Carl Was A Curiosity

Continued from yesterday…

One day an ambitious little spider made its way down from a ceiling, slid down a wall, crept over an old fashioned roller blind, then down the cord one might use to pull the blind down or up. But this blind, hanging in the living room of an old red brick house, was never pulled down or up. It had hung part-way down for a decade or more and no one moved it. No one removed the spider, either.

Sensing itself secure, the spider began to make its web. Swinging from the end of the cord toward the nearby window frame it attached one of its silky threads to that. Then it repeated the process until it had completed its web. And this web, as it was fashioned, eventually pulled the cord sideways.

Neighbours going by smiled when they saw the cord hanging at an angle. This was Carl McNeil’s house and we all knew that, though he kept his garden in good order, he wasn’t bothered with housework. He occupied two rooms, his kitchen and his bedroom upstairs. Since he never invited anyone into his house, no one really knew what it looked like inside but we judged a lot by that one cord hanging crooked for years — and the fact that the half a bucket of water Carl got from Giff Pomeroy’s pump once a week wouldn’t be cleaning very much. That was Carl’s bath water.

Carl was a faithful attender of the United Church in Fullarton. Town folks said it with kindness and a smile, but they admitted it took an extra bit of charity to sit near Carl on days when the church building was especially warm. Soon Marguerite would be telling him, “Carl, it’s time to send your clothes to the cleaners again.”

At the end of October, as the town children prepared to go trick or treating, Carl would go down to the store to buy a bag of treats to hand out. For years he bought a bag of marshmallows and gave one to each of the children that called at his door. Then one year he discovered mini-marshmallows so he bought a bag and generously gave each child several. Since this worked so well, he continued to shell out this way. Was he such a miser, or did he think most children at the time were getting enough sweets?

Carl’s only known health problem was his need for a pacemaker. The first one installed did him for years but when he was 85 the battery needed to be changed. As I recall, he was feeling odd for a few days, so a neighbour took him to a hospital in London, ON, where he had the procedure done. He was supposed to stay there for a couple of days and properly recover after the surgery. However, he wanted to be home, so the next morning he signed himself out, walked downtown to the bus depot and caught the bus for home.

He got off the bus at Russeldale, a village along the highway and the nearest stop to home; from there he walked the three miles to Fullarton. But when he got home he found his neighbour had locked the door and Carl didn’t have the key with him. So off he went to Giff Pomeroy’s shed and borrowed Giff’s long wooden ladder, which he carried to his house and set up to reach his second-storey bedroom window. He climbed up, pushed his window open, and crawled into the bedroom. Then he went back outside and returned Giff’s ladder.

Carl rarely left his home, but once or twice a year he took the bus to Kitchener, a city about an hour away, for the day. Of course it gave the villagers lots of opportunity to speculate on what he did there all day. Once an acquaintance saw him being met at the Bus depot by a young woman, which gave rise to even more speculation. He had no known family other than MacDougald cousins. A bit worried in case Carl might be victimized somehow, his friends raised tactful questions but Carl was secretive about those trips. Perhaps he simply liked to have a bit of mystery about his life, something to keep folks guessing.

When Carl died and his will was read, he made national news. He’d calculated what each citizen’s share of the National debt was and had bequeathed the government of Canada a check to pay off his portion.

John Richardson, MP for Perth-Wellington-Waterloo, praised Carl’s actions in the House of Commons with these words:

“Mr. Speaker, today (Oct 31, 1994) I was fortunate to take part in a presentation ceremony during which a cheque for $37,634.61 from the estate of Carl McNeill was presented to the Government of Canada.

Mr. McNeill was a 100-year old resident of my riding who was worried about the legacy of debt that had been left to the younger generation. Mr. McNeill left specific instructions in his will that the money be given to the federal government in order to pay off his share of the national debt to ensure a better future for others.

Walter and Marian MacDougald, long time friends and neighbours of Mr. NcNeill, presented the cheque to the Minister of Finance this morning. In addition to Mr. McNeill’s donation to the government he also left a substantial amount of money to the University Hospital in London and the Salvation Army.

Carl McNeill set a tremendous example of the kind of patriotism and national loyalty for which all Canadians can strive. I thank him on behalf of all Canadians for his generosity and concern for our great country.

Carl Was A Character

We came to know Carl McNeil back in the early 80s when we moved into the small village of Fullarton in southwestern Ontario. A neat, pleasant, soft-spoken, still-quite-robust man in his 80s, he lived alone in a huge old house on the main street of this village that grew up along the intersection of two important roads. (I think we counted about 26 homes in total.)

Our next-door neighbour, Marie Hoppenrath, told us about the time she was out mowing their lawn and Carl stopped to chat. A bit of background here: the H’s lived in a bungalow on a large property at the edge of the village. They had a small garden in their backyard, but otherwise over an acre of lawn to mow. Most of this they did with the riding mower, but had a push mower for the narrower bit around the house.

Anyway, as Marie was working around close to the house with her push mower, along came Carl McNeil. He watched her for a bit, then told her, “You know, if you’d dig up all this lawn and make it into garden, you’d have a lot less work.” I’m sure Marie was tactful enough not to laugh right then, but she did later as she told us about this bit of advice he’d given her.

Whether said in good humor or if he was totally serious, Carl lived by this principle himself. Though he didn’t have such a huge lot, it was indeed all spaded up and planted every spring. He grew a few potato plants and I remember seeing a few raspberry bushes near the house, but most of his yard was planted with white beans (or navy beans. The kind used for pork & beans.) Carl, ever a home-body, spent his summers puttering around keeping the garden weed-free.

Every fall he’d harvest his crop of beans and during the winter he’d “combine” and sort them on his kitchen table. Then he’d take his bags of perfect beans to Thompson’s, a big grain elevator in Mitchell. Rumor had it that the owner himself bought Carl’s beans for the Thompson family’s use. He dug up his yard by himself until he was in his 90’s, then consented to let his next-door neighbour till it up for him, but he made a garden right up until he went into a nursing home at the age of 98.

Carl was Mr & Mrs McNeil’s only child and I gather his mother was rather a doting one. He apparently had a girl-friend when he was 20-ish, but she didn’t meet Mother’s ideals so the romance never got off the ground. Too bad! When he was young he went to business college but no one ever talked of him holding a job. If he did, it couldn’t have been for long.

When his father died, Carl inherited the farm. The land in this part of Ontario needed to be tiled or the heavy spring rains would drown the crops out, so farmers trenched their land and laid down clay tiles. This was mostly done with a some kind of trenching machine, but Carl, being an ambitious sort with a strong back, dug in every foot of drainage tile all across his farm. Little wonder he was so hunched over in his old age. (Farms in SW Ontario were typically 100 acres.)

When his mother got old, they bought this two-storey red brick house in the village and moved in. Apparently as long as she was alive things were kept in running order but after she died Carl didn’t have much idea about housekeeping or mechanics. Likely there was a working furnace in the house when they bought it, but by the time we knew him, Carl was heating only the kitchen in the winter, by means of an oil-burning space heater, and sleeping upstairs in his unheated bedroom. Brrr…!

Folks say the plumbing system worked, too, when mother and son moved in but in time something went wrong — a washer wore out or the pump needed repair — so Carl had no more running water. Fortunately, Giff Pomeroy, who lived a few houses down, had an old hand pump out in his yard and it still worked. Once a week Carl would take a bucket down to Giff’s and get his weekly ration of half a bucket of water. (About 3 gallons.) This did for all his washing and cooking needs.

He told my husband once that he’d never tasted tea or coffee, so he wouldn’t have used up his precious supply for that. He may have drank some of it, but his main liquid refreshment came through the bottles of orange pop he’d buy a couple times a week at the village store. As for doing laundry, every now and then Marguerite, owner & clerk at the store, would get a whiff and tell him, “Carl, it’s time you sent your laundry to the cleaners.” So he’d bring some clothes to the store and Marguerite would send them off with the dry cleaning van.

Carl had made quite a name for himself by the time we moved into the village and folks had some interesting stories to tell about his doings. Maybe I’ll write more tomorrow, and you can read more about him here: A Man of Simple Tastes. Apart from needing a pacemaker, Carl enjoyed good health all through his senior years. As I said earlier, he went into the nursing home at age 98 and lived there only about 18 months, if I recall correctly. He celebrated his 100th birthday there, then died not long after.

The Ugly Quarrel

I posted this some time ago on another blog, but it suits the Daily Prompt word so here it is again:


An ugly quarrel showed its face
and ripped apart some brothers.
It gobbled up their happiness
and quickly spread to others.
Then someone said, “I’m sorry,”
and another, “I was wrong”
And another, “Let’s start over,”
and began to sing a song.

The ugly quarrel wilted.
Indeed, it lost its punch.
No longer did it rip at joy
And gobble it for lunch.
A little love and courtesy,
Like sunlight on the frost,
Had melted all ill feelings,
And the quarrel just got lost.


This poem was written by my dear friend, Margaret Penner Toews
and published in her book, FLY HIGH MY KITE
Printed by Lee Printing, Burns, KS 66840

Margaret’s poem books:
Five Loaves and Two Small Fish
Fly High My Kite (children’s poems)
First A Fire
Fourth Watch
All are available from Gospel Publishers
E-mail address:

The Man Who Watches (i)

Would you like to take an interesting little trip today? Last week, via another blogger’s post, I hopped across the Big Pond to hang out in a Dublin Coffee Shop and listen in on the conversation. Maybe you’d like to find out, too, what folks are saying over there. “Scoot” has done a very good job of letting his readers into the scene.

Sounds From a Dublin Café

THE BARISTA attempted to take my cup before I’d finished. There was still a little left, and it was mine. I’d paid for it and I wanted to finish it. I’d never get that in New York. Why did she pick it up without asking? It’s okay, though, she’s nice. Erica is her name.

Just let me finish my coffee, Erica.

I can’t help but overhear the conversations of the staff and the frequenters: the energetic business types, the gossipers, the artists discussing their next project, the solemn ones deep in thought, and the friends catching up like the group of Pakistanis who sit outside debating and gesticulating every evening. The mothers, the fathers, the sons, the daughters. The highly successful, the down and outs. White-collar, blue-collar, grey-collar. There’s this one guy; he looks like he’s had twelve rounds with God Almighty — he’s beat. He doesn’t smile, ever. He’s missing a…

View original post 682 more words

Border Confrontations

Two tomcats meet on my fence;
in a fanfaronade of frizzled fur
they dispute who owns this particular
property. Tails lash, eyes flash fire
as they hash it out –
militants defending
self-defined borders,
crouched to spring or flee.
After prolonged discussion one
bows to superior yowl power,
cedes territory grudgingly.
You silly cats!
I own this place.
But neither one asks my opinion.


I wrote this poem long ago but it seems quite suitable for the today’s Word Press prompt word: border.

In actual fact the wailing I’m hearing from our cats today is not about territory. It’s about wanting to go outside, but unhappy about having to wade through snow. Oh, well. Our world is still white, but the temperature is warming up and we’re supposed to see a few really nice days now. So the cats will get a little reprieve before winter returns for a long, long stay.

I’ve been reading the news about Hurricane Matthew, which is likely battering the Florida coast as I type this. Here’s wishing all of you who are facing this storm a lot of courage. I pray everyone has found a safe place and is already there. My heart goes out to the poor folks in the south of Haiti; they really got a bashing.

The Simple Things

by Edgar A Guest

I would not be too wise — so very wise
that I must sneer at simple songs and creeds
and let the glare of wisdom blind my eyes
to humble people and their humble needs.

I would not dare to climb so high that I
could never hear the children at their play.
Could only see the people passing by
and never hear the cheering words they say.

I would not know too much — too much to smile
at trivial errors of the heart and hand
nor be too proud to play the friend the while,
nor cease to help and know and understand.

I would not care to sit upon a throne
or build my house upon a mountain-top,
where I must dwell in glory all alone,
and never friend come in, or poor man stop.

God grant that I may live upon this earth
and face the tasks which every morning brings
and never lose the glory and the worth
of humble service and the simple things.

From the book Collected Verse of Edgar A. Guest,
©1934 by the Reilly & Lee Co