Friday, August 01, 2008

A Man Named Cam McRae

Above: Cam McRae in his basement workshop.

The Restigouche River and the hills of Quebec beyond. Taken from Cam's backyard.

I was standing at the side of the road trying to get a photo of the Restigouche River, which empties into Chaleur Bay, near Dalhousie New Brunsick. He came out of his house and walked hesitantly toward me, as though he might be just as shy of me as I was of him. By his age and the way he was dressed – clean white t-shirt and off-white cargo pants, with a well broken-in boat hat perched jauntily on his head – he looked like someone who must be retired, but when he shook my hand a few minutes later, I knew instantly by his tough skin that this was a man who was still well acquainted with hard work.

“Do you live here?” I asked. I raised my voice to cover the thirty foot gap that was between us and closing as he walked toward me. I was afraid that he was about to tell me – a tourist and a complete stranger – to get lost.


“Yup! I live here.” he called back.

“Well, I hope you thank God every day.”

“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” He had almost reached me by that time. There was a tnederness in his voice as he stopped and turned to admire the view with me.

“It’s incredible,” I said. “I can’t imagine how beautiful it must be to watch the seasons change from here.”

“You can walk down to the see the beach if you like,” he said, inviting me on to his well cut lawn. If it's pictures you want, you can get a better picture down there.” I thought he was going to stay there or go back to the house as I headed toward the water, and was a little surprised when he stepped out and came along with me. I had to hold back on my gait so that he could keep pace with me. His step was weak and his right arm shook constantly the entire time I talked to him. I mentioned how well kept his lawn looked and asked if it was he who kept it cut.

“Yeah. I have a little tractor and I do it myself. It’s a lot of work, but I like to do it.” He told me about having had a heart attack and six by-pass surgeries. “And now they tell me I have Parkinson’s,” he said, with just the trace of a “hmph” in his voice. He obviously wasn’t going to take the news lying down. “I used to have a hundred acres up the road there,” he said, pointing back toward Campbellton, whence we had just come, “but my daughter took over the farm and we moved in here. The house used to belong to my wife’s mother, but she gave it to us. She lives in a nursing home, now." I was talking to a man whose roots obviously ran deep into the deep brown New Brunswick soil. "I’m on a pension now, but I still like to keep busy,” he said as a segue to tell me about his walking sticks.

“I make them for a boutique that sells ‘em down in Dalhousie.”

I told him I’d had a good walking stick, but one of my boys broke it in a game of “knights” when it was being used as a jousting stick. He laughed and shook his head at the rascals he’d never met. I got directions to the boutique told him I would be stopping in down there to have a look and maybe buy one to replace the one I was now missing.

“You’ll need one if you’re going to be doing any walking.” I had told him that we were headed to Cape Breton and the National Park there. “Let me just go into my shop and I’ll see what I have here,” he said. We left the riverbank and walked toward the two story red-trimmed white frame house. I answered his questions about my large family as we walked toward the back of his house. The house was built into the bank so that when he opened the door he was able to walk directly into his basement workshop. Completely out of view by this time, of Ron and Jorie waiting in the car out on the road, I felt not a shred of fear of this gentle man as I followed him inside his house.

A man’s workshop says a lot about him, and my searching eyes took in every possible detail in the minute or so it took him to go through his pile of newly varnished walking sticks. He seemed to be carefully picking out just the right one. “Do you like this one?” he said.

I did. I took the lovely white birch stick into my hand and instantly loved the feel of it. He pointed out that he had put a whistle into one end. “It’s for the older people who have strokes,” he said. His voice was edged with concern. “If they need help, they can just lean over a little and blow the whistle like this.” A shrill whistle pierced the workshop as he demonstrated for me.

“Or if you’re lost in the woods you can use it to call for help,” I offered.

“Yes, that too,” he agreed. Then he said, “Maybe you’d like this one better,” and he held out a different stick, a little shorter than the first.

“No, I think I like the first one better,” I said after quickly trying it out.

“It’s too long for you, though,” and he quickly showed me exactly how to trim it in such a way as to make sure it was exactly the right size.

“How much do I owe you?” I asked him.

“Just take it,” he said. “I want you to have it.” His tone was such that I knew it would be useless to argue. I tried anyway, only to find out my first guess had been quite right. You can be sure, though, that I did some detective work when I got to the boutique down the road, in order to get his mailing address. He’s going to be hearing from me.

Meeting this man outside his house in Dalhousie Junction, New Brunswick, and the few minutes spent with him in his basement workshop will be a part of this vacation that I will never forget. He is obviously in poor health, but he is not going to let that get in the way of living life to the fullest. I felt encouraged and refreshed on my way, not just on the journey to Cape Breton, but on the journey of life. As Ron and Jorie and I headed east down the road toward the coast and toward our final destination on Cape Breton, I thanked God for the privilege of meeting a man like Cam McRae. His hospitality and generosity ministered to my heart and I found myself asking God to make me more like him. We can’t always choose what happens to us in life, but we can sure choose our attitude about it. Get on with life and get on with being whatever blessing we can be to those who God sends our way. When the next bump in the road comes for me, I hope I make the choice to have an attitude just like Cam McRae’s.

3 comments:

Angcat said...

I loved this blog Susan, being there with you on vacation. The photos are lovely and so is the story.
I'm sure you blessed Cam as much as he did you, and that hearing from you later will be such a delight.

God bless all three of you on this wonderfilled journey.

Dave Hingsburger said...

That walking stick will always remind you of kindness. When you lean on it, you lean on the strength and love of another. Very cool. Great blog, beautiful story beautifully told.

Joyful Fox said...

Susan,

It was great to travel part of this journey with you - to Dalhousie and into the heart of this gentle man.

I have a feeling you are more like this man than you think. You touch many lives, in different ways like he touched yours - you both touch the same place.

Blessings as you journey on!