The Guy I Looked Up To

There is a place, far away from here, where I spent many of my boyhood summers. My Granny and Grandpa lived there, and spending time with them was the source of my greatest happiness back then. Everyone in town liked my Granny, and respected my Grandpa, “Big John” as he was known. She cleaned the homes of wealthy people and the offices of doctors and lawyers and such. He was a grain farmer, and a carpenter, yet I thought they owned the town judging by the respect and warmth shown them at places like Crowley’s, the National Cafe, the Co-Op and Pearson’s five cents to a dollar store.

Granny baked the best homemade bread in the world, and pies, and buns, and she put up the sweetest and tastiest fruit I have ever eaten. Grandpa would take me to the farm with him each day. We would ride the tractor under the hot summer sun breathing in the billows of dust worked up from the field we were rod-weeding. If a man didn’t have dirt on his hands and face at the end of the day he wasn’t good for much I surmised. We rode that tractor from morning till night and ate sandwiches wrapped in wax paper for lunch and drank coffee from a thermos on our breaks.

I was man enough for these things I figured and I did what I could to prove I was to my Grandpa. I worked hard, always. The neighbors had livestock, plenty of pigs, chickens, and cows and that’s where I learned all the important things a farm kid needs to know. I mastered the art of shoveling piles of steaming crap and slopping hogs and feeding chickens and gathering eggs. I milked my first cow there and shot my first gopher, and I swear to this day I could throw straw bales then like a full-grown man. It was an adventure being out there surrounded by God’s creations, and the ever-present dangers people living and working in nature are attuned to.

The town was called Tisdale, and I was born there, nestled in the heartland of Canada’s farm country. They call it the prairies because it’s flat as a pancake giving credence to a joke claiming that you can sit on the front porch and watch your dog run away…for three days. It’s unbearably hot in summer, deathly cold in winter, and spring is often so wet you can float a canoe almost anywhere you want to. It’s a place where Mother Nature does what she wants, and man does what he can. The beauty of this place with it’s endless skies over the Blue Flax and yellow Canola blossoms of spring to it’s swaying fields of golden wheat and barley in fall, was divine. There were foxes, and coyotes, and deer and frogs, and gophers, plenty of gophers. It was heaven for a young boy, and I loved that place. But it was the people there that I thought the most of because they lived by the rules of honesty, hard work, and community. It’s a place that gets in your bones, and stays there, if you’ve ever had the privilege of calling it home.

Always at my side when I was there, or more correctly, me at his, was my Uncle Lorne. He was never just Lorne to me, always Uncle Lorne, like a Texan may be saddled with the name Billy Bob. He was two and a half years older, and more handsome, and he always had better ideas than I did. He and mischief were rarely far from each other, and neither was I, happy to do whatever I was told.

Uncle Lorne and I played hard, and did our fair share of fighting over things, and had many high adventures. Later on, as we neared our teens, we would scramble to the front window to watch the Lustig sister walk past the house. Most times we just found ourselves laughing uncontrollably about everything a young boy’s imaginative mind would find funny.

He was my Granny’s son, my uncle, but to me, he was like a brother. I idolized him. He was the toughest guy in the world and the smartest. He was the best shot with a gun, the greatest artist, the best carpenter, next to my grandpa of course, and he could build a model car or airplane even better than the picture on the box. He was always much taller than me, and still is, but I looked up to him for a different reason. He protected me and was always the first one there when I got hurt. No one in the world was better than my Uncle Lorne, cross my heart and hope to die. 

That was the 1960’s, and we were young. Later, when we were in our early 20’s, and for no particular reason, we drifted apart. We haven’t talked much for more years than I care to admit. Life is like that sometimes, but recently he reached out to me, and we talked. I’m in my late 50’s now, and he is sneaking up on his 60’s. He said he wanted to make up after all those years, for something he felt bad about. For the life of me, I couldn’t think of a single thing he had done wrong. But he needed some peace, so I graciously accepted his apologies and offered my heartfelt forgiveness.

The experience taught me a couple of things. The first and most important – my Uncle Lorne is an even more incredible man than I had thought. The second – we should never waste time making our wrongs right. It broke my heart that this guy that meant so much to me when I was a kid would carry something around all this time that affected his happiness. I wish I could have squared things away decades ago and told him that I loved him and what he meant to me.

I believe that we should never use comfort, or discomfort, as the benchmark for what is good and bad in our lives. The most uncomfortable experiences are the ones we grow the most from, and growth is always valuable. 

I’m proud of my uncle for what he did way back when I was a kid and now when we re-connected and he made good on what he thought had been an injustice. He is an easy guy to admire.

He taught me another thing I just realized while writing this. That I should follow his lead and deal with the things that need dealing with in my life. Again, my Uncle Lorne has made my life better by being a part of it.

*In the photo that’s me sitting in the wagon and that’s my Uncle Lorne crouched down beside me. I don’t have the exact date but this was around 1961 or 1962.

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