Duff History

Remembering the Journey

The Poppy, Flander’s Fields, Last Post, and CBC live from Ottawa. 

These are the things I remember being a part of November 11 in the Duff home when I was growing up.

It was a given that we would all gather, in later years, in front of the television to be a part of the Remembrance Day service offered to Canadians.  It was understood that this was the day that our Dad would shed a few tears… an occasion that was very sombre and rare.  Dad was always laughing and cracking jokes – but not on this day.  On this day, we would not expect him to be telling jokes.  On this day, we would ask him about his friends.  He would tell us stories about the time he spent patrolling the Northumberland Straits, his time on Koggala Beach, India, Burma, and mostly, about his time in the air in his beloved Catalina. 

Today also became know to my brother and I as the day when Dad not only said good-bye to his friends he had lost during World War II, but also the day he said good-bye to his Paula, our mother.  It was this day  – three years ago – when he said good-bye to Mom.  I can still hear his loving words to her even today.  He sat beside her in his wheel-chair in the dimly lit room.  He held her hand.  He calmed her and reassured her that it was okay for her to go.  He reassured her that she would be okay.  He affirmed his love for her and their wonderful life together.  His voice was calm, comforting, and loving.  I am not really sure she heard him – she was unconscious at that point – but I am confident that she would never have left him if she had not been convinced he would be okay.  And Dad knew that.  He let her go.  He wished her well on her journey and that one day, God willing, they would meet again.  She passed away the next morning — he had said his good-bye. 

Dad was a survivor.  What was it that kept him going?  What keeps anyone going through so much loss?  To this day, I still believe it was Dad’s philosophy that one must count his/her blessings.  Maybe that was a philosophy taught to him through the depression, when his family had nothing but what they produced on their own farm?  Dad always claimed he was well off compared to some others who didn’t have food, let alone clothing.  Maybe it was the time he spent among those who lost so much to war?  Dad claimed he was well off compared to the families who lost their sons and daughters, houses, freedoms to war.  He survived cancer, a stroke, and multiple other health challenges. 

Today, a former student of mine sent me a photo of a Remembrance Day program she had taken a couple of years ago when Mom and Dad were able to attend.  What a wonderful surprise to see them in this photo – it was a new photo to me and so it was almost like we had been together one more time – sharing Remembrances.  My student and her colleagues were standing behind my Mom and Dad who were seated in the front row.  They were all happy – it was exactly where Mom and Dad thrived – among young people who offered them so much appreciation.  I remember this day well.  I am so blessed to have others remember it also. 

Two more students of mine today also remembered my parents to me.  “It was so nice for your Dad to be with us on Remembrance Day, Stacey”. 

Although it was a tough day today – I must remember the lessons Dad taught me – to count my blessings.  I count my country and the peaceful state we exist in as one of my blessings – I count my health, my family, my ability to read among the many other blessings I have.  I also consider myself to be blessed to have had such great role models to allow me to see the world with gratitude. 

Today – I thank the many people who have journeyed with my family and I to the place we are at today.  Thanks to the care-givers who helped Dad until, literally, the day he died.  Thanks to the friends who stuck by Dad even when he was no longer able to speak.  Thanks to family who were by our sides always.  Thanks to a country that remembers the sacrifices Dad and so many others made so that we could live a life few others only dream of. 

TTFN, Dad.  Thinking of you today – and always!

 

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They danced together under the shade of the trees

They danced together under the shade of the maples as they had done so often before.

Mom and Dad were such good dancers, but of course, they came from an era where dancing was a part of life.  If you weren’t dancing, you weren’t living.

I reached out to touch their names and was confident that they spoke directly to my heart.  “Happy anniversary, Mom and Dad.” I whispered.  I was alone at the cemetery but yet, not alone.

They danced through life much like they danced on the dance floor – they were in harmony with one another.  When one lead, the other followed and when one turned the other turned.  That’s not to say that they didn’t sometimes step on the other person’s toes – but they were more often aware of the other person than not.

Today, in my mind, they danced together under the maples.

How did they do it?  How did they stay married for such a long time?  How did Dad survive for 18 months without his bride of, what was then, 62 years?  They would have marked their 64th anniversary today.  There would have been a party – a celebration – a dance.

The farm that they built together was half-field, half-forest.  The field yielded raspberries and the forest yielded maple syrup.  They worked together to produce a hobby-farm that thrived and where friends and family would always be made to feel welcome.  Under the hot, blazing sun, they toiled to rid the gardens from bugs and weeds.  But under the shade of the maples… they danced.

The life they built together was so entwined that it was difficult to see where one ended and the other began.  They lived harmoniously – for the most part – always taking care of each other, supporting each other, dancing together.

And so, on this day, on this occasion, I wish Mom and Dad “this dance” today.  Enjoy Glenn Millar’  Moonlight Serenade.(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6JQ0ifSjgAE)

Happy anniversary, Mom and Dad!

Categories: Duff History, Family and Friends, Life After Dad, Life's Lessons, Mom | Tags: , , , , , | 8 Comments

Apartment 1001 re-visited

Looking out onto Kempenfelt Bay, you would never know anything had changed.  The waters were calm.  No Serendipity – the local tourist paddle-boat – yet, but other than that it looked just the same as it did a year ago. 

I turned to my oldest son, Ben, and took a deep breath.  It was time to leave apartment 1001.

They say your life flashes before you just before you leave this earth – snippits of my life with my family flashed before me as I walked through the patio to the dining room where we were always so careful that Dad did not lose his footing while climbing over the step to return to his pink chair after enjoying the night air.  It was a ritual almost – Mom would cling onto his belt buckle (as if she could hold him should he fall) and I would hold on to his walker to secure it from moving forward un-expectantly. 

I walked past where the dining-room table was – where so many meals were served.  Here too, was the place where toasts were made to life, anniversaries, birthdays, births… even commemorations of deaths.  But I heard joy in the voices in my head – I remember the good times, the laughter, and the oh, so delicious food Mom had so lovingly prepared. 

I walked past where Dads pink chair had once been – where David climbed onto the walker in front of Dad so that he could be so much better positioned to hop on Poppas lap and give him a hug.  The pink chair was the focus – the inhabitant (my Dad) was always the centre of attention.  Was he warm enough?  Was he hungry?  Was he able to hear the conversation? Did he tune us out to read? 

I walked past the couch – where we had danced.  I watched my daughter, Katya, twirl and spin and laugh.  I heard David giggle with delight as Nana ordered a steak and baked potato from his make-believe restaurant.  I knew she hoped that his culinary interest would continue and be her own little legacy. I saw Katya standing there, dressed in Nanas black lace dress – hand-made so many years ago.  No one but Katya could fit into that waist line anymore… but three generations had worn that dress – and Katya was the last of the lineage…

I walked down the hallway to peer into Moms room as Dad had so many times before.  Was Paula there?  Was she asleep?  Was she ironing or sewing?  The room was empty – and full all at the same time.  I thought if I looked quickly I could see her smiling at me as she was waking up from a quick afternoon rest… rarely did that happen, but it always seemed to comfort me that she could rest.

I walked down the hall to Dads room – the room where it had all ended — I expected to see him there.  But, alas, neither bed, nor Poppa were to be seen.  Ben heard me and came to see if I was okay – my 6 foot son put his arm around me and we both stood there knowing how happy Nana and Poppa would be that he grew up to be such a fine, young man.  You done good, kid, I heard my Dad say.  And with that, my son Ben and I turned around and left.  Buenos noches, Poppa – hasta manana – TTFN.  Sleep well. I love you both! 

It was odd, locking the door for the last time.  I did not cry.  They were not there.  I did not feel compelled to open the door quickly to check to see if I could sneak a peek.  Bill and Paula had definitely left the building. 

And so it was that today was our last glimpse of what was once a very happy household.  It was now my turn to provide that stability, comfort, and sense of belonging in my  own home.  I always said to my parents that my home had been wherever they were – now it is with my family and I.  Apartment 1001 is now us.. my husband, three children, and I. 

Categories: Duff History, Life's Lessons, Mom | Tags: , , , , , , | 23 Comments

June 25, 1944

Preamble:  I found a journal that Dad used to write in.  I guess it’s okay if I read and repeat now… I’m not sure where he began his stories.  I’ll just repeat from the first page.  These entries are now “history”.  Fascinating to read about his experiences and feelings.  Hope you enjoy.  I shall publish excerpts from his diary from time to time.

 

June 25, 1944

“Left Brantford at 12:00 arrived Toronto 1:30.  Picked up airman going to Christie Street who had been washed out as a pilot – had been in navy prior to this and survived one torpedoing.  Left for New Lowell 3:30 and got home via Barrie 5:30. Went to YPS  and played crocinole. Rather boring evening.  Sure wish I was back with Paula. ”

 

June 26, 1944

“Slept till noon.  Went to Creemore but saw very few people I knew.  Dropped in at Mumberson’s on the way back and got all the news of Bob who is away overseas.  Federation of Agriculture meeting here tonight – Dad is President.  Would have liked to go out but stayed and met everyone.  Very pleasant surprise today – letter from Paula.  Mailed an answer tonight.”

The Ultimate Board Game

Haven’t seen this game for years!

 

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At the Royal Military College in Kingston

This photo was taken during our cousin’s graduation at the Royal Military College (RMC) in Kingston on the day that Dad was re-acquainted with Leonard Birchall.

Mom was always very proud of Dad and it was her who spiffed him up, medals and all, to look so handsome.

Standing Proud

This photo was taken at a Kent Duff’s graduation.

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There’ll be bluebirds over….

…the white cliffs of Dover.  This was the song that greeted Dad on the phone each time Jack MacArthy phoned him.  Check it out:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YUx3MU9iM6c&feature=related

Jack and Dad, Flight Lieutenant William James Duff, went back a long way. I wish that I had payed more attention to details about him when Dad talked about him – as now I simply don’t have the answers.

What I do know is that when my son, Ben, and I introduced ourselves to Jack at the George Duff Memorial Legion in New Lowell today – Jack greeted us with a very wide smile.  “Oh, my.  I’m so glad that you spoke to me.  I’m so sorry to hear about your Dad.  He was a very good man.  And your Mom, Paula, she was very beautiful.  I ran into she and your Dad many times in Barrie when my wife Helen and Paula were having their blood work done. “, said Jack.

“My Dad remembered you always, Jack, so fondly.  I always knew when you had called because Dad was sure to tell me.  But, what I don’t know is what song it was that you used to sing to him.”

And Jack began to sing, “There’ll be bluebirds over the white cliffs of Dover”.

How wonderful it was to hear that song.  Jack’s chest was literally covered with medals of honour.  He is 93.  He looked great.  What a spirit.  What a voice.

Jack MacArthy, of New Lowell, introduced me to his family and he to mine.  It was clear that Ben, my son, was not of the “Duff” blood as he towers over all of us and Jack noted this difference.  “How proud he was of all of you.  He spoke so often of you and your family, Stacey, that I know all about them. ”  Jack commented.

It was an honour to be there in New Lowell today.  It was a necessary.  We were representing not only Dad, but his Dad – George Hunt Duff – after whom the New Lowell legion was named.  Their photos hung in prominent places both in the Legion and in our hearts.

To Dad and Grandpa – we salute you and thank-you for your contributions to family and country.  In peace may you rest, may we never forget.

TTFN

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10 000

When I first began this blog with my Dad, he was shocked that people were interested in his stories.

When he recorded 30 hits he said, “Why would anyone be interested in my life?”.

I said, “Dad, you stories are interesting and very historical if nothing else. ”

He said, “Hmm.  Well I just don’t see it.”

Now, although he is gone, his blog, “High Flight” is nearing 10 000 hits.  He would be over the moon.

I wonder if you, the readers, would be able to fulfill a request?

Could Dad get 10 000 hits to honour his memory and contributions for Remembrance Day tomorrow?

Some of his first stories (some hundred posts ago) contain “his” stories in “his” words – about his WWII experiences.

Would you please take time to read his thoughts – in memory and honour of Bill Duff?

On his behalf, thank-you for caring.

Stacey

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Thanks for remembering…

This is a conversation I would imagine having with my Dad, Flight Lieutenant William James Duff,  at this time of the year:  Remembrance Day.

Dad (Bill):  Stacey, I want you to thank Ryan, the young man who gave you the model Catalina Flying Boat for me.

Stacey:  I already did Dad.  It was so amazing that her took the time and effort to not only find, but purchase, and bring that model airplane to my school.  Was it the right model?

Dad:  Yes.  Although, of course the model is much smaller than the life- version.  It was a big aircraft and could fly for miles without refueling.  That’s one of the reasons it was so favored overseas because of the distance it could travel.

Stacey:  What’s it like now, Dad?  Do you mark this day in Heaven?

Dad:  Well, it’s a little different here, Stace.

Stacey:  I guess if I asked you in what way, you wouldn’t be able to tell me?

Dad:  Not exactly.  All I can tell is that there is no pain, no more tears, no more mourning for the friends I lost.

Stacey:  I always remember growing up that Remembrance Day was the one time EVER I saw you cry.  I really didn’t understand it at the time.

Dad:  How could you?  No one can really imagine what it was like.  You had to be there.  It wasn’t all bad, though, Stacey.  We had the opportunity to travel to some wonderful places and meet some really good people.  The guys I was with in India  – we became very close.  The war brought a lot of people together in some very unlikely circumstances.  I always felt so fortunate that I was able to learn how to fly a plane.  I was in love with the idea of flying ever since I was a kid and a plane crashed in a field in New Lowell.  I think it was there that my interest in flying – not crashing (grin) – peaked.

Stacey:  It’s strange, Dad, that you are able to take good from such a terrible time.

Dad:  What are you going to do, Stacey?  You need to see the positive in everything.  No sense in complaining about things.  This is a very sad time for me and for so many families – don’t get me wrong.  But we all did what we felt we had to do and we all felt that we were doing something that was “right” and “good”.  I don’t know whether or not it was the right thing – even to this day.

Stacey:  You mean there are still no answers, Dad.

Dad:  Oh, there are answers, but we can still hold differences of opinions… we just don’t need war to solve the difference here, Stacey.

Stacey:  Good to talk to you again, Dad.  I’m not going to lay a wreath tomorrow – but I am going to the George Duff Memorial for you and Grandpa.   Anything you want me to say or do?

Dad:  No.  Just being there is enough.  And, Stacey, thanks for remembering.

Stacey:  I love you, Dad.

Dad:  Love you to, Stace.

TTFN

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The Dew May Kiss the Butterfly…

“The dew may kiss the butterfly,

A man may kiss his wife good-by,

The sparkling wine may kiss the glass,

And you, my friend…. farewell.”

Okay, I never liked this poem whose origin I never knew – but Dad would be called upon at EVERY celebration to recite it.

Funny how this poem’s most avid supporter is gone, the poem has now become “mine”.  I don’t know if it becomes me – but it makes people laugh.

Martin – if you read this post – I dedicate this to you – not to say farewell – but to say, “thanks”.  You showed up at the right place and at the right time.  And you know Dad’s light flickered in appreciation.  You were always a great friend to Dad and now a great support to my family and I.  Merci and… Sante!

The Elixir of Life

The table was set in the cemetery – a glass of wine for everyone. It was a celebration that Dad would have wanted and Mom would have prepared.

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Lobster Tales

I was exposed to lobster tales when I was knee-high to a grasshopper.

I guess Dad’s loyalty to the industry came from his days of patrolling the Northumberland Straits during World War II.  He and his buddies, when on break, would often be invited to visit lighthouses where a feast of lobster would be served.  Some of the lighthouse operators had daughters, and, Dad would explain to me that pilots in those days were considered a pretty good catch themselves.  I guess Dad was no exception.  (He only had eyes for my beautiful mother at that time and so the lighthouse “Dads” were out of luck before they even knew it!)

In any case – it was here where Dad learned the fine art of cracking and consuming lobster.

There was no part of the lobster spared when Dad was through – other than the eyes and the shell.  Even the legs and the material already digested by the lobster itself was “succulent”, as Dad would describe it.

I remember Dad recounting a story about how he and Mom went to dine with their friends Floyd and Francis in Dundas one time.  On the “all -you – can – eat” menu was lobster.  I guess it wasn’t really all you can eat as Dad’s feast was halted after 13 lobsters.

And it wasn’t just the fact that he ate the pre-digested green stuff that had people stunned, it was that he was given everyone else’s carcus with pre-digested material too.  So – imagine at the end of the feast there would be over 20 lobsters waiting for Dad to “enjoy”.

Lobster – which is why Red Lobster was our dining choice after Dad’s inurnment – has been an important meal to the Duff family.  It would be served to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, and the arrival of special guests. Of course, accompanying the lobster would be Dad’s home-made wine – the body-builder.

Dad always said the best part of the lobster is the tail – but I’ve always liked the lobster “tales” better.  Grin.

TTFN

Categories: Duff History, Life After Dad, Life's Lessons | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

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