“If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door.” Milton Berle
My friend, Clay at EduClaytion, did an interesting post yesterday about creating opportunities for yourself. It made me think of my ex-husband’s cousin, George Beckett, who I had the great pleasure of meeting some fifteen years ago. Despite seemingly insurmountable obstacles, George spent his life seeking opportunities and making the most of them.
George was born in 1922 in New Jerusalem, New Brunswick, the eldest son of eight children of Edwin and Mildred (Machum) Beckett. The Becketts were farmers, and Edwin also owned a sawmill. Little George wasn’t an ordinary boy…he was diagnosed in early childhood with osteogenesis imperfecta or “brittle bones disease.”
“My mother wouldn’t let me go to school with the other children, because she was afraid I would get hurt,” George explained. “My sister was a year older than I was, and when she would bring her school books home, Mother would teach me what my sister was learning.” It was from this homeschooling that George’s lifelong love affair with books and reading was born. Schoolwork wasn’t the only thing George did at home…he was in charge of repairing the shoes and boots of his father’s workers. He learned to play the mandolin, violin, banjo and harmonica. George taught his siblings how to play the guitar.
By the time he was 21, George had suffered at least 200 fractures. Growing up in a large family during the Depression meant that money was spent on food, not medical treatment…the fractures were largely untreated, and thus did not heal correctly. This led to George’s growth being stunted…his stature wasn’t much more than four feet as an adult, and his frame was significantly twisted. He built himself a wheeled cart that he used to get around.
About this time, George expressed the desire to learn a trade so that he wouldn’t be a burden on his parents. He wrote a letter to Eaton’s and convinced them to send him a book on watch and clock repair. George studied carefully, and was soon overwhelmed with repair work left for him by neighbours and friends!
George moved to a farm in Bloomfield, New Brunswick, in 1954. George got tired of asking people to drive him around when he wanted to go somewhere. He modified a piece of farm equipment into a custom-built car with hand controls, and drove it the 35 miles into Saint John and demanded the authorities give him a license. They did.
George’s home in Bloomfield was a two-storey frame farmhouse…it was impossible for George to get upstairs in his wheelchair. He designed an elevator, and had it installed in the house.
We visited George at that house in 1996. The leprechaun-like man greeted us at the door in his electric wheelchair…I don’t know who was happier to see us…George or his big friendly dog! George ushered us in, gave us a tour of his workshop, and seated us in the comfortable living room. My father-in-law gathered all the latest gossip on the family since he’d last seen them (he lived in Kelowna, British Columbia at the time, and had come to visit us in Moncton). I was impressed with the huge number of books that George had collected over the years (that was before I was in the book business). He was especially fond of geography: “I’ve travelled the world by reading these books,” George told me.
Since I’d never met him before, George told me a little more of his story: “I never depended on the government for anything…I’ve always supported myself!” he declared. “I have a couple who stays with me and helps me look after the place. Besides playing music and reading, I like to hunt…I get a deer every fall! I’m also active in my church.”
After we chatted for a while, we all went to George’s sister’s house for supper…George drove his own car (modified with hand controls), the very same car that he used to pick up other seniors on Sunday morning to bring them to church. Many of George’s siblings were there, teasing him just as brothers and sisters do…his constant smile was a testament to the love his family gave him!
Meeting George had a profound effect on me…it’s hard to feel sorry for yourself when you encounter a man like that! He took lemons and made lemonade, and he wasn’t bitter, even after spending his whole life in constant pain!
George passed away on May 31, 2004. I am one of many people who will never forget him!