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.

Loves na­ture

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.”

Mak­ing tracks

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.”

Photo by Bur­ton K. Janes/The Com­pass

The self-de­scribed recluse en­joys noth­ing more than read­ing a good book.

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