There are certain things which are just too late in life to reckon. Call it a missed opportunity. Christian names for example. If I had been given the chance to choose a name for another human being I am quite certain it would not have been a task lightly undertaken. My instinctive postulation is that the name would have to be one which captured a specific flavour not just some annoying spelling. For me a name not only symbolizes something but also forecasts a disposition, preferably along the lines of refinement and certainly nothing associated with country music or bohunks.
By contrast my names appear to have been chosen for an edgeless reason; namely, a bow to my mother’s brother (Larry), my father’s father (George) and my father (Bill). These choices hardly qualify as creative. Indeed I have frequently mourned that I hadn’t a more dynamic name like Travis, Quintin or Beverly. I am a shameful cad! Thankfully however I have not been saddled with some preposterous name which sounds like a coined corporate name such as Corwin. Instead I have had to settle for family derivatives.
My uncle Larry was my mother’s youngest sibling. From what I have collected about Larry he was full of mischief. On the infrequent occasions I met with him he had a perpetual twinkle in his eye. Growing up he apparently conducted the usual brotherly taunts of my mother and their elder sister, Lucille. At what I suspect was a young age Larry moved from Northern Ontario where he grew up to the United States (Grosse Pointe, Michigan) and joined the US Army. I believe he served in a US campaign abroad (though sadly his obituary contains nothing about his life other than the names of his immediate family). In addition to having given me my first name, Larry imparted to me his love of food and automobiles. The first recollection I have of Larry is of a visit he and his wife, Mary, and their children, Michael and Denise, made to Canada in a shiny new Pontiac Bonneville convertible. It was an exceedingly large and powerful automobile. I knew even then (I couldn’t have been more than 10 years old) that the machine held enormous attraction for me. Larry, like his wife and daughter, was spherical. They exemplified everything that is vulgar about over-indulgent Americans (though Michael escaped the condemnation). I was always amused that Larry had moved to the United States because his father (my maternal grandfather) originally came from Massachusetts. I have a notorious affection for Americans so I am happy that there is a strain of the breeding in my blood (one which has since been augmented by my younger niece and her husband in California). While Larry came from a very modest background, he married “well” and lived “large”. His children never graduated much beyond middle class but they were kind and generous people. I have a small insight into the family because we visited Larry’s son’s family in the Detroit area when my cousin Michael died in 2013. At that same time, Larry was obviously declining rapidly and we never saw either him or Denise. They were reclusive with grief. Our entire time was spent with Michael’s immediate family. To complete this ancestral account I should add that my great-aunt Tony (Antoinette) also lived in California. She worked as a private nurse for Howard Hughes. Reportedly she had three husbands all of whom had the courtesy to die and leave her a respectable wherewithal. The one time I met her she was an elderly but elegant widow. She used to send fresh dates from California to me while I was at boarding school.
My father’s side of the family hail from New Brunswick (or what was collectively called the Maritimes). I knew my grandfather, George, not much better than any other relative of mine. I only met George on a couple of occasions at most. He was tall with a short grey crew cut. I can’t remember a thing he may have said to me. He was an entrepreneur (wholesale fish, maple products and silver foxes) in Fredericton, NB where he raised a family of seven children in a large house on the St. John’s River.
He invested heavily in Canadian Pacific Railway and he too liked large automobiles (Packards).
When he died he owned about forty watches, four of which I inherited, including three pocket watches, two gold, the other sterling silver (an extraordinary but cumbersome piece which required a key to wind it). My father’s side of the family was clearly the more well-to-do and it became commingled with another notable family in the area when my father’s sister married into it. My grandfather had likely inherited some wealth from his own father as there is a small park in the Province of New Brunswick named after him.
As odd as it may sound I knew my own father only slightly better than my uncle and my grandfather. Because I went to boarding school early in life I effectively left the family at age 13 and never returned. At the time my parents lived in Stockholm, Sweden. He was a career military man (RCAF) and diplomat (attaché), sober and not what I would call a gripping personality though I have since greatly modified that austere assessment. His interests (golf, fishing and gardening) were never shared by me. If I could avoid being with him, I did. Communication between us was always strained. I have good reason to believe he resented my uppityness which while philosophically excusable nonetheless spoke to the deep lack of appreciation we each had for the other. As the saying goes, we didn’t have a lot in common.