Remembering Uncle Ron

I really only have had three uncles in my life. All came from my mother’s side of the family. She had two brothers and her sister married my uncle Ron Anderson. He is the uncle that I am most close to. Ron was my father’s best friend.
I am told that they were the best of chums and greatly depended upon each other. The fact that Ron Anderson and Bob Cumming married sisters helped bond both families together. There was never a family birthday, anniversary, or holiday that the two families did not get together.
My first real memory of my uncle Ron probably comes from remembering being looked after for an afternoon with my aunt, Elaine, while my mother waited in line to get tickets to the Canadians hockey team game the year they won the Allan Cup.
My uncle was then employed at Green’s Furniture and was their service repairman looking after fridges, stoves, washing machines and dryers. He also was responsible for maintaining the jukeboxes throughout the district for Rusty Green.
He was the trusted, dependable service man.
Ron was a gardener and had a huge garden in the yard on First Street and the petunia beds around the house blossomed in a sea of pinks and whites. Ron also was a tinker and when he couldn’t get parts for repairs, he would fabricate many of them on a small lathe in his basement.
You often don’t remember much about aunts and uncles growing up, but the Anderson yard had many baseball games, football games and hockey games. In winter my uncle flooded the garden for a rink and we would play on it. More than one foul ball shattered a pane of glass into the kitchen, but we were never discouraged.
Ron eventually joined his mother in the clothing business when Betty’s was expanded from a small hat shop into the Lloyd building where Brockie’s is located today.
He and his mother grew the business and moved it across the street to the Ross Building and then expanded it westward. Elaine joined in the family business and it grew taking in Blair, Doug and Cheryl.
Ron was a self-taught merchant and spent many a night with sales travelers as they made their way across Canada learning as much about retail as he could. As he once told me, “They (travelling sales people) are the real professors of business in Canada.”
Those travelers seldom pass through small communities today. And their understanding of the grind of independent retailers across Canada is being lost. Those close personal friendships he forged, helped make Betty’s a successful business in Fort Frances. He branded the business: “The store for women who care.”
My uncle was often challenging. Challenging in that he threw ideas at you that made you uncomfortable. He challenged you on politics, economics, business and life. He could always deliver a line to you that contained a hint of laughter in it that said, “ I know I have stumped you with this. What do you think?”
But my “Uncle Ron” always wanted to be challenged back with new ideas and insights from his children and grand children and people he came in contact with. Even in his last few weeks, he sought out information from visitors.
He was keen to know how my sons were doing and would regale you with stories of his grandsons Justin and Will and granddaughter Faith and her two children. His face would light up as he talked about his grandchildren and now his great grandchildren.
Ron promoted Fort Frances and in the centennial year, he worked hard with the retail merchants committee creating events for the community.
Ron’s love of gardening grew and the family moved to Alberton where the back yard grew to a farm in the country. The garden grew to fields of trefoil and clover. Land that hadn’t been broken for decades was plowed and disked and the yields of barley and hay greatly increased.
The pets included dogs, horses, and cattle eventually growing the herd to over 100 animals.
His love of gardening and agriculture was passed through to his sons. He was an organic gardener before it became fashionable. By late fall, his cold storage room in the house was filled to the ceiling and carrots, parsnips, turnips, squash, potatoes, onions would last through to the following summer.
Perhaps Ron’s most favorite crop was “Hubbard” squash and the bounty arrived annually on our doorsteps. When I went off to university, Ron and Elaine had a going away corn roast for me.
Locally produced charcoal cooked the corn that was place directly on the grill in its husks I remember it as being the best corn on the cob that I have ever had. Perhaps it was because the corn was from Ron’s garden.
Christmas was a special time for us. On Christmas Eve, after Betty’s was closed, the family would arrive at our home. On Boxing Day, we would travel to the Anderson home for leftover turkey.
Later, when the Andersons moved to the country, our family would go to the farm and no Christmas evening was complete without a walk to the barn.
My uncle took great pleasure in that late night Christmas Eve walk with the twinkling stars above and the silence of the night only broken by the sound of the crunch of our boots on the squeaky snow.
Ron has been retired for 15 years and chose to live a quiet rural life. After retirement, he took up making bread. He had a multitude of recipes that he had tweaked over a decade.
His health reduced his mobility yet celebrating his 89th birthday earlier this year his acute business sense kept him plugged into the world.
He listened attentively to the news and the financial reports on his television. He called the store regularly asking questions about customer counts, how full the street was and how sales were.
When he came into town for his haircut, he would wander around the store amazed at the transformation of Betty’s and excited by the diversity of new products that his two sons now carried in the store.
Some of his old traveler friends still called him at home and provided him with updates on the retail trade in Canada.
Ron died last Thursday.

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