Monday, May 19, 2014

Harry Amirault - The Perfect Dad (52 Ancestors - #20)

Harry Amirault was my maternal grandfather who I never met because he passed away many years before I was born.  My grandmother, Mary Griffin Amirault, told me so many detailed stories about how wonderful he was and showed us so many photographs of him that I feel that next to her, he is the one I know best!  He should have been one of the first ancestors who I wrote about, but I wanted this story to originate from one of his five daugthters.  His now 83 year old daughter, Geraldine Amirault Mortland (Aunt Geri) was gracious enough to share her memories. Harry must have been the perfect dad because these memories of Harry were of when Aunt Geri was a mere 9 year old! So here are the wonderful memories of her beloved father.

Harry Amirault
"When I remember my father, Harry Lawrence Amirault (also Henri Laurent Amirault - b. 03 June 1901), every memory is a happy one.  He was devoted to my mother, my sisters and me.  In the town where we lived, my parents were well-known and highly respected and thought of.

My 83-year-old memory recalls firstly Dad's taking us all to the beach or a country area for a picnic.  We all wore swimsuits to the beach and his was what was worn by men and boys in that era (1930s) - a one-piece suit that went over the shoulders with shoulder straps.  Ours were the same style.  He tried to teach us to swim but we were not good students at that time.  Perhaps I was three or so.

Being gifted musically to no end, he would tap dance on the hardwood floor for us, play the piano which he played 'by ear' whenever he had a little time, and was also very adept at playing the banjo and fiddle.  He could not read a note of music but when I took piano lessons at age five, he could tell from a different room when I had struck a wrong key.  He headed up a musical band that would practice at our house for playing at weddings and such, and I would sit unseen at the top of our stairs just to listen to him and his fellow musicians play great stuff.

Harry with three of his 5 daughters about 1935
(Joan (L), Marilyn (center) and Geri (R)
Dad came to the USA as a young man, 17 or so, from Pubnico, Nova Scotia, Canada.  His home there was on a dirt road and they lived by the soil with one milking cow.  As a child, he and his father played the music at local dances, his father on the piano and Dad on the fiddle.  After he worked in Virginia at a shipyard for a spell, his cousin Fred, who owned and ran a repair garage which also sold new cars and appliances, gave him a job.  That's when he moved to North Weymouth (MA) and later met Mom at a dance in Boston.  She, too, was full of rhythm and they went dancing every week after that, even after they were married.  That's the only time we had a babysitter, every Friday night.  (married 10 August 1929)

Dad patiently taught me to ride a two-wheel bicycle in the garage.  His nature was such that he didn't get excited when I did the wrong thing, he just corrected me and had me try again.  The lesson was a success.  In our home, my sisters and I never ever heard a cross word spoken, any display of temper, or a cuss-word spoken.  At the time, we didn't realize how blessed we were, but as we matured, it became obvious.  Our kitchen was small, so Mum would feed us supper first so she and Dad could eat together and talk over the day.  While we were at the table, he would come in to Mom greeting him at the kitchen door, lift her off the floor in a hug, and proclaim, "This is MY mama!", to which we would all chime in to say, "No, she's not!  She's OUR mama!"  His Tante (Aunt) Anty once told me that in her life, she had never met a better-natured person than Dad and his sister Grace (who also died young).  I can see why she thought that.

Mary kissing Harry (early 1930s)

In winter, Dad would take Joan and me up to Whitman's Pond in East Weymouth to ice skate.  having grown up with winter sports, he was very good at them.  he had fashioned a huge device made from an indoor stair railing with a strong sail attached, and all you had to do was hang onto the railing, aim the sail, and the wind took us all over the frozen pond!  All the young boys crowded around and Dad always wound up taking them for rides around the pond.  He loved kids, and took us with him whenever he had to drive on an errand.  He was a doll!

Dad learned to pray in French, and every morning after breakfast, just before he left for work, he would kneel, work hat in hand, by a window in the kitchen to say his morning prayers - in French.

Dad had several French-Canadian cousins and friends in the Boston area, so every Sunday afternoon, we were all guests at one of their homes or they came to ours.  mom would dress us in pajamas and our host would offer the big bed to us so we could sleep while they visited and talked.  On going home from a visit, Dad would carry each one of us and place us in the back seat of his big old Dodge, where we slept, and carried each of us to our beds upon arriving home.

While Joan and I were still small, we would flank each side of Dad on the divan (couch), armed with combs, barrettes and ribbons.  We would each work a side of his head and do our thing while he went fast asleep.  He loved it.l  When we were in grammar school, we had to walk past the garage where Dad worked and he would come out to greet us on the way.  it never failed, we always asked him if we could have a penny (for penny candy, plentiful then).  While fishing for pennies in his coveralls, he would say, "For crying out loud, you kids must think pennies grow on trees!" but we got them - every time!!

Harry - I believe while still in Pubnico
My parents were devout Catholics and never missed Mass or Holy Days.  Dad even sang in the choir at St. Jerome's church.  When he became quite ill and was in bed at home, the priests used to come up and spend some time with him catting, etc.  On Sundays, Mom would have us all bathed, shampooed and dressed - in the car - she and we would be waiting for Dad who was probably still shaving.  He used a straight razor and had a strop hanging in the corner behind our white lion-clawed iron tub.

On Sunday mornings, when he didn't have to be at work, I remember his tapping out musical rhythms with his fingernails on the headboard of the bed before he had to get up.

Dad loved and respected his entire family and it was a lesson to me that you start with family and end with family.  Two of his sisters nursed him day and night at home during his worst and final days before passing away (from cancer).  He was part of a very loving family, and a large one at that!  My sisters and I, as did he and Mom, spent some wonderful time with them over the years and now stay in touch with their families.
Harry's obituary - Weymouth News & Gazette - October 10, 1941

Last, but not least, Dad had a great sense of humor and a hearty laugh.  He had a great smile, though photos that we have of him do not show that side of him.  It is a huge pity that his baby daughter Judy never got to know him at all as she was an eight month old infant when the Lord took Dad.  He was only 40 (d. 3 Oct 1941); Mom was 36 and left with five girls to raise, and without the only love of her life (she always said there was no one for her when she had already had the best guy).  He has been so missed.  Tante Augusta, Dad's eldest sister, once said to me of my children, "Wouldn't Harry have loved those boys!"  He died when I was nine."  He really was a perfect dad!

Harry's Prayer Card - 1941
NOTE:  Thank you so much Aunt Geri for your willingness to write about your dad and share it with us! 

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