Columns and Letters

A Teller Of Stories

-by Francene Gillis

    Seems with spring comes summer event planning, which is a sequa into all that requires, and the people and volunteers needed to make it happen. Thank you to all who volunteer.
    In thinking of the many people who so graciously or nonchalantly give, I smile and remember the many men and women of my youth who were pioneers and founders, community leaders of old who contributed so very much to build their/our little village. I am sure names and faces come readily to mind. It is with pride, appreciation, and respect that the slideshow plays, and prestigious, self-sacrificing images flash forward. To all, I offer my thanks.
    In keeping with prominent people who have passed, I want to mention Collie MacDonell – a local historian with a head so full of facts and stories, that they burst forth in any and every conversation. If someone had a question about who was whom, Collie was the turn to. His memory skated easily back decades and decades, and he knew how to season his stories with salt and pepper, and a spicy, secret ingredient or two, so that there was always a bit of suspense, humour, and intrigue keeping you on the edge of your seat.
    A brilliant mind, Collie was most known for telling his stories at the local co-op where he worked as a respected assistant manager for four decades plus. When a young woman, I had the privilege of interviewing him for a feature story I was writing. What started as a quick visit, evolved into a series of feature stories, and Collie setting me up with senior citizens who had themselves led colourful lives, in an attempt to get what they had to say on paper. It was a hoot. Hilarious – Collie driving slow and gingerly to the boonies, and scared, little reserved me, pen in hand, shadowing him into the dark, ominous abodes, not knowing what to expect.
    Collie knew how to get the elderly talking; he was a master of the craft, and my mentor. He loved sharing stories, and digging into the past. It was not uncommon to see Collie bent, huddled, football-like with another set of ears eager to listen, laugh, and sometimes roar at his foolish accounts. He was always hush-hush, head to head with someone.

    When people looked at Collie with a raised eyebrow – if every they did, he would always swear, “It’s the God’s truth.” And if you knew Collie MacDonell, you would believe him. Whether it was his earnest articulation, expression, or sincerity, he pulled people in, over and over again, often with a bowed head, as if he were hearing a first confession, or revealing the deepest, darkest secret with an hilarious twist at the end.
    His stories were often farfetched, but there were elements of truth, even if  embellished…some. He was after all, a storyteller – a teller of stories and tales, spinner of yarns, or maybe more accurately a chronicler, for Collie told mostly nonfiction as opposed to fiction…or did he?
    In the early 80s and 90s, I allowed myself to be led by the sagacious man with a head full of knowledge and facts, legends, and myths. Together we would visit, sit, and chat with selected colourful, scintillating candidates, over tea, or perhaps another colder beverage. On many occasions I found myself speaking with strangers about personal matters and lessons learned. They made me laugh. They made me cry. They made me angry, and question why. I was privy to their information because a local historian knew the importance of just that – recording and sharing their narratives, and he was more than willing to put in the time so that others might  benefit. Like a medical doctor, always, he was on call. He will be missed.
    Collie would do anything to help another; he was wise enough to know the importance of keeping people alive through their spirits, grit, determination, fire, and brimstone, so that lessons might be learned from their experiences, journeys, and lives. He was known to keep old newspapers and clippings, and to record important events. When a question arose in relation to local facts, history, people, their relations, or where they were from, he could rhyme off the answers in no time. If in the rare event he did not know, he knew straight away where to go, and more often than not he took you there. There were no flies on Collie’s back. None indeed.
    If someone arrived from away with a question about a dead relative, Collie knew every  inch of the graveyard, and was often seen heading to the very headstone, lips flapping always with some humourous banter, or story about the deceased. His was a head of golden nuggets, hopefully some of which have been digitally preserved.
    Collie’s mind was an encyclopedia of tidbits, facts, anecdotes, events, and dates, right up to the time he passed, shortly after the celebration of his 90th birthday. Perhaps his departure is a celebration of a life that gave so much, whose legacy will be that of loving father, grandfather, husband, brother, uncle, local historian, and chronologist.
Collie loved a good story and would often sleuth one out. Flip the coin, and others often sought him, so he was a busy man indeed when any question of ancestry came up.
    He was as salt-of-the-Earth as you can get. He loved gardening, and his flowers come spring and summer were the talk of the town with their vibrance, variety, colours, texture, and smell. The turn on the highroad will never be the same. The angle of loop requires a decrease in speed, offering the driver an opportunity and invitation to enjoy the multitudinous flowers, and stop in for a visit with the man who loved a good story. In that turn, Collie will always be remembered with a huge smile, and pleasing thought. He had a depth, wit, sincerity, and earnestness, so profound, it was at times paradoxical.
    In his honour, perhaps we can: take note of our surroundings; pay attention to detail, facts, and events; observe, possibly write them down; share our stories with each other. I know in my heart of hearts when I say thank you Collie, I am echoing the sentiments of all who knew the quiet, dignified man with an eclectic brain.
    I admire those among us who give of their time, their skill, their hearts. It is those people who make life real, who make life rich, and who we remember with fondness. If living, they are the people who still offer tea or a drink to a visitor, still make homemade meals, still cook and bake, and demand food be eaten at the table. They invite others over to share stories, thoughts, opinions – conversation – adding details and layers to life that otherwise would not be there.
    That, right there is what fills our tanks, kicks our backsides, and enlightens us. But it is only true if people are willing to share – their experiences, circumstances, memories, lessons learned, triumphs, defeats, struggles. When they are willing to open their hearts and let others in, connections and bonds are formed, and the very reason behind the art of storytelling can flourish.
    We used to tell more stories. Conversation was encouraged. Sunday visits were mandatory, always visiting close relatives or friends. Today we might have DNA sites that will tell us our ancestry, but I doubt that any of them have a humourous story attached, an anecdote worthy of telling, or a profound experience that tells much more than a simple blood sample ever could…














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