Friday, October 1, 2010

A Force to be Reckoned With

My parents moved to Guelph when my Dad was in his early seventies. He was never entirely comfortable living in the city. I think he expected to get mugged every time he went for a walk in the park. He made himself a good solid cane that he began carrying long before he had any need of one. If anyone had ever actually tried to mug him they would have gotten much more than they’d bargained for. He fully intended to use that cane to defend himself. Fortunately, Guelph is a fairly safe city and he never had occasion to prove he wasn’t a helpless old man by knocking some hapless would be attacker over the head.

My Dad was tall and lean and much stronger than most people would guess by looking at him. As a young man he had quite a reputation among the miners he worked with. He’d been seen to bend spikes with his bare hands. Once, when his Model-A Ford had a flat and there was no jack he simply lifted the corner of the vehicle and held it until his brother could roll a stone into position to prop it up high enough for them to change the tire. My brother, Richard, remembers Dad challenging him and three of his teen-aged friends to try to lift one end of an 800 pound rail. They tried mightily and weren’t able to budge it an inch even with all four of them lifting together. Dad just smiled at their efforts before taking the end of the rail in his two hands and heaving it up to waist height. For good measure he then squatted, shifted his grip and slowly raised it above his head. The boys just stood there gaping in awe.

Dad wasn’t ever one to start a fight but heaven help whoever was foolish enough to throw a punch in his direction. He didn’t back down when it came to protecting himself or the people he cared about. That was the case the day there was a Miner’s Union picnic held at our house some time before I was born. They had a pig and a lamb roasting on spits out in the yard and zinc washtubs filled with ice and beer. All the food was set up outside. The house had no indoor bathroom…just the outhouse at the back, so no one would have any reason to go inside. That was exactly the way my parents wanted it. They had just bought a new couch and chair and my mother was concerned about something getting spilled on it. New furniture was a rare luxury.

Things got a little rowdy as the afternoon faded into early evening. Everyone had just eaten and someone who’d had a little too much beer wandered into the house looking for a bathroom that wasn’t there. A number of people simply followed him in, completely forgetting my Dad’s request that the party stay outside. He knew my mother wouldn’t be happy about it so he hurried in and began trying to usher everyone out again. An argument started between two miners and it escalated as tempers flared. They were both big men and Dad stepped between them just as one of them took a swing at the other. The blow landed square on my Dad’s jaw and rocked him back on his heels. He believed it was deliberately aimed at him and he flew into a rage at being attacked in his own home. That miner never knew what hit him. Dad simply picked him up by the neck and pinned him to the wall as though he weighed nothing. When two others tried to grab his arms and pull him away he threw them both off. A fourth man joined the fray, catching him in a crushing bear hug, lifting him off his feet and attempting to squeeze the breath out of him. He just couldn’t hold onto him. Dad broke free and in the resulting mayhem, the stove pipe got knocked off and a cloud of black soot billowed out to settle on everything including the new couch and chair. It was like being doused with cold water. The fight was over but so was the party. It was obvious that my Dad was still angry and no one wanted to chance having that anger turned on them. A few friends stayed to help clean up the mess but most people made their apologies and headed for home.

I doubt it was the first fight my Dad ever got into but, as far as I know, it was the last. Word got around and the other miners treated him with a wary respect. They’d learned the hard way that he was a match for any four of them.

1 comment:

  1. He sounds like a man straight out of Louis L'Amour's fiction! And I remember him as quiet and easy going!