church

Life Changes

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The Sunday after we buried Dad only Mom and I attended church just as we had done for the last two months. But this time was different. For a month before Dad went to St. Joe’s and while he was in the hospice unit he was unable come to mass but his presence was always with us. Only after Dad had been laid to rest did the fact that he would never be with us again become real in our minds.

As I sat beside Mom in church I thought of how our life roles change as the years go by. Mom and Dad had raised me from childhood, nursed me through the trials of my brain tumour and did all they could to get me established. Over the last few years I had assumed more of the responsibilities of running the house. I did more for my parents’ care such as cleaning, laundry, shopping and yard work. Now I drove Mom to appointments and ran errands just as Dad had done. Given the longevity of the women in Mom’s family I decided that taking care of Mom would be part of my life for some years to come.

On the radio that afternoon I heard a doctor speak about cancer patients nearing the end of life. He compared what he was talking about as like the tears of a dying man. This moved me deeply because in all my 39 years I had never once seen Dad openly cry until he knew he was on his death bed.

By 9:00 AM Monday I was back at work. Tara like an old friend was waiting for me. She had become my second home and the dream for my future. I was comforted to be surrounded by the lab I built and spent so much of my time and energy on. As I looked around I couldn’t help but notice how every part of Tara had been touched by Dad’s hand. I missed him. When the phone rang and a customer came through the door my thoughts turned to work.

Tara would continue much as she had started. I worked in the morning by myself. Mom came back with me after lunch to take care of the office while I did whatever needed doing. I also had the melancholy task of finishing off what Dad had been working on, collect his notes and clear his desk.

Two weeks after Dad’s funeral Mom listened to me apologize on the phone to a long time customer for an erroneous result. It was a mistake. My mind had not been fully on my work. When I put the phone down Mom looked up at me from her desk and said, “Brian, it’s time to close Tara.” I knew she was right. But Tara was my baby. I gave birth to her, nurtured her, worked hard to see her through thick and thin, and until then, I couldn’t bring myself to give up on her. I agreed with Mom. We were both drained. The lease was up at the end of December which gave us the three months we needed to cease operations. The timing seemed right. Once we decided to close Tara shutting her down became our goal albeit with regret.

Tara had an overhead for those last months. We needed to have as much work coming in as possible. For that reason I wasn’t advertising that we were shutting down until two weeks before our closing date of November 27th. Just as I anticipated, after I called and sent out letters to all our regular customers to say we were closing, the work coming into the lab dropped off sharply. Some of our long term customers stayed with us right until the end. A company sent us work once a week by courier, Freddy, who brought boxes of samples to test. On the morning of November 27th Freddy showed up. After I signed for the package I said, “Last one Freddy.”

He looked at me. “No,” he said in dismay. Freddy knew about our situation but he was genuinely disheartened when the final day arrived. It turned out to be the last work we received.

The work that came in the door took care of the lease. Once the testing was finished in early December I started to dismantle the lab. Tara’s debt, a bank loan, I paid off by selling the assets. I became the salesman I didn’t know was in me. What I couldn’t sell I gave away to get it off my hands.

Just as Catharine had helped Dad and I put Tara together she came to help me take Tara apart. We cleared the shelves and took them down. As the equipment was sold, we dismantled the benches.

By December 31, 1998, the last day of Tara Scientific Laboratories, all that was left of Tara were the walls, a desk with the phone sitting on it and the overturned cardboard box we used for a chair.

Mom came back with me after lunch for one final look around. I gave the desk to the business down the hall. We stood in the lab area where we thought of all the things that had taken place in it. We walked into the empty office, looked at the walls and then at each other. There was nothing left to do. I unplugged the phone, tucked it under my arm and followed Mom out the door. I turned and looked in at the office for a few seconds before reaching around the jamb to turn the lights off. I closed the door and we walked away. There was sadness in both of us but more a sense of relief. I could finally do what I had worked so hard for when Tara was operating which was to gear down.

Tara Scientific Laboratories was an experience I will never forget. I built my lab as Tara shaped me. I charted Tara’s course as she led me along a path of personal enrichment through my interactions with all the people I met and worked with. Tara challenged me to grow professionally to become a successful businessman, entrepreneur, manager and employer. Tara was my life.

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Saturday Morning Chats With Dad

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The next morning, Saturday, when Dad and I would have had our chat, I sat at the kitchen table and looked at Dad’s empty chair. I imagined him sitting across the kitchen table from me just as he and I had done for as long as I can remember. From topic to topic we expressed our opinions. We were mostly alike in how we saw things, but we appreciated each other’s points of view when they differed. We sailed the seas of each other’s thoughts knowing we would never be judged or refuted. Everything was interesting to us. Because our minds were very broad we discussed all sorts of things – be they world events, past or present, the projects we were working on, people we met or just to be there to listen with a sympathetic ear. Dad and I had a natural curiosity about people and places and had an insatiable appetite for learning new things.

Dad’s views were staunchly conservative – a stand-on-your-own-two-feet and a cash-on-the-barrel stance. Although I shared Dad’s conservative nature I was more liberal in how I saw things. My reality was that we all need support at some point in our lives.

Our Saturday morning chats were times for us to find respite from an often crazy world. We found solace in sharing our thoughts even if it was just for an hour. For the last few years of his life Dad‘s mind narrowed in scope. I found this disheartening but our comradery more than made up for it.

Dad often recounted his days as a boy and young man. I loved to listen to these stories no matter how many times I heard them. As Dad reminisced he roamed the streets of the village where he grew up and I was there with him.

Dad was born Peter Dennitts Spare on October 27, 1926, in Lower Harlestone, England. It was a village of centuries old sandstone tenant houses owned by the Earl Spencer, Princess Diana’s family. Young Edward John (Johnnie) Spencer, the future 8th Earl Spencer, Diana’s father, was a few years older than Dad. Dad got to know him as well as someone from the village could get to know one of the Spencers. Johnnie liked to escape from Althorp, the Spencer family manor, to go have a pint with the boys at The Fox and Hound (now The Dusty Fox), the local pub. It wouldn’t be long before his father sent the chauffeur to bring him back. Dad’s sister, Jean, who was considered prim and proper enough by the Spencer family, was invited to Althorp from time to time to have tea with the young Anne Spencer who later was Diana’s aunt.

Lower Harlestone was a community where everybody knew everyone and all about each other’s business. All the adults looked out for each other’s children. The house Dad grew up in was next to the blacksmith’s forge. Dad told me many times about blowing the bellows of the furnace while Mr. Smith, the blacksmith, heated a metal rod in the flames to shape it or helping Mr. Smith shoe a horse. Dad told me about the time when he and his friends found some small tires, a wooden box and other parts in the village dump to make a go cart. Then they rode it down the shallow sloping road past the blacksmith’s forge. When Mr. Smith saw them he called out, “You young devils, you’ll break your necks!” He put brakes and a proper steering mechanism on it before he let the boys use it again. Of course Dad and his friends knew Mr. Smith would do this and that’s why they rode it past his forge.

One time they found an old motorcycle in the dump. They cleaned it up, put some kerosene in the tank and got it running. Another time they found a mold for making lead musket balls lying on the edge of the garbage pit. They scrounged up some lead and melted it down to cast musket balls for their sling shots to shoot rats. Dad said he couldn’t hit a moving rat but his friends got pretty good at it. Lead was much easier to come by in those days since it was used for plumbing and to shingle roofs.

The village was laid out in a large square with the houses facing inward. Behind them stretched farmland and pastures. The kids spent summer days romping through the fields. They seldom went hungry. If they wanted something to eat they pulled up a carrot. Often they went scrumping in the vicarage apple orchard. The vicar said they could eat the fallen apples. If there weren’t any apples lying on the ground they gave the trees a good shake.

In the 1800s Dad’s family was silversmiths and quite well off. A couple of alcoholics in the family drank the business and had drained the wealth by the time Dad was born. Luckily living in a village where everyone looked out for each other they seldom wanted for anything. Crime was unheard of. No one locked their door – even if the door happened to have a lock on it. Parents only worried about their kids when they weren’t home for supper.

During the week Dad attended the small two room village school. The four to eight year old children were taught in one room and the nine to fourteens in the other. The lavatories were outside enclosed by five-foot-high walls but no roof. The urinal in the boy’s washroom was a long, gently sloping, shallow trough on the floor with a small stream of water running down it. The boys stood at the trough and instead of peeing into it they had competitions to see who could pee the highest much to the dismay of Mrs. Miller who lived next door. She had an ongoing complaint to Mr. Derbyshire, the head master of the school, about the spouts of urine arching over the wall onto her rose bushes. Dad laughed, “Little boys can pee a long way.”

Dad’s favourite teacher, Mr. Guest, had a gentle way about him. He instilled within Dad a love for learning. Mr. Guest could demonstrate practical applications for everything that he taught his students in class. He took his students for field trips around the village to show them things such as how to estimate the height of a house or tree using trigonometry. For memory training he got them to memorize and recite poetry in class. Years later Dad could still recite many of the poems. Wearing a broad smile he recited “Leisure” by the Welsh poet, William Henry Davies because the sixth line, “Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass,” made his best friend, Ron, laugh uncontrollably.

Dad said Mr. Guest could make anything interesting. He would have classes after school for the brighter students who wanted to learn more. He believed in teaching his pupils as much as they were able to learn and Dad willingly learned everything Mr. Guest could teach him.

Dad and his sister, Jean, visited their Grandmother on Saturday mornings to help her bake. Their Grandmother gave them each a lump of cookie dough to shape. She took the well-worked dough shapes blackened by active young hands that needed washing and put them in the oven to bake with the other cookies. Then she sent the two children off to play. Amazingly their cookies came out of the oven baked all clean and well-shaped like the others. Another reason Dad and Jean liked going to their Grandmother’s house was because she was completely deaf. They could make all the noise they liked and it didn’t bother her.

On Sundays Dad assisted with the church services as an altar server, singing in the choir, pumping the bellows of the church organ or, Dad’s favourite job, chiming the bells in the church tower. From Dad’s description of St. Andrew’s you would think it was a big church and to Dad as a young boy it was. When I saw it years later it was a small village church built in the 1400s made from the same sandstone from the same nearby quarry as the houses. In the churchyard cemetery I found headstones dating as far back as the 1600s.

Uncle Arthur and his wife Lillian were two of Dad’s favourite relatives. I know very little about Uncle Arthur except that he was a man of his convictions and faith. One evening he went out in the rain to help neighbours fix a wheel on their cart. He caught pneumonia and died. Arthur’s wishes were that half his ashes be scattered over the moors and the other half among the firs. The first part of Arthur’s final request was carried out. But Aunt Lil couldn’t bear to part with the remaining half of his ashes. Uncle Arthur in his urn, or rather half of Uncle Arthur, went back home with Aunt Lil and took up residence on the mantelpiece of the fireplace in her bedroom.

Aunt Lil sailed to America annually for some years after her husband died but, in a sense, never alone. Arthur in his urn travelled with her. When she got back home Arthur went back in his spot above the fireplace. When Aunt Lil died Dad took Uncle Arthur’s urn from the mantelpiece. His remaining half was interred along with Aunt Lil’s ashes in the family plot in St. Andrew’s churchyard in Lower Harlestone.

Dad told me about Dr. Churchouse who was a portly old country doctor with a low, gravelly voice who thought highly of himself. He visited Lower Harlestone once a week and ate his midday meal at Dad’s house. “And boy could he eat!” Dad said. His round figure was testament to his healthy appetite. The doctor’s remedy for everything was to prescribe a laxative. Each winter Dad got the flu which gave him an upset stomach and diarrhea for two weeks. When Dr. Churchouse came by on his weekly visits he would inquire about young Peter. Hearing of Peter’s ailment the doctor gruffly pronounced, despite the diarrhea, “Give him California Syrup of Figs.”

Dad hated this and put up a valiant fight by clamping his mouth shut. His father held him still and pinched his nose so he would have to open his mouth to breathe. When he did in went a spoonful of the mixture his mother had waiting for him. Dad promptly ran outside to throw up. This happened regularly but to Dad’s parents the doctor’s order was beyond question.

California Syrup of Figs: A fruit laxative containing Senna leaf and fig extracts in syrup.