My father died exactly a year ago today. He survived World War II in France, several decades of smoking, lung cancer, and a heart attack. He finally died at 85 years, succumbing to COPD, and surrounded by his children. My father was, throughout his entrre adult life a devoted and committed father and husband. I have no memories of him taking time off just for himself. He was charming, modest, and non-confrontational, but frequently annoyed when he saw people infringing on what he saw as the social contract – a (perhaps inherited) peevishness I share with my two brothers. I never doubted his love, but like many teenagers of my generation, I rebelled against his authority.
Three stories, which I only learned from him shortly before his death, tell something of the sort of man he was.
At age six I lived with my parents on a small (now abandoned) radar station in southern Quebec. I loved exploring outdoors, both in winter and summer. One year, newly enrolled in the Wolf Cubs organization, I lobbied strenuously to sleep out in what we called the “big woods” – in retrospect, probably just a small semi-urban copse, but a place of wonder and mystery to a child. My mother was nervous, but father supported me until my mother agreed. So on the appointed day, off I went alone. At midnight, my mother, nervous once again, sent my father out to check on me. He found me sound asleep, wrapped in a blanket – no tent, sleeping bag, or sleeping pad – and simply left me there and went home to tell my mother I was fine.
I had long forgotten this episode and was astounded to hear of it. I was so grateful to my father for recognizing that my eagerness to explore on my own was not simply a passing whim, but one I have retained for decades. This drive drove me to hitchhike to BC at 16, to Great Britain to work at 18, to India and Nepal at 19, to West Africa at 21, and to a 30 year love of climbing. At 60, I’m still exploring, happy that my parents never tried to stop me or tried to protect from all the “what-ifs”.
As my father grew older, and doubtless became aware that he had far more years behind him than ahead of him, he spent more time reminiscing about and recounting anecdotes of his early life. Surprisingly, his fondest memories seemed to be from his teenage years growing up in Nazi occupied France during World War II. On one occasion, his Scoutmaster told his six boy platoon to travel on foot from some point A to some point B .The Scouting movement was officially banned by the German occupying administration, so the Scoutmaster directed the patrol not to be seen. Excited and eager to engage in a bit of stealth, the scouts traveled by night and slept during the day. It was perhaps my father’s greatest adventure.
About the same time, my grand parents sent my father off to stay with family friends for the summer.The couple ran a restaurant and one hot summer day, my father was sitting in the back of their small truck, helping to move several boxes of beer to the restaurant. A German army truck pulled up behind and the soldiers inside gestured to my father at the boxes of beer my father was sitting on, indicating they wanted some. My father, thinking they were the regular army troops he had often seen during the occupation, flipped them a disdainful two finger salute. Bad luck for my father. The soldiers were not the regular troops m he had seen during the occupation, but hardened paratroopers. Enraged, they hauled my father from the back of the truck, kicked and beat him, and thrust him in the back of their truck.
This could have been a very bad situation. As a British subject, my father was technically an enemy alien and therefore faced far more serious consequences than stern finger-wagging. Nonetheless still petulant, my father kicked out angrily and pointlessly at a basket in the back of the army truck. Out flew a frightened duck – perhaps the soldiers’ dinner, perhaps stolen from a French farmer. The soldiers raced after the fleeing duck, and my father, realizing this was his one chance at escape, ran for his friend’s truck, which promptly raced safely away.
I was staggered when I heard this story, never imagining my father as a rebellious teenager. At 16, and long-haired, I mouthed off to the chief of the Lacombe police force and received a beating wand drummed up charges in return. It took decades before I learned my father was just as truculent a teenager – and he faced off with Nazis, not merely a small-town cop.
So late in life, I finally came to understand that my father and I had much more in common than I ever suspected. I don’t why I hadn’t seen this earlier. Perhaps I didn’t care enough to notice. Or perhaps my father held his tongue, realizing that, even at an early age, I intended to independently follow my own path and he didn’t want his experiences to colour my own. Now I’ll never know.
Charles Ernest Patrick Innes Barron of Red Deer, Alberta died peacefully on October 25, 2013 at the age of 85 years surrounded by his family. Charles was born at Echinghen Pas de Calais, France on February 29, 1928 to Ernest and Maude, the youngest of 12 children. Following WW II, Charles and his mother returned to England where Charles completed his education and joined the Royal Navy. In 1953, he married Sheila Grace Brown and they were married for 50 years. In 1954 son Guillermo arrived and in 1955 daughter Elizabeth. Following the family’s emigration to Canada in 1957, Charles joined the RCAF, and Peter was born in 1958. In 1963, Charles left the RCAF, relocated to Red Deer and began work in 1964 for DND at the Diefenbunker at Penhold. Son Robert was born shortly after their arrival in Red Deer. Charles continued to work at the Diefenbunker until his retirement in 1988. After his retirement, Charles and Sheila spent many happy winters as snowbirds in Arizona. After Sheila’s death, Charles returned on several occasions to the place of his birth in France where he spent happy days with family and old friends drinking wine and eating wonderful French food. His final trip ‘home’ was in September 2012. Family was very important to Charles and his happiest times were spent with his children and grandchildren.
Charles was predeceased by his wife Sheila in 2003; his father Ernest in 1941; his mother Maud in 1962; as well as his 11 brothers and sisters. Charles is survived by his four children, Guillermo (Catherine Kappmeier), Elizabeth (Wayne) Hanson, Peter (Sandra), and Robert (Ken Cole); five grandchildren, Amanda Hanson (David Lillico), Russell Hanson (Pam Buijs), Michael Hanson (Erin Gillis), Caitlin Barron and Ethan Barron; five great-grandchildren, Silas Buijs, Noa Buijs, Lucius Hanson, Fiona Hanson and Pearl Lillico; brothers-in-law, Bill Plunkett, Peter Brown (Pam Brown) and Dashwood Balhatchett; sisters-in-law, Mardie Barron and Sylvia Chisam; numerous nieces and nephews; and dear friends, Cecile Mancini, Francoise Lacoste, Yvonne Cornet and Ruby Cameron.