Monday, May 14, 2012
One of my favorite people passed away too soon. It makes me incredibly sad and I need to write about it.
Lawrence Hutchings was a complex man, to say the least. He occupied many roles during his life. Son. Brother. Husband. Father. Grandfather. Uncle. Great Uncle. Hippie. Lawyer. Bartender. Teacher. Author. Pundit. Activist. Business owner. Actor. Director. Mentor. Inspiration.
As a boy, I quickly learned to love my uncle. He was funny. He had a false tooth and ring he claimed was the eye from a real tiger. He had a big bushy beard and told me he was a hippy. He smoked long brown American cigarettes and made me giggle so hard I would actually pee my pants. Uncle Hutch lived far away but every time he came to visit, I wished he would never leave.
As I grew older, I learned to love him on a whole new level. He lived at the foot of the Rockies, just outside of Canmore, and we made frequent visits during the summer. When he left his career in law, he opened Hutch's Pizza in Canmore and gave me another reason to idolize him. Uncle Hutch told stupid jokes. He told funny jokes. He told dirty jokes. He had an endless supply of one-liners that I use to this day. The witty bantering and exchange of puns between my Dad, Auntie Lee and Uncle Hutch rank amongst my favorite childhood memories. He had a sense of humor like few people I know and always left a lasting impression.
When my cousins Kris and Greg were born, I saw a whole new Uncle Hutch. I saw a devoted father who loved his children more than anything. He teased, played with and loved his boys to the end of the earth. I knew how good he made them feel because he always made me feel the same way.
It seemed like I reserved some of my best hockey games for the times he, Auntie Heath and the boys came to watch. They may not remember, but I sure do. I was eight or nine years old and I had been selected as the MVP in a game in the Lake Bonavista tournament in Calgary. I was nearly bursting the buttons of my jacket when I got to see them after the game. A few years later, I was selected top defenceman in another Calgary tournament, and sure enough, Uncle Hutch was there to watch. It meant so much that he took the time to watch me play.
As I grew older, I learned to love my Uncle on a much deeper level. I spent a great deal of time with my Auntie Lee as a teenager. Our family gatherings tended to be at her home. It was a neutral ground where all of the families gathered. It was during these years that I learned more about the tension between Uncle Hutch and my Grandfather. When my uncle went from lawyer to restaurant owner, I thought it was incredibly cool. I had no idea what a rift it created between him and his father. As a teen, I loved our family gatherings at Auntie Lee's. I loved the Canmore Hutchings because they brought a special spark. Wine flowed as freely as the puns and plays on words. It was the early 80s, so we played games like Trivial Pursuit even though Uncle Hutch had memorized all of the answers. He was impossible to beat and equally impossible to avoid looking up to.
His pizza place was a short-lived venture and it was somewhat fitting that we both became teachers in the early 1990s. I know that our shared professional experience pulled us closer during my first years of teaching. Every summer, I went on an extended backpacking trip with my dad. One year, Uncle Hutch joined us and it remains a cherished memory. We warmed up with a hike into Floe Lake in Kootenay National Park, then spent five days in the Skoki Valley. My dad is incredibly fit, so it was a struggle for us to keep up. Every time we stopped to gather the group and gather our strength, Uncle Hutch would fuel up from a seemingly endless supply of surreptitiously stashed chocolate. It was a magical experience to spend that time with two of my biggest influences in life.
Anyone who knows me knows that I love the mountains. When I really think about it, my great mountain memories are like a quilt assembled by a team of people I love. My parents, my wife and kids, my sister and my friends have created a tapestry of fantastic thoughts and emotions. Uncle Hutch, Auntie Heath, Kris and Greg are at the absolute center of so many of those great memories. Regardless of where they were living and how things were going in their world, the Canmore Hutchings welcomed us with open arms. We golfed, walked, hiked, drank, ate, laughed, played, watched sports and whiled away countless hours at the kitchen table. From Lac Des Arcs to Railway Avenue to Cougar Court, the location was secondary to the love I felt from my Aunt and Uncle.
In the last several years, we did not spend nearly as much time together. Health issues, along with family dynamics and commitments combined to limit our contact. Regardless of the situation, however, I am so glad that we stayed in contact. I loved stopping in for lunch or poking around The Second Story. I loved watching him perform with the Pine Tree Players. It made me so happy to hear about the trips he and Auntie Heath made to B.C., the Maritimes and Maui. When I finally caved in and created a Facebook account, Uncle Hutch was one of my first friends who regularly commented (in his own inimitable fashion.)
The last time I saw Uncle Hutch was at the end of April. We went for lunch at the golf course and it was so great that we were joined by Kris and his daughter Maile. Uncle Hutch looked great and was at his absolute best - politically irreverent, excited about his involvement with the Pine Tree Players, reminiscing about Maui and doting on his beloved granddaughter. As I headed home with a colleague from school, I made note that it was really important for me to always take time to call or connect with my Uncle when we were in Canmore. To me, the greatest testament to his character has been the reaction to his passing. My boys were crestfallen. Anyone I know who spent time with Uncle Hutch has taken the time to contact me. He left a profound impact that is very clear in the kind phone calls, e-mails and messages I have received in the last few days.
My heart is heavy and my eyes are brimming. It is sad and tragic that my Uncle's heart could not extend his life. Perhaps it was too full of love, happiness and contentment.