Stanstead Journal - - FO­RUM - Spe­cial col­lab­o­ra­tion, James Belk­nap

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.

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