In Memoriam, Edward D. Sullivan (1930 – 2016)

Train Tracks on a Bridge
Train Tracks on a Bridge, by Unsplash

I don’t usually use my blog to talk much about my personal life. The details of the life I lead are fairly boring. I try to live simply and happily, I find that the two go hand in hand. But today I finally learned of the passing of a friend, and wanted to tell his story here In Memoriam.

When I first moved to my current apartment in 2007 it was in the middle of December. I had yet to learn the ins and outs of my own apartment when a massive blizzard hit. My wife was on her way home from work, & I was worried that you would not be able to get in the driveway if it wasn’t properly shoveled. Unfortunately for me, the lock that I had on the door at the time had a trick to it that I didn’t know about: it would lock automatically even if I turned off the auto lock unless I did so in just the right manner. I went out into the cold wrapped up in warm clothes to shovel the driveway, but left my keys inside. I round up locked out of my house in 20 degree below zero temperature and blowing snow.

I tried to keep warm by staying in my tool shed for a while, but it was too drafty and hypothermia was about to set in. I I had no money, as my wallet was with my keys, and the nearest diner that still has electricity was over a mile away. It was then that I noticed that there was a light on on in a single house on my street, and so I walked up to the door and knocked, and that is how I met Ed. It’s quite probable that Ed saved my life that day. I certainly believe that he did. My wife got caught up in the blizzard, and didn’t get home for another several hours. He made me a cup of coffee to warm me up, and set me down in his living room and we chatted for hours on end, until my wife finally made it home.

Edward Douglas Sullivan was born in 1930 to porl Irish Catholic parents in New Brunswick. He was the seventh of thirteen children. When he was nine years old, his father drowned in a fishing accident, and his mother spent every waking moment doing laundry, baking, sewing, and cleaning neighborhood houses in order to earn enough to feed all of her children. Ed told me that he remembered having to go out wearing slippers in lieu of shoes some years, and that the highlight of his month was going to the barber, because the kindly old barber and his neighborhood would let him work off the haircut rather than demand money. That and the old fellow gave out lolly pops too young customers; those were the only sweets that Ed tasted as a child.

When it was 15, he had planned on lying about his age in joining the army, so that he would no longer have to stay at home, and could send some money back to his family. The war ended before he managed to enlist, however. Instead, Ed came out to Oshawa in 1946 how long as back then you could always come to this city to find factory work. Unfortunately, the new unions that were forming in Canada at the time were strict about age, and Ed couldn’t find work in the factories in Oshawa. He ended up going to a work camp in Northern Ontario to lay railroad track for a couple of years.

During the summers of those years, he would ride the rails. He rode the trains across the border into the United States ended migrant work at farms and warehouses in the Midwest. In 1949, he was arrested for vagrancy in the United States. Without any official legal documentation of his identity, the courts refused to believe he was a foreign citizen, and sentenced him to several years in jail on whatever charges the judge and sheriff thought were appropriate at the time.

During his stay in prison in the United States, Ed taught his fellow inmates how to read, and what few working skills he managed to pick up in his time as a drifter. He work to keep peace among his fellow inmates as best I could. Eventually, his good deeds in prison paid off. A fellow inmate, whom Ed had taught to read – and protected from another violent conduct came into some money, and paid a lawyer to help Ed file an appealk. After nearly a year in jail, ed was returned to Canada within a week of his friend putting forth the money.

Following his return, Ed was finally able to find work in Oshawa. Because he’d been born with big toes where he ought to have had thumbs, and after a childhood accident ended up with an arm with brittle bones, he wasn’t suited for most of the factory work of the time; he was a hard worker, and eventually became a specialist in transporting cars for General Motors. Ed would drive all over Canada and the United States, delivering special custom cars, motorhomes, and truckloads of car parts.

In the mid 50’s, he tried to settle down, and married wild girl with an artistic temperament. Ed’s luck in love was even worse than his luck as a drifter. The woman he married cheated on him from day one. She managed to convince him to let her keep her apartment across town, and buy an automobile in her name. She use the apartment and the car to keep and sneak around with a few lovers on the side. After two years of marriage, one of his wife’s lover is accidentally killed a teen girl in a hit and run. The lover had to flee to the Northwest Territories, and invited Ed’s wife along. Ed came home that week to an apartment that have been emptied out of everything valuable, even most of the furniture. A Dear John letter was all that was left in the living room.

Ed gave up on serious relationships after that. He had a few girlfriends now and then, but was, as he put it, just as happy without women in his life. His work in automotive transport kept him busy, and even led to a few adventures, like taking a wrong turn and accidentally rolling into a marijuana farm, then agreeing to do the farmers a favor in order to get out of that situation alive.

In 1985, and bought himself a house in cash, took an early retirement and settled down to wait to die.

By the time we became friends, and had been alone and out of touch with the world for nearly 15 years. He would listen to the CBC news on the radio for an hour a day, took care of his house and lawn, and slept most of his days away. This lonely old man who had saved my life became, for a few years, an important part of my own daily routine. Every day or two, I would go over to Ed’s place just to shoot the breeze. The company did him some good. I would occasionally look things up on the computer for him. He had never seen a computer, and wasn’t familiar with the Internet, when we first started spending time together. I was able to find music and television shows from his youth, and transfer them to take so I could listen to or watch them.

Other days, and would come over to my place. We shoot the breeze for an hour before I got to work in the morning just to give him something to do.

As Ed grew older and weaker, he lost his drivers license. I hope to make arrangements for Meals on Wheels, and help from social workers. I would take him on bus rides across town to the department store, so they could buy replacement pots and pans when something broke. Eventually, Alzheimer’s began to set in, & I help him set up a system to keep track of what bills he paid, and what bills he hadn’t. I also helped him revert his will after a con-artist ex-coworker tricked him into signing a new will in which the co-worker got everything.

For what it was worth, Ed had unbelievably good money sense, he taking his retirement money and invested it very wisely. In fact, by the time I had started helping him manage his finances, he didn’t understand it just how well off he had become. Well he lived humbly off of fried fish and oatmeal, he had nearly a million dollars in savings and investments.

Dementia, whatever its cause, is terrifying to watch, however. My friend begin to lose track of how old he was, where he lived, who was alive and who was dead. He sometimes wondered into my house, because he forgot which one was his. He fell very ill several times, but refuse to let me know or ask for my help. With the help of his social worker, I had started to arrange to become his power of attorney, because while he had a nephew a couple of towns over, he never saw him. Ed needed someone nearby who could take care of him. However, by that time I hadn’t realized just how far he had slipped away, he had managed to hide the fact that he had completely lost understanding of numbers. It was determined that he could not consent to appointing me as his power of attorney.

Dementia makes enemies out of friends. Ed could not tell his dreams from reality, and eventually became convinced that I had treated him badly, or said something nasty to him… because everyone else had. He stopped visiting, and refuse to let me in when I came to his door. We drifted apart, although I tried my best to keep an eye on him. Then, one January day, Ed came knocking on my door. He didn’t even remember who I was, but he had locked himself out of his house and was freezing. I invited them in, made him a cup of coffee to warm him up, chatted with him for an hour and then let him into his home with the spare key he’d once given me. It felt like a complete circle, I did manage to save his life the same way he did manage to save mine some years earlier.

A few weeks later, and was hospitalized, and his family finally took an interest in his welfare. They took over his medical power of attorney and had him placed in a nursing home. His social workers were not allowed to tell me which one, and his family had no interest in communicating with me. My friend disappeared as far as I could tell. His house stood empty for about two years across the street from mine.

This morning, trucks of an estate agent pulled up, unlocked his house, and brought in a dumpster and a port-a-potty. Workmen have spent the day stripping his possessions and furniture out of the house. This is how I learned that Ed had finally passed on. In a way, my friend had died years earlier lost to the fog of dementia. I’d done my grieving a long time ago, but is still hard to know that, at the age of 86, Edward Sullivan of Fredericton had finally passed away.

I have no conclusions, and no morals to add to his story. While I have learned much about masculinity, as it was before the world as we know it came to be, I have no interest in adding on philosophy to this story. I feel it deserves to sit as it is. A farewell to a lost friend; a man out of time. A kind fellow who believed in caring for his neighbors in their hour of need, and who taught fellow prisoners and rail workers how to read.

Maybe I fear, with so few other people in his life, that if I don’t tell his story it will be as if you’d never been there. One thing is for certain, I will spend the rest of my day cherishing my family.