Late on the afternoon of August 19 1961 my world was turned upside-down and though I have spoken about it I have never written anything down about that day. I feel the need to do so at this point 61 years later. It is not written to elicit sympathy but to record something that I perhaps should have recorded long ago.
I was 14 at the time and that summer did not follow the routine of past summers. Yes there had been activities with the gang in the neighbourhood, a trip to Stratford, musicals at the Dixie Music tent, and some church events. But they were sandwiched between two hour street car trips with my Mother into Toronto to see my father at the Western Hospital on Bathurst Street. And many evenings another trip to the hospital by car with my Uncle Gordon, some neighbour or a work colleague of my father’s.
One day in April I had come home from school to find my father was there and in bed! This wasn’t right! Daddy worked and was seldom sick. He came home from work at five-thirty, had a cup of tea, we read the comics in the Telegram, and he had a nap before dinner. It was only four-o’clock this wasn’t normal.
I had a vague idea of what a stroke was and I knew it wasn’t a good thing. He hadn’t suffered a sever one but there was enough damage to warrant bed rest, doctors’ visits, and physiotherapy. Over the next few weeks things were to improve.
It was in the mid-hours of a night at the beginning of June when my mother woke me up. She had called the ambulance and they were on their way. A strange little exchange stays in my mind to this day. There was a running joke in our family that when asked my mother or father’s age you said “39”. Just like Jack Benny of radio fame. The question was asked by the medico: my poor mother automatically gave the family reply. He looked down at my considerably older father a puzzled look on his face. I assured him my father was actually fifty-nine.
That stroke was a devastating one. He had lost the use of his entire left side and was unable to speak. The next two months with the help of physiotherapy he was to slowly regain some mobility and his speech, if slurred and at times garbled, became more understandable. Finally at the beginning of August he was able to come home – now walking with a cane still with limited ability to speak or use his left arm. But he was home in the house that he and my mother had built together. And he was happy.
On Saturday August 19th we had lunch with my brother Albert, his wife Gloria and Stephanie and Stephan, my niece and nephew. It was a double celebration. We were celebrating Daddy’s return home and the progress he was making, and my mother’s and Stephanie’s birthdays in July and Gloria’s upcoming birthday. We sat in our big back yard at the picnic table daddy and my brother Albert had made several years before. It was a real family celebration – and daddy was happy.
After Al and the family left Daddy went to have a nap on the living room couch, Mom went over to see Mrs McGregor across the street and I sat reading in the armchair. It had gotten hot and the air was heavy the way it is before a late summer storm.
Suddenly Daddy got up and headed for the front door without his cane. I grab it and went after him and got to door to watch him crumple on the front step and fall head long down the four steps to the concrete walkway below. I heard the crack as he hit the pavement. I ran down and yelled something unintelligible to Leo Arsenault who was on his front veranda across the road as I crouched beside daddy. I don’t honestly recall much after that. Neighbours coming over as it began to rain and trying to cover my father with a blanket and comfort my mother and I until the ambulance arrived.
As I said my world and the world of my family had been turned upside-down. We had lost our core, the person that held us in his arms and heart and kept us together. It was never to be the same.
Albert (Ab) William Hobbs
March 19th 1902 – Toronto
August 19th 1961 – Alderwood