At 120 pounds wet out of the bathtub, my dad, Romeo Joseph Gouin, was made of skin, bone, muscle and tendons, but no fat.
He was raised in a single-parent family with two sisters. To help support the family during the Depression, he went to work soon after graduating from elementary school. Despite his lack of high school, he was smart and talented. Among his many talents was a strong tenor voice. When I was nine, I contracted rheumatic fever and was bedridden for several months. Many nights dad would lull me to sleep standing by my bed playing his violin.
By trade, he was a master plumber and a plumbing and heating contractor. Managing his business kept him busy, but he always had time to teach my brother Maurice — Mo — and me skills and give us guidance. He had a very strong work ethic. He repeatedly told us the word can’t is not in our vocabulary. You won’t know until you try, he told us. Finish what you start. And If a job is worth doing, it should be done well.
Dad bought us tools, not toys.
I think back to the time Mo and I attended an archery demonstration at a Boy Scout meeting. Back home, we asked if we could have bows and arrows. The next day, Dad presented us with two pieces of clean wood six feet long, two inches wide and one inch thick, plus a spoke shave. We found plans and made our own bows. He helped us make a jig for gluing feathers on dowels to make arrows. We harvested hay from a nearby abandoned field and rolled it into logs to make a target. Our back yard became an archery range.
He also insisted we learn some plumbing skills. I always enjoyed working with him. When the work was going well, he would often sing as he worked.
My brother Mo continued in the plumbing and heating business and started his own company soon after completing duties in the U.S. Air Force. When Mo and Dad happened to be together at a plumbing supply house, the clerks would often say, “A block off the old chip,” as my brother was much bigger in stature than Dad.
I enjoy plumbing and have used my knowledge of it many times, but I pursued a career in plant science.
Dad gave us life as well as work advice, as in, If you can’t say anything good about somebody, don’t say anything. I attribute much of my success to his words of wisdom.
Dad enjoyed fishing both summer and winter, and I have many fond memories of fishing with him. For fishing in the spring, summer and fall months, we’d transport a sheet-metal boat in the back of the truck. During the late fall and winter months, we fished through the ice. He owned a bob-house, but we only used it when the weather was harsh. He preferred fishing in the open and going to different lakes and ponds. Wearing his felt boots over heavy wool socks mother made, long Johns under wool pants under bib-overalls and an old long wool overcoat, he was in seventh heaven sitting by a fishing hole catching yellow perch.
Dad had a great sense of subtle humor. I remember the time we were fishing on ice about 18 inches thick. He stopped while chiseling out a fishing hole. Looking at me he said, “If only this ice was at 40 degrees, it would be easier to cut.”
I have inherited some of his humor. I also have some of his plumbing tools hanging on the wall of my workshop. Many times when I cannot solve a problem, I look at those tools and say, Dad, what would you do? He has inspired me many times and continues to inspire me.
He was 94 when he passed away.