These are the stories told by Albert Casteels, to his daughter, Cecelia Casteels-Geens
1.One of the earliest stories that Albert told referred to his younger, mischievous days. He shared with glee in his eyes a story of an advertisement for a Horse Contest in a neighbouring town that he placed in the local paper. It read “Biggest Horse Race outside of Antwerp, Sunday April 1st, 2pm”, offering a “large purse”. Horse lovers and jockeys from all over Belgium came to participate and enjoy, only to be duped in an April Fool’s prank. Albert and his brothers stayed in hiding for a long time!
2. Many of Albert’s stories referred to his time in the war. He was critically injured when shrapnel pierced his leg. This injury resulted in a prolonged and challenging recovery.
3. When the land around his Belgian farm was expropriated after the war and 3 metre barbed wire fences was erected, Albert decided it was time to leave Belgium. Albert dreamed of moving his young family to Canada. This was a difficult decision as both he and his wife Emerentia had large extended families in Belgium, where they lived in a communal family lifestyle. Family was extremely important to Albert and his family.
4. After selling their possessions, Albert boarded up the kitchen table to create a trunk for the few meager and practical items to start life in Canada. With wooden shoes on his feet, and his family of 7 children, aged 10 months to 11 years, they boarded a ship and set sail for North America.
5. Upon arrival in Canada in the early 1950’s Albert and his young family moved to an rural farm near Stratford, ON. Albert bought a car, despite not knowing how to drive. There were long and challenging years, and life was full of major adjustments. Albert needed to estabish the farm, including bringing in hydro, despite being unfamiliar with Canadian farming, customs, climate, and the English language . In 1954 Hurricane Hazel wiped out all the crops on the farm and times became even more trying. Albert found a job on a snowplow as wing man that winter. Without adequate winter attire he would walk (4 km) to the main highway to meet the plowman.
6. Hoping for a better life for his family of nine children, Albert purchased a new farm in Centreton, ON, to grow tobacco. He again loaded the large wagon and drove his tractor and wagon 300km from Stratford to the new home. It took him 2 days and nights in the cold March weather. Settling into the new farm was yet another major adjustment with many outbuildings needing to be constructed. Through determination and hard work, the farm began to take shape and 2 more children were born. The family of 13 was complete.
7. At age 47, Albert was hospitalized with a major brain aneurism and his prognosis was dire. The only option at the time was an experimental surgery, and the chance for survival was slim. The surgery required 3 large holes to be drilled in his forehead and skull. Following the surgery he laid on a bed of ice in order to slow his blood circulation. He spent nearly two months in a Toronto hospital during his remarkable recovery until finally he returned home to continue his healing.
8. As the head of the household, Albert was determined to show his children the benefit of hard work and perseverance. When his children were faced with predicaments, Albert would remind them that he was still there despite “3 holes in his head and 1 hole in his leg”.
9. After retiring from farming Albert and his wife moved into the village of Centreton. They enjoyed many trips to the “old country” and reconnected with their siblings and families. While at home, one of Albert’s favourite thing to do was to go for a country drive with his wife. He reported to his adult children how farming had changed, how well kept and vibrant local farms looked, and what excellent farmers they must be. Or, he would note how decrepit and overgrown other places looked, and he would comment with scorn that “they mustn’t have any pride”!
10. Despite earlier struggles in life, Albert’s optimism and sensitive nature showed in his later years. When his wife Emerentia was diagnosed with dementia, he became her primary caregiver with the support of his adult children. Following her death Albert stayed in his home and found joy working in the garden, feeding the birds and going for short drives. He started to suffer from Parkinson’s and was saddened the day he gave up his car. As his children and grandchildren visited and cared for him, he expressed constant gratitude for all the attention he received. Following a minor stroke, he was hospitalized, and knowing the end was near, he expressed satisfaction with the life he had and looked forward reuniting in heaven with his wife. On the day he died, with most of his 11 children by his side, he pointed a strict finger at them and said “after all these years we’ve had together don’t argue or fight. Be good to each other”.