The who’s who…

Last year, when I made the decision to really dig into my family history, specifically into Gord and his letters, I didn’t really have any idea of the scale of work I was in for or how much of a challenge it would be. There are so many little details and facts that I am starting to uncover and finding the best method for managing everything has been a bit of a process – I’m a list maker, a note taker, and a lover of all things Excel. I like things to be organized and neat, and to sit right where they belong. This project has been an exercise in flexibility if anything. I very quickly learned that not everything will fit into a neat little box, there will be portions of this puzzle that might always be missing a piece, and I’ve come to accept that.

As I wind up the tail end of my mini holiday vacation, I’ve really been diving into all of the random scraps of paper and unlabeled photos that accompanied the letters. I’ve spent the last couple of days lost in photos, notes, and research. It’s become apparent that with the first letter post coming up in a couple of days, a cast of characters could be a useful thing for everyone.

I expect this list to grow with time, but these are a few of the key folks that we’ll be introduced too early on.

Gord – the man himself. He’s young, from Peterborough area originally. I have heard a few different things on his age when he joined the military, but official paperwork shows him as 19 in 1943 so we’ll go with that. Later letters are signed as The Oakwood Kid, which is where the blog name was born from. Oakwood, Ontario is where (I believe) his parents moved to around 1944, and possibly where they were originally from – Oakwood is in the Kawartha Lakes area (like I said, pieces are still missing).

Gord’s Mom – Amy – everything I’ve found in all my dives into the family history, and from everyone I have spoken to, suggest that Amy was a wonderful woman. Gord certainly seems enamored with his mom, and I can’t wait to learn even more about her.

Gord’s Dad – Edward – I’m still digging through bits and pieces to try and learn more about Edward. He passed away when my mom and her siblings we’re very young, so there’s not much first-hand knowledge about him around.

Bin – Gord’s sister, and my Grandmother. I didn’t know Bin very well, she passed away when I was quite young, but my mother adored her, and my brother had an incredible relationship with her. Gord was very clearly quite close to his sister, and the rest of his family.

Marg – a friend of Bin’s, and possibly a love interest of Gord’s.

Sweetipie – Gord’s little sister Geraldine (Gerry)

Pork – Gord’s brother Gerald.

Waugh – A friend of Gord’s from back home that he meets up with in the military.


The big question…

A few weeks ago I did an interview for a friend that’s in school for radio broadcasting. We chatted about these letters, their discovery, and the plan for this blog. One of the questions that came up, and keeps coming up, is “what happens?”.  Everyone that I talk to about this is understandably keen to know the ending.

The simple answer: I don’t know. I mean, I do know that Gord lived to marry and have a family, but I don’t yet know what happened with Gord between January 5th 1943 and July 13th 1945. When I embarked on this project, I had to decide just how far ahead of the reader I wanted to get. Just how much of the story I wanted to know… I’ve decided to opt on the side of less, and so at any given time over the next…however long this takes, I will be no more than 10 – 12 letters ahead of the blog. I mean, I have read the odd letter here and there, and have seen indication of him spending time overseas, but you and I know just about the same level of detail at this point. For all I know, these letters might be phenomenally boring, or they might be gut wrenching, or some place in between. I don’t know what Gord’s training consisted of, where he winds up, or what his experiences were like, but I am sure am curious.

January 5th – just under 3 weeks…


Internet, please meet The Oakwood Kid

When I first decided to take on this task, I wasn’t exactly sure what I was getting into…heck,  I’m still not really sure what I am getting into. All I know is that I have a stack of yellowed envelopes staring me down, and a massive sense of curiosity that I can’t seem to quiet.

Everyone around me has been so supportive of this endeavour, and I’ve been able to reconnect with family members that I haven’t seen since I was a child, and meet others that I didn’t even know existed! Even though this pile of what are often nearly illegible scribbles seem a bit overwhelming at times, it’s already worth it. Being able to connect with family, being able to open some doors into my family history… At the risk of sounding cliché, and quoting a well-known commercial, it’s priceless.

My family, like many families, have not had the most…transparent histories, if you may. It might be that I just missed the boat on grilling the elders and now I’m playing catch up, and maybe the details were always there for the taking and I was just too young to notice. Either way…here goes.

My rambling aside, perhaps it’s time for an introduction. Internet, please meet Gord, The Oakwood Kid. The young man that you’ll be living along with over the next while. Because I have vowed to not travel too far ahead in the letters, I don’t know too much about Gord yet, other than that he seemed to have a great love for his mom (one heartwarming Valentines telegram that you’ll soon see will prove that) and a bit of a sense of mischief that could only be expected from a young man, he just seems like a bright, adventurous, funny guy.



How it all started…

About 8 years ago my mom passed away. Shortly after my mom died, her sister, my aunt Nancy, followed… All told, it was a tough few years; we lost my Grandfather, Uncle, Mom, and Aunt in fairly rapid succession. Those of us left behind hardly had time to grieve each loss before another one happened.

Nancy was the keeper of what little family history we had, and shortly after she passed away my uncle gifted me two Rubbermaid bins of photos, knickknacks, personal items…two Rubbermaid bins of memories. I suppose as the only girl in the immediate family, I was the natural, or the only, choice to care for what was left of these lives. I did a quick inventory of the bins shortly after I got them, but I couldn’t bring myself to really dig in. It was too soon. I packed them back up, along with a bunch of my mom’s things, and tucked them away for later.

Always having them in the back of  my mind, I never really knew what to do with the bins. On the cusp of a recent move and downsize, I decided that it was finally time to try to make some sense of these memories. On a sunny summer afternoon, 7 years after I became their keeper, I sat down on my back deck and started to unpack the boxes of memories. Immediately, I remembered just how special the contents of these plastic containers were. In the bottom of one of the bins was an old metal tin, inside the tin was what seemed like a lifetime of yellowed newspaper clippings and obituaries. There was an old chocolate box filled with old war memorabilia; Soldiers Handbooks, what looked like wooden dog tags, and other random papers. Lastly, there were stacks of old letters. STACKS. The envelopes worn,  stamped with phrases like “Save Metal Rags and Waste Paper”, with dates ranging from 1943 to 1945. Everything smelled faintly of cigarette smoke…it reminded me of my mom. Upon closer investigation, I discovered the letters were written by my Great Uncle Gord to his Mom, my great-grandmother, Amy. They seem to cover his time in basic training and possibly service in World War II. I opened one letter randomly, from 1945, and scrawled messily in capital letters at the top of the page were the words “VICTORY LETTER”. Victory letter. I read it again, and again. I was hooked.

I’ve decided that I can’t just sit on these letters. They are far too special a time capsule to be left in a Rubbermaid bin. This blog will chronicle my documentation of the letters, and offer one man’s first hand glimpse into history. The first letter will be posted here on January 5th 2015, to correspond with the very first letter that Gord wrote to Amy on January 5th 1943. I have no idea what the letters will bring, no idea what I will uncover, or what tales Gord will tell, but I’m looking forward to finding out.  I hope you’ll join me on this journey through history.

All content and photographs are property of myself, and Letters from the Oakwood Kid and may not be reproduced in any way without my explicit permission.