A RETROSPECTIVE BY HIS DAUGHTER

 

LOIS LANGFORD MAHER

 

 

 

W. F. LANGFORD

 

          My father was born in Lucan, Ontario on June 18th, 1898. Dad had two brothers. Harvey was older than Dad, and Clancy (Clarence) was younger.

 

Their father owned Langford Lumber in Lucan. When my dad was twelve, my grandfather also got the Ford car agency for the town of Lucan. Dad and Harvey learned to drive in nothing flat. Whenever grandfather sold a car, either Dad or Harvey drove the new car out to a farm and spent Saturday afternoon teaching the farmer how to drive it up and down his lane. Whichever one had driven the car out would then walk back to town. That meant Dad had been driving since he was twelve and Harvey since he was fourteen.

 

          Dad played baseball with the Lucan Irish Nine. He was a shortstop, and my Uncle Harvey managed the team. They travelled around to games in those Model Tís and their very narrow tires.

 

More than three decades earlier and before anybody had cars, the Donnellys were Irish Catholics who lived way out on the Roman Line in Biddulph Township. The only thing my dad ever said about the Donnellys was that in uptown Lucan, he occasionally saw the boy who had survived by hiding under the bed.

 

          That was a really rough time in Lucan. Every second store on the main street was a pub. Of course, Dadís people were Methodists. They didnít drink, they didnít play cards and they didnít dance or a whole lot of other things. They had absolutely no connection to people who did. It was a very different time. People probably donít realize that now.

 

Both Harvey and Dad were in the First World War. Harvey was an enlisted man and a dispatch rider. He carried dispatches to No Manís Land and was awarded the Military Medal. If heíd been an officer, it wouldíve been the Military Cross. 

 

My dad was 18 when he enlisted and trained at Camp Borden. At that time, it was still the Royal Flying Corps, not the RCAF. He went overseas and was stationed at Aldershot, England. He told me he had a very easy war of it, because the weather was frequently so bad, they just couldnít fly.

 

After the war, Dad went to Queens and took his Masters in History. His younger brother, Clancy, also graduated from Queens. Clancy taught high school in Forest Hill Village.

 

When my dad began teaching, his first job was at the high school heíd attended on Lucanís Main Street. In his second year, he went to Prescott and taught French. He always smiled about that, but of course, he didnít have to speak it. Nobody worried about an accent in those days. It was all written.

 

In his third year, Dad took a job in the Sudbury high school. My mother, Verna McKerrow, had begun teaching at a one-room elementary school and moved in to the city. Her boarding place was near the high school, and Dadís boarding place was near the elementary school. Every morning, they met on a bridge while going to work. After a while, he started tipping his hat, and she started smiling and that was it. They were married in 1928.

 

I was born in 1929 and three when my parents moved to London where my father started teaching at Sir Adam Beck in 1932. He stayed at Beck for the rest of his career.

 

History was his beginning field. When he started, he taught English as well and just grew to love English more.

 

During the Depression, my Grandfather Langford died of blood poisoning as a result of a wood splinter that lodged in his arm at the sawmill. Harvey was working in the bank, but as he was losing his sight in one eye, he had already decided to get out of banking. His vision problem was from trench fever from the war. When Harvey left the bank, he started managing the lumber company. Even though it was the Depression, Harvey refused to declare bankruptcy. He extended credit to all the farmers who had to buy things like 2 X 4ís to shore up a barn here and there. It took him until 1940 before he got out from under this load of depression debt.

 

Langford Lumber is still a business in Lucan, but itís no longer in the Langford family.

 

My dad was very, very proud of his brother Harvey. At a time when other people were declaring bankruptcy in droves and walking away from debt, Harvey didnít. In the peace time era, Harvey became an officer, a major. During the Second World War, Harvey was a quartermaster at Ipperwash.

 

During the depression, Dad always marked grade thirteen papers in Toronto in the summer. In those days, you only got paid until the end of June and didnít get paid again until the end of September. In those early teaching years, he was perhaps a more solitary person than most people are. He wasnít terribly, terribly gregarious. He enjoyed having one or two friends drop in, but he wasnít a great joiner. He wasnít a ďRotarianĒ type.

 

Later, he realized there was a real void in useful Literature textbooks. He also took a sharp look at some of the younger teachers that were coming along and felt they needed more help than they were getting with some of their textbooks.

 

He had an arrangement with Bernard MacAvoy who was very much interested in the school trade. Bernard was the sales rep for Longmanís. Dad began by doing the sonnets of Shakespeare. The notes and the questions in Shakespeare were really geared to young people, not to university age. Thatís partly why they sold so well. The books brought in extra income, but they were born more from a teaching aspect and how to fill in the holes he saw.

 

 He also did a great many books on poetry and so on. They were used from grade nine right up to grade thirteen. He edited the books throughout the whole year. Quite a bit of it he did when my mother was ill, and she couldnít go out very much.

 

By the time Bernard died, Longmanís was a little cavalier. They werenít making the money on textbooks then. Those were the days when my dad was turning out the most.

 

My mother was sick seven years. Before she got sick, she always made a habit of entertaining any of the new teachers that came to Beck, such as Wilda Graber, Bonnie Bell and Jessie Day, who went to Toronto. Mother made sure they felt welcome.

 

Beck had a very strong staff through all those years. The teachers were uniformly good in every subject. On the whole, they were extremely well educated people and well read. Although his initial field was Chemistry, Mr. Ramage certainly was an extremely well read gentleman. Mary Cameron was an extremely well read person and very up-to-date. That was true for most teachers at Beck and certainly my teachers at Central too at that time.

 

Because the teaching profession was very short handed during the Second World War, some of the teachers were ďfrozenĒ. They had to be unusually persistent and young to sign up. By that time, Dad felt he was a little bit past it to sign up again.

 

Although I didnít go to Beck, I was taken out there on quite a few Friday nights to watch basketball games. I remember the gym quite well and how clean it was. Miss Dolanís library was very interesting. Of course, when I went to Central, all those things were true of Central too, but because I was younger when I went to the games with my father, Beck made quite an impression on me.

 

During the depression, everybody brown-bagged his lunch, and they all smoked. Everybody smoked. To get away from the smoke, Dad began eating his lunch in his classroom at the noon hour. I think it was the custodian who found him this old rocking chair. Dad began sitting in the rocking chair, eating lunch, marking tests and whatever at noon hours. When the bell rang, thatís where kids found him. I think the school wanted to give it to him when he retired, but I wasnít there. I understand Ottes put the kibosh on the chair idea because it was a pretty old, rackety ruined thing by then.

 

As for calling boys by their last name after the bell rang and addressing the girls as ĎMissí, I never knew he did that. I can only guess it came from the British public schools. In those days, most of us were Anglophones. He did have a very firm belief though, that a teacher --any teacher, no matter how old-- should support his students in all their endeavours.  Frequently he said thatís how you reach boys in particular, because boys were itching to get out of school when they were sixteen.

 

You must remember that in those days, at least half of Beck was farm kids. They all had heavy chores to do when they got home, and many of them were looking forward to a life in farming on the family farm. Sometimes they werenít too sure there was a reason to go very far in school. Dad coached the baseball team and always insisted that a teacher should attend football games and basketball games. He left music to Carl Chapman and Don Wright before him because they did it so well. He thought it was important for a classroom teacher to be visible and supporting these kids because often the boys were more interested in athletics than what they were taking in class. He had no use for a teacher who didnít show up on the sidelines.

 

When Dad first went to Beck, Mr. Dolan was the principal. My dad had a great deal of respect for ĎJ.H.í. As I recall, Mr. Dolan lived on the corner of Queens and Adelaide in the East End. On Saturday afternoons, we would go to the Dolans. In those days, nobody had the money for babysitters, and I went ďwithĒ. Kay was there. She became Beckís teacher/librarian.

 

          The other Dolan daughter was Margery. She worked in Toronto, something in the health line. It was a big treat for them all when Margery was home on the weekend. We would go for tea. For me, the delight of all delights was a huge old attic at the top of this house. In this attic was a wicker doll carriage and at least one or two beautiful China dolls that the Dolan girls had played with in their youth. I was allowed to play with the doll carriage and the dolls.

 

Several times in later years, Kay came around and picked Dad and me up. She had a lovely house out in the West End near his condo. I had a reunion with her a couple of times, with which I was very happy.

 

There was the trouble about Dr. Goldstick, remember? Selwyn Dewdney resigned and then wrote his book ďWind Without RainĒ. Of course, Selwyn was responsible for some of those original murals in the auditorium. Then who came? Oh yes, Cliff Johnson.

 

Mr. Johnson was very, very good to my dad when my mother got sick. The whole staff was wonderful. They pitched in so that if he had to go some place after four or get home early, someone took over his duty on this or that or the other.

 

My mother died in 1953. By the time Dad married Ottes, I was teaching in Fort Frances. Of course, I knew Ottes. She had taught me Music in grade nine at Central. My dad was married twice and very happily married both times. He acquired two wonderful families from each bride. In both cases, he was really lucky with his in-laws. Some of those in-laws, the Brocks, are still in London.

 

After Dad retired, he went to the high schools and helped beginning teachers through Althouse. The idea was to help them with their own grammar. As a result, he went out to see them teach a bit and had sessions with them, pointing out gently how they could improve in this or that.

 

Ottes and he travelled a great deal. They went to England about twenty times. They went to Greece, Italy, the Rhineland and Denmark. They loved to go on trips, but he really preferred to go to England and Scotland.

 

They moved to the Everglade Crescent condo in August 1982, the year Ottes became sick. In September, they went to England, returning about Thanksgiving. When they came back, she had this terrible pain in her back and died the following June. It was hard on us all. She was a wonderful person. We were very lucky to have her in our family. Of course, she was the only grandmother my kids knew. She was really special. Her whole family was special.

 

After Ottes died, Dad was terribly lonely. He worried if he was even boiling water or eating properly. He did learn to fend for himself, mostly heating up things from M&M, cooking carrots and potatoes, that sort of thing. Necessity drove him.

 

Everglade Crescent was a little cul-de-sac. He made friends with all the retired ladies around. A couple of nurses, a lady across the way and a lady and her son a couple of doors away. They were all very good to him. When he was active, he leaned over fences to talk to them.

 

He kept in contact with other people, through reunions, for instance, and Ian Haldane was very good at taking him out.

 

As Dad grew older, he was better with very young children, but his favorite age was always the teenager. He struck up conversations with them wherever he met them, whether they were waitresses, a busboy or whatever. Wherever he was travelling, he got in discussions with young people and kids and found out what they were doing and why they were there. He kept that interest in them all his life. It kept him very youthful.

 

My dad started losing his hearing in his eighties. He had a hearing aid, which wasnít very helpful, and he didnít use it. Eventually his hearing loss became so extreme in both ears that hearing aids didnít help anyway.

 

Did Ian tell you that when he was in Rome with the Canadian Army in the Second World War that he went to Keatsí grave and picked a flower for Dad? Dad never forgot that.

 

Then there were the Wiley boys, of course. When the fiftieth anniversary of ĎThe Great Escapeí was on TV, the film had two Americans in it. Actually, no Americans were involved it at all, it was Canadians. Some of them were excellent tunnelers, because they were miners from around Sudbury and the Maritimes. The film listed the fifty who were shot in the woods. (Shooting them contravened the Prisoner of War act.) One of them was a Wiley from London, Ontario. I dropped a note to Ian in the wintertime and asked him if that was by any chance one of Dadís six Wiley boys! They ALL were in the service. Dad was very proud of the boys who went from Beck.

 

One of those Wiley boys came to Dadís funeral. It was amazing how many white-haired former students came to the memorial service. There must have been two hundred of them. Thatís something for an old gent who was 98 and had outgrown all his contemporaries, but he had that gift.

 

          People talk a lot about my dad putting emphasis on poetry and Shakespeare, but he always said he loved to teach Grammar. He just loved to teach it and to make it clear. Of course, he persisted in that even when the emphasis was off. He used to say rather sadly that he could tell with his grade nine classes where different kids came from. He knew who was weak and who was strong in grade eight grammar all around the East End.

 

          Mary Cameron was a very close friend with my mother and my dad. She went to Queens at the same time as Dad. Iím sure they talked about (Grammar) in the staff room too. They knew those people. After all, those schools fed in to them for so long. In those days, they didnít have superintendents who wanted to shake everything up every two to five years.    

 

          I went to kindergarten at Lady Beck and grades one through three at Lord Roberts. Then we built a house on north Maitland, just a block from the Ramages. Ruthie Ramage was my best friend, but she died of pneumonia when she was nine. People did that then. We also knew people who had kids with lockjaw. That was one of our big bogies.

 

          People donít realize it now, but lop off sixty years. If there were a bad polio year in London, you just didn't go anywhere. You didnít go to the pools, you didnít go to the show. Your mother kept you safely at home. For one reason, they werenít sure how polio was passed on. The time they had the bad flood in London? I was pretty young then. It could have been the same time as a really bad polio year. The hidden dangers really made its mark on mothers.

 

Dad lived to an incredibly old age. The world itself had undergone momentous changes from 1898 to when he died in 1997. He saw a great deal of change, certainly in technology. Iím not so sure he would be in favor of classes being given by tape recordings and video-conferencing. He always felt the human touch was very important.

 

My father was so successful as a teacher because he was essentially a pretty gentle person. He could get very angry and justifiably so over certain things, but it was very rare. I never heard my dad swear, ever! He was extremely --extremely-- uniform in his moods.

 

            My son said that one of the great things about ĎGrandfatherí was that he would listen to anyone talk. If you made errors in grammar, he didn't stop you and rant and rave about it, he just listened. Later on, he'd make a little lesson out of it. You would learn in that way and that was a good thing.

 

How would he have liked to be remembered? I think as a teacher. He affected a great many lives through his teaching. More, perhaps, than some teachers do. He was also very proud of his editing. He felt he fulfilled a need for high school students.

 

Yes, he certainly did! Lois, please know that those of us whose lives he enriched will never forget your father.

    

 

 

Copyright Carol Lowe   September 6, 2004

 

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