Sunday, January 23, 2011

John G McKechnie RIP

My brother-in law John died after a battle with liver cancer and Alzheimers. Although I am not there for the funeral, I wanted to share my memories of the Reverend John McKechnie

John McKechnie

A Canadian perspective, Reading, Lindfield and Chichester

When I first met John he had come to pick up Cyril and me from the airport. I was struck by his smile and his presence. He waited for us with his dog Toby. I remember thinking this was out of a movie. This was how we in North America imagine you Brits to be…unflappable, with a dog at your side, but there he was.

The dog stayed on the floor as we drove down what I thought were twisty narrow lanes but learned that these were fairly major roads. This was in Reading.

In Reading John impressed me with his control and love of Toby and his love for his family. I stayed in a small room above the garage. John’s life was so organized. He had prayer meetings, reading times and it appeared as if time stood still in that little house in Reading. Once Cyril and I borrowed bikes and John explained that there was a bit of a hill. I had not fully appreciated the British penchant for underestimation. While we North Americans are accused of hyperbole, the British are the opposite. We mounted the bikes, tall spindly things with wobbly cranks suited for their sons Andrew and Stephen. The seats I recall were instruments of torture and I stood for the ride. The ‘bit of a hill’ was in fact, a mountain! I spoke with John about ministry and prayers in general and even referred to his clerical suit as a prayer suit. He impressed me with his understanding of the needs of younger people in his parish and I recall thinking to myself this man may look like what we all expect clergymen to look like, but he is practical, down to earth and had an excellent grasp of people!

John told us about Roman ruins and in particular the ruins of a covered roman bath. There was only one and they had to write to Rome to get plans approved. Well there was the wall of it, being used for a sheep grazing field. That was another of my impressions of Britain, sheep. They may be no market in sheep wool…but the sheep are there.

Doreen made Sunday dinners and wonderful lunches and I was struck by the sense of calm and deep love that emanated from that house. I was also impressed with Toby fetching the mail!

Our next visit was in Lindfield. This is where I was introduced to central heating, or the lack of it. The vicarage was a carriage house and there was no central heating. No matter, it was May, the fields were full of bluebells, and primroses and the grass verdant…and the house cold. I had packed shorts and clothing suitable for a Canadian late May. I nearly froze. Cyril had not warned me that the ancient Britons spent most of their time in a deep freeze state! John was busy during our visit and my memories of him were mainly him mounting a tractor mower and mowing the vast expanse of grass attached to the vicarage like a country squire. In fact, I thought of him as a country squire..he had ‘the look’. He had routines with Doreen and tea times and once more when I was thawed enough to think, there was this wonderful sense of peace and calm in the McKechnie home.

Our last few visits with John were in Chichester. He did visit us in Canada and I will speak of those times. Here John took us for a walk on the downs and explained to us all about Fishbourne. He was to me, the picture of virile health as he strode with his long boots over the fields. Both Cyril and I loved hiking and this was a delight to me to walk among the chalk and flint and see the grasslands and the birds. He knew a lot about this as well. For John the world and nature was a delight. Once again he spoke about my interest in Roman ruins and told us about the palace in Fishbourne, which we visited on this time and once again. The mosaics are so impressive!

He produced ordinance survey maps for us, and tourist maps and explained to us where we could go. There was a lot to do and see in Chichester which itself is a beautiful place. John impressed me with his carpentry skills and his ability to make an extraordinary little garden out of a very small space. A man of many talents and strength. Again, I was overwhelmed by the sense of peace and order and tranquility, no matter what there was breakfast and there was tea.

On our last visit, John still had his routines but no longer engaged us in discussions about nature or Romans…soon after he was diagnosed with Alzheimers

John was also a Canadian white water explorer. Both of John and Doreen’s sons had come for a visit to us and Cyril and I provided them with the Canadian experience as we understood it which meant canoeing in Algonquin Park…(No not a tame park this is the wilderness) and white water rafting. I explained to John and Doreen that we would camp overnight and then hurl ourselves in a rubber raft down some pretty wild rapids. Well not in those words. We camped and one of my most vivid memories of John was him standing with his paddle in hand like a swiss pike, dressed in a faded blue wetsuit with his smile. He was ready! Yes! He had never done it before but no matter he was ready. That same British spirit I first felt when I met him with Toby. We had a blast.

We took them canoeing and were rained out! The British were used to rain, but me as the sole Canadian on the excursion got chilled badly and we had to cut short our trip to the wild. We have a painting Doreen made of the experience.

My memories of John are of peace, tranquility a great spirit and also his great love of Doreen. Bombs could fall, Canadians could visit, the Romans could invade…but he had his teas and his times where he would read and be with Doreen. The secret of a good marriage!

I am sure that John is walking again on his beloved downs and I believe Toby is beside him.

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