Where has time gone? It seems like only yesterday I was a teenager visiting my Aunt Pauline and Uncle Don in Corner Brook. I remember exploring their backyard, going to different places throughout town with my Uncle Don or “Uncle Bond” as I affectionately called him.
Now it’s been one year since his passing on April 26, 2019. I find it hard to believe that he has been gone a year. It still doesn’t register that the making of new memories with my Uncle ended with his passing. Now I am forced to use past memories and saddened that there will be no new ones. However I do have a wealth of stories that I’ve remembered over the years, and for that I am thankful.
He is a man worth telling stories about and I don’t think that can be said of every man.
This post is special to me and I hope you enjoy this tribute to my Uncle, Donald Thornhill.
A Home Away From Home
Corner Brook. A place of exploration and wonder. At least that is how I’ve always seen it. With it’s towering hills and mountains, the town shape like a bowl hidden in a valley, it will always hold a treasured place in my heart. Even though it’s a long seven hour drive “across the island”, going from Eastern to Western Newfoundland in one day, it’s worth the drive.
My mother, MaDonna Eason (nee Marshall) was born and raised in Corner Brook. She grew up on Valley Rd, on the West End of the city. Living there until she was a young adult, she then moved to St. John’s where she married my father from Conception Bay South. She still keeps a strong connection with our family in Corner Brook and visits as often as she can. Most, if not all, of mom’s family still live there, so growing up we would make the trip a couple of times a year to visit my relatives.
Before we would hit the Trans Canada Highway in Foxtrap, we would say a prayer of protection for ourselves and for all the drivers on the road traveling that day. I believe in the power of prayer, and Mom taught me growing up how important it is. We’ve driven through blizzards multiple times, experienced a 180 degree spin in the road after hitting black ice, and avoided a head on collision. I don’t believe in luck😉
Along the way we’d usually stop a few times for “pee” breaks (which entails buying coffee, which doesn’t make sense as peeing+coffee=another pee stop. I know right?). Most trips we arrived in the town of Gander around 12pm and have lunch at the Big Stop Irving or the Albatross Hotel. The Albatross has amazing chicken fingers and mashed potatoes (my staple lunch) while the Big Stop has unbeatable Pea Soup (your passenger might disagree). Depending on your mood for atmosphere, the Albatross is more secluded and relaxing.
My excitement would peak after we passed Deer Lake, a town about 45 minutes from Corner Brook. The scenery significantly improves as you get closer towards Corner Brook, it’s as if the mountains bursted from the ground, wrapped with trees full of vibrant colours; white Birch, green Fur and dark green/blue Spruce. As you drive through this picturesque display, you can’t fight the feeling of awe from natures beauty.
Just a few minutes outside Corner Brook, you pass by the Marble Mountain Ski Resort. At the bottom of the mountain just down from Tim Hortons, there’s an old mini golf course next to George’s Mountain Village. I have fond memories of that spot. One being when I was eight years old, Mom and I stopped to have a game of Mini Golf after leaving Corner Brook. As we putted along (pun intended), a reporter came over and said he was doing a piece for the re-opening of the course, and asked if I wanted to be in the newspaper. Mom agreed and I started posing with my putter. In the picture I looked like Tiger Woods, lining up my approach to the hole. With knees bent, eyes lined up with my putter, I was in the zone preparing to sink that +6 shot( the reporter didn’t need to know my score). Boom! Next week I was on the front page of The Western Star!
With our long drive now over, we would usually stay with Uncle Don and Aunt Pauline. Sometimes we would stay at Nan and Pop Marshalls house on Valley rd.
(Maybe that will be my next blog post, stories about my adventures, however I will reign in my stories this time, and tell you about my Uncle.)
Corner Brook is known for it’s snowfall in the winter, and also the ability to keep snow (unlike St John’s). One funny memory I have of Uncle Don was the day after a heavy snowfall, we were both outside shoveling off the front steps of his house, and I decided to have a little fun. I ran down the steps into the driveway and prepared a few snowballs to throw. Uncle Don quickly caught on to my intentions and began stockpiling his ammunition.
Within moments we were whipping snowballs back and forth at each other, lobbing cold grenades over the snowbanks, hoping to score a direct hit on the noggin. After I scored a couple of good hits, Uncle “Bond” changed tactics.
Before I realized what was happening, he quickly grabbed a shovel and began to hurl huge scoops of snow at my head. I tried to dodge, however to no avail, as he had the high ground. He continued pummelling me until I begged for mercy. After I stood to my feet, I noticed he was panting. It was then I realized, “This guy is in it to win it!” I decided henceforth, I wouldn’t challenge him to another snow fight again and that his nickname would forever be, Uncle Bond.
Chess Matches With The King
One thing I loved to do with Uncle Don was play chess. We would sit down and play game after game, usually with me on the losing end. When I was older, every time we would make the trip to Corner Brook, I would be plotting in the car how I would beat him. “Move to 1.ef, then 1.d4 followed by 1.c4 then 1.Nf3. Yes, that would be my attack moves.” (I Googled best opening chess moves by the way^). But when the rubber hit the road, usually about halfway through the game, he would get the upper hand. So I started to change up my strategies:
I began to play defensive. Result: 1 Point Uncle D, 0 Nephew.
I would play aggressive. Result: 2 Points Uncle D, 0 Nephew.
I wouldn’t stop talking. Result: 3 Points Uncle D, 0 Nephew. And so on and so on.
Well in the midst of my losing streak, I remember something that Uncle Don would do that drove me crazy.
He would tell me how I lost each…and every…game.
“You see?” He would say, “You should have moved the Rooke here first. Then, I would have tried to use my Queen and you would have too…..”
“Uncle Don. Want to have another game?”
“Yeah hold on now, do you see what I mean though?”
“Yes, you beat me again. Let’s play!!!”
So we would play another game, followed by another and another. After each game finished, and I heard his commentary on how I missed a move. However even though it annoyed me, every time he asked to play a game, I would play because I loved spending time with him.
It’s the fall of 2018. Uncle Don is messaging me on Melissa’s Facebook (I didn’t have FB then):
“Want to have a game?”
I was already playing a game on my computer, and I prefer to play chess in person, so I ignored the message.
A few days later I get another message:
“Want to play a game?”
“Sorry we are going to watch a movie.”
I sit here now, with tears in my eyes as I write this:
I would give anything for a Facebook Chess message right now from him.
Why? Why Christian, did you put off your Uncle? For what, to play a tank game by yourself, while he sat by the tablet wanting someone to play cheese with?
One important detail here: he was really sick with Cancer. I knew he had it, but I didn’t realize what kind of daily pain he was in and how bad it really was. The cancer was making his bones ache (as he described to me one time).
Time I can’t get back. I regret those choices. I want those choices back. But I can’t. Please, don’t ignore someone who wants to spend time with you, they are worth it.
I always knew Uncle Don to be an inventor. Not your Thomas Edison or Leonardo Da Vinci but he was always coming up with new ways to do something. Like the time he had a mouse in his attached garage. The little critter was getting into everything, so he rigged up an ingenuis trap. First he made a clear plastic box (I can’t remember now if it was plexi glass or plastic but it had a front entrance) with a little tunnel leading inside the trap. Waiting inside was a green strawberry plastic container with cheese mushed into the grating. Sounds neat hey? It gets better.
He then took a long peice of string, hooked it onto a small glass peice (picture a gullitone) hanging it above the entrance to the trap by a string into the rafters. He then took the same string, ran it into the rafters, across the garage and out through the door leading into his house, wrapping it around a nail in the wall. I first thought he was going to try and decapiate the mouse(remember the snow fight? Like this guy meant business) but no, his plan was to release the string from the nail so the little door would drop when he had a feeling that the mouse was inside eating the cheese.
Like come on…that’s nuts, you must be thinking. Well that’s the level he operated on.
And It worked too.
As we watched TV hours later, Uncle Don just randomly got up from the couch, walked over to the nail on the wall and let the string off.
“I think I got him.”
We went into the garage and sure enough there was a mouse eating away at the cheese, and the trap door had let go perfectly trapping him inside.
Another invention Uncle Don came up was quite “interesing”, to say the least. When I was a teen staying at his house one summer, I awoke to a banging noise coming from downstairs. Since it was early in the morning I had no idea what it could be. So I hopped out of bed and made my way down the hall, and as I approached the small stairs that led to the main floor, I could see through the double French doors into Uncle Don’s living room. What awaited me was one of the strangest things I ever saw.
The living room was beaming with bright yellow light, and I knew that it wasn’t the colour of the walls. When I opened the door I saw two gigantic yellow tubes, about six feet long, stretched across the living room floor, and there bent over one of the tubes was Uncle Don.
“Uncle Don. What are You doing?” I asked.
“Well, last year when I hunted in Area 3 (a moose hunting area north of Deer Lake) there’s this river that used to have a bridge. I tried to cross it last year but it was too deep for the quad.” He paused as he grabbed the tube and flipped it over.
“I took out these kayak bladders, rather than throw them away, I said I would try and make a floats to hook onto my quad to ride it across the river.”
“Oh yeahh that’s cool.” I just stood there watching him working away, and tried to mentally picture how it would work, to sail a quad across a flowing river with two yellow kayak bladders to support it.
I don’t think that invention worked as he buried the quad in water. However it was the thought and ingenuity that counted. Uncle Bond was a man who never stood down from a challenge, and when he thought something could be reused, modified or tinkered with, he was always on it.
Days Gone By
It’s beautiful out today, as I sit outside at my rusty bistro table in my fenced in backyard. The twins are playing in the sandbox, and I can’t help but smile at their own ingenuity, as Isaac holds a bucket with one hand and shovels with the other, as Ava helps fill the same bucket with her shovel.
I am surrounded by things my Uncle gave input on. When I first fenced in my backyard, we made a natural retaining wall out of boulders to hold back the bank on one side of my house. Uncle Don was quite impressed with their positioning and layout, and gave it his approval after going over the workmanship with a scrupulous eye.
Directly ahead of me is the shed he was instrumental in building (see picture at beginning of blog). It was so strong it withstood being lifted 40 feet into the air by a crane, over my fathers garage, to the pad on my property. So much strain and weight was placed on that shed, however it withstood the moved, a true test of workmanship if there ever was one.
Directly behind me is my patio, the one he said was too small in the original drawings for our contractor. He was right. Now with four children, I am to forced to build an extension onto the patio in order to fit us all, in order place a table and six chairs.
I know it sounds cliche but you don’t realize how influential a person was in your life, till they are gone.
After writing this blog post I’ve realized something I saw before. When we played chess together, I thought Uncle Don was rubbing it in when I lost, by explaining to me moves I should have made. He wasn’t. The moves I didn’t make, he thought that If I had made them, it could have changed my game, and thus in the end make me better. For that, I am thankful.
I wish I could hear Uncle Don’s chess commentary now. I miss that smile he made with that half serious expression and the word I heard oh so often, “Checkmate.”