It’s your 94th birthday today dad. And Mom you’re going to turn 90 in three short weeks! Amazing really.
I’m touring the Yukon and thinking about the party I’ll be missing. Wish I was home.
Tonight, I’ll be singing your song at the show:
The Bells of Retribution
I wish the world could thank you for your service in WW2. I know you question whether people care about your service or the veterans anymore, but I know most people do. I wish that whenever you went down to your mailbox you would find random thank you letters instead of generic bills and junk mail. Maybe a teacher will read this and inspire their students to write you some old fashioned letters? Stranger things have happened. I’ll post my address just in case.
4716 Yonge St. #2220.
See you soon.
The following is a chapter about my parents from a collection of short stories I recently released entitled: The Chicken Came First (and other half-truths from my life as a touring songwriter).
And the Oscar goes to: Madeline Aymar
My mother has always been a realist and for her possession of that trait, I owe her a mountain of gratitude. On the other hand, there have been the occasional flashes of idealism where my mother, though a child of the Great Depression and the Second World War, offered glimpses into a heart that dared to dream. This is why our conversation last week was so incredible. I felt for the first time ever, she was beginning to understand my life as an artist. As I watched the Academy Awards celebration it brought me into my mother’s original dream world, a world she so clearly loved: The movies.
Madeline (Theriault) Aymar
Mom was born and raised in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario in 1925 to a French Acadian father and a Canadian born Irish mother. The Soo is a steel town known for its rugged beauty where Lake Superior, Lake Michigan and Lake Huron intersect in Northern Ontario. During the Great Depression her father owned a billiard hall which sustained them through the hard times, putting food on the table for their seven children. Of the five boys and two girls, mom was the second youngest and generally spent her days much like any other child of her era. Frequent visits to the neighbours would involve card games or book swapping. My mother and her ‘kindred spirit’, Jackie Wall, would walk side-by-side through the downtown streets quoting Lucy Maud Montgomery and dreaming of life beyond their three block radius.
Next to my grandfather Eli’s billiard hall, was the Princess movie theatre. My mother often recalled fondly of how she and Jackie learned that the local bakery would offer five cents to anyone who would return ten bread bags to the bakery for re-use. Naturally, this mission was to be executed with the objective of getting back into the theatre to re-watch screen idol Shirley Temple singing On the Good Ship Lollipop!
I am convinced that these movies helped shaped my mother’s world view. What passed for casual entertainment was pure escapism – imagination set loose – if only for a few hours. Imagine walking back out of the theatre into the streets of this northern town. It must have felt so mundane compared to the option of singing and tap dancing for the world! But time has a way of marching on and before you know it, mom was all grown up. She’d been prepping for nursing college in Detroit and big adventure was waiting. It was post-war and soon after commencing her studies she met Delbert John Aymar, aka Dad.
Dad was born in 1921 in a rural Acadian fishing village, Lower Saulnierville, on the south shore of Nova Scotia. His own father, Benjamin Aymar, died from tuberculosis when my father was only six months old. He spent the majority of his childhood in St. Anne’s College, a Catholic boarding school run by priests from France. He would only go home to visit his mother for the summer months then spend the rest of the year at the school. This went on until he was 18.
Dad served in the Canadian military for most of World War II. Upon completion of his basic training in Halifax, he applied to the air force. They ran him through the standard educational tests; balance and eye sight tests; then into a cockpit after which they passed him. The very day he was accepted into the air force he was told it was too late as they’d called him into action and he was needed as infantry. In retrospect he said, “I was lucky! The pilots didn’t have a very long life expectancy.”
During the latter part of the war the Canadian military sent a letter home to his mother saying her son John had been killed in action. This ‘clerical error’ was not resolved for two weeks, leaving his mother heart-broken, then obviously elated to hear he was alive. His mother Emily eventually remarried. She had four more children and as such, Dad had four new brothers and sisters.
Upon coming back to Nova Scotia, he attended The University of Halifax for a year but soon felt it was time to head for Toronto. Along with his friend Henri, they drove to Toronto and worked odd jobs for a while, eventually landing a position in sales with Imperial Tobacco, (back when smoking was hip). If you’ve not seen the early 1970’s Canadian cult classic movie ‘Goin’ Down the Road’ (written by playwright William Fruet) I strongly suggest you seek it out. It’s essentially the story of my dad and Henri twenty-five years earlier.
After working with Imperial Tobacco for a while they transferred him up to “this English city with a French sounding name!” – Sault Ste. Marie. Before too long he met my mother and the rest was history.
As of now, dad is 93 and mom is 89. They are alive and well and still together at home. Mom has become a bit forgetful in her advanced years, but dad has decided to take care of her on his own. Two more amazing people you’ll never meet.
During a recent visit home, my mom was recalling the days of her early childhood. The stories were so vivid I asked her if I could record them. She agreed.
After a while, the conversation turned toward my chosen profession. I thought I’d share this with you:
Mom: So where are you living these days?
Me: I got out of my place a few years ago. It didn’t make financial sense. I’m living wherever I hang my hat.
Mom: What does that mean?
Me: Well, I’m trying save money while living on the road.
Mom: How do you like that?
Me: It’s hard but it feels good for the most part.
Mom: So how are you making money my dear?
Me: I’m playing my music. Remember? I make music?
Mom: Yes but you can’t make a real living out of that can you?
Me: Well, I’m trying to Mom. It’s very tough. I’m living the life of an artist.
Mom: An artist? Do you paint too?
Me: No, sometimes they call musicians artists as well.
Mom: So you’re living as an artist? How is that?
Me: It’s great. Sometimes it’s tough. But what isn’t tough? I’m feeling better I ever have.
Mom: Don’t you want to settle down and have a family?
Me: I think there’s a better chance of that happening while living as an artist mom. She’s out there. Maybe she’ll be an artist too.
Mom: Oh god – then you’ll both be broke! Can’t you just do your music on the side?
Me: Yes mom, I’ve done that for many years but it just doesn’t work that way. It’s something I have to do full time. Sounds crazy I know.
Mom: What’s the point of it all?
Me: Hmmm…good question. Maybe deep down I’m hoping to make the world a better place.
Mom: How can you do that through your music?
Me: I don’t know. Maybe writing my own songs and singing them is a good for all of us. Hey I just had you singing ‘Who threw the overalls in Mrs. Murphy’s chowder!’ And you were smiling and laughing. That counts. Right?
Mom: (laughs) I guess you’re right. I’ve always liked to dance to music though. Don’t you do any toe-tappers?
Me: Yeah I’ve written a few of those.
Mom: So you’re doing this to make the world a better place?
Me: Well that’s a question for the age’s mom. I’m likely doing it for money and girls! Just kidding.
Mom: Seems to me every famous person I’ve ever read about had a miserable life. They always seemed unhappy. I DO wish you’d find a nice girl and settle down.
Me: Well, I’ve committed to this and yes it’s hard but I’ve never slept better. I’m living for my art.
Mom: But you don’t have a home to live in? You are not making any money? Don’t’ they call that being a bum?
Me: Ok mom, all I’ve ever known is that you raised us to believe in this guy named Jesus. Right? Now, no disrespect to my buddy Jesus, but he advocated giving up all of ones worldly possessions. Right? Ok. Well, I’ve done that. I’ve given up my worldly possessions and am travelling the countryside to spread the good word about living, dying and loving through my songs. They didn’t call Jesus a bum. Right?
Mom: Oh I’m sure they did at the time. Do you still go to church?
Me: I like the way Tom. T Hall responds to that one. He’s a Nashville songwriter. They call him The Storyteller.
Mom: What did he say about Jesus?
Me: In one of his songs he sings “Me and Jesus got our own thing going! Me and Jesus got it all worked out.” I guess I don’t know what to think about it all. I hope there’s something up there.
Mom: So you don’t go to church anymore?
Me: Well, not as much as you’d like I guess.
Mom: How long are you staying home for?
Me: Three more days.
Mom: Oh, don’t say that. I hate good-byes. Do you have a wife and family to get back to?
Me: I love you mom.
Mom: I love you too my dear.
It’s sad to see my mother go through this phase, but as she’s always said, “We only remember the good times as we get older.” I believe she’s right.
As I sat to watch the Academy Awards on Sunday night, I couldn’t help but think of my mom and her fond memories of the movies. They left such a big impression on her mind. She could imagine herself as Maureen O’Hara in The Miracle on 34th Street or Elizabeth Taylor in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. She never did join the theatre or find herself involved in this creative process in any way, but she sure did love the movies.
Her love of plot reigned supreme. She has always said there is no replacing a good story. Then it dawned on me. That’s the subconscious insight she’s always imparted into my song writing. As I watched the Best Picture nominee’s I felt this strange reassurance that true story-telling in movies, literature and song will forever be at centre of things.
She’s also always reminded me that a good story never goes out of fashion.
“It’s all about how you tell it, son!”
I couldn’t agree more.
I wrote this story you mom.