Friday, July 1, 2011

In Vibert's Field the Lupines Blow

In Vibert's field the lupines blow . . .

Erinn and I went for a walk yesterday to catch a piece of summer before it vanishes, and to gather a bouquet of the lupines that blanket Upsala like marijuana on a Colombian plantation (where did that come from?). I believe  Vibert's field holds the Guinness World  record for the most lupines squeezed onto a single piece of real estate (I made that up). My imagination says that Flanders Fields look like this, only with poppies instead of lupines.

Here's a shot of Erinn feeling the pulse of this thriving jungle (where's Waldo?).

On the way home, we took a shortcut through the cemetery, which is also a burgeoning lupine paradise this time of year. While Erinn meandered through the flowering thicket, I surfed the tombstones. I love words and things that are old, and while Upsala cemetery is small, it has enough words and old things to keep me occupied for a while. Yeah, it's weird. A fire chief wandering a cemetery brooding about the history of his village. Give me a break though. The whole Flanders Fields thing had made me all reflective and Oprah-like again. But I digress.

One headstone stopped me short: "Cecil Taylor 1934-2010."

It's almost impossible to die in a small village without the whole place knowing that you're gone. Cecil had moved away during the last years of his life, but it was a rude shock to see his name on a headstone. A notable citizen had passed away, and I had to wander the graveyard to find out.

In 1987, a group of intrepid Upsalanians banded together to form the Upsala Fire Protection Team, with the help of the provincial government. Cecil was selected - or forced at gun point - to be the first chief. He was crusty and sarcastic, but led the department with a steady hand in its infant years. His garage housed the first equipment: a 1977 tanker, a portable pump, some long boots and coats and a few hand tools.

Cecil was an electrician by trade, so he knew his way around building construction, and was the logical choice to oversee the construction of Upsala's first fire hall in 1990. The work was completely done by volunteers. We followed his terse orders, laughed at his wry humour, and avoided his wrath as best as we could. You can see a couple photos of that era on the Upsala Fire Department Facebook Group page.

Volunteer fire chiefing is a tough assignment, and Cecil only lasted four or five years. A young officer took the helm, and Upsala's first chief left without fanfare, and very little acknowledgement of his contribution. 

Here's a shot of Cecil, with some of the government officials he antagonized during his tenure (the little guy holding the key is now a captain on our department).

Cecil wasn't a hero. He wasn't a charismatic leader. He had plenty of flaws like most of us that lead volunteer fire departments. When the pitchers in life hurl their curve balls, however, someone has to grab a bat and step up to the plate. Cecil might not have ever hit a home run, and he may have even struck out occasionally, but he took a job that no one else wanted, and did it to the best of his ability.

One of the last times I saw Cecil, he was hunched over our breathing system control box with pliers and a screwdriver, many years after he had left the department. Halton Hills Fire Department had generously donated the unit, but we had to replace the three phase motor with a single phase. It would have cost hundreds of dollars to bring an electrician out from Thunder Bay to rewire the control box, so I phoned Cecil. His wife was ill, and he had a lot of things on the go, but he brought a worn canvass satchel full of tools and did the job. When I suggested he give the fire department a bill for his services, I thought he was going to slug me. He stuffed his tools back in the bag, gave me a glare, and disappeared out the door.

Cecil passed away in November of last year, again without fanfare. He is buried in Upsala next to his wife Kay, who served as a volunteer dispatcher from the beginning until 2004, when 911 came to Upsala.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Rest in peace Cecil. You'd be mad if you knew I was writing this post, but if I don't blow your horn, who will?

May we keep the faith.

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