More letters from the past

Though I’m not sure if I ever met him, I remember the unusual name Oz from my childhood days. His Italian surname had a musical ring to it. His early letters to my Dad were fascinating. On July 20, 1947, he wrote “I’m just writing a short note to tell you that I’m on the move again, this time to jolly old England. The okay to hire me came over last week and before I knew it, they had reservations for me on the Empress of Canada, sailing this Saturday. In case Dorothy didn’t mention it in her letter, its Shell Oil that I’m to work for. I’ll train for a year in England and then go out to various refineries in the far corners of the world. I think that I’ll enjoy the work because the more I learn about oil, the better I like it. We certainly have not enjoyed our brief stay in the ‘fair’ city of Toronto. In fact, our opinion of it is quite unprintable. Vancouver has grown in our estimation by leaps and bounds. We have decided to retire in Sechelt as there is obviously nowhere on earth half as nice. Dorothy is returning there now, because Shell has a nasty rule that says wives cannot accompany newly-hired husbands for approximately 3 months. Therefore we must part till about October. However, we decided that the job was worth a little inconvenience, so Dorothy leaves for home on Thursday.”

A second letter written from London two months later told of an upcoming move to a refinery near Liverpool and gave a fascinating glimpse into life in post war England. “One of the poor features was that Dorothy couldn’t come with me when I came over, but the company will bring her to me as soon as I get settled at the refinery, i.e. about the end of November if all goes smoothly. Actually, it’s just as well because it will give us a chance to get fully prepared for what will probably be a very tough winter. I keep Dorothy posted on all shortages here so that when she comes, she can bring along whatever can’t be obtained here, and believe me it makes a good-sized list. The clothing ration is pitifully small, and what one can get is poor quality and high priced. No doubt you’ve been reading about our crisis. It’s been going on for some time now without any noticeable improvement and from what I can see, the people here are in for a hell of a tough time for years to come.” All was not woe, however. He went on to say “In the meantime, I’m enjoying myself and making full use of my opportunity to be in a huge place like London, although so far its the country around L that has impressed me most. You just can’t imagine the orderly beauty of it.”

Comments about my father’s love life continued to crop up in the letters from his classmates. In December 1947, Gordon wrote “You probably also know that the Dowdings now have a son. This sort of thing will probably become more frequent now.” and a little later in the letter, “Furthermore, how deep are your roots in Powell River now? Nobody is supposed to be able to stay single there that long you know.”

The letters provide other glimpses into my father’s life before I knew him. In February 1948, Rhys wrote “You really seem to be enjoying things. I can just see Skip Stewart at the helm putting up and down the coast – god it sounds interesting.” Some of my earliest memories are of being out on my father’s boat. In the early days of their marriage, my parents spent lots of time touring the coast on it but they sold it when I was about six. By that time, the family had grown to include four children and there wasn’t time or money to keep it up.

I laughed out loud when I read the opening of John’s letter to my father written on October 25, 1948, less than a month before my parents’ wedding. You may remember that it was John who threatened to sue my father if he left his bachelor state behind. “Goodbye forever! Donald Stewart, Bachelor of Applied Science. Welcome! Donald Stewart, married and in Enforced Silence. Seriously – Congratulations old man. I am very happy for you.” He went on to express his regret that he would not be able to get time off work to attend the wedding and act as my father’s best man. Another classmate, who was also working in Powell River at the time, took his place.

Over a year went by before the next letter arrived. “The boys” were obviously settling into their careers. Some were marrying and starting families. Regular contact with their university buddies began to dwindle but I do know that Dad kept in touch with a few of them for many, many years and that he attended a reunion of his few remaining classmates last year.

This seems like a good place to take a break as there are other things I must attend to around here but there are still more than a dozen letters to be read so you can expect a final installment sometime soon!


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