Memories of a friend rekindled

"I’m thankful and privileged to have known Gordie."

By Ken Anderson

If I had to use one word to describe my friend, Gordie Bible, it would be “laughing” or “joyous” – something which would capture the essence of his absolute zest for life.

He laughed a lot, and he sang, too – the fast, catchy lyrics and melodies of Jimmie Rodgers – Honeycomb. Tucumcari. Woman from Liberia.

The laughter and song seemed to well up in him like water from a spring. It watered everyone around him.

He and I were born and raised in Castor, in the Battle River country of east central Alberta.

Except for those times when we had to be inside, such as in school or at home for meals and sleep, we lived outdoors all seasons of the year. We entertained ourselves. We lived great adventures.

Like the time we explored the Lynx Caves. In earlier years an old musket – perhaps from the fur trading days – had been found near the mouth of those caves.

The caves held a mystery to us on their own; the legend of the musket only fired our imaginations more.

We hiked the four or five miles to Hatherly Valley and worked our way through its dense spruce stands, along its winding creek, sandstone cliffs towering above us.

At the mouth of the cave, a cold breeze blew in our faces from the cave interior as we knelt down and pulled ourselves under a huge sandstone boulder. We worked our way as far back as we could, the cave floor layered in porcupine quills.

When we could go no further, we scrawled our names on a piece of paper and left it on a ledge, with the date we had swallowed our fear and crawled into the blackness.

Another time, while we were rafting on the creek near the old railroad trestle, we heard a freight train approaching from the direction of Coronation.

We paddled frantically for shore. Beaching the raft, we scrambled up the cliff and jammed ourselves under the trestle timbers and railroad ties, our heads inches below the rails. We waited, our adrenaline and breath pumping. We didn’t have long to wait.

That huge locomotive and string of boxcars thundered over our heads, their steel wheels squealing and pounding in a long, loud cacophony.

We didn’t move until the caboose finally cleared the trestle and the train moved on towards town. The train crew suspected nothing. Gordie and I walked on home, the darkness gathering around us.

We sometimes rode horses together, and could he ride. Like the wind. Like the Blackfoot warriors who roamed those plains in the 1800s.

Bareback, leaning low over his horse’s neck – his white horse, Ghost, in a flat out run, mane and tail streaming in the wind, clouds of snow flying – they went by me and my mount like we were standing still.

I can see them still and hear the cadence of the hoof beats and Gordie’s wild yells and irrepressible laughter washing back over me. Washing over me, over the years since I last saw and heard him.

Our family moved to a town in southern Alberta when I was 14, and I lost track of him.

I thought of him over the years and often wondered what had happened to him. At another’s suggestion a few days ago, I did an internet search for him. The initial search results raised my hopes but as I read on, the truth came home.

Gordie died 10 years ago.

But I found his mother’s phone number and gave her a call. We talked about Gordie. We talked about her family and mine. We talked about old times, and as we talked, memories rekindled.

I told her I was going to write a story about her son and send her a copy.

I’m thankful and privileged to have known Gordie and of having had the pleasure of his company, if only for a few years.

I’m enriched because of the experience.

And perhaps you, in my telling, have also been touched by his spirit, his irrepressible spirit.

Ken Anderson is a lawyer living in Terrace, B.C.