Here's another re-work and improvement of an old blog I did for my writing group.
Paul-Hector aka Onesime Fortier
Wherever my grandfather Hector went, there were people yelling at him, trying to be heard. He was almost completely deaf; certainly he was deaf to English. He would stand in a room “talking” to someone with a confused look on his face, twirling the controls on the large hearing aids protruding from his ears. There was no malice intended by the yellers, who were mostly his family...my grandmother Pulcherie and his children. They were attempting to engage Hector to let him know what was happening or to hear his opinion of something. Cocking his head slightly, he’d say “j’entends rien,” which means—I hear nothing. He always spoke softly.
I remember him sitting at holiday tables with the family gathered around engaged in lively conversation. He’d look lost, fiddling with those ugly aids, twisting them around, taking them out and putting them back in his ears. Often, they’d fight back...screeching and whistling in a sharp outburst of feedback. Everyone would cringe. Pulcherie, a formidable woman, would step in and speak for him.
Much of the time it didn’t matter that he couldn’t hear. Grandpa lived most of his days working in solitude on a mixed farm in Southern Manitoba. Half the year, during the warm months, he’d be out working his 300 acres of grain, alone, with a team of horses. In the winter, he retreated indoors and did the repairs on anything broken in the house or farm and on various engineering and motorization projects. An inventive man, he was always trying to figure out how things worked. Later in his life when his memory began to go, this penchant got him into trouble with Pulcherie when he took apart their TV set and in his final disassembly coup de gras, the car— and couldn’t get them back together.
After they retired from the farm to their tiny 600 square foot abode in the city, Hector dug himself a little basement studio under the house. Looking back I think it may have been a retreat from Pulcherie. Can you imagine cohabiting in such a small space with little relief from each other? In his little escape studio, with his pocketknife, he carved simple whimsical wooden figures, using leftover pieces of wood and house paint. He stopped wearing his hearing aids
during the day and put them in as a courtesy when with others.
In his seventies, at about the age I am now, he took on a larger project, a garage project. He must have planned it for a whole winter before he began and told Pulcherie it was a surprise and she shouldn’t be bothered about it. She’d stop in her kitchen and listen once in a while to the sawing and hammering. After a month or so he disclosed that he was putting the final touches on his coffin. A practical man, he’d been involved with enough funerals to know the biggest rip-off around was the final purchase made on your behalf. He didn’t spend his whole life pinching pennies to accept a shafting in the end. Pulcherie was horrified and told him she couldn’t live with the ghastly thing on the property. There were big fights and many phone calls between my mother and her sister over how to calm things down. After much quiet thinking, Grandpa decided on a compromise for peace. He re-configured the thing into a boat, which he was satisfied could be converted back to a coffin when needed. In a generous concession to Pulcherie’s insistence that it was ghoulish and morbid, he painted it a festive maroon. It was towed to the lake and we had many good times rowing it around, fishing, and always chuckling over its origin. Oddly, the coffin boat didn’t have a name but The Final Ride or The Last Laugh would have been good possibilities.
When Grandpa died years later at 95, the boat was long since gone and he was buried quietly, without his hearing aids and under Pulcherie’s supervision (she went on to live to be 100) in a proper coffin.
I identify strongly with Hector during this stage of my life, being half-deaf myself and gradually becoming a stranger to the hi-tech language spoken around me by my young relatives. I have his curly hair, longish face and darkish skin and I don’t like wearing my single hearing aid. I’ve always had a scientific inclination and I do love invention, my own and others. My retreat is at the top of a large house in a second story office, different from his mole-like man-cave at the bottom of the tiny house. Writing has become my quiet retreat and I consider my blogging a creative outlet similar to his carvings. Dare I hope my great, grand nieces and nephews, to whom I’ve bequeathed Hector’s carvings, will be as interested in my scribbles about him as I’ve been in his creations? And if our stuff escapes the thrift store and gets stored in someone’s overstuffed garage—his carvings in one box and my blogs in another—will Beth or Marlee or Madison or Brandon, Bryan or Brad connect the two some day far in the future? And might they in fifty years be reading this to introduce their own grandchildren to their great, great, great, grandfather Paul-Hector aka Onesime Fortier?