Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Adieu Marty.

My little Brother, Marty, died November 27th.

I had seen him about a month before that, a somewhat diminished version of a previous self, spare-haired and pinch-featured and that knowing 'look' that cancer patients get at endtimes. He told me he was in palliative care, that his new doctor had told him she would do everything she could to keep him comfortable. And he was comfortable with that.

We talked about some old times but spent most of our time together solving the problems of the world, as we usually did. We tried his wife's (Jane's) repast, the lunch and dinner she had laid out for us. Eating was difficult he said, but he tried and managed a bite or so. For a notorious 'pieman', who had always enjoyed a good meal, this was a telling point. He said he slept a lot, but he stayed up to be with me. He said he had a 'feeling inside' like a shake that at times was bad and made even sitting up uncomfortable, but he sat up with me. I left him at his table the next morning, going back to celebrate a 'new' life and knowing that we, he and his, were preparing to mourn the ending of another. "I'll see ya, Brother. I love ya!", the last words I heard him say - after a lifetime of that, 'I'll see ya'.

Marty came into my life when I was almost five, four days before my birthday in February of 1951. What was remarkable is that he appeared, overnight, in my Mother's bedroom - a morning present for the family. And so he began. I can't remember much of his babyhood except that he used to hold his breath and turn blue, thoroughly frightening our mother and getting her immediate attention. That all stopped one day when she took the doctor's advice to leave him be. He started breathing, turned pink and went about his play, he didn't bother repeating that exercise again. Another day he retrieved the poker from the fireplace - we had one of those-  and succeeded in scarring his leg for life. That scar was fascinating to me for some reason. By and large his childhood was happy and fairly unremarkable. We emigrated to Canada when he was two and for a couple of  years, at least, he was  not a memorable object of my attention.

It was during our years in Orillia that Marty grew into my pal - my partner in adventure. He was Will Scarlet to my Robin Hood (or vice versa in his opinion), he was the other side of play gunfights. At Christmas time, generally, we both got the same kind of toy, so we could play together, and so our Christmas 'snaps' always  featured Marty and  I sporting the same pistols, or outfits. It was in Orillia, too, that Marty fell in love with fishing. Mom insisted he go with me and he learned quickly the art of baiting a hook and catching the wily sunfish. He landed a nice bass one day, and he was hooked. Fishing was something Marty enjoyed, we both did, for a lot of years - it provided a lot of our stories.

We moved to other places and Marty continued to grow.  He was good at things I was not. He played hockey on a 'real' team, with 'real' hockey equipment. His playing goal in Weston was something our Dad went out of his way to see. Marty had a cuteness - dimples,  black curly hair, the 'gift of gab' and a mischievous side that 'charmed the ladies' starting with our Mom. That 'talent' came in handy, later, too.

Marty also developed a real interest in the out-of-doors. Starting with an early and thorough introduction to the effects of poison ivy and developing through a series of wild 'pets' - of various species,  Marty developed an affinity with all things natural, with creatures great and small. He kept a pet rabbit and he had his own dog -Simba - at the family home. But he also retrieved and raised a baby squirrel that grew into destructive adolescence before our Mother banished the critter from the house. It bit Martin on the thumb the day he had to let it go, miles from where we lived. A year later a squirrel 'attacked' a neighborhood girl playing on our backyard swing. Same one? Marty brought home an owlet, and was forced to take it right back, once again to a great distance in some school yard where he had to 'shinny' a fallen log to replace the bird in a nest hole some thirty feet up a tree  trunk. That's where he was  when one of the parent birds laid into him with wings and beak and talons. The 'critters' would become an important part of his life.

When he was 13,  we, Marty, my sister Kitty and I made one of those pilgrimages 'back home' to visit our maternal Grandparents and renew acquaintances with a battalion of Belfast cousins. The holiday was exceptional fun: the 'Ban the Bomb' movement was in full-swing, the music was great, hair was growing and Marty got right into it. In a little seaside village we spent a pleasant week, or so, living without a lot of supervision, with cousins from two families. Marty and 'Ski' Gorman had a hoot - from stealing smoked salmon, to squiring the local girls to, it is rumored, setting the dune grass on the beach alight and nearly burning out a summer camper park.

Marty - the mini beatle- was a big hit in his grade nine year. He switched to another school for grade 10 and got himself elected the student rep for one of the big downtown-Toronto department stores. I was in that store at Christmastime that year, in the department where all such reps' pictures were hanging. Next thing I knew I was accosted by a pretty-looking girl who knew me to be Marty's brother, and she wanted me to meet her Mom - like I was important or something. Marty parlayed that 'rep' thing into a part-time job at an exclusive men's wear shop on Weston Road. For a while all his clothes were 'made-to-measure' and very expensive. He even fixed me up with a 'haircut' appointment with 'his stylist' on Yonge St. 'Afif' spent his cutting-time talking about his success at the race track and giving me his 'signature style'. When he was finished, the tab was $17 and he wanted the other three for a tip. Quite a shock to somebody who'd been getting 'momcuts' for years, for free. Afif's 'do' didn't last,  the first gust of Yonge St. wind totalled it while I was admiring his handwork in a store window. Afif's work didn't 'sit' as well on me as it did on Marty, maybe I needed to be more 'regular'.

In one of those life changes we all have at times, Marty was 'given a break' by guy called Pat Hogan. This break set his life off in a new and positive direction, coming as it did at a time when Marty was looking for something he hadn't been able to find, by doing a lot of other things. Pat Hogan went out of his way for Marty and gave him the job that set up his next stage of development.

Let me back up a bit. I had mentioned that Marty had a charm for the ladies. That acquired him a number of very pretty friends as he was growing up. One particular Sunday my Mom sent me to track him down as he hadn't come home the night before. I found him being served breakfast by a very pretty blonde girl in her girlfriend's house. Marty wasn't interested in her, so I asked her out. We were married 20 months later. Her Father was Pat Hogan.

 He did well at his new job in sales at Aqualine, a retail plumbing supply company, working for them or 8 or 10 years and becoming their northern Ontario sales representative. That allowed him the time and the latitude to do more outdoor things. He would come visit me and spend all weekend fishing out of  his 'Aqualine van'. And his job 'on the road' took him places he was interested in being.

For a while it looked like he would turn into a solid joe citizen. Marty moved to Kitchener with a cockatoo and two vizlas - " the boys". While he was in Kitchener,  Marty joined the local hunt club and added a new dimension to his social life. He met his gal, Jane, at the club. She was to be the most important part of his life. Shooting sports became part of his repertoire and deer and bird hunting were new avocations. He developed an interest in primitive weapons and took up a study of Native American lifestyle and culture. He made his own buckskins and developed a 'mountain man' persona. Marty the Trapper was born.

Marty got a trapper's license but getting a trapline in southern Ontario was an non-starter. Applying for a trapline led to one of the few vacancies - on the Montreal River, a tributary of the Agawa River that flows into Lake Superior.   He started making plans for his first season of trapping.

This is the first of Marty's trapping stories.

Marty ktted-out for an early season preparation trip.  He was in Owen Sound when he got a line on an old Willys jeep (circa 1950) which he bought and, with a pick-up truck driven by Jane, a small trailer loaded with his gear, guns and supplies for three or four months of bush living, they headed for the Agawa Canyon railroad in May. Now Marty had 'scoped' his place out on a 'top' map, and he saw that there was a logging road cut into the bush from the railway, that stopped a matter of meters (on the map) from the log cabin he would be calling home. He figured that he could get dropped at a siding,  haul his gear by jeep down that logging road and set up camp in a couple of days. He was half right.  The logging road was there but, since it crossed four unbridged streams, it was, to all intents, useless. So, as he came to them, Marty had to build bridges in order to 'ford'  his stuff. He did it and in less than a week he stood with his cabin in view  ... at the base of a  hundred foot cliff.  Had  he asked,  somebody might have been able to tell him about contour lines on that 'top' map. The only course was a retreat, first to the railway and then to Hawk Junction to see about a fly-in. The trip down the refurbished logging road took less time than the first round. But the prospect of a wait for a train and a flag-down re-load,  led Marty to think that, by cutting the chain on a gate across the tracks and running down another logging road through the Agawa Provincial Park,  he could save some time, effort and money. He may have saved the money, but that road was another experience. It was, roughly, sixty miles of bush and sand dunes, he said. Driving the jeep up and winching the trailer up afterward. The jeep lasted, as did the winch, and he found himself cruising a virtually empty highway heading west under summer skies. Until he noticed the smoke. That smoke was coming from his trailer which had been set alight by an overheated wheel bearing. That trailer contained a quantity of naptha gas, in cans, that made the prospects of retrieving  much more than his ammunition a problem. The gas cans exploded and the trailer burned. He photographed the pyre while he sat and had a few smokes by the side of the road. As he said, at least the fire 'seasoned' his traps. But he had to return south to refit and resupply.

While he was living in  Kitchener he had met Jane, a pretty little german girl who shared his interests and sense of adventure. She was 'in on' all his adventures. Probably providing some common sense and clarity, as well as the requisite muscle, good grub and good company, not to mention most of the money he needed. The first attempt may have gone up in flames but the  second attempt was the one that worked. He and Jane worked on the cabin, and prepared the trapline  for a season of trapping.

Our Dad died on New Year's Day of the following year and Marty was completely out of touch, trapping. When Marty and Jane walked out of the bush at the end of January, it was right into the hospital in Hawk Junction for him. He was transferred to Sudbury and then to Oakville while his frozen feet were attended to. When I saw him, he looked like Che Guevara on a bad bay. He weighed less than I did, and I was skinny. His feet rested on pillows at the bottom of the bed and looked like an ice cream 'treat' of some kind - vanilla and strawberry and chocolate fudge. It was a minor miracle that they managed to save any of those toes, but they did. Although Marty made 'funny' footprints for the rest of his life. The only other casualty was the tip of their cat's tail. Jane had 'good' snowpaks - with a felt boot-liner, not just the soles as Marty had; her feet were fine. We had a couple of beers right there in his room, as Marty was permitted three or four of those a day - to put some weight back on. He had a couple of cases in a cupboard by his bed and the nurses even kept some in their fridge for him.  Having a recuperating Marty around gave my Mom something to take her mind off  things. Small mercies.

For four or five years the fur business was doing quite well and Marty made a few bucks for his efforts. He would return to trap the Montreal for a decade. But PETA was growing in importance, the fur auction moved to Las Angeles and the joy went out it. Marty trapped for the sake of keeping his line and his license. But he needed to refocus.

Marty and Jane were  married in 1983. It wasn't long before they relocated to the Sudbury area to be closer to his work, and his interests. In short order they acquired a house on some bush acreage just outside Estaire, Ontario and Jane started staying home to raise their growing family. For, in short order too, Jane presented Marty with a son, and two daughters. As the family grew, Marty looked for a living closer to home and so 'Bear Paw Outfitters' was born.

Marty took a license as a bear hunting outfitter. He and Jane ran a camp on their property and Marty baited bears in a number of locations as far south as Killarney. Hunters came from as far afield as Finland on hunting holidays. The business thrived.

When the government of Ontario decided to ban the spring bear hunt in the province, Marty took a leadership role in the outfitters' association doing educational work with sportsmen's groups and the government. He appeared on TV and in the media educating the public to the needlessness of the ban. Ted Nugent, the Detroit rocker, was a personal friend. The Irish cousins report seeing him on the BBC news, talking about bear hunting and the royal guard regiments' bearskins. The campaign was unsuccessful, but it gained the outfitters some funding to help them to realign their business.

Marty had maintained his interest in primitive weapons and ran such a hunt to extend business over  that bear season. He also hunted deer with both modern and primitive weapons. He traveled to West Virginia for a fall hunt every year with folk who came to hunt bear with him. He became expert in bowhunting and wrote for the Deerhunters' publications in the States. He opened 'Midnorth Archery Supply' in a new building he raised in Estaire and his operation became the centre for training and competitive archery shoots. Marty taught his kids to shoot with the bow and even his girls took part in archery competitions. Marty maintained his businesses up to the end.

Mart had a ton of stories about things he'd done and things that happened to him. He'd let himself go, on occasion, so conversation with him was never forced. He certainly enjoyed swapping tales, more than telling his own, although he did that too, very well. A couple of Marty stories:

A fish tale.  One cold November Marty came for a weekend visit. He wanted to do some fishing. The Saturday was raw but we were out early, fishing off a small wooden dock on the river that flowed through town. We'd been there all morning with not a nibble, when a neighbour showed up and, in short order, had three beautiful 'rainbows' on the bank. He left to sell them to a restaurant, and he left Marty with some of his 'magical' brown trout roe, tied in light blue nylon sacs. I went home for the afternoon but Marty stayed, fortified by a 'mickey' of lemon gin and the prospects of that 'lucky' spawn. I went back down to the river about 9 pm with a sandwich and a thermos of tea. The weather has worsened and a noticeble breeze out of the north drove light snow in a slant into the oily, black river water. We stayed there for another two hours. About an hour into my penance, one of the local 'gentlemen' of the town happened by, he was looking in a hollow tree trunk on the riverbank where we were fishing when Marty turned, noticed him and said , "Hey buddy! That's my mickey!"  After a mumbled apology, and a longing look as he replaced the bottle, he made as if to leave.  Marty offered him a 'poke on that jug', which he attended to with some dispatch. About quarter past eleven, with toes tingling and fingers long past having the ability to articulate properly, Marty's rod gave a lurch, then bowed. When there followed a loud 'splash' somewhere in the darkness upstream. Marty was on that pole as if he  hadn't been standing there, freezing, all day. The line tightened and slackened in turn with Marty reeling with thumb and palm, or the drag singing as the fish ran and jumped. But the hook was set and, gradually, Marty reeled the fish closer to the dock. In retrospect I think Marty intended to slide the tired fish onto the riverbank, as we had no net. But, as he maneuvred it past the side of the dock, I thought I might be able to help. Grasping the monofilament, I lifted the trout clear of the water, it glistened, silver, about 8 pounds and I looked at Marty. Just as the fish gave a flip of its tail I saw his face melt in despair. For the line parted as he watched, leaving me holding nothing. "Awww, Kev..."

The Pie Man. After another one of those fishing Saturdays, only this time in summer and in search of brook trout, we had worked-up a thirst and an appetite. There was, at that time, one of the last 'tap rooms' left in the province, in a small village on our way home. The prospect of a couple of cool draft beer and pickled eggs drew us like a magnet. Finding out that the owner's wife was a good hand in the baking department, added to the experience. We both ordered a slice of her strawberry rhubarb pie. Now I don't know if it was the beer, or the companionship, but we spent a couple of hours with a trayful of beer and the other 5 pieces of that pie Marty ordered. Marty had developed a taste for pie - generic pie, any flavour  - as a teenager, I had seen him knock off one, or two pieces of pie  in restaurants around where we lived in Toronto - but this day set a record. At least, as far as I know, for I believe Jane was good at baking too, and Martin would still have liked his pie.

Could you put some anchovies on that? Marty liked anchovies on his pizza. But nobody else did. So Marty would ask for the anchovies 'on the side' and garnish his slices himself. In the big city that's probably commonplace but when he ordered a pizza in Owen Sound one day,  Marty came face to face with the less creative  limits of intelligence. I overheard him on the phone.

"With anchovies, but I want the anchovies on the side. No. I don't want the anchovies on the pizza, could you just wrap them up and keep them with the pizza, I'll put them on myself. What? Well, don't you measure them, or something? Can't you just wrap some up in a paper and charge me for an extra topping? OK, listen. I'm going to tell you what to do. Get a piece of tinfoil or paper and come back when you're ready. OK, when you're picking stuff up to put it on the pizza, do you use your left hand or your right? Good, put that tinfoil in your left hand, got it?  Now pick up the anchovies you're going to sprinkle on the pizza, but before you start sprinkling,  put your left hand with that tinfoil under your right hand with the anchovies, so that, when you start sprinkling,  the anchovies will land on the tinfoil. Ready? Start spinkling. Done? Good, now wrap the tinfoil up and when the pizza's ready, put the tin foil inside the box. We'll  come pick it up."
It worked.

Carven's Old Man  Marty, ever the storyteller, must have charmed Jack Carven's dad with stories of 'opening night' on the Bighead River and so it really wasn't much of a surprise when he phoned one day to tell me that, although he was 'going to have to take a pass', Joe Carven's dad would be there, and,  if I could, "Would you keep an eye on Jack Carven's old man? He really wanted to fish the Bighead."

Well, the Carvens were 'gun club people' and I'd met Jack,  a buddy of Martin's, so I said, "Sure".

Friday, the opening night, I appeared at the spot to find that "Carven's Old Man" had no trouble reading a map and had his camper truck parked neatly in the ditch adjacent to the bridge over the Bighead. Carven's old man was in back of the camper, with Mrs Carven and what I took to be a girl with some mental deficit. And he was getting ready for 'the opener' with a 40 oz bottle of good rye. At midnight we slid down to the stream where Carven's old man lasted about the length of the drink he had with him before heading back for a refill. I caught a decent fish which I showed to him and when he admired it,  I gave it to him. He retreated to the camper for a celebratory drink and I headed across the road to my customary spot. During the night I caught a small brown trout, but that was about it. I told Carven's old man about that when he came out for a pee once, but I didn't see him again until about 7:30 the next morning. He called to me from the bridge."Could I borrow that brown trout for a coupla minutes?", he asked.

"What for?", I answered.

"Aw, I was walking down the river over there an I met these two guys and I told them there were browns in here. They said I was full of shit. So I wanted to take that fish back down there and show them."

'Sure," I replied.

 I noticed Carven's old man staggering across the bridge a couple of hours later. "Hey", I called. "Where's  my fish?"

"Ah,  I gave it to those assholes down the river."

I thought it was time for Carven's old man  to get some sleep as, apparently, he'd pretty well knocked-off the one bottle and started his second during the night. With a little coaxing, and some help from Mrs. Carven we got him tucked-in. All  good,  I thought. About 11:30 in the morning  I decided I was done, packed my gear and took a peek at what I thought was Carven's old man in his bunkie - said goodbye to Mrs Carven and headed  for town.

About 5 kilometers up the road I spied Carven's old man staggering down the middle of it. His plastic mug was empty and he said he was trying to get back to the camper. I took him back and waited while Mrs Carven got him settled in the bunkie, again. And I left.

Marty called about 3:30 Sunday afternoon wanting to know if I knew were Carven's old man was. He was supposed to have been home Saturday night but hadn't appeared. Marty mentioned that the family was worried that, having already lost his license for drinking and driving once, he could have done that again.  I said that that was a distinct possibility, given all the drinking I'd seen and offered to phone the local OPP. As soon as I described Carven's old man and where he'd been, the police knew who I was talking about. It seems that, on Saturday afternoon, one of their units, doing a back road patrol, had picked-up the wandering Carven, again hiking the byways of Grey county. They'd taken him back to the detachment cells to sleep it off and had driven him out to his camper on Sunday at lunchtime. They'd confiscated his booze.  They'd watched him leave and warned him about stopping before he got home.

Marty wasn't there for the Carven's old man story, but he authored it.

Marty's Big 'Egg Boil'
 One of the fishing adventures we tried a couple of times was a bass fishing/camping  trip to Honey Harbour on Georgian Bay during the summer. The third one of these was the most notable, and probably had a lot to do with not repeating the exercise. I and a buddy from OS were to meet Marty, my brother-in-law and a couple of guys from Toronto at the boat launch in Honey Harbor on Friday at suppertime.

That was the first thing that went wrong. They didn't show up until close to 11 and when they did,  most of them were 'in the bag' after drinking their way up from the city. Marty was 'good to go', but since we had no running lights on the rented boat and since the 8 of us and all our gear would have sunk it, we decided that we'd best just pitch tent for the night and get an early start.

That was the second thing to go wrong. When we woke at 6:00 the next morning the boat was gone. So was Marty and my brother-in-law. They pulled back into the dock about 11:30, they'd 'gone fishing'.  The trip out to our island campsite took  another couple of hours but the fishing was good, the water was swim-able, we had lots of booze and all was golden.

A Saturday night run into the "Delawanna Inn" in full, cologned-mufti ended in a reef of floating beer cans and bottles after we spent a couple of hours 'marooned' in the middle of the lake. Somebody had his foot on the gas line and we were too pooped to consider that when the motor cut out.  We checked the gas tank, almost full, and tried to restart it but that was rocking the boat too much. So we sat, and smoked and drank the beer we had the foresight to bring,  signalling to passing boats with the flashlight we accidentally had with us. Until one stopped and gave us a tow.

The evening was rounded off with the late-to-bedders having a plinking competition with a pellet pistol Marty had thoughtfully brought along.

The deal was that some of us had volunteered to cook.  I signed-up for Monday morning breakfast. When my turn came  I went to get the three dozen eggs I'd brought, to make omelets, from the cooler. There they were, or rather, there it was - for there was only one egg left in the three cartons."Hey what the hell happened to the eggs?", I called out.

Marty said,  "We had an egg boil."

"When?" I asked, wondering how I'd missed it. "Why didn't you tell me?"

Marty replied, "You were asleep and we knew you'd figure it out eventually".

I guess  plinking helps work up an appetite. They'd eaten all my breakfast eggs.  We  had 'bass pancakes', which didn't turn out too bad - with onions, peppers and mushrooms - and one egg.

Five vignettes from a life of a thousand stories, most of which I don't know. So I'll have to leave their telling to his good wife Jane, his kids and to my brother and  sisters. We were all privileged to have had Marty in some part of our lives and we'll be poorer without him. Rest well Marty, we know you won't catch all the fish.