Bill Vastis is gone too soon.

I’ve needed to write this for about a month, but of course I’m behind. You’ll notice I haven’t written the post from Christmas, and that needs to be written too, but this needs to be written first.

Late last month, I got the shocking news that Bill Vastis had died. Bill was someone I met 20 years ago, and then would see from time to time over the years. He seemed to know everyone and had traveled everywhere. He had one of those personalities that drew everyone in. He was willing to try anything, and I don’t know a thing at which he didn’t excel.

I have to tell the story of how I met Bill, mostly because it’s a chance for me to make fun of myself. Almost 20 years ago, eek, I worked as a counselor at CNIB SCORE camp and he was our boss. I was still in high school, and when I told the folks at my high school that he was my boss, their response was “Oh I remember him. Hey! He might be shorter than you!” As I have said before, I’m kind of short. So I thought maybe he was a couple inches shorter than me. I thought nothing more about it.

On the day I met him, I came into a room full of chaos and people moving around. I heard someone say “Hi, I’m Bill,” and it sounded like he was sitting down. I opened my mouth to crack a joke about how he must be having fun greeting everyone from a wheely office chair when I heard an echo of a memory in my head. “He might be shorter than you!” I reeled my office chair joke in fast, and it’s a good thing I did, because Bill, at full height, was just over 4 feet tall. That would have been a terrible way to meet my boss.

It turned out he was not at all sensitive about his height, although if I had said that stupid thing, he probably would have just told me that no, this was his full height, and I would have felt really, really, really stupid. We went to Sportsworld as a fun activity when Sportsworld was still a thing, and Bill would gleefully ride the kids’ rides because those were the only rides he could get on. I remember him riding the fire engine and vigorously ringing the bell. I remember how he impressed everyone by reaching the very top of the climbing wall.

I remember one night, before we went to a Japanese restaurant, they were going to teach us how to eat with chopsticks. Maybe Bill was just a really good actor, but he told us that he didn’t know how to use chopsticks either, but he was going to learn. He struggled for a bit, and then he got it, and said “This is wicked!” and after that, he had it down. This was Bill in a nutshell. If he decided to learn something, he figured it out and rocked it. He seemed to enjoy all of whatever he set his mind to conquering.

I didn’t talk to Bill a ton over the years, but whenever I did, it was a fun and interesting conversation. He was always doing something or going somewhere interesting. When he passed away, I was amazed at how many people of all ages knew him and had a story to tell about how he impacted their lives. Going at 46 seems entirely too soon, but he sure filled that brief life.

Some Radio Retirements

Seriously, I’m getting old. The last few years have really driven that home. Everyone I grew up on seems to either be retirement age or dead now.

New to the retirement pile is Eddie Matthews, who has spent the last two decades or so as the morning guy at CJCS or Juice FM or whatever they’re calling it these days, but who I remember best from his time doing evenings at FM 96 in London during the 80s and 90s. He doesn’t hold the record (that belongs to either Joe Bowen or Tom Cheek I’m pretty sure), but for a while there his voice was quite often the last one I’d hear before falling asleep at night. He’s getting out of what’s left of the radio business to become the general manager of the Stratford and District Chamber of Commerce.

And then there’s Darryl Dahmer, who has announced his retirement from CFTR, where he had been doing traffic reports since 1973. My first memories of him and the also retired Russ Holden are as a very small child hearing them on my transistor radio and marveling at how cool it was that they got to fly helicopters and be on the radio at the same time.

I also learned something while I read a few articles about the two of them. Apparently the call letters CFTR stand for “Canada’s First Ted Rogers”. Makes sense, I guess.

Unfortunately, I do have to round this out by mentioning a dead guy. Doug Cameron, who did news in Hamilton for years before winding up his career on CKPC in Brantford, passed away a couple of weeks ago. I remember him best from his time at 820 CHAM. His voice always makes me think of driving around with my folks. I didn’t care for much of the country music CHAM played, but they had quite a few voices I was drawn to, including his.

Mildred Myrtle Ward-Ardiel June 22 1919-Jan. 22 2009

Apparently today is the tenth anniversary of the death of one of Gill’s grandmothers and she has a few words to say about it.

Grandmas are the best, and I’m extremely lucky to still have one.

I would like to take a moment out of the business of life to talk to you about someone important to me. As you can tell, I wrote her name on the top of this essay. She was my paternal grandmother, and on this date ten years ago her life race ended.

Who Was She?

Mildred Myrtle Ward-Ardiel was born at home in a blink and you’ll miss it farming community on June 22 1919. She was one of nine children, and her early years were spent in a hard scrabble farm life. When she was approximately ten-years-old one of her youngest sisters died of encephalitis. Due to the family’s poverty and the Great Depression she pretty much left school after eighth grade. She married my grandfather Keith Ardiel in July 1940 and settled in to a rural life. She had my uncle Harold in 1942, followed in short succession by my dad in 1943. In 1951 she welcomed my aunt Sandra into the family and the family was complete. Sadly in 1967 my grandfather had a massive stroke and passed on. She did find love once again with Ray Martin 1916-2000.

What Was she like?

She was loads of fun. I will always remember going to this neighborhood park near her home and tossing stones in a river. She was a fabulous cook! I’m not saying that because she was gran, but the homemade biscuits, turkey dinners, and ice cream sundaes made holidays and visits all the more special. She was stubborn. She didn’t want to go into a nursing home, even though she couldn’t remember to take her pills. She was cute. Standing at roughly five feet tall she held court for all of us six grandchildren, and would frequently surprise us with the things she would say, E.G. about seven months before her death my mom and I were visiting her at the home, and a soap opera happened to be on, she looked at the screen and with a perfectly straight face remarked, “they love to show their asses on that show.”

Conclusion

Sometimes around this time of year I get kind of sad, but I will always remember trips to the park, mini-golfing, and those irresistible pancakes.

A Miserable Day For Childhood Steve

2019 seems to be getting off to a rather 2016-like start on the celebrity death front.

Mean Gene Okerlund and Super Dave Osborne both died today. Both were 76 and awesome in their own ways.

Mean Gene is the best wrestling interviewer I’ve ever seen. He had a way of making bad promos decent and good ones better that we could really use in wrestling today. Even in the era of big personalities that he worked in, he always seemed to know how to react and stand out just right and just enough to be useful and memorable. He could also be pretty subtly funny for a guy whose job it was to be a straight man. I feel bad for all the kids today cutting promos to themselves and their friends. They don’t have an easy starting point like “Well ya know somethin’ Mean Gene!” to fall back on the way we did.

Also, have this video of him interviewing The Crusher, because it’s hilarious. Wrestling today needs more Crushers and more Mean Genes.

Speaking of hilarious, even though it was kind of a one note joke, I can’t think of too many times when Super Dave Osborne didn’t make me laugh. Everything from “Saskatchewan seal skin bindings” to him cursing out Mike Walden and the assistants after he’d been maimed always brings back happy family memories for me.



That last one isn’t great quality, but I’m glad I found it because it used to be my sister’s favourite when she was little. I’m pretty sure somewhere my mom still has an old VHS tape of her dancing along to it on TV.

So Long, Aunt Merle

I should at least do this in the right year.

I don’t know if I wrote about my one great-aunt much. It doesn’t look like I did. She lived across the street from my grandma and they used to go back and forth pretty regularly. She was single her whole life, and seemed to enjoy her freedom, travelling a lot and having a good time. My mom would tell us stories about the trips she took with her and some of her great-aunts when she was a kid.

Eventually, My great-aunt needed to move out of her house and go into a retirement home. This was something she knew she had to do, but she didn’t like letting go of her house and some of her independence. Then, my grandma moved into the same home, so at least they were close to each other.

Sadly, they didn’t get to have long together. My great-aunt passed away at the end of November. It was so sudden that it didn’t feel real and still kind of doesn’t.

I’ll definitely miss the phone calls. I couldn’t go visit her often, but I called her every week or two. She would always ask for updates on us and tell me about the goings on there, at least what she knew. She usually mentioned something that made me laugh. She had a sense of humour, right up until the end. She was also brutally honest about how she was feeling. Although it was hard to hear, I appreciated that she didn’t try to sugar-coat it. She didn’t mind letting me in on the squabbles she was having with my grandma. Being sisters, they tended to disagree a lot. One of the last times I got to call her, after saying the usual “Hello. How are you?” she launched into proclaiming “Your grandma’s a kook!” After I stopped laughing, I got the story of what was going on. I don’t think she was as kooky as she thought, but it sounded like she was having one heck of a time.

She was determined that one day, they would fix my eyes. I had explained to her many times that fixing my eyes would be super risky and I probably wouldn’t go for it because I had never been able to see, and every time it seemed llike she understood, but whenever I saw her again, she was convinced that some day I would be able to have my sight. It was sweet, she just wanted us all to be healthy, so I stopped trying to explain things to her and I just smiled.

I’m glad I got to visit her recently. I heard some funny stories about her being a kid, things I had never heard before. If I understand it, somehow she got stuck in a turnip truck. At least she didn’t fall off the turnip truck, but it sounds like that would have been a scary few minutes.

It’s weird losing more people that have always been there. This one especially makes me realize that it’s impossible to know when you’re going to lose someone, so we shouldn’t assume we’ll always have more time.

So Long To The Dynamite Kid

John Pollock of PostWrestling.com has done a very good story about the life of the Dynamite Kid. It’s hard to write about a life and career like his since Tom Billington was equal parts one of the most influential wrestlers of all time and complete fucking prick, but I think this is about as good a summary as a person could do without straying too far in one direction and downplaying the other.

The life of Tom Billington has ended. With 60 years to unpack, his story was one that was as punishing and brutal as the style he performed that left audiences in amazement while simultaneously accelerating his deterioration.
When the crowd disappeared, the money dried up, and the bill arrived for the price he put his body through, Billington was a broken down man, confined to a wheelchair before his 40th birthday. He found his passion and calling in professional wrestling, carving out a legacy that is both complex and disputed depending on the person you speak with.
Bret Hart once compared Billington to baseball legend Ty Cobb, a miserable and reprehensible human being who was also one of the great baseball players of all-time.
In his 1999 “Pure Dynamite” biography that he worked on with journalist Alison Coleman, Billington presented a dark and disturbing tale of his life with no stone left unturned and a refusal to sanitize the path he left behind. It was brutally honest. What set the book apart was its ability to force its readers into a state of discomfort, forcing them to sort out Billington’s legacy and complicated story.

For every classic match and death-defying maneuver Billington put forward, there were equal stories of torturous ribbing, bullying, maniacal pranks designed to cause harm over laughter, and constant tales of drug abuse and domestic violence.

There are also quite a few match and highlight videos throughout, in case you’ve never seen his work or would still like to relive it. The Life and Death of Tom “Dynamite Kid” Billington, dead at age 60

Gill Remembers A Family Friend

Our condolences to Gill and anyone else who knows this lady.

In Memory of Leona Knott Oct. 26 1928-Nov. 24 2018

I was getting my breakfast ready when a family friend called to inform me that someone who had been a large part of my childhood had past on.

A Good Neighbor

When I was little I would often go to this lady’s house to spend days, or overnights while my parents went out, went to work, or from what I was told, when my sister was born. Like me she lived on a farm, and had lots of things to do in and outside of the house.

Mispronounced

When my sister and I were tiny children Leona had a piano. I loved banging out what I thought to be wonderful Carnegie Hall level performances. I didn’t realize that my sister also needed time to bang out those works of art. She couldn’t say “Leona` or “piano` so she would say “Lona I wanta play the plano.”

A Wall Of Faith

By now you probably know that church was a part of my life since I was small, and whenever I would go to Leona’s house she would take me to her church. This morning my dad remarked that he wasn’t sure what the United Church would do with out Leona’s cooking, organizing, and other talents.

Some Little Kid Memories Of Nikolai Volkoff

There haven’t been as many So Long posts lately as there used to be, and that’s intentional. To be quite honest, I don’t particularly enjoy writing them. Some folks, even when you appreciate whatever it was they did, just don’t inspire a whole lot of words or draw out much in the way of specific memories or good stories. And judging from the statistics many of you seem to enjoy the reading end of them almost as much, so making the decision to cut back on them has been a pretty easy one. But there’s no way I’m not making an exception for Nikolai Volkoff.

I was not a Nikolai Volkoff fan back in the day, because I was a little kid, it was the 1980s and Russians were bad. The more things change, right? But you would never have known I wasn’t a Nikolai Volkoff fan given that one of my 6-year-old self’s favourite pastimes was sitting on the swings in my back yard, belting out the Russian national anthem Nikolai style at the top of my lungs.

Sadly, that video is not of me. As far as I know, unless Joe McCarthy has it, no video or audio exists of me doing this. But to this day my mom still jokes that it’s a wonder we’re still allowed in the country whenever somebody brings it up.

As much fun as I had with it though, that damn anthem almost scared me out of my first live wrestling experience. I can’t remember the date, but it was at the old London Gardens somewhere around late 1986 or early 1987. I was super excited about going, but in the back of my mind, there was a problem. What if Nikolai Volkoff was on the show, and what if he wanted us to please rise and respect his singing of the Russian national anthem? I knew from sports and school that you were always supposed to stand for an anthem as a sign of respect, but I also knew from the news and wrestling and just about everywhere else that Russians were bad. What if I stood up and the people near me got mad? Or even worse, what if I didn’t stand up and Nikolai caught me? Either way I was in trouble, and the last thing I wanted was to get in trouble. As the days went bye and the show got closer, more than once I thought about asking somebody what I should do or even faking an illness because although I’d miss out on something I was hugely looking forward to, it would be better than death by angry Sheik and Volkoff. But somehow I managed to keep my mouth shut and my fear in check, deciding that I’d do whatever everyone else did and if Nikolai didn’t like it, dad and our neighbour would protect me. Thankfully I didn’t have to test that theory, because Nikolai almost certainly would have destroyed both of them had he been on the show, which he wasn’t.

Man did I ever love that Wrestling Album. The way most kids are about watching the same movie over and over again, that was me with the Wrestling Album. Pretty sure I wore out a record and a tape listening to it alone, subjecting my family to it, wrestling with my friends while it was on in the background, using it for theme music while I played with my figures…that reminds me of one more story, actually.

I don’t remember what the occasion was, but somebody gave me Nikolai Volkoff and Iron Sheik thumb wrestlers as a gift one time.

I was pretty happy, but I couldn’t help but wonder out loud who they were supposed to wrestle. Somebody in the room gave what she thought would be the obvious answer, “each other.” So I had no choice but to explain to this obviously uneducated person that this wouldn’t be possible. There’s no way Sheik and Nikolai would wrestle each other, because they’re tag team partners. Luckily I got a Junkyard Dog one either that same day or not long after, so I was able to book handicap matches in living rooms and bedrooms all over the province. So if you’ve ever seen me go off about some stupid, illogical wrestling thing and wondered is this guy ok? The answer is yes. This attention to detail stuff is not new.

I don’t have a favourite Nikolai Volkoff match, but aside from Big John Studd lifting me way up in the air when I met him in a parking lot, he’s in a lot of my favourite earliest wrestling memories and I’m pretty sad that he’s gone.

Rest in peace, Nikolai. I promise I’ll stand for the anthem next time, even if Russians are bad.

Goodbye To Trixie

Trixie takes a treat out of Brad's mouth.
Mmmmm…mouth treat.

Brad, who it can’t ever be said too many times did an amazing job of taking care of Trixie during the last 5 years of her life, has some words to say about her and what happened at the end.

Some of what I’m going to write here I know Carin has already written, but I feel like I need to say it, too. Bear with me if some of it overlaps.

As you likely know, on the 21st of February, Trixie passed away due to what seemed like a very short battle with cancer. I say very short because, in January, we were still going about like nothing was different. During that warm spell in the middle of the month, we were actually able to get out on the trails and get one of those 5 KM loops that Trix loved so much in. She was so happy to be out, off her leash and able to go around in circles, sniff stuff, catch up again, then run ahead a little ways. Like I said, it was basically business as usual.

Trixie smiling as she runs on a hill with Brad.
About a week after that, we were out for a walk around the neighbourhood. It had cooled off and was snowing and the ground was freezing again. Trix slipped on a patch of ice and almost fell. We stopped a minute while she got sorted and I made sure all was alright. We finished the walk, seemingly none the worse for wear. She seemed fine after that, and the entire thing was basically forgotten. She did slow down a bit, and we even took a couple days off walking, because she didn’t seem to be moving as well. She was limping a bit on her left front leg. I figured, well, she slipped, maybe pulled a muscle, right? Well, maybe she did, maybe she didn’t.

Seemingly overnight, she developed a rather large lump on that left shoulder, right on top. I thought back to her slip from a few days ago and figured it was just left from that, but called the vet just to make sure. Trix didn’t seem to be in any pain from this lump. I could touch it; push on it a bit, nothing. It was hard as a rock and had no give to it at all. That’s what made me think it was a bone. It felt just like one.

Unfortunately, when I called, my vet was away on vacation, and would not be back for a few more days. I booked a time when she would be back, and hoped for the best. They asked if she seemed to be in pain and I said it didn’t look like it. I had some pain medicine left from her toe amputation back in the Fall, and they said I might try it just to be sure that nothing was bothering her. I did. Nothing changed. She grew a little more lethargic. I called the vet back to keep them in the loop, but our appointment was still a couple days off.

Trixie laying on her bed in Brad's living room.
She began to seem terrified of the stairs, and I would have to help her down them. She could go up on her own. Keep in mind; this is all in about a week’s time. By about the fourth day, she needed help both up and down the stairs. The pain meds weren’t making a difference. When not on the stairs, Trix seemed like herself. She still wanted to go walking, but I kept it down to a block or two, just enough to get her out and moving. Usually, she hated when I shortened walks, but she was ok with it this time.

Monday of that week was Family day. We went for what would prove to be our last walk. We went out around the block. One block. This was by Trix’s choosing. She sniffed everything, just like always. She went straight to bed after her post-walk treat. She slept until supper. Another thing, she was eating just fine. Nothing wrong with her appetite at all.

Brad and Trixie as the sun sets.
The next day it was back to work for me. Trix didn’t seem keen on our block walk, so we didn’t go. I took her outside before I headed out. I had to help her both in and out. She seemed very tired, too. One of my neighbours often stops by to let Trix out and feed her in the evenings while I’m working. I didn’t know until the next morning when I checked my email that Trix hadn’t been interested in her supper. The neighbour said it took about fifteen minutes for her to decide to come out and eat it.

The next morning when I went down and was getting her breakfast ready, she didn’t come roaring out like she always did for food. I made it up, and then went in to see what was going on. I told her it was breakfast time, but she didn’t seem overly interested. I helped her up, and we slowly, very slowly tottered out to the kitchen. She ate, very slowly, then I literally carried her out to do her business. She wasn’t interested in making her daily circuit of the yard. She was out to pee, and no more. I carried her back in, and she lay down right away. Our vet appointment was still one day away, but I knew something was really not good. I called them. They said they were booked right up, but to bring her right in anyway. I called around for a few minutes and found a ride. Deep inside, I think I knew she might not come home. I don’t know how, it was just a feeling.

Brad and Trixie on the floor by a fireplace.
I lay down on the floor with her, and we had one of our little chats. It was fairly one sided, but I told her I was worried about her, and that she didn’t seem right. She just licked my cheek and put her head on my arm. I couldn’t help it, I lost it. Meltdown 1.0 was in session.

When we got to the vet, she walked in the front door. They took one look at her and said, “Whoa!” There was no waiting around for our time. She went straight on the scale. I knew she’d lost a little weight, but I was floored when they said she was down ten LBS from Christmas. She had been a very lumpy beast for quite a while, so her ribs weren’t that easy to feel. She had a lot of those fatty tumours. Harmless they always said.

We headed for the exam room. They did a blood test right away to check organ function. Results came back fine. All systems firing fine. They did have an awful time getting any blood for the test, though. This worried not only me, but them as well.

They wanted to do x-rays. It was obvious that something was drastically wrong, but the blood test didn’t show it. Of course I said go for it. We have to figure this out.

After about 25 minutes, the vet was back with the x-ray. She said it looked like something that looked like a kidney was putting pressure on her intestines, but couldn’t tell with that angle. I remember asking if that meant that something else was displacing the kidney. She said it probably did.

They wanted another x-ray from a different angle. The vet suspected that Trix had a tumour somewhere in her abdomen. She couldn’t see it, but she was pretty sure that was what it was.

They did another x-ray. It still didn’t show the tumour, but things weren’t aligned like they should be. They brought Trix back up to the room where I was waiting. She was absolutely exhausted. They carried her down to the basement for the x-ray, and back up after it. They set her on the floor by me, and she sat down, and then just lay down. She was exhausted. We talked a bit more. The vet said there was nothing they could really do. Trix had a bleeding tumour in her abdomen, which would explain the lethargy, and the difficulty getting a sample. Her heart was beating very fast, which were all signs of internal bleeding. The only thing to do would be to put her down. Meltdown 2.0 hit me like a freight train. I had suspected something bad when we went there. I think I even knew this would happen in the back of my mind, but, no matter how prepared you think you are for that news, you’re not ready when they come out and say it.

After I sort of pulled myself together, I asked if they could come to the house early Friday afternoon and put her down. I didn’t know this was something they offered, but apparently it was.

She needed to be carried to the truck, as she could no longer stand. I guess the additional blood needed for the test drained her. I lifted her out of the truck when we got home, and she walked with me to the backyard. I figured she may as well pee while we were out there anyway, and save another trip out. She tried to burrow in to a big pile of garden waste bins and other junk my neighbour has between my fence and his house. She has never done that before. I fished her out and guided her in to the back yard. Instead of going to the bathroom, she headed down the yard, and crawled in under some wood in the back corner. I knew then that this was it. I know firsthand that dogs often go off alone when they are ready to die. I unlocked the door, fished Trixie out of the wood pile, and carried her in to her bed. She didn’t even seem to be completely with it at this point. I knew it would be pointless to make her hold on until Friday.

I called Carin to let her know what was happening, and asked if she could make it down that afternoon. As you know from her post, she did, thanks to a great coworker. I called the vet back and explained everything. They said they would be there at three that afternoon.

Those two hours were the longest I had ever spent. I spent most of them laying on the floor next to Trix’s bed just petting and talking to her. I don’t know just what all I said, but I think I told her everything, including what was going to happen and why. She gave me a couple licks, but that was about it.

By the time carin and the vets got there, Trix was in some sort of other world. I don’t think she even knew anyone was there at all. She was lying there, breathing like she was asleep. Carin said her goodbyes, and even got Trixie’s puppy raiser on the phone for one last goodbye. To their credit, the vet and her assistant waited patiently and gave us all the time we needed.

Trixie on a beach as the sun sets behind her.
When the time came, I sat with Trix, with her chin in my hand, just like she often did. They took another couple minutes trying to find a vein with enough pressure to inject the sedative in. It was quick. One second I could feel her breath on my wrist and the usual way her head felt in my hand. The next, she was gone. The breathing stopped, and her head was heavy in my palm. I put her head down on the bed again and just sat, petting her and talking a little. After that, the vet and her assistant carefully rolled her in a blanket, gave me a hug, and took Trixie out to their car.

Carin and I just sat and talked. What do you do when something like this happens? We talked about all the different things Trixie had done, funny, strange, and downright weird.

Trixie in a lei.
I forget what I did after that. The house just seemed so empty. It still does.

I’m sorry this turned out so long, but I wanted to get everything down so you all would know what happened. I didn’t expect it to be this hard to write, though. I’ve had to stop a couple times to blow my nose and dry my eyes. I guess some things are harder to get over than you think. Even a month later, I still get asked at least twice a week where my dog is, and I have to tell the story, the abridged version, again and again.

Brad and Trixie at a creek.
Trixie, you were a great dog, and I will always love and miss you. I’ll never forget all the great times we had, the places we wandered, and the times we got lost in the bush together. So long, friend.

Maybe Tomorrow, They’ll Put Him In The Ground


The Littlest Hobo theme song is a strong contender for best television related musical composition in history, and I will fight anyone who says differently. Even if you don’t remember anything about the show to which it belongs, odds are you remember the tune. And if you don’t burst into song or at least smile a little when you hear it, I think it may be time to get yourself checked out.

Seriously, I love this song. So I got a bit sad today when I heard that John Crossen, who along with Terry Bush was responsible for bringing it to the world, had died.

It is with the saddest of hearts that I pass along the news that my soulmate, the love of my life, my husband, John…

Posted by Deb Crossen on Thursday, March 22, 2018

Without Googling I couldn’t name another John Crossen song, but if you have to be remembered for only one, it doesn’t get much better than this.