Tuesday, October 27, 2009

My Father's Early Years

I'm trying out different ways to begin writing about my father. Most of the facts in this post were taken from my grandmother's diary, which my aunt kindly made available to me. I just want to see how a chronological approach comes across to readers... will it be interesting only to family? Will those who knew my father want to read this kind of background? What about strangers???

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I feel almost as if my father were born as a teenager because it’s then we begin to hear of his exploits, especially with the cars that he tinkered with. But naturally, my father came with a past that goes further than that.

My grandmother kept a diary of facts about her children so it’s here we discovered the most interesting nuggets of his early years. My father, Donald Thomas Bovaird, was born on December 17, 1928. In her carefully written, distinctive script we found my grandmother’s comments, “Baby Donald Thomas weighed 10 lbs. at birth, 12 at 3 wks., 20 lbs. at 4 mos.” At 4 months, he was learning to sit alone. The third of as many boys and seven children total, he was the first to start teething. “At 5 months, he got his first tooth and his second at 5½ months. By 6 1/2 months, he had gotten 5 of his teeth and at 8 months, 8 teeth.”

As a baby, he loved to eat and my grandmother wrote that he was “awfully fat” as a toddler. Dad retained this enthusiasm for eating his whole life long. Because he always worked very hard, he kept trim although he stubbornly ate whatever and however much he wanted of any given food. Mulish about his eating habits, it is how I most remember him. He liked just about everything and he almost always had seconds. A few years ago when doctors thought he had a heart attack, they checked the fat content of his heart and to their astonishment, found only 5 % blockage. He was by far one of the healthiest patients his age they’d ever seen. In the end, they determined he hadn’t suffered a heart attack at all. He’d simply pulled a muscle!

Grandma Florence also recorded that my father sat alone between 5 and 6 months old but that he still didn’t know how to “catch his head” when he fell. She commented that he didn’t creep much, but pulled himself up by his knees in his bed and carriage. At about 8 months, he started to creep, first on his stomach then on his hands and knees, finally hands and feet “and he surely can fly the last way!” At 10 months he started walking. “He goes nearly across the floor before losing his balance” she wrote. My father loved to “figure things out” by trial and error, it seems even as a baby in learning to walk.

I think my father has always been both independent and content. My grandmother’s remarks confirmed what I’d always thought about him. “I feed him and put him in his bed at about 11 am and he goes to sleep by himself. Sometimes I leave him sitting up in bed playing and he lies down himself. The other boys would never do that.” My father always seemed in calm and in control of his world.

On July 15th, 1928 both my uncle Byron and my father were baptized by Reverend Tait at the nearby Presbyterian church. In an account that seemed to both exasperate and amuse my grandmother she writes, “As usual, Rev. Tait made a mistake. Called Byron “Donald Kearney” [using my grandmother’s maiden name] and the baby – Donald Thomas.”

My grandmother described my father as a “home boy” and wrote “He’s so much better at playing by himself than the other boys were.” Perhaps it’s this ease in being by himself that led him to accomplish the goals he did in his life, building up unusual businesses. My father developed fortitude at an early age.

“He tries to say nearly everything if I insist on it,” she annotated. I noticed he also developed leadership traits at an early age. After watching my father try to put wood in the family woodstove, my uncle Alan, then just a year old, imitated him. My father loved to take charge of things.

On Sept 15, 1933 my father started school. He joined the ranks of his two older brothers while his younger brother, Alan, 2 ½ and 1 ½ year old sister, Mary Jane waited anxiously for their return. Mary Jane, the first girl in the family, was the sweetheart of all her brothers.

Dad’s early years were busy ones. He was an active child, always had something to do and places to be. But when he went to sleep, he slept like a log! My aunt Carolyn recalls the many times my grandmother had to trail through “the girls’ bedroom” to get to “the boys’ bedroom” where she’d attempt to wake my father up for school. He slept deeply like that until just before he died. No matter what was going on in his life, he had the ability to throw it off and serenely get a good night’s rest before tackling the demands of the next day.

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