Gleanings From A Lifetime – Part 2

Thu. 30 Dec 2010. 9:03 am

Why did my Dad leave a young wife and baby and make that trip to Canada? He was born in Canada. All the Dolan children with the exception of his younger sister, Sadie, were. Grandma Dolan was pregnant with Dad when Grandpa Dolan came across the river to Port Huron and got a job on the railroad. I believe he was called a gandy dancer, a member of the railroad section crew. Grandma remained behind with relatives or friends to await the birth of her baby. As soon as they were able to travel they joined Grandpa here in the United States. However there seems no reason for Dad to visit there some 20 years later. As a kid I heard stories from Dad about the terrible Canadian winter and how they had to stretch ropes from the house to the barns so they would not get lost going the short distance in the storms.

Dad was a harness maker by trade and went to work in a small shop in back of the Frank Koepfer Hardware Store in Sylvania. How did he find out there was a job for a harness maker there? I don’t know how much harness making he did but it seems there was lots of repair work at that time. When not busy in the shop, he helped out as a clerk in the store. Besides the regular items carried in a hardware store Mr. Koepfer did a big business in farm equipment, buggies, etc.

Occasionally Dad worked nights and one of my happiest times was when I was taken back to the store with him after supper and placed in one of those beautiful buggies and spent the evening queening it over all, snapping the whip at the imaginary horse and really living it up until it was time to close the store.

Dad was very active in this small town life – a member of the town council, the school board, town band – all at various times. I can see him now, marching down the main street with the band leading the parade and Dad thumping along on his snare drum. Because of his work Dad knew all the farmers around for miles and was very popular. Everywhere we went it was, “Hello Pat.” or “Hi ya, Pat.”

Dad loved to dance and in those days Mother – who had been very strictly brought up – frowned upon it saying, “It’s alright to see a young colt kicking up its heels in the pasture but an old horse would look pretty silly.” At that time my folks must have been in their late twenties. Once in awhile when he worked nights and a dance was in progress upstairs in some building across the street from the store Dad would stop in for a dance or two before going home. Needless to say Mother did not approve of such folly.

Our first home in Sylvania was the Welman house. The Welmans, our landlords, lived next door. Mr. Welman was an old soldier and somewhat touched in the head. He was not much in evidence and most of our business was done with Mrs. Welman. They had huge bushes of lilacs in their yard and I remember her most for the bouquets of while and purple lilacs she gave me each year – some for our house and some for me to take to school.

Next to the Welman house was a corner house occupied by the Ben Morrissee’s. They were an older couple with no children but Ben had a brother who was a Sea Captain and it was quite an occurrence when he came to town for a visit. I was rather in awe of him but Ben was jolly and used to tease me a lot. He worked part time at the store with Dad.

Along one side of the Morrissee lot was a row of black walnut trees and each fall I picked up walnut, some for us and some for them. To Dad fell the job  of husking, shelling or whatever it took to get them ready for Mother to use ruing the winter for making cookies, cakes and candy. The folks also put up potatoes, apples, etc. for the winter. They wrapped each apple separately in pieces of newspaper. I guess if one went band it wouldn’t cause spoilage in the surrounding ones. Those dates were very different from now. The stores didn’t have the supply of fresh fruits and vegetables that they do now. Women canned or dried their produce in order to have the food. Mother never dried anything but she canned a lot.

The Welman house had a board sidewalk from our front steps down to the city walk. When I became old enough for roller skates a pair came my way and Dad was going to show me how to skate. My memory of that is seeing my six-foot Dad sprawled flat on his back on the old board walk. However he must have been a very good teacher for I became quite an expert on them.

My folks probably would have had heart failure had they know of one of our favorite skating places. It was on quite a hill and the bottom of the hill was crossed by the interurban tracks. It was great sport to go zooming down that hill hopefully to grab the side of the depot and put a stop to that downhill trip. Going back up wasn’t nearly as much fun.

There was a river not far beyond the railroad tracks. It must have been dammed up in that area for that was where we ice skated. Dad patiently worked with me on ice skates but I never mastered them. My ankles wobbled all over and of course it was cold weather and I guess I was just chicken. Dad finally gave up on me which suited me just fine. However I did enjoy sledding and there too was Dad; taking me to the town’s only hill for sledding and letting me slide to my heart’s content and sometimes even going down with me. Really Dad must have been just a kid at heart.

Sylvania was very close to the Michigan border and it must have been in those days that Ohio had outlawed firecrackers for Dad would walk Mother and me across the [state] line to watch the fireworks. (There were no cars in our area at that time.) He’d put me atop his shoulders and there we’d stand watching the fireworks. I’m sure Dad enjoyed them. I was terrified of them, closed my eyes and hung onto Dad for all I was worth. A neighbor of ours did lose part of his hand one year when he picked up what he thought was a dud and it went off in his hand.

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