By Gum, You Will Be Missed


His name was Duncan. If you have followed this blog for a while, you have heard his name before. He was married to my excellent euchre partner, Myrtle.

When I first met Duncan a number of years ago (while courting Mrs. J), his firm handshake and solid smile served to emphasize his “awfully pleased to meetcha”. Indeed, it’s hard not to feel welcome by such an honest greeting. In the dictionary under the word “genuine” there should be a picture of Duncan, who always had a nice word and a story ready for everyone that he met. Charming and kind, he would always set you at ease.

He was a perfect match for Myrtle. It certainly wasn’t because they were exactly alike – it was more because they complimented each other so perfectly. Where Myrtle was private and ignored the spotlight, Duncan was outgoing and outspoken. They were one of those couples who could say so much to each other without words – even though Grandpa always had plenty in his magazine to fire off into any conversation that required a salvo of his brand of awesome.

Does He Really Know Everyone?

When I first started hanging out with Duncan, he would tell stories about everyone that he knew – and trust me: he knew a lot of people. He would talk about this person and that person, telling us what they did, and how they were significant to the community. Usually, after a conversation with someone that he knew, he would explain to us who they were related to after they had left. When Mrs. J and I would speak of Duncan to our friends, we would joke that he knew practically everyone in Guelph somehow.

This was never more obvious when we would take one of our special trips for dinner. The four of us (myself, Mrs. J, Myrtle and Duncan) would pile into the car and head a short distance north to the Swiss Chalet on Woodlawn Rd. Once we arrived at the restaurant, Duncan would spend a good chunk of time before and after the meal chatting with people that he knew. Myrtle would smile and shake her head in amusement as he worked the room (sometimes she’d get up and wander over – I like to think that she did this to get him back to the dinner table so we could eat). Sometimes he would wave people over and he and Myrtle would chat with them for a spell after we had been introduced.

Fastest Euchre Hand in the West

In my tribute to Myrtle, I spoke of her prowess at the card table. Well, Duncan was definitely her equal. When they were playing together, as a team, it was easy to see that same quality of teamwork that I mentioned above. They never openly spoke of the game while they played; and if they had any table talk, I certainly couldn’t figure it out. Grandma would lay a verbal smackdown on us while Duncan pretended to not know what he was doing. Inevitably, they would look across the table at each other, eyes twinkling, and then one of them would place a card on the table that would earn them the trick. Thank the stars we didn’t have to face them as a team more than once or twice.

Later on, when I played as grandma’s partner, I could have sworn that I saw Duncan swap his hand for the kitty on more than one occasion. Honestly, you have to respect a guy that can move the cards that quickly while simultaneously faking cluelessness.

Right Out of the Movies, By Gar

As someone who enjoys doing impressions, I tend to pay special attention to the way that people speak. It’s not something that I do consciously; it just happens. Duncan had one of the most unique speech patterns out of anyone that I have ever known, and I enjoyed listening to him speak not only for the content – but for the delivery. He would pepper his dialogue with old-school gems like “by gum” and “by Gar”, as well as a number of other interesting phrases. The cadence of his speech was slow and steady, and he spoke with his whole face. He was someone that was always easy to understand; but he also took great care to let you know that he was listening to you.

That’s not to say that he didn’t hide opinions that might not be well-received. He just delivered them in an off-hand way. Whether or not the person he was talking to actually understood what was happening was not the important thing. What was important that he spoke his mind, usually in a gentle way, ensuring that his opinion was out there.

Good With Kids

Little J was born after Myrtle died, so she never got to know her great grandmother on that side of the family (although we did receive a blanket that she had made for our child before she passed). Grandpa was always happy when we visited (he loved visitors), and he would read stories to Little J and push her around on his walker when she was old enough to ride on it. He was always very proud of his kids, his grandkids, and his great-grandkids. It was pretty obvious how important they all were when you walked into his room, because his living room shelving unit was full of family photos that he would take down to show people. He would also, at times, have a stack of photos next to him and sit down with Little J (and us) and tell us about the people in the photos and what was going on.

Also, there were a few of times where he gave Little J some random amount of money, which she would dutifully put in her piggy bank when we got home. The fact that it was money was not important; it’s that he would spoil her in some small way.

Last, But Certainly Not the Least

Duncan lived through both hard and good times, keeping an even keel during both. I have only been present for the last few chapters of his life, but I count myself lucky to have known the man. I can only suppose that whether it was the death of his first wife (Jessie), or the birth of his youngest daughter (Sharon), he would maintain his strong sense of spirituality and remain centered throughout both crisis and celebration; I suppose he would squeeze as much out of life as he could, in as practical a way as possible – but time is both a friend and an enemy to all of us.

When you’re 96, life takes its toll. You can be in great health – but that isn’t a guarantee that you’ll be able to share it with your friends. Over the last few years, Duncan had the fortune (or misfortune) of surviving Myrtle and his friends. While experiencing a few medical problems, he still seemed to have the strength to outlast us all.

When we heard the news it was a sad thing – but also a relief, for he has been released from this world to perhaps join his friends and family that left him here as what I can only describe as one of the greatest stewards of the world that I know.


Final Word

We had the good fortune of being able to visit him a few weeks ago for lunch. A mass was going on in the home that he lived at, and Little J had been observing the ceremony. Little J and Mrs. J were away from the table for a few minutes when this conversation happened:

J: Little J really likes that music. It’s nice.
D: It is nice. But, ya know, when it’s my time, I hope I have a band of young guys playing.

Go figure that today, at his funeral, there was a band that played throughout the service – and they were called “The Young Guys”.

Bye for now, Grandpa. We miss you so much.

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