I don’t really know how to start this. There were many people who influenced who I became. Some good, many not good. The good ones are who I will focus on. The bad ones? Let’s just say they showed me what I didn’t want to be…
I will start with my Grandfather George. By the time I really got to know him, he was basically blind. He’d had a lifetime of adventures. For 48 years he was a steam locomotive repair guy for the Canadian National railroad. As part of the job, he traveled throughout Northern Quebec in the 1900s. I would sit and listen to him tell me about his adventures in “the bush”, as well as hours of locomotive repair, theory of how to be a proper mechanic, and techniques of those days. I will be adding what stories I can remember as I go.
As I can best remember, here are a few stories Grandpa told me:
“They sent me up to Chicoutimi and when I got into town everybody told me to stay away from a shed on the river because there was a mad dog in there. Of course I went and looked and when I opened the door there was a big dog in there that was barking and showing his teeth. The next day I caught a fish and brought it to the shed. I sat down and tossed the fish to him. He growled at me and ate the fish. I did this every day, and I would sit a little closer to him. After a week he was happy to see me come in and would let me pet him. After 10 days I unhooked the chain around his neck and he followed me everywhere after that. I will never forget the day I took the boat out of Chicoutimi. He ran along the river behind the boat barking and howling. until we were out of sight”
I was at the roundhouse when one of the higher ups came to me and told me they were going to change the piston rings in all the locomotives from iron to brass to reduce the wear in the cylinders. I told him they’d better buy more coal mines because the brass piston rings won’t expand the same as the iron ones, and the steam will blow by the brass piston rings.
The second person who influenced me was the Executive Officer of USCGC Blackhaw in the mid 1980’s- Richard Lang. The most fair minded and even tempered officer I met in my 20+ years in the Coast Guard. He set the bar impossibly high and as I advanced and had people to manage, I often asked myself “What would Dick Lang do?” I had a job afterward that involved much traveling and one of my goals was to go visit Dick and thank him, but unfortunately he passed before I could get to the area he lived in.
The third person with a huge influence was my uncle Edmond Grenier. Uncle Ed would build a new house every few years and I sometimes helped during summer vacation. I learned to mix and pour concrete for foundations, how to wire and plumb, and some finish work. He was very patient with me. Uncle Ed let me drive his car, a 1967 Chevrolet Impala, around the farm. It had a 307 ci V8 and 3 on the tree transmission. He had tractors and farm equipment and let me operate and help maintain them.
Next up, Ray Pelkey. He owned a gas station/truck stop off I87. He hired me and for several years was patient and a guiding influence. He was a veteran of both the Air Force and the Navy. He was at Pearl Harbor on that fateful day. He always took Dec 7 off and for a few days either side of that date didn’t seem quite right. Only in the last few years did I understand that he likely had PTSD from the events of that day and had a rough time dealing with it. Back in the 70’s there was little understanding of PTSD. I attribute my work ethic to Ray and his guidance.
The next item isn’t a person. It’s been with me as long as I can remember, from the house we lived in when I was born to this very day. It’s not big, or expensive, indeed it is a simple common everyday thing most people wouldn’t give a second thought to. A spoon. That’s right, a stainless steel spoon. It’s not very big, certainly not fancy. It’s been with me my whole life, even after losing everything twice it’s hung in there. Almost like it’s a talisman of longevity. If Steven King wrote another book about a talisman, this spoon would likely be the central subject, except there’s nothing macabre about this simple spoon. Perhaps I should make sure that it be buried with it, except I’m going to donate my body to Science Fiction when my time is done.