James Harvey Taverner was born in 1928 in Lewisham, Ontario, Canada to Harold and Pearl Taverner. My maternal grandmother’s brother, he was one of nine children who spent much of his time learning how to play music in his youth. His daughter, Judy once wrote a story of a Christmas that her Dad recollected often. His father would sometimes hire out as a fishing and hunting guide to those unfamiliar with the area. When the holidays came one lean year Pearl sent him with the horse and sleigh to the general store to pick up some candies for the kids to put in their stockings. The owner of the store, who also doubled as the local postmaster, told Harold of a package that had arrived for him. When he returned home, he and Pearl un-wrapped the package to find presents for all of their children . . . a gift from a man who had hired Harold to guide him earlier in the year. What they thought would be a modest Christmas turned out to be one of the best ever. Jim was given a toy tin fiddle. It was the start of something that would change his life forever. Judy’s story is entitled “There is a Santa Claus” and it can be found in her book, “Finding Joy,” by Judy Snoddon (available on Amazon).
Uncle Jim was self-taught on the guitar, banjo, and fiddle. I can remember him tinkering with a steel guitar that he had once come to own when I was a boy. His wife, Grace accompanied him on the piano at family and friend gatherings and they often played with others at local spots for a good time, and for charity. They played mostly folk music that people could dance to and there was the occasional country & western song or church hymn. My memory reminds me of the upbeat, fast tempo that would pry open a smile and a thankful heart. Everyone around would be in good spirits during the music and the laughter and gaiety was infectious. I remember a “cancer dance” that Angie and I attended while Uncle Jim and Aunt Grace were on the stage with their music mates back in the late 80’s. It was my one and only time to see square dancing in person. Angie and I watched and learned but were afraid to join in as I had barely learned the two-step by that point in our young lives. It was fun watching everyone have a good time.
A fond memory I have of my Uncle Jim is the day that he taught me how to clean freshwater catfish. He took me fishing more than once on Doe Lake in my early days but there is one fishing story that has stayed with me till now. Next to Doe Lake on the outer limits of Gravenhurst, Ontario was once a conservation pond that was managed by the province. It was in a stream by the pond that catfish would spawn each year as they traveled together. I had walked beside the stream one summer day at the age of 8 or 10 and I witnessed hundreds of these “cats” moving at a rapid rate. I had never seen anything like it and I ran to my grandfather’s house to share what I had seen. He smiled at my enthusiasm and began loading some equipment in his trailer. We headed out in the direction of the stream but not before he had made a call to Uncle Jim, who said that he would be on his way soon. When we arrived at the source of my excitement Grandpa Hank unloaded three or four 5-gallon buckets and a fish net. We took turns scooping up fish and there were sounds of splashing, slapping, and uncontrollable laughter. We had a bounty on our hands, and in our buckets!
When we returned, Uncle Jim was waiting on us and he joined us in smiling at our good fortune. It was then that he and Grandpa both looked at each other and then back at me. Uncle Jim asked me “Are you the one who wished for all of these fish?” “I sure am!” I replied. “Well, be careful what you wish for, young man,” he said. “Now, you have to clean them!” I wasn’t too sure about this . . . our fishing was over and I thought it was time to go and play. Grandpa set up a cleaning table near the sink in his garage and Uncle Jim schooled me on how to skin & fillet the slimy, slippery creatures. The three of us were there until well after dark and we filled a short freezer with fish wrapped in newspaper. It was work but I enjoyed eating them over the next several weeks. Uncle Jim and I remarked about that adventure many times over the following years.
Jim taught me something about work ethic as well. He worked at “Canadian Tire” for many years and became as much a fixture as the store that he worked in. People associated him with the service that his company provided to the community and he was asked for by name by many of the patrons. I would spend the summers with my grandparents and “Gram” would take me by the store soon after my arrival each year to visit her brother. We would also visit the IGA in town to see Aunt Grace. Both were always happy to see me and anxious to hear what I had been up to since my last visit from the states. Soon before moving to Texas Gram let me walk into Canadian Tire on my own and surprise my uncle. He was working at the parts desk and had just finished with a customer. He had a sour look on his face and looked like he was having the worst day ever. I had never seen him like this and wondered what it was about his job that made him feel the way he looked. He glanced my way as I approached the desk and his scowl melted away and was replaced by the beaming smile that I remembered. That’s when I realized that he had made it all look so easy . . . when he knew I was watching. It taught me something about managing the perception of others, from the frontline employee to the boss in charge. Jim retired from the company and I have often thought about his tenure as the years stacked up in my own job. I never dreamed that I would stay with one company for such a long time but here I am, thirty years later, working at something that I started in my twenties.
I’ve heard it said that music is the window to the soul. It can alter your mood, transport you to another time, or motivate you beyond what you would normally accomplish. Music appreciation in its simplest form is the way it makes me feel and Uncle Jim started me on a journey that has made me appreciate many genres, from folk and country music to rock and roll, jazz, and classical pieces. Musicality skipped a couple of generations and I never mastered the guitar, even after a couple years of lessons, but I still become absorbed by watching and listening to musicians do their thing. I’ve learned that melodies and lyrics can speak something unique to me and something totally different to someone else. Many songs take us back to the ones we have loved or places we have been. I once decided to attend the Woody Guthrie Folk Festival in Okemah, Oklahoma. I had just read Bob Dylan’s autobiography which went into detail about his hero, the one who had written and performed songs during the post-depression years of the 30’s and 40’s. The annual festival commemorates Woody Guthrie’s life as well as folk music itself and I took my brother, Terry to see what it was all about. Their music tells a story and the audience becomes a part of it. Uncle Jim probably had nothing in common with Guthrie other than taking on the part of storyteller as he strummed and plucked his way through a song. He held your attention for 3-5 minutes and would then start again. His smile reminded me that everything would be okay and his attention to my young life made me feel that I was valued and a part of the whole. Everyone deserves an Uncle Jim in their lives and I’m grateful for his in mine.