Letter: In celebration of a humble Haweater’s 70th birthday

“A gentle heart, understated, gnomelike, just carrying on in their quiet humble way”

To the Expositor:

Unassuming and gentle, my neighbour has in countless ways demonstrated what it is to be a good human. Never expecting anything in return, he offers help and company as freely as the air we breathe.

Buck (Lloyd) Belanger befriended us in 2017, and my partner, Mike, and I are so lucky he did. Buck turns 70 on February 17 and we wanted to honour him by sharing how much we appreciate him.

Our first winter on the Manitoulin was a doozy and Mike gamely attempted to keep the driveway cleared by manual labour. Buck, seeing the futility in this, would trundle his snowblower across the road and, looking like a snow gnome in his shin length parka, clear our way to the outside world. Icy days would see the snow gnome in the guise of Mr. Sandman spreading his magical sand on our drive to keep us safe. The purchase of our own snowblower didn’t stop Buck though. Last week Mike returned home late from work on a snowy, blustery day to discover, to his great joy, that the snow gnome had paid a visit.

The second winter saw Buck bringing me containers of chaga and maple syrup; his way of showing understanding for a health condition I was going through and that he had faced for many years. We shared stories of tests and check-ups.

In warmer weather, seated on our front porch, Mike and I smile as Buck strolls down our driveway and casually presents us with ice cream bars that he pulls out of his pants pocket. He then asks if he’s told us about (and we get to hear more stories about different times in his life): summers spent helping on his uncle’s farm, his first job delivering newspapers as a kid, the time he went to Toronto as a young man to take a course, or times he played practical jokes on his wife of 40 odd years. (We are also friends with Bernardine (aka Bernie) and we appreciate how much they care for and respect each other.)

When Mike’s working on something in the yard or shop, Buck stops by to offer encouragement, or a tool that might help with the job. When a helper was with me and we couldn’t start the gas mower, Buck magicked it into working. He would also offer ice cream bars to the various helpers we have with us on a work exchange program. Knowing how generous he is, I still had a tough time asking if he might be willing to use his truck to pick up a load of mulch for us. I had planned on going with him but the next day he was already backing down the driveway with a full load. And he did the same thing twice over.

Buck delights in showing us his various interests which include his Easter egg plant and its watering contraption he devised; his classic car and its funky features, his Elvis collectables, and we delight with him.

This past summer Buck put siding on his house and completed some other jobs that folks half his age might have struggled with. Despite a gimpy, painful shoulder, he worked steadily away at these projects using an economy of movement that is an example of maximum output minimum exertion. Mike’s trying to adapt this technique as he starts to age, seeing the wisdom in it.

Being generally homebound, I enjoy in person porch chats with Buck. Near the beginning of COVID lockdown last year, I sat on the porch with a drum and sang and drummed for a while, and then, I heard another drum and looked up. There was Buck at his place with a hand drum, beating a rhythm back at me.

There are, I know, many other times when Buck’s helped us out in some way or other, but memory fails a bit. We just wanted to share with others our gratitude for this human who we’ve been blessed to know. We offer his example of humility, humour and kindness as a beacon of hope shining in a world that can sometimes feel unwelcoming, even cold. There are gentle hearts out there, understated, gnome-like, just carrying on in their quiet, compassionate way.

Happy 70th Birthday Buck,

Your neighbours across the way,

Michael Fullerton and Julie Morris

Bay Estates