My 50-year-old childhood playmate

Vern and his siblings

When I was a little girl, not bigger than a bug, I had a playmate, a devoted playmate, who followed me around, hitched the Golden Retriever to my wagon, and sang songs with me on the front porch.

He liked to dress up like Freddie the Freeloader, and take me door-to-door on Hallowe'en.

My childhood friend was my Uncle Vern, and he was 50-year-old.

Vern was the first born of my Grandmother Ina, the son of her first husband Herbert who had died in the Great War. Unlike the other grownups, Vern wasn't much bigger than me. I'd say, he was five foot with his shoes on, You might say he was as tall as he was round, and had a cherubic face that was always plugged with a roll-yer-own; it was a face that always lit up when I walked in the room.

When he wasn't playing with me, Vern helped on the farm weeding the rows of strawberries, picking cherries and plums, or feeding a virtual Canary Row of odd animals: a banty rooster, a crow my Granddad made into a pet after he'd broken his wing, cats and dogs, and snails with puppy dog tails.

In his spare time, Vern liked to sit in the hot sun, on the porch, and play his "kitar" or a violin my Grandpa traded for a car repair that one time. He liked the old songs, the inappropriate ones like the Dark Strutter's Ball or he'd wail on a country tune, there, all by himself on the porch.

Other times, Vern would wander up the road to talk to Art, the gladiola farmer, or help other families bring in the harvest.

One day, after a big feed of cornflakes heaped with brown sugar, Vern set off on one of his adventures. He never came home.

Vern died in a farmer's field of a massive heart attack.

He took a piece of all of us with him that day.

We never thought Vern was different from us. I just thought he was the happiest and gentlest swell on the Planet Earth. He always saw the best in everyone. He liked to sit on the couch with me and watch Hee Haw. And he never met a smoke, or a cup of coffee, he didn't like.

I met the singer Jackie Washington once at the Ottawa Folkfest.

His musical friend Mose Scarlett said something about Jackie.

It reminded me of Vern.

"He never lived with hate. If there were more people in the world like him, there wouldn't be war. Nobody would have thought of war."

Amen to that Mose.

Amen to that.


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