Blue Skies: Finally listening to good advice

by Vance Gutzman

Sorry I haven’t written in a while. It’s not for lack of trying.

I did churn out a Blue Skies a few weeks ago, but it was so liberally peppered throughout with the word s%*t as to be downright scatological.

To my credit, I was able to use the “s” word as a noun, verb, adjective and adverb, but realized after I’d finished the piece that it would hardly be suitable for our younger readers, let alone the middle-aged.

It was a crappy column. I was having a crappy day. I consigned it to the dustbin of history. And resolved to start anew.

Oh, don’t get me wrong, I’m still having a crappy day.

At the time of this writing it’s been winter for three years.

I’ve been feeling like Puff the Magic Dragon.

Not in his halcyon days but right after Little Jackie Paper called off their relationship in the blink of a reptilian eye.

His head was bent in sorrow, green scales fell like rain.

Puff no longer went to play along the cherry lane.

Without his life-long friend, Puff could not be brave,

So Puff that might dragon sadly slipped into his cave.

Just as I was about to cave into this winter of our discontent, an email arrived from a bygone era.

The email came from an old gentleman named Bill.

He and his wife used to publish the weekly paper in this small town in southwestern Ontario where I first got my start.

Bill was also the chief of the volunteer fire department. It was that kind of a small town.

I had reached out to Bill recently because he and wife took a shine to this cute little Indian boy back in the day when I was just starting out in this business and didn’t know s%*t from shinola.

I’m still not quite sure what shinola is, but I’m sure it doesn’t taste as good as the dinners Bill’s wife Iris made for me in their nice old Victorian house.

And at their cottage too.

Yes, I was that cute and endearing.

So why, after nearly 30 years did I reach out to Bill?

I think it must have been something my dad used to try drilling into my head that didn’t quite take until just recently.

Dad used to tell me I should keep in contact with people like Bill and Iris, people who saw something in me when I was younger that I couldn’t see for myself.

Naturally I ignored my dad’s advice, because that’s what sons do while their fathers are still alive.

I really only started listening to dad when he was dead.

And I realized he had a lot to say, so I got in touch with Bill.

I emailed Bill and told his most of what I’d been up to over the past three decades, leaving out the gory details of course, and mentioned with particular pride that I was now part-owner of a live and well newspaper of all things.

Bill, who is a widower now since Iris passed away a couple years back, was quite happy to hear from me, and he filled me in on his family happenings over the last 30-something years.

“You were sure Iris’ favourite,” Bill wrote back to me from the seniors community he now calls home.

“She thought a lot of you and often wondered how you were doing.

“We were very fortunate to have a lot of wonderful and dedicated employees over the years. The newspaper industry was good to us and our family.”

Accompanying my message to Bill, I had attached some recent digital editions of the NRT for his perusal, and Bill wrote back to say how impressed he was with the editorial content and layout.

No small praise, that, coming from an old newspaperman like Bill.

“There are very few good newspapers left today,” Bill wrote.

“The chains have destroyed all the small town papers and are doing a hell of a poor job on the ones they do produce.”

Indeed, it was just such a chain which destroyed the paper that Bill and Iris and their dedicated employees had worked so hard to produce.

And on this, the first anniversary more or less of me becoming part-owner of a live and well newspaper of all things, I’d like to point out that the problem with the big chains is they have many missing links.

The main one being to the communities they ostensibly serve.

They’re only in it for the profit margins and once those dry up they’re gone like a puff of smoke.

I’m glad linked up again with Bill.

He gave me his phone number and I called him later that day and we had a grand old chat about this and that and the other.

I told Bill I’d keep in touch with him, and after I got off the phone the wife she remarked about the tear running down my cheek.

“Nonsense, it was just an eye-toke,” I told her, and set about to rolling another puff because, like I said, Little Jackie Paper left out the gory details.

A dragon lives forever, but not so little boys.

Painted wings and giant rings make way for other toys.