My husband was mesmerized by the photo of a young man hanging in a sling close to the giant propeller of the airplane he was repairing. He had never seen it before. It was a photo of his father, Allan, in his early twenties. This photo, shown to us by the helpful volunteers at the Western Canada Aviation Museum in Winnipeg, was the highlight of this very special trip.
My husband, Jim, had taken me “home” to Winnipeg to share a trip down memory lane for his 70th birthday. A peaceful visit to two local cemeteries to find both sets of grandparents was followed by a tour of his childhood neighbourhoods in different parts of town. So many of the locations featured memories of his father that it almost felt as though there were three of us on this trip.
Along the way to find the three different houses where Jim grew up, I heard precious stories of friends and bicycles, playing in the lanes behind the houses, walking down the street to the corner soda fountain and waiting on the school wall for his older sister to finish her day. The last house he showed me was the one his father had built.
Amazingly we even managed to find the two summer lakefront cottages just an hour or so out of Winnipeg where Jim had spent his summers as a boy. It felt like Allan was guiding us from place to place.
My favourite story featured Jim and his friends crawling under the fence at the military airbase down the street from where his father worked to lie in the tall grass staring at the parked fighter jets. They would be “shoo-ed” away gently and run home in fits of giggles. Allan’s aircraft maintenance career began at remote air bases in Ontario and Manitoba. He first worked on cargo float planes and then switched to commercial passenger planes when Trans Canada Airlines was formed in 1937. He was employee number 25 of the company which eventually became Air Canada. Later, it grew to 40,000 employees. The family moved to Montreal in 1958 to continue his career.
Jim followed his father’s footsteps into a 30-year career with Air Canada and enjoyed the thrill of travel as a privilege that comes with it. They had travelled many times together as a family over the years and he continues to do so now with his own family. I learned a bit about how early Jim’s passion for the airline industry began, however, when we visited Jim’s primary school in Winnipeg. We walked into the principal’s office and spoke with the secretary. I was so surprised to watch my six foot two husband shrink into a little boy as he shook the principal’s hand telling her he was from the class of ’52-’58. She walked us to his old classroom where he remembered having to stand in the cloakroom as a punishment. His crime? Making a paper airplane and flying it across the room!
By the end of our trip, I felt as if I got to know both Jim and Allan a little better. Years ago when we married, I often lamented the fact that I never had the chance to meet Jim’s father. When I said as much to his sister one day, she answered: “Well, you sort of have met him!”
I guess it’s true. Not only does Jim look very much like his father, especially as he grows older, but he tells me that he has many of the same mannerisms. For example, chatting easily to strangers, quoting his father’s old sayings and efficiently scraping out the peanut butter jar!