Hewas a bus driver, a part-time police officer, volunteer fireman, truck driver, musician, comedian, scuba diver, water skier, hunter, etc.
When we first started spending time together, “Donny” as I will refer to him from now on, used to have two protruding teeth, top front and center. He used to say “I am the only man in Rock Island that can eat corn on the cob through a picket fence”. He had them removed and had bridge work done.
Donny joined my Night Riders band learning to play the upright bars or double bass as sometimes called. He learned very quickly. Country music was quite simple in those days. Donny excelled as a comic. In the 1950’s we put on a show at the Queen Mary Veteran’s Hospital in Montreal. This was done through the efforts of the late Jim Webb sr.
We hit the stage well prepared and we even had a “girl” fiddler at the time. Two guys in the band did comedy at every gig, a.k.a. “Zeke and Elmer”. You never knew what Donny was going to do.
The auditorium was full with vets in beds, wheelchairs, etc. When it came to comedy time, Donny hit the stage in a shirt my mother made out of different pieces of material, rubber feet pulled on over his shoes, with huge rubber toes. He reached inside his pocket and pulled out a pair of very large woman’s panties! This was a surprise, even to the band. He came over to the mic and says “I found these hanging on an antenna in the nurses parking lot. I want to know who they belong to”. He jumps off the stage and heads to the biggest nurse he could find. She hollers out “You get away from me, they are not mine!”
You should have heard the laughter from those vets. He stole the show.
Our shows were about one and a half hour long.
Mr. Flanagan, who was in charge of the entertainment at the hospital said to me that this was the first show held in a long time. No one left until the entire show was finished. We also got a very good review of our show in the Montreal Gazette.
On the down side, after the show was over, the band went out and mingled with the audience. There was one man in a wheelchair right in front of me. I got down to talk to him and noticed right away that he carried a pencil and pad to com- municate. He wrote down, “I’m an American and I came up here to join the Canadian Army and was imprisoned by the Japanese in Hong Kong. I had part of my tongue cut out and can’t speak”. But that is war.
Skipping ahead a few years. We did a lot of waterskiing in the 1960’s.
A group of us were down at Bacon’s Bay, part of Lake Massawippi. They had just stopped the boat because I had just taken a flop. I got back into the boat and Donny says to the three of us, “Gather around me”. There was a guy fishing in a flat-bottomed boat about a hundred yards from us with a small outboard motor in the back. Donny dug around under the deck and pulled out his scuba-diving gear and put it on. From another bag he pulled out an oversized rubber mask, which was dark green and had seaweed, etc. hanging from it. Also, rubber gloves with only three fingers that came to the elbow. He must have picked up this stuff somewhere in his travels. Over the side of the boat he went. He swam under water over to the fisherman’s boat. He came up under his boat and knocked on the bottom. We could see the fisherman look first to one side, then to the other side. Donny went then to the front. He pulled himself up with those green hands just enough so the guy could get a quick look at him. Down he went. Don said after, “I knew that motor was going to be starting, so I dove deep”.
The fisherman pulled anchor, started his motor and went down the lake about 200 yards, stopped and looked back. He then continued on his way. I never heard any more about it. He must have decided to keep quiet about what he had seen; thinking people might question his sanity. We continued skiing.
Donny was a good friend and was always willing to lend a helping hand to anyone in need.
He gradually turned into a workaholic. Twice he cancelled our annual moose hunt up north because he had a chance to ‘work for someone’ other than his day job.
Donny had a severe stroke which landed him in the Youville Hospital in Sherbrooke. I visited him there and he passed away shortly after.
Two “Night Riders” are buried side by side in Crystal Lake Cemetery, Stanstead. Ernest Smith Jr., a.k.a. “Smokey” and Donald Lafond, a.k.a. “Zeke”.
Jimmy Webb, living in Tennessee, on his annual trip to Stanstead last summer visited the grave site and played a tune on his fiddle. He said “the fiddle was a bit scratchy but the boys did not seem to mind”.
Rest in peace, Old Friends.
Cactus Jim and The Night Riders, group members are: Front Row L to R, Ernest Smith “Smokey”, Jim Belknap, Jim Webb, Back Row L to R, Donald Lafond, Larry Larrabee, Phil Robert.