My grandfather was something of a legend. And he certainly was a legend to me. A man who forever tied together his small community in Cape Breton, who changed something in it forever I think. He was full of jokes, stories, kind words and pranks. He was the kind of man who when I was staying at his house I would ask , “what’s for breakfast Poppy?” “Squirrel poop and snake eggs, my love.” This never failed to make me laugh. He loved to tease my grandmother’s eldest sister, Nettie, and I think it was a huge part of her life. She was a widow, who as much as she grumbled over my grandfather’s calls and jokes, brightened her lonely days.
One day, shopping downtown Sydney, he found something he just had to buy. It was a fake “bum”. It was a pair of boxer shorts that had a “bum” sticking out of the back, so it looked like you were giving someone the moon. He thought this to be very hilarious and the wheels starting turning in his head, thinking of the ways that he could use it.
He had a huge garden overlooking the harbour in Westmount and it was well known around town as a beautiful place to take a walk by, to give a wave to him as he was working with the roses and lilies. The first time he put on this “fake bum” I think he almost gave the nice older lady who lived next door a heart attack. I can still hear his voice now, long dead, exclaiming in my ear, “Oh Jesus, her face went red! I could see the words trying to form in her head, but she just didn’t know what to say, I bet she was thinking Earl went crazy.”
Great Aunt Nettie lived in a senior’s building, but her window was on the ground floor. She would often sit in her rocker near her window, watching the outside, knitting, calling my grandmother to see what was happening over there, the house full of activity. One day my Poppy went over to her house and stood in front of the window, wrapping gently at the glass. Nettie smiled and went to open the door to let him in but not before my grandfather dropped his drawers and there is was! The fake bum, shining in all its plastic glory! Poor Netty almost went through the floor.
My grandfather has been dead since I was a teenager yet the older I get the more I appreciate who he was and how he made each and every day a day worth remembering. His spirit certainly lives on in all the stories, jokes and anecdotes that surround not only the Burns family, but the whole Westmount, Cape Breton neighbourhood.
Poppy and Gram