"Death don't have no mercy in this land.
Well he'll come to your house, but he won't stay long.
Look in the bed and somebody'll be gone." Gary Davis
Death don't have no mercy in this town. It's a constant visitor, capriciously and uncaringly ending dreams of glory, turning holidays into nightmares, good times into bad, plans into memories. It takes young and old alike, fit and flabby, pure-adrenaline adventurer and timidly cautious. It strikes suddenly and it lingers in shadows, torturing its victims like a cat with a mouse.
It's easy, sometimes, to shrug it off, like a cold you hope you won't get, but you know sooner or later it will get you or someone close to you. Partly that's because people come and go in Whistler; the landscape of faces change as often as the seasons.
If you live here long enough your memory begins to play tricks with you, blending all the faces and names of the people who have come and gone into a slow moving river of familiar obstacles and unknown dangers. "Oh, that guy," you vaguely remember when someone mentions a name. When did I know him? Last season? Ten years ago? So many people; so few who stick out.
Kinda like the night sky. One of the pleasures of the autumn shoulder season, especially on a day when the snow lets me down by not falling, is gazing at the stars in the night sky. After a summer of still-light sky late at night, autumn's early and deep darkness opens up the Milky Way's infinity of shimmering lights amid inky blackness once again.
Getting lost in that vastness is particularly easy up in the Cariboo where no light intrudes. The sky is velvet and the stars are blinding. Yet, in the millions of shining lights, a few stand out. Sirius, Orion's big dog's nose, shines brightest. Arcturus isn't far behind. Vega, Rigel, Betelgeuse, a few other's whose names I can recall, jump out of the pack and draw my attention.
Same with people. Some burn brighter, last longer, make a greater impression. Become a beacon for another form of navigation, a touchstone for how to live your life.
But death don't have no mercy and one of those lights stopped shining late last week. Whistler lost its Nana.
Lil Goldsmid — Nana G, or less formally simply Nana — died Friday. Efficient to the end, she "shuffle'd off this mortall coil" to see what dreams may come only hours after being told palliative care was the only option left for her tired heart. No one was going to accuse Lil of being a layabout, even in death.
Certainly no one accused her of it in life. Tireless fails to begin to describe this human dynamo. I didn't know Lil when she was working alongside Howard in the butcher shops, didn't know her when she was B.C. downhill skiing champ, didn't know her when she was raising Leslee and Bruce and living life between Vancouver and Whistler in those early years when driving up for the weekend was high adventure.
I got to know her late in life when she was an indefatigable volunteer for, well, everything. I'm sure Lil didn't actually volunteer for everything... it just seemed that way. Whistler Community Services? Check. Food Bank? Check. Library? Double check. More charities than you or I could name? You bet.
Someone undoubtedly told Lil at an early age that an idle mind is the devil's workshop. The poor bastard never stood a chance of catching her. The only time I ever saw her idle was when she was enjoying a cup of tea. Of course, she'd just made the tea and served it to me along with some ever-present biscuits. "Have another... go on."
I'd met Lil and Howard because their son-in-law had questionable taste in friends: me. But I got to know Lil a bit better when she was on a quest to corner the market in lost golf balls.
Lil collected lost golf balls the way some people collect mushrooms. She'd get up early and traipse through the wet grass at the local courses — often with young granddaughters Ali and Lonnie in tow — to get to even wetter water hazards, ponds and streams. Ever intrepid, Nana and the girls would wade in and collect errant balls left behind in a cloud of invective by ever-hopeful hackers.
The fruits of their labours were sold at reasonable prices to other golfers; the proceeds went directly to one or another of the many charities Lil was always donating time and money to.
One year when the Whistler Angling Club, working with the Fisheries Stewardship group, erected a fish trap on Blackcomb Creek — a net strung across the creek — we managed to detain a few fish to help us get a handle on the creek's spawning activity. Mostly though, we caught golf balls flowing downstream from several of the diabolically difficult holes at the Chateau Whistler golf course, dozens each day. Good balls, not crappy old water balls, the kind of balls people who were paying a hundred bucks for a round of frustration wouldn't mind losing.
"Hey, I know who could put these to good use," I offered. Nana took them all happily, passed them on at a profit and donated the windfall to those in need.
And if you think scavenging golf balls is, well, unusual, entrepreneurial even, you obviously never had Nana put the touch on you to buy tulip bulbs.
At certain times of the year, it was not at all unusual to find Howard and Lil's house awash in dirty tulip bulbs. They littered the carport floor, the path at the back of the house, the deck, spilled into the drive, everywhere. Lil collected them from several hotels and anywhere else she could, knowing those high-end landscapes weren't about to reuse weakened but still viable bulbs.
Like the golf balls, they were sold, the funds donated, the work provided by Lil, always a few steps ahead of the devil.
Lil's light is gone. All that's left are memories. Memories and her wish that we don't hold any kind of memorial or celebration of life. It's so... her. Doesn't want to put anyone out.
But I feel put out. How can I not celebrate Lil? How can I not honour her wish? I'm going to give that some thought. And I'm going to think about it in public. Saturday, October 12, between 4:00 and 6:00pm, I'm going to think about it at the Brew House. If you'd like to think about it with me, I'll be the guy in the red shirt. I seem to recall Lil was fond of red. If I'm there and you're there, who knows, we might even swap a few Lil stories. If more folks show up, we might even make a little contribution to the Food Bank in her houour; she'd like that.
Kind of an unmemorial, eh?