I stood outside the shack on a cool summer night the end of August 1974. I had been inside the shack once and had seen tar papered walls, a small wooden table covered with an oilcloth table cloth and mismatched chairs. I do not believe it had running water as I vividly remember an enameled basin yellowed with age and the red rim around the basin. The home smelled of cigarette smoke and poverty. But I had no appreciation for such at that time in my life save perhaps a random thought that I was glad it wasn’t mine. I had only one overwhelming desire at 14-I wanted to be popular by a group of kids that kept me on the periphery hence my congregating with them that night away from the watching eyes of my parents or other sensible adults.
The shack stood on a large lot in the centre of town where the man and his wife were likely squatters. He eked out a living with his ancient always-in-need of repair tractor and she seldom left the home. It would be years later that I would learn that she suffered from depression but even then, I remember my father telling me that her nerves were bad. How this couple managed to survive is something I cannot begin to fathom although I knew that they had a large garden that the man (who I’ll refer to as George_ carefully weeded and tended to on a daily basis.
On this particular night after playing harmless games of knock-a-door ginger, it was decided that we should up the ante and ransack this old couples’ garden. Being neither fast nor brave I stood on the edge, dependant on the inky blackness of the night to shield me. And I knew what we were about to do was dead wrong. My parents had often mentioned that we were the company we kept and so guilt by association was exactly where I stood in their eyes and of course in my own. Over the next few minutes I watched as they pulled up carrots and lettuce, broke branches off of raspberry bushes and broke off rhubarb stalks. The old man, having heard all the commotion, stood at the doorway yelling and then pleading with us to stop. His garden had been attacked by a bunch of teenagers with no other purpose than to cause trouble. The army of us left little standing when we left.
Morning came as morning does and there was a knock on our door. There stood George-tall but stooped-weary and beaten. My parents beckoned him inside for a cup of coffee and I slinked away but remained close enough to watch tears streak down the face of this proud man as he described what was left of his garden to my folks. My father was incensed by the sheer senselessness of it all. The food had not been stolen it had been left to rot. The old couple had managed to retrieve what they could but the raspberry bushes were ruined-the bounty largely in tatters. My father reached into his pocket and gave the man a $10.00 bill which was accepted out of necessity but was costly to my family as we struggled ourselves and quite possibly even more costly to the pride of that man. My Dad shook George’s hand, expressed his shock and outrage at the horror of the act and very likely gave George some more work with the tractor that always had something wrong with it. I will never forget the last thing George said to my Dad. “You can be lucky Ron that your kids don’t run with that pack of hooligans”
It has been four plus decades since the raid on George’s garden and even today I feel ashamed for my association and lack of courage. Both George and his wife and my own sweet father have left the confines of this earth-secure, I am sure, in the folds of heaven. That event and my father’s response have had a lifetime impact on my own life. I have tried, whenever, possible to speak up for the disenfranchised. I have often dug into my pocket to help out and I have befriended many of them. I am convinced my father knew how rich the friendships with those who have had to walk a road that has left them weary and broken. The great kindnesses my father showed to those less fortunate has molded and shaped the lives of all my siblings. How proud I am of a man that let action speak love.