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Featured People The incomparable John Higgins 

Featured People

 

Written for Canadian Community News by Mike Sterling

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Our friend John Higgins has moved on to other adventures and other conversations.  When a community loses a person like John, we lose much more than one of us.  We lose a part of all of us.  There is a certain 'tilt' that ensues that cannot be righted until the memories die

I will recount three stories that might capture a portion of the man for others less fortunate, who did not know him.

The House

John was a fixture at his son's wonderful eating place called Armens.  Every day he would make an appearance, eat well and engage everyone in conversation. 

One day Eric Luce and I were sitting with John and we were discussing the houses we grew up in so long, long ago.  For some reason this seemed to be a recurring conversation among us.

I  had heard so much about John's 'house of his youth', that I could almost draw it.  Eric certainly could.  The setting came to life as John recounted the main staircase, where he sat listening to a friend of his Dad's, Guy Lombardo, play, and how he polished the floors for his mother by making a game of it with his brother..  The central tower loomed in his descriptions. I wanted a sketch.  It was the house of mystery,

Somehow we called for a pencil and paper so John could draw the facade.  Both Eric and I expected a simple line drawing with straight lines being less than artistic and defeating our shared image of this magical memories  I almost wished I had not asked for it, but then a miracle.

The house took shape from left to right with no guidelines drawn at all.  Rapid, manic movements moved John's pencil from left to right, up and down like an etch-a-sketch.  He was possessed by some ancient ancestors gift for drawing.  To our surprise, a clear and perfect image of the house emerged. The great tower, the setting and the magic of it all finally revealed as he completed his perfect little drawing without a single change.  Wonderful.

Six Toes

David The King -- Count them!

John was very proud of his lifelong work in choirs, some church related and some not.  He was a member of the Anglican Church choir for many, many years and had heard all the sermons that were fit to preach and many not.  

The choir has a place where John from time to time, would be bored and rather than nod off, he would concentrate on small details of the charming old church.  He liked to study the stained glass and the images..

He had told me a number of times that by some perverse whim of the artist the great Saint Cecilia had been depicted with six toes!  I found this hard to believe.

So again one day the story was told over coffee in Armen's intimate gathering place.  This time, I said to John ... "Enough!  Come on John, we can walk down to the Church a few steps away and you can show me".  John said it was locked.  I told him to call and get the key, which he did and there we were in front of the lady with six toes.

Much to my  disappointment, the Saint was wearing some sort of shoes that looked more like slippers.  She may well have had six toes, but proof from the stained glass was not forthcoming.  I was disappointed.

John was much chagrined and said "Wait, oh yes, oh yes, I was wrong, come here, Mike!"

He gathered me close to King John and there I  found the six toes of John's story.  Count them for yourself.

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The Thespian

John was a great conversationalist and it extended to theatrical heights.  From time to time, I've put together musical events and skits in the Town Hall.  I had planned to have a Mae West review and thought that John would be an excellent foil for the elegant lady.  I could combine him with Eric Luce and Ian Evans in repartee with Mae and her ribald ways.

John took the whole thing seriously and was worried about his performance.  He had a few key lines that we practiced over and over again.  I was a little worried too because he was worried.

I had John, Eric Luce and Ian Evans (a natural) at a small table so that they could interact with Mae and her perfect timing.

(L) Ian Evans, David Archibald, Eric Luce and the dapper John Higgins are part of the Big Show starring Mae West

John was dressed wonderfully in immaculate and stylish tuxedo.  He had an added prop, however.  It was a pop-up derby that was much too small for his ample head.  It teetered on the crown and looked  like a Charlie Chaplain original.  In order to get the Mae admirers in the mood, I had given them whisky instead of tea in their glasses and John was totally in character and then some for his interplay with Mae.

Higgsie asks "What languages do you speak Mae?" and she responds "I speak English and Body!"

John held his derby as shown in the picture above, ready to say his lines.  At exactly the key  moment when Mae had directed her zinger, John's derby popped out sending the audience into fits of laughter.  It was not rehearsed, it was natural John.   Look at that open joy on his face as fate was about to come to his aid as always. 

Using one of John's favorite phrases, we must all say "OH YES!"


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Wednesday, February 27, 2013