The Henrys

The Henrys snoozing away

Just five months shy of his 100th birthday, my grandpa, and Henry’s namesake has passed away. When you sit down and try to capture a lifespan of 100 years, it seems impossible to pin down the memories and stories onto a page. I feel strongly, though to attempt in some way to do so so that when Henry is grown, I can pass them along to him.

When I think of Grandpa, I want to forever remember him siting on his square-backed white whicker chair, gin and tonic in hand enjoying the gentle late-afternoon sun on the cottage porch. I want to remember his canvas shoes, his knee-high socks and his short-sleeved collared shirts tucked into his cotton shorts. He will forever be in my memory making trips back and forth from the ‘Henry Sprague Pub’, serving drinks during Happy Hour, ice clinking against the sides of the green and yellow plastic cups teetering on the round metal serving tray.

My idyllic childhood summers spent at the family cottage on Lake Joseph in Muskoka were filled with sunny days swimming, sailing, playing in the sand, and running barefooted and carefree around the property of the ‘Pointing Pines’. Reflecting back on our summers in Muskoka, our time at the cottage would not have been the same without Grandpa spotting us 50cents to play Ramoli, sitting on the dock with his binoculars watching us sail up and down the lake or serving us Muskoka Dry ginger ale on ice during Happy Hour.

My grandparents with my sister, Leah, her daughter Rosalie and my Dad at the cottage

As a young child, I remember being slightly intimidated by my Grandpa and his dinner-time interrogation on gender of French nouns (‘Beurre’, is it masculine or feminine?’) and whether I had eaten every morcel on my dinner plate. After dinner, we’d often watch ‘Mr Bean’ or ‘Faulty Towers’ with Grandpa siting in the stately green chair that reclined by setting a wrought iron rod at various levels on the back of his chair. On calm evenings, after finishing our meal, we’d race down to the boathouse to take the Launch out for a spin. The mahogany boat was Grandpa’s pride. He would always berate us if we ever left the boathouse door open spilling bright sunlight onto the precious wooden boat. Grandpa would sit in middle seat of the boat while us children squabbled over who would get to drive with my Dad. We’d cruise up and down the Muskoka waters as the sun set behind the pines.

Sunset at the cottage

Although I never witnessed it, Grandpa loved to waterski. As a child, my father recounts being sent off a homemade ski jump, constructed by my Grandpa, while being pulled (sometimes along with his two brothers) behind the Launch. I actually learnt how to waterski behind a ten horse-power tin boat on skis that my Grandpa made out of wood and tires.

What I will miss the most about my Grandpa are his hilarious antics. He was quite the performer and entertainer. He always loved being the centre of attention as he told his stories (Carte Blanche —> “Take Blanche home!”) or opened presents. He loved creating drama that would send us kids into fits of giggles as he pulled faces and charades that would carry on and on.

Happy birthday Grandpa!
Posing for the camera 🙂

Always being goofy to get us to laugh

Christmas 2006 – Grandpa got a new wallet filled with Canadian Tire money, he was feeling rich and generous and handed out $10 bills to my sister, my brother and I! haha

Ever the storyteller, my Grandpa would often recount stories of his World War II days as a pilot in the airforce. My most treasured picture of him is a black and white photo of him standing handsomely in full uniform beside his spitfire, with my grandmother’s name, ‘Harriet’ painted in flowing letters on the graceful plane. I wish we had recorded his wartime stories and his recollections of being shot down over France and being imprisoned in a German POW camp in Poland for four years. His tales of his time in the camp were captivating. I will never forget his account of how he, and his prison mates secretly dug a tunnel out of the camp, using the boards from their beds to frame the passageway. Grandpa told me one of his jobs was to be a ‘Penguin’, waddling in the prison yard while scattering the dirt from the tunnel slowly from a special contraption in his pants. Luckily, when it was time to escape, my Grandpa fortunately drew a high number and never had the chance to attempt to exit using the tunnel. Seventy-six men escaped on March 24th, 1944. Unfortunately, only three his prison mates who attempted actually made it and survived. Of course, the Hollywood version of his story was made into the 1963 movie entitled ‘The Great Escape’, starring Steve McQueen.

My Grandpa will be missed immensely but I hope that his memory and his stories will live on and be passed along to Henry as he grows up.

Christmas dinner in Dundas with my brother, my mom, my Nan, my Dad, my sister and my Grandpa

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