As I continue to read through the letters from my father’s university classmates, I feel as though I’m getting to know some of “the boys” personally. They’re becoming real to me through the words they wrote more than 60 years ago!
I especially love John’s wacky sense of humour. Like many of “the boys”, he obviously enjoyed teasing my Dad about his height. Shortly after my oldest brother’s birth, he wrote “Congratulations Old Man! (Dad was all of 27 at the time.) Please share these best wishes with your wife. The few minutes of thought I have had time for since receiving your announcement have made me realize what a brave girl your wife is – why the chance that she might be the mother of an almost infinite length of child – I can almost see her wondering if when he leaves her for his first day of school if the roles will not be in the somewhat reversed position of CHILD looking lovingly down on her and patting her on the head. Ah! Well! since I was not able to get to your wedding and warn her of these things I suppose I must carry my guilt with me these long years.”
A few months later, Oz, who was by that time living on the island of Curacao in what was then known as the Netherlands West Indies, wrote “Our congratulations on your recent expansion from partnership to company. I know without asking that Don Jr. is the best six-month old baby that you have ever seen. When he gets to the walking stage, may I suggest a small weight on his head lest he have any notions of growing taller than his ‘old man.'”
As time went by, wives, children and family vacations began to crop up more and more often in the letters. In August 1951, Gordon wrote “The only ‘big’ news, at least from my point of view, is that I am going to be married at Christmas to a girl I met at Oxford. From your letter, I see that you and most of our classmates are miles ahead of me in this sort of activity but better late than never.”
In 1955, shortly after the birth of my younger sister, we moved into a waterfront house in Powell River. The beach became our playground and I could hear the sound of the surf from my bedroom window at night. My father must have shared this news with his classmates as John comments “The new house sounds most intriguing – view, beach, swimming in April – even if it is salt water. When we visit you I will join you in a dip as long as you can provide a good garden sprinkler to wash away the crystals of NaCl.” (They were chemical engineers, after all!) John and his family did make that promised visit but not until the summer of 1959. A letter written in April of that year fills my father in on their holiday plans. I vaguely remember a family with two children visiting us but I was only six and I didn’t recall who they were until I read this letter.
I’ve learned more about my father through these letters too. In September 1950, John congratulated him on achieving “the status of professional engineer – the first of Chem ’46 and the second of Science ’46, I believe – very good.” Dad didn’t talk much about his work while we were growing up so I was completely unaware of the fact that he published research papers but in August 1951, Gordon wrote “Congratulations on your publication. I can see that you are thriving in this Engineering business.” and a short note from Norm in 1958 says “Many thanks for your gift of a copy of your paper on groundwood from sawdust.” That shows how little I really know about my father’s work; I had to look up the meaning of the word, groundwood!
The final letter in the packet was written in January 1963, almost 17 years after my father and “the boys” graduated from UBC. Though letters became fewer and further between as years went by, I’m sure that some of them continued to correspond for many more years but those letters have been forever lost. How thankful I am that, as I sorted through everything in my parents’ apartment, this little pile of correspondence caught my eye and I decided to set it aside for a closer look when the job was done!