In face-to-face conversations (at the Co-op) with the late Ralph Hynes, he occasionally reached out and laid one his hands on my shoulder and continued on talking. I always took that touching, bonding moment as a confirmation of an unspoken traditional Newfoundland way of saying, "It was nice talking with you.”
I suppose if I pulled a Ralph nowadays and touched a shoulder of those I meet in the stores I could risk the possibility of being arrested, even charged, with unsolicited touching. Pity.
The benefits of living and growing up in a small town are to have the likes of a Ralph, and many others, touch you sometimes physically, or other times touch you by what they do, and often times, touch you just by their mere presence.
Within the past few months three such people who have touched my life (and the lives of many others) crossed the great divide - they died.
On May 30 it was Henry Frank Thompson. Over the years when I met him, he was never the familial Frank, but for me - Mr. We never had long conversations, but always acknowledged each others presence. When his wife Daisy was alive, to see them both was to see a handsome pair. She being a War Bride, it was good to hear Frank tell that story of how they met overseas in Scotland.
Frank touched me with that seemingly always happy, content look on his face - the twinkle in his eyes with a love of life. I last spoke to him momentarily at the St. Patrick's Day time at the Legion as his family celebrated with him his 90th birthday.
Another man I often met at the store, he too with this wife, was the late Don Hiscock (July 2). Chats with Don were usually short, poignant, observative, politically astute, and unquestionable - funny. And being naturally funny meant Don spread a lot of joy. He too had that love of life look on his face and touched many people in many ways none the least were the times he smartly marched carrying a flag in the Colour Party on Memorial Sunday and Remembrance Day.
And as a heavy equipment operator by trade Don was master, a wonder to watch - a poet in motion, on a machine.
Lastly, of the three is the late Jerry Edwards (July 20). He too I would meet in the store (only Sobeys). Jerry would query about the whereabouts of a particular daughter, about a column I wrote or what he might expect to read. Jerry was forever informed.
My conversations with Jerry had deep roots, he being a member of the Edwards clan that operated the movie theatre in the AND
Company's town hall and later in their own Popular Theatre. I never saw Jerry in the old town hall theatre, but saw his work
and really did not know it. Jerry hand painted the signs that depicted the movie playing and upcoming shows. Those signs were affixed to the three billboards - one in front of the town hall, another on a vacant lot (Alteens now) and a third, near the mill.
At the Popular Theatre Jerry was quite visible, taking tickets, serving at the canteen and cleaning. As young boy, I and others did a clean-up (for free admission) after a matinee and 6:15 p.m. shows. In those days I saw Jerry in action cleaning the glass in the doors, washroom mirrors and the brass handles and rails. His meticulous work meant no fingerprints on the glass or mirrors and a shine on the brass that would make the face of scowling sergeant major light up and have him dance with joy.
Recently, as I left the Harmsworth Library, I noticed the nearby brass rails and noted their dullness could use Jerry's hand.
Jerry up to recent years was seen daily walking around town, at Sobeys, and surely at the Cathedral for Saturday 5:15 p.m. Mass. The sight of Jerry was unmistakable - walking tall, looking around, with his arms folded behind his back, always shirt and tie, quiff hat spring to fall and aviator style hat, ear flaps down, in the winter. Over the decades, Jerry had countless conversations with people he met at the theatre and on his walks.
Jerry was a gentle, humble giant of a man who touched the lives of thousands over several generations. The news of his death was probably heard by former residents, wherever they live in the world. I knew Jerry for over 50 years, but the news of this death touched our two youngest teenage daughters.
Daughter, Joanna, when hearing of Jerry's death while she was on Vancouver Island told me of the times when she would meet Jerry on her way home from her summer job at the Logger's Museum. One particular conversation dealt with Jerry's birthday and she asked what she could make for him, his response, "Cupcakes." And the icing asked she, "blue,” said he. And blue icing cupcakes were made and delivered to Jerry at his Junction Road home.
Frank, Don and Jerry are just a few of the ordinary folk (no fancy degrees, no tons of money) who touched many of our lives forever. They make home a place worth living.
And as men who lived their Christian faith they were in the biblical sense the true salt of the earth. Thus, in respect for what they gave us it is important to care for the place where they lie buried. A tip of the hat to the Inter-Faith Committee that oversees the upkeep of our cemeteries.
The dead are very much alive in spirit. And the challenge for us is to be like them - reach out and touch those around us.
Rest in peace, you three gentle men.
Andy Barker at firstname.lastname@example.org