They say it is never too late to say thank you. I hope the converse is true. (Is that the correct word, Colin Burke?)
I should point out that Colin is the official pointer-outer of mistakes and errors in this column. If you are interested in the number of mistakes I made talking about Ed Ames and “The Last of the Mohicans” in last week’s column, for example, listen to what Colin had to say.
“Lon Chaney Junior played Chingachgook in the Last of the Mohicans. Ed Ames played Mingo in a series about Daniel Boone. I Googled Ed Ames after reading that he played Chingachgook, which I had reason to doubt. Otherwise, decent column.”
You’ll notice that his compliment to the column is rather muted. Colin tells it like it is, or rather as he sees it. But I trust his judgment and admire his knowledge which covers everything from the Vatican to the venial.
But I digress.
I’m sure it’s never too early to be grateful, either, but in this case the gratitude that I express here is both early and late. I have commented on this often before, but I know I never found everyone my comments intended to reach. You think I should explain further? Yes indeed.
Shortly I’ll mark the 15th anniversary of the car accident that broke my neck and made me quadriplegic. We don’t have fireworks and a banquet, but it does stand out as the beginning of a whole new chapter in my career as a writer.
Up to then, I'd been writing this column in Downhome, two community newspapers and one daily. I had been writing for the Telegram for a few years, but they had let me go sometime previous. I had done a year in the Toronto Star and written a feature article for the Reader's Digest. None of that made much of an impact on either me or the literary world.
I had been in hospital only a few weeks of my first eight months stint when all of that changed dramatically for me, if not the world. I had often wondered whether or not more than my immediate and some of my extended family ever read anything I wrote, or having read it paid any attention to it.
Then to my amazement letters started arriving, just a few at first and then a veritable flood. Most of them began with, “Dear Ed, I have never met you but I feel that I know you well through your writing which means so much to us.”
Many of them contained gifts of money, but most importantly of all, most of them ended with, “Love.”
We lost count after a couple thousand. With the help of a writer friend, I replied to as many as I could, but nowhere near all. Those of you who did write will never know what you did for me and my sense of worth as a writer. The fact that my column forged a personal link between me and the reader was almost more than I could believe.
Almost at the very beginning a group was formed called “The Friends of Ed Smith.”
I jokingly referred to them by the anagram, FOES but they were anything but. It had its beginning here in Springdale with former colleagues and friends and rapidly spread to similar groups across the island.
Before long almost every major center and many smaller ones had a working FOES group under the general direction of the Springdale group which assumed financial responsibility for money raised on my behalf. Gifts that were sent to me directly were forwarded on to them.
Each group, and in some cases individuals and couples including old friends, set out to have fundraising events of all kinds. Some took the form of church services and hymnsings. Others had banquets and invited well-known guest speakers. In St. John’s they had a marvelous variety show including some of the best-known bands and performers in the island. Mary Queen of Peace auditorium was filled.
One of the most touching and endearing things of all was what the students in the primary-elementary school in Whitburne did. Every single child from kindergarten to Grade 6 sat down and wrote me a letter. Some were absolutely priceless.
“Our school sold hamburgers to raise money for you,” wrote one little guy. “I don’t like hamburgers but I had one for you because I know you’d do the same for me.”
“I don't mind raising money to help you buy a voice-activated computer,” wrote one practical-minded little girl (naturally).
“But first I think you should concentrate on getting a wheelchair.”
I still have those letters, and had the joy of visiting that school at least twice later. I intended to be at their graduation but I was in bed at the time. Marvelous staff.
One of Canada’s best-known broadcasters did a series of radio advertisements urging people to donate so that “Ed Smith could get writing again.”
Again, I couldn’t believe it.
You’ll notice I’m not using any names for all of those marvelous people. Every once in a while I discovered someone else who was part of a fundraising effort for me, someone I didn’t know about.
The primary reason, of course, is that by mentioning the names of those who were prominent in forming FOES committees, or who did things in smaller groups or on their own I am almost certain to miss someone. I was hesitant to send out thank you notes for the same reason.
The whole point of this is to state with heart and soul how grateful we are to those who made those efforts on my behalf because you thought I needed it. Financially, we were in a deep hole. My van was just a little less than $80,000. My first chair, which my insurance said they would cover and backed out after I had bought it, was over $40,000.
We had to take out a $70,000 mortgage to cover the necessary renovations to our house. The amount raised went a long way to help with these debts and others. I mention the larger amounts to let everyone know how important those efforts were and how grateful we still are.
But it was the efforts made, large and small, by young and old that moved us so completely. That whole period made me realize that my continuing to write was important to some people, and I did have something to offer after all.
Guess what — when I resumed writing nine months after the accident — The Telegram hired me back.