I loved the war stories.
I always remember him telling me the story of his encounter with the Viet Cong. Dad was a CBC-TV reporter and his car had broken down while driving through the jungles of war-torn Vietnam. The hood was up when menacing-looking soldiers burst out from the bushes, dressed in black and heavily armed. Dad thought he and his stranded news crew were done for.
Instead, they helped fix the car before picking up their guns and vanishing into the jungle.
My father, Paddy Gregg, was a long-time journalist with the CBC with an adventure-filled career. He travelled the world, had his own television show and was the voice Fredericton woke up to on Information Morning.
He ended his long career in 1989, the same year I was born. For my whole life, my father was retired. That deep, booming voice on the radio and TV was the voice I grew up with.
He had an amazing voice. Deep and powerful, it could carry for miles, thundering over other parents at sporting events, then turn soft and poetic, enriched with a vocabulary from a lifetime of reading. It could be an hypnotic instrument, and I was the boy who followed it through the woods.
We lived in Rusagonis, a half an hour outside of Fredericton. My parents bought 60 acres of forest, which my father gradually transformed into fields, apple orchards, gardens and barns.
“I wanted to be a gentleman farmer when I retired,” he told me. That was the man I knew.
The fields are dotted with raspberry and blackberry patches. He grew everything from potatoes to tomatoes and raised sheep and chickens.
And no matter where you were or who you were with, my Dad had a story. He could talk to anyone about anything – politicians, farmers, seniors, kids. My mother told me that if she was having trouble sleeping, she would wake Dad up and make him tell her stories in that lullaby voice.
I thought that was amazing and still do. When I was a child I often felt that I wanted to be just like him, but as I grew I realized I was different in so many ways. He was the ultimate extrovert; I’m an introvert. Dad was a great hunter, but I couldn’t hurt a fly. I tend to shy away from the spotlight, but dad would always go for it.
I’d help him in the woods gathering fire wood, or out in the fields tending the gardens. I always helped him, but I hated some of the chores and began to take interest in things away from the farm.
Dad never minded though. He recognized farming was his passion. That was how he wanted to spend his golden years and, thankfully, he didn’t mind that I wanted to follow a different path.
In my third year of university, he became sick. Diabetes had taken hold and one day he collapsed in the garden. He had to have his right foot amputated. After the operation, his kidneys failed.
He could no longer go out to work his land. He was an invalid and his body was failing. I decided to take a year off university, move back home and look after him. We always had a strong relationship and it became even stronger. I would dress him, feed him and do many of the chores that he once did.
It was strange to watch my father become weaker and weaker. All of my life, he had been so strong, so full of life, and now he was slowly fading away. His colour was gone and he couldn’t walk. Still, there were stories.
Like the time sitting on the deck of a fishing boat off Georges Bank many years ago. It was a clear, calm evening but not far from the boat, something was moving rapidly on the surface. A giant whale was swimming along, seemingly oblivious to the vessel directly in its path and its alarmed passengers. Just when it appeared the whale was about to hit, it opened its eyes, realized what was happening and slipped gracefully beneath the boat, its huge tail rising high above the awestruck passengers, then disappearing.
Dad died on May 9 on the kind of warm, sunny afternoon he would have loved for spring planting.
It has been hard adjusting to life without him. I love our property more than ever; I don’t think I’ll ever sell it. But my life is quieter.
I suppose it’s time to make my own stories now.
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