A Daughter and Her Father

This is my first writing assignment for school.  The topic is a memory and since I am not presenting today, I offer it to you …..

My father was Italian born and owned a small grocery store in an isolated town in Northern Ontario.  He was well known in the community for his premium meat counter and particularly recognized for his homemade Italian sausages, developed from the family recipe of his Calabrese mother.  In today’s marketing language these sausages would be referred to as an artisanal product – hand made in small batches.

Making sausages for my father’s business was a very manual two person job.  One person was required to turn the crank on the old, temperamental machine while the other person controlled the output at the other end to prevent the fragile casing of sheep’s intestine from overfilling and breaking.

My three older siblings had been pressed into service at the store in various roles and when I was ten years old my father decided that I, too, should be helping by occasionally making sausages in the evenings after dinner.  I was not very happy about that decision.  At eight pm on a school night, I simply wanted to put on warm pajamas and watch some television before bed.  There weren’t many opportunities to watch TV and this bedtime privilege was highly valued.  Instead, I would have to drudge to the store with my dad in the dark and cold of winter, often not returning home until long past my normal bedtime.  I would then be expected to get up early the following morning to go to school as usual.  Complaining, however, in our home, was not an option.

While my father was normally very gregarious and outgoing with his friends and customers, he was a quiet man without much to say to his children.  He was often gruff and somewhat uncomfortable to be around. We weren’t encouraged to ask questions and certainly not engage in conversation, but on sausage nights, numbed by boredom, I considered all bets were off.  I might have been his unwilling assistant, but on those evenings I held my father captive to my endless chatter and curiosity.  In that dark basement, amid the racks of bathroom tissue and laundry soap, I peppered my father with streams of questions on whatever caught my fancy at that particular time.

He was not always cooperative to my interrogations, but for the most part, he tolerated my questions and some evenings he became outright chatty.  There were certain topics he was never willing to talk about, like his experiences in the Canadian Army during the Second World War or about his life in Italy prior to coming to Canada.  Those questions were normally met with a terse ‘why would you want to know that?’  This became my cue to be quiet for a while before I blithely moved on to the next subject.  I never managed to crack his stony veneer on these subjects but they continued to hold endless fascination for me.

He would happily talk about the art of making sausages, the workings of a butcher shop, and generally most details my 10 year old mind could conjure up about his business.  We talked about favourite colours, music, fishing and dozens of other topics.

In all these conversations I was looking for the spark of adventure in my father.  I wanted to be wowed by his courage and daring, pithy insights or simply the ability to make me laugh at his cleverness. I was always disappointed. Perhaps that is the truth for all little girls who want to see a hero in their father.  I began to see a simple, unassuming man.  He never seemed to want or need anything more than what he already had.  He never hinted at broken dreams or lost opportunities.  It was as if any traces of adventure he may have had were long erased.

It was the beginning of a turning point for me.  My fascination with the wider world was expanding beyond the small town I lived in.  My immigrant parents had once lived out in that bigger world, but for the first time, I began to suspect that they would no longer be able to feed my growing curiosity. I began to feel I would need a bigger life, different from the one I knew.

These late night conversations, fuelled by a repetitive uninteresting task, gave birth to a compelling need for adventure – to explore, learn and experience as much of life as possible.  Ironically, at the same time, a new bond had been forged between father and daughter.  He had quietly instilled in his fourth child a strong work ethic and a powerful sense of responsibility.  Going forward we would always seem to have the ability to easily share each other’s company.

I had been given a gift that took me years to recognize and appreciate.

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Oct 1983

About Joanne Sisco

Retired but not idle. Life is an adventure - I plan to continue to embrace it.
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29 Responses to A Daughter and Her Father

  1. mlmuldoon says:

    I just found this post now and I loved it. Of course, we had such a different relationship with him. He was always very playful with us, which is something I’m noticing with my Dad now as well. I also strongly suspect that your parents instilled that wonder and desire to experience all of the wider world in me as well. Thanks for sharing xo

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    • joannesisco says:

      It’s interesting how our relationship with our parents change over the years.
      I think it is normal for most (all?) kids to look at the parents at some point and find them wanting … but as we grow up, so does our sense of respect for their struggles and achievements.

      Unfortunately I didn’t have a relationship with grandparents like other people did. I feel like it was something important I missed in life.

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  2. Mama Cormier says:

    Joanne I found my way to this post after looking at your award winning odd ball photo of the doll house. I love your writing and the fact that you’re from Toronto. I live in south Etobicoke by the lake. I’ve always lived in Etobicoke and the house I’m in now is the only house my husband and I have ever owned. My parents didn’t talk much about their youth when we were growing up but when we became adults my father just opened up one day and hasn’t stopped since. He’s 88 now and still talks about his youth and experiences in the war to anyone who will listen. I must admit I love hearing his stories and every time he tells them we learn something new. My mother who passed away over 20 years ago didn’t share as much. I only found out two years ago from her sister that my great uncle on my mother’s side was an SS officer in the war and never returned home. I guess we all have skeletons in the closet. By the way I didn’t know that Maggie Wilson is also from Toronto. Small world!

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    • joannesisco says:

      Thanks so much for the wonderful comment!

      It seems to be a common theme with people of our generation that our parents were secretive and unsharing. I’m so thrilled for you that your dad is opening up. Are you making an effort to write any of his stories down? As you say, there are skeletons in everyone’s closet.

      Maggie doesn’t live in Toronto … but she’s pretty close – about an hour and half from where I am in Scarborough. It is a wonderfully small world 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Joanne – I followed the photos from yesterday’s post to this one from January – clearly I have some catching up to do!

    I love your voice as you reminisce about your time with your dad – I can almost hear him ask, “Why would you want to know that?” which, if I had been in the room, would have felt like resistance or scorn or some kind of negative response. But the way you report it, I am able to get in touch with what he might have really been saying. “It was brutal. I want to protect you from that.”

    Lovely photo, too. That’s what drew me here in the first place.

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    • joannesisco says:

      Thank Maggie. It was a difficult piece to write. When I took the writing course, it was in part to overcome this discomfort I have in opening up in my writing.

      Both of my parents were masters of the ‘why do you want to know that?’ They were stoic, reticent people and I was always full of questions. Eventually it was kind of ‘shamed’ out of me and now I am very reluctant to ask people questions – especially if it borders on the personal.

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      • “shamed out of me” – that PERFECTLY describes my experience in the Wilson household.

        We don’t do that now, do we? I mean, I’m asking rhetorically, partly, but since I don’t have kids, I’m also curious. My sense is that our generation was more accommodating to a child’s curiosity?

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  4. Debbie M. says:

    beautiful Jo

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  5. Beautiful memories. Beautiful photo. Your writing course is doing wonders for you if it brings out essays like this! I think I’ll join you all with a glass of wine.

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  6. Lynn says:

    Such a beautiful post Joanne. Although you weren’t able to crawl into your jammies, in hindsight, spending this time with your Dad was a pure gift indeed. Looking at the picture of you & your Dad on your wedding day, it is clear the love & pride he holds for his precious daughter.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I’ve got goose pimples. That was beautiful – isn’t it amazing how much that time with your Dad on those evenings remind with you and shaped your decisions? Things we think are banal as parents stay with our kids for ever, and we never know what moments they will be, whether the effects are good or bad.
    That photograph is fabulous – proud dad and his very stylish and pretty daughter. Sniff. I need a glass of wine now.

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  8. nancytex2013 says:

    Joanne, this was beautiful and thought-provoking. In fact, a number of times I found my mind drifting to thoughts of my childhood, my dad, before refocusing back to your story. Thank you for giving me a glimpse into what shaped you, and motivation to consider the events and people who shaped me.

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  9. As others have commented this got me thinking about childhood with my father too and also made me think a little more about the special relationship I see between my son and his 10 year old daughter. The gift of growing older and more reflective shines through in your story – thanks.

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    • joannesisco says:

      Thank you for the kind words. Your comment about your son and daughter reminded me of something I read a long time ago. It suggested that the most important relationship you will ever have in your life are your siblings. Your parents eventually leave you, your friends – including your partner – and your children know you only from a point in time. Your siblings know you for your entire life. That was a wow moment for me.

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  10. This is a captivating story that had me contemplating my own childhood. For years I could never understand my Dad and the way he brought us up. These days, having children of my own, I’ve realised that he was a tired young man, trying desperately hard to earn enough money to support his growing family. I found forgiveness. Beautiful post xx

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    • joannesisco says:

      Your words are soooo true!! Only after I married and had children of my own did I really appreciate the challenges of my parents. I think a sign of maturity is the ability to look back at difficult times and give them softer edges.
      Thank you for your kind words.

      Like

  11. sueslaght says:

    Your story really strikes a chord with me growing up on a farm in Saskatchewan with a very quiet Dad. I knew from early on I was an adventurer. Your wonderful writing makes me consider it from another vantage point. Thank you!

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  12. davecenker says:

    That is one of the most amazing things about memories. Recalling them is one thing, pondering about them is another. But, when you sit down and write about them, the most amazing discoveries are made. It’s sometimes like opening a wrapped present on Christmas Day. Very interesting and thought-provoking entry that has encouraged me to think more about those seemingly unimportant memories of the past. I am sure there are gems of wisdom nestled everywhere 😉 Thanks for sharing!

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    • joannesisco says:

      Dave – you are so right. This memory took me in directions that I wasn’t expecting when I first started writing it. Your analogy to opening a Christmas present is very interesting – I like it! As always, I appreciate your kind comments!

      Like

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