Friday, July 14, 2017

A Damn Fine Man

For several months now, I have had a severe case of writer's block...or maybe life was just getting in the way. Either way, today I got the kick in the pants that I needed to put a few words down on a clean fresh page.

It is not exactly the kick in the pants one wishes for, but death can be funny that way. It kinda makes you want to kick start life as it reminds you how little time we really have here on this planet.

The world lost a good one today. Bloody cancer. Hate that bastard. Cancer came knocking on John Shields door about 21 years ago. Back then he managed to kick it to the curb, only to come face to face once again a couple of years ago in a different form. Fighting it at 60 was different than fighting it at 80. This time he lost the battle.

On this grey and rainy morning here in Ontario, I got the news that he had passed. My wonderful partner's dad had died on the other side of the world. It was dark there too, literally and figuratively. The Shields men were all gathered and had all seen him before he left this world, and left some pretty big shoes to fill as well.

I met John Shields in 2012. Not that long ago. I did however, meet his eldest son in 1977. His son is an honest, hard-working, strong, funny,  fiercely loyal man. A giver. The apple did not fall far from the tree. I was a little nervous to meet his dad. I was worried he would not embrace the idea of me - a woman from Canada that threatened to lure his number one son away from Australia. He was close to his two boys. Who was I to come along and upset the applecart? Turns out I had nothing to fear. Turns out he not only embraced me, he loved me. I know he loved me because he told me so every time we saw each other. Yup, that's right. This crusty old, tough-skinned Aussie man had a soft and gentle side that came as the most welcome surprise.

Every time we visited in his home or ours, he would take me aside and ask, "Is he treating you alright?" I would always smile and assure him that his boy was absolutely "treating me well".  He brought me plants from his well-tended garden to help brighten my own new garden. He supplied me with fresh basil - huge bunches of it, that he never used in his own kitchen. He just loved the smell of it, so he grew it. He grew lemons and oranges and paw paw's and generously shared them too. Everyone called him Pop. It suited him.

The first time he came to our little house, he glanced around and said I kept a nice home. I think it pleased him that his son was living in a love-filled home again after a few years of post-divorce bachelor living.  I liked that he liked it. I wanted him to feel assured that I loved his boy as much as he loved me. Doesn't every parent hope for that? I'm glad he died knowing that.

When his darling Rita's Alzheimers became too debilitating and he had to move her into a care facility, I watched the man's heart break a little more each day. He went to see her every day, his love for her unfaltering. He was a testament to enduring love. True love. As I said, he was a giver. Generous to a fault. He lived a simple, humble life and gave to his family always. He was a story-teller, with a cache of expressions that made me laugh out loud. He was a character, a truly memorable one. I do regret I never got to hear him play his accordion - even though I have been told it was something I really did not want to hear!

He and Rita raised two wonderful sons and I feel fortunate to be spending the rest of my life with one of his offspring. There is something comforting knowing that a part of John Shields lives on in my life through his son. I am grateful I got to know him these last few years. It is clear to me that he had a very positive influence on his entire family and sadly, a bright light went out today.

Hope you're resting easy now Pop.

Love you too.

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