I first met Lorna Hutcheson twenty years ago. We became casual acquaintances while both working at Trent Radio; when Lorna and my friend Al got together a few months later we entered that weird “the girlfriend of my friend” asymmetry, a combination of a free pass to friendship combined with the eggshells of each knowing that we might eventually end up on either sides of a break-up.
When Lorna moved to the west coast a few months later, and Al decided to follow, I agreed to come along for the ride — hitchhiking as far as Thunder Bay and then the bus the rest of the way — and then suddenly found myself in the middle of Lorna and Al grappling to figure out whether they could carve out a longer-term thing.
Lorna’s move west was precipitated, in part, by a desire to explore alternatives to the social work career that she’d developed in Ontario. Empathetic by nature, and constitutionally unable to pay only partial attention, she was struggling, I think, with finding a way of being helpful to others without losing herself completely.
While Lorna worked at finding a new path, she and Al persevered and I was their house-guest several times on visits west over the next few years.
While I flitted about on the sidelines of vegetarianism, progressive politics and what we used to call “social change,” Lorna and Al were all-in. Oddly my strongest memory of this was that their politics required making potato pancakes out of sweet potatoes rather than regular ones. And there were sprouts; lots of sprouts. I reacted by sneaking out after-dark to the Mac’s Milk on the corner to purchase contraband Reese Peanut Butter Cups.
After a while Lorna and Al relocated to Vancouver Island and while they remained intertwined, they eventually moved apart. I heard from Al from time to time, and other friends of mine crossed paths with Lorna and reported back, but we gradually lost touch with each other.
Then one day, several years later, out of the blue, Lorna called me. She’d been to Mexico, had fallen ill, had made it back to her mother’s in western Ontario to recuperate, and was looking for a place to crash for a while and plan her next moves.
I’d just moved into an overly large apartment in downtown Peterborough and so I invited Lorna to come and live in the back room.
It was strange having Lorna suddenly back in my life: we’d known each other for what, young as we were, amounted to a very long time, but we’d never really gotten to properly know each other as friends outside of our connections to others.
Spending time with Lorna was intense, and sometimes a little overwhelming. We were both on the precipice of large life course-corrections, and over the four three weeks we spent a lot of time talking about the big issues of life (to be honest, I’m sure that I did most of the talking and Lorna most of the listening; our natural inclinations tending that way).
While we never quite managed to completely overcome the “friend of a friend” geometry that was the bedrock of our relationship, in that month in the summer of 1990 we certainly got to know each other a lot better, and I came to appreciate a lot of Lorna’s approaches to life.
My closest companion that summer was my dog Penny, an irascible lab-spaniel cross with seemingly endless energy. When I was due to visit friends in Montreal for a week and needed someone to look after Penny, Lorna stepped in, drove up with me, and continued on with Penny down into New Hampshire (to rendezvous, I only realized much later, with her new friend Jay).
Lorna and Penny got on like gangbusters on that trip and so when, a few weeks later, I had an opportunity to move to Texas and needed a temporary home for Penny while I was gone, Lorna generously stepped in. And when Lorna got her own opportunity to move — back to Vancouver Island — she gamely took Penny with her and we made tentative plans to rendezvous a few months down the road to transfer parentage back.
As things worked out, I ran out of money, didn’t make it west, and eventually it became obvious that Penny’s new home was with Lorna. While Lorna and I weren’t in sync philosophically on everything, I had no hesitation in this regard, as it was obvious that she and Penny were meant for each other (and what better life could there be for a dog than having free reign to bound through the forests of Vancouver Island).
Every now and again I’d hear reports about Penny’s new life from traveling friends, and Al, still a friend and also living on Vancouver Island, sent letters with updates. I learned about Lorna’s new love Jay, and knew something of their life together, but for the most part Lorna and I lost touch with each other for several years after that.
I met Catherine, we moved to Prince Edward Island. And then one day came another surprise call from Lorna: she and Jay were living in Colorado, had two children, and were thinking about relocating to PEI.
Although I knew something of Lorna’s Island connections — I’d been working with her Uncle Merrill at Elections PEI for several years by this time — I didn’t know she’d spent summers here as a child, and that it was, in many ways, her second home.
Lorna was calling to look for advice on making the move. I helped out in whatever small way I could, and then, as was our habit, we fell out of touch again.
The next time I heard from Lorna she and Jay and their kids were set up in Little Sands making a go at running a camp-cabin operation. We visited them — and Penny, now almost 10 years old and a sort of “dog emeritus,” with the spirit to be energetic but not always the flesh — and got to meet Armando and Yolando and Jay for the first time and learn something of their path since I’d last seen Lorna many years earlier.
While we did a little bit of web work for Lorna and Jay, and ran into them from time to time around town, our lives didn’t overlap nearly as much as I think we each might have imagined them to have.
Last week came another call out of the blue, although this time not from Lorna but from her Uncle Merrill: Lorna suddenly and unexpectedly died on Friday morning.
Yesterday at the wake I got to meet Lorna’s parents and brother and sister for the first time and see Armando and Yolanda almost all grown up. And waiting in the long line I came to realize that in Lorna’s time back here on the Island she’d touched the lives of many, many others.
I’m happy to have known Lorna. My thoughts and prayers go out to Jay, Armando and Yolanda whose time with Lorna was so suddenly cut short.