Monday, 4 April 2016

Remembering Grandpapa

My granddaughters will never know their great grandpapa who died last month at the age of 95.

Those who did know him would never forget him.

If I'd written a Most Memorable Character for Reader's Digest, I would have written about the father of my children's father, Carlyle Gagnier. He truly was one of a kind.

I wanted to get down a few memories for my grandkids in case they asked their parents about him one day. My kids were young the last time they saw him, only teenagers. They lost him to marital estrangement and it is a guilt I carry with me always.

Here goes.

Carlyle was born in February 24, 1921, the same day as my own sainted mother who passed away more than two decades ago. Carl was one of gaggle of Gagnier children including Patrick, Armand and Marquita. As the legend goes, his French Canadian father married his Irish mother who spoke no French whatsoever. Kathleen spent her life among the French not understanding anybody, including her own husband. She died of depression, or so the story goes, leaving Carl's dad to raise up his bunch.

Like many French-Canadians of his ilk (including Pierre Trudeau's father), Carl's dad owned a gas station in Balconville in Montreal which was a front for a bootlegging operation. He took the proceeds to buy an acreage of land not far from what is now the toney resort town of Mont Tremblant, also close to Sainte Agathe, the town made famous in the Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz by the writer Mordecai Richler.

Like his dad, Carl was entrepreneurial in spirit, and used his father's distilling expertise to his advantage during World War II. Carl became a bootlegger to the Royal Canadian Navy, and that kept him out of the fighting part of the war.

Carl fell in love with a feisty Montrealer named Gisele Morin, and eloped with her because her own father despised her choice of husband. The two were married for more than 60 years, over which time Carl showered Gisele with furs, paintings and expensive jewelry.

After the war, Carl started selling industrial motors while Gisele became a hairdresser in the Town of Mount Royal, crafting up do's for the rich English ladies. They worked hard, and sent their two children to private school where they were subjected to the usual abuse by nuns and Jesuit priests. Then it was off to boarding school for the pair, while Carl and Gisele established themselves and bought a nice house in TMR, and spruced up the family "cottage".

It is at this cottage where most of my memories of Carl were forged. While Gisele made it clear that I wasn't good enough for my husband, Carl did everything to make me feel welcome, and loved.

He welcomed and adored his grandchildren, taking them on rides around the property, and teaching them to fish at the local fish farm. One New Year's, Carl took the boys up a hill and pushed their sleds down, and came tumbling with them. When he recovered from the fall, his noticed his shoulder was set square, and had to find a local doctor to reset it. Instead of complaining, he bought himself a yard of wine and proceeded to drink it.

As the kids noted, Grandpapa drank many yards of wine over the years.

Carl was determined to stock the man-made lake on the property and brought in an expert from the fish farm who arrived with a truck full of small perch, or somesuch. Minutes after the fish man dumped his load into the lake, the fish came up bobbing. It was hilarious to watch Carl trying to revive them by giving them mouth-to-mouth. The stocking attempt turned out to be a failure, so Carl stocked the downstairs freezer with fish instead; and we ate a lot of it over a couple of years.

Carl was a composite character, a mix of Milton Berle and Leonard Cohen. He loved practical jokes and was always calling up pretending to be Father O'Toole after a few drinks.

The man also loved massages. That's enough said about that.

Carl was a wonderful father, and a doting grandfather, and the closest thing I ever had to a dad myself.

When my marriage broke up, one of my great regrets was not seeing Carl or hearing his corny jokes. I loved them man, and I am sad to hear of his passing.

Rest in peace, Father O'Toole, and give a kiss to cousin Coco when you get up there.

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