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Rating: 3 votes, 5.00 average.

My Father

Posted 11-09-2011 at 01:55 AM by ChrisGeorge
Updated 11-10-2011 at 03:07 PM by ChrisGeorge

My father and mother, Gordon and Yoria George, on their wedding day, at St. Anne's Church, Aigburth, Liverpool, February 22, 1945. Dad is wearing the uniform of a corporal in the Royal Air Force Medical Corps.

Garrett Middaugh's fine poem, "Remembering My Father on My 52nd Birthday," put me in mind of my own father, Gordon B. George, who died at age 64 on April 15, 1979 of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Similar to the situation in Garrett's poem, I am now, at age 63, approaching my father's age when he passed away, which naturally makes me reflective. There are some lines in Garrett's poem that particularly triggered thoughts of Dad: "He had a thing for sports cars, / welcomed the British invasion, from Triumph / to Jaguar, ..." Dad never owned a car in England, and indeed never owned a Jag or a Triumph, however....

Before emigrating to the United States aboard the Cunard Liner Queen Elizabeth in the fall of 1954, Dad worked as a physical therapist earning a measly 750 at Newsham General Hospital in Liverpool and, to supplement his salary, taking private patients (among them Mr. John Moores of Littlewoods Pools), Dad drove a Norton motorcycle to and from the hospital and his private patients. The poor remuneration was one reason he decided to emigrate from the UK. At one point before the decision was made to leave England, he asked my maternal grandfather for a loan to get a car but my Grandad refused to cough up... as if to say, "I had to come up the hard way and no one helped me, boy!"... In any case, after Dad came to Baltimore in September 1954, he finally could afford to buy a car, initially a gray Hillman Minx station wagon. Within a year or two, he was also able to trade it in for an Austin sedan, and he would own a Rover in his last years ... the latter car a bit of joke because it was always breaking down and the dashboard ice alarm would go off in Maryland's hot and sticky 90F weather!

So in the mid-1950's Dad was keen on English motorcars and got friendly with Mr. Russell, a German-born Jewish car showroom owner of A&R Motors on Cold Spring Lane who was interested in importing English mechanics. For a while, my grandfather back in Liverpool -- the same man who had refused to give Dad the money to buy a car before we emigrated -- had the job of interviewing potential young mechanics to come over to Baltimore to work at A&R Motors. Dad ended up bringing over I believe up to a half dozen young men and their wives to work for the company, at least one couple of which, Tony and Valerie Walton, remained friends of my parents for years afterward.

Dad was not an easy man for this shy only son to get to know but one thing I will always be grateful to him for was giving me a love for animals which I continue to this day. His mother -- an early photograph of her is below -- had a number of animals, cats and an old little black dog named Smutty that I remember when I was a toddler at the old converted schoolhouse where she lived overlooking Laxey Bay in the Isle of Man.

One day in Maryland, driving his Hillman on the grounds of the Children's Institute for Cerebal Palsy, the hospital in Reisterstown where he worked, Dad came across a baby chipmunk whose mother had been killed on the road. I remember he brought it back to Forest Park, Baltimore, where were living at the time (an area where director Barry Levinson, Mama Cass, and Frank Zappa also grew up -- not that I knew any of them at the time!). The small chipmunk was perched atop the back seat of the Hillman. Dubbed by me "Chippie," the animal was my pet for a while until it somehow escaped into the skirting board of our apartment.

Some twenty years later similarly Dad rescued a gray tabby kitten he found wandering on Route 29 in Howard County and which we named "Howard" in consequence. We always thought he was a farm cat and had maybe been mistreated as a kitten because he was never a friendly cat. In fact, one thing he would do is that he would sit in the chair by our front door and turn his back on us! When my father was dying it was a profound sadness that he believed Howard was shunning him and he remarked that animals know about sickness and that was why the cat ignored him. I don't know whether in retrospect that was more my Dad's paranoia and it was merely the cat's demeanor to the family that had taken him in, i.e., that Dad, at that low point in his life, was super sensitive about Howard's aloofness.

Dad was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in the early 1970's. Although my mother in her later years, when she was starting to become senile, would often say that my father "didn't live long," one of my enduring memories of him was that he would often say that compared to the children that he saw in the cancer clinic, he at least had had a full life. He was also lucky that despite having to undergo rigorous courses of chemotherapy and radiation, he never lost his hair. My father was a cigarette smoker for most of his life so that might account for his disease.... and he did develop lung cancer along with the lymphoma toward the end. He mentioned the fact that as a physical therapist he would often lean over the old diathermy machines and chat to a patient while they were receiving radiation and he wondered if he might have got the disease that way. Another episode he mentioned was that while in the RAF during the war, he recalled that while stationed on the Shetland Islands he had to sleep in a hut that had been fumigated, presumably for lice, and maybe that's how he got it. My father was always very thin, which might have made him susceptible to cancer. Ah, one other thing, while I think about it... the man who lived in the house next door to our north died of lung cancer and the woman who lived in the house directly next door to the south had a brain tumor. There were electricity pylons with electrical wires overhead near our house that ran across the hill in the Tollgate development in Owings Mills where we lived. Hmmmmmm.

Dad was quite ill in his last year of life but insisted in going into work at the Baltimore League for the Handicapped on Cold Spring Lane to ensure that my mother would have his pension to live upon after he passed. I can remember him going leaving the house all bundled up in the middle of winter 1978-1979 to drive his poorly heated '63 cream VW Beetle down to the League from our house in Owings Mills northwest of the city. I have to admire his bravery for doing so. An example for me. I also remember one time I was with my Mum and Dad down at the clinic at the University of Maryland Hospital and Dad was unable to drive properly and I asked him to pull over for me to take over. He sobbed that everything was being taken away from him. A heartbreaking memory. There was a big snowstorm on Washington's Birthday and we were snowed in. Some kid broke a window of Dad's Beetle with a snowball. I wrote a poem "Blizzard" referencing my Dad and later won a prize for the poem in the Maryland State Poetry Society's poetry competition.

This snapshot of Dad was taken I think on New Year's Eve, 1978,
four months before his death from cancer.

Christmas Card 1945 posted from Germany while my father was serving in the Royal Air Force Medical Corps.

My paternal grandmother, Birtles Pointon George (born August 12, 1876 in Duke St, Douglas, Isle of Man, died January 18, 1962 in Christchurch, New Zealand), photographed circa 1900.

Laxey Wheel, Isle of Man, in an old postcard postmarked October 14, 1907.
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