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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Finding 'the good stick' while walking in the bush

W Memegos with Premier Bill Davis and MJ, 1975
Years ago, when I was still living in Chapleau, my favorite place for a walk in the bush, some may call it the forest, but not me, was on the road leading to the Memegos property. I first started going there with Grandpa Hunt as a child to pick blueberries and continued until I left Chapleau over 24 years ago.

I did take a walk there with Michael McMullen, my cousin, and Ian Macdonald, my friend, when were were home for the Chapleau High School Reunion in 2012.

For my walks I would leave from our home on Grey Street, go over the "Indian Bridge" across the "back river" (Nebskwashi River) and head off towards Corston's Farm. On one particular day I recall that I had been trudging along for about three hours going here and there, and was now heading toward the Memegos family's land. My good friend, the late Willy Memegos had given me permission to walk on their land any time, and I will tell you more about that kindness later.

As I walked along the road, coming towards me was a man who I had often seen go by my house, but I did not know him. As he approached, he said, "Where is your good stick?", stopping to explain that he always carried a "good stick" with him. He moved it from hand to hand, he told me and it served to strengthen his arms and upper body.

"Maybe some day you will find a good stick too," he said smiling, and off he went, adding, "Maybe you will also see the wolf. It's auburn. Don't be afraid. He won't hurt you." I never saw the man again, or the wolf.

Shortly thereafter I came across a stick and picked it up. It wasn't as sturdy or straight as the one the man was carrying, but crooked as it was I had found my good stick. My good stick became my travelling companion helping me cross a beaver dam and walk along the edge of a pond. When I became tired I leaned on it and took a rest, and when I stumbled it helped me keep my balance, and aided me as I climbed a hill.

My good stick was very powerful indeed, and long after I lost it I thought that if that old piece of wood from a dead tree could have been so much help to me as I wandered along, giving me confidence to surmount minor obstacles, maybe the man I met on the road meant much more with his comments than maybe I would find a good stick and even see the wolf that would not harm me some day.

Let me return to my friend Willy Memegos and his family for a moment. Shortly after I became reeve of Chapleau, we needed a new township public works superintendent and were not satisfied with the applications we had received. Councillors Ernie Gilbert and Dr G.E. Young suggested to me that we ask Willy if he would like the job. Willy had not applied but when we asked if he would like it with the option that he could return to the position he had at any time, he accepted. Let me just add that Willy's brothers Adam and Baptiste also worked for the municipality, and bar none, Baptiste was the best grader operator anywhere! And Willy never returned to his old job!

Until I left office in 1980, Willy would come to chat with me every day that I was at the Town Hall/Civic Centre, and gave me the benefit of his wisdom and guidance on all manner and sorts of things. Willy was a man of few words but he was always right on.

An example. Willy convinced me and council agreed to let the township public works department assume responsibility for the installation of the water and sewer services to the "new' Chapleau General Hospital on Broomhead Road. One day Willy came into my office and said I had to stop construction according to the engineer's drawings because they were wrong. A change must be made. This led to a flurry of phone calls between us and the engineer's office, and it turned out that Willy was right and the engineer wrong! When I asked him how he knew, he replied simply, "I have a good eye."

Willy and his brothers worked on the original installation of the sewer system in Chapleau back about 1949!!!

The Memegos family also watched out for Grandpa Hunt who was well into his seventies and still picking blueberries.

I met Willy as I walked along to the road towards his land one day, and asked his permission to walk on it. "You can walk on my land any day," he replied. When I would reach the crook in the road I would always think of Robert Frost's poem 'The Road Not Taken' and realize that so often I took the road less travelled by, and that has made all the difference in my life.

But people like Willy, and so many others that I have met along the way over the years, became "the good stick" and made the journey easier. May each of you find your Good Stick!

I am so indebted to Willy's nieces, Anita and Joanne, for kindly agreeing that I may refer to their uncle and family. Thank you.

4 comments:

Michael J said...

Bill wrote on facebook:

always a pleasure to get to play hockey with Willy and Baptiste , Thanks !

(Yes indeed Bill. Those were the days in Chapleau for sure... mjm)

Michael J said...

Anita Stephens wrote on Facebook"

What an awesome story, my uncles were all great men. I'm truly glad that they to have touched your life also, and that they are forever in our minds and hearts.
Yes they were always such good sportmens, I can still picture them playing hockey and broomball. :D Thanks again for the memories of my wonderful uncles.

Michael J said...

Olli wrote on facebook:

Thanks for writing and sharing, MJ.
I also like walks in the bush, often with my wife and our dog, but sometimes alone.
The report from Wes of the Neil Young and Gordon Lightfoot was awesome... 2 of my top 5 also, and I just saw Neil in London last week.
Great how this technology makes the world a smaller place...

Paul said...

Michael thank you for your story. It brought back many fond memories of working on the town gang for Willie during the sewer construction. I always tell people that I have had 2 great bosses. One was the director of nuclear cardiology at Toronto Western Hospital and the other was Willie. He had incredible wisdom, and was a role model for me.

Michael J Morris

Michael J Morris
MJ with Buckwheat (1989-2009) Photo by Leo Ouimet

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