I remember spending a couple of summers on my Uncle George and Aunt Yvonne’s farm when I was about eight or ten years old. Two of my Uncles, George and Charlie Gillies, and my Grandma lived near Big Beaver, Saskatchewan. The family farm, split between the two brothers, had grown to several thousand acres from Grandpa’s original homestead. It sat on the American boarder…as I recall, the big “excitement” was going across the border to Scobey, Montana, to use their swimming pool or shop in the American stores.
For me, though, the best part of spending those weeks on the farm was seeing a different way of life from what I was used to in the city. I was too young to appreciate it properly, I suppose, but the time spent with my cousins Mark, Greg, and Karen formed all sorts of good memories. I recall breakfasts in the big kitchen, riding in George’s new four wheel drive tractor, and following Mark and Greg around as they did chores and generally did things young boys do like play with the old farm equipment or shoot gophers.
One memory sticks in my mind of a “round up”, where the local farmers were moving some cattle from their own pastures to the community or shared pasture. Greg and Mark had an old grey horse, and I recall they put me up on it and we did a bit of “cowboying”. I’m sure they thought I was a bit of a pain in the neck, sort of useless baggage that they got stuck with entertaining. But for me the memories have that hazy “wonderful summer” feel to them, like something from a movie.
The last time I recall seeing Mark and Greg was probably when my Grandfather passed away: I guess I would have been around 13 or 14 then. I barely recognized them at the time, and in all the years since I haven’t really thought much about them. I heard the news from Mom now and then: Mark and Greg leaving the farm, becoming welders or various things, Greg getting into body-building and then professional wrestling. But it was more or less all somewhat fantastical: I had a cousin who was a pro wrestler, with a stage name (Doby Gillis, or “Mr. Gillis” later) and everything– kind of neat, but hard to imagine being “real”.
I found out earlier this week, on December 23rd, that my cousin Greg had died of a sudden heart attack earlier that morning. He had been at home in Coquitlam from his work as a heavy welder, which often took him to places like Fort McMurray, Alberta. His girlfriend was holding him as he died. He was born three years before me, in 1961, and died only a few miles away, without me even knowing he was there.
Thank you, Greg, for being a temporary brother to me all those summers ago.
Update: The wrestling community is responding to Greg’s sudden death- this article by Dan Denton seems to be the most complete.