I didn't know Paul Batchilder.
His obituary makes me wish I had.
"He was a teller of stories. A fixer of hearts. And a saver of souls."
Everyone needs a friend like that.
Paul died at the age of 79 at the end of March 2020, just a few weeks into the pandemic. It's stories like his I that want to tell in this series. The folks whose lives we never got a chance to celebrate in person.
I've called up two of the people who knew Paul Batchilder best to learn more about his life in the small town of Georgetown, P.E.I.
"Although my father was my father until I left home, he became my friend after I left home," said Andy Batchilder, Paul's son. He lives in Nova Scotia. "That would be the bigger take as much as anything. We were as good of friends as we were son and dad."
Treena Gallant Plouffe grew up across the street and around the corner from the Batchilders. I reached her in Edmonton.
"Basically, the Batchilders are like a second family, sort of a thing," she said. "Andy and I are the same age. We grew up together and fought together and everything that goes along with that."
"Paul and [his wife] Rosemary were like my second mom and dad. Paul loved to tease me, and so there was always ongoing sarcasm between the two of us my whole life. He took it as well as he gave."
Paul had a number of jobs in his life. He joined the navy as a teenager. After three years he came home and worked a few odd jobs. He also served as a fire chief, a town councillor, an auxiliary member of the RCMP, and operator of a St. John Ambulance First Aid Post — not to mention running Four Seasons Cottages at Morrison's Beach for 40 years.
In the mid-sixties, he settled into the job Andy and Treena remember most from when they were kids.
He was the postmaster in Georgetown — a job where he knew absolutely everybody and what everyone was up to.
"Of course, the bad side to all of that is if you did anything — maybe something that you shouldn't have been doing — he'd know about that too," said Andy. "So for his kids, it was a double-edged sword. Dad would come home and call your name and say, 'What's this I hear…' and then you knew someone in town had mentioned what you had done."
"You can only hide from the postmaster for so long, I suppose," I said.
"You cannot hide," he said with a chuckle. "He knew everything that happened in that town."
"Yeah, you know, I remember going in," recalled Treena. "You'd go over to get the mail. 'Paul, can I have the mail?' And 20 minutes later, you were leaving the post office. There was always a conversation to be had. And it was tag team! It was just, I'm here, and then someone else is coming in. And I'd say, 'OK Paul, I'll let you go.' It was just continual conversation all the time."
That continual conversation didn't stop when he retired.
Talking was Paul's gift — one Treena said he passed on to his five kids.
Andy loved talking with his dad. It didn't have to be about anything at all.
"We were interested in the mundane things," he said. "The goings-on of the town. How were the fishermen doing at lobsters? Did the herring season open yet? What are the roads like? It may seem a little mundane, but it wasn't just small talk."
I learned the ability to talk for long periods about nothing, but about something at the same time, you know? - Andy Batchilder
"You can say a lot in the mundane conversations," I said. "I've always been a big fan of the depth of a mundane conversation."
"Absolutely," said Andy. "My father could chat. I learned the ability to talk for long periods about nothing, but about something at the same time, you know? It just wasn't an effort is what I'm getting at. Sometimes, you know, you can just sit in each other's company and say nothing. That says something, too."
"Even now, we still sit and we'll talk about Paul," said Treena. It'll start maybe a little bit sad: 'I can't believe Paul's been gone this long.'"
"It strikes me there are some special people that hang around a little bit longer because we're still talking about them," I said.
"Funny you should say that, because I was writing a card today, and — it was a sympathy card — and I used a quote by Thomas Campbell: 'To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die.' And that's… exactly what you just said."
Treena will haul her family back to Georgetown this summer, just as she's done every year since moving to Alberta more than 20 years ago.
It'll be a little quieter without Paul.
But Paul's legacy includes a whole crop of Batchilders to tease.
"I have one request," said Treena as our call was winding down. She had a mischievous tone.
"Yeah?" I said.
"Make me sound smarter than Andy."
I laughed. "I will do that."
"Make me sound better than Andy! I don't care that that's his father. You make me sound better than Andy!"
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