By the time I slid the old black and white across the kitchen table toward Uncle Fred I already knew most of the answers.
I knew when the photo was taken. 1937.
I knew who was in the photo. Names were on the back.
I knew what “Up North” signified. Temagami, Burk’s Falls, Petawawa and Powassan, Ontario.
"Three thugs ready for work"
(Dad, left, age 17)
I knew what Dad and Fred were doing besides hanging out with guys who looked like mobsters. They were working at a lumber camp.
With the help of other black and whites my two sisters shared I’d pieced together most of the story behind the one old photo that featured my father and uncle together. I just had one question left.
“Why were you wearing a three-piece suit?” I said. “Were you the accountant?”
"Fred Catton, right, in his three-piece suit"
“No. We didn’t have many clothes in those days,” said Uncle Fred Catton, now in his nineties. “Not like today. Everybody has a closetful.”
So, the suit was likely for the trip north, I thought. He likely had work clothes in the trunk of the car. He wasn’t an accountant for the mob. And though I was out of questions Fred had more to tell.
“We worked for about a month at the lumber camp and we would have worked longer. But one of the fellows with us had a police record in that area and one day Mounties showed up to arrest him. They told us we would have to leave the area. If we stayed we’d be in trouble. So, they arrested the one guy and let the rest of us go.”
I felt my original idea, that Fred was a mob's accountant, maybe had not been far wrong.
Dad told me very few stories about his working days as a teenager so I was very much interested in the details Fred shared. We chatted a bit more, fairly easily, but I didn’t feel I should ask other questions on my mind during this ‘first visit in a long, long time.’
As I headed back to London from Fred’s apartment in Tillsonburg I resolved to return with another photo and a few more questions. I’m not the genealogist my mother (Fred’s sister) turned out to be but I do like our family stories. I’ll go a long way to hear a good story, especially if there are shifty lookin’ mobsters involved.
"Fred, ready to serve"
Photos by GH
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