June 11, 1917 Letter from John, Goodbye to Mark

June 11, 1917

It was another miserable day today. Mist and rain. I stayed inside. I went down for breakfast but then I returned to my room for the remainder of the morning. I did get a letter in the post today and read it in my room. It was from John McRuer in Denver. He sent a thank-you note for sketch I sent down in May. Despite the distance between us, I feel that John is still one of my closest friends.

The letter was distressing. His wife, Edith wrote it, not John himself. He must have dictated it because of this failing health. Back in 1913 he got the consumption and decided to move to Denver for the mountain air and the new cure therapies he was hearing about. He moved but he’s been sick ever since. The main part of his letter had nothing of a distressing nature, “everything was jolly” so on and so forth, it was the postscript  by Edith that threw me.

“P.S. Tom, John is not doing well. The doctors say that he won’t last through another few months. John’s brother Jim has gotten leave from overseas and will be arriving in Denver very soon. It’s by hope and faith that I will be with him through to the very end. If you want to see him, you should come as soon as you can. A visit by you, his dear friend, would lift his spirits immeasurably.

Love from both of us,


That post script opened up another possibility to my future. I was thinking about going West, much like Jackson did a few years ago, but going South would be entirely different. I had heard about the Grand Canyon Park, Yosemite and the Sierra Nevadas. I had read about  the Anazazi Indians and their mysterious dwellings in the cliffs. I could go to Denver then venture on further South.

Early in the afternoon I ventured out unseen.I had heard that Mark Robinson was going back tomorrow to his family in Barrie. So I decided to visit him. He was going to be away for the better part of three weeks – away from the black flies. The reason was vacation and to spend time with his boys and twin girls and get the family ready to return with him to the Park for the summer months. Bartlett realized that the married Rangers needed to be with their families so he let them stay with them in the ranger shelter houses. The shelter house at Joe Lake had two rooms and a kitchen, more than enough for summer living.

I walked down to the shore. I wanted to see if Hugh Trainor was still there. The cottage looked empty. He must have left this morning. I’m sure he went along the Gilmour tote road to walk the lines. Depending upon which direction he could pick up the late afternoon train and be back to Huntsville by night.

I walked up Potter Creek, crossed the bridge and then spent some time above Joe Lake Dam. I sat on the shore and skipped stones into the water. There was no wind and the water was like glass with mist settling on it. I’m not sure why, but the sounds in this type of weather travel far and long. You can hear everything on the lake. As I skipped the stones, I could swear I heard the echoes in the distance. It was probably my mind playing tricks on me, but that was okay.

I walked to Mark Robinson’s house and I saw him struggling outside with some pine logs.

“Howdy, Mark,” I said.

“G’day, Tom. Just in the nick of time, can you help me move this log over?”

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“The yard’s not even. I need some more yard room for the kids. The ground falls right into the lake. I’m making a berm to level things out. That’s the next part of the project, ” He pointed to a pile a gravel, “I had meant to get that in before I leave tomorrow. No luck. Bartlett has me doing other things.”

I knew the real reason. His hip wound from overseas severely curtailed his ability to lift anything heavy, especially pine logs and gravel. With heavy work, Mark could only work at the half the pace of a healthy man. I knew it bothered him, but I guess he should be thankful. He came home in one piece to a steady job. Others came home with no legs and arms to hungry families and with no job.

“I’ll fill it in when you’re gone,” I said.

“No need to do that, Tom. I got Jack to help me out when we’re back”.

Jack is Mark’s eleven year-old son. Jack wouldn’t have to do it, because I would do it while he was away.  I dropped the subject because any more talk on the matter would have raised it to a matter of honour. I knew when to shut up about these things.

“Mark, I need to know if I can store some stuff at your place. I need to find a place for my sketches.” Hugh’s sudden change in tone yesterday spooked me so I thought I’d better get my sketches out of the Manse.

“Tom, you can store them here while I’m gone. But I can’t be responsible for them. Plus, I have to lock the place up good while I’m gone. There’s the telephone and gun. Bartlett won’t let me give the key to anyone.”

I dropped this subject too. I helped him with the logs. When we finished, Mark made some tea and we sat on the verandah. We watched the mist turn into a steady rain. There was no need to talk. We knew each other well and we didn’t need to say much to each other to keep company. Besides, the rain on the leaves made such a pleasant sound, nothing more needed to be said.

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