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  Ellen Davignon: Lives of Quiet Desperation

A Grave Matter, Indeed…

October 15, 2004

I know, I know... this is late. Again. And although I realize that saying that I am prostrate with sorrow and guilt doesn't exactly float your boat when you've been looking forward to the little monthly bit of desperation that makes your life seem like a year-long picnic, truly, I am sorry. It's just that other things have taken precedence over the chronicling of my quiet despair.

Little things, like getting my winter wood organized and nagging at the fellows who “do” chain link fences to “do” the one they promised me `way back in July - or was it June? - and taking down screens and washing windows and putting away the rakes and shovels, have taken great gulps out of my days. And if that didn't leave me without enough hours in which to crank and complain, there were bigger things as well: my niece Sandy's Big Fat Greek wedding, for one, which took place in Toronto and required my substantial presence to help bring some balance to the blonde/Scandinavian side of the nuptials. And my first granddaughter, Deanna, moving into a house of her own and requiring the benefit of her Gram's good humour and (apparently) bottomless wallet in the acquisition of the endless list of accoutrements that make a house, like, a home.

You understand that all of the foregoing took time. And energy. And as I grow older, both of those seem to be less readily available. Seems I've gone from rampant to stagnant without missing a beat, stumbling along all these years with my eye on the prize and, all of a sudden, I can't even remember what the prize was. It's very disconcerting, to say the least, to find myself without an ultimate goal so I've taken to finding my pleasures as they occur to me. And that brings me to my final excuse for playing hookey from my col-yumizing: me and Mr. Gib spending the entire afternoon, of what could quite conceivably be the last gloriously sunny day of fall, scuffling through the drifts of leaves that cover the grassy acres of Grey Mountain Cemetery.

We go to the cemetery quite often, my little dog and I. Ostensibly, we go to visit Phil and bring him news of all the family doings, but we remain to enjoy the beautiful scenery and the lovely landscaping. Gibson covers the area about six times to my once or twice but he's got squirrels to chase and bushes to investigate while I tend to wend my way around the grounds, pausing to read the sentiments on the headstones and to admire the floral tributes, some of them fresh and new on graves that have been there for 20 years or more. I stop often to visit with old friends, to remember them and give them a bit of local news.

“Hi Mort, how's it going?” I say, as I stop by Meredith Cain's headstone. I remember when I was a kid, hearing Mort telling my Dad that he had made the 80 miles from Whitehorse to JC in just under two hours and my Dad shaking his head in wonderment. Now I have to tell him, “Those last years at JC, it never took me more than an hour fifteen in my old brown Ford. How `bout them apples, Mort?”

Wandering on, I stop for a moment to wonder about Ted Powell, 24, of England and Charles Gumm, 21, of Australia, who both lost their lives in a plane crash at Trapper Lake, BC in 1978.Further on is a memorial to Chuck and Jessie Lavoie. Their love story had its own tender little niche in Alaska Highway lore, and they died together in a plane crash on the Dempster. Just beyond them is a stone indicating the last resting place of our dear friend, Orval Couch. Orval Beer Couch, I didn't know that was his middle name, but in retrospect, how appropriate: he did love his Old Country Ale.

Orval was one of our favourite customers at the old Lodge at JC; stopping for a beer and a bit of conversation every Friday nite on his way home to Whitehorse. He'd sit at the table in the kitchen, chatting while we had supper and always refusing to share a bite with us. “Naw,” he'd say, “Naw, Mother will be keeping mine warm for me. But I might just have one more for the road and say, did I tell you that ...” Now, I fill him in on friends and family and feel sad that I can't bring that look of his to mind, the one that told me to hurry and finish because something I'd said reminded him of another good `un.

And around I go, chatting with this one and that, each familiar name conjuring memories and pictures in my mind. Bill Popenheim, with his dapper little moustache and his gentle teasing; Tony Faletti, who once cooked up enough spaghetti and meatballs to feed all of Teslin; and John Wesley, who loved a good laugh, and his Aino, who mended his under-shirts with the tiniest stitches imaginable: nothing was too much trouble for her “Yohn.”

As I come around again to Phil's corner to deliver a small bit of gossip I'd missed, I stop and spend a moment with Aron Senkpiel and “Little Bits” Cope, then move on to marvel over the grave of the fellow - his name, if not his stamina, has slipped my mind - whose passing was mourned by no fewer than five wives. After delivering my postscript and re-arranging the latest little tributes (a cup of Timmie's coffee and a small jar of pansies) left by other family member coming to call, I whistle up Mr. Gib and we begin the last circuit of the grounds, pausing briefly to admire the new memorial for Ernest Popyk.

It's a tall slab of green stone topped with a bronze pair of hands, loosely clasped and set off, in front, by a beautiful bouquet of silk flowers, all in tones of rust and red. “Very nice, Ernie,” I tell him, “I'll be bringing my kids by for a look, see if I can't promote something like this for when my time comes, maybe with a hunk of dough hanging from one hand...”

Not that I'm planning on exiting this vale tears anytime soon, you understand. Nope, I've still got places to go and things to do. But I am a tad worried about that prize thing. And if the only reward I can truly look forward to is a nice piece of granite, wellsir, it had better have all the bells and whistles they've dangled in front of me all these years. Because, if it doesn't ,well, as the old John Q. Beecham said:
The donkey goes for carrots, the chicken goes for grain;
But though I go for promises, I'm going raising Cain!

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