He was a small elder, but fit as a fiddle, and known to all who knew him as “the old man who was forever looking for a wife!”
I guess we know now that nobody could ever replace Bella Blacksmith who died from breast cancer in the fall of September 8, 1977.
I remember so vividly my last visit with Billy on April 17, 2004. He was cooking supper for himself, there was something boiling on the stove which looked like two pork chops. He was going to add a little flour so that he could have a little broth to go with the fried bannock which he was working on just as Ronnie and I walked in. We sat down to visit for awhile.
Today I often think: if I had only known it was to be our last visit I would have stayed so much longer.
He looked so tired. But he continued to cook, to talk, to laugh even though he looked so very tired. He finally sat down to eat. Later, I helped him clean up his dishes. If you have ever visited Billy Blacksmith’s cabin at the Perch, you will remember a spotless clean cabin and that was the way he always kept it. As we sat there, Edward Matoush came in to visit so Ronnie and I decided to leave.
Again I remember so vividly my last words to him and his last words to me. I told him, “Agooda Chano. Good night, sleep well.” He responded with a laugh and said, “I would sleep so much better if I was sleeping with a lady.” We laughed as we walked out.
Again, I often think if I had only known it would be the last time that I would see your face, I would have hugged you, I would have kissed you and I would have expressed my love for you.
The next morning was Sunday, April 18, 2004. The pastor Gordon Petawabano came to inform us of the death of our beloved father, father in law, grandfather, friend and mentor. Billy Blacksmith Sr. had died in a fire at his cabin at Perch.
I have to admit that there were so many emotions to go through, including anger, shock, disbelief and blame. So many emotions, it was actually terrifying. There were so many “Why?”, “What if?” and “I should’ve” thoughts going through my mind. Why God? Why did you allow him to leave us in such a tragic way, why?
I realize today it would have been pointless to ask him to go home to Mistissini because he preferred the peace and quiet of his cabin. Billy never depended on anyone to help him. It was his way to be alone. It was his way to be independent.
I remember Ronnie and I decided to go to the Perch that morning. We asked my mother Mabel, my sister Louise and her husband Norman to accompany us to the site where the tragedy had happened. One of the police officers came over and explained to us the findings of their investigation. His body was found in a kneeling position beside one of the beds. The police officer explained that the body was burnt beyond recognition.
I asked, “Are you sure it’s him? How do you know it’s him when you say the body is burnt beyond recognition?” I suppose I was hoping it was not him. The police officer said that they were able to identify him by his dental work and his two watches confirmed that it was our father.
To this day, I thank God and I thank the investigators for their decision to remove the body before my husband could approach the site and the body. I wanted Ronnie to remember his father the way he always was, happy, funny, kind and peaceful.
Finally, Ronnie and I approached the site where the cabin used to stand. There was absolutely nothing left except a cast iron frying pan. That’s all that was left of his belongings.
As I stood there, a thought came to my mind. In the midst of sorrow and pain there is always a glimmer of hope, a message of faith to sustain you in your time of need.
I found it amazing and consider it a miracle that the pastor and the police were able to say that the body of our dear father was intact and had been found kneeling by the side of his bed.
As I stood there, with my memories, I remembered how he used to sing hymns. I remembered how he would always fall asleep while reading his Bible and the thought that sustains me, the thought that gives me strength is: He was kneeling in prayer as he breathed his last breath. He prayed that he would go home to finally sleep with a lady. “His First and Only Lady Bella V Blacksmith.”
The sudden and tragic passing of my father-in-law has given me a valuable lesson in life and that is not to take advantage of people who touch our lives with their kindness and love for they can disappear before we can ever thank them or tell them how much they mean to us.
Today, as the snow slowly falls to the ground and the trees are white, covered in snow and frost, I remember you.
Today, when I see the geese fly by, when I hear the sound of the geese, I remember you.
Today, when I walk by the shores of Mistissini Lake, when the lake is calm and peaceful, I remember you.
Today, on a warm beautiful spring day and blue, blue sky, beautiful memories come to mind, your face, and your snow white hair becomes so clear as if you only left yesterday. I can almost hear your laugh.