It has to be a true story, and it has to be a short story. After that, it can be anything at all. After that, it’s up to you.
They say “No News is Good News,” but when this past September came and went without an update on your health or statement on the possibility (or lack thereof) of a 2016 Vinyl Cafe Christmas Concert, I was quietly gutted (while hoping against hope that I was being paranoid).
When your “So Long for Now” statement was published on your Facebook page in the beginning of winter, I sat down on the kitchen floor and cried. I’ve never cried for a celebrity or public figure before. I was upset that you didn’t record your short essay because my heart told me that I’d never hear your voice bringing us new words again. I was upset because you wanted to make space for new talent when I wasn’t finished soaking up your talent.
The writing was most definitely on the wall, but I wasn’t anywhere near ready to read the news that several people shared to my Facebook account this afternoon. I had feared that it was coming, but I wasn’t ready for it to be today, a Wednesday. The headline was cold, so short, so un-Stuart.
Stuart McLean dead at 68
The tributes trumpet you as a best selling author, award-winning journalist and humorist, and host of CBC Radio program, The Vinyl Cafe, but this loss feels bigger than that. You are the neighbour with whom we wit on the porch with drinks in hand, shooting the breeze on hot summer evenings. You are my favourite teacher who instilled in me not just a love of storytelling, but a passion for community and positivity. You are the family friend that the kids would call “Uncle Stuart.”
You joined us for long car rides, sat at our dinner table for Sunday lunches and became an integral part of our Christmas traditions. We were so proud to introduce you to all of our friends, and even more proud when you introduced the world to our friends Ash & Bloom (a moment I had been anticipating – and lobbying for – for almost a decade).
Back when we had actual non-digital radios in our house in the earlier years of our marriage, my husband and I had an unwritten rule: the radio does not get turned off when Stuart McLean is on. This became an issue on Tuesday nights when we were climbing into bed and getting ready for the next day. Every night as I set my alarm for the next morning, I’d turn on the radio to make sure that the volume wasn’t going to give me a heart attack when the alarm went off. Normally it wasn’t an issue, it was just a quick 5 second on and off, then lights out and time for sleep. On Tuesday nights though, invariably I’d turn it on and before I had the chance to adjust the volume, there you were. It was a repeat of the show that we had heard at the Saturday morning breakfast table and at the Sunday afternoon lunch table, but there was that rule: the radio does not get turned off when Stuart McLean is on. So, my husband and I would snuggle up and listen to the show for a third time in less than a week.
I can’t count the number of times I fell asleep after listening to your show composing letters for the Story Exchange in my head. “Dear Stuart,” I’d think, hearing you voice my imaginary letter in my head, “Dear Stuart. It’s funny how much time you can spend talking to a person without realizing that neither of you have understood a lick of what the other person is saying.”
My stories always sounded much wittier in your voice.
This past year, our kids, only 4 and 6, have really gotten into your stories. When they hear the Vinyl Cafe theme song, Happy Meeting in Glory, they drop their Lego and come running. “Did we miss it, mom? Did it just start, or did it already end? Can you play it again for us?”
Hendrik, who I think you would really get a kick out of, spent his daily summer rest times sprawled on the hammock in the back yard with the Bose speaker beside him, listening to you spin your tales about Dave and Morley. How you managed to delight and captivate 6 year olds and 60 year olds at the same time with the same story, I’ll never know.
For years, the theme across your essays, in your stories, in the Arthur Awards, and in the letters you and your team selected for the Story Exchange, has been “The Coming Together of the Many.” The coming together of the many, of the few, of the people across this country in various walks of life, in various forms of employment, in various stages of life. The people who, together, penny by nickel, raise money for a new piano for a rebuilt concert hall. The people who gather together to support a member of the community who needs help. You have shined a light on the good. You have declined to focus on the fear-mongering THEY, turning instead to the ever-inclusive WE.
You introduced us to little corners of out of the way towns in the prairies and on the coasts. You allowed us to join you on your trips across the country and introduced us to Canadians we needed to meet. You are responsible for 60% of the music that I now listen to. The Good Lovelies, Danny Michel, Chic Gamine, John Sheard, The Wailin’ Jennys, and on and on.
Thank you, Stuart, for sharing your gifts with our country. Thank you for asking us to be better. Thank you for giving us the opportunity to smile and laugh together. Thank you for shining your spot light on the everyday good in everyday Canadians across the country. Thank you for introducing us to Dave and his family, and for sharing so much of yourself with us. Thank you for inspiring so many people to create.
You’re leaving behind a pretty big hole in our hearts, Stuart. It was an absolute pleasure to have you in our lives and in our home.
As you had us all sing on your one of your many tours,
I’ll fly away
To that home on God’s celestial shore
I’ll fly away
I’ll fly away in the morning
When I die, Hallelujah by and by
I’ll fly away