EMAIL mj.morris@live.ca


Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Following the American Dream from Chapleau and reuniting with my 'seven sisters' in a lasting bond of over 70 years

After my father, Flying Officer James E. Morris was killed while on active service in the Royal Canadian Air Force on July 16, 1943 during World War II, my mother  Muriel (Hunt) Morris decided we would remain in Chapleau, but stay in  touch with some of my parents' close friends made when he was a Flying Instructor with the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan.
Iven and Arlene Nichol came to Canada from the United States after the war started in 1939,  and Iven joined the RCAF, then became, like my father, a flying instructor at Mount Hope near Hamilton.  Iven was one of hundreds of Americans who came to Canada to join our nation's armed forces before their country entered the war in 1941.

Jim and Muriel Morris
J.L. Granatstein, the former CEO of the Canadian War Museum and historian described the BCATP as "the major Canadian military contribution to the Allied (Second World) War effort." It was a program to train air crew members from the Royal Air Force, the Royal Australian Air Force and Royal New Zealand Air Force and RCAF in Canada. By the end of the war more than 130,000 air crew members had been trained and more than 100 aerodromes and landing fields built across Canada.

My parents met Iven and Arlene in Hamilton, and more than 70 years later, I am in contact with their children. In a real way, I have been able to follow the American Dream through their family, beginning shortly after the end of the war when Mom and I travelled by train from Chapleau to Illinois to pay our first visit.

In Illinois circa 1947 names below
It was on that trip that I visited Tom Sawyer's caves in Hannibal, Missouri in Mark Twain country and fell in love with marching bands when they took us to the Illinois State Fair.

As Iven moved up the corporate ladder, the ever growing family moved to Pittsburgh where we  visited often and I saw my first Major League baseball game.

But most importantly, I still recall Iven telling my mother that the next day he was going to take me and their oldest daughter Sandy for an airplane ride over Pittsburgh. My mother was not in favour, but Iven insisted that given how my father died, it was something that had to be done. Iven won and to this day I am grateful to him.

But, he wasn't done. We had arrived in Pittsburgh by train, but Iven arranged for us to fly back to Toronto on a commercial flight which was the first time my mother had flown.

We visited them In Stamford, Connecticut too and my mother made regular visits for many years. I had my first slice of pizza in Stamford.

In 1955, Iven, his father-in-law and a friend came to Chapleau on a fishing trip. I was in Grade Eight at Chapleau Public School and J.M. Shoup, the principal who had served in World War I and  World War II let me skip classes to go fishing with them one afternoon at Poulin Creek. To his great credit, Mr. Shoup understood how important it was for me to go fishing with one of my father's very best friends from World War II

In Chapleau 1955.. names below
After my mother died in 1989, I was going through her address book and found a number for them in Florida where they had moved to retire. I called and had one long last chat with Arlene. Iven had died a few years earlier.

But, how did I get back in touch with the Nichol children?  Actually they found me. In 2009, I wrote a story about watching the Stanley Cup finals between Pittsburgh Penguins and Detroit Redwings, mentioning that I was cheering for Pittsburgh because as a kid I visited Iven  and Arlene Nichol who had lived there. It appeared on the Internet.

Some time later there was a comment posted on it from Susan: "I am one of Iven and Arlene's daughters. They loved to entertain so I am not surprised that they showed you some American life." Needless to say, I was amazed.

Then I received an email from Janet, another daughter. There were eight daughters, seven of whom are still alive.

Janet explained: "My nephew was asking my sister Susan if his grandfather was on the internet.  She did a search and your blog came up from your report on the 2009 Stanley Cup where you reminisced about Pittsburgh and your visits with my family Iven and Arlene Nichol.  You can imagine my sister’s shock and my nephew’s joy to find that small paragraph so kindly penned about our parents/grandparents."

Laurie, in her first email wrote about my mother. "I too am a product of that American Dream! I am #7 of the 8 girls in the family and I fondly remember my Auntie MOO!  She was always my favorite visitor and covered me with love like I was the most special child. I know she had much love to give and she shared that love with so many! I miss her so much and I am blessed to have known her love!"

Just recently Laurie sent me a message that sums up so incredibly well the bond that was created during the war and continued to this day even when we have not seen in each other in years, and our parents are now gone. "I know that you and your mom were very important to my dad. He and your dad were like brothers and when he spoke of him, you and Auntie Moo, his heart would swell and his eyes would be moist with tears, he loved you all that much!"

The Nichol children called my mother Auntie Moo, my father's nickname for her, and Laurie also commented that she lived in a "a fairy tale land called Chapleau, Ontario."

Sandy, the eldest of the family shared that her father came to Canada as he was upset that the US was doing nothing to stop Hitler and he felt so stongly about it that he enlisted in the RCAF.

"Since you know him I'm sure that this makes perfect sense to you.  He held such strong convictions and felt that Hitler needed to be stopped.  He went to Canada and enlisted and I suppose it was pure happenstance that he was sent to Hamilton.  The real irony is that after all of that, he was never sent to Germany to bomb the Nazis, but was left behind to train others to do what he wanted to do himself."

He did tell of several scary experiences where he was nearly killed by his students. "I remember one story he told that when he gave final instructions to a student about to take his first solo flight  and as he climbed down from the cockpit his wedding ring got caught on a rivit on the wing and he was dragged down the runway as the student  was about to take off. Dad managed to free himself just in time, but from then on he never wore his wedding ring.  Mom didn't have a problem with that and was grateful that Dad was OK."
Me and Sandy, Illinois, circa 1947
"Another time he said he had his student 'buzz' the house just before the lesson was over so Mom would know to come and pick him up.  As she waited at the chain link fence for him to land the student crashed the plane and Dad was tossed free of the wreckage on the other side so Mom could not see him.  She was sure he was hurt or dead when he walked around from behind the wreckage and she could see he was fine.  He always told these stories with that rather 'dirty laugh'  that he had and usually went to get another scotch.'

Sandy concluded that it was nice to have a "brother" and that I had "seven sisters" in the United States.

As we mark Remembrance Day, I decided to share this very personal story about the lasting bond of over 70 years, begun at the beginning of World War II when a young Canadian couple, Jim and Muriel Morris met Iven and Arlene Nichol from the United States, became friends and the relationship continues to this day.

They shall grow not old!  My sincere thanks to Sandy, Pam, Jeanne and Janet, Lynne, Laurie, and Susan. Beth  passed away at a young age. My email is mj.morris@live.ca

Top photo: Iven, Arlene, children, my Mom at Greater Pittsburgh Airport circa 1952

Mom, Iven, Arlene, in front are me and Sandy in Illinois circa 1947

Party photo in Chapleau: from left Harold Kennedy, Jiggs Goldstein, Bubs Zufelt, Beth Goldstein, my Mom,  Paul Behrens, Marion Morris,  Iven Nichol, Elsie Zufelt, Harry Morris (my grandfather)

John Gillespie Magee was an American who joined the RCAF and was killed on active service in 1941.

High Flight

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds, — and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of — wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there,
I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air. . . .
Up, up the long, delirious burning blue
I've topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or ever eagle flew —
And, while with silent, lifting mind I've trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.
— John Gillespie Magee, Jr

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Michael J Morris

Michael J Morris
MJ with Buckwheat (1989-2009) Photo by Leo Ouimet


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Following the American Dream from Chapleau. CLICK ON IMAGE