My father (Bobby) wedged between his great aunt (L) and his grandmother (R)
and his sister (R)
Lise Winne (daughter of Robert F. Winne) writing the post today:
One of the things my father could boast of was an idyllic family life and an idyllic childhood. Even he would say it was "idyllic". I loved to hear his stories of his childhood, which he would recount in great detail.
It was apparent that the members of his family had huge hearts, which he inherited and used on his two wives, sister, inlaws, elders, children and grandchildren. I hope the compassion, integrity and undying love he had for members of his family lives on in his grandchildren.
His neighborhood in a small upstate NY town seemed to be made up of similar kinds of people.
One of his stories that I keep thinking about went something like this:
In his neighborhood, most women stayed at home. They took care of the housework, looked after children, even neighbor children, shopped for groceries and medicines, and doted over their husbands. As women got into their mid-forties, it wasn't uncommon to find the lady of the house in bed at her time of the month (note: female surgeries were the exception and not the rule then, so a lot of women in their forties and fifties would often be found in bed). Neighborhood women helped other women not feeling well by bringing medicines and comfort, occasionally cooking, and also helping with children and shopping.
If a woman got through the life transition without a hitch, this is when she might get a job, or at the very least, volunteer in the community, or volunteer to look after the grandchildren.
If a woman wanted to work (and not be relegated to home and hearth), she stayed unmarried. A popular profession for working women in his town was school teacher. My father recounts school teachers as being excellent at what they did, and furthermore, "no nonsense" (as he used to like to say, wagging his finger), but also very warm (like a mother would be). He said that because they weren't distracted by a husband and children, they were absolutely and fully devoted to their professions in ways that he didn't see from teachers in the 1960s and beyond.
Indeed, the great aunt pictured above, was the school teacher in the family. She helped her sister with babysitting my father and his sister. He saw a lot of these two women as he was growing up.
For his lunch breaks from school, he went to his maternal grandmother's (pictured here). She lived in a large Victorian house. She would serve him up lunch, and then she would sit with him at the piano bench where he would do his half hour practice (he started practicing piano at age four). Sitting with him every day gave him an audience, confidence and the motivation to keep playing and to get better at his technique (in order to impress her). If he played well, she would clap. Many parents these days leave their children alone with instruments, expecting them to have the discipline to keep going, but to me it is obvious that this older generation had the right idea.
On his way home from school, he often stopped into his paternal grandmother's house for some afternoon conversation and biscuits, and fruit when it was in season.
It was an unusually polite society, where your elders listened to you, and you always listened to them. Respect was a two-way street. One on one conversations were the rule and not the exception. Children very rarely competed for attention or shouted over each other because there was plenty of adult attention to go around. Child rearing was a community effort. Life was largely about conversation. Conversation meant listening intently, politely and thoughtfully and offering up your best response. It was about reflecting. It was about allowing space within the conversation to get a full understanding about what was being said. This is one reason why my father was a master at self reflection and composure, and was often looked upon as wise by those around him; it was part of his everyday world as a child.
Life was considerably slower then, as there was time for reverence for your community and neighbors.
In his neighborhood, no one had locked doors. Neighbors looked at children of the neighborhood as a community responsibility where every woman shared in the task.
My father said he could go into any house in the neighborhood and announce his presence: "Hi, Mrs. ________________, it's Bobby! I'm down in your kitchen!" And the Mrs. would go into the kitchen and say, "Bobby! What a nice surprise! Oh, I'd like to hear how your piano playing is coming!" ... or something of that sort ... "Sit down and I'll fetch some cookies!" It was like that in just about every household.
I think this is why my father retained his politeness throughout his entire life. He never swore (except when he didn't saw a board straight in his woodshop) and he always made an effort to be respectful. Being able to listen intently, to have an unusual amount of self reflection, to be considerate and moral in his responses, paved the way for an exceptionally close father-daughter relationship.
Since I have been out in the world, I have realized how special that closeness was, and how incredibly unusual. My only hope is that this will inspire another father to be close to his daughter, by being respectful and a good listener, and offering up the most thoughtful and caring responses. It changed this daughter's life. Maybe it will change yours.
More childhood pictures:
Bobby as a toddler with his grandmother
Bobby with his handsome father at Georgian Bay