Missing Stuart McLean

I heard the news on CBC Radio as I pulled into Pita Pit for supper. First came the familiar music of my favourite radio show. Then the voice I and millions of listeners loved so well. “I’m Stuart Mclean and this is the Vinyl Cafe.”

The newscaster cut in. “A beloved voice was silenced forever today,” he said and I said, “Oh, no!” to no one in particular. I wanted to plug my ears – I knew the next part. “Stuart McLean the man behind CBC’s Vinyl Cafe died today of cancer at the age of 68. Author, journalist and humourist, McLean won the Stephen Leacock Award for humour three times…..”

Stuart’s Vinyl Cafe stories centered on one fairly normal family, Dave and Morley and their children. He travelled Canada telling their stories live. His writing moved his audience to laughter one moment and tears the next. And from Gander to Victoria, he showed Canadians their own towns in a new light. They loved him for that.

Stuart had a feature on the show that always began the same way. In his warm baritone, he’d say, “And now it’s time for the Story Exchange. You know how this goes. You send us your stories, and I’ll read every one. If I really like it, I’ll read it on air.”

I sent him one of mine once. He never read it on air. I’m not sorry I sent it, because I know he read it.

Mr. MacLean did a supper show at Manitou Beach a few years back. The Preacher and I went. We took our good friends Ken and Sharon. At historic Danceland, famous for its horsehair dance floor we ate good food and listened to the band (I think it was Little Miss Higgins). But mostly we listened to Stuart.

After the show, tear-down happening all around us, we talked to Mr. McLean. He wanted to know why Rick used a walker. We told him about West Nile Disease. He seemed horrified. ”A mosquito? Really? REALLY? And how are you doing now?” He seemed genuinely interested, focussing intently on the Preacher as he talked, eager to let him tell his own story.

When Rick told him I’d written a book full of that story, a book about keeping faith in the middle of devastating disease, and that we’d be happy to give him one, he seemed interested. We delivered it to his hotel the next day. Only God knew he would soon need a book to remind him that life is hard, but God is good. I hope he read it.

The world has many gifted people, people who illuminate a stage with their talent and personality; people who love themselves as much as their audience loves them. Not Stuart. When we gave him a standing ovation, he seemed surprised and a little shy.

Perhaps that’s why he didn’t make his cancer public until near the end. Because all along he’d been telling each of us not his story, but our own. And dying too soon wasn’t part of it.