A tall, slender man with a big heart, my Uncle Curn (his real name was Cornelius) was a brilliant man. He could talk politics with the best of them and he really knew how to spin a yarn. Whether he was humming a tune by his favourite singer John White or tying flies to go salmon fishing, the man was always in good spirits.
He lost an eye cutting pulp when he was just a young man, but the accident never affected his love for the forest. He spent his best days in the woods, often alone, setting rabbit snares or finding new spots to cut firewood.
Uncle Curn was a plumber/pipefitter by trade, but his true love was fishing. My uncle truly loved salmon fishing, and he spent most of his free time along the rivers of Western Newfoundland, especially at Harry’s River and Southwest Brook.
Mom said that as a child, her brother loved taking things apart. She said the only thing wrong with that was that he rarely put them back together. She recalls him disassembling the family’s old phonograph player. He was amazed at how the small parts made the thing work. Mom recalls the house being relatively quiet after Curn took the phonograph apart, as he didn’t put it back together right and it never worked again.
Cornelius was always game for a good chat, and there was no winning an argument with him. Mom said he was always so smart. Nobody could outfox or fool him.
My uncle was good friends with my dad even before he met my mom. I have a picture of my Uncle ‘Curn’, my Dad and my Uncle Frank that brings back memories of the good times they had as young men.
My dad married Curn’s sister, and Curn married my dad’s sister. How is that for a close family? Although my aunt’s name is Rita, my uncle referred to her simply as ‘Reet’.
They were married a few days prior to my parents, and together, Curn and Rita had a large family who they loved very much. With five boys and a girl, they had their hands full.
My uncle and aunt ran a small convenience store in my community, and I can still remember going there to buy ice cream. On one occasion, when I ordered a popsicle, and my uncle asked how I was paying, I simply said…”put it on my tab…and that’s what he did.
I remember one time, my uncle called and asked if I would like to accompany him and his son on a fishing trip. I was excited to go, and of course mom said yes. He said not to worry about anything, because my uncle never worried. He was the most carefree person I ever knew.
His old green Chevy truck pulled into my dad’s driveway, and me and his son Ronnie squat next to him. As we traveled to the river, my uncle told us stories, and made the two of us laugh all the way.
When we got to the river, my uncle noticed that he had forgot his tent. Most people would worry, but not him. “Don’t worry, I have a roll of felt in the back. We can make a bough camp and put the felt on top if it rains” he assured us.
“Besides, it won’t rain, it is sunny and not a cloud in the sky” he said.
It poured that night. Me and Ronnie climbed in the little shelter his dad built for us, and I must admit, with the felt on the roof, the thing was totally waterproof and even a bit comfortable.
It was comfortable until about three in the morning. This was the time I woke from my sleep, drenched in water. Apparently, Uncle Curn’s fire was going out from all the rain, so he gradually tore pieces of felt from our roof and threw them in the fire. We were soaked.
The next morning, the sun was splitting the rocks, and we didn’t take long to dry off.
The worst thing my uncle ever did was begin smoking. He truly enjoyed a good smoke, and incidentally, smoking was the thing that made his life most difficult. I don’t think I can remember seeing my uncle without either a cigarette or a pipe.
A few years back, he lost a leg due to clogged arteries. If you think losing a leg got him down, you didn’t know my uncle. I remember him telling me of how he crawled through the woods, hauling his body through the thick brush, setting rabbit snares in the fall of the year.
And who could forget the trips that he took to the river, sitting in his ATV, fishing for salmon. One leg didn’t make a difference to a man who was as resilient as my uncle.
A few months ago, the other leg began giving him trouble. Doctors attempted to free the clogs from his veins (my family have very small veins), and although the surgery was relatively successful, his heart just couldn’t take it. For the last few weeks, he has been sedated with morphine, only coming to long enough to speak to the many visitors who came to see him.
We got the call early this morning. His body could no longer withstand the pain. With most of his veins and arteries clogged, he passed away. It was a bittersweet time for my family. We knew he was in pain and suffering, so we wanted the Blessed Lord to take him away from his misery, but on the other hand, we didn’t want to lose him either. Our lives will be much emptier without him.
Uncle Curn was a great father to his kids, who all turned out to be good people. I see a bit of my uncle’s brilliance in each of his children, and my mom says that she sees a lot of him in me.
The salmon rivers will be a lot lonelier this year, as his homemade salmon flies will no longer flicker on the rushing waters. He will be missed not only by friends and family in the close knit community where he lived, but by anyone who has ever met him.