We are coming up to the anniversary of losing JP and I still think of him most days, it’s been almost three years. Now all the Pooles are gone, I use this space to ensure we never forget. I haven’t posted here lately but today I felt I needed to include this. A very special friend lost his life while fishing in Shuswap Lake, BC and I wrote this to be read at his memorial service in Calgary, which I was unable to attend.
Many of you know JP in the last 30 years of his life but these recollections come from the first 30 colourful years in the much storied beginnings in the Town of Leaside. Leaside was eventually swallowed up by the sprawling metropolis of Toronto, but in the 50’s and 60’s it was a town just like Mayberry where everyone knew everyone. We even had our own banjo player in Tom. If you’re under thirty and unfamiliar with that reference, ask your grandparents. No one locked their doors; babies were left to sleep in their carriages on front verandas in the cooling summer breezes, without a thought or care.
I’ve often said that John was the first boy I slept with, and Mike, I bet you can say the same thing. Okay, it’s not what you think. I’ve known John since before I was born, if that’s possible. Our pregnant mothers shared tea, coffee, recipes and raspberries as young mothers on Thursfield Crescent. John was born April 27th, then less than a month later, May 23rd it was my turn. When we were very little our mothers took turns strolling us around in the same carriages or settling us in playpens on the front lawns. I’m sure Mrs Baker was in on the same friendly shared baby sitting arrangements too.
Our families spent a great deal of time together. Tom and Edith (John always called them by their proper names) would spend summer weekends with us at our cozy cottage on idyllic Twin Lakes in the Kawarthas, north of Havelock.
Our older siblings helped to teach us to swim and later to water ski. Cliff Brewin was the only one on the lake with a boat big enough to pull those skinny teenagers. It was a racy ‘sea flea’ he built himself over the winters, with an Evinrude 25 perched on the transom. JP was right in there with his red plaid trunks, on the dock or retrieving the ‘dropped’ skis, waiting to be old enough for his turn.
The Pooles enjoyed the cottage life so much they invested in some property of their own. There was already a redwood cabin on it and it seemed ideal. By the time he was 8, John would be enjoying their own cottage. The Pooles took possession early in the season and spent their first night in breezy, humid mid June. Our cottage was on a rather developed shoreline but the Poole property was recently opened up, less developed Crown Land. The trail road passed through spruce and pine forest and came out, just this side of the reedy bog that joined Twin lakes to Blue Lake. This estuary is where fishers went in the mornings and where ‘lover explorers’ canoed to in the evenings. Early June is also Bull frog mating season but how were they to know? The next day all the members of Poole family appeared bleary eyed. It seems they had all been kept awake by the bass growl chorus of the Bull frog. ‘Jug o rum’, ‘jug o rum’. You might recognize that these choruses are loud, often heard up to a half mile away. Imagine being 100 yards away, where sound travels over the still waters. ‘jug o rum’. This was the beginning of the love affair with the swamp and the habitat of his precious little green frog.
John started fishing from the dock or the shore by the rocky point, (can’t you just picture Opie and his fishing pole?), and he soon learned that frogs were the most successful bait. If John wasn’t on the dock, he was in the swamp tracking them. For me, catching frogs was way more fun than sitting with our mothers knitting in their folding wooden lawn chairs, so off I went too. If Heather Pierce was visiting, she was in there too. JP had an eagle eye and he usually caught more than I did, but they all ended up in his aerated aluminum frog bucket.
Once Tom trusted John out in the family boat on his own, he was out from morning to evening, coming in only for meals or a swim. Often, he took his swim from the deck of the red hulled cedar strip, just to save time. It wasn’t unusual for John to drop by our place after breakfast to pick me up, on the way to fish another fishing ground of the tiny lake. We’d float on a gentle current from one end of the lake to the other. If he’d get a hit, he’d drop the cement block anchor. We enjoyed each other’s company this way for years. I’m pretty sure he knew I wasn’t that interested in fishing because I spent more time studying the geological formations along the shoreline and he stopped bringing a rod for me. As we grew, our conversations migrated from the Munsters, Dick van Dyke and the Stanley Cup winning Leafs, to what it was like to go to private school at Chaminade and when would the Leafs win the Cup again? By the time we matured into our teens, my female guests at the cottage were more interested in attracting the attention of the other boys on the lake by dumping the canoe in front of Randy Ray’s place, than hunting frogs, getting our clothes smelly from the swamp stink. The bond JP and I had in those infant days outlasted most of the other friendships I’ve had.
Many have remarked on Johns recognizable laugh. I hope that during John’s time at Shuswap he was able to show off another talent. On placid evenings anchored in Twin lakes John would wail like the loons used to locate each other, ‘kee a ree’, ‘kee a ree’. Often his loon call would resemble a wild maniacal laugh, as when they were threatened by approaching boats, ‘oo AH oh’, ‘oo AH oh’. Often the loons would call back in this tremolo, which always amused me. I have since learned that these calls are used by mating pairs.
Our mid twenties saw JP travel west to the rapidly growing economy of the oil patch while I was making as many trips as possible to the land of cod in the east. It now seems strange that I would eventually want to spend any vacation and spare time immersed in an economy dominated by fish.
It’s hard to accept that he’s gone. Every time I open my Iphone and see that picture of Mike and JP enjoying an orange and a laugh, and then there’s that fabulous pic of him on the boat with that magnificent catch, I am reminded how special he was and this is how he revelled in life.
Although we rarely saw each other in the intervening years, the fact that our parents remained on Thursfield kept us in touch through them. There are no secrets in Leaside. It’s only recently through social media that JP and I were able to reconnect. He introduced me to his beautiful bride and we shared our lives and interests; fish, the CFL and would the Leafs ever win the Cup again?
I’ll never forget JP. ‘oo AH oh’