William Ronald Hamilton was born on January 19th, 1915 in Rossburn, Manitoba. To family and friends he was known as “Ron” due to the fact that his first and middle name were mistakenly reversed on his birth certificate. I knew him as Grandpa Hamilton, my father’s father. Grandpa Hamilton and his wife, Mary Black were two of the most important people in my life. My reasoning behind this will follow.
One of the earliest memories I have involving my Grandfather is from when I was five or six. I was playing with some toys, as were my two sisters, in the living room of my Grandparent’s farmhouse in Rossburn. Suddenly my Aunt Judy, the youngest of my father’s four siblings, came running through the living room screaming to call the hospital. Apparently my Grandfather got bucked off of the horse he and my Aunt owned. He ended up getting the wind knocked out of him and breaking a few ribs. Even though he healed okay, it was quite a scare for everyone involved.
This last incident happened on one of the many summers my family and I spent at the farm. We tried to spend as much time with my Grandparents for around 1976 my Grandfather was diagnosed with cancer. No one admitted it at the time, but in the back of our heads, we thought Grandpa may lose the battle. So it may have been an unconscious decision to spend as much time with him as possible. The fact that almost everyone over the age of 60 on my father’s side of the family has had or died from cancer was not reassuring.
For me personally most of my memories of Grandpa were good. I used to wake up early all of the time at the farm when I was younger and dress as soon as I could and waited for Grandpa to say, “Let’s go for a walk.” We would walk for awhile around his farm until he figured that it was time for breakfast. Almost always Grandpa would start a food fight. This usually meant more work for Grandma. My Grandpa was a very demanding man, but Grandma always put up with it.
In addition to Grandpa being demanding, so was I, and to certain degree I still am. My mother feels that I got this trait from him. My mother and Grandpa locked horns on many occasions, but that’s for another essay.
I understand that this is, for the most part, not very organized, but I believe that memories are almost never organized. With that in mind, I will go back to those early morning walks with Grandpa. He never said much unless I asked him a question. I remember once when I was about 17 I wondered aloud which Prime Minister candidate I would vote for when I was 18. Grandpa said, “It’s too big.” I didn’t understand. He elaborated, explaining that things really don’t change that much when they are that big. He also said that I should worry more about it at a local level and let the chips fall where they may federally. I thought this was quite profound for just a “rural redneck.” There were also other bits of food for thought, like: don’t complain, work it out and live one day at a time. Granted they weren’t the most original pieces of information but they meant, and still do mean, a lot to me.
Grandpa taught me to be honest, fair, realistic and to try and always have fun. He never drank alcohol, did drugs, swear and quit smoking a few years before my parents were married.
Fun was almost mandatory with Grandpa around. Like aforementioned food fights, there were water fights and loads of practical jokes. Let me set up a scene for you: my grandparents had lots of animals like cows, horses and even a goat. The most common animals were cats, and boy were they wild. I was about 14 and Grandpa, Dad and I were watching the cats and kittens eat the scraps of food I had put out for them. The largest cat had its’ back to me while it was eating and Grandpa told me to pick it up. Luckily it was winter and I had my big leather gloves on because that cat, which was not domesticated, would have torn my hands to pieces. As it was I ended up with perforated gloves. Grandpa and Dad laughed heartily. I laughed hesitantly.
It is hard to sum up what Grandpa meant to me with all of the fading memories, but I will try my best to explain further. There was a bit of a generation gap between us. My almost severe interest in judo, hockey, art, poetry and music stirred almost nothing in my Grandpa. Even when I went through my punk rock phase and other childish rebelliousness, Grandpa (and even Grandma, which is why she is still so important to me) never made fun of me or were never disrespectful to me, unlike some of my family, close or distant. There was one incident where Grandpa hit me extremely hard. Looking back, I hold no grudges because I did something he told me not to do. I told my Dad this and he was shocked. Dad was scared to tell me because he thought it may skew my opinion of him, but Grandpa was always stressed out and very intense. This is probably because he had to support five kids and a wife on a shoestring budget. The level of intensity was so bad that Dad could hardly wait to graduate from high school so he could move out. Dad went on to say that as intimidating as his six foot one, two hundred and thirty pound father was, he never raised a hand to his children. I still see Grandpa as a sometimes serious, big teddy bear.
Of all of the differences between Grandpa and myself we had one thing in common. We loved baseball. So almost every summer when the whole family gathered at the farm, we would always play some ball in the farmyard. My fondest memory was Grandpa hitting an underhand pitch so hard that it went from one end of the yard to the other and even cleared the roof of the barn. At 74, Grandpa couldn’t run very well but this time he didn’t need to.
This was the second last time I saw Grandpa before I saw him in the hospital. I will not go into my feelings about seeing him naked except for a special undergarment so he could urinate, for the cancer was eating his body. I will try to forget how much weight he lost in the last months of his life and the pain and the open sores and the chemotherapy. Hearing the stories of his pain, hallucinations and going from 230 pounds to 150 pounds in a span of a couple of months. This has caused my views to be extremely polarized so that if I had to choose between cancer or A.I.D.S. to die from, I would choose A.I.D.S. in a second. I will block it all out by thinking about that rocket of a baseball he hit landing somewhere in the pasture behind the barn.
William Ronald Hamilton died March 12, 1990, losing a 13 year battle to cancer. My only regret about Grandpa and my relationship is that in our final meeting in the hospital in early 1990, I never told him that I loved him. It took me almost four years to deal with his death, I just hope that he somehow knows that I loved him, still do love him and that I miss him very much.