Friday, 30 November 2018

The Saving of Everett Lewis

“One believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved” (St. Paul, Rom. 10:10).

On October 23rd, 2018 I met and interviewed Reverend Stephen Wade in Paradise, Nova Scotia. In 1978, New Years Eve day, Reverend Wade met and provided spiritual consolation hours before Everett Lewis was murdered.

Port Lorne, Nova Scotia, 2013 - a power outage owing to a winter storm. He went out to his garage to start up his generator which was in need of fuel. The power was out and emergency sirens could be heard through out the region. It was one of those winter nights.

 I'm reminded of the power of gasoline, my own can stored in a shed ... pull back the plastic lock to release the cap into motion and then turn the cap counter clockwise to expose the flammable agent... did it a thousand times. The odour staining my nostrils, as I eventually fill my lawn mower gas tank to cut my grass and maintain a common, and collective suburban exercise. An image of neatness and superficial order where we breathe in oxygen and mysteriously breathe out carbon dioxide, as the trees clap their hands, and the grass conforms to our neighbourhood geometric objectives.

 One other thing...there is also the familiar hiss of fumes escaping from the can into that region of oxygen - that invisible force few consider until they are in need of it, or understand its relationship to something as minute, yet so powerful as a single ... fiery particle.

 For him though, as the winter storm continued, his hand on the cap, he inadvertently controlled his mortality as he slowly opened it to allow the marriage of gas fumes and an unforeseen spark - his head turned ever so slightly away at the flash, yet it was too late. An instant explosion - an involuntary immolation. He and the garage engulfed in flames and the garage door closed.

Panic, shock, adrenalin, somehow pitched him forward as he discovers the latch at the door's base. Clean, cold air crashing into a human torch. He roles around in the few inches of snow on the ground and eventually (he knows not how, or how long) the flames conform, and are extinguished in the white powder's magic.

  New Years Eve day 1978, around Ten AM - The Reverend, an Evangelical Christian, is in his car driving along Highway 101 in Marshalltown, past the small house where Maud used to live, and Everett Lewis still does. The Reverend is young, in his early thirties, embarking on a spiritual journey that would take an unpredictable twist. What will occur this day will forever change his life. In the nine years since Maud died, the house, more of a husk now, had declined as though an attempt to suppress it's spirit and the memory of that woman were all that mattered. It was the modis operendi of the occupant. A house to avoid, and yet the door was open... a room with a view, but of what though? Anything connected with Maud was either sold or being sold off. Even Maud's sympathy cards had a price for Everett - sympathy will always have a price in the world of art.

He glances at the house as the car passes, determines this is a place to avoid. Maybe the car radio was on, maybe it wasn't. But the conversation switches over in his mind to the subject of love, not his love, but something greater than him. He considers going back, but recalls the community image Everett Lewis has forged since his release from the Poor Farm next to his house. He ends the conversation and drives on. He would go anywhere for that higher love, but not this place, he was afraid. Yet, he recalls the door was open; and the conversation in his mind resumes, louder this time, unable to tune it out. To the voice he acquiesces. He slowly pulls over to the side of the highway, turns around, and returns to the house that was once an outbuilding on a Poor Farm. He sees Everett Lewis through the doorway and proceeds to enter. 

Paradise, Nova Scotia, October 23rd, 2018. I arrive to interview the Reverend. He is seventy one years old as he pushes the carpet cleaner back and forth in his World Missions Center. It reminds me of one of these devices they use in a movie theatre to vacuum up popcorn. He is kind and humble with his greeting, and immediately puts me at ease. We sit down, two chairs divided by an old clock on a table with the incorrect time.

 Paradise is a small community in the Annapolis Valley, it's coffee shop appears closed for the season. The Mission Centre doubles as a community Centre, and Food Bank. There is no imposing pulpit, just some chairs and the instruments for a band including a drum set up front. We talk. His voice is soft and warm, yet confident.  They lived on the shore road (Bootleg Alley). Social issues were not discussed. A home life broken by alcoholism and divorce,  he took to the external world. A blind grandfather who tuned pianos, that would think nothing of climbing a ladder to replace a window screen, or rowing a boat alone in the harbour, fills the void. A flicker of a childhood memory: He recalls inmates working outside of the Poor Farm. He had to ask what the building was, and who the people were that lived there. He was told they were unfit for society.

 New Years Eve day 1978, - he recalls seeing Everett around Digby. Unclean, baggy woolen pants, woolen socks up to his knees, rubber boots, plaid jacket (red), canvas sack over his back, always on foot or bicycle. Another flash - Everett submitting an advert to the Digby Courier that asked women to "Come swing on his swing in the back yard."

The room with a view is a void. A void of Everett's own creation. It is filthy. Everett chewed tobacco, the evidence everywhere on the wooden floor of the small room. The stove, once prized as the heart of the dwelling, has enamel blackened by neglect. There was no light, just what was emitted through a couple of windows. He vaguely remembers some painted patterns by Maud on the walls, but the overall effect was dingy.

Everett Lewis closes the door.

Halifax Infirmary Burn Unit, 2013, Halifax, Nova Scotia -  To the Reverend, an African Nova Scotian intern appears one night as in a dream and speaks to him. The interned states that he is not a prophet, not a mystic, only a Christian. He says to the Reverend that he will survive this ordeal no matter what decisions have been made regarding his chances by the doctors.

 New Years Eve day 1978, - Neither man knew each other, although each man probably knew of each other. This was to be their first and only conversation. The Reverend sat in the chair that Maud had once occupied by the window, with her adhoc TV tray easel, producing one folk work after another in serial sequence. Everett sat in the opposite corner.

 Paradise, Nova Scotia, October 23rd, 2018 -  The Reverend recalls that for Everett, the void was money, greed, even vengeance. The Reverend states to me that God put in the void and God is the only one that can fill it. I think of the void left by the Poor Farm and a young boy chosen to leave with his Mother while his siblings and Father remain captive. The void that gave him a few bucks for burying his father in the poor farm cemetery with others, including the unidentified dead. The void that gave him the keys as a night watchman to the harmlessly insane ward for women and men. The void that made him ration everything from food to music. The void that in the end probably broke him. Everett's disdain for church was well known locally. Illiteracy ruled out reading the bible, so the Reverend discussed the power of prayer with Everett. Cars and trucks clattered by as the year of 1978 was coming to a close. Everett would need to pray, it was the midnight hour of his life.

 New Years Eve day 1978, - Everett Lewis capitulated and tells the Reverend he would continue to pray in the coming days. The Reverend leaves feeling there was a sense of relief and a weight taken  off Everett's shoulders. The two never meet again. Hours later, Everett Lewis was murdered in a home invasion.

Paradise, Nova Scotia, October 23rd, 2018 - I ask the Reverend if he had ever seen the Maud Lewis house in the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. He hasn't but would like to. He finds the steel cage memorializing Maud cold and so chooses to remember her standing in the door of her own house, watching the world pass by.

“The difference between Maud and Ev is that Maud, for all her losses, built something wonderful out of her broken self. We still have it. Everett, for all his accumulations, would lose everything by theft and death. He got revenge but failed at vengeance. When Everett died the county was indifferent, and in some cases pleased. When Maud died, the county grieved."  - Lance Woolaver 

The Reverend finds these words factual, very sad, and yet most probably true. He focuses and states that there is always room for forgiveness - he felt compelled to provide this in the hope it would be received.

I leave Paradise, NS. wondering about this most disputed region of Christian theology, and the many ways it has been debated, exhalted, and sadly debased. It's not for me to judge what may or may not have transpired in the heart of Everett Lewis.  

Everett Lewis

Postcript, November, 30th 2018: 

In 2013, burnt from head to toe the Reverend was in a coma for a few days before he eventually woke to the prognosis that the burns on his skin and muscles were so severe his organs would eventually shut down and as a result he had about 2 weeks to live. Against the odds he survived the two weeks and eventually strengthened enough to be sent to a rehabilitation center for burned victims. Two yrs. later he was mobile and walking. Numerous operations and skin grafts later he was able to begin to resume his life with constant care and support. In 2018 the Reverend, at 71yrs. old is busier than ever within his community. 

Steven Rhude, Wolfville, NS. 




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