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Who Am I?

Don O'Bright

“The aim of life is self-development. To realize one’s nature perfectly – that is what each of us is here for -. Oscar Wilde

I was born in 1945 in the small town of Walkerton about 100 km. north of Kitchener – Waterloo. To-day, everyone knows where Walkerton is because of the E-Coli contamination that occurred in the year 2000 that claimed the lives of six people, one of whom was my first cousin.

I consider myself privileged to have grown up in a small town in the 50’s.  As many of us are similar in age, you too can recall the simplicity and innocence of those times.  My father was a factory worker who operated a band saw at Canada Spool and Bobbin, one of the five Walkerton industries that existed at that time.  He was the best at what he did.  My mother was a stay-at-home housewife who prided herself in being the first to have the Monday morning laundry on the wash line. 

 I developed a love for the “Great Outdoors” early in my life.  We lived at the edge of town and on the other side of the tar & chip road was our play ground consisting of several hundred acres of fields, bush and streams. There were a few neighbourhood boys, who together with my brother and myself spent countless hours playing ball, fishing, skating, building rafts and tree forts,  swimming, playing football,  tobogganing,  road hockey and a host of other activities that kept us outside pretty much the entire time we were not in school. 

 One of the most difficult things our mom had to contend with was getting us home at meal time.  Our mom insisted that we not play on the road at noon as the factory workers rushed by in their cars going home for lunch as they had to get home, eat, have a brief nap and return to work in time to punch the clock by 1:00pm.  My very best job ever was the three summers spent as a lifeguard and swimming instructor at the local swimming pool.

I probably would have received all “A’s” in outdoor activities but the school environment was quite another matter.  I had a clear inability to focus and concentrate.  I could read a paragraph and not be able to recall anything about it.  In all fairness, I did excel in “Art” and things that required imagination.  However, being able to draw the “best horse” did not exactly move one to the head of the class.  I think the word they used to describe my affliction was “lazy”.  It was through a last ditch, all out effort that I passed grade 8 and moved on to grade 9.  Until High School, I thought that “D’s” on my report card meant “done”.

Languages were an area of difficulty I would never overcome.  I failed French in grade nine which meant – I failed grade nine. I did make it to grade 11 with the help of a very kind and gentle nun who offered to tutor me in French during the summer. She gave me a pass mark with the understanding that I would never take French again, ever. I didn’t.

Grade eleven posed an even bigger problem and that was Latin.  At Christmas the best mark I could muster was an embarrassing 4% and was asked to switch to a typing course in January as it was clear I was going no where in Latin.

I did eventually make it to Grade 12 Commercial but left school in February to take a clerical job in the office of a local industry called Larson & Shaw at $30 a week.  Within a few months, I started working at G.H. Ward & Partners, a local accounting firm, assisting in the preparation of farm tax returns. My salary jumped to $42.50 a week. It became difficult watching my classmates go on to advanced education and promising futures when I seemed stuck in a low paying job in a small rural town.  I made a decision to finish high school on my own.

In all our lives, events or impressions occur, some dramatic and some seemingly so innocent as to go unnoticed. They change the way our lives unfold and give it a new sense of direction.  For me there were several and they happened in a few short years.  There are four areas of my life that I will briefly talk about.

The first important phase of my life

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 involved family. It started when I substituted for a friend of mine to go on a blind date and fifty years later we are still dating. This was to be the one big event that was a precursor to a journey filled with adventure, joy, several  life-long friendships, some disappointments and failure, but certainly contentment, fulfillment and happiness plus a host of other emotions and feelings that continue to grow and develop to this day.

The birth of our first child was very memorable.  It is a time when you go from being a child yourself to full adulthood in a flash. Suddenly you realize you have a new and full set of responsibilities that require you to “step up to the plate”. At that time we were in the process of moving from a rented farm house near Owen Sound to the back of a house in Balmy Beach on Georgian Bay. I did the move myself since Diane was still in the hospital with our new baby.  With a borrowed truck and in the interest of saving time and money, I moved the fridge onto the truck without emptying the contents. That didn’t work out very well.  Tomato juice, eggs, milk – all over.  My wife couldn’t believe I would do such a thing.

Unfortunately, the lack of not “looking ahead” was to plague me for the rest of my life.  Thankfully, the consequences were never too great but they were annoying. Things like, not changing from a good shirt when painting a wall or the umpteen dozen times there were kitchen spills and accidents that could have easily been avoided with a little foresight. These seem to bother my wife much more than me. You’re probably wondering how our marriage could survive almost fifty years – so does she.

Pretty much all of our married life was spent in Kitchener where we raised our four daughters.  It was sometimes difficult to live amongst five females but somehow we all survived.  I learned early to make sure the toilet seat was always down.  I also learned that male chauvinism had no place in our home. We had many family outings and even in the winter took the girls to area motels with indoor swimming pools. These “mini” trips were very memorable. One time at a Holliday Inn in London, Diane and I thought we could have a dinner alone in the dining room and leave the four of them (our oldest being 11) alone for an hour.

When we returned to our room, they were playing in the hall which was not too bad, but our youngest, a two year old, was running around with no clothes on.

Diane took leave of her teaching career for eight years as a stay-at-home mom and gave me time to focus on career advancement and other activities. Even as an adult I found a way of avoiding studying. I developed a yearning to be the cook in the family and prepared most of the meals. Everyone seemed OK with that and enjoyed my cooking.  I also developed an interest in gardening that, even to-day, along with meal preparation, is one of my most treasured pastimes.     

The second phase of my life had to do with career.  As a youth I had difficulty concentrating and focusing.  There were two very minor incidents that took place that, in and by themselves, were trivial.  But the seed was planted and continued to grow.

Self-confidence was a problem but shortly before we were married, we attended a party with several people who were well educated and on their way to successful careers.  There was a game consisting of a tray of objects being passed around and all of us had to list as many of them as we could remember.  Surprisingly, I had the most.  I realized then, that with some effort, I could focus and concentrate.

A few years later I started working on a B.A. as an adult student majoring in Business and Economics at W.L.U.  I was taking the dreaded Quantitative Analysis course, other wise known as Statistics and by some coincidence a high school friend of mine was in the same class as part of the C.A. program.  He was one on the very “bright lights” in high school who always got straight “A’s”.  We were sitting side by side during a mid term test when he looked over at my paper and started copying my answers. I was completely taken a back by this as he was supposed to be the smart one.  I was so flattered that I allowed him to continue.

This was my moment in the sun and the fact that it was very “wrong” didn’t enter into the equation.  After the exam he said “thank you” for allowing him to use my answers. I felt that I was the one who should be  thanking him. In the end, he got a “B” and was happy:  I got an “A” and was ecstatic.

There were a number of little situations like this that helped build my confidence in being able to succeed in the academic world. I did graduate from University and also obtained a Certified General Accountants designation.

A year or so after being married I met up with a former colleague from G.H.

Ward & Partners who was working with Revenue Canada.  I had been working long and hard hours in the accounting department at Uniroyal Ltd. and was having difficulty getting time to study.  He suggested I apply for an opening at the Tax Department. I did and shortly after…,   I started, what turned out to be, a thirty-one year career in the audit division.

I happened to be in the right place, at the right time and had several really good supervisors who helped me out a great deal. Although it was not my intention to stay with Rev. Can., I did, and it was mainly because of a number of promotions and rotations to a variety of areas that kept me interested. I worked in areas such as business audit, audit review,  special investigations as well serving on a several promotion boards, and giving numerous training sessions in both technical and managerial areas. As it turned out, I ended up in managerial positions for most of my career.

Nineteen ninety-nine was the year Wayne Gretzky retired and if it was good enough for him, it was good enough for us.  Both Diane & I retired to a new and fulfilling life.

The third significant phase of my life could be entitled “The Bruce Beckons”.   You can take the boy out of Bruce County but you can’t take Bruce County out of the boy.

Living in Kitchener did not mean that Bruce County wasn’t my home.  A few years after settling into a house and raising a family, the yearning for a cottage in The Bruce grew stronger and stronger.  I spent about four years going from lake to lake looking for a cottage that was both suitable and affordable.  On May 24th. week end in 1977 I received a call from a good friend who told me of a cottage, two doors down from him, that was going on the Real Estate market on Monday morning. We had to act quickly and did the two hour drive in about an hour and forty five minutes. Following a quick inspection we entered into a “gentlemen’s agreement” to buy the cottage for a staggering $29,000 including furnishings.

Friday, June 10th. with mounting excitement and great expectations, we packed our station wagon to the hilt and drove to our cottage on beautiful Gould Lake. Little did we know that the caterpillar cycle was the worst ever and our girls were afraid to go out-of-doors.  As well, we realized that we shared this space with many other critters including mice, bats, squirrels, ants, spiders, raccoons and of course, the dreaded snakes.

 I won’t even mention the black flies and mosquitoes that made life miserable. This was not exactly what we had in mind in acquiring this place and many times that weekend, said to ourselves, “what have we done”?

Needless to say we have spent thirty six fantastic summers and winters at the lake. Two of our girls have moved away and have families of their own but one of their favourite times of the year, and ours too, is in the summer when they can bring their own children to the lake and enjoy the many lake activities this jewel, nestled in the heart of Bruce County, has to offer.

In 1998 we had the cottage taken down and replaced it with a new structure that could be used year round. Since our retirement Diane and I are able to spend more time relaxing and enjoying the lake as we spend many winter weekends there as well.

Lastly, I enjoy the benefit of having many hobbies and interests.  Like canoe trips in the Spring in Algonquin park, the planned fishing trip to a remote northern lake in the Fall, and the many hunting trips to Griffith Island and Sagemace Country Club in Manitoba.

One of the most memorable fishing trips was in the Amazon where I caught a twenty one pound peacock bass.

Music has been an important part of my life and along with Andy McAuliffe and John Cullen, I have been singing with the Waterloo Regional Police Male Chorus for over twenty years.

I am proud of being a member of two bridge clubs and a poker/solo club for much of my adult life. These clubs have provided true fellowship and many enjoyable hours of fun and laugher.

Diane and I go for daily walks and every other Monday, do a two hour plus hike with two other couples.  Beach walks on Sanibel Island and Sauble Beach are my personal favourite.

We both enjoy travelling and have experienced several parts of Europe visiting two of our children. We have taken twelve or so cruises including Alaska, Hawaii, Mediterranean and Caribbean Sea, Panama Canal, and two transatlantic crossings. We have also travelled much of Canada, the greatest country in the world.

The journey is certainly not over and the need “to realize one’s nature perfectly” is not complete, so.. the journey continues.

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3 Jun 2013, 16:52