GORDON BALL … VANDALS HAVE BEEN HERE
(AND OLD MAN’S WINTER NIGHT, by Robert Frost)
November 12, 2019
There was a shadow…some would say a ghost…at the Grodon Ball Farm today.
A chill in the air. Snow on the ground early in November. Some roads closed. others
as slippery as a scam artist. Perfect kind of day for a shadow to fall over the
farm. The shadow was in my mind really…locked there.
It was the shadow of Gordon Ball. He was dead, had been so for several years.
Killed in a car accident. After that the farm was boarded up. Not well boarded
as things turned out
Gordan Ball was eccentric. He wore bib overalls. He carried cash to pay his
debts and for his purchases. This bankroll carrying, whether fact to not, drew the
attention of some unsavoury characters. For the most part though Gordon was a
regular antique buyer…Scottish grandfather clocks and whole inventory of Applachian
lamp collectors. Was he rich? Some thought so. I was never sure. He was a collector
and his farm with its many barns was jam packed with things…crocks, dog treadmills,
coal oil lamps by the barrel load, old cars, a sawmill, a shingle making machine, enough
fine wooden chairs and tables to outfit a hotel.
Today all that remained was up for auction.
Gordon Ball once lived here…is that him stepping out? No! Couldn’t be. Gordon
Ball is only alive in my mind.
The south field was jam packed with half ton trucks. All expecting a plethora of
great finds that Gordon had squirrelled away.
But what we found is best seen below.
Vandals had been here before us. And they had come often it seems.
EVERYTHING Gordon once owned was thrown aside by vandals thinking
squirrelled money might be hidden in an old sock or behind a picture frame.
They…must have been several of them…got the good things and threw the rest aside.
Ravages of time … peeling paint
could not explain away the presence of thieves, vandals…low life criminals
Just looking at Gordon Ball broken kitchen stove brought back a flood of memories.
like the time one winter when Marjorie, Kevin, Andrew and I dropped in to visit. It was early
December and Gordan, Florida and their boys were in a Christmas mood. The stone house
was cold in the corners but warm around this stove. On s side table Gordon or Florida
had erected a small Christmas tree on which hung a couple of coloured balls. The
tree was scraggly. It had been cut in Gordan’s forest. Chosen not because of its
perfection but because it was of little value. The vibrant trees were left to grow.
Visiting that winter was Dickensian…a time warp that put us in the home of Cratchet
or even Scrooge after his conversion from penny pincher to do goober. The room
was lit with coal oil lamps.
This was Gordon’s problem. He wanted to be living in the 19th century and he
forced that longing onto Florida who came from the Philippines. Gordon could
not understand why Florida and her eventual two boy progeny were in revolt.
I am not sure what happened in the months after our visit. But I know it was
tragic for Gordon. Shyly he asked me once about child raising. Just asking
me was embarrassing. It seems some social agency was interfering.
After he died, Florida and the boys went forward into another life.
They nailed up the doors and window I suppose. No barrier for vandals.
The whole collection of buildings had been stripped. Gordon’s collections
thrown in piles here snd there. Whatever had much value was taken.
from Scotland and firmly locked. Vandal proof. It was here that the Gordon Ball
collection could really be seen. Grandfather clocks, sea chests, rum crocks, impeccable
examples of fine Scottish carpentry…including cases of wooden carpenter tools.
Gordon could make fine furniture himself. He converted two of this barns
into 19th century industrial factories where his line shafts drove saws, planers,
jointers…and the end result was beautiful furniture. One or our sons commissioned
Gordon to make a harvest table which remains the pride and joy of Andrew and
The vandals had ignored the Gordon Ball factory which was now up for sale
to the highest bidder. Our son Andrew bought Gordon’s ancient iron mounted jig saw…
“that’s for you Dad’ he said, “A reminder of Gordon.”
other doomed farms to his place. He also had purchased an ancient saw mill
and their were piles of planks here and there, all carefully spaced for drying.
furniture. Price was too high for me which made me glad in a way. A high price
means the machine if valued and unlikely to become kindling for some fireplace.
price got too steep. A good thing I suppose….$550.00
“And so it ended. The broken and the perfect …all auctioned off to men and women
with half ton trucks. Most of whom knew Gordon Ball the same way we did. A man
with his feet in the past. Shy. Shrewd. Capable. But out of touch with the world
That’s Bob Severn in the white hat ..extolling the virtues of a case full of broken
coal oil lamps. “Who will give me five dollars?”
And here are the crew that take the money. There was lots of it today. all of
those who once new Gorden come to buy a memory. And that includes myself and
son Andrew. Nancy Belviso on the left.
Let me tell one final story about Gordon. One winter he found tracks in the snow
around his stone house. Someone was casing his place. Someone planning to
rob him. Someone or some group who believed he kept cash. Gordon asked the
police to keep an eye on his house. They did for a night or two but could not
do so forever. They gave up. The tracks reappeared. Gordon was alone at
the end of a dead end road with no neighbours. And he knew he was being watched.
So he waited…hidden in his own home. Then sure enough a man appeared and
pushed open the front door with his shoulder. “There were others out there in
the dark.” Gordon said to me. Gordon had a club…perhaps a baseball bat. He knocked the intruder
down and hit him several times. Bloodied him and shoved him back into the the snow
where others waited. They slipped away. But he knew who they were. Young
punks whose father Gordon had done business with…antique business.
Next Day he drove to Guelph, dropped in on the father and said, “If your son
and his friends show up on my property again, they may not get back
one piece. I have friends in Toronto who know how to deal with them.”
As far as I know they never came back.
I could be wrong. They could have seen the death notice and returned
…vandals. They knew that Gordon could not get them with a baseball
bat if he was dead.
SUGGETION: Read Robert Frost’s poem titled “And old Man’s Winter Night”
and imagine yourself as Gordon Ball waiting for Thieves. Would you have
Gordon’s courage. I think not.
An Old Man’s Winter Night
www.robertfrost.org/images/postquote.png); overflow: auto; background-position: left top; background-repeat: no-repeat no-repeat;” class=””>
All out of doors looked darkly in at him
Through the thin frost, almost in separate stars,
That gathers on the pane in empty rooms.
What kept his eyes from giving back the gaze
Was the lamp tilted near them in his hand.
What kept him from remembering what it was
That brought him to that creaking room was age.
He stood with barrels round him – at a loss.
And having scared the cellar under him
In clomping there, he scared it once again
In clomping off; – and scared the outer night,
Which has its sounds, familiar, like the roar
Of trees and crack of branches, common things,
But nothing so like beating on a box.
A light he was to no one but himself
Where now he sat, concerned with he knew what,
A quiet light, and then not even that.
He consigned to the moon, such as she was,
So late-arising, to the broken moon
As better than the sun in any case
For such a charge, his snow upon the roof,
His icicles along the wall to keep;
And slept. The log that shifted with a jolt
Once in the stove, disturbed him and he shifted,
And eased his heavy breathing, but still slept.
One aged man – one man – can’t fill a house,
A farm, a countryside, or if he can,
It’s thus he does it of a winter night.
to read AN OLD MAN’S WINTER NIGHT.
Nov. 12, 2019