The old shoe phone went off early one Saturday morning this winter. It was early enough I considered letting the answering machine take the message. Curiosity won me over, though, and I picked up. I was likely hoping it was someone calling to buy a CD or a book. Turns out I was right, and it was a lady from up east looking for a copy of Island Characters. The call ended up being more profitable for me than I had first imagined. After we finished our chat, I hung up the phone with something I value far more than a book sale. She told me a great story of kindness.
It seems my customer was not only a reader, but she was an avid knitter in her spare time as well.
“I knitted over 95 pairs of mitts this year.” Isabel MacKenzie told me during our call. She went on to inform me she also knitted hats and scarves and slippers.
“It would take a good herd of sheep to keep you in yarn. Who are you making all the mitts for?” I inquired.
“For the kids ... whoever needs them,” she replied.
We went through the Island way of trying to make a connection to each other. She mentioned her husband was a relation to the late Carter MacKenzie. I did not know the well-loved Souris man personally, but I was familiar with his name. Local traditional music icon, Kevin Chaisson wrote a fiddle tune in his memory called Carter MacKenzie’s Reel. It is a favourite of many top fiddle players. I have heard it many times over the years, and it is a favourite of mine as well. I wish I could play it myself but, I have to admit that, the tune is a little above my skill level.
After we established our Island bead on each other, Isabel went on to tell me about a little boy who showed up at her door one day looking for a pair of her mitts. She estimated him to be about seven or eight-years old.
“Is this where you get the mitts?” a little boy asked standing in her doorway. Apparently, news of free mitts travels fast in Souris circles.
“Yes, you can have a pair of mitts,” Isabel told him.
“Come on in and pick yourself out a pair,” she said pointing him towards the hamper where there were many different sizes and colours to choose from.
The little boy picked out a pair of black and grey patterned mitts for himself. He was on his way back to the door when he spotted a pair of pink and purple mitts in the hamper.
“Can I have these too?” the little boy inquired.
“Yes, you can have those too if you like.” Isabel was heartened by the thoughtful little boy, who she assumed had his little sister in mind for the pink and purple mitts.
The little boy thanked Isabel, and he was almost out the door when he turned to speak up once more.
“By the way, my sister is coming by later for a pair. Please don’t tell her I got the pink and purple mitts,” the little boy pleaded.
“Oh ... why not?” Isabel asked, feeling a little confused.
“Because my sister will be mad that I got the pink and purple ones ahead of her ... these are for my girlfriend,” the little boy explained.
Isabel went on to tell me she was asked to knit for the Christmas hampers that are handed out to families by local charity groups.
“There is quite a need up here,” she said. “I’ll never forget one sweet little boy who showed up at my door this one day. Almost broke my heart.”
A young boy stopped by on his way to school one morning. He was looking for a pair for himself, and for his five and three-year old siblings.
“How much for these mitts, Isabel?” the little boy inquired as she helped him pick out the appropriate sizes for his siblings.
“Oh, that’s okay, you can have these mitts,” Isabel told him.
“Thank you,” the little boy said with his eyes cast down.
“I don’t have any money, but my little sister and brother don’t have any mitts and Mom didn’t have any breakfast for us this morning,” he added.
I heard a recent report that childhood poverty rates were down across the country. Isabel’s stories don’t exactly jive with those stats. I did, however, hear on the news that rates of charitable donations on the Island are among the highest in the country. Somehow I doubt that survey even takes into consideration people like Isabel. Here’s to the people who work quietly and within their means to help out their community. Their stories inspire hope.
The Egg Farmers of Prince Edward Island Close To The Ground Concert Series continues this Thursday, August 22 at 8 pm at Kaylee Hall in Pooles Corner.
This week, hosts Fiddlers’ Sons and Keelin Wedge welcome special guests Billy MacInnis and Leon Gallant. Billy, a third generation fiddler, has been entertaining audiences since the age of five. He hails from Village Green, Prince Edward Island, and has had the pleasure of sharing the stage with many talented artists such as Lennie Gallant, Rita MacNeil, John Allan Cameron and Prairie Oyster at various fairs and festivals throughout the country. Also known as Stompin’ Tom’s fiddle player, Billy spent nine years touring with Canada’s icon until his sudden passing in March 2013. During those nine years, Billy played on the recording of Toms CD The Ballad and Tom’s Live in Concert DVD. Billy has also been playing lead guitar and fiddle with Stony Plain recording artist country singer songwriter, Tim Hus, from Nelson, BC.
Leon Gallant is a singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist from Stanley Bridge, PEI. He is well known for his performances with The Avonlea Show Band and for hosting his own concert series at The Stanley Bridge Women’s Institute Hall every summer. Together, Billy and Leon play a lively mix of Island originals and Maritime favourites. Copies of their award winning recordings will be available at the show.
The air conditioned Kaylee Hall is located at the intersection of Routes 3 and 4 near Montague. There will be a canteen service and a 50/50 draw. All are welcome and admission is at the door.