Friday, May 22, 2009

Square 7: John Stabler

Square 007

John died of cancer on Wednesday afternoon. Les got the news early yesterday morning and told me when he arrived at work. We spent a few hours cleaning the shop then he let me go early. I came home and directly set about knitting a story about John.

He was also a knitter, although we had never knit together. I didn't have a particular yarn with a story, so I did something different: went through my stash and picked a few colours that spoke to me about John. The blue is a special yarn, one that Danny and I dyed last summer using Saxon blue, a natural dye derived from indigo. This is the first time I have used so many different yarns in a knitted piece, and the first time I've used anything from the large stash of yarn that I have hand dyed. I made this square practically in one sitting last night, a vigil in John's honour, finishing a few minutes after midnight. This will be a good way to address the twists and turns of life for the next while.

John had gone into palliative care only 24 hours before he died, he hardly needed painkillers, his sister was with him and he went peacefully. That was the way he wished.

John and Les had been close friends for about 30 years. I made his acquaintance about 10 years ago, but we became friends more recently. When Les and I were building a large pipe organ for St. James Anglican Church in Dundas, Ontario, John helped occasionally when we needed to expedite a task, or when there was heavy work that required more than four hands. The two of us spent long hours together in the shop, wiring valves and toe boards while Les finished casework. By the time we finished that project a year ago, John was too sick to attend the inaugural recital on the organ.

He was a curmudgeon and savoured the fine art of complaint. But if he knew that you respected him he responded with great kindness and humour. He was a great baker and cook. He was good company through tedious work and gave me many tips about tools and shop work. I will miss him.

The organ at St. James was built in four divisions, one at each corner. The great and the solo flanked the baptistry, and the swell and choir stood at the front of the church on either side. A church team set up vintage cases from another organ for the great and solo, but we had to erect new cases for the swell and choir ourselves. These stood on the roof of the sacristy, and the cases themselves were 12 feet tall, so the top of the cases stood more than 20 feet above the floor of the church. In organ building you must move safely and agilely on ladders and catwalks. A misstep could maim you for live.

We constructed the swell first. John went up and screwed the roof planks down, a vertiginous job that involved crawling from beam to beam.

The next day we were ready to put the roof on the choir.

John said to me, "I'll let you do this one, since you have a head for heights."

"I don't have a head for heights, but I'm used to it," I laughed, then added sincerely, "I will do it."

Next thing I knew, John scrambled to the top of the choir to do it himself. That was the kind of friend he was.

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