Stuart McLean and Sundays at noon with The Vinyl Cafe have been a pleasurable activity in my life for years. Not certain how it happened, probably by chance of having the radio on when I was making lunch for the boys one day. His delightful stories of family life with Dave and Morley, his tributes to this great country and his showcasing of Canadian musicians brought me back nearly every Sunday to CBC.
Sunday at noon, “where is a radio, I want to hear Stuart.”
I became such a big fan that when I was the director at the Family Resource Centre and concerts were our main fundraisers I wrote to him and asked him to play here. Eventually I got through to him, he referred me to his road manager and we worked out a contract for him to come to Vernon. Normally they didn’t work with promoters, and his road manager acted as the promoter and they made their own arrangements with the venue. However, they were unaware that Vernon had a fine theatre with a decent seating capacity and they would work with us this one and only time. We booked two shows, and both sold out.
I was super excited to meet him, imagining he would be a combination of Dave and the man on the stage. He was very quiet and unassuming and spent most of the time backstage alone and certainly didn’t ask for anything special. He was wonderful with my two sons and very attentive to them, engaging them in a lengthy conversation about life in Vernon.
On the second night he sought me out to say thank you for allowing him to have a very quiet back stage, and providing great meals (thank you to The Pantry). He appreciated the quiet, which allowed he and his team the space that they needed to be able to get up on stage and perform. After the show people came in to meet him and his fantastic band.
Stuart had done his research on Vernon and shared some great stories. At the second show he spoke of having an opportunity to walk downtown as well as go up in an airplane for a tour. This was something that really resonated with me that wherever he went he did his homework on the community. The boys and I sat in our special place in one of the boxes and laughed at his stories, with big grins on our faces; there he is, the voice from the radio, live on Vernon’s theatre stage. How cool is that? He has visited our community stage several times.
Sometimes I would laugh at the way that he could string a sentence on and on. Even This Hour Has 22 Minutes had Stuart skits about that particular skill. His descriptive language and his ability for us to be there in the story with him, laughing at the mundane or the adventures of neighbours and the sense of community was uniquely his, whether it was the homeless guy that won a lottery, or Sam’s adventures with the Italians next door, family vacations, and the neighbours and the social events. Many times my darling and I have laughed about taking care of a neighbour’s home while they are on vacation and going over and enjoying sitting in their home and having a bottle of wine like Dave. We haven’t, not yet anyway.
Recently I bought one of his story collections that is on CD for my sister, who is in hospital as the result of a stroke. I thought Stuart’s stories could be healing and perhaps she can laugh her way to improving her movement. His books line the shelf at the cottage and they are often pulled out to enjoy in that lovely setting, like an old friend whom you just love to visit again and again.
I have laughed and cried with his stories as well as some leaving me with lots to ponder about my life, how I engage with my community and about this great country.
Sunday noon hours will not be the same, and I am so grateful that Stuart McLean came into our lives, so we can appreciate the great art of storytelling. My deepest condolences to his family and friends.
Michele Blais has worked with children and families in the North Okanagan for the past 30 years. She is a longtime columnist with The Morning Star, appearing every other Sunday.