Brit boy rebels by
Sailing to Canada to
I’m still kind of… weird, so today, you’ve got some family history.
The man in the picture is Francis ‘Frank’ Austen Lewis, one of my great grandfathers. He was born in 1870 to a rich muckity muck family in England. I know his father was a teacher, one sister of his married into the aristocracy, and two or more of his brothers were lawyers. (One of whom wound up as a founding member of the Northern Californian branch of the ACLU, socialist candidate for governor of California, chums with Jack London, and an inspiration for his novel ‘The Iron Heel’.) The plan was for young Frank to be a lawyer too, but he was having none of that. So he ran off to North America, working his way across as a stoker. (Those guys who shovel coal into the boilers so the ships move forward.)
Frank had a few careers after that – cowboy, Eaton’s salesman, etc. Eventually, he wound up as a miner in BC interested in union matters (this was back when joining a union was not the safe, comfortable option.) This was how he met my great grandmother, Serena Bunce.
You see, there was a union meeting across the line Frank was obliged to attend. Serena’s brother took over Frank’s shift. There was an accident at the mine, and the brother died. Frank, not being a terrible person, went to pay his respects to the family upon his return.
Said the parents: “We’ll forgive you… If you marry one of our daughters.”
He went with Serena, 17 years his junior, reportedly because she was the prettiest. But do not believe for a hot second that she was a submissive little wifey – my Grandma Gertie reported that she would dump the salad bowl over his head at dinner when she was pissed at him, which was the cue for all the kids to leave the room. They wound up having 13 children together, 9 living, the eldest and the youngest having exactly twenty two years between them. That youngest was my Grandma Gertie and by the time she came around, they were so tired out with the babies that they forgot to give her a middle name. It was supposed to be Irene.
Before Gertie came ’round, he fought in World War I, as you should have guessed from the photo. He managed to get enlisted despite his diminutive height (5’5; I can only assume he’s to blame for me being 5’3) and advanced age (he knocked five years off in his application). Why did he bother? Well, he was clearly near the end of his life and enlisting would mean a free trip home to visit the fam before he croaked. And the war would be over soon, right? Right?
It’s that sort of thinking that gets your kneecap blown at Vimy Ridge. But hey, he lived! (Obvs, as my grandma wasn’t born until 1928.)
The second half of his life was spent much more quietly. Some more children came, followed by an army of grandchildren and great grandchildren. He worked his farm. Had a Model T in the 1930s. Dealt with my rapscallion grandma, who tried any number of tricks to reduce the labor involved in minding the cows. Grandma Gertie used to recollect with fondness how my Grandpa Hank would help Frank out in his declining years. (Making favorable comparisons with how my Uncle Grant helped out with Hank in the process.)
My grandma, when young, used to mutter about her short height. Frank tried to reassure her by saying that good things come in small packages. The response: “So does dynamite!”
He died in 1967, at the ripe age of 97.