“What are you doing here?” I asked Floyd Sinton when I saw him at the Simcoe County Regional Cancer Care Centre in Barrie last December.
Truthfully, Floyd was one of the last people I had expected to see while I waiting for blood work prior to my Christmas Eve chemo. He and his wife, Barb, had already been through so much with the loss of their son, Stan, to cancer several years back. I just figured he was there to check in on the hospital to see how things were going. He was such a personable fellow – knew everyone in Barrie – that that would be likely. He and Barb were icons in Barrie. I was sure he was just there to either pick up Barb from volunteering, or leaving some sort of Governing Board meeting.
“Oh, I have a little trouble with my blood. Have to come every once in a while for a top – up”, he replied rather nonchalantly.
Floyd underplayed anything that most people would “freak out” over. So, I was immediately suspicious. He was a man that had lived his life “understated”. For all he did – he was never the person to let on to anyone that he had been involved. He once drove one of his school busses to Collingwood (where Kevin and I were living at the time) so that he could donate it to our Cuban school program. It was as simple as that. Want a bus? Here you go. And he left. Kevin and I were stunned. Who does that? What great fun we had driving it around town with our children, who were young at the time, around town. I mean, what else do you do when someone drops a school bus off at your front door and then leaves with the words, “let me know if you need anything else”? How does one reply? Situation: underplayed.
I had known Barb and Floyd for most of my life. They were even connected via family, sort of. Floyd had bought Don Duff Bus Lines from my uncle when Don retired. Barb and Floyd had always ensured my safe passage to and from school by way of their school busses. Since I was one of the first on the bus, and the very last one off the bus, I had the occasion to get to know them very well. Once the last person was dropped off in Craighurst, we would change from the school bus to a smaller car and either Barb or Floyd would take me home. Right to my front door. This was big as my family lived out of area and the Sintons really had no obligation to do so. But they did. Being the caring people they were, they were always on alert for the safety of those who rode their busses. One of the first times I was dropped off the bus, Floyd spotted what appeared to be a predator parked on the side of my country road when I was just in grade 4. There had been stories of abduction attempts in the area. Nervous to have me walk this dirt road to my house alone, he did not drop me off, rather, delivered me straight home. He watched as my Mom greeted me at the door. Done deal. No questions asked. No eyebrows raised. He ensured I was safe. I was NOT to walk alone. And that was the beginning of a very long relationship.
I would spend an hour and a half on the bus on the way to school and an hour and a half on the bus on the way home. My favorite time, however, was always the last 10 minutes of that ride when I could spend time alone with the Sintons. They were like rock stars to me. I admired them. Not only were they extraordinary business owners, but they also included me in their lives as a member of their family. I was always honoured to call them my friends.
When I grew older, they asked me to babysit their only son, Stan. It was not really a babysitting job as Stan was so much more mature than any other child his age. He was so well-mannered and smart! The first time I sat for the Sintons, Barb showed me around the house and let me know that Stan would be cooking dinner for me. I expected to see Kraft Dinner. Nope. Stan would be cooking steak on the barbeque along with pan-seared home fries. I didn’t even know how to barbeque let alone cook home fries. Sure enough, Stan whipped us up a delicious dinner. It was more like he was babysitting me than the other way around. Extraordinary. The Sintons had taught their son well. He was caring, capable, and charming. I guess he was just like his Dad.
Throughout the years, the Sintons and I had crossed paths on multiple occasions, but, like most people, we got on with our lives and drifted into different directions. Each time we saw each other as the years passed, we seemed to meet under less and less favorable circumstances including the passing of my Mom, the passing of their son, and the passing of my Dad. Each time we saw each other though, it seemed there was no need for words – simply a hug. That seemed to say it all.
Both he and Barb had looked great the last time I saw them at the Town and Country Restaurant in Barrie. At that time, they were just finishing their meal when Kevin and I arrived. We hugged – there was no need to exchange many words – once again, life had happened. Kevin and I were celebrating our anniversary and Barb and Floyd were marking the anniversary of the passing of their son. God. Their grieving was private and intimate – understated as always.
I must confess, it was odd to see Floyd in the hallway of RVH where he stood on that day so close to Christmas. I had no idea how ill Floyd really was. Nor, I think, did he. If he did, he sure as hell did not show it. Dressed in his leather coat, he stood tall and calm. He smiled as we chatted. It was as though he had no worry in the world. It would be his last wish, no doubt, to let on to anyone that he was in crisis. We chatted about recent events in our lives and acknowledged that we needed to get together soon.
It was rather ironic that right over his right shoulder, mounted to the wall, I could see the plaque dedicating an examination room to his late son, Stan. I didn’t know whether to ignore that sign – or acknowledge it. Did he want to be reminded of the loss of his son or not? Blundering into a decision as I normally do – I acknowledged Stan and the plaque. I don’t know how Floyd really felt about that moment, but I do know that he allowed me to feel good about my decision to speak to him about his son in fond remembrance.
“Give Barb a call,” Floyd stated. “She’d love to hear from you.”
“I will, Floyd.” I affirmed. “I’d love to chat with her too.”
And that was to be the last time I would see Floyd. He passed away quickly – sooner than had been expected. It was cancer. He did not ring that bell.
I missed his funeral today. Barb advised me that I ought not to attend for fear that I would catch something from the crowd of people who would be attending. “I promise you, we will get together in a few weeks for dinner, Stacey, when you are feeling stronger and better.” God. I wanted so much to be there to support this wonderful woman as she faced yet another loss in her life. I knew she was right. I had been through so much this winter that I did not want to risk poor health now. She knew I was there for her. She knew I carried her in my heart, along with her son and now, her husband.
April 14th continues to build more and more importance for me. I am not going to be ringing Ward’s Bell just for me, but for all those who were not able to ring it for themselves – including my late friend Floyd Sinton.
(Post dedicated in loving memory of Floyd Sinton. Thanks, Floyd, for taking good care of me!)