April 1st marked the 4th anniversary of Dad’s death. He was and always will be a unique, talented, multi-faceted character in my mind. Others may choose words such as inventor, genius, enigma, weirdo or oddball. We are quick to admit that he marched to the beat of a very different drummer. It was impossible to predict what he would say or do.
I remember when he and Mom signed up for cable television. The package included the movie channels. A few months later, he marched into the Cable Company Office and ordered them to remove the movie channels from his package.
The unsuspecting girl behind the counter asked politely, “Is there a problem with your service, Mr. Roache?”
“Yes, there is!” he bellowed.
“And what would that be, sir?”
She could not possibly have been prepared for his answer.
“I’m scared to death that God is going to strike my house with lightning for watching such filth!” and with that, he stomped out of the office.
I’m sure she had a good story to tell when she got home that night. There is a strong possibility that her parents asked, “By any chance, was that Gene Roache from West Head?”
I can tell you that Mom wasn’t too impressed with his behaviour, “Oh, Gene, why in the world would you say something like that? Why can’t you act like other people? I know that Thelma Locke’s husband wouldn’t do that.”
No doubt his answer began with, “Woman………….”
Mom died unexpectedly and suddenly in 1998. As time passed Dad began to experiment with baking. He collected recipes from seasoned cooks, especially from his sister, Edith, and from his sister-in-law, Eleda. He pumped out cranberry muffins, banana bread, blueberry cake and molasses cookies by the dozens. He even succeeded at making edible pastry using oil, a feat in itself. Martha Stewart would have declared it “a good thing.”
The aroma of apple, blueberry and rhubarb pies filled the house. Dad was very proud of his accomplishments, but his ultimate goal was to make bread from scratch. Sometimes the yeast did its job and other times it didn’t. I would venture he had a 50% success rate. He enjoyed photographing the bread that was inedible.
The poor sheep ate the failures, each loaf heavier than the previous one. I fully expected to read in the Shelburne Coast Guard that a flock of sheep from the Lockeport area had died from a mysterious illness. It wasn’t bluetongue, black foot, bent leg, inverted eyelid, pink eye, white muscle disease, scrapie or ryegrass staggers. This unknown disease caused their stomachs to rupture and shatter into a million pieces which shot out of their mouths faster than greased lightning. And, even worse, their bowels disintegrated and flew out the other end faster than a toupee in a hurricane. As far as I know they are still hurdling through space towards Mars. If you are gazing at the sky tonight and see something unusual, there is a possibility………………………………………………..
Dad was an ambitious soul. Every Monday morning he proudly hung out his wash bright and early. He boasted that he was the first one in West Head to get his clothes on the line. As many of you know, it is ALWAYS windy in West Head. It is almost impossible to keep your clothes on the line. Dad complained that they didn’t make clothespins like they used to, which was probably true. The new ones flew apart and the clothes ended up in the bushes, down on the beach or disappeared completely, never to be seen again. (There could be some Portuguese fishermen wearing his clothes.) One day I noticed he wasn’t using ordinary clothespins. He had hung out his wash with carpenter’s clamps— resourceful, I admit. It definitely worked, but he wasn’t satisfied so he dreamed up an even better solution. (If I didn’t know better, I would have thought he was smoking wacky tabaccy.) Dad actually sewed the clothes on the line with fishing twine and a darning needle. When it was time to bring in the clothes, one had to go equipped with scissors or a knife. Only Dad!
And then there were the fences. We loved to torment him about them. They were like mazes from “Hogan’s Heroes, Stalag Luft 13.” We could see Dad in his garden, but it was impossible to get to him. Every route led to a dead end.
We also believed that his fences were strategically placed to catch every snowflake that fell in West Head. It was useless to call anyone to plow, because one by one, each one fumed,
“Gene Roache, don’t you ever call me again! Every time I come to this cursed place I ruin my plow blade!”
His only option was to hire local men to shovel it by hand. Thankfully, Burnley and Nels were willing to do it. Eventually, our youngest brother bought a snowblower and he looked after the driveway for Dad. Thank you, Francis.
Dad was always inventing something. His inventions could have had been worth big money if we had had the foresight to patent them. My brothers and I would be the nouveau riche, but alas, *sniff sniff*, we are not.
Every house in West Head was on well water and several of thim had a history of going dry every year. Our well used to drop very low in the summer, but to my knowledge, it never became unusable. More unfortunate neighbours would come up to get a few buckets of drinking water. Dad thought it was wasteful to use valuable well water for his garden so he collected rainwater in those garish fluorescent blue barrels. He developed a system to collect the maximum amount of water with minimum effort, a common quality among inventors. He connected several barrels by threading plastic piping from near the top of one barrel to another. When barrel #1 filled up, the water automatically flowed into barrels #2, 3, 4, 5 and 6. We just rolled our eyes and groaned at him — another crazy Eugene Roache invention.
When Glenn and I returned to Ontario at the end of the summer we discovered that we were the dummies. One evening we were shopping at Home Depot and saw something that made our eyes bug out. There they were: plastic rain barrels connected with plastic piping. Dad had been using that system for years. Granted, theirs were a little more refined with a screen to keep out debris and a fancy tap at the bottom to conveniently fill your watering can. There was, however, one very noticeable difference. I bent over to smell them, and all I could smell was brand new plastic. Dad’s barrels, you see, reeked of what they had been filled with previously — well-rotted lobster bait. It is impossible for me to describe the stench.
One day I received a phone call from Dad. He began by saying, “You’ll never guess what happened. I think I burned up my wallet and I had just cashed my CPP and OAS cheques. My brothers and I felt so bad for him. In fact, I think we felt worse than he did. The whole story began to unfold, or so we thought. It went something like this. When Dad came home from the bank he went in the house to gather up some garbage for the burn barrel and burned it all. Hours later he reached in his pocket and his wallet wasn’t there. He retraced his steps — no wallet. Then a chill ran through his body. What if he had accidentally thrown it in the burn barrel? No, it couldn’t be. Dad needed a definitive answer so he went to the barn and got a fine screen so he could sift through the contents of the burn barrel.The only thing he found that might have been part of his wallet was a snap. Yes, his $1300 had gone up in smoke. We accepted his story, but found it hard to believe that a wad of bills would burn through completely. Then again, Dad was a fire bug. Using his logic, if a little gasoline on a fire was good, then the whole jug would be better. Safety did not figure high on his list of priorities, if you know what I mean. In fact, one of his favourite expressions was, “Well, them’s the chances you gotta take.”
In true Eugene Roache fashion, however, he got his money back, but he didn’t live to know it. You see, he grew gravely ill on March 31, 2013, and he held on until just after midnight on April 1st. Because of that, he received his full CPP and Old Age pensions for the month of April in the amount of $1300. Another win for dear old Dad.
But that wasn’t the end of the story. Some time later, we received a sympathy card from one of Dad’s American friends who wrote ever so warmly about the wonderful relationship he shared with Dad over the years. Reading on, our eyes grew as wide as saucers when we read, “I was there the day Gene burned up his wallet. When it came out of the barrel it was just one big wad of his wallet, cards, and money melted together.” Dad had lied to us, but why? We can’t explain it, but we’re sure he had his reasons.
Over the last year and a half, we have rebuilt the house. The changes have made it very comfortable and more convenient to live in by leaps and bounds. We wish Mom was alive so she could enjoy the improvements.The house has new doors and windows, brand new wiring and the walls have thick insulation.The bedrooms even have doors. There are sinks in the kitchen and the bathroom, instead of just one in the porch. No steps going up or down to each room. All the floors are level. Forget about going out in the winter to drag in firewood. Just turn up the thermostat.
But if we were completely truthful, we would give up all of this if only we could pull in the driveway and see his small black Ford Ranger parked close to the barn, surrounded by piles of wood he got for free. He loved to say, “Just take it down home and dump it on the hill.” We wouldn’t even care if the field was full of barrels, pails, and fences of every description and the grass was three feet tall. It would all be worth it if we could find Dad lying on his old army cot reading the Chronicle Herald with a week’s worth of papers strewn all over the floor.
His old cat, Pretty Boy, would be curled up in a chair. His favourite cat, Chrissie, would be stretched out at his feet and his scaredy-cat, Snide, would be shivering under the cot. And what about his faithful dog, Duffy? Old Duff would be lying down sprawled over every inch of the porch floor so nobody could get in or out without his permission.
Naturally, there would be a belt sander sitting on the kitchen table. tools hung on nails under the window ledge and a chainsaw on the floor at the ready, just in case he should get the urge to renovate.
I sure do miss that white-haired Daddy of mine.