One of the joys of being the managing editor is that I very occasionally scoop up assignments that interest me.
It doesn’t happen often but I pulled rank last week to chat with Jimmy Rankin, the Cape Breton singer-songwriter. He’ll be at the E.A. Rawlinson Centre on April 14.
You can read the story on this Thursday’s Arts Page.
This gives me a chance to tell a couple of old tales. We’ll start at the beginning.
In the fall of 1986, after graduating university that spring, I headed out to Holland College in Charlottetown, P.E.I., to begin their well-regarded journalism program. The class was small, with students from a variety of towns in Nova Scotia and P.E.I.
As the sole person in the class from Portage la Prairie, Man., I was something of a curiosity. That may have weighed in as one classmate took me home to meet his family in a tiny community called Mabou, Cape Breton.
The town of about 1,200 is located on the island’s west coast, about 240 km and a ferry ride from Charlottetown. The family lived a bit out of the community along a country road.
To say that I was welcomed into their home would be a gross understatement. My buddy’s mom, in particular, seemed to sense that her guest was badly missing his mother and decided that she would do her best to comfort me.
I hate to think how many pounds of bacon were consumed during our visits to Mabou. She introduced me to bacon sandwiches with cheese and mayonnaise on them, something that remains a guilty pleasure almost 30 years later.
As I wrote this column, I picked up a photo album that I stashed some memories in that year and smiled.
I have a Northumberland Ferries receipt for $17.50 for the Wood Islands, P.E.I., ferry that sails to Caribou, N.S. It’s dated Nov. 11, 1986, a Tuesday.
I have a postcard of the town that has a beautiful aerial view of the town, a giant church with a big steeple figuring prominently in the centre.
I have some strange, random pictures of the countryside in the area and another shot of a puppy and a kitten fast asleep on the linoleum.
His little sister, who might have been four, cut me out a heart-shaped piece of yellow paper and carefully wrote her name on it in purple marker, the letters SUS on one line and AN below it.
My memory isn’t great but I was watching game five of the American League Championship between the California Angels and the Boston Red Sox in that house on Oct. 12 when the Red Sox rallied for four runs in the bottom of the ninth after Dave Henderson homered off of Donnie Moore. (It’s funny how my mind works when I think about it. I gave up watching baseball forever in 1994 but that’s a warm memory.)
We went to a gathering at the community hall a couple of times and played crib and bingo while we visited.
It was one of the highlights of a year that I later realized was one of the best of my life in terms of gathering great experiences.
My buddy is one of those guys who sometimes needs to leave people behind, like the weight of friendships weigh him down. I liked him a lot, so though I was disappointed, it was something that I could reluctantly give him.
We hadn’t chatted for years when I found out in 2011 from someone that his mother had died a couple of years before. I did some digging and tracked down an email address.
After a somewhat standoffish reply to my initial email, I decided to put my cards on the table.
In a second email, I told him how sorry I was about his mother’s passing and how grateful I was for his entire family’s friendship during a time when I was very much missing my own people. Here’s part of what I wrote.
“I wanted you to know how warm a memory I had of her. She took this goofy Prairie kid in -- gnawing on toothpicks the whole time -- and made me feel like family when I was a long way from home. I had to mature a bit to realize how special a quality that is.”
His response, which I won’t share because they were his words, was much warmer. We shared a couple more emails and later became friends on Facebook.
I went to send him a message on Facebook the other day and he was gone again. I still have his email address but I’m going to respect his privacy, just like I did the first time.
A sometimes undervalued facet of friendship is letting people do their own thing, and even though I would love to see him again, the odds are pretty high that he’s gone for good.
That brings me to part two of this little tale.
Through the 1990s, part of my newspaper job description in Brandon was writing music. On April 13, 1994, the Rankin Family was playing the Keystone Centre.
It was a heady time for the Rankin Family. They had just won four Junos and catapulted to stardom with the re-release of their album Fare Thee Well Love.
I interviewed Jimmy Rankin in early April of that year, 20 years almost to the day when I spoke to him last Wednesday.
The connection with the first story is that Jimmy and his family are also from Mabou and Jimmy knew my buddy. We chatted about that for a while before the actual interview began.
Back in 1994, Jimmy talked about the Junos and his family’s rise to fame. Something about his songwriting had resonated with me so the final question was about that. I asked about his writing for the group and if he would ever consider doing a solo album.
“I find it a very exciting and developmental time for me. It’ll be interesting to see what the future holds.”
It turned out that the Rankin Family would become the Rankins and Jimmy would later go on to a solid solo career. He released a song in 2001 called Followed Her Around that would comfortably sit in my all-time Top 40.
I’ve done hundreds of interviews with musicians and I’m a pretty good judge of how engaged the person on the other end of the phone is.
Very few become conversations.
Jimmy Rankin gave me that last week, with the unintended gift of a warm memory as well.
To bring this long tale to a strange close, the morning after I wrote this column I received an unexpected call from another newspaper looking for a reference for a fellow who once worked at the Daily Herald.
He was here before I was but we had worked together in Brandon.
Why do I include this?
I added it because he’s from Mabou and knows both Jimmy and my buddy.
It’s a mighty small world.
Perry Bergson is the Daily Herald’s managing editor. You can reach him at 765-1302 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org