Wilfrid-Joseph Lavoie

by Barbara Wilson-Nolan 

His brothers and sisters knew him as Pit.  Chosen family and co-workers called him Pete.  To my sisters, cousins and me he was Gramps.

 So many little things that happen in a day remind me of my Grandfather.  All through the 16 years I knew him, he was a night dispatcher for Red Line Taxi.  That meant he came home at about 8 a.m., usually carrying the bags of groceries he had picked up on the way home.  He and my Grandmother (known as Nanny Lavoie) would divide up the food that he had bought for them and my Grandmother's two sisters, Betty and Lucretia, who shared the house with them.  After the groceries were taken care of, he watched TV for a bit and went to bed.  He awoke around 2 p.m. to enjoy my Grandmother's typical dinner of a large steak, potatoes and carrots.  I don't know who loved the aromas coming from the kitchen more-Gramps or me.  No one talked to Gramps while he was eating; he seemed lost in his own world as he savoured each mouthful of the food Nanny prepared.  It is not hard to understand how the smell of steak cooking or a man eating alone brings back warm memories of my Grandfather.

 After dinner, Gramps popped a toothpick into the corner of his mouth and went to "his" chair in front of the living room TV.  Cartoons were typically his program of choice.  And boy did he enjoy them!  He laughed long and loud at the antics of the Road Runner, loved the "I thought I saw a puddy tat" on the Sylvester shows and hit the arm of the chair with glee as Elmer Fudd said his goodbyes (or was it hellos?)     Sometimes while watching cartoons, Gramps would relax by rolling cigarettes.  We were fascinated by his ability to take a tin of tobacco, a stack of white papers, put them in a machine and magically create cigarettes. To this day my sisters and I frequently conjure up this treasure chest of images when we see cartoons.

 After his cartoons, Gramps went back to bed.  When he was sleeping everyone in the house was expected to be quiet.  Nanny would hush us if we raised our voices; the statement "Gramps is sleeping" dominated the house-but no one was bothered by this.  He then got up in time to have a light lunch and make his way to work the night shift.

 Gramps had a different pattern on the weekends.  He usually went up to a cottage at Buckham's Bay that he had been going to for years.  According to the many stories he shared with us, a neighbour of my Grandfather had a wonderfully faithful Collie dog who kept him company during the weekend.  Long before I knew him, my Grandfather apparently owned a small store up in the Bay. Gramps was a kind, generous man and while running the store often neglected to charge people for food he felt they could not afford; in time he had given so much credit to customers that he was no longer able to maintain his business.

 His quiet generosity came through when my cousin, Brian Bryson, married Marlene Szabo.  His wedding gift to them was a white chauffer driven limousine that he had arranged through his employer.  Back in 1961, this was very special--not the accepted practice that it has now become.  Marlene shared this story with me as I was writing this piece; I had never heard it before and, knowing my Grandfather's quiet way, presume few outside the immediate family knew.

 Gramps loved his work at Red Line Taxi.  At the commercials of the cartoons he would entertain me with stories about people he gave "wake up" calls to.  There was a regular group of businessmen who had a lot of difficulty wakng up in the morning, so he would call to get them up. Some were not pleasant when they answered the phone, and Gramps thought this was hilarious.  He was never offended by their rude or angry behaiour and I have realized through writing this that he taught me a great deal about tolerance and understanding.

 A shock for me was when my Mother received a phone call one morning telling her that my Grandfather had been stabbed at work.  Typical of night dispatchers, he worked alone.  Someone had broken into the office and stabbed him in a failed robbery attempt.  Thankfully he had not been seriously injured.  This incident made him even more of a hero to me; his picture was in the paper and I remember proudly taking it to school to show my classmates the indisputable importance of my Gramps.

 When my Grandfather died in 1966, his profile was presented on a local radio station.  Our family swelled with pride as we heard of the esteem in which he was held.  The commentator talked about the loss of the dispatcher whose wake-up calls helped prepare so many for their day at work.

 For several years taxis have been my mode of transportation.  Although Gramps has been gone for years and his old company was bought out by Blue Line many, many years ago, he is not forgotten.  Frequently I tell today's taxi drivers that my Grandfather used to be a Red Line dispatcher.  They ask his name and knowingly tell me that his picture is displayed on the walls of the Blue Line head office.  To me, this is more living proof of just how important he was.