In the name of work, I’d enlisted most of the family for a trek through the Maritimes in an RV. The fact we were all RVing neophytes was a mere detail. We’d already been on the road most of Day 4, and couldn’t find the night’s reserved spot. With rain pelting down, we snaked along every harbour and cove on the eastern edges of Nova Scotia until I finally gave up. “East River Lodge Campground & Trailer Park” said the sign. I told the Poor Sod to take the next left. What’s an adventure without a few curve balls?
As we drove in, an older man at Site #1 waved as we swept by. I waved back.
Site #1 later stopped by to welcome us; Jack MacDonald owned the park, and his licence plates declared him World’s Best Grandma. A cell phone rang incessantly on his belt.
“Well, gotta go. You don’t want to git the wife mad at youse,” he winked at the Poor Sod, who wisely nodded in agreement. “Anything you want to know, you just come ask. I been here forever,” he said, driving off.
Later that night I went to find Jack. I grabbed my pen and pad, because that’s what a journalist does. I also grabbed one of the hats we’d bought earlier that day. “The Boss” was stitched on it. I hadn’t known at the time, but it was meant for Jack.
I found Jack at the office, and in the misty night air, I just let him talk. He’d been born up the road, had lived here all his 77 years. He spoke of the great fire in ‘47, when his family had lost everything, and his teen years working for a logging company. When I indicated that it must have been tough – he’s a slight man – he pulled himself up proudly and said he was far stronger than he looked. I was reminded of my Dad, and that curious thing of a spirit growing stronger as the shell grows frailer. He spoke of his children. I asked how many he had.
“Well, five, but we lost Marilyn awhile back now,” he said quietly. My pen hesitated over the paper – I’d been writing furiously. His tired eyes teared up.
“We lost her to the depression. We tried everything, for so long,” he said quietly. Now I was crying.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to git you upset. She just struggled so long, we all did.” It’s journalist-like to write things down. It’s not journalist-like to cry with your subject.
“I go around and talk now, to the schools and such,” he went on. “I try to tell people that you have to try to understand, and talk about these things.”
“Do you realize how important it is, someone your age being so open about this?” I asked him.
“They tell me it is, that I’ve saved some people with my talkin’,” he replied. “I just don’t want anyone to feel this way. I sat bolt upright in the middle of the night and I knew the instant she’d gone. It was terrible, horrible, but I knew,” he said.
“Marilyn was your girl, wasn’t she?” I asked quietly, again feeling my Dad there.
“Oh, she still is,” he said sadly. “She still is.”
A lifetime of experience, an eternity of pain, and still so much kindness and optimism. Jack posed for pictures the next morning, proudly wearing his Boss hat. Then he pulled out his own camera, took my picture and gave me a hug.
We went on our way, but I’d already seen the best that Nova Scotia had to offer.