Bill's boat, on Shad Bay behind our house in Nova Scotia
I got some sad news yesterday. When we lived in Nova Scotia, we had some great neighbours, but one of the best was the Newfoundlander next door, Bill. He was the last person I hugged before leaving the province in 2003 for our new home in British Columbia. I did see him one more time on a visit back to Nova Scotia a few years later, but unfortunately he wasn't at home on our last trip there in 2007.
This past Monday, Bill died after a difficult bout with cancer, during which he suffered without complaint. He was 72. The world has lost a good and kind man, far too soon. He and his wife moved into a city apartment after Bill got his diagnosis, where he could still get a glimpse of the sea from his window. His friends continued to take him out on the ocean until he became too weak to get in a boat.
Bill loved nothing more than to be out on the ocean. His boat was moored behind his house, and depending on the tides, it would often be positioned right behind our dock. Our kitchen windows overlooked the bay, and I often found myself gazing at Bill's boat, or at Bill getting his boat ready for another fishing trip, or at Bill coming home from a fishing trip with a good haul of mackerel. That man always put a smile on my face, but never so much as the day he showed up at my front door with a seagull in his gloved hands! That was an event so memorable that I drew a picture in my sketchbook, and wrote about what happened that day...
This is what it says:
"August 18, 2002 - This is the seagull that Bill and I rescued. He (she?) had a long piece of fishing line wrapped and knotted around his neck and wing. At the end of the line, dragging near his feet, was a stick about 6" long, and the crotch section (!) of a pair of black nylons. Bill and I both noticed the bird about two weeks ago (Herring gull). I tried to catch it but failed. Later Bill showed up at my front door, wearing heavy gloves and carrying the seagull! I got scissors and cut him free. He was a bit scabby around the neck and had been having trouble swallowing, but was doing surprisingly well, all things considered. He is a loner and hangs around my and Bill's docks. We hope he'll be okay now! I think we saved him from certain death."
Later Bill told me that he had caught the gull by sneaking up on it and throwing a blanket over it. I was touched that he had gone to such efforts to help a seagull. He knew I had a soft spot for animals; I think he did too. I was pleased that between the two of us, we were able to help a suffering bird.
I have many fond memories of Bill. Even though I am not much of a drinker, every time we went over to visit him and his wife Mary, he'd fix me a Brown Cow with ice, because he knew I'd always suck back some Kahlua if it was mixed with enough milk! Sometimes he'd even succeed at encouraging me to have a second drink, a rarity for me. He would say in his Newfoundland lilt, cutting a syllable out of my name, "Natlie, Natlie, come on now, have another drink. Just one more! One more never hurt anybody."
So many little things about Bill stick in my memory. He taught me how to plant potatoes properly. He kept his house and yard neat and tidy, with a little wishing well out front that was painted to match the house: white with a green roof. When the metal roof on my favourite bird house broke, he soldered it back together for me. When our dog Chelsea died (she loved Bill), he slipped a sympathy card in our door. We'd often stand down by the beach (oceanfront properties were very affordable in that area!) chatting about anything and everything. Other times, I'd see Bill walking across our seawall to visit his cousin Malcolm on the other side of us.
He loved his grandchildren, who would often come to swim in the cold Atlantic behind his house. Kids never seem to care about water temperature when it comes to swimming (at least, not tough Canadian kids!) And those kids sure loved their "Gampy."
And every New Year's eve, we'd wait for midnight and the sound of Bill firing off his rifle, once. I don't believe that was technically legal where we lived, so when we told him we'd heard his rifle going off, he'd smile and look innocent. But his own cousin, who lived on the other side of us, ratted him out. We all laughed when we heard that gun going off every year.
Bill in our kitchen, December 2001.
Bill's funeral is today, and I'm sure the church will be packed. I'll be there in spirit, if not in body. Here's to Bill, a fine Newfoundlander and a great neighbour. I'll never forget him. Wherever he's off to now, I hope my old dog Chelsea meets up with him and give him a big wet doggy kiss, just like she used to.