Mean George (submitted to the CBC Bloodlines competition Nov. 2013)
Mean George was my grandfather. Grandpa.
A mysterious figure to my siblings and cousins; a man whom only my uncle would ever speak about.
All I remember about him is sitting on his knee and occasionally visiting him in Welland, Ontario with my father, walking the few blocks from our home. I remember waiting in the car with my sister in the St, Catharines sanitarium parking lot while my parents spent time at his bedside. Grandpa George had TB and would never leave the hospital.
In the picture, he appears disheveled; rumpled in an ill-fitting suit, his hair sloppily combed. Sure doesn’t look like much.
But back in the day he was.
During U.S. prohibition he was a rum runner and tough as nails. He organized forays over the Detroit and St. Clair rivers hiring the men, supplying the boats, and buying the whiskey for midnight runs into the U.S.. My father, Andrew, was born in Detroit and later the family moved to Welland. When George happened to be in town he organized a few runs across Lake Erie from a boat launch beside the Rathfon Inn just east of Port Colborne on Lakeshore Drive. My father and I went fishing there once, an odd place to fish, I thought, at the time. All he said to me was his father used to come here and didn’t elaborate. People in Welland who knew George said he was a big shot–always had a fat cigar and drove a new car.
George was an absent father, abandoning his children. His wife left him, leaving Andrew to care for his three younger siblings. My father was embarrassed to speak about this to anyone. It angered him. He carried the bitterness to his grave.
My mother Lorraine gave him the name, Mean George. She left the Saskatchewan farm with her sister and came to Ontario for adventure and for work in the post-war boom. Life was good. She was hired on at a textile plant, met Andrew, and married.
As Andrew and Lorraine waited for their house to be built, they lived at George’s place. Old George’s rum running days were long over by then. Smuggling left him with a lot of cash. My mother Lorraine told me how much George hated her, how he tried to undermine their marriage. He’d place some rolls of cash around the house during cleaning days, in places Lorraine was bound to look, hoping she’d pocket it. He also tried to ‘accidentally-on-purpose’ run her down several times with his car.
“And don’t tell your father I told you this,” she said to me, many years later.
While George was in the sanitarium, his youngest son stole his money. That son was ostracized from the family. Andrew took another kick in the teeth from his family.
George and his past are fading memories. I’m sure his ghost prowls the Windsor distilleries, their histories not giving Mean George a footnote.