A little story about my grandfather Edmund Benoit
One of the saddest things I can think of is not knowing our parents and grandparents when they were young. What would we think of them if we met them? Pictures can tell something but they can’t tell the whole story. What was their handshake like? Did they smell like after shave or sweat? Were their clothes neat and tidy or were they rough and thread bare? What did they eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner? Did they eat regularly? Were they fun to be around or were they serious?
I knew my dad’s dad when he was an old man. He lived near Cortland which is on the shores of Mosquito Lake in eastern Ohio. Warren, Ohio and Youngstown, Ohio are the biggest cities near there.
When my grandfather came from Canada to Ohio he was a young guy in his 20s. He found work in the factories. I’m told he was a tool and die maker or maybe that was my grandmother’s second husband Ephraim Whitaker. Memory sometimes fades with time. If, indeed, he was a tool and die maker these guys are machinists who make jigs, dies, molds, machine tools, cutting tools, gauges, and other tools used in manufacturing processes. They are skilled artisans who learn their trade through a combination of academic coursework and hands-on instruction, with a substantial period of on-the-job training. It must have been an anathema to my grandfather who only wanted to be outdoors.
Ohio was mostly rural and farming when my grandfather came to live there. People were prosperous until the Great Depression hit. Until the Great Depression my grandfather did all right. He found a good woman who was my grandmother Daisy. She was of Scottish, Irish and German descent and she knew how to take care of things. What she didn’t know was how to take care of my grandfather when he was stinking drunk.
Daisy and Ed had 3 kids. There was a daughter Rita but she died in infancy. So it was my dad and his older brother Robert (Bob) who survived. You can tell by the looks on their faces that someone had really roughed them up to make them stand for the 2 photographs. They look beleaguered and sullen. What was going through their minds? The car must have been a big deal. The mother looks tiny and frail. The youngest boy, my dad, is barefoot. The overalls and dungarees on the boys are worn.
When granddad wasn’t getting on their case was he ever fun? Did he tousle their hair and tell them what a good job they did? I’m going to say, no, he didn’t, because dad didn’t do this for us either. Life to my dad was always serious when we were around. Joking and folly was for when he was with other people. Then he was the entertaining and witty. Dad got his serious side from his dad who aimed to do what was necessary and not mess around. I, in turn, got my focus from my dad. I also got the sadness. Luckily, my dad chose my mother Margie. Even though it was hard for them to be in a relationship it is what saved me and made me the hopeful person I am today. I’ll tell you about her in another story.
I think Ed was kind of pissed off about life. He had been in a logging accident when he was young and one of his legs was permanently shortened. He couldn’t get around like he wanted to. His greatest satisfaction came from hunting and fishing and his gimp leg made that difficult. He still could fish like it was in his blood – and it was – but everything else he loved went by the way side. My mom told me how he would take my dad out on the very big Ottawa river in a canoe near Mattawa and standing on the bank my grandmother and great grandmother would wave good bye with tears in their eyes. They did not expect them to come back. The river was treacherous.
But they came back and they came back with a boat load of sturgeon and high spirits. After the accident that life of freedom was all but forgotten. Now that he was living in Ohio and not in his beloved Canada my grandfather would drink and beat up my grandmother and his kids. What made him a nasty drunk? No one is still alive who remembers the reasons. Maybe it was his life that didn’t turn out the way he expected. Maybe he wanted to stay in the forests of western Ontario and fish and hunt and not worry about a thing. Maybe he resented being a dad. Maybe that’s just what most men of his time did.
I can only guess at what life was like for a young man of French descent in eastern Ontario and western Québec.
These two pictures suggest that they spent time smoking tobacco in pipes while sitting around the Franklin stove working on projects while keeping warm. I never knew my grandpa to be musical but here he sits with a lute in his hands. He seems to be playing. Was it a prop or did he really know?
Here’s a picture of my grandfather holding a little baby near the doorway of an Indian log cabin. It’s most likely these were Cree Indians as that was the predominate Indian tribe in western Québec and eastern Ontario. Why was he holding it? He seems satisfied. His face has a pleasant expression. The Indian man in the background just stares at the camera with no expression.
As I’ve said before my grandfather got in a bad accident while logging. Logging was a job a lot of young men had in the forests of eastern Canada. My grandfather was a little guy around 5 feet 8 inches tall so the horse looks big but wasn’t really all that big as horses go. Maybe a log slipped unexpectedly and pinned my grandpa down and broke his leg. That happened a lot. There weren’t any special doctors back then and whoever knew a little bit splinted this leg and hoped for the best. It healed up wrong and he was that way for the rest of his life.
Before that there was hunting and fishing and goofing around. It would have been an idyllic life for a young Canadian man. He got self sufficient and confidant. He knew how to do things. He could survive in the woods. He wasn’t a sissy. He was a man’s man. He got along with a certain type of man better than he got along with women. To us kids he was like a rock. We could depend on him and he was kind to our mother.