Sunday, June 17, 2012

Love in a lunch bag....memories of Johnny

He was born John Margetson Cooper on October 30, 1929, in Glasgow, Scotland, tipping the scales at a whopping 14lbs.  He was also my Father.   I was the middle child of his three daughters and my claim to being different from my sisters was that I was the only child of my parents who was actually born in their bed.  My Father cradled me as I came into the world, while waiting upon the arrival of the midwife.  I always felt that created a different kind of bond between myself and my Dad. 

In 1957 my parents bundled us up and immigrated to Canada.  They knew absolutely no one here but they took  a chance and we became part of the melting pot of Toronto.  My Father had traded in the dust of a coal mine for the white dust of a bakery
where his first and only job here in Toronto was working on the midnight shift at the Great Atlantic & Pacific Company.  For 35 years my Father worked all night long baking bread that would be sold in the A&P Grocery store chain.  My Mother, Muriel, worked at the Rowntree's Chocolate Factory during the day where she would hand dip the cherries.  Parenting duties were shared and as my Father would arrive home in the early hours of the morning, my Mother would be preparing to go off to her day shift.  I would be wakened by the sounds of the doors being unlocked and I would hear quiet conversation between my parents.  It was the ritual of my childhood.

Every single morning, throughout my whole childhood, my Father would bring home a loaf of bread from his night shift toil.  My sisters and I would get up and go down to the kitchen, give our Mum a kiss as she hustled out the door and we'd settle in to our daily routine.  My Father never cooked.  I suspect this was not because he thought it was woman's work but rather because he spent all those nights in a hot bakery churning out hundreds of loaves of bread. Every morning after my Mother had left for work my Father would make our school lunches.

I would sit up at the kitchen table and watch him as he methodically sliced the bread.  He would whistle away while he made our lunches.  He always cut the crusts off our sandwiches, which irritated my Mother to no end, as she thought it wasteful but he did it because he knew that was what we liked.  He would cut the sandwiches into squares and carefully wrap them in wax paper.  Then he'd sit them in a stack.  After that he would move on to wrapping up whatever biscuits or tarts my Mother had baked the prior weekend. My favorite was her Empire biscuits with the jam in between, the icing on top and the little chunk of red cherry. He'd wrapped two biscuits together, being so careful as to not to break them.  Then in an assembly line style he'd fill the those brown paper lunch bags with the sandwiches, the cookies and a piece of fruit and sit them neatly in a row. We'd pick them up on our way out the door when he'd shoo us out the door so he could go off to get his sleep, or as he'd say "it's time for my kip."  

On Fridays my Father would slip a dime into each bag which meant on our way home from school it was nothing but pure heaven to be able to stop into the small local mercantile and stock up on penny candy.  I well remember those lean years of growing up as an immigrant and money was scarce so putting those dimes in to those lunch bags meant a great deal.   Looking back now I remember those lunch bags as pure love from my Father, not because of the dimes but because making those lunches was his way of showing us how much he truly loved and cared for us.  When I reached high school, I finally had to tell him to stop making those bagged lunches because it wasn't cool for me, the big headed, I'm such a smarty pants teenager, to take a bagged lunch to the cafeteria.  Oh what I wouldn't give now for just one more brown paper bag sitting on my kitchen counter filled by my Father.

My Dad left us on December 6, 1999.  What is so ironic about his parting was that it was me who held him in my arms when he keeled over in my parent's bedroom when his heart gave out.  Sitting on their bed I cradled him and spoke softly, begging him to hold on until the paramedics arrived.  Sadly it was not to be.  In his death I took much solace in knowing that as I came in to this world he was there to hold me and as he took leave of this world I returned that favour. I am very grateful for small mercies and even more grateful when I think back on those lunch bags filled with nothing but unconditional love.

Johnny, Happy Father's Day.  I miss you and love you. This week my daughter Megan, your second grandchild, graduated from university.  I was sitting in the Convocation Hall and as the Piper was leading in the procession I couldn't help but wish you could have been there to see this.  I'm quite sure you would have absolutely loved it and you would have been just a beaming and proud Poppa.

Finally I just couldn't resist putting up this picture of you and I jitterbugging our hearts out at my wedding in 1984.  You had the moves like Jagger that even he'd be jealous of!  I love you Daddy.


  1. Loved reading...brought a tear to my eyes. Thanks for sharing. Nicholas.

  2. Thanks Nicholas. I just adored my Father and writing this piece was at moments just a bit difficult but cathartic in its own right. So glad that you appreciated it.