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More Family History

February 26, 2012

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about unearthing some family ‘treasures’ while clearing out my mother’s room after her passing.  Since that time, I’ve been ‘reorganizing’ (i.e., shifting things from one place to another) in an attempt to display a few cherished items and find a suitable ‘home’ for the rest.  As I began sorting through years of accumulated ‘stuff’ piled in various cupboards, I came across (as always seems to be the case with this kind of rearranging), another ‘prize’ – one that I’ve actually been in possession of for quite some time.  It’s a poem my grandfather (my mother’s father) wrote in 1954, when he was 78 (I suspect it was written on his 78th birthday – see below).

Grampa and Grammy Cook (circa1950)

Grampa and Grammy Cook (circa 1950)

I have only the vaguest of memories of my Grampa Cook.  He and my grandmother lived in an apartment on the second floor of the house where I spent the first ten years of my life (my father had converted our multi-storey house into three separate units – my mother, father, sisters, brothers, and I lived on the main floor; my mother’s parents lived in one of the upstairs apartments; my dad’s mother lived in the other), but since Grampa died shortly before I turned three, I don’t remember all that much about him.  

Grampa Cook, Christmas1955

Grampa Cook, Christmas 1955

I recall him once fixing a wooden doll’s highchair for me, and I have a photo of him sitting in our living room on Christmas Day in 1955, but I was – unfortunately – far too young to have known him well.  I do, however, have a ‘favourite story’ that my mother used to tell about my relationship with my grandfather. Apparently when my mother took me to the funeral home after Grampa died, I climbed up to look in the casket and announced (loudly) ‘Where’s his hat? Grampa can’t go to heaven without his hat!’ It seems my grandfather never went anywhere without a particular hat on his head – so my mother went home, got the hat, and convinced the funeral director to put it on him!  I can only assume he’s still wearing it!

Based on various snippets of recorded family history (mostly my mother’s doing), here are a few other things that I know about my grandfather, Isaac Cook:

  • Grampa Cook 1928

    Grampa Cook 1928 (in the hat); that's my mom front and centre (at age 10)

    He was born in England on March 2, 1876.

  • He had no middle name because (or so he said) he was the 13th child in the family and his parents had run out of names by then.
  • After serving in the English Navy, he came to Canada in 1915 or 1916.
  • He and my grandmother were married in Maple, Ontario; they later lived in Carlisle, and then in Oakville. 
  • He had a keen sense of humour.
  • He was a good farmer (he had his own farm for years, then worked on various estates in and around Oakville – including the former Cox Estate, where he helped take care of their stable of polo ponies).
  • He took particular pleasure in growing and tending flowers.
  • He was very protective of his only daughter (my mother). When my eldest son was doing a family history project in grade 5, she related the following story in a letter she wrote to him:

“I remembered a funny thing that happened to me when I was 14. We lived on a farm 1½ miles out of Oakville but it was summer and I was working as a nanny to a new baby for a family on Douglas Avenue in Oakville.  On this day I had been home for the afternoon and a cute boy asked if he could walk me back into Oakville after dinner. I said yes. Would you believe my Dad followed us all the way to the house where I worked (in those days 14 year old girls were not allowed to be alone with a boy), and after he saw me go into the house and the boy go off to his own house, my Dad walked all the way back to the farm.  I knew he was following us but didn’t think the boy did.  I think it’s funny now but I didn’t think it was funny 60 years ago (incidentally, the boy wasn’t your grandfather).”

As I get older, I find myself more and more fascinated by stories about my parents’ and grandparents’ lives and history.  I suppose it gives me some insights into who I am, where I came from, and what I can expect as I age.  I’ve also taken to reminiscing a lot – and I’m occasionally shocked by how much I don’t remember (for example – looking at photos and drawing a blank as to the time and place they were taken, hearing stories told by others that mean nothing to me, having huge gaps in my ‘memory bank’).  And I’ve begun to wonder (worry?) about what my own children will remember about their childhood, their experiences, and their family history (I sincerely hope it’s all good) once they reach … the other side of 55.

It Seems to Me at 78

by Isaac Cook (© 1954)

It seems to me at 78
I can’t get up early
or sit up
very late
My legs seem inclined to
go a bit slow
Not a bit like they used
to a few years ago

These lines have just come
into my head
So I thought I would write
them while lying in bed
Perhaps you will think the
same as I do
I might be writing a letter
to you

Thank God and my children
for gifts on this day
It’s all very wonderful the
least I can say
God bless you all
is the Prayer I can say
for all the kind greetings
received in this way

My kind friends and neighbours
are wonderful too
To make this day happy
they try hard to do
And they succeeded
for strange to relate
I am feeling quite happy
although 78


The Original Poem

The Original Handwritten Poem

  1. Cathy permalink
    February 26, 2012 5:16 pm

    You’re very lucky to have some nice mementos of your grandparents. I have virtually nothing except some oral history, but that’s pretty thin. Your grandfather’s poem was cute!

    • February 26, 2012 9:33 pm

      The older I get, the more I appreciate the written and verbal histories (I sure wish I’d written down my Dad’s stories – he was full of them!)


  2. February 26, 2012 4:03 pm

    A very interesting piece! What wonderful family memories! I think it’s so important to get as much information about the family down on paper as possible so that future generations will know exactly who their ancestors were. I’ve been writing a biography of our family going back to the early 1600’s, over the last few years, and update it whenever a new piece of information comes along. I just wish my grandparents and great-grandparents had done the same thing, although I was lucky in the fact that my mother, who lived to the grand age of 96, was able to tell me a good deal about her family.

    • February 26, 2012 5:06 pm

      It’s unfortunate that so many of us think our stories are ‘dull’ and/or not important, when future generations might think exactly the opposite. I’m glad my mother wrote a lot of things down; I’m definately going to start putting more of my own history in writing for my own kids.


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