LONDON, ONTARIO – It’s been a melancholy week with the announcement of Roy McDonald’s death last Wednesday. The first reports suggested that he may have been dead for as long as three or four weeks before his body was discovered tucked up in bed in the house where he lived for all of his 80 years but that got walked back considerably and it is now believed that he’d been dead for only a couple of days. (Or maybe they’re just saying this, so we won’t go, “Eww.”) With no phone or internet connection he wasn’t the easiest guy to keep tabs on.
Until fairly recently I usually managed to bump into him a couple times a year. Always at the Home County Folk Festival where he presided for all three days at the back of the mainstage crowd as a sort of non-musical attraction. And then, less dependably, I’d meet him standing outside of Joe Kool’s or the Starbucks at Dundas and Richmond where he’d plant himself and hold court with whoever passed by. In any of those situations, you’d have to hang around for about an hour to get in ten minutes worth of fractured conversation with Roy because he’d always pull in passersby and do the full introductions and bring everybody up to date and then that person would wander away and, “Ah, where were we? Yes, I’ve been reading this wonderful book about the holistic powers of organic cashews but the thing is you’ve got to eat them at a time when you’re . . . Oh, just a minute, Herman, have you ever met Ernest Forepaw?” And off we’d go again.
LONDON, ONTARIO - When I was accepted into the Roman Catholic Church, I heard from a number of lifelong Catholics who told me they envied me my fresh apprehensions of the glories of a Church which, through long habituation, they feared they sometimes took for granted. And there certainly were times during my months of study and preparation when I was all but overwhelmed by the blessings and the significance and the implications of the relationship I was entering into.
Nothing stands out quite so vividly from the many impressions of that time as the memory of my first marathon confession when, shaking like the proverbial leaf as butterflies waged thermonuclear war in my guts, I was able to set down nearly 32 years’ worth of regrets and remorse at the feet of Our Lord and receive His absolution. The buildup to my first participation in that Sacrament had been a knotted tangle of fear and self-recrimination and I anticipated that once I got through it, I would want to drag myself off to some dark corner and go to sleep for a week. Instead, I practically levitated out of that confession room, infused with an energy and hope and sense of gratitude that I hadn’t felt in years.
LONDON, ONTARIO – For a full quarter century through a City of London program called Focus 60, I worked as a discussion group convener for senior citizens – at least 90 percent of them women. While I also hosted one group which discussed current events for a few years, the two real mainstays of my convening years were weekly, two-hour sessions with a group of aspiring writers and another group of very accomplished readers; folks who’d read widely and avidly for 60 or 70-some years and were a goldmine of suggestions and recommendations. My reasons for finally packing in my job in June of 2012 were four-fold.
I had just turned 60 years old myself and figured it was probably time to toss this plum position over to a younger person. A lot of my enthusiasm for the job drained away when the front office started demanding police checks and diversity training workshops for all of their conveners. This demeaning irritation arose almost 20 years into my gig during which my employment record was utterly unstained by incidents of harassment, groping or (except for one addle-brained scribbler who wouldn’t stop writing about her bloody cat) disparagement. And for my final year they had retired the reading group due to dropping enrollment while the writing class just kept getting bigger and bigger – too big, in fact, to give an adequate amount of attention to each student. Also, that spring I had received my commission from the Catholic Art Guild to write Three Artists: Kurelek, Chambers & Curnoe and needing to undertake a large amount of research, I dreaded breaking my concentration every Friday to monitor this one discussion group.
LONDON, ONTARIO – My good friend Vince Cherniak will be familiar to many of you from his two-year stint as in-house art critic for The London Yodeller which I edited from 2013 to 2016. In addition to his regular Look at This column, Vince was also a frequent supplier of our Yodeller Interviews where his usual modus operandi was to plop two to three times more material than we could possibly publish into my lap with a request to pare it down into usable form.
Well, Vince is now working away at his family memoirs and in a shamelessly ingenious ruse to save himself some labour, he has decided to outsource some of the writing for this project to other people. One major theme of Vince’s life story is his amazement that he still lives in the same house that he grew up in on Forward Ave. He’s not sure that he ever meant to do this. Indeed, he’s still not sure that he really likes it here in London and wonders if his lifelong but unintentional commitment to this place makes him, not just a regionalist, but a hyper-regionalist.