New play­ground, ameni­ties for Acre­man

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Some 300 vol­un­teers came to­gether Sept. 29 to help as­sem­ble a new play­ground and other ameni­ties out­side Acre­man El­e­men­tary in Green’s Har­bour. in ac­ci­dent in­ves­ti­ga­tions. And they tell the tale of a tragedy that con­tin­ues to cast a dark cloud over this tight- knit set­tle­ment, which is lo­cated about 90 kilo­me­tres north of Car­bon­ear, at the ex­treme tip of the Bac­calieu Trail.

Slow­ing her pace, the woman speaks about the “gen­tle man” who died on this spot re­cently, and the “real tragedy” of his death.

“He was in ev­ery­body’s house at one point or an­other for a cup of tea,” she says be­fore once again hit­ting full stride.

Bi­cy­cle was free­dom

It was a typ­i­cal, quiet day in Grates Cove on Sept. 24, and one of its best­known cit­i­zens, Ezekiel Martin, was do­ing what he loved most — ride his bi­cy­cle.

The 78-year-old was deaf and mute, was never mar­ried and had no chil­dren, and for the past 38 years had lived with his older brother, 90year-old Tom Martin, and Tom’s wife of 58 years, Is­abel.

He was a friend to all in this community of just over 100 in­hab­i­tants, and was also known to many in the neigh­bour­ing com­mu­ni­ties of Bay de Verde, Old Per­li­can and Red Head Cove.

His bike was more than a mode of trans­port. It was free­dom. He cher­ished his bi­cy­cle, kept it un­der lockand-key when it wasn’t in use, and spent hours keep­ing it in top work­ing or­der. And he usu­ally had two plas­tic bot­tles se­cured to his bike rack, one filled with soda and the other with wa­ter.

Ezekiel was a fa­mil­iar sight on the road lead­ing into the community, and a com­mon warn­ing to mo­torists in the area was to keep an eye out for moose, and for Un­cle Ezekiel, as he was known.

But his eye­sight was fail­ing in re­cent years, and though he felt like a young per­son while rid­ing his bicy-

Pic­tured here are Is­abel and Tom Martin of Grates Cove, and their son Tony.

cle, he wasn’t the most sta­ble in the sad­dle.

Re­peated warn­ings

De­spite re­peated warn­ings from his care­givers to stay off the road, Ezekiel would not give up his bi­cy­cle, and was rou­tinely seen push­ing it up the hill out of the community. He would mount his bi­cy­cle when the ter­rain lev­elled off, and usu­ally ride to Tickle Pond and back. He es­pe­cially en­joyed the re­turn trip be­cause it was mostly down­hill.

That’s ex­actly what he did on Sept. 24, and it turned out to be his last bike ride.

Just out­side of Grates Cove, at about 3:35 p.m., Ezekiel was struck and killed by the mail de­liv­ery ve­hi­cle as it was leav­ing the community fol­low­ing its daily visit.

Po­lice have ruled the death as an “un­for­tu­nate ac­ci­dent,” and sus­pect Ezekiel may have been at­tempt­ing to make a turn in the road when he was struck.

Many say it was the great­est tragedy to strike this community of just over 100 in­hab­i­tants in more than 40 years.

Sev­eral hun­dred peo­ple crowded into Grace United Church for the funeral, and there was a steady parade of mourn­ers vis­it­ing Tom and Is­abel for sev­eral days af­ter, drop­ping off food, of­fer­ing con­do­lences and shar­ing sto­ries about Ezekiel.

There were many tears of sor­row, but also plenty of light mo­ments as fam­ily and friends rem­i­nisced about the man who could charm even the most with­drawn child with his smile and an­tics, and al­ways catch the largest fish, re­gard­less of whether he did or not.

“We lost a ma­jor part of our fam­ily,” Chris­tine Martin, Ezekiel’s niece, said last week.

Kept his in­no­cence

A full week af­ter the ac­ci­dent, the mood inside Tom and Is­abel’s house is a mix­ture of sad­ness, shock and wist­ful­ness.

There’s a stack of pho­tos on the kitchen ta­ble, and they speak vol- umes. Ezekiel was a ham for the cam­era, and had a sense of hu­mour that por­trayed his in­no­cence and gre­gar­i­ous­ness.

He was a mas­ter at mak­ing shadow an­i­mals with his hands, loved to colour and do word puz­zles, and was rarely in a sour mood. He drank about 10 cups of tea each day, some­times at 10 dif­fer­ent kitchen tables.

He es­pe­cially loved the at­ten­tion that came his way on Christ­mas Eve, when he tra­di­tion­ally opened his many gifts, but would not hes­i­tate to com­plain if there were too many pairs of socks.

He had a lim­ited vo­cab­u­lary, and used his own min­i­mal form of sign lan­guage. But there was no con­fus­ing his trade­mark quip — “Now all right, ‘spose.”

“We all un­der­stood him,” said Tony Martin, sound­ing pensive. Tony was Ezekiel’s nephew, and the two shared a bed­room for sev­eral years af­ter Ezekiel moved in with Tom and Is­abel.

“He was so thank­ful for ev­ery­thing he got,” said Tony, who was known as “Jukie” to Ezekiel. “He was like a brother to me.”

Ezekiel left school in Grade 8, but Chris­tine said he touched more peo­ple than most with his spirit, en­ergy and cheer­ful­ness.

“He was al­ways re­ferred to as be­ing deaf and mute, but to us he was as wise as any­one around,” she said.

Ezekiel was also very in­quis­i­tive and crafty. He made wooden smok­ing pipes and berryp­ick­ers, and was con­sid­ered a handy tai­lor.

On one oc­ca­sion, he used a thread and nee­dle to re­verse the col­lar on his shirt be­cause it was faded, and he once cre­ated a pair of “steel­toed” safety sneak­ers.

He couldn’t re­sist the temp­ta­tion to see the in­ner work­ings of gad­gets such as a watch, and as a young boy, his par­ents gave him a hear­ing aid, but he quickly picked it apart and gave it away.

“He just loved to be at stuff,” Tony ex­plained.

And fam­ily mem­bers are quick to em­pha­size that Ezekiel was loved and sup­ported.

“He got a kiss and a hug ev­ery day of his life,” said Chris­tine. “He had all he wanted.”

Hor­ri­ble news

Mean­while, sit­ting in her chair next to the win­dow, Is­abel can clearly see the street in front of her home, and re­mem­bers watch­ing the mail de­liv­ery ve­hi­cle leave the community that day. She won­dered at the time why Ezekiel hadn’t re­turned for his af­ter­noon snack and cup of tea.

It wasn’t much longer be­fore Chris­tine brought the hor­ri­ble news.

“I knew some­thing was wrong,” said Is­abel, who has Parkinson’s dis­ease, but con­tin­ued to care for Ezekiel.

She still finds it hard to be­lieve he’s gone.

“I got up this morn­ing to get his pills ready,” she said.

Tom doesn’t say much these days, but the loss of his brother hasn’t been easy. For the first time in their lives, Tom and Is­abel are “empty nesters,” though they have plenty of fam­ily close by.

They can take some con­so­la­tion in know­ing that Ezekiel will not soon be for­got­ten. There are al­ready talks about cre­at­ing a memo­rial, one that will serve as a last­ing re­minder of Ezekiel’s univer­sal ap­peal in this area.

“He never got old,” said Chris­tine. “We want to build a re­minder that he lived a good life. That he was well taken care of.”

ed­i­tor@cb­n­com­pass.ca

Photo by Mi­randa Meadus/spe­cial to The Com­pass

The late Ezekiel Martin of Grates Cove died trag­i­cally Sept. 24 af­ter be­ing struck by a ve­hi­cle on the road out­side his community. Ezekiel was rid­ing his bi­cy­cle at the time.

Photo by Terry Roberts/the Com­pass

These po­lice mark­ings on the road out­side Grates Cove mark the spot where 78-year-old Ezekiel Martin died on Sept. 24.

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