(Tribune June 2005)
I talk to my father about the Thorold Tunnel and I sense his amazement.
Every time I drive through the tunnel, I automatically explain to him where it is and how it goes beneath the canal that was so familiar to him. Sometimes I try to go on, talking about the skyway, the bypass and the two additional tunnels in Welland. I try to explain that many of the lift bridges are either gone or are left as monuments. I find a lack of response to these subjects as he quickly loses interest. It is the Thorold Tunnel that holds his attention, he can relate to his old turf.
We talk about Sputnik.
For years, scientific writers had theorized that an artificial satellite could possibly stay aloft like a perpetual motion machine. I explain to my father that someone actually made it work and I feel that he is impressed. When I go on about a man on the moon, global positioning systems, international TV broadcasts and advanced weather forecasts, I lose his attention. Those events were just evolutions from Sputnik. The important thing, the big event, was that someone actually did it. Sputnik proved that the theory worked.
Little things surprise him.
Wine is now sophisticated. The Niagara area is awash with snooty vineyards producing expensive booze and selling it around the world. I hear him asking me if anyone gets wasted or hooked on the stuff now that it’s high priced and politically correct. He asks if we still have winos like the guys who used to put their bottle into a paper bag and take it behind a bush or down the canal bank in Merritt Park. Unfortunately, my answer to both questions is yes.
I tell him most of the old jobs are gone.
Atlas, the Carbide, the cotton mill and the cordage, all gone. Interestingly, Canada Forgings is still in the phone book; he worked there until the end. I cannot explain the new jobs, like Canadian Tire Acceptance, because he does not understand the concepts of credit cards and computers.
How do I tell an old horseplayer that most of the tracks are gone?
Stamford and Hamilton have been gone for decades. Someone built a fancy trotting track in St. Catharines but it did not last. This is not a surprise to a thoroughbred fan. I cannot convince him that we now have slots and lotteries in the open. Gamblers do not have to go to a back room in Crowland to find a game. They do not have to keep looking over their shoulders to see if the cops are coming. All this extended gambling is open, encouraged and considered patriotic. The questions I keep hearing from him are about people getting hooked and losing the grocery and rent money. How do their families cope? I have no answer for him.
Teachers are not allowed to use the strap in schools.
Well, that is too much. How do they keep discipline? I have to explain that the government now tells parents how they can or cannot raise their children. He brightens up when I explain about government daycare. Good, if the damn bureaucrats know so much, let them do the job!
We do not hang murderers anymore. The last hanging in Welland was in 1958.
I know that this bothers him. It is difficult to envision a society that does not have the guts to say, "enough is enough". I sense his shock when I next explain the widespread acceptance of abortion. How can you show mercy to a murderer when at the same time you can kill innocents for convenience? I try to explain that this is a complicated issue but I feel his anger. He will not accept that spin. Conversation usually ends here.
Next January it will be fifty years. I was seventeen and he was fifty-three. We did not know each other very well; I guess it was an ethnic thing. Stiff upper lip and all that.
But our conversations continue. I keep questioning how new things or evolutions of thought would be judged using the standards of his generation.
Today, his life could have been extended with a common outpatient procedure.
We do not talk about that.