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This dad built a foundation for his family

James “Doc’’ Aylward Sr. sits outside the back door of the Ledge Street house in Woburn, Mass., where he replaced the shingles.

Photo courtesy of Jim Aylward

James “Doc’’ Aylward Sr. sits outside the back door of the Ledge Street house in Woburn, Mass., where he replaced the shingles.

We called him "the Sunday Edgar." On Sunday I had a totally different father.

He was quiet. He read his Zane Grey novels in his Morris chair and seldom made a remark. On Sunday he didn't have any beer to drink. Monday through Saturday, when the local beer and liquor store was open, he was happy, gregarious, amusing, cheerful. But, for some reason known only to him, he drank all his beer through Saturday. Hence, the Sunday Edgar.

He was born on a potato farm in Prince Edward Island. He and his sister, Alice, were the short ones in a family of tall brothers and sisters. His height didn't make him any less interesting. James Edgar Aylward Sr. was always a character.

When he put his shingles over the old clapboards on our Ledge Street house, he had mostly shingles 6 inches to the weather. But there was one row in the middle of the mix that was just 3 inches. When my mother asked him why he couldn't figure it all out so they would be the same, he said, "They have to be that way! Every so often you have to have a short row!"

When he first came to the states, he settled in the city of Woburn, Mass. A Dr. West had settled there long before him. My father and Dr. West looked a lot alike. When my dad would walk down the street, people would smile and say, "Hi, Doc!" Doc became his nickname.

He did the work he could do in those days. He was a day laborer, construction worker, jackhammer operator. With only a few years of schooling, his education didn't go much beyond reading and writing. His muscles made up for the rest.

Working with others on some construction gang on the streets of Woburn, he watched my mother walk down the way, turned to his buddies and said, "That's the girl I'm going to marry!" And he did.

I owe my father for a lot of things, but giving me his name was maybe the highest on the list. While my mother was moaning in the maternity ward — I showed up at 9 pounds, 10 ounces! — my dad went downstairs to the desk and said I was James Edgar Aylward Jr. If he hadn't done that, this column today would have been written by Ronald Mortimer Aylward. No kidding! My mother actually thought Mortimer was a classy little name.

At one time he was a worker for the public works department and he was out in snow storms and hurricanes. Even in Massachusetts, we managed to have two major devastating hurricanes in those years.

In spite of his little problem with short rows, he managed to completely shingle our old house. He had to use staging and ladders to get to them but, three stories in the front and four stories in the back, he got it done. I climbed up the ladders to the staging area and sat with him and handed him shingles. Finally, it was time to paint the trim all around. The back was so high, he handed me a paint brush already dipped in cream color, held me on the saddle of the roof by my legs and dropped me over the side to paint upside down. I thought it was hilarious. He told me never to tell my mother.

I never did.

Tired of working for others, late in life he started a small roofing business with a friend: Martin & Aylward, Roofing Contractors. He had the gift of charming talk, and he was able to speak with just about anybody. He got the contracts for the Stoneham public schools and the library. He maintained all the roofs and, in the winter, shoveled snow from them to prevent them from collapsing.

With a minimum of education, he made himself into a major player in a beautiful small town.

James Edgar Aylward Sr., my dad, was one of the good guys.

New Port Richey resident Jim Aylward was formerly a nationally syndicated columnist and radio host in New York City. Write him in care of LifeTimes, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731.

This dad built a foundation for his family 11/21/08 [Last modified: Monday, December 15, 2008 2:23pm]
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