My grandfather passed away a few weeks ago, in late January. I suppose, in a way -I’m still processing what his loss means to me. It was a loss dulled by – I believe – a couple of decades’ worth of not seeing him. I’ve been in Arizona for over 18 years, after having moved away from my last new home – northern Maine. The irony is not lost on me as I remember Gramp was a wanderer too, having lived in Connecticut, Texas and Saskatchewan, among other locations. I was lucky enough growing up however, that he and my Grandmother Kay were within the province mostly, and I was close to them. Although I talk regularly on the phone with my parents and to a lesser degree my Grandparents, I haven’t actually seen anyone in years. This was nothing deliberate, no family quarrel, nothing involving prison or some fanciful adventure abroad – merely life, and circumstance. When I had time and opportunity, I couldn’t afford it; when I could have afforded it, I couldn’t muster an opportunity. Add the fact that I am dealing with some pretty significant health issues here in the MacFarlane compound – I just haven’t been able to get home for a visit. Of course, there are emergency plans in place but in the past few years vacations have been virtually non-existent, and vacations home ended up being confined to my daydreams. My parents, and grandparents for that matter, raised me to be hardy, and not a lot of room in life for self-pity. So, at the end of the day, “it is what it is”.
So, back to Gramp. Of course, I loved him dearly as I do all of my close relatives, but if there was someone to “blame” in regards to my penchant for writing, it surely must be Gramp. I’m not sure that writing skills are hereditary, but that has been far too big a part of my life to be considered mere coincidence. My Grandfather was an accomplished writer, editor and photographer – in later life he dabbled at the arts and really developed a hankering for painting in various mediums. It was cool to see someone take on new challenges in life, at that age, and not only do well, but embrace it. In the photo above, Gramp is pictured as a reporter in 1947 at the Telegraph-Journal in Saint John, New Brunswick. He is at the right front of the photo. He went on to become a newspaper editor, writer, author, and professional photographer. He was also a Canadian Navy veteran – he was there at D-Day and also did the famous (infamous) Murmansk Run – escorting convoys in the north Atlantic.
When I was in High School, a new regional outdoor magazine was announced – Wilderness Trails N Tales. It was printed in tabloid format on newsprint, as opposed to glossy magazine format. That publication went on to become The Maritime Sportsman. Anyway, I wrote the to the editors, offering to write for them. I felt that “From a Teen’s View” might make for interesting content for them. Imagine my shock when one day I was called to the office at school. There were the Editors; they were in town and asked if I could go to lunch (they had my parents’ and the school’s permission). At lunch they offered me my own column – I was on Cloud 9! Of course, when I write my first column, I wanted my Grandfather the Editor to look it over before I sent it in. Gramp obliged and in my young eyes – tore that article to shreds! There was more red ink than black, and I was stunned. I was the big time writer – how could this be happening? Of course now I know that’s what editors do, and I have been one as well, over the years. Back then though, I was shocked. Of course, Gramp helped me over the years when I asked, and I really think there was something genetic too. Writing has always come easily to me, and by all counts – I’m good at it. For that, I blame (or thank, depending) my grandfather Jim. Of course both my parents were voracious readers and raised my brother and I to be readers as well. To this day, when people ask me how to be better writers, I tell them “Read”. I have gone on in life to write and edit for several publications off and on, a feature article here and there, and now have my own blog-format websites as well as a freelance writing and editing business. Truth be told, I don’t make any money at that stuff, but people ask me about enough that I keep pecking away at it. I’ve been in a bit of a funk the past few months – life happened and writing just didn’t have the same effect on me. With Gramp’s passing howoever, I was compelled to write something. To shine a light on the real reason I’m good at this. And to pay homage to the man that truly, I idolized growing up. Now, in spite of all the rationale, I feel tremendously guilty that I didn’t see him again. That I didn’t make more time. Of course, he’d probably shrug at that and point out how foolish it is.
Gramp was never a hunter but he loved to fish. I suppose, though he never said it to me, he had seen enough killing in his life, in that sense at least. Besides a love of writing, he bestowed upon me a love of fishing. Between Gramp and my Dad, I became a fishing fool. Lakes and streams and brooks and deadwaters. Coldstream and Clearwater and Shiktehawk and Nictau Lake and the beautiful St. John River right below our house. Some of my most powerful memories of my grandfather are standing in an icy New Brunswick stream, or sitting in a canoe with he and dad. I can smell his menthol cigarettes, and Old Time Woodsman fly dope, and hear his voice. I remember peppering he and my dad with questions, and he was usually patient – except when we were in a boat or canoe. Then, there was no mucking around and his tone got real sharp if you weren’t following direction. Gramp (and my Grandmother too) seemed to know everything. I don’t think there was a question I ever asked that they didn’t know. It’s too bad that all of the important questions in life – when the answers really mattered – came later in life, and they weren’t nearby. I hope they know how much I treasured their presence in my life growing up. My heart aches for my daughter who has grown up without her grandparents close at hand – answering all of those questions, and just teaching – stuff.
My Grandfather left us on January 31st and maybe most sadly, left his wife of 69 years – my Grammy Kay. He had endured a lengthy hospital stay. One of those chapters in life that makes you question things – makes you question God, makes you question your own decisions in life – heck – it makes you question if you really want to give up cigarettes – if the time it adds to your life is going to be the time like his last few months were. It is deeply saddening to me that a man who had such a rich, robust life ended it with months of sickness and pain, discomfort and indignity. That a man who truly was one of my heroes (and I don’t have many) couldn’t end his time here on a high note. And I was 3000 miles away.
My Mom sent me some articles written by newspaper people after Gramp died. More than one coworker commented “That sounds like you!!” when the writer was talking about Gramp’s qualities, and his personality. I suppose, I couldn’t ask for a better honour, all things considered. Every time I think of Gramp, I can hear his voice in my ear, clear as day. I can smell the McDonald’s Menthol cigarettes, and I can see my first article lying on his desk, bathed in red ink. Thank you, Gramp – for all you did, for who you were.
Below is a picture of my Grandfather Jim and Grandmother Kay at (Canadian) Thanksgiving in 2014.