10 years after – memories of my father

Ten years ago today, my father Bill Cadzow passed away after a steady decline due to dementia and a short bout with pneumonia. It seemed sudden, but not unexpected.

It was his last wish to have his ashes scattered in Loch Indaal, an inland bay of Islay, the southernmost of the Inner Hebrides islands, off the west coast of Scotland.

Why Islay?

During the last decade or so of his life he visited Islay several times with his brother Nigel to tour the local Scotch whisky distilleries. Ever the charmer, he made good friends with some of the locals including those in the industry. Islay became a special place for him.

And small wonder… although rugged and relatively treeless, there’s majesty in it’s small mountains and seaside vistas that face the open and windy Atlantic. Along with Loch Indaal, these define the shape and character of the island and one can easily get lost in it’s rustic charm and natural beauty.

Now that I’m getting on in years myself, I understand that there’s an attraction for places that remind you of your own earlier and often simpler life. Islay would have certainly done it for him as he spent his younger years in Scotland and only moved to Canada in his mid-30s.

Once he’d decided that Islay would be his final resting place, he put the funds aside to ensure his family and friends could travel from England, Canada, the US, and Scotland to see him off. 

Ten years ago today, all those plans were set in motion.

A Scottish trip to say goodbye

About a year or so after his passing, Jackie and I were high above the Atlantic on a jet to Scotland. During the journey, he was very much on my mind. It was poignant and sad, but he had lived a long and full life and I was grateful that he’d achieved that. Many of our contemporaries don’t get that chance.

We arrived at Glasgow airport and drove our rented/hired car to the ferry to Arran where we met Nigel and wife Maureen, and my cousin Fiona and husband Bruce. We all stayed overnight at a beautiful old estate called Auchrannie and then caught another ferry to the Mull of Kintyre, and then drove across the Mull to catch a second ferry to Port Ellen on Islay. Thirty more minutes of driving finally got us to our destination: the small town of Bowmore, where we met up with the rest our our family entourage.

I asked Greta (my Dad’s wife) about what would happen on the day of the service. She quipped: “Oh I don’t know, we might just go to the end of the pier and throw him off…” Of course she was kidding; that is exactly her brand of humor… 

But on the day of the service Jim McEwan, who was at the time the Master Distiller and Production Director at Bruichladdich (one of the most well-known distilleries on the island), called and said he had a piper and boat and a minister from Utah, of all places, who wanted to deliver a prayer. He also offered the Bruichladdich pier as a launch point and supplied the whiskey for the last toast to my Dad. All of which was extremely generous and would already be an amazing turn of events by itself.

memories of my father

But then he added that there was a TV crew on the island doing a story on the distillery industry and they wanted permission to film the service. 

“I don’t know if you know of them,” he said. “They’re from America.. they’re called 60 Minutes. Would that be OK?” he asked?

Um… YES…. !

If you knew my Dad, you knew that he often managed to charm and finagle some pretty special things in his life. Even in death, he’d managed to finagle his 15 minutes of fame into 60 Minutes! It just seemed sublime and fitting.

At the appointed hour Andrew and I boarded the small boat with the ashes which appropriately, were in an empty whisky bottle container. As John, the driver, motored slowly along the pier-side, the piper played and escorted the rest of the guests to the front of the pier while the 60 Minutes cameras watched. 

Once beyond the pier, John just kept going farther and farther into the bay — the pier and the 60 Minutes cameramen got smaller and smaller.

Finally I said: “John, how far out are you going?”

He looked at me. “Oh, is this far enough?” he asked. 

“It is,” I said. I had to laugh as I envisioned us as small specs in the camera lens so far out in the bay. 

Andrew and I took turns spreading Dad’s ashes into the cold, dark Scots waters, low and close to the side of the boat so they would not blow everywhere in the onshore breeze.

As they entered the water, the ashes seemed to take form and I found myself looking for some sign in the patterns that he was there and offering a last goodbye. It’s funny how your mind works in these kinds of situations.

Of course I saw none, but as the ashes dissipated and floated away with the current, a lifetime of memories lingered in my mind.

The end of a whisky virgin

The whisky connection reminded me of my own first taste of Scotch whisky. I was seven and we’d just arrived in Canada from Scotland. I had a major toothache and needed a dentist. But it was the weekend and there wasn’t one available. I was miserable and probably tested my parents’ patience with constant moaning.

Eventually my Dad appeared with the bottle. He held his finger over the neck and upended the bottle to soak his finger before applying the drops onto the offending tooth. 

I don’t remember being that concerned with the whisky’s taste as much as I was with its anesthetic effects. It worked and lasted for a couple of hours, at which point I asked for more…

A charmer that pushed the envelope

As well as being resourceful, he was a charmer. He could charm the boots off just about anyone. As a young newspaper photographer, this surely was a skill that got him places and pictures that scored points back at the editorial desk. I remember hearing a story of his tea leaf reading skills: he would charm the mature ladies by reading their tealeaves and they just lapped it up — even though he was just making it up as he went along!

He also liked to think outside the box, which likely also did him in good stead as a news photographer. Sometimes though it was more like utterly tearing up the box and throwing it away.

For example, before there were ATM machines, you had to go to the bank when you needed cash or, when out shopping, cash a check at a place like Simpsons-Sears. There, a large room on the third floor of the store was devoted entirely to this purpose with nine wickets and nine rows of people waiting to cash their checks. You could cash one check for $25 — and that was it.

Dad cashed his first check and, with a 10-year-old Derek cowering in the back of the room and pretending not to know him, he wrote out another check and got in a different line.

Of course, once he was spied by the original teller, she pointed with exaggeration and announced loudly for the multitudes to hear “THAT man has already cashed a check!”

Not missing a beat, my father just as loudly said “Oh, you’re not allowed to do that?” and did his best to look unknowing and innocent.

I think the teller just rolled her eyes and went on with her business.

The legacy of that unintended lesson manifested itself many years later when Renee and I went to visit the nearly-completed and unopened Palladium in Ottawa. We spied an open door at the side of the building.

I suggested that we walk in and see the new building’s interior before anyone else did. Echoing my father’s methods, I told her: “We can just go in and look around until someone tells us we’re not allowed to be in there – and then we just say sorry — and leave!”

She was as horrified at the prospect – just as I had been all those years before – and we never did go in. However, now that SHE has grown up, she says she would, in fact, do it.

I wonder if he understood his family legacy…

Early newspaper exploits – he once helped to hide a serial killer

Some examples from earlier in his career are a bit more shocking:

  • My uncle recently told me about the time my father and his journalist partner managed to find a Glasgow serial murderer before the police did. They secretly squirrelled him away in my uncle’s new apartment for a couple of days to get the exclusive story before alerting the police! I don’t think Nigel was terribly impressed…
  • (Photo left, click for the full image) Always looking for the unique photo, he once climbed to the very tip-top of a church steeple to photograph a workman installing the cross. My mom only found out because he was on the news — a piece about how far some photographers will go to get the shot. She was NOT thrilled!
  • In June of 1948 (I know the date because my Grandmother wrote it on the news clipping), as he was climbing down from a beacon tower while on assignment to photograph a bird sanctuary, the stone he was grasping came loose and he “plummeted down about 20 feet onto the rocks below” (says the news story), and fortunately only sprained both his ankles. He insisted on being carried around to finish his assignment before going for treatment…
  • On another occasion, a Formula 1 driver, Peter Collins, took him and a reporter for a test drive in a brand new performance car ( I think a Jaguar) sometime in the ’50s. He said thanks to the “spirited driving” that he was unable to photograph during the ride and complained that Collins managed to spray spittle every time he spoke…

A legacy of boldness

But the charm and the boldness also worked in my favour as his young son.

I remember when at the age of 14, he managed to get me into the front seat of a glider at the Rockliffe airfield near Ottawa. Once I was high in the air behind the two plane, the pilot let me pull the knob to release the rope at who-knows-how-many-thousands of feet — the kind of experience that made boyhood magic.

Some of his boldness started to rub off on me.

He used to drive us to races at St. Jovite and Mosport. At the start of the 1971 CanAm race at Mosport, I just decided to step into Jackie Stewart’s pit stall and stood quietly against the wall, next to the pit counter. Everyone was busy and paid me little or no heed and I could watch the start and the race.

Several laps later, the crew reported that his gearbox had broken and he was walking back to the pits. Imagine this 14-year-old watching his boyhood hero walking in and grabbing his helmet bag at my feet and standing right in front of me to do an interview. My Dad taught me to be that bold, though I think neither he or I knew it at the time.

Present more than advertised

Because of his job, he often worked weird and long hours and was roundly criticized for not being at home enough. But I have many memories of my time with him, so I don’t think that’s entirely true.

I remember:

  • Riding in very back of his small Morris panel van full of policemen! I guess it was good for a newspaperman to keep up good relations.
  • Accompanying him to interesting places, such as a fish market where this 5-year-old stood beside barrel full of cleaned yummy shrimp and stuffed my face while he chatted with the store owner.
  • Throwing a football with him in the front yard until I caught the ball on the end of my finger and nearly broke it, riding on the front of the shopping cart while he pushed it around, and some vague memory of wrestling with him on the living room carpet.
  • As a tyke, I remember being piggy-backed up to my bedroom every night (and being very disappointed when he finally had to say I was getting too heavy for him to do that).
  • Driving my two best friends and I to the big hobby shop downtown, HobbyLand – every weekend – for model car bits and driving my friend David and I to a big model car race in Toronto and sleeping with us and two other older friends (and another Dad) in cots in one hotel room all weekend long.
  • I remember a few times when he brought home the mercury from a broken darkroom thermometer. Not knowing any better in those days, he’d give it to me to play with and eventually I’d lose all the liquid metal in the carpet. I imagine our former homes in Glasgow would be declared environmental disaster areas in this day and age!
  • There were many father-son trips to the movie theatre, and not always to see films that an adult father would find interesting (That Darn Cat and Save that Tiger to name two). But then there were others like “The Magnificent Seven” that we both enjoyed (and I still enjoy to this day). Often, in later life, while watching some movie on television I’d get a sudden flashback and remark “My Dad took me to see this one!”. It happened often enough that it became a standing joke between my first wife Niki and I. I’d just have to look at her and she’d say — “I KNOW, your DAD took you to see this movie…”

A subtle teaching technique

Of course like any human being he was not perfect and there comes a time in most children’s lives when the image of the perfect parent comes to and end.

That time for us came when I was in my later teens. Between generational misalignments and a series of unthinking missteps capped by a divorce brought my image of him down to earth. I think it took a number of years before the relationship was completely comfortable again, but we did eventually get there. And often such a transition moves the relationship from one of a parent and child to adult-to-adult.

Earlier in my life, his advice and teachings were often reserved and subtle; we rarely had long or deep discussions. His style was more interventionist. He’d simply make a decisive remark when he saw something that needed to be improved. For example:

  • When he thought I needed to plan better, he showed up with a very large eraser that said Plan Ahead in VERY big letters that got smaller near the end of the eraser — an illustration of something obviously not planned well…
  • When I was telling his friend why I had positioned the electric motor into a slot racing car sideways, he told me privately that I needed to learn to explain things better.

He left it up to me to figure out the hows of his instructions and, as an adolescent looking for his approval, the motivation was always there to figure it out.

Many years later as I developed a photography business of my own, he was thankfully interested in my work and I found that, even in my 50s, I still appreciated his advice and approval. His contribution style had not changed much over the years.

He recalled one particular event during his own foray into wedding photography.

He said his day had been going very well and the bride couldn’t stop smiling, a key ingredient for great photographs. It was only towards the end of the event that he found out what it was that had kept her smiling so much — his fly had been down the whole time!

Of course, you can’t ignore gems like that and I told that story many times to client brides to help break the ice and build a working relationship. In his subtle way, he helped me to loosen up and enjoy my business and showed me that he could teach by sharing stories even at his own expense.

Who was the man?

I think one even more revealing story about my father was how he finally decided to move to Canada.

As a young photographer, he was always on the lookout for that front-page shot and, once, while riding a tram (what we antiseptically call “public transit” these days), he saw there was an accident and a crowd gathering down the street.

Hoisting his big heavy bag (no digital or 35mm in those days!) he ran down the street and got ready to take the shot. However, the young lady killed in the accident had rather gruesomely been finished by the steel wheels of the tram — and he decided right there that there was no photograph worthwhile taking.

As was the state of the newspaper industry in those days, he got in major trouble with his editor for not taking the picture — the editor felt it was his decision, not Dad’s, to decide whether there was a picture to be published or not.

He was quite disgusted with that notion, and told me that this was one of the key factors in his decision to finally agree with my mother and start a new life here in Canada. And I can proudly say that I’m glad my father was one of those who showed humanity in an industry that many times, even today, values sensationalism over humanity.

One other example of his humanity comes from a maternal aunt in Scotland. When Renee and I visited her in 1998, she told me this story with a twinkle and a smile in her eyes — clearly the story meant a lot.

In the early or mid-fifties my Aunt Margaret was in hospital with tuberculosis – a very serious predicament back then. At that time in Scotland, hospital wards were very large rooms filled with many patients and beds lined up in rows along the walls. The nurses took themselves very seriously and, nowadays, they are usually painted as having been very commandeering and strict — probably accurate!

Margaret had been in this ward for a while and her spirits were sinking – in fact, she was getting a little depressed.

But, just when her spirits were lowest, she told me — who appeared at the door, but my Dad in his leather jacket. He smiled at her and said “let’s go for a motorcycle ride!”

Panicked, Margaret quickly looked around to see if any nurses had heard, afraid they would get into trouble.

But once again, my father had thrown away the box —

And it wasn’t long before Margaret — a coat hastily thrown over her nightgown — zoomed down the streets of Glasgow on the back of my Dad’s motorcycle. She smiled at me and said “It was JUST what I needed and I’ll always remember what your father did for me that day”.

The unforgettable moment that shattered the reserved facade

But to me, there was one unforgettable, glaring moment when his usual “reserved facade” completely fell away.

I’ve always been an animal lover and one year some young friends and I found an abandoned litter of kittens. We all took one of them home and I got the mixed white and tabby-patch male and called him, of course, PATCH.

But as with most male cats, he was hard to train and after several weeks it became apparent to the adults in the family that he had to go.

Of course this was not apparent to a 12-year old! And as Dad was taking the cat away I was in tears – tears that continued all afternoon and well in to the night when I was in bed.

Late that night, when the house was completely dark, my father came to my room and lay beside me in bed and just hugged me for a long time as I cried. It was the only time I recall that happening and it made such an impression that I remember it well and fondly to this day.

Back in the boat on Islay

I came back to the present and watched the last of my father’s ashes drift away in the current.

On the distant pier, the guests and the cameras squinted to make out what was happening in the distance. Mr. McEwan passed out glasses and poured a small mouthful of Bruichladdich whisky into each of them. Everyone drank one last toast to Bill. A couple of months later, his service was shown on international television, part of 60 Minutes’s story about Islay and the whisky culture.

It was a fitting way to say goodbye — a unique day and HIS day. Supported by family and friends and about as Scottish as you could get.

We have a strange parallelism in our lives, he and I — between the course of our personal lives and relationships as well as well as our physical health, thanks in part to the genes he bequeathed me! I am glad that is was he who was my Dad. As they say, any man can be a father, but not everyone can be a Dad.

We miss you and remember you always.

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