As I grow older I find that I spend a good deal of time thinking backwards. Thinking forward seems not to make much sense simply because, aside from the fact that no one seems to care what older persons think, there isn’t the horizon that we once enjoyed. Why start something that you may not have time to finish?
The other day I was thinking back to when I was young. Having just come back from an enjoyable outing birdwatching and simply enjoying all things natural at nearby Tiny Marsh, I thought about the part that my parents, long gone now, played in shaping my interest in art and nature.
My parents incidentally were not well off people. In fact you wouldn’t even consider them to be middle class by today’s standard. My dad received very little education. He came from a large French Canadian family, and with many mouths to feed he was off to work at manual labor jobs as soon as he was legally old enough to work. My mother’s family was a bit better off, and although she received a middle school education she too was forced to accept manual labor to help to support a large family. They both lived through the influenza pandemic of 1918 and the Great Depression. They were both older when they met and married. He was 36 years of age, and she was 10 years younger. In the1930s they purchased a house for $1,100.00 and called it home for the rest of their lives. He worked on a steamship that plied the Great Lakes. She was a stay at home mom until he was retired at age 67 years after 47 years as a sailor, without pension and little money in the bank. She, at age 57 years went out to work assembling seatbelts until eligible to receive the Old Age Security. They never owned a car, never went on a real holiday, never had a cottage, and never had any debt. Their philosophy was that you never purchased anything that you couldn’t pay for at the end of the month.
Despite having very little we, my sister and I, never really did without. There was always food on the table. We were never without warm clothes, and presents at Christmas and on our birthdays. It was the nature of the presents, I believe, that shaped my life.
At an early age I took an interest in art primarily as the result of being exposed to my Great aunt, on my mother’s side of the family, who had a bent for painting in oils. She came to visit my grandmother every summer, and would set up in the summer kitchen. I would sit and watch for hours as she mixed paint and made beautiful landscape paintings from memory. Noting my interest, at Christmas when I would have been about 10 years of age, I received a small box of oil paints, and later a fold up easel.
My interest in science and nature was peaked when one day, by accident, I wandered into the local Huronia Museum. I discovered stuffed animals and birds, as well as fossils. I was hooked on nature and rushed home and started my own museum in a corner of the woodshed. That Christmas my parents gave me a simple microscope and a chemistry set. Through the microscope I discovered a hidden world and marveled at the nature’s complex design of things previously thought to be simple.
As I grew older an interest in astronomy, foiled by my parents not being able to afford a telescope, was redirected with the gift of a simple camera. Disappointment was soon tempered by my ability to bring into focus and preserve my many discoveries during my time spent rambling through the then wilderness of the countryside that existed along the shore of Georgian Bay.
Much later my parents would supported my interest in art although they had no art in their background, and knew very little about art.
They’re long gone and I’m sitting here thinking backwards, thankful for their thoughtfulness. As for growing older, I suppose that one could say that it’s not all bad. There are moments. Time to reflect. Memories to cherish.