Alone, but not lonely
South River senior lives life to the fullest
Jack Hambling can easily sing a line from Johnny Cash’s song, “Of travel I’ve had my share, man.” The 83-year-old has been around, but he’s mighty pleased to be back where he belongs.
Leaving his home on Cable Avenue, Bay Roberts, after completing high school, he set out on an eventful working career in Canada.
He worked as an Ottawa-based civil servant in map compilation with the Department of Mines and Technical Surveys. He was a mill operator and truck driver in Pine Point, a mining town in the Northwest Territories. He was also a partner with his late brother Gus in a tourist fishing lodge at Rapid Lake, Quebec.
Earlier in his working career, he worked as a denturist at Twillingate Memorial Hospital. But the clinic closed, and he moved on.
“I was always a Newfoundlander at heart,” Hambling recently told The Compass, “and I wanted to come home.”
He went back to the mainland, but soon quit his job. He hasn’t left Newfoundland since, and it’s a decision he has never regretted.
Hambling is a
self-described romantic, and believes that’s one of the reasons he never got rich.
“ Nature means far more to me than monetary value,” he says.
Today, he and his dog, Sam IV, share a modest house in South River. Although alone, Hambling is never lonely.
“I like my own company, although I can mix with other people,” he says. “ I have the friendship of a great dog, and my own memories keep me sufficient company. I’m quite content.”
He’s managed to capture nicely in three books the memories he cherishes. In his first book, “ Stage Heads and Warm Dandelions,” published in 1985, he writes evocatively of such “characters” as Jimmy the Barber and his Aunt Datie. “ When I was growing up, these ( people) were characters in their own right.”
Today, Hambling bemoans a lost time, which he dubs “ wonderful idyllic days.” He fondly recalls “ the predictability of every day. One day followed into the other. Nothing untoward ever happened.”
Contemporary towns, such as Bay Roberts, have by an large lost their individuality, he maintains. “Now, sad to say, all that innate charm and hospitality, once such an integral part of outport life, is lost in the rush for bigger and faster,” he says.
Success on the court
Hambling has reached his venerable age by practicing “moderation in everything.” He has an occasional bottle of beer, but adds, “I don’t drink to excess. I eat most everything, but I don’t overindulge.” He also smokes the occasional cigar.
Outdoor activity has always been a form of personal catharsis for Hambling, and he enjoys daily walks with his dog.
When he was younger, he played tennis. In later years, he and a female companion won the mixed doubles championship in Ottawa, where he was also runner-up in the intermediate mens’ singles. He and his brother Don played the longest singles match ever recorded in Ottawa — over three hours.
Hambling was about 65 when he met Henry Deering of Shearstown on the Bay Roberts tennis court. Deering remembers it well. “He could whack the ball,” Deering recalls.
Hambling was also a hockey player of note, playing with the Shearstown Tigers at Johnny North’s rink in Bay Roberts in the 1950s.
Deering recalls the day his friend “scored the winning goal in a championship. All the boys gathered around and jumped on him. Someone fell on him and broke his leg.”
A keen sense of humour is a further clue to Hambling’s longevity.
“I still play (tennis), but not like I used to. The money’s not there anymore,” he jokes.
– Jack Hambling of South River
The word “ boredom” is non-existent in Hambling’s vocabulary, and he is often consumed during the winter months by his No. 1 hobby — model railroading.
Indeed, he owns 50 cars, six engines, four transformers, and about a mile of track. There’s a 30-foot by 12-foot display that takes up an entire room in a shed on his property.
The display is quite realistic, and includes lakes, mountains, buildings, and even snow. He calls it a “ work in progress.
Hambling’s most recent book, “ Fair Winds in the Harbour,” is a novel set in a Newfoundland outport in the early 20th century. He’s now gathering notes for a book about the games he played as a boy.
He has made few concessions to the electronic age. He owns a phone and television, but even his typewriter is manual. However, there’s one interest in which he has adapted nicely — his motorcycle. Last year, at 82 years-of-age, he invested in a 250 Vagabond, and he and his friends now take to the road whenever possible.
“Motorcycles epitomize freedom of the road,” he explains.
Seventy-one-year-old Henry Deering calls his friend “a wonderful inspiration to all older people.”
Though he’s outlived most from his generation, Hambling remains upbeat about the future:
“I’d like to live to be 100, if I have all my faculties, especially my mental faculties. I love to get up early in the morning and watch the dawn. I still love life. What’s the point of living if you have nothing to live for? It’s better to wear out than to rust out.”
The self-described recluse enjoys nothing more than reading a good book.