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Various Veins

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K.C. Emerson first came to my attention when the revolution in the system of selling tobacco in Ontario set tempers flaring, old board versus new board.

I expected to be a tobacco farmer in the 1940s. During harvest, employees of several companies visited barns of neatly piled tobacco to grade the crop. Farmers stooked the tobacco, tied on wooden slats four feet long, an inch-and-a-half high and half-an-inch thick, into piles by either eight or twelve feet by as high as necessary. I hated the job because it was often done on Sunday while the rest of the workers enjoyed a day of rest, whatever they called rest. It wasn't always to attend church.

I wanted to be on the beach usually at Port Burwell to ogle young women. No bikinis in those days. Even men and boys had to cover their bosoms to go dipping in the waves. We weren't under eyes looking down their noses when we skinny dipped in one of the Otter Creeks, but that's another story.

(K.C. Emerson honoured by Elgin County - 2012)

Those graders knew most farmers piled their crop with the best leaf around the outer edge. They brought muscular helpers to heave the piles and get at the deepest concealed samples. So much for our neat stooking.

The new marketing board would end this invasion of privacy, the baled leaves would be sold at auction in Delhi, Tillsonburg or Aylmer.

A public meeting brought growers to the Straffordville town hall for an information session. Angry questions brought windy, confusing answers. Then a dapper young man would take the stage, hip cocked at an easy angle, and put the answer in plain language. That was Ken Emerson of Vienna.

When K.C. became warden of Elgin County in 1963 it was customary for the warden to host a banquet in his township. Notice we weren't municipalities yet.

The feast was served in the Vienna town hall. In those days it had an elegant opera house decor. The stage was concealed by a curtain covered by a mural in oils.

Entertainment was provided by four young bucks who sang in the barbershop style. K.C. introduced them as Bayham Lambs, and so the quartet was registered in the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barbershop Quartet Singing in America, SPEBSQA for short.

Allen Walsh sang bass, Roy Stewart sang tenor, Robert Ball sang lead, and yours truly filled in the chords with baritone.

Jumping ahead several years, there came a time when the venerable town hall needed a face lift. The crafty Reeve of Vienna sweet talked the provincial bureaucrats into granting money for the renovation. He told me it all depends on how you present your request. At that particular moment it was fashionable to provide drop-in centres for seniors and so Vienna gained a senior drop-in centre cum library.

Sadly, latter day pinch-pennies closed the branch leaving seniors to find transportation to Port Burwell or Straffordville, neither offering drop-in centre amenities.

Residents of Vienna lost the campaign to preserve the historic structure. It's only a memory to the oldsters.

After we accompanied K.C. Emerson to his final resting place on Saturday, we gathered at the Vienna Community Centre for lunch and fellowship.

I wondered how many there knew that much of the fine facility was built by K.C. Emerson. I watched him hefting concrete blocks and setting them in mortar to create walls ten or twelve feet high. He was truly a hands-on politician. K.C. contributed liberally to the financial needs of the project, never making boast of his actions.

At a birthday celebration for K.C. I was able to have a quiet visit with him. He told me something that the present Ontario Provincial party leaders should know.

"When you are a leader, sometimes you should look over your shoulder to see if anyone is following you."

Wouldn't that be a fine epitaph for this humble gentleman farmer of Vienna?

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