Monday, August 28, 2017

A Sandaled Man for All Seasons

Intent on a Saturday morning bike ride in the Baddeck Valley we stopped at Bob Nagel’s spring to charge our water bottles. Just then friends Jim Troke and Cindy crossed our path. Dressed for a significant occasion they told us they were headed to the Sydney Memorial Chapel to join the folks wishing to bid farewell to Dave Ervin. I had heart set on the bike ride but Jan exerted good influence: this is an event I should not miss, she said. We had time to alter the day plan; we did.

I knew Dave Ervin more than a half century ago when we were both inmates at Riverview Rural High School in Coxheath, keen like other Riverview lads to avoid running afoul of Principal H. H. Wetmore, motivated perhaps to conduct ourselves such as to be included among the small band of RRHS scholars regarded as worthy by Bernadette Francis, vice-principal and English teacher extraordinaire.

I was a paper boy to the Ervin household and knew the whole family: Dave, his twin sisters Gail and Linda, their mum and dad. My least favourite member of the family was the family dog, a big German shepherd with big teeth and a scary snarl. In my reckoning the dog was always overly keen to tear my leg off. After high school I went off to university, grateful to be free of the dog, wondering from time to time how the fates were treating my old Cape Breton Post customers.

Years afterward – perhaps three and a half decades’ worth of them – someone organized a gathering of old Riverview people in Halifax. Somehow I made it to the invitation list. I was happy to see folks I hadn’t laid eyes on in half a lifetime. One of them was Dave Ervin. I might not have recognized him had I passed him on the street: he was trim the last time I’d seen him and had a headful of red hair.  The passage of time had eliminated both the hair and the old stringbean look. The high-school Dave had always been friendly and outgoing but his latter-day edition struck me as someone who could give Jim Carrey a run for his effusively gregarious money.

We exchanged email addresses and promised to stay in touch. It was not an empty promise. Once or twice a year, sometimes oftener, Dave would write to let me know of another passage from the Coxheath neighbourhood. Whenever a former friend or neighbour departed this vale of tears Dave would write to tell me about it. I appreciated the service and always told him so.

Now, on Saturday, it was Dave Ervin himself whose turn it was to be lamented and celebrated. The memorial chapel was filled to overflowing. A clergyman was on hand to offer suitable Christian sentiment on behalf of the dearly departed but it was the tributes from those who’d loved and lost a dear friend or beloved ‘Uncle Buck’ who carried the day. Those gathered at the chapel heard from Dave’s good friend Bernie Larusic and three members of the next generation of Ervins – two nephews and a niece. They were all evocative and affecting.

In high school we all spend countless hours with schoolmates sharing enthusiasm for algebra, chemistry and Elizabethan poetry but how well do we get to know most of the fellow sufferers who share those days, months and years?

I learned much about Dave Ervin I’d known nothing about. That he was a prominent unionist and environmentalist -- president of Local 1064, United Steelworkers and a principal in the Atlantic Coastal Action Program. That he loved books, history and music, especially if it was rooted in Cape Breton. That he wore only sandals, in January as faithfully as in July. That despite the best efforts of Gail, Linda and everyone else who tried converting him to gospel according to the Canada Food Guide, he lived pretty much on pizza and cheeseburgers.

The celebrants made no effort to paint Dave as someone having no warts but even his warts, many of them rooted in legendary stubbornness, were celebrated. I cannot think of any memorial event I have ever attended that was so charged with pure warmth, affection, love and high regard. Following the formal part of the festivities Jan and I stayed to share memories. As late as Grade 11 I was the smallest kid in my RRHS class, girls included, so I was amazed that Linda and Gail somehow recognized their long-ago paper boy. I sought and got more memories of their brother.

There was a bonus too: a small reunion, Riverview Class of ’64. I reconnected with Eileen B. And Sheila M. We exchanged email addresses and promised to keep in touch. Given the benefits accruing from similar promises exchanged with Dave two decades ago I intend to make good on these too.

Saturday’s events made it clear that Dave Ervin lived life richly and well. I am glad to have known him and perhaps a little sad I hadn’t known him a whole lot better.

1 comment:

eileen clarke said...

What a treat to see you and Jan again. Thanks for the invitation to your very green, and cozy summer residence. I am off to reconnect with more Riverview people and will introduce them to your blog and your book. EIleen