The old house stands empty near the intersection of Bar Road and what is now called ‘Trinity Drive’. The open door of the traditional Newfoundland-style square home with the low roof swings diligently back and forth in the breeze as I watch, reminding me of Jack, a man I never met and whose last name I did not know until a few weeks ago, but who plays an unforgettable role in my childhood memories.
You see, the only memories I have of this short and stocky man are of him dressed in his red and purple checked flannel shirt and grey-green overalls and rubber boots and blue hat with the ear-flaps, a shovel in his hand, either digging in the ditch in front of his house or taking a break from digging in the ditch in front of his house. I didn’t know if he was married, had children, lived alone, had pets. I didn’t know how old he was, what his last name was, what he did for a living. I don’t even know when he died. The only thing I know is that whatever this man was, whoever this man was, he left a legacy behind. It’s a somewhat small legacy, and probably only important to me, but a legacy, a gift handed down from one generation to the next, nonetheless.
You see, Jack’s ditch never overflowed. His pipes never clogged. His trench rarely had to be redug by the Department of Highways. No overgrown weeds or scraggly alders dared make their appearance. No rocks, frost-hoven from a cold winter, or mud, loosened by spring rains, blocked the steady flow of water in front of Jack’s house. At the first sign of rain or storm or spring thaw there was Jack with his trusty shovel, diligently ensuring that his small part of the world was free from flood and debris.
I can’t help but wonder if some of the devastation caused by Hurricane Igor could have been avoided if there had been more Jacks around.
And I can’t help but wonder what childhood memory I would have instead of falling into a sewer ditch in Cornerbrook with my brother. Not one of my more pleasant memories, I can assure you. Neither of us had listened after being told repeatedly by mother and father and great-aunt and great-uncle to stay away from the ditch and our camper, which was parked parallel to the ditch. Not heeding anyone’s word and fully believing that nothing bad was going to happen to us, my brother and I decided that it would be great fun to jump on the bumper of the camper and promptly slipped off and fell – actually, rolled – into the sewer ditch. Crying and reeking and dying of shame, we shuffled our way into Aunt Anna’s and Uncle Cec’s house, where we were quickly admonished, ridiculed, bathed at arm’s length, soothed with hugs and given bananas. (Looking back, I think the bananas were a desperate ploy to get us to stop bawling so much, as it is very hard to screech when your mouth is full.) After all was said and done, Uncle Cec took me on his lap in his old armchair and gave me a good talking to about listening to adults, and then gave me a little burgundy box filled with scripture cards. I spent many hours diligently reading those cards and rearranging them and sorting them in different ways – alphabetical, biblical order, by colour….I still have them.
If only Jack had lived in Cornerbrook.
The memory of his diligence is Jack’s legacy to me. His diligence in that mere two feet by twenty feet ditch kept his little parcel of earth free from whatever vagaries Mother Nature threw his way. Everytime I pass by his ditch I am reminded that there are so many things I could be more diligent about. Prayer and scripture study are two that come immediately to mind, but there are other things, too. I could be more prepared for emergencies. I could keep more food in my house. I could learn how to be more self-sufficient with home and car repairs. The list goes on. I just need to be more diligent in being diligent.
Jack’s ditch is slowly filling in. The garden is overgrown. The windows in the house are broken. The paint is peeling. Yet, however small it may be, Jack’s legacy lives.