Questions asked by my Son Jon

My son Jon asked me these questions! So here goes…

How did you get your first job?

Not sure if working for your Dad qualifies as a first job, but there it is. My Dad owned a picnic park at 3800 Rochester Road in Troy, MI. The park was 10 acres and included a baseball field, dance hall, ticket booth, 2 food delivery buildings and a large 4 sided bar. We also had mechanical rides for children. Starting in June and ending in September he would have me, and my 2 brothers, raking the grounds from debris and emptying the trash cans, as well as keeping the food buildings full with potato chips, ice cream sandwiches, soda and beer. We also maintained one of the rides, a swinging circling barrel ride. We would work Wednesday night and every Saturday and Sunday. He paid us $15/week. I was 15 the first summer.

What were your grandparents like?

My paternal grandparents both died before I was born, but I do remember my Dad talking about his Dad in not so flattering ways. He told me that his Father sent him to work in the tobacco fields at the age of 13 and when he returned home each time at the end of the week with his pay of $3.00, his Father would take the money and give him $.25 as a reward. He said his Father was very strict and led him to leave home at 15. I don’t remember him ever talking about his Mother. My maternal grandparents on the other hand were very much present in my early years and beyond. My grandmother Mathilda (Tillie) Perris Brisebois Tousignant was a grand woman with a storied and colorful past. She married my Grandfather Donat Tousignant probably somewhere near 1920-21 and gave birth to my Mother December 30, 1923. They apparently divorced soon after and my Mother told me she and her sister were mostly raised by foster families.

But she claimed she was often with her Mother as a 3 to 10 year old left to fend for herself in speakeasy’s that her Mother worked at and apparently owned. My Mother also claimed she started smoking at 3 years old by picking up cig butts on the floor of these bars and places of prostitution. Gammy, as we called her, later used her influence over men to receive a license from the veterans administration during and after the war to treat veterans returning from Europe and Asia. She managed to build this into 2 hospitals and a nursing home (mostly due to my Dad’s expertise) and eventually retired a very rich woman. 

I remember Gammy as a warm and thoughtful person. My first remembrance of her was Christmas when I was 5 or 6 because she always gave the biggest and best gifts. She never forgot our birthdays or Christmas gifts and we were always welcome at her homes in Michigan and Key Biscayne, FL. About 1957 her husband Tom Perris died. I remember going to his funeral. We called him Uncle Tom and I have fond memories of him. Shortly after he died she bought a yacht and hired a “captain” to pilot the boat for her. His name was George Lyons and he became her boyfriend, though my Dad called him her gigolo. He was nice to us and we called him Uncle George, which infuriated my Dad. She eventually dumped him and married a man, Frank Hunt, who was gay. I will try to put this in the kindest terms I can, but Frank only married her for her money and he eventually poisoned her with sugar (she was being treated for diabetes). About 6 months before her death I was at their apartment in Southfield, MI and walked into the kitchen while Frank was preparing her spaghetti dinner. He actually was pouring at least 2 cups of sugar into the pot and reacted defensively when I asked about it. She died and he received all of her fortune and he immediately distanced himself from all of us. When he died he left everything to his family. 

My grandfather Donat lived with us from the early years in Berkley and when we lived in Troy through 1967. My Mom and Dad bought him a laundromat business in Windsor, ON around that time. Gramps, as we called him, was always nice to us, but was very distant. I probably kept my distance as a child because he was a chain smoker and I was an extremely visible opponent of smoking. I still remember as a child waking for school and having to wait for him to finish his ritual of reading the paper and shitting in the bathroom while smoking. Not a pleasant memory to say the least. He was a loner. I never saw him with a friend or family member from the late 60’s until his death in 1983. I visited him often in Windsor his last 3 or 4 years because no one else would. He couldn’t travel because he had a colostomy bag, or should I say wouldn’t travel, and it smelled really bad in his condo, which must have kept him alone even more so. Well, that was longer than I expected….

What was your Mom like when you were a child?

Yes, this is a question I would initially like to stay clear of because there are far more unpleasant memories of my Mother than pleasant ones. From an outsider’s view my Mom was the typical 50’s Mom and housewife. If you’ve seen the movie Pleasantville, she would fit in perfectly as Tobey Maguire and Reese Witherspoon’s Mom, Betty. On the surface anyway. As a Mom, I’ll give her a C+, and as a person an A. Now this is just my opinion and in many ways maybe not fair. My siblings may have seen everything much different. I give her an A as a person because she was kind and considerate, and cared a great deal for helping others, even at her peril. As I write this I can’t think of an example of this, but little things about going out of her way for friends and even people she did not know was normal for her. 

On the other hand, she always put herself ahead of me in particular. I must have inherited some of that behavior, and as I write this I feel some familiarity with her. I could (should) have, looking back, have been far less concerned about my happiness than my kids. Interesting! This makes me reflect on my quality as a Father and quite frankly I would have to give myself a C-, so my Mom wasn’t so bad. If only we could go back, hey! She liked to be called Patricia, hated to be called Patzy, and signed all of her extensive artwork as Rowena. She was unfortunately a chain smoker, 2 to 3 packs of cigs a day. This was from my earliest memory the one thing that caused the lifetime rift between my Mom and me. Both Mom and Dad smoked, but Dad quit sometime in my late teens I think. I have bad memories of early vacations and weekend trips of coughing and choking, begging to keep a window open and my parents pulling the car over while I threw up, and discarding my insistence that it was smoke. My Mom insisted that it was motion sickness. And it even went beyond that, as she always labelled me as a whiner and actually made fun of my obsession against cigarettes. I was actually left home many times with my Uncle George and Aunt Loretta because of my “car sickness” while they went on vacation with my siblings. I wish I had more nice things to say.

What was your Dad like when you were a child? 

Dad’s most often words to his kids was, “children should be seen, but not heard”. Looking back at my Father as a child, I cannot remember one time that he actually sat down with me and asked me how I felt or seemed concerned about my welfare. I was always far from what he wanted me to be as a child. He was a fantastic provider. Always buying us baseball gloves and balls, footballs and hockey uniforms and skates. But, not once did he actually have time to play with us. He came to a few of my many little league games, but was always disappointed in me. As I sit here and try to remember experiences with my Dad, it was usually him taking me somewhere, like my many Uncle’s homes for summer vacation or summer camp in Severn Falls, Ont. He was always taking us somewhere, but never being with us. Not even once did he actually spend quality time with any of us. I remember once wanting to help him while he was working on a project in the garage and picked up a hammer. He seemed a little interested in showing me, but I did it wrong and he quickly told me I couldn’t do anything right and ushered me away.

What was your first big trip? 

This is easy because there was only one big trip as a child. I was 8 or 9 and Garry was 10 or 11. I still remember my Dad driving us to London, Ont and staying at my Uncle’s home. It was a relative on my Mother’s side, Brisebois not Tousignant. Aunt Ceciela’s (not spelled correctly I think) kids. He of course did not have time to take us all the way to Camp Nagiwa near Severn Falls, Ont. Uncle George took us to a train and we took that from London to the Falls. We spent 6 weeks at the camp and it was one of my most memorable experiences as a child. I learned how to swim, camp outdoors, fish, hike and canoe. My Dad did pick us up though, at the camp, which was one of the most memorable things about my Dad, come to think about it.

Which sports teams were you a fan of as a child? 

This question is probably not necessary because my kids already know the answer. We all were influenced by the Lions, Tigers, Red Wings, and somewhat the Pistons. That was easy. Funny, it just occurred to me a memory of my Dad with a friend of his in the driveway of our home in Berkley. He was having a discussion with his friend about the Lions and bet his friend that I would know the broadcaster’s name of the Lions. This was probably 1957 and of course I knew it was Van Patrick. The only time I remember my Dad being proud of me as a child.

Who inspires you? 

“The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.” Martin Luther King, Jr. comes to mind because his words and deeds were an inspiration for the entire world to live by. And, although he was obviously a man of God, which I am strongly opposed to, his message of freedom and opposition to bigotry, racism and violence rang so clear to me all my life.

A close second to MLK would most assuredly have to be: “All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian, or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.” Thomas Paine has inspired me even before I was old enough to understand the agony of MLK.

To this day I remember sitting in a Sunday class at the Berkley Community Church on Wiltshire in Berkley, MI and listening to the instructor talking about the blood of Jesus and asking a question about the truth or common sense of his argument. His answer was, “you don’t have to know, you must have faith”.

I was 9 years old and his answer was etched to my mind and led me to the library in Detroit at the age of 12. I wanted the answers that the teacher in bible school could not give me. I still remember taking the bus to the Detroit library and walking up to the librarian and asking, “do you have any books about Jesus or God not being true?” Her answer even inspired me more to seek out the answer; “why on Earth would you want a book for that?” She did direct me to the large file system of small cards listed by title and author and suggested I look for Bertrand Russell. I found “Why I Am Not a Christian” and next to it was “Common Sense” by Thomas Paine. I checked out both books.

Where did you go on vacations as a child?

We would spend most of our vacations in Port Dover, ON with my Dad’s brother Uncle Howard and Aunt Annie. Uncle Howard was the Town Chief of Police, which made it a little more exciting. We would go hiking, fishing and enjoying the summer festival on the lake. The annual parade was really exciting as well. 

When did you get your first car?  In 1966 Triump Spitfire.

Did you ever move as a child? What was that experience like? 

I believe I was 4 when we moved from ? Barrymore Lane, Windsor, ON to 2970 Gardner, Berkley MI in most likely spring of 1952. I really don’t remember the actual move but the change was quite extraordinary. The next move was summer 1962 to 3800 Rochester Rd, Troy MI. Moving into what was then a country was absolutely wonderful. We owned a picnic park and the family worked together for 5 years to maintain the park and entertain guests of as many as 500+ people at a time. It was probably the best part of my childhood because my Dad bought us a German Shepard (Pal) just prior to our move while still in Berkley. Pal died in January 1966, hit by a car, but he was such an added pleasure for us all.

 What was your best boss like? 

I did not have many in my life, but Captain Goulart, US Army 101st Airborne HCC, 3rd Battalion Company Commander. He saved my life.   

Skip to content