Eulogy for H. Mackay

Herb knew his apples.
I wanted to buy his farm
and sat all an afternoon
in his pink and green kitchen
as he spoke of spartans
and spies. He no more wanted
to sell the land he and Hilda
had farmed forty years
than he wanted his son
to bully him into town.

But he went:
he had dumped
his and Hilda’s pills
into a mason jar
and these old lovers
were cross-medicating
like crazy; he had trouble
escaping the bath and
wouldn’t bathe; and
the woman who came twice a week
said the meat Herb was cooking
was bad. So I suppose
the son had reason.

Herb sold to Lawyer Shortill
in town. He would have sold
to me, but his son wanted more.
Now, Lawyer Shortill has his hobby farm
and the son has the money.

We visited Herb and Hilda
at the Home. “I don’t like
the meals,” he told me, “and I
don’t like our room.”
At home their view
was all of Athol Bay;
here they watched TV.
As we left he held my arm.
“My favourite is the Mclntosh,”
he said. “I once thought nothing
of driving to Salem
or Green Point
for a good Mclntosh.”

His last day of life
Herb drove his ancient
Chrysler downtown
and dinged the pump
at Osier’s Texaco.
Osier threatened
lawsuit, and Herb
beat it back
to the home.
He phoned Lawyer Shortill
and Shortill said not to pay.
It was a humid day
—Hilda was outside for air.
When she returned
Herb was still
in the chair
by the phone, but
she’d missed her chance
to console him, to tell him,
“That Osier’s a fool.”

They buried Herb at Cherry Valley.
His son wore a powder blue
leisure suit and purple-
tinted glasses to the funeral.
Hilda sat at graveside,
her old eyes blinking.
The minister patted her hand,
sprinkled sand on the coffin.
But his eulogy was guesswork,
just another day of the dead.
Herb really loved his apples,
and apples was never said.

Questions and Answers

What inspired “Eulogy for H. Mackay”?

Many years ago when I first considered moving permanently from Toronto to Prince Edward County in southeastern Ontario where I now reside, I befriended an old man whose farm I was interested in buying. “Eulogy for H. Mackay” was based on that experience.

This poem “Eulogy for H. Mackay” originally appeared in The Times Between. Spec. issue of Canadian Literature 107 (Winter 1985): 45-47.

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