I couldn’t tell if they were corn or grain shoots that were just barely coming through the red soil to start their ascent towards the sun. I tried to step around vulnerable young shoots with my size 13s. It was the field between St. Andrew’s United Church, in Vernon Bridge, and Drake’s Truck Bodies.
I parked the garbage truck there an hour earlier, and John B Webster had picked me up with his car. He, Sheila MacKenzie and I were to sing at a funeral. The church parking lot was packed and cars lined both sides of the highway, so it was safer to leave the truck down the hill and out of the way.
I found myself especially upset after this particular funeral. I told John B I would just walk back to the truck so he could attend the reception in the basement of the church. The truth is, I was hoping the exercise and fresh air would clear my head. I tried to think about the Island fields coming back to life after their long sleep beneath the winter snow. Sometimes the thought of the cycle of the seasons will comfort my old heart in times of sadness. This day, however, all I could do was wonder if Leslie Drake had sowed this field a few weeks ago without the slightest inkling he wouldn’t be around to harvest it in the fall.
The last and only other time I was in St Andrew’s United in Vernon, I was also singing with John B and Sheila, along with our band mate Garth Matthews. Many years ago, Leslie had recruited us to play in the basement for the 50th wedding anniversary party of his parents.
“How long ago was that?” I asked John B as I splashed cold water on my face in the minutes before the service began.
“Must have been 20 years ago at least, Ed,” John replied.
“Fiddlers’ Sons hadn’t been around very long at that point,” he added.
That sounded about right to me.
Leslie had been an adamant supporter of our music from the start. In fact, generations of Leslie’s whole family was turned onto the band, including his in-laws. I think it may have been in Leslie’s brother in-law Boyd Shaw’s basement, where I first met him. Boyd used to host house parties, and the highlight of them would be when John B would break out the guitar and lead us all in a sing-along. I was still a teenager back then, but perhaps that is where the seeds of Fiddlers’ Sons were sown - somewhere there among a chorus of friends and family singing heartfelt renditions of Stan Roger’s songs like The Field Behind The Plow and 45 Years.
Leslie and Boyd had a lot in common. They both possessed a rare and warm personality which allowed the people around them to feel good in their presence. Less than a year ago, we had to sing Boyd farewell. Leslie had delivered such a heartfelt eulogy for his beloved brother-in-law. I never would have guessed months later, we would be paying a final tribute to Leslie himself. As we sat in the choir loft, and stared out to the tightly crammed pews, I wondered who would do for him today that which he had done so beautifully for Boyd.
It turns out there was enough praise for Leslie Drake to be split among three people. His brother, and two sons spoke in turn. Each shared touching anecdotes to highlight the passions of the man.
Leslie’s brother told of the way he once proposed to divide a pizza between them fairly. One would get to cut the pizza in half, and the other would get to choose which half he wanted. A sense of fairness and good humour seemed to resonate throughout the tributes. His sons, in turn, shared passionate tributes and memories of the father they so much admired and loved. They spoke of hard work and a love of the land and livestock. They told of kindness and a sense of fairness which were the principals that guided Leslie’s days. The great love he had for his wife, family and community were the common threads in the eulogy.
The choir loft is at the front of St. Andrew’s United, and from there I could see the faces of people in the pews as each story was shared. They smiled and laughed at the fond memories, and suddenly changed as they wept in sorrow at the realization their loved one was gone. It was the sincere and grave sadness in those faces that hit me so hard that day. Indeed I needed a walk across that open field to gather myself, when the service concluded.
I have heard a lot of advice lately. “It doesn’t matter if you drive a fancy car, or own a big house, or have money in the bank when your time is up. All that really matters is if you have made a difference in the life of a child.” It’s simple but solid advice.
When thinking about Leslie, I would add it matters when you make a difference in the life of a child, and in that of your community. Leslie Drake truly lived a life that mattered, and then some. He was one of the good guys, and an Island character like no other.
The Egg Farmers of Prince Edward Island Close To The Ground Concert Series at Kaylee Hall, in Pooles Corner, continues this Thursday, September 12 at 8 pm. Fiddlers’ Sons and Keelin Wedge will share the stage with special guest storyteller David Weale.
David Weale is a best-selling Island author of 15 volumes, and one of the Island’s most-loved storytellers. He is known in some circles as the godfather of Island storytellers because of his hit show, A Long Way from the Road, that launched storytelling as a major force within the Island entertainment scene. He was also one of the Four Tellers that packed Island venues for the past four years. He is also cofounder and publisher of RED magazine.
The air conditioned Kaylee Hall is located at the intersection of Routes 3 and 4 near Montague. There will be a canteen service, 50/50 draw, and CDs and books available for sale from the performers. Admission is at the door.