Eric Norman was a giant in my mind. Even seated in a wheel chair, his presence was large but in the best of ways.
He was calm and thoughtful and one of the best spoken men I’ve met. He loved learning which made him an excellent mentor to others in his role at the school board office. When I met Eric I had only been teaching for a couple of years and Eric was representing the school board on a committee for Peace Education. I learned so much from him and admired him greatly. He was reasonable and fair. I felt privileged to get to spend time working with him and learned lessons from him that I used for the rest of my career.
In addition to being a teacher, mentor, father and grandfather, Eric was also a scholar and a passionate believer in the importance of the arts and culture of Newfoundland. His closest circles included poets and authors of prose, song writers, actors and artists. He was an editor to Ray Guy’s writings among other roles he played.
In concert with some of these talents, he became involved in a winter performance series that evolved into The March Hare. A series of readings and songs by local and visiting presenters that traveled across Newfoundland in the harshest of weather, The Hare now travels as far as Toronto and was even hosted in New York City this year.
It was fitting that when the Hare established Gander as a tour stop, the event would eventually be named Eric’s Time, after the man himself.
It is also fitting, 10 years after his death, almost to the day, that the room was not only filled with family, friends, former co-workers and students but also some of the best of Newfoundland’s writers and musicians.
A Time it was indeed.
Last night was the 15th Hare in Gander and the audience was a blend of a hundred regular and new attendees that held a circle tightly around a table with Eric’s wife Roxena who was surrounded by her children and grandchildren, including Eric the second and his lovely twin sister. Eric’s spirit also filled the room.
Rex Brown, one of the Original Three who established the Hare in Gander read from poems by the late Al Pittman. Pittman, Brown and Norman were the creators of the Gander’s Hare event.
Bishop Stewart Payne read from his book Cut From the Cloth of Fogo. His recounts of experiences as a young teacher and clergy we both humorous and tragic at times. He was teacher or preacher in many communities in Newfoundland and Labrador.
This book would be a great read for anyone wanting to learn about Newfoundland’s recent history and traditions. He spoke of the six hour boat trip from Fogo Island to Lewisporte and of a kindly crew member Don Decker. I suspect this was ‘my’ Don Decker from Joe Batts Arm who showed me much kindness when I visited him and his wife Hilda in the early days of my own visits to Fogo Island. A special connection for me to the evening.
Poets from Newfoundland and away read from their works.
Monica Kidd from Calgary explained she had lived in Gander for a short period of time while doing medical internships. She selected poems related to her feelings towards Gander and read a poem written that day as a result of being hosted in Renews a few nights earlier where she also performed in The March Hare. As a medical doctor, her stories of experiences in various Newfoundland communities made her seem to be home rather than from away.
Poet Tom Dawe did an emotional tribute to artist Gerry Squires, another Hare regular who passed away this year. Tom told loving stories of their co-operation in creating their works and seeking help from each other for ideas and critiques. Each poet read several selections from their works, Dawe included.
Flannery is a young adult novel by Lisa Moore. Her reading was delightful and enjoyed immensely at my table. I really wonder if Flannery got to go to the dance?
Actor Andy Jones read from a text that resembled the Ti-Jean stories I learned about in French folklore classes. In Andy’s version, Jack’s adventures were very much a retelling of a Shakespearian tragedy and Jones keep both a heart break and body count on a flipped notebook with pages pre-numbered by his wife.
Four heart breaks and three dead bodies…..so far.
New talent this year was Kacie Callahan who has an amazing voice and style. She sang original songs with family proudly situated in the front row. I look forward to hearing her again soon. Hear her song Autumn, below.
It’s not Eric’s Time if there are not Byrnes and Warehams playing. My new treat was hearing Linda Byrnes and I loved that she sang The Dali Lama’s Candle by Eric Boggle. Gander’s Arts and Culture Centre has featured many amazing shows and Eric Boggle’s was a favorite of ours. With her husband Joe Byrne they also sang an Alistar McGilvary song.
This is a social group and each performer was comfortable in the room. Dave Paddon’s recitations were perhaps my favorite part as I hadn’t heard either before. Bingo Bear and Supernan was so much fun that we have yet another new road trip cd. His tribute to Fog was hilarious and reminded me again of the Ti-jean story telling tradition.
Local poet Steve Rowe’s poem called The Doctor and his tribute to his father in describing his pocket knife were memorable too. Gander audiences are quiet and appreciative. They sit quietly between songs and poems and I’ve seen seasoned performers almost un-nerved by this at the Arts and Culture Centre. At The Hare, songs and poems are followed by nods of approval rather than rounds of applause. Appreciation is shown at the end of a performance only.
The evening continued with the Warehams. Baxter on the accordion and his nephew Leeland on guitar and mandolin performed recitations and songs and ‘tunes’.
Bringing the evening full circle was Matthew Byrne. We’ve seen Matthew perform several times and knew Joe and Linda were his parents. I did not know that Eric Norman was his god-father and hearing Matt speak of sitting at the Norman table hearing the stories and songs brought my fond memories of Eric right back.
I’d visited the Norman house a few times and can only imagine the fullness of the giant that was Eric with the passion of his talented friends and families in that loving environment.
It was indeed a time, Eric.