It was just after noon on a rainy Saturday in the spring of 1975. I was sitting at the kitchen table watching Stampede Wrestling on the black and white television that sat at the end of our kitchen table. My mother was on the other side of the counter, mincing ham and pickles in an old-fashioned food grinder. Sheets of wax paper were laid out on the counter, ready for the sandwiches that would be packed and taken to the racetrack that night. Fresh-baked muffins were cooling on the counter. My dad would be back from the barn any minute now and the three of us would be heading to Barrie Raceway for the evening. My dad’s Drexel Gold was 5-2 from the rail in the third with a kid named Lyle MacArthur down to drive.
A sharp rat-a-tat-tat was heard at the side door. Mom sighed. Very few people ever used our side door. We both knew this could mean only one thing. It wasn’t the end of the month so it wasn’t the Prudential Life Insurance agent who stopped by to pick up a cheque; it wasn’t Mr. Tennyson, the egg man who came early on Saturday mornings; and it couldn’t be the bread man as he only came on weekdays. If there was a knock at the side door at lunchtime on a Saturday it had to be Gordon Boyd on his way home from the morning auction at the Stouffville Stockyards.
“Come in, Gordon,” said my mom, ushering the lanky senior into the kitchen. “Oh don’t worry, your boots are okay. Can I get you a cup of tea?”
Of course his boots weren’t okay, but with a horseman in the family, my mom was used to a little bit of straw and mud by the side door. While she could easily mop the linoleum once Gordon had left, it was harder to mask the pungent odor he left behind. I’d describe it as a mixture of cow shit, Wild Turkey Bourbon and a splash of Old Spice with hints of stale coffee and a finish of STP Oil Treatment.
Gordon was married to my mother’s older cousin, Jean Stouffer. He was in his late 70s at this point. Despite being somewhat frail and in and out of hospital regularly, Gordon kept himself busy buying, selling and transporting cattle. He drove a big red Dodge truck with “G. Boyd, Newmarket, Ont.” painted on the door.
“Tea would be good, Helen,” he said as he settled into my dad’s chair at the head of the table. “Doc McClintock says I should eat more bran. Are those bran?”
“Why yes, fresh from the oven. Two sugars, one cream? I’ll get you some jam for the muffins. Strawberry-rhubarb okay? I have Mildmay apple butter, too.”
Thirty-five years earlier Gordon and his wife had introduced my parents to each other at the Sutton Fair. The Boyds were from Newmarket, as was my dad’s family, and they thought the tall, gracious Helen Stouffer would be a great match for the shorter, stockier, and more reserved William Belfry Hamilton. And they were right. My parents were happily married for 56 years until my father passed away in 1998. In all those years, I don’t believe they ever had a fight. You can understand why my mother might have had a soft spot for the man who played matchmaker, no matter how eccentric he might be.
To be honest, I hesitate to call Gordon “eccentric” but he was no Ward Cleaver, that’s for sure. In the eyes of a 13-year-old boy he was an entertaining old coot who I could sit and listen to for hours. He was also the only adult other than my father who would happily listen to my collection of cassette tapes of racetrack announcers. To be honest, a full hour of Grant Wade calling races in which Drexel Gold beat Bolsover Bill in 2:10.2 at Barrie and Ouch breaking her maiden in 2:16.4 at Port Perry Fair would be a bit much for most sane people to endure. Gordon wasn’t what my dad would call “bat-shit crazy” but he was definitely opinionated, a born storyteller, and anything but politically correct. He was a bit of Archie Bunker, Jed Clampett and The Grinch rolled into one.
The adults looked at Gordon as an entertaining messenger from my dad’s hometown. If there was gossip from Newmarket, Aurora, Vandorf, or anywhere in the northern half of Whitchurch Township, Gordon was on it. If he didn’t know the full story, he’d make something up on the fly. If you had a question, he had an answer.
“The Cane farm sold for $169,000. Can you believe it, Belfry? Wops from Toronto bought it.”
“Lucy Eaves got engaged to a chap from New Liskeard. He’s moving down and they’re going to farm on the Third south of Bogartown.”
“Did Jean tell you I was in the hospital for eight days? Had the shingles. You don’t ever want to get the shingles, Belfry. Worst pain I ever had. Worse than listening to Trudeau on election night.”
“Chuckie’s not well. Might have pneumonia. I told Jean when I went into the hospital that I’m not croaking before Ol’ Butter Balls and I’d be out in a week. And I was!”
Gordon always referred to his meek brother-in-law Charles Stouffer as “Ol’ Butter Balls.” Hearing adults talk this way about someone who might be sitting in the next room was the funniest thing in the world to a 13-year-old boy.
“David and Bonnie don’t think I should be driving anymore so they sold the truck when I was in the hospital. David says I agreed but I didn’t. Not for a minute. I told him he could sell the winch off the back ’cause I don’t take deadstock no more, but I didn’t say nothin’ about selling the truck. He just did it. The bugger.”
“If they sold your truck, how’d you get here,” I asked.
“Come out to the driveway. I’ll show you. You too, Helen.”
We knew better than to argue with Gordon, so we put on our coats and boots and trudged out to the driveway behind our house.
“I cashed the cheque from the truck on Thursday morning, got $4000 cash that I had stashed in the rafters of the drive shed, and I walked out to Slessor’s on Yonge. Two hours later I drove home in this.”
Gordon motioned towards a brand new, top-of-the-line 1974 Pontiac Grande Parisienne. Powder blue. Whitewall tires. Dual exhaust.
“David says I’m going to cause an accident with the truck. He says I’m always looking around and not keeping my eyes on the road. Thinks I drive too slow. Can you believe it?”
He did not expect us to answer so we didn’t.
“Too slow he says! Huh! So I got the 455 V-8… Fuck ’em.”
That was Gordon Boyd at his best. He had an audience and he was on a roll.
“Go ahead, open the back door, Mike. Be careful, just a crack.”
I did and I instantly realized why the windows were steamed up. Where the Pontiac’s back seat should have been, there was evidence that Gordon had been doing some renovating. There was no carpet. No back seat. No interior door panels. There was, however, a half sheet of plywood secured to the back of the front seat with binder twine. And there was something else in the space that would normally contain the back seat: 6 lambs, 2 goats, and a bale of hay.
“You pick one out Helen and I’ll take it out to Porky Schell’s and have him butcher it for you. You can pick it up on Tuesday.”
Then he added with a sheepish grin, “David said he didn’t want me driving the truck any more. So I’m not.”
We ate a lot of lamb in 1975.