By Leslie Knibbs
My first memory, he’s standing at a jukebox in his restaurant in Echo Bay. It’s the fifties. Roland’s two-tone ’57 Lucerne is parked in its usual spot parallel with the building safely out of harm’s way at the end of a long line of customers’ cars, pick-up trucks, two Indian motorcycles, and Hog Hurley’s big red tractor, all angle parked one car length from his shiny new Monarch. I can’t remember being in the Bayview and not hearing Hank Williams or Patti Page on the jukebox.
At the end of the school day, my brother and I walked down Church Street past the Orange Men’s Hall, then pass by the barbershop with the overflowing spittoon on the floor beside the old chrome and red leather chair. In front of the large mirror sat a dozen or so colorful longneck bottles of aftershave, cologne, and hair tonic.
Most days after school my brother and I walked along Church Street with the Morrison boys, and Johnny, Donny, and Toady Findlay. We’d often stop in front of the Beckings and play Hopscotch eventually making our way to the restaurant.
We always sat in the end booth near the swinging kitchen doors until Mom and Dad finished work. After seeing us arrive, Dad would haul out a wooden Canada Dry case then place it at the business end of the pinball machine so my brother and I could reach the play buttons. After dropping coins in the slot, he’d look towards us then motion us over while standing there with his arms crossed and legs spread. He stood out in his wide-legged pleated trousers, crisp white shirt, and his R.A.F. tie. Moving his hands to his hips he’d watch us play for a while then go return to work behind the cash counter. He was a good earner. “Alright laddies, it’s all yours now he’d say.” Dad had pet names for us, he called my brother Cuthbert, and for a reason I never did find out, I was called Enoch.
At home, he flooded a rink stringing lights for nighttime skating. He didn’t skate. Mom did. She joined us in the evening. He watched. Maybe it was because he’d never seen a rink in England but he sure took pride in the rink. Most people didn’t believe he’d actually build it. After talking for weeks about it in the restaurant with all his regular customers, word spread fast around the village. Any stories told in the restaurant had a way of spreading like broadcast news throughout the Bay area. Old Hog Hurley, probably the biggest gossip in Echo Bay, laughed loudest when he first heard about it. “Can you imagine that limy making a rink, that’ll be the day,” he joked, “the only ice he’s ever seen was floating in a glass of Scotch whiskey.” When our school chum Jack Nelder told his Grampa Hurley about the finished rink, Old Hog, with his usual thin smile told Dad “I knew you could do it, old boy.” While sitting at his usual stool having his customary coffee and apple pie the following day Hog Hurley seemed as glad as Dad was. They were friends.
Years later we joined the army reserves. He was proud. Kept a picture of my brother and me in our uniforms on his desk. After we enlisted, he showed us how to use a hot spoon to remove pebble grain from our boots making them shine more. Having served in the R.A.F., he made sure we followed rules. When we were marching in a church parade, he was always standing at the side of the road watching. Both sergeants, the lieutenant and Major Bailey turned to salute him as we passed him. Never really knew what he did, all we knew was he flew Lancasters in active service during the war then was stationed in Hamburg until 1947. My brother and I were born 17 months apart after he returned to Britain.
In my mid-twenties I traveled for a couple of years. I was out of touch with him and Mom for months at a time. He wrote saying he understood but stressed how Mom worried and that is why I should stay in touch.
I recall being in a members’ only club in London with a lady I’d just met and fallen madly in love with after smoking the night away and drinking the better part of a bottle of Johnny Walker Red. When I went to pay the bill I hadn’t enough money. At 4:00 am I was escorted in a seven-year-old Jaguar sedan back to Caledon House in the company of my Brida and a very large Greek bouncer from the club. The two of them went with me to my room and waited at the door to collect payment for the bill. After retrieving Dad’s envelope from my bag, I paid them, said no thanks to pretty lady Brida, closed the door, and fell on the bed thinking of the words he said just before I boarded the plane for England. “You may need this,” he said slipping me an envelope.
My last memory: our final day together. It’s July 13, 2003. He looks small in his blue gown. I’m feeding him fresh strawberries and cream then giving him a close shave while he sits unsteadily on the edge of the hospital bed. After I wipe his face with a warm towel, he smiles weakly, “You’re a good lad Enoch, all I want is three more years. He passed on to the creator the next day. I still make time to listen to Hank and Patti after all these years and that ain’t no lie.