King of Hot Peppers

Bob came to our factory from a placement agency. A couple of years my junior. An interesting and diverse work background. Experiencing a gap in placements. Carpenter. Curling club ice-maker. Ski-club snow-maker. Professional photographer. Shift foreman at heat-treating plant. Outdoors man. Vegetable gardener. Wood carver.

Apparently a good position in industry had gone south because a second generation in management remembered earlier testy days with Bob. All of his good work was forgotten and he was made to be replaceable. A bitter man? Perhaps. Seriously ill father (a long-time city bus driver). Indomitable mother (the region's matriarch in Boy Scouts-Cubs for years and a line-dance teacher). Runaway sister. Irish and German. Unmarried. Childless. Selling part-time photo and dark-room efforts to calendar companies and stripper club promoters and dancers.

Working alongside me in shipping at a steel fabricating shop, he released to me details only slowly. I began to see his vast resource of practicality. His hard work ethic. His tendency to rush and to perhaps bring on accidents. His ubiquitous cigarettes. His sad need to see most others as "stupid". His sardonic humour. I remember some mammoth truckloads of diverse highway steel product which he engineered and deposited onto only fifty by nine feet of flatbed space. Packing. Banding, Fork lifting. Arranging. Climbing. Re-arranging.

He was laid off once for seven months. This coincided with the sad lingering death of his Dad in chronic care. He saw some mystic coincidence in this. He was willing to talk about it. I was willing to set forth gently some Gospel light.

At other times Bob could hardly stomach me. White collar guy largely misplaced. Not terribly practical. Programmed family man. No reason why Doug should be supervising. That tension became worse in the final year of his employment. Also a time when he was diagnosed with some form of skin cancer which required repeated clinic trips after work. I heard that after his dismissal he became a shipper at Sky-Jack, with deserved recognition. Then came the severe sickness and the home convalescence. The obituary made our company bulletin board.

Fondly I remember some other times. Accompanying him to one of his local early Saturday morning fishing holes. Hearing his fond remembrances of some of the Woolwich Township Mennonite folk. Examining his rapidly developing woodcraft art. Helping him drive up his extensive holiday and photo gear to a loved perennial cottage camp at Parry Sound. His dauntless search for good firewood so that my daughter could enjoy a campfire under northern skies. His good fishing tips and encouragement to young Jordan. The inch and a half thick barbecued T-bone steaks.

My employer still has one of Bob's lakeside Parry Sound photos on the office wall. My desk for a long time contained a small jar of Bob's home-grown dessicated HOTTT pepper. Something like Bob Struke. Feisty. Developed over time. Mysterious. Mercurial. Adding interest and zest. Not to every one's fancy. Noticed when missing...

(Picture by Robert Jackson)


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