By David Sherman
I met Luc at the town's breakfast nook. Coffee, bacon and bread was thin, service slow but it's where you meet your neighbours on a Sunday morning if you choose to.
That morning I met Luc. He was at the next table, sitting with the town’s boisterous, grizzled expert on weed and progressive opinion. The kind of eccentric original that attracted Luc. When he found out I was living at Brian’s former house on the lake he turned to take my measure. He had a sawmill back in the day and cut and honed much of the logs and fine wood trim Brian had spent too many hours to count remodelling the old fishing lodge during the 30 years he lived there, lived there after his wife died there. Brian wasted away there, lived there until the neighbours drove him to the hospital where he lasted two weeks. Luc was elderly in look with an “I don’t give a shit” demeanour, rural in appearance. Hair long, grey and unkempt, trousers comfortably oversized and stained, shirt of dirty thick cotton, and, like most of us who heat with wood, flecked with bits of bark and chips of maple and oak. I was having a dinner party the next night and he lived only a dozen or so kilometres away in Gore, a town without a stop sign or a store, and knew the house better than I. So, I invited him.
“I have some nice, aged scotch,” I told him.
And he said, “How’d you know I like scotch?”
“Just a guess,” I said.
He said his goodbyes, climbed the stairs with the robust stride of a younger man to the cash and then stopped. He turned around, came back to my table, bent over, hands gripping the sides of the two-top, looked me in the eye and said, “Can I bring my dogs?”
And so he came with two rambunctious hounds who spent the night cavorting between the guests and the furniture. When I sat down to try to know him, I found out he had a wife and two kids, seven and 12.
I said that must be a challenge, since he admitted to being 83 and he stared straight up at his wood that formed the ceiling, and said, “If I had to do it again, I might reconsider.” This was around the time I was doing a musical with the band at a theatre in town, a play I wrote and did most of the music for and I was performing with my partner at the time, so I invited him to opening night. And he came. After the show, a rolled up copy of Canadian Dimension in his hand, he said, ”Would you do a show at the church in Lakefield?” I said, “sure” and a few days later I got a call from the church lady, Linda Jones, to work out the details. It was a fundraiser and the dressing room was stocked with snacks and drinks, a luxury compared to the dressing rooms of my experience, which doubled as storage closets for beer cases, faded posters of long ago acts and broken chairs. The church was sold out, another unique experience, maybe 100 people, a few of whom I knew, most of whom I didn’t.
I took it as a gift from the man I hardly knew. Under the spotlight, I felt strangely at home, Luc and Linda my hosts, and I fell into the role of the ham, telling jokes and stories of the people most of us knew, the pretty young stone mason, a crusty handyman, a greasy spoon where breakfast hour attracted people who had yet been to bed, sporting ear lobe expanders and deep cleavage hovering over their bacon and eggs.
And between the stories we sang songs and the band cooked and at the end we all got a standing ovation. People stomped and whistled and I thought, “Thank you, Luc, this is what the music biz is going to be like.” Screaming hordes and people who love you.
But, of course, it wasn’t, through no fault of Luc’s. But he had given me a taste.
I started throwing big parties at the lake house, the old lodge, with a friend’s band and I’d invite 30 or more and cook. And, of course, Luc came with a bottle of scotch and some heritage potatoes he had grown on land he had tilled by hand, and he made himself comfortable in the doorway of a spare room where he could look at the musicians and not be bothered by chatter, glass in hand. He loved music and he loved to listen.
The band did a set and I did a set and after went to the kitchen to look after my jambalaya and Luc came and put his arm around my shoulder as I was stirring whatever I was stirring, his nose nearly touching mine, his eyes full of fun and light and said, “You're really a terrible person, you know. Really a terrible person.” And he squeezed my shoulder and walked away, somehow looking impish, pleased with himself.
Luc had made another night. I felt as if my father had finally approved of me and my unprofitable pursuits, a compliment I will bundle with me for the trip to the grave.
When I was shopping for firewood, he put me in touch with an old man who was still cutting it himself. Good wood at a good price that heated the old barn for two years. Not easy to find. Luc was an addict of public radio and though he loved to dog sit my hound, pickup and delivery had to be done between the hours of his favourite radio programs he listened to on headphones tethered to his receiver, walking around his dark, beaten up house.
There was always a scotch bottle and glasses waiting for me. Perhaps it was inevitable for a man who was proud of working the land the way they did 200 years ago. Luc had a stroke but it was what they called minor, left him with half his face hanging and he had to relearn the use of one of his arms. But when I’d bring some food from the local Chinese joint to the rehab, he'd complain that I was spending too much money or there was too much food. He never complained about the institution or the staff. They all loved him. And he always had an article from Canadian Dimension to loan or a web site he wanted me to read.
He had little patience for capitalism and never learned to tolerate it.
When Reisa and I took him on a little excursion to the candy shop, he stocked up on chocolate for the kids and insisted on paying for a few bags of spice I had grabbed off a shelf. I resisted but Reisa gave me the eye, saying without saying, “Let the man buy you something.”
But, when he needed me most, I wasn’t there. Looking for a place to live between the lodge and my flight to Hanoi, a long-planned getaway from winter and life, he offered me a trailer in a field not far from his house. He lived down the end of a long dirt road, a rocky ride from the 329 and civilization, something he had less and less use for. I went to visit the trailer. He and his wife or ex-wife were there as was the trailer in a field, without running water, warmed by a space heater attached to an extension cord that wound through the grass between the trees, to Luc’s place.
The deal was the trailer and his bathroom and water for my help in getting him to bed and maybe a little cooking and making sure he was okay, though his older, now teenage son, would be living there. His back was causing him intense grief and the doctors weren't doing anything to help. But, I was selfish. I couldn’t find the romance in the trailer in the field. I didn’t want to share a bathroom a hundred yards away, help this old man to bed each night. I found a less challenging, more conventional place to live as I tried to organize the chaos that was my life then and prepare to climb on the plane.
I finally phoned to tell him I found a room and would be leaving the country and wouldn't be taking the trailer. I let him down and went about my travels and my new life with Reisa and talked to him a couple of times but he seemed distant and cold.
The church lady, Linda Jones, who had booked us for several more shows, thanks to Luc, wrote me recently. Luc had died. His spine punctured by tumours, he passed from agony into a morphine coma, his family with him. I hadn’t seen him in a year.
I think of Luc from time to time. He lived every minute of his eight-plus decades.
When someone dies you think of them, but, inevitably, you think of yourself. Not only your own mortality but how you measure up to the memory of the man. Luc did a lot for me. What did I do for him? I owe him, but it’s a debt too late to honour.
Yes, he put his arm around me and said I was a terrible person. I’m sure it was a compliment. Pretty sure.