around 1950, that my mother fell seriously ill with tuberculosis and was transferred to a sanatorium in Derry. She remained there for several months before being finally released. In the meantime, I was looked after by the Wilson family next door.

To say that my mother had a tough decade would be an understatement; she lost her fiancé, she witnessed the death of her mother, grandmother and daughter, she suffered the long absence of my father at war, she nearly lost me, she lived through the inter-denomination tension of her father’s remarriage and subsequent migration, and had her own serious illness.

My mother did not have an easy life.

My mother’s early years

On my mother´s side, I am descended from the Douglas family of Glenmanus, a small farming village about one mile south of Portrush, on the north Irish coast.  Until the completion of the harbour in 1835 and the arrival of the railway in 1855, Portrush was but a tiny insignificant fishing village, with but a few families huddled under the headland, separated from the mainland by a range of sand dunes.  In contrast Glenmanus was a thriving rural community.

But the new harbour and the railway brought new business opportunities to Portrush, especially in the field of tourism.  Over the next 150 years, the town expanded relentlessly, and Glenmanus was swallowed up.  Today little remains of the original village, save for a few renovated houses and the name on a street sign.

According to my ‘family legend’, the first Douglas arrived with General Munro’s Scottish army during the 1641-49 conflict, after which he remained, settling in Glenmanus, possibly with a small grant of land.  I have no evidence of this claim, but certainly a John Douglas (c1734-1771) and Eliza (c1731-1800) lived and died there.  I have succeeded in tracing my own ancestral line back as far as my third great grandfather, John Douglas (1811-1876).  My maternal grandfather was Adam Douglas (1900-1977)

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Obituary of Adam Douglas, my 2nd great grandfather, who died on Thursday, 3 May 1917

My maternal grandmother was Mary Elizabeth Wilson McCloskey.  Her father, James McCloskey (1853-1933), and his father before him, James McCloskey (1808-1890), had a farm at Bannbrook, between Coleraine and Castlerock.  Mary was the fifth of seven sisters and one brother.  She married my grandfather on 14 February 1924.  My mother, Beatrice Elizabeth Stewart Douglas, was born four months later on 15 June

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Kilcranny House, the McCloskey farmhouse at Bannbrook, near Coleraine

I know nothing of my grandparents lives during that era, but I suspect that life was not easy for the young family.  I cannot imagine that their parents were thrilled with the premature arrival of a granddaughter; their strict Protestant religion has never been renowned for its tolerance of human weakness.  And how the self-righteous neighbours must have talked about the young couple!  Despite my grandfather being the eldest son and the logical inheritor of the Glenmanus farm, in 1927, when my mother was two, he took his family and migrated to Canada. They left Belfast during late March on the Aurania and arrived in Halifax, Nova Scotia on 3 April 1927.

Enlarge the passenger list to see my grandparents at the bottom of the left hand page
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They then travelled across Canada to Saskatchewan, most likely by train, and settled in Simpson, a small town situated about 150 k northwest of Regina and 140 k southeast of Saskatoon.  The nearest rail station was at Watrous, some 25 k to the north of Simpson.

Simpson

Why did they decide to leave Ireland?  Perhaps there was an unbearable relationship with his parents or with his siblings or perhaps with other villagers.  Or maybe the family farmhouse became intolerably crowded with an eight adults and a baby.  Or like me, he just wanted to see something of the world and have a better life.  It is most unlikely that we shall ever know the real reason. In those days life in Ireland was not easy.  The standard of living was poor and mainly based on the farming of small holdings, like that of my ancestors.  It was not unusual for young people to migrate to the industrial towns of the UK, or further afield to Canada, Australia or New Zealand, the latter countries willing to pay the cost of transportation.

The little I know about my grandparents in Simpson was provided to me by Mrs. Beatrice Crew (née Allen) of New Westminster, Canada.  She was a childhood friend of my mother and despite their having been separated at a young age, they corresponded until my mother’s death in 1985.

I recall my mother telling me that her father had once been fired from his job. The farmer for whom he was working at the time was being cruel to a horse and my grandfather hit him. I have always felt proud of him for having done that.  I don’t know who the farmer was. I like to think that I would have reacted in the same way.

Mrs. Crew told me that initially my grandfather worked on ‘little’ Fred Wilson’s farm outside Simpson, then for a summer for Frank Witley, before moving to a cottage in Simpson.  Adam worked for farmers and my grandmother did house cleaning.  She also provided full board to Bill Libby, who ran the Simpson Trading Company.

In August 1932, my grandfather’s father died, but it was not until the end of 1933 that the family returned to Ireland.  They arrived in Liverpool on 17 December on the Duchess of Atholl, from St. John, New Brunswick, giving Kilcranny House as their proposed address.  They may have initially stayed there, but must have eventually moved into Seaview Farm, where Adam’s mother was still living, as my mother never mentioned them as having lived elsewhere.

My maternal grandparents outside Seaview farm in Glenmanus

Why did they decide to return to Ireland?  Until recently I had assumed that there was something outstanding or in dispute, resulting from his father’s death. It was one of my mother’s cousins who recently shed new light on the question. He said that my grandfather’s mother wanted my grandfather to inherit the farm after she died and had come to an agreement with the other siblings to accept her wishes and not make a claim.

So my grandparents and my mother moved back to Seaview Farm in Glenmanus and worked the land. My mother went to Mark’s Street primary school and left at the earliest opportunity to help her parents at home and on the farm. As she never mentioned that era of her life to me, I assume that it was uneventful.

My mother with the farm horsepower, in the late 1930s

It was when World War Two broke out, that my mother´s life changed dramatically. But that is a story for another day.

Swimming

If foreigners were to be shown an aerial view of Portrush with calm ocean and relatively blue sky, peaceful harbour, small western and extensive eastern beaches, they would reasonably conclude that it was an idyllic location.  And on a rare perfect summer day, they would be partially correct.  But the water in the North Atlantic is never less than quite cold, there is a steep shelving beach and strong rip tides.  On a rare warm day, swimming in the harbour can be pleasant, albeit bracing.

I never learned to swim when I lived there.  My parents could not swim, few of their generation could, and of my age group only a handful, mostly those who had relatively prosperous parents, who took them away to more temperate climates on holidays.

When I was growing up, there was only one small indoor swimming pool in the area, that of the Northern Counties Hotel in Portrush.  I recall that a small group from my school used to go there for lessons on a Friday evening, mainly those who were from the rowing club; to participate in rowing, the oarsmen had to be capable of swimming a length of the pool, a not very challenging task.  The group was led by Dan Cunningham, our physics teacher, who, when a younger man, was reputed to once having swum from Portrush to the Skerries, a chain of islands off the coast.

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Portrush, circa 1960, with the Skerries to the north

When I first migrated to Canada, I stayed for a few days with my grandparents in Brampton, outside Toronto.  The first weekend, they arranged for some older university students, grandchildren of their friends, to take me out for the day.  Unfortunately, nobody told me that their idea of a day out meant a beach and swimming.  We went to a nearby lake, where they immediately plunged into the water, leaving me ‘on the beach’.  The students were quite incredulous that I could not swim and that I was not going to attend a university.

My day brightened up momentarily, when they offered me what I understood to be a beer.  It turned out to be a can of something called Root Beer, a disgusting soft drink.  When they told me that I had to be 21 before I could legally have a beer – I was 18 at the time, I felt quite discouraged.

It was when we were in Hawaii, on our way to Australia, that I decided that I had to learn to swim, at least well enough to survive.  I swore that I would not leave Hawaii until I could swim out to a raft anchored a short distance offshore from Waikiki Beach.

But for day after day, I struggled.  I had no problem with being under water, but I could not take my feet off the bottom.  Sandra, who swam like a fish, tried her very best to encourage me, but to no avail. Both the problem and the solution were in my head.

Finally, I set off for the raft, swimming backstroke, and with no problem, I made it.  And once there, I discovered that I could dive.  It was a new element for me.  Later, in Tahiti, I had the incredible experience of diving in the lagoon, and swimming among the multi-coloured fish.  An unforgettable experience.

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Waikiki Beach, Honolulu (photo from internet)

In Australia, I frequently went to the beaches – Bondi, Coogee, Manly etc.  I even spent one Christmas Day on a beach.  And when the waves were relatively friendly, I often managed to bodysurf.  On one occasion I found myself caught in a riptide, and although I had no problem getting back to shore, it was a sobering experience.

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Bondi Beach, Sydney (photo from internet)

When we lived in Kirribilli, across from the Opera House, we used to go to the nearby Olympic pool, just by the harbour.  In those days, there was a 10-metre high diving board, and from it I used to throw a coin in the water, dive in and retrieve in from the more than five-metre-deep pool.  I found that much more exhilarating than swimming length after boring length.

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North Sydney swimming pool in recent years (photo from internet)

We only once owned a house with a pool, in Miami.  After the initial surge of  enthusiasm, the pool sat empty for month after month.  Sometimes I would jump in after a run or while working in the garden on a hot day; there is not much else an adult can do with a small pool.  I was left with the weekly chore of cleaning it and replenishing the copious expensive chemicals required to keep it relatively pristine.

I did once swim in the harbour at Portrush, during one of my fleeting visits.  I tried to go into the water at the Western Strand, but the water was so cold that my feet pained me within a short time, before it was up to my knees.  I went to the harbour and the water seemed to be more inviting, at least to tips of my fingers.  In those days there was still a diving board near the harbour mouth and from it I dived in.  I will never forget the shock of the cold water.  I got out as soon as I could, and I have never been back.

As with the weather, I don’t do cold.

That’s why I follow the sun…  🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hawaii

Uppsala

9 December 2017

It is late afternoon and already bible-black.  Earlier it was universal grey.  The sun seems to have long-deserted this forlorn northern country in winter.  It is no wonder that the old people have a look of desperation when they pass.  They know that they have several months before they may smile again.  Younger people seem to be more cheerful, but in time, many will also succumb to glum.

I pass my time waiting for my long-sought South African residence permit.  I started the process back in June.  I had all my papers and certificates available within a month, except for one; an FBI certificate from the US.  Somehow the Americans managed to take more than four months to respond.  When I thought that I would patiently pass 6-8 weeks in Europe in pleasant autumnal weather, waiting for the wheels of South African bureaucracy to slowly grind, I have found myself shivering once more in the frozen north.  Two years ago I was stuck in winter months waiting for a new passport and last year it was a wintry wait trying to prove to my bank of more than 30 years that I was not now a money-launderer.

Ya basta…

But I am never lost for things to occupy me: my investments, writing and family research, never mind my daily 2-hour walk, regardless of the weather.  And in the late evening, I have the life-long habit of reading before going to bed.  At the moment, I am once more reading James Mitchener’s Iberia, based on his four decades of travels and extensive research in Spain.  It is a book that never fails to whet my appetite for walking on the Spanish caminos.

Over the years, I have read many of Mitchener’s books – The Drifters, Sayonara, Caravans, Centennial, Chesapeake, to name but a few.  The first that I read was Hawaii.  When we set off from Toronto in February 1971, I had that book in my bag, and most evenings I slowly progressed through the epic tale, covering the history of the islands, from their creation to modern day; it is a formula that Mitchener has oft repeated in other novels.

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James Mitchener (1907-1997) in 1991 (photo from internet)

For four days we crossed a frozen Canada by train, to be welcomed by Vancouver to four days of torrential rain.  We flew south to San Francisco, but the weather was not much better, with more rain and fog.  By the time we flew west to Hawaii, I had had enough of crap weather; I never wanted to be cold and wet again.  And with its tropical climate and luxurious vegetation, Hawaii did not disappoint.

For the first few days we stayed near Hilo, before moving on to the island of Oahu and Honolulu.  We found a lovely small hotel on the beach.  It was bliss to lie at night with the screen doors wide open, a warm breeze, and the sound of waves crashing on the shore.  What luxury that was!

On one of the days there, I set off alone to walk into the nearby hills.  I walked all day, following a quiet country road, seeing nothing more than occasional plantation buildings.  At one point I came across a small museum, set back from the road.  I paid the modest entry to an old regal-looking Hawaiian lady and for a time browsed among the exhibits.

As I was about to leave, I noticed that I could buy ice-cold drinks there, so I rested in a comfortable chair, while I sipped on a beer and chatted to the lady.  It turned out that she was something of an expert in Hawaiian history and culture and the contents of the museum were items that she had collected over very many years, for she appeared to be quite ancient.

When I mentioned that I was currently reading Hawaii and asked if she had ever come across it, she clapped her hands and with enthusiasm told me that not only had she read it, but that James Mitchener was a great friend, and that she had assisted him in the research for his book.

I have never forgotten that day.  My life has been full of coincidence.  It is almost as if there is an unseen plan for me and every now and then I come across an encouraging sign that I am on the right path.

And here I am, once more in the frozen north, waiting to go back to the warm south.

As Yogi Berra once said, ‘It’s déjà vu all over again‘.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Peter Pedrette

Toronto, 1965

I had been in Canada for some ten days, I had very little money, I was only 18, but I did have a job starting the following Monday.  But where could I stay? (see https://lenblackwood.com/2017/05/28/80)

It was the result of a phone call to my dear friends, George and Eileen Darragh, that my dilemma was solved, at least temporarily.  They had just recently moved into a small one-bedroom apartment at the corner of Keele and Lawrence, had few financial resources themselves, and welcomed the pittance that I could offer, in return for my sleeping in the corner of their living room and an occasional evening meal.  And as it turned out, George worked only two blocks away from my new employer, so we travelled in each morning by bus to Yonge Street, and then by metro into the city, a journey of about an hour.  (see lenblackwood.com/2017/05/13/78).

The office of Helyar, Vermeulen, Rae & Maughan (HVR&M) was on the seventh floor of an old building at the corner of Bay & Richmond.  One could tell that the building was ancient by the elevator, with its sliding mesh doors and which could only be operated by an attendant, day or night.  Across Bay Street was the huge multi-storey Simpson’s department store with its multiple storeys, plus a basement and occupying an entire city block.

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The corner of Simpson’s where I first met Sandy

When I joined HVR&M, there were only three employees – an Australian receptionist (Janice), an English bookkeeper (I can’t remember her name), and an English quantity surveyor, Peter Pedrette.  Soon after, we were joined by another Englishman –  Jack Brown, and a rather shy little Jamaican – Leroy, who rarely ever spoke.

Quantity-Surveyor
The typical desktop of a quantity surveyor

Peter was 36 when I first knew him and he had only recently arrived in Canada, with his wife, Barbara.  He had spent some years working in Kuwait and it was there that he met Barbara, a school teacher.  They were both devout Catholics and not long married.  Their first child was due later that year.  They were devoted to each other and they always addressed each other as ‘Darling’.  They were well-educated a well-spoken.  Apart from my father and his parents, Peter and Barbara were the first English people that I had ever met.  I developed a great respect for them.

It was Peter who fuelled my nascent interest in equity investment by talking of shares he was considering buying.  One lunch hour we went to the Toronto Stock Exchange and I was fascinated to see how the trading worked in the cacophony of noise, with traders shouting their offers and communicating with their team by hand signals.  And the tickertape of deals, moving relentlessly across the screens.  I was well and truly hooked and I spent many evenings in the city library, around the corner from the office, reading investment books, and forming my own approach to equities.  It has turned out to be a lifetime interest, and my methods today are little changed from my initial approach more than 50 years ago.

I suspect that Peter was quite well off, at least by my standards. One day he asked me if I would help him to carry some gold from the bank where he was going to buy it, to his deposit box in another bank further up the street.  I carried one of the bars for him, while he carried the other.  They were small but extremely heavy.  It was my first exposure to gold and those two bars would today be worth more than a million dollars.

Across the street from the office and a floor higher in Simpson’s, we could see girls in white uniforms working at the windows.  We used to wave to them.  Jack’s fiancée was a buyer in Simpson’s and one day he reported back that the windows were part of the Elizabeth Arden beauty salon.  One afternoon, Jack suggested that we take a large sheet of architects drawing paper and write ‘Telephone number?’  on it, and hold it up at our window, when the girls were looking out.  This we did, and a blonde girl signalled back their number.  But what to do next?  Peter was married, Jack was engaged and Leroy was too shy, so it was left to me to make the call.  Well one thing led to another and before long the girl – Sandy, and I became constant companions, a situation that lasted for the next eight years and through many countries.  And her friend Valerie, who was also at the windows, ended up married to my friend Howard, and thanks to internet, I am still in periodic contact with both of them.

Peter and Barbara lived in a small cottage on Algonquin Island, one of a chain of islands just south of the Toronto mainland.  There were no cars on the island and Peter commuted to work by ferry.  It was an idyllic setting.  Sandy and I visited them many times, sometimes for a meal, once to babysit their little son – Anthony, and another time to help with raking up the knee-deep layer of autumn leaves.  Eventually they bought a large old house with wood panelling, near High Park.  I helped them with the move.

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Toronto Islands, with Algonquin Island on the far left

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And could well have been their little cottage

Inevitably time moves on, we eventually left Toronto on our long journey across Canada to Vancouver and San Francisco and island hopping to Australia.  And I lost touch with Peter.  Apart from a brief business visit in 2001, I have never been back to Toronto.

A few years ago, I tried to trace Peter and Barbara through internet sites, but to no avail; I could not find their footprints.  It was only recently that I stumbled on them.  It turned out that Barbara died of cancer in 2004, Peter in 2005 and his oldest son five months later.

And Peter died the same month as I had my own near-death experience in Stockholm, the day before George died in Coleraine.

Of the three of us, I was the lucky survivor.

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Landing on my feet

July, 1965

Despite all my macho bravado and naïve ambition, when that early morning arrived for me to get up and leave home, to go off into the relative unknown, I felt suddenly quite nervous.  The enormity of what I was going to do, with little money and even less marketable skills hit me, and I just wanted to find it to be just a dream.  But my mother knocking on the bedroom door was real.  I took a deep breath and got up.

I had a hurried breakfast, while my parents silently watched.  Their faces said it all.  They looked sad and concerned.  It was a emotion that I did not understand until I, in my turn, experienced my own sons setting off for their first time, albeit from afar.

Greenacres May 1963
Photo taken not long before I left home

My friend, Stewart Barnes, arrived to drive me to the airport.  I went to the bedroom to say goodbye to my brother.  He was half asleep when I kissed him.  I will never forget the sleepy look of bewilderment in his face.  I don’t remember going to my sister.

The rest of the day passed in a blur – to Belfast, then Heathrow and on to Toronto, where my grandparents were waiting for me.  I remembered my grandmother from a visit she made to us in Ireland, but I had never seen my grandfather. They migrated to Canada soon after the end of the war and he never returned. They lived in Brampton, about 50 km from downtown Toronto.

Immigration card

After a couple of days walking around sleepy suburban Brampton, I decided that it was not for me.  My grandparents were keen that I stayed there, but to me, Brampton felt about as exciting as a night out in a funeral parlour.  So I decided to try my luck in Toronto, where my friends, George and Eileen, had settled.

Adam & Flo Douglas Brampton 1963
My maternal grandparents in their living room in Brampton, in 1963

I took a Greyhound bus to the terminal in Toronto and went to a nearby restaurant to eat something, before starting job hunting.  Apart from hamburger, I recognized nothing on the menu, so hamburger was what I ordered.  There were no chips.  Afterwards I realised that chips were called French fries in Canada.  I had never been in a restaurant before.  My innocence must have been glaringly obvious.

I walked towards the city, completely awed by the size of the buildings.  At that time, they were completing the twin towers of the Toronto Dominion Bank, the tallest of which had 56 floors.  I had never seen a building with more than three floors.

I stopped in a phone booth, close to the new city hall.  In those days there were still phone books in phone booths, and in the yellow pages I found a small section for Quantity Surveyors; there were only three entries.  One with the grand name of Helyar, Vermuelen, Rae & Mauchan, attracted my attention, and I called them.  A gentleman called Peter Pedrette answered my call and suggested that I go and see them right away, as their office was close by the city hall, at the corner of Richmond and Bay, opposite the big Simpsons department store.

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The new Toronto City Hall, with the old city hall on the right (photo from internet)

I was interviewed by Bob Maughan and James Rae, two Scots who had been several years in Toronto.  They soon seemed to be more than happy with my capabilities as a junior and were more interested in the fact that I played rugby.  They called a friend, Norman, connected to the Toronto Scottish, and arranged for me to attend their training later that week.  And, by the way, I could start the next Monday on a salary of 55 dollars a week, a princely sum to me; that was more in one week, than I earned in a month in Ireland.  It was only later that I realised that the cost of living in Toronto was much greater than that of Ireland.

I accepted their offer without any hesitation and I skipped and danced my way back to the Greyhound bus depot.  I was deliriously excited about my new job.

I felt as if I had arrived.

George

Since my father died in 1995, I have not often been back to Ireland, in fact only in 2004, and again about eighteen months ago.  The north Antrim coast, from whence I come, is not on the way to anywhere; it is about as far as one can get from civilisation, unless one is sailing north to remote Scotland, the Faroe Islands or Iceland.  And once landed at Belfast airport, there awaits an hourly bus service to Antrim and an hourly train to Coleraine, both of which I always seem to manage to miss by no more than five minutes.

But when I step foot back on Irish soil, all the frustrations and aggravations of modern travel and living seem to evaporate, and I completely relax; I am once more 18 and on my way home again.

I met my brother the next morning at my hotel, and we headed off to the graveyard; I was anxious to visit the grave of an old friend, George.  We worked together in Coleraine in the mid-1960s.  He migrated to Toronto in 1965, together with his fiancée, Eileen.  They wanted to marry, but being of mixed religions, migration was their perceived solution.  George had a cousin in Toronto, and soon after they arrived, George and Eileen were married.  As crazy as it may seem today, that was the experience of many young Irish couples in that era.

George & Eileen

I followed soon after George and Eileen, and spent a few weeks sleeping on their living room floor.  None of us had much money and my contribution to the household was much welcomed. Eventually I moved in with five other guys, at 345 Eglinton Ave West –  Howard Abrahams, Michael Goldberg, Robin Jackson, Bill Stott and a Canadian, Gordie.  I am still in touch with Howard and Michael; Robin died a long time ago in South Africa; with the other two I have had no further contact, although I was once told that Bill did end up as the global boss of Hallmark Cards,

George worked as an estimator for a construction company – Pigott Construction, and later, he introduced me to his boss, who offered me a job, which I accepted.  Outside of work, I saw little of George socially; he was a settled suburban husband and I was a lad-about-town, playing rugby, football and partying.

Before I left for Australia in 1971, I last saw George and Eileen.  At that time, they had a little girl.  They seemed to be very happy and very much in love.  That was our last contact.

After I had a stroke in late-2005, it took some time, perhaps 2-3 years, for me to realize that my memory had not completely recovered.  I stumbled upon my own method of revitalising it – one day I may write of that difficult period of my life, and in so doing, I tried to find George.  Telephone directories, linkedin.com, facebook.com, internet etc. – there was no footprint.  I eventually dismissed him as being as a ‘Luddite’, resistant to new technology.

Until my good friend and genealogist, Norman Calvin, found him for me, or rather, found his sister.  And there I was, with my brother, looking for George’s grave.  It was no wonder that I had not been able to find him.  He came upon hard times in Toronto.  He lost his job, divorced and lost his family.  He eventually returned to Coleraine, but his situation did not improve.  On 25 November 2005 he died, a broken man.  On that day, I was fighting for my life in an intensive care ward of a hospital in Stockholm.

But where was his grave?  I had a rough idea where it was, but there were so many.  We split up, one each side of a path.  We walked up and down the rows, until I was on the point of giving up and getting more precise directions.  I distinctly remember saying out loud, ‘George, where are you’, when, in that instant, my brother shouted, ‘Over here’.

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It was another of the many co-incidences in my life.