A Celebration of the Life of John R. Mills, Farrier, Renaissance Man, and Man’s Man

Preface

Celebrating the Life of John R. Mills was, and continues to be, an intensely personal affair and while I am making my insider view public by writing this blog post, I ask you to be respectful should you decide to respond, comment or question.

This account of the day’s activities is neither exhaustive nor inclusive and does not follow the precise chronological order in which events occurred. I have also taken some liberties in my role as amateur reporter to interject commentary, interpretation and analysis which, I believe, is consistent with the intent the day and enhances the readers’ understanding of both the Celebration itself and the life of a beloved Kentucky farrier

Finally, please note that I am Canadian and ‘writing Canadian’ means that some words are spelled differently e.g., I love the colour orange.

Two irrefutable facts

Today, I am a little at a loss as to how and where to begin so I shall begin starkly and painfully with the first irrefutable fact. John R. Mills is dead. [See obituary in Appendix.]

The second irrefutable fact is that John R. Mills is alive. “Film at 11” as the newscasters of early television used to say.

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John R. Mills

Reportage (is not an equestrian sport)

I am neither a trained nor accredited journalist but today I shall engage in a little reportage of the funeral … no, service … no, ceremony … no, commemoration … no, celebration … no, party … no, event …. oh what the hell, let’s just call it for what it was – a migration of anyone who was anyone in the life of John R. Mills, Farrier and Blacksmith, to a gathering at Woodgate Farm just outside Louisville, Kentucky to pay homage through prayer, poetry, song, music, storytelling and many a glass with a “wee dram” of scotch or a ‘fizz’ of champagne raised in toasts to this humble yet “deeply intelligent, quirky and feisty” man.

John’s death came as no great surprise to anyone in the know for he had been suffering from some form of pernicious lung disease for several years. I am not going to go into the medical diagnosis and jargon here but the inside word was that John was already entering the second decade of a prognosis which had him dying half way through the previous decade. In this respect, John was a fighter and an inspiration to many, including myself, as he clung to life “for dear life.”

Stereotypes, electric bikes, full body kayak rolls and farewell tours

It is well known that farriers and blacksmiths are muscular – strong and powerful as they wield hammer against red hot metal. And no matter the season they were drenched in perspiration as they tended their forges, the little fires of hell that live in their shops and accompanies them on their trucks. Farriers are equally at home filing the teeth or clipping and shoeing the hooves of animals that can weigh a tonne (2,200 lbs) and have a propensity to kick and bite. Handling these animals requires strength, skill, tact and patience. And of course you must also possess a personality that can handle the owners of these animals, no small task.

 

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A nosy horse on Woodgate Farm Photo: Stan Marshall

 

John, the handsome and muscular young farrier and blacksmith was a stellar example of the ideal. He still exists in youthful form in photographs and lives on in the memories of those who knew him. However, the physical manifestation of that particular farrier had long fled the scene before his passing. John’s physical presence was greatly diminished in the wake of a disease and illness that slowly stole strength from his powerful frame and inevitably had a wearing effect on his psyche but not on his agile brain.

Yet, John persevered and extended his time on this earth for as long as his incredible constitution would permit. There is no doubt that these last few years were difficult ones for John, for his family and for his close friends. As you walk ever closer to the end of life, you reflect on your frailty and vulnerability and try to recapture the strength of your past. So it was with John as he began a modified ”farewell tour” about two years ago, but not just by visiting places and people from his past but by engaging in fun creative pursuits e.g., building an electric bicycle, or attempting feats which he was able to accomplish with a younger, stronger body e.g., doing a full body roll in a kayak. Just for the record, he built the electric bicycle but was not able to accomplish the body roll. No shame there as far as I am concerned. I was never able to do a body roll in a kayak and quite frankly, I doubt that I could build a satisfactory electric bicycle.

The story always begins when you meet John

I first met John when I was dating his sister, Anne, who I subsequently married with John’s approval, I believe. John and I always got along well, as we are close in age, have similar backgrounds and had similar experiences through our teenage years. Neither of us took a straight-line route to our final career destinations but we were diligent individuals (and John was intelligent) with good work ethics and somehow it turned out all right for each of us – except for the health issues of course. At age 69 John passed far too soon and I struggle with Parkinson’s disease. I shall refrain from elaborating on my condition any further except to say that our respective maladies presented us with similar real challenges and consequences that brought us closer together in these latter years.

Accounts of the exploits of John R. Mills and of his acumen as a storyteller have been circulating for years and his death serves now to detonate another explosion of tales – some well known, some dredged from almost dormant memory banks, and some newly uncovered and never before spoken about in public. Most of the stories are true and some are … well … mostly true.

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A few family and friends remembering John R. Mills  Photo: Stan Marshall

On the day of the gathering the stories fly fast and furiously. I overheard several different categories of stories. Some were intensely personal, almost private and whispered in hushed and reverent tones. Other stories are clearly part of the commons already and their telling marks just another occasion to be regaled to the point of belly laughs, all the while enhancing the details for the next telling. Still other conversations are ‘fact finding’ missions, gathering information and threads of details that will become stories in the future – or perhaps these conversational groupings are the crucible within which the narrative of the life of John R. Mills is being re-created, re-invented, or re-envisioned – spiced up or sanitized as necessary.

A ‘pop – up’ museum

The gathering to honour John R. Mills is well attended. Let me set the scene for you.

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Parking is at a premium at Woodgate Farm for the Celebration of John’s life  Photo: Stan Marshall

Your first footsteps onto Woodgate Farm take you to a greeting spot where a hammer and anvil await along with an invitation.

“Please take John’s hammer and send out a ring on his anvil. In the traditional farewell to Farriers and Blacksmiths, let the anvil’s peel [sic] carry your memories to him on his next adventure.”

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The added and unstated bonus is that the ring of the anvil alerts the bartender at the chuck wagon (built by John himself and pictured at the top of this post) that a Bloody Mary should be mixed and at the ready for the new arrival.

The house and garden at Woodgate Farm has been transformed into a small museum of John’s inventions, creations and activities – all artfully positioned such that the formal main event of the “ceremony/service/celebration” could take place unencumbered and the informal gathering with a veritable feast could be consumed with equal ease and comfort.

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The hammer and anvil beckons  Photo: Stan Marshall

John the Farrier had many clients (some two legged, some four legged and almost all had shoes) and his skills were in high demand. This was his business and while he was a master at it, and passionate about it, it was not his great passion. The real John the Farrier and Blacksmith loved to invent and build things – especially things that are useful, novel and fun.

Today, this ‘pop – up museum’ showcases a chuck wagon, a hovercraft (one of two he built,) an electric bicycle, a dog sled, steel throwing knives and hatchets, various pieces of leather work in progress, among other items.

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One of several photo displays  Photo: Stan Marshall

Annalea joins the party

John R. Mills was not a man who kept pace with information technology, the Internet and social media. Oh, he knew about it but he just didn’t know how to work it very well … or perhaps he didn’t want to know how to work it. Either way, it doesn’t really matter. He was never going to read my blog on line so I sent him hard copies.

I am not sure whose idea it was but it was a brilliant idea. Perhaps Chris and Annalea, John’s son and daughter, collaborated to make it happen. You see, Annalea could not make the party as she had returned to her home in Antigua after visiting her father in Kentucky. The first I noticed Annalea at the party she was being escorted on (in?) an iPad by Chris. Chris held the iPad out carefully so as to not fall or bump into anyone or anything, talking animatedly to himself or so it seemed. However, his behaviour made sense once you grasped that Skype can be a great way to share both happy and sad moments.

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John R. Mills with son Christopher and daughter Annalea  Photo: John P. Mills Date: unknown

Annalea had cleared her day and stocked her larder with the necessary rations – a bottle of wine, a wheel of Brie, another bottle of wine, some other unidentifiable snacks which may have included one of her father’s favourite, cheesies, and perhaps another bottle of wine. I have not verified the precise menu in Antigua but I surmise that it approximates the list above.

What I do know for certain is that Annalea was with us for a good portion of the day listening to the formal tributes and to the many informal stories about her father. She also spoke personally to many friends who gathered at Woodgate Farm. I think she exhausted the batteries of a number of electronic devices in the process. I have no knowledge of how long she was able to maintain the Skype connection as the party went in camera (ironically) after the formal program closed – a tactic everyone now supports even though there was mild resistance at the time. Keeping the party going does not mean it needs to be recorded for all time. Some things are best forgotten and other things are best remembered through the filters of time and experience.

Suffice to say that Annalea’s presence was a most pleasant surprise and surely was close to a record for unbroken Skyping.

The hunt and the feast

John and his wife Maddy (Dr. Madelyn Jacobs) have had a long  association with the local Hunt Club – usually referred to simply as “The Hunt” and is accorded a status equivalent to “Family.” You need to know that members of The Hunt along with other friends and neighbours are very experienced and efficient at pulling together the essentials of any gathering (including a memorial service) on extremely short notice. We literally watched the feast materialize in front of our very eyes as if spirited to us from chefs working underground.

White cloths covered the banquet serving tables laden with all manner of foods, some home cooked and some purchased, but all suitable for the occasion. Bloody Marys continued to flow from the chuck wagon. Scotch, champagne, wine and beer shared a common status as they lay waiting in strategically placed coolers around the patio and gardens.

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The feast is arriving   Photo: Stan Marshall

On this day of tribute to John R. Mills, the efficiency of the food preparation and presentation to the hungry mourners was a tribute in and of itself to the internal organizational capacity of The Hunt. From beginning to end, it was impressive to witness.

The skirl of the pipes

There are to be many poignant moments on this day. The skirl of the lone piper’s call across the paddocks drew everyone to the house garden for the main event … or at least the part of the day that had a formal program. I shall do my best to capture the flavour of the program but I am afraid that my efforts will result only in a poor facsimile of the actual events. I ask you to be indulgent as I relay my impressions.

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A lone piper calls us together  Photo: Stan Marshall

The poet farrier

John the farrier and blacksmith was a teacher and mentor to several young men, some of whom would go on to become, not surprisingly, farriers and blacksmiths with superior skills both at the forge and in the delicate relationships with large animals and their owners.

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Tools of the trade Photo: Stan Marshall

Isn’t it often the case that those who are creative in one area often excel in artistic merit in other endeavours? It certainly is the case with the young protégé Kraig who composed an emotional tribute incorporating the unmistakable rhythm of the farrier’s hammer shaping steel on the anvil in an adjacent barn; the peal evocative of the working life of the Brotherhood of the Farrier, and of the good wishes each mourner personally sent to John with mighty swings of the hammer on the anvil as s/he entered the grounds earlier that afternoon.

The words to the poem written by Kraig Milam, read for the very first time in public by John’s brother-in-law Gerald Smith and accompanied by Kraig Milam on hammer and anvil at the Celebration of Life, have been printed in the American Farrier’s Journal, November 16, 2016 in an announcement of John Mills’ passing. (See https://www.americanfarriers.com/articles/8791-kentucky-farrier-john-mills-passes-away#sthash.c7lvrCra.dpuf .) The poem is as yet untitled.

The tires crunch in the snow as he backs up to the barn,
the sun not yet up, the first stop of the day.
Warm yellow light bending around the heavy stable door,
it rolls open at his touch, the light and smell of the hay fall out.

Mare in the cross ties, her head hangs low,
he rubs her neck and she gives a long sigh.
she’s a good mare, would have been great if not for that knee
he’s kept her sound now for five years .

He lights the forge, the smell of smoke mixes with the stalls,
the mare lifts her foot, she knows this game.
A thin shoe hits the floor, the knife flashes, the nippers snap
with a practiced eye the rasp grates the hoof to the floor.

At the anvil, the hammer shapes red iron
the ringing muffled by the hay.
The hands swings the hammer, the anvil hits the shoe
the hand, the hammer, the anvil, three parts of the whole

Just one horse ... just one barn ... just one day.
How many of each, the numbers blur.
Tomorrow another horse will need him,
And he’ll swing the hammer again.

One day he'll lay down that hammer.
The anvil no longer will ring
but the farrier will live on forever,
in the memories of horses he's touched.

A long moment passes before the peal of the hammer fades into the warm Kentucky sunshine and the mourners, already struggling with their composure, hear a second poem penned by the young protégé. It is equally beautiful, equally fitting, equally poignant. Our emotional mettle is being severely tested.

A Renaissance man and a man’s man

In his opening remarks, neighbour and friend, Colonel Walter Herd (Retired,) emphatically referred to John R. Mills as a “Renaissance Man” citing his many and varied interests, talents, skills, abilities, and accomplishments, as well as his wide circle of friends drawn from across a wide spectrum of social and economic groupings. It should not surprise you that in true Renaissance fashion, John mentored Kraig (the “Poet Farrier” mentioned above,) and two other young apprentices, Albert and Brandon, in both the finer and coarser points of his chosen trade. He also helped set many others onto a better path in life, and enjoyed a special relationship with his “little brother,” Quinn.

And equally, Colonel Herd knew John to be a “man’s man.”  This designation might seem to be in contradiction to the Renaissance Man label but that is the reality – sometimes the Supreme Being doesn’t arrange character traits to be allocated in homogeneous bundles to individuals. So it was that John was at home with guns, knives,hatchets and axes. He forged and shaped serious throwing knives and axes – heavy ones that reinforced the feeling that you were holding something lethal in your hands. I doubt that there was a single grandchild, niece or nephew who ventured on the property who did not receive a lesson from John in throwing knives and axes.

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Target for throwing knives and axes Photo: Stan Marshall

It follows then that he also had no objection to hunting as a sport and he did make some forays into the hunting terrain beyond the fox hunt.

Colonel Herd also noted that John’s  experience in the mounted force of the Toronto Police Department demonstrated that John had the mental and physical toughness to face any adversarial situation.

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John doing what a man’s man does. Photo: unknown

 

Thoughts and memories

Whoever drafted the program for the Celebration of the Life of John R. Mills knew that each successive item on the program would raise the emotional quotient within the mourners exponentially, setting the stage for the final farewell.

Three members of the Mills’ and extended Mills’ family were given free rein to relay their thoughts on John’s passing and their memories of him through the years. I was privileged to join John’s son Christopher Mills and brother-in-law Gerald Smith (married to John’s sister, Wendy) to make some remarks. I found it a tough assignment to narrow my reflections to fit a tight schedule for the agenda and to give proper due to the man for whom we were all gathered. The following are my notes for trying to manage the impossible.

Notes on memories as delivered by Stan Marshall, brother-in-law

[Caveat: May not be exactly as delivered.]

It is an honour to say a few words on behalf of John’s sister Anne and our portion of the family (our daughters, Natalie, Sophie, Kristen, and Alexandra and their respective husbands and partners.)

John was Anne’s big brother and she tells me he was a pretty fine big brother … did the usual things that a big brother did with a little sister … rough housed and wrestled, teased, and told her stories … but did not throw knives as far as I am aware.

… And whenever she talks about him, it is clear to me that she witnessed the early development of an impishness and outright silliness that we all saw in the adult John R. Mills … later in life … and throughout his life.

Anne tells me that John read to her, told her stories and sang songs for her. This is not surprising. John loved a good story and he loved songs that told a story, like Big John, or maybe Stompin’ Tom Connors singing “Tillsonburg, Tillsonburg my back still aches when I hear that word” – in recognition of his tobacco picking days in Southern Ontario.

John loved a good re-hash of a true story especially one in which he was personally involved. But it had to stretch your imagination ….a story like one I just heard the other day …. And I am by no means recommending this action no matter how captivating the challenge may be …. A story about the early teenage John devising a plan to steal a steamroller and outrun the authorities….  Seems like a challenge. If you want to know how he was successful in doing exactly that, I am afraid you’ll have to find someone else to tell you the story … and the secret.

I think we all know that John was no fool. If something didn’t smell right in a story he had a way of wrinkling up his nose in a way that said “uh,uh” … and he scrunched up his face into a disbelieving look – that’s when you knew he was onto you and the gig was up.

He knew the essential difference between a story and a tale, but more importantly he knew when that difference, made a difference.

By the way, Anne has inherited that same skill and sometimes I see John’s scrunched up face of disbelief on Anne’s head, and that is when I know I am not fooling her or anyone.

Among our children Uncle John has long enjoyed legendary status as they recognized the qualities that made John R. Mills … well … John R. Mills. When asked to describe him in a word or two they use words like “silly, funny, jolly, happy, jovial, warm, creative, great personality.”

When pressed harder they volunteer, “Goofy in a way that is funny for kids and just as endearing now that I am an adult. “

One daughter says, “He reminded us that while being a grown up is hard, we can’t forget to have fun and try new things. “

I think John learned to be creative early in life and that it is hellishly fun to be creative – hellishly fun! You can see that as you look around this farmyard at the wide variety of “toys” he built using skill, knowledge, and problem solving abilities.

Both Anne and I are thrilled that their Uncle John with his personality and his creative vision has influenced our children in a positive way.

This influence was not always one of playing the “jokester.” One daughter says that she has “a cute memory” of a tender moment between John and the good Dr. Jacobs in the early days of their relationship …. a memory which our daughter now credits as instrumental to understanding that adults are permitted to show affection for one another. A good influence indeed!

However, I will leave it others to wax poetic about John in the role of “romantic lead.”

It is safe to say that the influence of John R. Mills on our collective children and indeed on Anne and me, ranges from the “goofy” e.g., hiding a rubber snake in their beds…. to the “fantastical,” the stories of his many adventures and escapades…. to the “creative,” his skills and talents as a craftsman, designer, draughtsman, artist … to the “socially adept,” his ability to connect with a wide range people from many different circumstances and stations in life … to the “sensitive and caring,” his underlying compassion for community, friends and family, no matter how thorny his exterior visage could be … to the romantic …. and back to the “silly” and “goofy” again.

I got to know John in a more in depth way at Wendy’s and Jerry’s cottage on Lake Kawawaymog in Ontario. We spent many an early morning looking out over the misty lake … ‘swapping a few lies.’ It is here that John provided inspiration to me – inspiration to hone the art of the raconteur, the storyteller – the art of knowing the small interstices within a story where the truth can be “massaged” or embellished for effect, or altered to ensure the lesson within the story is learned. I learned that I had to walk the edges of veracity carefully, because if I saw that “scrunched up disbelieving face” of John R. Mills, I had failed.

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The mist slowly lifts off Lake Kawawaymog in Ontario, Canada  Photo: Stan Marshall

It is also at Lake Kawawaymog that I began to understand John’s life and … why I fell in love with his sister … and her often scrunched up disbelieving face.

In part, it is because John and Anne share much of the same creativity and the same sense of whimsy.

Sometimes the simplest things say it all when it comes to silliness… clever silliness.

One day at the cottage, John heaved himself off the couch with great effort, almost leaving his feet as he stood up, raised his arms fully to the sky in his best victory pose, announcing in his best sportscaster’s voice, “He really stuck that landing,” as if awaiting huge applause from the crowd.

Silly? Yes.

Clever? Yes.

Words that will be repeated in our home forever? Yes.

Each of us here today will have similar, simple memories which will forever form our own individual gateway into the complex life of a husband, father, brother, uncle, and friend – John R. Mills.

 He is loved and missed

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Canoes pass in the early morning mist on Lake Kawawaymog  Photo: Stan Marshall

Speech by Christopher Mills, Son of John R. Mills

Christopher (Chris) has a wide variety of memories of his father but the ones that stick with him are the ones which highlight John R’s sense of humour – the funny stories, the desire to do things that are a little off beat. In this respect the apple has not fallen far from the tree and Chris is funny in a quirky sort of way himself. I often refer to Chris as “the funniest man on the planet” and he replies immodestly, “you mean the funniest man in the universe.” Chris has been on the edges of some very funny and creative endeavours and for a while was in a band that toured extensively in Europe. He can be spotted from time to time as an extra in one of Canada’s favourite TV shows, Murdock Mysteries.

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John and Christopher all clear for a hover over Lake Kawawaymog  Photo: Stan Marshall

Chris understands that the imperative in breaking new ground in any field is to take some chances. This is not inconsistent with his father’s approach to life I believe it is this trait that led Chris to be quite provocative in his address to the gathered mourners – particularly about the human half of the clientele of his father’s farrier business. The safe thing would be to say something like, “My father’s recipe for success was one part skill, one part personality, and one part business acumen.” Of course mixing this cocktail is not as simple as pouring scotch over ice  and adding a splash of water – something John had also mastered. In any case, Chris did not do the safe thing, he just laid it out there by revealing that in the latter years, in order to be a client of his dad’s farrier business, the owner must be notable in some way, have a quirky personality, be intelligent and inquisitive, or be a reservoir of inside information. It is hard to say what characteristic would tip the scales in your favour but you most certainly could not be average or dull. In fact, if you were not a client then you were just “boring.”

There was laughter at this point – but was it genuine funny laughter? Nervous laughter? Snorts of indignation? Embarrassed chuckles? Small breathy wry smiles? Who knows, but Chris’ provocation did set people to remembering John in multi-dimensional terms.  There was nothing one-dimensional about John R. Mills and there is nothing one-dimensional about his son, Chris Mills.

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Just some of the animals in John’s clientele?  Photo: Stan Marshall

Chris’ comments got me thinking about the time I accompanied John on his rounds and I had a chance to observe John at work. I think that Chris has not only hit the gathered grievers over the head with his observation that if you were no longer interesting enough, John did not make any extra effort to keep you as client, but he has hit the nail on the head in understanding the role of farrier. You see, John in many ways was a ‘curmudgeon’, which is just an interesting word for an ill-tempered crusty old man. Oh, he wasn’t a curmudgeon all the time, just when he wanted to be and he cultivated his image as that of a “lovable curmudgeon.” Being both lovable and a curmudgeon allowed him to ferret out the most fascinating information about people and to relay that information in story form to others. OK, this may just be a fancy way to say that he was a ‘gossip.’ Oh my, ‘gossip’ is such an ugly word in this context and many take it to mean, “spreading untrue rumours” but this definition is not one that describes John. In John’s case it is more accurate to say that a ‘gossip’ is someone who likes to talk about the private lives of others.

Remember earlier I said that the safe thing for Chris to say would be that the recipe for John’s success as a farrier included one part business acumen. Well, the farrier is a natural communication conduit, carrying information from client to client as he makes his rounds. For John to be successful, he had to use his business acumen (ability to understand and reason) to decide what information to pass on, when to pass it on, and to whom he should pass it. This communication of vetted information from reliable sources, especially in the days before social media, provided a valuable service to the community and accorded the farrier a certain amount of power and influence. It is hardly surprising then that the more interesting and fascinating the private lives of the owners, the better it was for business and the more interesting and often powerful his position became. In other words, no one should be shocked that John chose his clients using criteria that had nothing to do with the animals. He was just taking care of business.

Speech by Gerald Smith, Brother-in-law and Elder Statesman

Gerald (Jerry) Smith is married to John’s sister, Wendy, and that means he is one of the favourite brothers-in-law. Jerry is known to be worldly, sophisticated, educated, articulate, and erudite not to mention politically astute, community conscious, a friend and patron of the arts, a loving husband, father (Kerri) and stepfather (John E.), and respected by all. By virtue of these qualities and the fact that on his next birthday he will turn the page on three-quarters of a century, Jerry is most deserving of the honourific title of “Elder Statesman of the Extended Mills’ Family” (ESEMF).

The following paragraphs are the notes from Jerry on his remarks.

Three themes:

Being first born and only son (you, me and Christopher) [includes John R. Mills, Gerald Smith, Stan Marshall and Christopher Mills] shaped us when it comes to responsibility, caring and nurturing, patience . . .

John R. was more into the hunt than the kill; notwithstanding the boar shot with bow/arrow, or the snake skin on the wall, it was more about solving problems, figuring things out – witness the 2 hovercraft, recumbent (electric) bicycle, dog sled; witness cottage projects including solar power, 5.0 hp pump to get water from the lake, hot water shower system, learning to execute Eskimo roll in kayak AND the 7 hour boat!

Finally, our favoured toast – after scotch and before a great meal – ” family, friends, food!”

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Rowboat built for Wendy. Photo: Stan Marshall

Jerry captured the moment succinctly as usual – although at peril of disagreeing with the Honourable Elder Statesman, I don’t believe that John R. successfully executed the kayak rolI – at least not in the last five years. But … that is probably a debate, a question, and a story that will be told and re-told, hashed and re-hashed in the coming years. I bet that at this very moment there are some who would be willing to place a small wager that they personally witnessed John R. coming up out of the water in full body roll pose with the kayak, his round face spluttering, but smiling! Do I have any takers?

The horn and the pipes

The Hunt Club acts as a large (functional) family on occasions like this one. They have the leadership and organizational skills to muster their membership to coordinate with family and friends to meet the needs of any member of this ‘Hunt family’. Food and drink appear on cue; memorabilia, artifacts and inventions are displayed to great effect in the house and around the farm yard; the agenda is put together with care and its execution is seamless with other parts of the day; and when it is all over and the night has swallowed the last of the revellers … er mourners, the visible components of the day have disappeared and if one looks carefully around the farm many things including the hovercraft can be seen back in their assigned storage places. All food, dishes, warming plates, and heaters have disappeared. It brings to mind the old adage “Everything has a place and everything in its place.”

Before our emotions had fully settled following the poems penned by Kraig the farrier, the sob filled silence was broken by a long and mournful tone blown on the hunting horn by Alf Caldwell (LRH Huntsman, MFH*.) At the end of the wail, Alf calls out with a catch in his voice “Gone hhh oo   mmme” – traditionally signifying disappointment at the end of a long day’s hunt, but today poignantly marking the passing of John R. Mills.

Tears, sobs and sniffles ensue.

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Children love to play on the dog sled   Photo: Stan Marshall

In a tree’s shadow, slightly off to the side of the gathering, a lone piper stands just behind three of John’s creations (the electric bicycle, the hovercraft, and the dog sled) silently filling her pipes’ bag with air in preparation for a rendition of Amazing Grace, the immensely popular Christian hymn written by John Newton 242 years ago!

Amazing Grace is almost the perfect complement to the readings and message delivered earlier by the Rev. Joey Pusatari. The hymn seems chosen deliberately for its message that “forgiveness and redemption are possible regardless of sins committed and that the soul can be delivered from despair through the mercy of God.” This message resonates with hundreds of millions of people worldwide and it is no less resonant in Kentucky. The promise that the soul of John R. Mills will live on forever as a result his good works and kind heart, and that John, not a known church-goer, may indeed be granted salvation at this late hour, is greeted with tears of joy, and the only dry eyes are those fixed steadfastly to blades of grass on the ground.

The piper expertly transitions into a rendition of My Old Kentucky Home ** which signals that the celebration of John R. Mills’ life and accomplishments is to continue. I confess that the rush to the bar for more champagne (or scotch in my case) distracted me from noticing whether the piper expertly uses the last of the air in the pipes’ bag without the drones continuing past the end. I assume nothing less.

Reportage ends

To my knowledge there is no reportage of any behaviour, word or deed, subsequent to this moment as the gathering goes “in camera” and reporters and journalists are banned.

There is nothing left but for the party (for it is truly a party now) to continue in earnest as the breadth and depth of grieving has affirmed the first irrefutable fact that John R. Mills is dead.

It is only fitting that there is already a rumour that some stories (embellished or not, who knows?) from the “in camera” party have already leaked out, confirming the second irrefutable fact that John R. Mills is alive.

Time has a way of preserving the richness of the past so that great storytellers may convey it in the future. The richness that is John R. Mills lives on.


*LRH stands for Long Run Hounds which is the the second oldest recognized hunt club in Kentucky established in 1961. MFH stands for Master of Fox Hounds and that individual is in command of the hunt in the fields and in the kennels. Joseph “Alf” Caldwell has been the MFH for LRH since 2011.

** John R. Mills was born in Toronto, Canada and he remained a Canadian all his life. Kentucky though was his adopted home for approximately 30 years. He carried a deep love for both.

APPENDIX

 Obituary

john

John Robert Mills
1947 – 2016

Born October 9, 1947 to John Porter and Joan Whyte (nee Ross) Mills in Toronto, Canada. Stepson of Frances Mills. John died at home on Tuesday, November 8, 2016 surrounded by his “guys”, just as he wished.

Survived by his beloved wife, Dr. Madelyn Jacobs (nee Jackson) and his two children; Christopher David of Toronto and Annalea Juliet (Chris Harris) of Antigua, and his grandson and the light of his life, Marlin Mills Harris.

Loved by his sisters, Wendy Joan Smith (Gerald) of Toronto and Anne Frances Marshall (Stanley) of Ottawa, Canada, as well as nephew John Descheneau and nieces, Natalie and Sophie Malek, Kerridwen Smith and Kristen and Alexandra Marshall and his extended family, colleagues and friends.

An avid member of the Long Run Hunt Club, he truly valued those hunting friendships and shared memories. He spoke so highly and lovingly of Jeff and Ellen and Grace, Walter and Anne, Lisa and Tim, Marilyn and Uri, Jim Marcucci, Bruce and Shawna and Karen and Bill and Toody and Bruce. Margaret and Quinn held a special place in his heart. He deeply missed his friends David and Carroll. He loved his time cruising in his hovercraft with Hover Dave and enjoyed seeing the rivers of Kentucky and the northern Ontario lakes. He was a skilled farrier and teacher and master problem solver. He took great pride in the skills of Kraig, Albert and Brandon. Deeply intelligent, quirky and feisty, he will be missed.

The family would like to thank Dr. Dale Haller for his outstanding care and the wonderful nursing provided by his trio of Brianna, Dawn and Faith.

In lieu of flowers, the family would appreciate donations in John’s name to Big Brothers Big Sisters of Kentuckiana [http://www.bgckyana.org/]

Published in The Courier-Journal on Nov. 13, 2016 http://www.legacy.com/guestbooks/louisville/john-robert-mills-condolences/182484454?cid=full

© Stan Marshall (The PD Gardener)

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6 thoughts on “A Celebration of the Life of John R. Mills, Farrier, Renaissance Man, and Man’s Man

    • Thanks Miki. When it was unfolding I just knew that I had to write about it. But I am merely the scribe on this one. The Hunt and many other friends are responsible for the wonderful tribute to John. Stay well.

  1. That was an incredible read and a much appreciated
    recount of the memorial I sadly missed. I am so very sorry I was unable to meet Johns family and be there for my dear cousin Madelyn who “barn” raised me since I was a young girl. John made Madelyn happy and he was the best balance for her often misunderstood tyrates. John was the perfect partner for her and I loved him for that. Thank you for this – so very much.

    • I am pleased that I was able to provide some hint of the “flavour” of such an extraordinary day celebrating such an extraordinary life but, in truth, I was merely the scribe. Others made it all happen just as John and Madelyn made it happen in their relationship. I wish you all the very best, Stan

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