I knew him as Cookie before I knew him as John.
On meeting this contradiction of a man for the first time, you might come away with the impression that he was this irascible, grumpy, miserable, chain smoking old coot.
I think he liked it that way.
The reality was that under that tough façade he was a kind, thoughtful, giving guy and one of the best neighbours you could ever ask for.
Standing about 5’10”, he had piecing blue eyes, a bushy white beard tinged with the yellow stain caused from years of smoking, a gravelly voice, and the gait of a man at peace with his lot in life. Those eyes could burn a hole right through you if he was questioning your sanity.
The man certainly marched to his own drummer!
A one time forklift driver at Collins and Aikman in Ingersoll (an automotive subsidiary), Cookie was once retrieving a skid of carpets from the warehouse, when he accidentally sheared off a fire sprinkler head with his lift. Water and carpet were everywhere. With the forks still in the air he simply grabbed his lunch pail and left the building, telling his supervisor that he was “sick”. He was not sticking around for whatever was to come!
In 1989 John and wife Anna built a cottage on Ranger Bay, on Lake Kawigimog, not far from Lost Channel Ontario.
Anna says that it is still under construction 34 years later!! And I would venture that she is not wrong.
It was John’s happy place. An avid hunter and fisherman, he was at peace when he was in the solitude of nature – most content when he was cutting wood, riding his ATV through the woods, fishing or visiting neighbours. He didn’t possess a hurry up button – always slow and steady.
Stitching it Together
As fate would have it, our Hunt Camp ended up conveniently situated next to John and Anna on Ranger Bay. Over the 30+ years we were neighbours, John helped us out of many jams both individually and collectively. If it weren’t for John’s generosity, we may never have had our little piece of paradise beside them.
Our group had been looking for a place to hunt and had targeted the Magnetawan River area, an hour or so north of Parry Sound. Coincidentally, one of our original members – Dave Beynon – had been working with John, at Collins and Aikman. They apparently shared a mutual love of hunting and John invited Dave to his cottage for the fall hunt, some 30+ years ago.
Dave, having helped John discover the property to build his cottage in 1989 and hunted there with some success, asked John for permission for our entire group to hunt the following year. We were a group of wannabe deer hunters without a place to hunt. In typical John fashion, he said yes of course – use my place.
While we were cutting wood over one weekend, Dave cut himself with the chainsaw and required some medical attention. As he and Larry Woolley prepared to go into Port Loring to get some stitches, it was suggested they get some information on the empty lot next door at the local realtor. After all, we were looking to build a hunt camp – where better than next to John!
As it turned out Dave got his stitches and a few hours later, we owned a piece of paradise next to Cookie. All we had left to do was to build a cottage.
While constructing our own cottage, John of course allowed us to stay in his, while we were in the early stages of building. That was 1993 and our friendship has grown over the years.
We had no tools to measure lot lines, so we asked John for a 100 foot extension cord to locate the property boundaries. Gracious as always, John lent us the cord. Next spring, he was curious about that property line and went out to check for the stakes. Sure enough, there was the extension cord – still on the ground right where we left it.
The Shed – OMG That Shed!
His shed was legendary. It was filled with everything you can imagine – and he knew where to find anything you needed. There were times that it stored things you didn’t want to see or even know about – but that is one of those stories that will “stay in camp”.
Anytime we had a problem fixing something, he seemed to always have just what we needed. It was like living next door to Canadian Tire – without the lineups. We always felt reassured knowing John was next door if we ran into difficulties.
My family was at the cottage one year when the kids were small. If something bad was going to happen, it always seemed to happen to me – often self induced.
We got there Saturday. By Sunday morning the boat had mostly sunk. Not knowing what to do, John as always, came to the rescue. He seemed to have every tool known to man in that small shed of his. Out he came with an electric pump and in no time had the boat floating. The bellows had rotted and I had to take it out of the water for repair. But thanks to John it wasn’t worse.
I know I wasn’t the only one of us that he helped “float a boat” that had become submerged in a torrential rainstorm. He often had to “bail us out” (see what I did there?) of a disaster in the making.
He was always up earlier than anyone else, and if something had happened of note throughout the night, he was the first to know. He was like some kind of a woods whisperer – and would wander over in his underwear, as soon as there was a light in the cabin to share the news and of course offer to help.
On another occasion, I could not get the 4 wheeler started. He had a battery charger for me to use. I could get it started but it would not stay running. Finally after watching me struggle for what seemed like an eternity he simply said “did you check for gas”? Sure enough, the tank was empty. He looked at me with those piercing blue eyes and didn’t have to say a word.
I could hear him thinking “IDIOT”!!
John was the neighbour that you could always count on. Whether it was for him to lend a hand or if you needed something from his hardware store in his shop, to borrowing his wood splitter, or directions to a good fishing hole.
As with any serious fisherman, I am sure he used some strategic diversionary tactics in offering fishing guidance. I seldom caught a fish in any of the places he directed me to.
There were countless times when one of our motley group would call him to ask him to get a fire started in our woodstove so it would be nice and toasty when we arrived. He was so kind hearted in that way.
Infrequently he asked for a return favour. So, when he did ask, we were more than happy to help.
On one such occasion, he and Anna had left for home, and realized much too late that he had forgotten his teeth. Chuck Davis happened to be at the camp, so John called to tell him where the key to the cottage was and asked him to go in and retrieve his teeth and drop them off on the way home. Chuck claims to this day that those teeth chattered all the way home. I’m sure Anna was pleased not to have to listen to Cookie lisp for the next several weeks!
Cookie was an early riser – and an early go to bedder. It was unusual to see lights on at his cottage past 8 in the evening. But boy did he make up for it in the mornings. In the early years he would get up around 4am and bake bread – and could that man ever bake bread (and pies as well). Our hunt group was the benefactor of his generosity on many occasions.
Avert Your Eyes
Sometimes you had to be careful walking through the path between our cottages. John was not shy as I found out on more than one occasion!
It was not uncommon for him to be sitting on the outhouse throne, smoking a cigarette with the door wide open. In fact one day, not too many years ago, he was doing just that. Suddenly he grew faint and fell over face first onto the rocks in front. Pants still around his knees, a helicopter had to fly in to transport him to the hospital. After a brief recovery, he resumed his rightful place on the throne.
He must have been hot blooded, because it was rare to see him in anything but track pants or shorts – sometimes just underwear. It didn’t always matter if you were at the camp with a bunch of guys, or simply your family – as soon as John detected activity at our cottage in the morning, he would frequently saunter over – cigarette in hand, shorts, t-shirt and a ball cap. Never a knock – just open the door and walk in, sit down and have a visit.
You had to warn your guests to be prepared!
Keep ‘Em Guessin’
He loved to stir the pot – often saying something controversial and then sit back and watch the aftermath. The man had opinions and a “unique” sense of humour!
Cookie would often say something with just enough plausible deniability to it, that you never knew if he was pulling your leg or telling the truth. He claimed he was a mercenary in Vietnam and ran heavy equipment there during the war. I had my doubts, but I could never prove one way or another.
There were many Cookie stories that I never knew were true or not, but he told them with conviction and that made them true for whoever was in his presence at that particular moment!
Perhaps someone knows the truth, but I think Cookie would rather we all keep guessing.
John battled myriad health issues over the past few years. Never once did I hear him complain, but rather he faced his mortality with a stoic resolve. I hope when my time comes, I can be as tough in the face of adversity.
I have no doubt that wherever he is, he is sitting on his throne in the big outhouse in the sky, door wide open, shorts around his ankles, a white tee shirt, ball cap askew, a cigarette in his hand and of course a twinkle in his eye, knowing that he has fooled us all for all these years.
He was truly one of a kind.
Rest easy my friend. You will be missed.