Friday, February 10, 2017

Letter from the past

Uncle Frank stands proudly in the midst of  his siblings, the children of Ernest and Edith Allen of Red Deer, Alberta. From left to right, Len, Joe, Phyllis, Frank, Evelyn, Frances (my mother). Frank has always been a walker and a sociable soul; traits that continue to this day. The photo was taken  about 1936; Joe and Frank are the only survivors. 

Grandpa Allen believed strongly in healthy athletic pursuits, and made sure there was a tennis court on the farm for the children. Left to right, Frank, Phyllis, Frances, Len, Joe, Evelyn.   

When Uncle Frank broke his arm rushing to put the belt on a pump engine in September of 1945, he had to take three weeks off farm work to let it heal. According to the diary his mother -- my Grannie Allen -- kept in those years, he filled in the time by walking to all the neighbours' houses to visit. On Sept. 19, five days after his injury, he "walked up to George Kirton's. On to Uncle Tom's and then to Olsons, arrived home at midnight." On Sept. 21, he went to "Pyes, McCaws and Wells," and the following day to Leitheads. (By Oct. 9, he was back at work, stacking greenfeed.)

Uncle Frank, a Red Deer resident who turns 95 in May, has never lost his penchant for walking -- or his sociable instincts. Through phone calls and periodic visits, he was one of mom's regular contacts in her final years. His last trip from Alberta to B.C. to see her was in 2012, when he was 90. Nowadays, he visits his brother Joe -- who just turned 98 and lives in another seniors' facility in Red Deer -- every week.

And he still keeps in touch. On Friday, I received that rarest of rare items to slip through a mail slot these days -- a personal, handwritten letter. It was two pages of lined, notepad-sized paper, in the beautiful script inculcated in children of Uncle Frank's generation.

 He's had a good winter, he said, but Joe has had a poor one, ending up in hospital with pneumonia after going outside in minus-20 temperatures. A son-in-law had a stroke; a new great-grandchild is on the way. As for himself, his sociable instincts -- and walking -- are getting him through. "I am doing much better since I got a girlfriend to go walking with and [she] tells me what day it is," he wrote. He signed off with a wish for a good year and a strong recommendation: "Keep on walking for health's sake."


  1. I loved this post and hearing about "Uncle Frank" and his new girlfriend to go on walks with and to tell him what day it is! I wonder how common tennis courts were on farms. I would think there would be quite enough exercise being on a farm in and of itself so very cool to have a tennis!

  2. I don't think tennis courts were very common on farms, but then Grandpa Allen wasn't a common type of person! He came from England, and felt that farmers should keep up with the world and not seclude themselves. He and Grannie regularly went to town to see movies and were very sociable. He made sure there was a skating rink for the kids of the community, and was somewhat involved with the CCF. His motto was "Look around and see what you can do to help."