The Dryden Observer

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Reflections on death and taxes

Chris Marchand

Chris Marchand served as editor of the Dryden Observer from August 2009 to April 2018.

I have a picture somewhere of my six year-old self in the kitchen of my childhood home on Ross St. being held by Doug Bergman dressed in Santa Claus costume.

Over 30 years since that Christmas when he went house-to-house through the neighbourhood spreading holiday cheer, the man’s presence could still make me feel like a six year-old, wide-eyed and thinking of something grown-up to say to this larger than life character.

I spent Monday evening dialing my way through the phone list of a fraternal order to which we both belonged informing fellow members of his funeral details. I had asked to do it, compelled by the idea of communing with the departed through a responsibility that Doug himself had frequently accepted. It was a seldom tread path we could share.

It was the kind of ‘in-the-trenches’ role that the consummate volunteer Bergman accepted without complaint from any number of service clubs and organizations he belonged to. Frequently sidelined by poor health, such calls to make us aware of upcoming events also acted as a bit of a social umbilical keeping him tethered to the outside.

We would chat and unbeknownst to him, his quips would one day become the subject of this written reflection of his passing.

An anecdote of note from recent years involved Doug’s frustration with his fellow carpoolers with whom he travelled to Sioux Lookout several times per week for dialysis treatment. Apparently none of them shared Bergman’s enthusiasm for hard rock bands like Guns and Roses and Nickelback he craved to get his blood pumping and stay alert on the moose-filled Hwy. 72.

He might’ve been messing with me there.

There are some questions I’ll regret never asking, like how or why he managed to keep Alberta plates on his old red truck for decades?

If I learned one lesson from Doug Bergman, it was the importance of getting out there, no matter how difficult or painful that might be. While society values volunteerism, the approval of others is secondary to the immense satisfaction of rolling up your sleeves to do dishes somewhere outside of your own kitchen, in stacking chairs, folding tables and knowing your neighbours.

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A brief exposure to some teenagers last week got me thinking about how confusing the city of Dryden’s current financial situation must be for young people. It’s confusing enough for those with a firm grasp on municipal politics.

From a youth out-migration perspective, it may well be a very serious concern.

I struggle to relate to the modern experience of growing up in Dryden. My formative years here were marked by what I felt to be an oppressive form of milltown anti-intellectualism which combined with my own youthful hyper-sensitivity and belief that I was some unique and beautiful snowflake to drive me far away from Dryden for a decade.

That’s when things were ‘good’ here.

What swirls in the heads of our teenagers now during worried dinner table talks of escalating taxes and talk of scaling back services to ‘live within our means’?

Do young people see a place for themselves in the future of Dryden, do they see the community as a place that needs them, or can use what they have to offer? Can they achieve their goals here? Who do they look to as trailblazers?

These aren’t new questions for any youthful Drydenites.

Some of us struggle more than others with what we believe our community should and shouldn’t be.

The only avenue out of this ultimately disappointing philosophical dead end is to gravitiate towards like-minded people and make those things happen ourselves.

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