A year ago, my friend without a blog, Paul Curran, wrote a guest post here about his mother. Mum was sensitive, intelligent and well-received, as is all of the work Paul authors from his home in Ottawa, Canada, and spreads around the WordPress world via guest-blogging.
You can find Paul’s memorable Mum piece here.
I asked him a few months ago to draft a piece about his father, specifically for Father’s Day posting.
By Paul Curran
I called him Chief – I have no memory of why – every one else called him Charlie or Charlie Raisin. The “raisin” was a result of our last name being “Curran,” often mistaken for “currant.”
My Dad was a quiet man, and yet he did not tolerate sloth or injustice well. The sight of wasted time bothered him and his eyebrows would move together, his lips thin out and a crease would appear in his forehead. I didn’t appreciate how complex a man he was until very late in his life. He just got things done with no apparent strain or fuss – regardless of the size or complexity of the task. He would concentrate as much effort hammering a nail as he would planning the future of a multi-million dollar company. No task was too small and all tasks deserved his full attention.
The Chief had to go to work as a young man before he finished high school. It was just after World War II and so many of the men in his family had not come back from the war. He was the youngest of eight children, and the family needed to be supported. He met my mother and they were married at the age of 24, and he started work in sanitation for a large bakery in Halifax. He swept floors for a living, and I am sure he did an excellent job of it, as he did of all things he put his mind to. I was born when they were 25 (their birthdays were only five weeks apart). It wasn’t long before my Dad was promoted and started as a spare bread route salesman for the same bakery.
We lived in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, and he worked in Halifax, about a five-mile journey. He walked to and from work every day, even in snow storms. At the same time, he began to build a new house for us in Woodlawn, a suburb about a half-hour bus ride from where we lived. He worked weekends and vacation time as well as some weeknights on our house. Although he had no formal training he was a fast learner, and by watching and asking, he managed to build, wire and plumb our house — having his work inspected by licensed contractors. A year later we moved into it – a testament once again to his hard work and his tenacity.
The Chief had a great respect for others and while always interested, seldom interfered in their lives. He treated everyone as he would wish to be treated. His background and family was Catholic but I can never recall him attending church. In fact I can’t recall him ever even mentioning religion. That said, he lived an ethical, moral and hard-working life that would be the envy of many who claim to be Godly — the Chief lived the Golden Rule. He could not pass a hungry man in the street without providing a meal or a few bucks – even though he seldom had much of his own to spare.
As a Breadman, his customers loved him and his assigned routes always grew in volume. This did not escape the notice of his superiors and after a series of promotions to larger and larger runs, he became a supervisor. It was here that his true skill became apparent — he was a superb manager. His employees respected him and he them – having done their jobs. They would go to the ends of the Earth to please him, and although during his career he uncovered some thieves and malcontents, he always dealt fairly with everyone – no one was given any special treatment.
I can clearly remember the day when one of his long-term employees (and friend) was caught stealing from customers and the company. The Chief was so disappointed and down – and yet he pursued the thief with conviction and with all the assets at his disposal. The man was fired and charged with theft. He was convicted and, with a record, could not find a job; The Chief helped his family through the hard times by giving whatever he could afford.
My father had a very funny and ludicrous side as well. He loved a cup of tea, and when making it in the kitchen it was not uncommon for him to break into song: “I’m a little teapot short and stout. Here’s my handle and here’s my spout.” He would accompany this with the necessary arm actions, as if he was a teapot and, of course, a small dance shuffle in time with the ditty. He was close to his older sisters and was especially funny around them.
I recall one Christmas his wife at the time (my step-mom) had requested an end table from IKEA as a present. Dad worked for hours on the living room floor assembling this little table – building it, tearing it down and rebuilding it many times before he got it right. He could be tenacious when required. Christmas night we were visiting his oldest sister’s home and having a drink, when his sister asked the Chief if he could help her assemble a side table she had gotten as a gift –and lo and behold it was the very same one. He took one look at it, asked for her tool kit, opened the box and in less than 15 minutes had the table assembled, polished and in place, without a single mis-step. I, of course, knew the story, but his sisters, brothers-in-law, nieces and nephews who had watched were taken aback. They were astounded by his competence and praised his skills with amazement. I was having a hard time keeping a straight face, as the Chief soaked up every compliment as if it were his due. It was a short time later that he burst out laughing and explained that he had assembled an identical table that same morning.
He loved to travel and was fascinated by anything he had not seen before. Mostly he traveled by road and dragged us along. I inherited his love of driving from him. As an only child, I often requested and got a friend to travel with us. Sometimes my mother’s mother would join us a well. So with the Chief and Mom in the front seat, Nan in the rear and my friend Brian and I in the back of the station wagon, we would haul a camper trailer around the east coast of North America: Toronto, Montreal, New York, Virginia and Florida. I eventually inherited that old ’67 Chevy II station wagon when the Chief got a company car and Mum got a new car.
My Mum was going to university for many years, and my parents grew apart. They eventually divorced when I was 16. The Chief took it hard – much harder than Mum – but he eventually found and married another wonderful woman (after about 10 years of dating). I loved spending time with him but he wasn’t around a lot and we had very different interests as I grew. When I was younger, he would take me with him to work both when he was a Breadman and later as a supervisor. I grew up in the bread business and started part-time in plant sanitation when I was 13 (the minimum age was 14 but the Chief thought I was big enough and responsible enough so he lied about my age).
I worked at the bakery for many years after as I went through my schooling, occasionally working with the Chief as my boss. He was more demanding of me than any other employee, as he said that there could be no favoritism or sign of favoritism. Yet he was ultimately fair. I did have to straighten him out a few times when he would use me as an example of how employees should be acting and working. I know it was because he was proud of me, and yet it caused issues for me with the other employees – my colleagues.
He was promoted through the ranks and became the manager of another commercial bakery purchased by his employer. He had 500 employees when he retired. After retirement, my Dad had to stay busy, so he went to work volunteering and driving a school bus for small children and handicapped. He would occasionally do charter tours to the States or special highly classified runs hauling Canadian Special Forces teams doing drug interdiction.
His favorite story was of the cold winter day when he had a load of kindergarten students aboard and all the inside bus windows were frosted over. It had been a “bring your Teddy Bear to school” day and one of the young children started to cry. When they were stopped, the Chief went back to ask why she was crying, and she told him that her Teddy Bear couldn’t see out the window. The Chief produced an ice scraper and cleared the frost for the bear. Of course, the next student loudly complained that his bear couldn’t see out either. So, the Chief found a second ice scraper, and passed one to the front student on each side and told them to pass it along when they had cleared their window. All the bears eventually had ice-free windows.
As an adult I moved to Ottawa, and the Chief and I grew apart. He came to my university graduation when I did a degree later in life, and then he came to visit when I was going through cancer treatments. One day his wife called and told me that the Chief had been admitted to a hospital with an infection. Before I could fly to Halifax, he had died unexpectedly at 75.
I said my goodbyes to him that cold February afternoon, standing in the graveyard as his ashes were buried in the urn he had chosen many years before. Even in death, he was efficient and made it look so easy.
Here’s the link for the source of the bread picture.
Here’s the source for the table photo.