Cousin George…Building a Door for Opportunity to Knock On…

“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!


Filed under family, memories

32 responses to “Cousin George…Building a Door for Opportunity to Knock On…

  1. What a great story and moral about how much having a positive attitude about life can change perspective.

  2. What a great tribute to a wonderful life!

  3. I love George. What a great story, well told. And I love this line of his: “I’ve travelled the world by reading these books.” He was a big man in his own way.

  4. Great tale and well told Wendy. We are always drawn to people who fight like George. What a great example. And thanks for the mention 🙂

  5. Jess Witkins

    What a wonderful encounter of someone inspiring to share with us. I met a gentlemen at the conference who through his mother’s determination and strength, he overcame extreme cerebral palsy and got a degree in writing. He’s now published 2 books! Thanks for sharing Wendy!

  6. It’s funny, I assume that because I have kids, I initially read “Cousin George” as Curious George. And yet, George was so curious with life, the name Curious George fits! He researched and studied – studied and researched. What an honor to have met a person like George, Wendy.
    I’m glad you shared this with us.

    My curiosity got the better of me, and I found out Bloomfield is quite close to Houlton and Woodstock, where we cross the border on the way to Nova Scotia.

    • Glad you enjoyed the piece, Lenore! Bloomfield is only about a 25-minute drive from where I live in Hammond River…where do you go in Nova Scotia? Wendy

      • Amherst Shore, next to Northport. Small towns in a beautiful area along the Northumberland Strait. On clear days, we see PEI, too. My Mom was born in Amherst, along with her parents. My Dad’s Dad was born (and buried) in Amherst. Long history – large family – absolutely love it.

      • It is very pretty there, Lenore…I’ve only been around that area a couple of times… Wendy

  7. Thank you for sharing the life story of Cousin George. What an inspiration! He reminds me of my Uncle Ron (now deceased) who went blind from diabetes in 1972. He was the father of 5 children and worked for phone company. He devised a system for coding wires that he could feel so he could still do his job for the phone company to support his family.

    I will forever remember the smile on his face. He never complained and tried to make the best of difficult circumstances much like Cousin George.

  8. Such a touching post, Wendy. George sounds like a remarkable man.

    Very well told.

  9. Oh, Wendy–I adore stories like this! Thanks so much for sharing it. I am soooooo touched. Wish I could have known George!

  10. Great inspirational story. I’m learning more and more how success and happiness in life depend on persistence and not just waiting around for good things to happen.

  11. Wow! Very inspirational!

  12. Enjoyed reading the inspirational story. I’ll have to keep it in the back of my mind for whenever I take a jog down the pity party lane!

  13. What a wonderful story! What an amazing man! How lucky you were to have come to know George. This has the makings of a book! 🙂

    • I wish I’d had more time to get to know George, Monica…unfortunately, distance and lack of a vehicle kept me from doing that when he was alive. I actually suggested that a friend who was doing a book about heroes in New Brunswick include George in her book, and she did! Glad you enjoyed the post! Wendy

  14. Sounds like a real Renaissance Man. Nice tribute.

  15. Louise Higgins Neilson

    How delightful to happen upon this article about my second cousin! My parents and I enjoyed many summer visits with Becketts in New Jerusalem (later in Hampstead), where my maternal grandmother is buried. Amazing and gentle George was part of those wonderful memories, now so very long ago, and very far away.

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