Little traditions perhaps started on a whim can last a lifetime. So many of those extra efforts at creativity or building a relationship, set patterns for our life and the relationships that are to follow.
I had a great relationship with my paternal grandfather who regularly made time for me as he did for my brothers. Joseph Fairley was 66 when I was born. He and my grandmother Lilias Fairley had immigrated from Scotland to Canada in the mid-1920s. As is often the case, Grandpa was not as someone in his mid-sixties seemed a great deal older than people do today who are in their seventh decade. They really were a decade or more older than their years if we met them now. Perhaps it was the accumulated effect of the many challenges of their life living through the ups and downs of depression and wars. Certainly the anti-oxidants found in our improved nutrition are part of the story. Tired as he was from his lifetime of work, it would have been easy for him to grab the rocking chair and hope the noisy grandson(s) did not stay too long.
Instead, he would take us on adventures together. For me, it was a short trip by car to the riverfront where we would begin our quest. We would stay until we saw a flag, smoke and two ducks. Why he came up with this combination I do not know but it was the standard for our visits.
So we would sit or walk by the Detroit River on the Windsor side pausing to notice the wind and the waves. People might be fishing or pretending to be fishing as they slept in their lawn chairs on the walkway overlooking the fast moving current.
These busy narrows between Lake Huron and Lake Erie (with a nod to a fine if not great Lake St. Clair) channeled the many “lakers” and “salties”, Great Lake and ocean frieghters to make their way up and down the river. Add to that the occasional tour boat from Boblo Island and the many pleasure craft and the river was always entertaining to watch. Before long, one of these boats could be seen to fly their flag. Often a county flag or two and occasionally a corporate flag could be seen. Flag? Check.
Back in 1960s, these boats often were still steam powered with coal as the fuel. Before long, one of these great ships would be building steam and with the fires burning, you would see some black smoke pouring out of the ship. Smoke? Check.
Grandpa loved strawberry ice cream. Having spent much of his career working at Silverwood’s Dairy, he knew good ice cream when he tasted it. Many an ice cream cone was shared between grandfather and grandson over those years.
The last quest to be fulfilled was to spot two ducks. As I recall, this was never done in earnest until we believed it was time for us to go back to his house where Grandma was waiting. Wildlife was plentiful enough that when the time came, we could usually spot a couple of ducks. I believe that in a pinch, we would accept swans as an exciting bonus substitute with seagulls as a sufficient but disappointing one. Two ducks? Check.
No matter, we had our adventure time together. Now it was off to enjoy time with a loving grandmother who usually had a fine meal waiting for us to finish our afternoon together.
Flag, smoke and two ducks? Simple? Yes. Significant? Absolutely! They were profoundly important as part of a shared time together between grandfather and grandson, all those years ago. Make memories with those available in your life. Use the simple things to etch a sense of well-being on family and friends.