“It was always a good idea to keep an eye on Jack, and pay very close attention to what he would bring in on his stringer, because when it came to finding creative ways to recycle a dead catfish or the like, he wrote the book.
In his opinion they made great hot water bottles, and it was not unusual to find one tucked up under the sheets to keep your toes warm and toasty at night…”
Jack Brettell, also known as Jackie, Jack, "Jackie Romance" (sorry Trish!) - in deference to his considerable artistic skills - Uncle Jack, Jack-O, the Great One, and even “Boss Hog,” as his buddy Louie had been known to call him, was a borne and bred “Wellander,” who not unlike his uncle Harry, was without question one of a kind, and when the two of them got together – look out – because as I’ve often heard said: “it would take a Royal Flush to beat that pair!”
Toss in my dad “Baldy,” and you then had the definitive Rose City triumvirate.
(Please click on the images below to enlarge)
All were born in the 1920’s and '30's, and each had a rather remarkable talent for making even the most routine or mundane situation downright enjoyable and fun. It may very well have been a “generational” thing, because unlike many of us today, perhaps in part given the ever increasing need to be politically correct at all times, they had the uncanny ability to see the lighter side of and the humour in just about any situation, and in doing so, could turn the ordinary or common place into the extraordinary.
It’s Much Better to Rust Out - Than to Wear Out
Each lived by the motto: Semper Habeo Angulus et si Verbum Substitutio Probo which roughly translates into:
Always have an angle, and if someone else offers to do it – let them!
If we were ever design a family coat of arms, I have no doubt that this would be emblazoned on it.
Those that knew him well understood that Jack would go to great lengths to avoid any sudden or prolonged bursts of physical activity, because after all, acting in a supervisory or advisory capacity, while contributing the occasional helpful hint or comment was much preferable to actually doing the work itself.
What really separated him from the crowd though, was his uncanny ability to get others to do his bidding - and here is where it got really spooky - without having to actually say anything! Many an unsuspecting target soon came to realize – albeit invariably far too late to do anything about it – that they were standing in the presence of greatness, while being manipulated by unseen forces that they could neither control nor comprehend.
And if you happen to think that I may be exaggerating somewhat, read on, because you really can't make this stuff up.
Baldy and I were sitting with him on his patio one hot summer afternoon enjoying a cold one and chatting about a variety of different topics, including the status of a partially completed fence-building project that he had recently undertaken.
There was a general consensus that it was much too hot to be engaged in such silliness as digging postholes and putting in fence posts, although we were well aware that Jack’s saint of a wife had a somewhat different opinion.
Much to our surprise, around three p.m., he stood up and announced that it was time to go to work.
My first thought was that we were somehow going to be hoodwinked into doing some, if not all of the remaining work, but he just stood up, stretched, and walked over to where the handle of his auger was sticking out of a partially finished hole.
Jack gave the auger of a couple of half turns, then with great flourish, wiped his brow several times with both his handkerchief and the back of his hand, while at all times staring intently at the house just behind his own.
He repeated this performance several more times, and then came back over to the patio, arranged himself in his chair, opened a cold beer, smiled and said – “watch.”
About fifteen minutes had gone by when we noticed a couple standing in the backyard of the house that was the object of his earlier attention, engaged in what appeared to be a rather animated conversation, with who I assumed to be the poor guys wife doing most of the talking, while pointing repeatedly in the general direction of where we were sitting.
A few moments later, his unfortunate victim wandered over and informed Jack that “he” believed it was much too hot for him to be digging post holes given his obviously frail condition, so he would be more than happy to finish the job for him.
After a mild protest, but true to the motto, Jack nodded solemnly and said, “I will have a cold one waiting for you when you finish.”
You can appreciate why mere mortals like us, had no hope of escape once we found ourselves in the cross hairs of the Great One.
Many of the activities leading up to our annual spring fishing trip to either Gull Lake or the Marten River, were in many instances every bit as much fun as the trip itself.
For example, most people would likely not put going on a dew worm hunt at the top of their “to do” list, however Jack, Baldy and Harry would not only turn this into an event we looked forward to each year, it also attracted others, who while not joining us on the fishing trip, would pitch in so as not to miss out on any of the fun.
The fact was, the more “pickers” they could entice into helping out translated into less work and more worms for the organizing committee.
Before he had truly refined the art of getting others to do his bidding on a consistent basis, Jack and company were always on the lookout for a labour saving device or an angle of some sort that would assist them in getting any work that needed doing over and done with – fast – with as little effort on their part as possible.
Their motivation, at least in part being that with the work out of the way it would afford them more time for all manner of important social activities, such as paying a visit to Branch #4 of the Royal Canadian Legion, the Rex or Atlas Hotel.
It Was Truly An Electrifying Experience
One such “labour saving” device was the now infamous Electronic Worm Probe.
No one really knows where it came from, but rumour has it that Jack acquired it at no small expense, from someone who for reasons that were not then, and are still not entirely clear, had to remain anonymous.
It was a deceptively simple device consisting of a three - foot metal rod attached to several feet of electrical cord with a plug at one end. Once the sun went down and the dew was on the grass, you inserted the rod into the ground at some strategic place within the worm catchment area, plugged it in, and then waited for the worms to come flying out of the ground as several million volts of electricity pulsed through every patch of grass within a ten mile radius of the probe.
The only remaining task was to then walk around picking up all the stunned night crawlers and, in a matter of minutes, you would have more than enough for the upcoming trip, and plenty of extras for anyone else who might be in the market for some electrified worms.
Unfortunately, items acquired under dubious circumstances rarely come with instructions and/or safety warnings.
I’m assuming that if instructions and/or safety warnings had been included, they would have admonished the user to ensure that the device was unplugged BEFORE you walked out onto the wet grass to collect your booty.
Well, in the absence of any such admonishments, and looking out over a scene resplendent with thousands of worms laying there quietly just ripe for the picking, their enthusiasm overcame any notions of common sense. Jack and company charged into the fray, pails in hand, and immediately got a taste of what the worms were experiencing, and only by hopping frantically from one foot to the other, did they manage to make it back to the safety of our stone slab patio relatively unscathed.
I seem to recall that when the device was first plugged in, dogs began barking and cats started screeching throughout the neighbourhood. In retrospect maybe I should have mentioned it at the time.
Now THAT”S Using Your Coconut!
It’s often said that necessity is the mother of invention, and when it came to things such as the manufacturing of home brew, Jack, along with the other two, often times took the proverbial cake.
They made their own wine, dealt with the inconvenience brought about by beer strikes – of which there seemed to be many during the 1960’s – by brewing their own, but perhaps they’re most "impressive" foray into the art and science of producing various types of home brew, was endeavoring to make up a batch of “coconut” rum.
They somehow came up with the idea that if you drained the milk from a coconut, packed it full of brown sugar, sealed it up tight, and then buried it in the ground for several months – voilà – you would be rewarded with some delicious dark rum, at only a fraction of the cost the LCBO charged for it.
Six large coconuts were then drained, stuffed, sealed with corks and wax, and then buried in six different locations throughout our back yard. Why they chose to bury them separately without marking any of the spots, well, you would have to ask them.
It may have had something to do with the fact that they had been liberally sampling the LCBO variety of dark rum during the manufacturing and burying process – no doubt to give them a taste of what was in store for them down the road – so not surprisingly, several months later, they didn’t have a clue where to find them, although a couple did eventually turn up.
The first made its presence known a year later, while we were burning some leaves. There was a muffled thump that sent some of the leaves shooting into the air, so I guess you could say we found one. The second – after digging up most of the yard - was located next to our cherry tree, and while what came out of that coconut could not be called rum, it appeared as though they had perfected a way of making coconut molasses.
When it came to fish, excluding my Uncle Sid’s fascination with Lake Trout, the species of choice for Jack and the rest of us was the Walleye.
Now, this didn’t mean that if Jack happened to catch what we would otherwise call a “coarse fish,” such as a catfish, lingcod or sucker, it would not be put to good use. It was always a good idea to keep an eye on him, and pay very close attention to what he would bring in on his stringer, because when it came to finding creative ways to recycle a dead catfish or the like, he wrote the book.
In his opinion they made great hot water bottles and it was not unusual to find one tucked up under the sheets to keep your toes warm and toasty at night.
Forget to buy a gift for your wife or girlfriend as a way of saying thanks for looking after things while you were away for the week?
Not a problem.
Being the thoughtful man he was, Jack would pack one away in your suit case early in the week (something so important should never be left to the last minute) so when your bag was opened up a week later, she – and you - were certainly in for a very special surprise.
They also made excellent projectiles, and many was the time when the door of your cabin was opened by an unseen hand followed by a “flying” fish projectile, that if tossed just right, would slide the entire length of the kitchen table taking with it any bottles, playing cards or cigars in it’s path.
While the various dry land antics usually took precedence over our water-based activities, Jack was no slouch when it came to catching fish, and if he happened to catch the most or the biggest fish, heaven help us all, because no one was better at, or more relentless when it came to reminding everyone about it – day in and day out.
One way to ensure there could be no possible misunderstanding was to make certain that everyone clearly understood the difference between using “we” and “I,” when referring to the days catch.
If Uncle Harry or any of the others had a good day, Jack would be the first to remind everyone that “we” had caught the biggest and/or the most fish, but if fortune happened to smile upon him, saying “I” caught this and “I” caught that was a perfectly acceptable way to describe what had actually taken place.
While most of us found this distinction to be somewhat confusing, if not downright annoying and perhaps just a little self serving, to give him the benefit of the doubt, it was merely his way of being helpful by trying to avoid any possible confusion or disputes when the big fish pot was awarded at the end of the week.
As I have already mentioned, Jack had the uncanny ability to make just about anyone do things they had no intention of, or remotely desired to do.
During our nightly rounds of “Chase the Ace,” if he wanted a drink, snack or whatever, Jack would get this forlorn and expectant look on his face, then lightly lick his lips using just the tip of his tongue, and make what I can best describe as a purring sound.
This would be followed by wiggling the fingers on both of his hands, while muttering the mystical incantation, “Dee-Dee/Dee-Dee.”
Following these gyrations, otherwise intelligent men would be up on their feet, tripping over one another so they could cater to his every whim, and while we muttered and complained about it - abusing him all the while – we were clearly in the grip of an unseen force that was controlling our every move.
Uncle Harry and Baldy are no longer with us, which at the time I wrote this made Jack (who has himself since passed away) the last remaining direct link between them and me.
Before he went off to reconnect with the other two – I doubt that he would have had any trouble talking his way through the Pearly Gates - we would still get together from time to time, and it never took very long before Jack began to regale us with great stories about the “old days” living and growing up in Welland, and out would come some of the pictures he had drawn/painted that really brought the stories to life.
But the best part was, that while those stories were being told, and the pictures passed around and suitably admired, it was as though the others had never really left, and while perhaps not there in body, they certainly were there in spirit.