A Bottle Full of Stories by Darlene Oldcorn

darlene's ship in a bottle.jpg

My dad, Leonard Earnest John Kreutzer, was bigger than life. He talked and he expected people to listen. My mom, the chauvinist’s wife, rarely got a word in edgewise. He loved people and was interested in their lives. He was a socialist with the biggest heart. 

Wherever he and Mom lived was the best place to live in his opinion and he was passionate in supporting these small towns and active in the community.  He wasn’t worried about stating his opinion and often did a lot of good. However, he could be politically incorrect and offended some people.  On the other hand, he was known to deliver Mom’s homemade pies to anyone who was lonely or down on their luck. 

 

Let’s just say he was a complicated man. 

For me, I was the apple of his eye; I didn’t do much wrong and, interestingly, he would listen to me. I was affectionately known to Dad by the nickname Toots! He was proud of me and I knew it. When I was successful, whether it was an award or a wise decision, he often referred to me as his daughter. Somehow he left Mom out of the picture. However, for my two brothers, life was not that easy.  I found myself sometimes advocating for them.

Even though he was a big talker, he was not a storyteller. Then, in my late 40’s when he was about 75, he started sharing stories of his life. Up until then he was too busy telling people what they should do and ‘encouraging’ his children and grandchildren. Yikes!

Dad kept this bottle and all his Navy memorabilia in the bedroom. One day as I sat beside him on the chesterfield, he brought the bottle out.  And so his storytelling began. For him the bottle symbolized all his years in the Navy and I was the lucky and proud recipient of many of those stories.

In 1941 he was strolling down the street in Prince Rupert on a day off.  He was the interceptor of German Morse Code messages. His job was to decode them. He was handpicked for the job as he was fluent in German. He was enjoying the day when he came upon a street artist painting the inside of this rum bottle.  Although he had very little money, he felt sorry for the “poor bugger”. This was a piece of my dad that was evident in many situations. Just to note that the scene in the bottle is of the East coast of Canada. But that didn’t matter to Dad. The bottle came to symbolize his years in the Navy on the West coast.

One of the stories he held close to his heart was the day he received the message that German submarines had reached the St. Lawrence. He was called upon to board his ship The Chippewa and sail to the area to protect his country. For a reason which I am not clear on, his very best friend offered to take his place. At that point in the story Dad showed me his friend’s picture.  He continued to tell me that The Chippewa was torpedoed and all lives on board were lost. It was a poignant and sobering moment for both of us. 

My dad was a survivor and it may be why he went on to live a life where he had an impact. On the outskirts of a small town called Griswold, he single handedly planted an entire shelterbelt of trees that still stands to this day.  And once he made the call to a government official to have a road to the lake upgraded when the municipality was not successful.  Am I proud of Dad? Yes. And I was able to share that with him in his final years. 

This bottle is all I have left of my dad who would have turned 100 on May 9th. It is precious to me and I will forever be grateful for the man who bought the bottle and shared his amazing life with me.

 Just one more story that shows our close relationship: One day Dad showed me a wooden urn he had made for his ashes. He proceeded to tell me that he had written his own eulogy. When I asked him why he said ‘I don’t want anyone to cry when they do it and I have never heard a good one.’ That was Dad, always wanting to be in control.  My reply: ‘Well Dad. If I do the eulogy you’ll never know’. We had a good laugh about that.