Peyton | Remembering Gord
It can be challenging to deliver the truth. To speak it about those who are no longer with us, those who have died, that might be hardest in its way. Especially when they were friends, and memories are tinged or suffused with love and loss. In trying to depict them there can be the danger of ending up with a caricature instead, affectionate though it may be.
Hard to avoid, really, when anecdotes mostly are what remain. But there is a special responsibility in speaking about those who have gone before us. To go beyond a loving fabrication or a caricature, even a respectful one, I think it requires a collective effort, the gathered memories from a number of people who knew her or him. Together they could present a quite abundant vision of the whole person. Even the contradictions which exist in all of us could be seen from a certain perspective.
There is also a special responsibility in speaking for the dead in their absence. They can no longer speak for themselves. Unless there happens to be an ample written record of what they said or thought during their lifetime, there is no way for them to express their own feelings about what they did, now that itís over. They canít respond to what we say now, or add to it, much less defend themselves if they donít agree with someone.
Which would absolutely Ė excuse me Ė just kill Gord Clee, not to be able to respond to you when he didnít agree. But I donít know that much record of Gord remains except for what is in our memories and our hearts. So I will hope here to express my caring by suggesting some of what it was that inspired it, while trying to avoid side-stepping aspects of him about which I was not as appreciative. (Not that there was so much of that.) I think this would be the truer token of respect Ė to portray both his goodness and his foibles, hoping to draw out his humanity.
I can easily imagine that if Gord and I were somehow talking today, and I told him it could be that he was opinionated, he might follow in the footsteps of, yes, the advice columnist Abigail van Buren. When a commentator once directed this same accusation at Abby she responded "Not exactly, but I do have opinions!" That sums to a tee a certain aspect of Gord Clee in my memory. He loved the art of self-expression, and I can recall many conversations with him Ė in Rochdale on the ninth floor Ashram and elsewhere, in his tent which heíd set up on the zome site when he moved from the Rock to Matrix (where he got through that first post-Rochdale winter with a truckload of firewood I had purchased but then left behind when I opted instead that year for academics and the communal life in Waterloo), and in other of his abodes on the farm.
We talked often. Thatís what you did with Gord. I know I worked out some things going on inside me, figured out stuff I might not have otherwise, because of our talks. I canít imagine how many words passed between us during the years we knew one another. Words and, more to the point, thoughts, ideas. Gord was not athletically inclined, not at three hundred plus pounds, so long hikes or canoeing expeditions were not in the offing. (Though I certainly saw him putting in his own share of the efforts in construction and other projects at Matrix.) He might have played games such as chess or backgammon with others, but I donít have any recollections of that. But he had power with words. The talking is what I remember.
We even communed on occasion, thatís what it felt like. Or, on the other hand (or part of the same one?), we argued. Sometimes he pissed me off and I thought he was silly. But if we did not agree on a point, he could (if so inclined) fit his assertion into the context of my own preceding commentary, a la the van Buren example above. He could take what you had said and re-shape it along the way to instead express his own (ahem) opinion. Or, of course, he might just say "No no, I think thatís very wrong. Let me tell you why..." One thing no one who knew him would deny, at any rate, is that Gord had opinions. And took pleasure in expressing them.
Beliefs too, you bet, some strongly held, and he was well-versed at expressing them. Because he enjoyed it. You can see that this is what I remember most clearly about Gord, and with great pleasure. His joy in conversing. And not only for the sake of his own self-expression, to be sure. He would also sit quietly for several moments (though I knew that sometime within that substantial and for the moment quiet exterior his mind was churning away considering his own response as much as listening) and let me or some other long-winded soul chatter on for a minute or three at a time, a paragraph or ten without interruption. Until he said, with a grin often or perhaps a considered furrow of the brow, "Well, yes, but..."
There are always things we donít appreciate so much about someone while theyíre around, but experience in a fuller context once that moment passes where there is no chance we will make direct contact with them ever again. In our conversations Gord often brought an equivalent and considerable emotion to bear in many different matters. Sometimes this would make some statements sound out of place or, as I admit I sometimes saw it, a touch on the pompous side. I remember him once delivering a considerable and even impassioned defense, a soliloquy on his preferred way of trapping mice as opposed to the other less satisfactory methods. Another time it might have been about the best order for adding in ingredients for pancakes, or which cheeses went better with which wines and why his opinion was different from and better than some wine journalís ill-considered recommendations. In hindsight now, I donít really see his forms of self-expression as being quite so grandiose, in most instances. Simply, cerebrally, Gord was a person whose every instinct told him that if something was worth thinking about, you applied to it then the whole of your mental capacities.
He could expound with equal ardors in respect to moral issues of war and peace Ė philosophically, or in reference to specific conflicts Ė or how on balance he appreciated instant coffee as much as he did whole ground coffee and in fact found the former superior in many ways. And why. Rarely only one or two reasons. Not a matter of shallowness, not by any means Ė he would have readily admitted that world peace or the slaughter of innocents was of far greater issue than coffee Ė and maybe had five or six itemized reasons as to why. He could usually distinguish what was trivial from what was not. But often nonetheless it was similar degrees of intellectual concentration he would bring to both the trivial and the profound, to whatever the case before him happened to be. If it was coffee he was thinking about, he applied his full spirit to those thoughts. If it was televised presentation of violence both in the fictional and news realms, or gender equality, or the aesthetic and practical superiority of a Russel knife over many other types, or how children should be raised, or what made for a good bar of soap, he brought equal zest to his considerations. (And all of the examples here, to be sure, I recall from actual conversations Ė even if many of the specifics somehow escape me.)
Gord knew that good dialogue often grew out of more than words, and he was always generous with what he had. In my experience he never failed to share whatever provisions he had that he cared to partake of while you were with him. Always in his home a cup of coffee at the very least, even if you suspected he might not even have felt that much like seeing you right then. He once shared his meager (as far as he was concerned) reserve of tequila Ė or was it the lower half of a bottle of Pinch? Ė with me even though he was pissed off (as he later informed me in no uncertain terms) when I had intruded into a conversational tÍte-ŗ-tÍte he was enjoying with Jenifer which he had particularly told me beforehand not to arrive during. (More to that story, but you donít need to know.)
I remember one time in Rochdale, during our last year, when he was dwelling in the ninth floor ashram and was one of the last remaining there. With his own money he purchased 144 cobs of corn, and several pounds of butter. He brought it all home, and let word be gotten out that it was there for the taking if you cared to drop by. He began boiling the cobs up, and folks began to arrive. There were fifteen or more in attendance by the time I got there, and at least that many more before it was over. Perhaps, by that time, the larger number of those remaining in Rochdale. Others began taking part in the preparations too, of course. Shucking corn, cleaning it, boiling it, preparing plates, setting up butter dishes. Then repeating the cycle.
Not that long of course before Gord had made it to his favorite spot at one end of the wooden Ashram dining table. Lots of tales and conversation as well as chomping ensued. I promise you he ate plenty of his own corn. So did everyone. I ate, if memory is correct, nine cobs. (I was a little stoned, and by good fortune already hungry, and it was all such messy fun.) And he didnít end up eating only his own, because everything was going so well that when provisions looked to be getting low two or three others went off to the Dominion down the street and brought back a few dozen more cobs to cook up, ensuring there would be enough to keep things going.
It was only corn with butter, I donít recall any other kind of food added to the event, unless youíre one of those who counts beer as a food. But it was a great feast, and so was the night which followed there in the ninth floor lounge. Music, dancing, conversation, friends. None of it would have happened without him.
One more example. Not quite as large a crowd Ė that many could not possibly have fit into his shack up the drive from the Matrix farmhouse, but the moments felt equally exalted to me. It was one of our semi-annual gatherings, but I really canít recall whether it was in May or October. Gord had been away awhile. Friday evening, with members and friends arriving from Toronto, Ottawa, and elsewhere. Several of us were down at the farmhouse and somebody, I think JP, suggested we drop up and see Gord. Already a few others as well as Gord present when we got there. Still light but the sun was toward setting. Yes, conversation was a-flowing. At some point not long after we had arrived Gord mentioned that he had dropped by Kensington Market before he had made his way up to Golden Lake, and maybe we should try some of the cheeses heíd purchased there?
Well, that would be eight or nine different kinds of cheeses heíd brought up, and began slicing up and setting out, a variety of crackers as well, and three kinds of halvah. Plus, and you could almost take this for granted with Gord, plentiful pots of coffee. And sure, dare I say it, sufficient quantities of cannabis and some alcohol from several sources. After awhile pretty much all of us whoíd come were there. I remember more than a dozen laughing bodies even if I canít quite recall how that many fit into his abode. Dark by now. Sometimes only one voice at a time heard, sometimes three or four or more. Seems like there was a guitar for awhile. If youíd been a stranger you would have felt the love that was there.
That was about the only time (since Jenifer quit dwelling in the barn, at least) that I recall any other building site on our farm other than the main house becoming such a focal point for our gatherings. A very modest shack. For me the evening had transcendent qualities. It wasnít just because of Gord but because of all my other friends as well. But it was Gord who put everything on the table (although to be sure he was not a wealthy guy). He was generous. He created the moment.
Sure, weíd have likely all had a great time anyhow if it had been one of our pot-lucks. We always do. But that special transcendent quality was there on that evening, for those special moments, because it had been one of us alone who had set the stage for all of us. Gord.
21 March 2004