It’s been a great life!

Editor’s note: Longtime Fort Frances Times’ editor Harry Vandetti passed away last Wednesday morning at his residence at Rainycrest. He retired on May 1, 1990 but continued writing his “Just Passing By” column for many years afterwards.
The following appeared in the Jan. 22, 2003 edition of the Times:
George Clooney is a TV actor I have enjoyed lately. Doing a hillbilly role, he explains to a young daughter he has not seen lately that he is her father and, in fact, “the whole paraphernalia.”
This made him important!
Well, now I have realized that I can brag, too! You might not want to read any further, but I own this unique opportunity with my own column and a very unique story behind me! It’s like a song in the style of the “Ramblin Man” by Hank Snow: “I’ve been everywhere, man . . .”
I was born an only child and my parents were different than most in some ways, too. He was an Italian immigrant and not afraid of the hardest work while she was of Dutch, Scot, and Irish descent and U.S. origin. So you can expect almost anything from me for racial reasons!
As a boy, I dwelt among the gold miners at Mine Centre. After leaving Fort Frances in 1934 (hard times), we settled into a one-room log cabin and kept a dog team to haul our water uphill from a lake and bring our groceries home during some long, tough winters!
We returned to Fort Frances for my high schooling and I worked summers in a former Safeway store, piling hundred weights of flour and sugar up to a backroom ceiling, and also serving as a “bull cook,” a bush camp term, among sawmill workers in the White Pine Inn.
My wages here: $25 a month (Safeway paid 25 cents an hour!)
After high school, I took a welding course in Winnipeg, where I learned to wear my first overcoat and fedora like the city boys those years!
I spent one summer as a railroad worker (30 cents hourly) on night shift with some very nice boys who taught me to smoke hand-made cigarettes to keep the blackflies and mosquitoes away during our 13 hours with long-handled shovels and hip waders while smoothing wet ditches in the light of our dragline digger.
My companions included two boys later to be hanged after the sensational “hot stove” murder case!
Then it was back into mining, this time for iron at Steep Rock in Atikokan, but the diamond drilling crew I was supposed to join had just departed and so I became a labourer on the Steep Rock office.
I wielded a jackhammer—and did more of this years later at our papermill on construction jobs with my father.
I finally got into welding in the Port Arthur shipyards helping build Algerines for the war effort. I joined the RCAF here and was told by a doctor my heart was not in the proper place but I seemed okay otherwise (unique again, or maybe he was joking?)
I was 18 now and put in more than two years in uniform, being stationed only at Toronto, Kingston, Winnipeg, and Trenton air base, where plane rides could be free. But the Dakotas based there carried no parachutes for passengers because we were told there was no door to step out to jump!
In the end, I became the only known Fort Frances airman to be trained intensively for a full year to combat the Japanese in the Second World War. This was in radio interception of their code and had little to do with physical combat, to set the record straight.
This sort of thing has stuck weirdly with me for most of my life!
Officially then, my war career has been termed intelligence and it cost me a year in an army cap at Kingston, Ont. or Barriefield, and wearing khaki instead of our RCAF blues on that station. My squadron resented this, but we could expect a posting to Australia to be closer to Japan—only it never happened because the Japs quit fighting and my own war had actually ended.
But at Kingston, Ont., I met my mother’s family for the first time. And I learned her younger brother was the best local moonshine maker in those parts. Once you got into it, the stuff could be enjoyable, too, as well as profitable.
With no more war on my hands, I was persuaded to use my discharge benefits on a college education and chose journalism of all things. I helped launch that as a new faculty at Carleton College in Ottawa, which later became the university.
There I was taught by the dean of the Ottawa press gallery, Wilfred Eggleston.
Moving further into my unique career, I became a freelance reporter here for all the leading dailies in this region, as well as corresponding occasionally with the Toronto and even New York press. The latter incident featured the tragic story of our local singer, Florence Forsberg, who was slain during an off-Broadway production of “My Fur Lady.”
Probably my own biggest triumph coincided with the national senior hockey championship, the Allan Cup, and I am happy to be included in reunions as happened here last year. I also was celebrating my own half-century in local sports, but my other activities also have helped distinguish me.
There have not been any other men here I knew who went farming almost full-time after being raised in downtown Fort Frances! I looked after up to 100 head of cattle, some sheep, pigs, and chickens, as well as ponies and an Irish Setter kennel which sent my pups all over Canada.
My investments in farm equipment, improvements, and supplies easily exceeded $100,000. With wife, Emily, my only son, Earl, and I, assisted by whomever we could hire to pitch in, covered up to 1,000 acres of hay and pastured land, purchased or rented, during this 40-year adventure which managed barely to break even, including our purchase of cars, trucks, and other vehicles (such as three tractors).
We never regretted the expenses, but I admit there have been problems like separating our Setter pups from the lambs and chickens. Yet we stayed alert enough to keep going!
We managed to travel, too. In Hawaii and standing on the deck of the sunken “Arizona,” I met a Japanese officer in a U.S. Army uniform. He was describing the Pearl Harbor attack during a showing of that movie (I never told him I have been trained for that war!)
In other travels, I made friends with an American camera merchant who had warehouses full of his cameras at Freeport, and I learned he might be deported from the Bahamas for investing in a Florida marina.
If you make your money there, you had better spend it in the Bahamas, too!
Looking around later, I found myself and wife splashed heavily by a killer whale when it jumped high out of a pool in Victoria, B.C.
More dangerous was my career as district bailiff, delivering collection notice for the courthouse. My life was threatened by butcher knife near Barwick and by a rifle in La Vallee—both at close range.
As a part-time high school teacher, I was congratulated by the regular teacher for steering his senior history class through their final exam without a single failure! As a real estate investor, I always managed to recover my money from several home and farm purchases.
And as husband for just half-a-century, I helped raise four splendid children and then could admire five grandchildren coming up.
We found there was too much to look after to become worried over very much.
Wife, Emily, may have objected to the sale of our farm because this would have not seemed natural after all our lives there together. Although the insurance companies declare there is no more dangerous occupation than farming, somehow it suited us thoroughly.
Now here I am, probably the oldest worker you know, but it’s easy work with little pay coming in. And somehow a company pension never appealed to me! I’m still the oddball!
I was born in the same year (1925) as another Harry built the Rainy Lake Hotel. Only my given name was not Harry because I was christened Harold.
Now I have produced the synopsis of my autobiography, which may or may not help provide my obituary.

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