Nate Woolaver

Lately I find myself thinking of Nate.  I’ve been trying to recall all my memories of him but they’re escaping me and I hate it.

We spent the summer of 2003 sweating, laughing and selling our labour to a company who ruthlessly commodified what ought to be freely and publicly accessible – the Toronto Islands – for the paltry sum of about $7.25/hour. The Centreville uniform was a hideous combination of navy blue pleated shorts and a turquoize and royal blue polo t-shirt.  Management got to wear classier, navy shirts. I didn’t think that was fair. Besides, at seventeen the thought of wearing shorts that found their way anywhere near my knees was unacceptable so I would roll them up as high as I could without pissing off management.  I wasn’t particularly politically aware back in those days, but I already had a healthy anti-managerial streak that eventually got me fired.   I wasn’t fired for the shorts.

I worked at the pony ride with ten wily but adorable little beasts as my charges.  I would catch the early ferry from the foot of Yonge St., relish in the twenty minutes of goosebumps on the cool water, and arrive at the park when it was still quiet.  I would clean out the pony’s ‘field’, a fenced-in enclosure far too small for all of them and mostly devoid of grass and shade.  I fed them, and once they had eaten, would choose three or four to groom and tack up for the morning shift.

I always went about my tranquil morning work refusing to believe that mere hours later that little sanctuary would become a hellish, frenetic jungle of steel and clatter and childrens’ shrieks.  One day  there was a concert scheduled on one of the other islands and Treble Charger did a soundcheck at 8:00am, the sound of which echoed and bounced across the park, reverberating between those gaudy metal contraptions called rides.  I saw you looking for a light, face painted cigarette white.  You asked the cleanest boy you found; you couldn’t see me turned around.

The ponies worked in shifts, and selecting the right combination for the day was an ongoing challenge.  It would be more appropriate to describe this process as a request.  I’d sit down in the field amongst them and ask, ‘who would like to work today?’  They would deliberate.  Eventually a few would resign themselves to the task.  Like us all, they had good days and bad days.  Some got along well and some would launch an impromptu strike if they felt overworked or underappreciated.

Nate often worked with me; he was one of the few who wasn’t afraid of the beasties and, quite the opposite, embraced the job.  The days he was assigned to the ride (which was more often than not), I’d hear him coming from a hundred yards out, his skateboard rolling along the cement paths that linked each ride in a meandering pattern meant to evoke feelings of a small town fair.  He’d spin around the corner, smiling ear to ear, and poke out his fake front teeth with his tongue.  ‘Heya!’ he’d yell.

One night we went out for dinner at Tortilla Flats on Queen St. – the old location, not the new one.  I had a pint of beer.  My excellent fake ID was still a novelty.  Nate told me about books he read at university and I nodded and thought gosh, he is smart, and he thinks I’m smart but I’m really not.  We ate Mexican food and I remember the tenor of the conversation but not the words.  He pushed me to think hard about things.

I think that might have been a date, but I didn’t know it at the time.  If it was, it was a good one.

Nate died a few years ago, when I was in my fourth year at Trent and busy working on the first SAID conference.  A few months earlier – or maybe a year? maybe even two? – he sent me a play he was working on.  I never read it, was too busy, thought I’d get to it, thought I really need to chat with Nate, thought we had all the time in the world and it could wait.  I was still hurt about my unjust dismissal from Centreville and I made an effort to keep anything connected with that job and those summers at arm’s length.

Our friendship was brief in a temporal sense.  I went to the funeral and sat with the only person I knew -another colleague of ours who was amongst his best friends – and we cried for a long time.  Now I’m thinking about Nate again and I’m not sure why.  I do know I’m angry at myself, not just for letting the distance grow when I could have easily reached out to him, but because most of what I remember of him is peripheral.  I could tell you which table we sat at in Tortilla Flats and I remember the look on his face when his dessert – a chimichanga – was unceremoniously plunked down in front of him. (He was ecstatic.)  But I can’t remember his words, and I wish I could.  I really, really wish I could remember everything he said to me and do his wit and wisdom a little bit of justice in the process.



Filed under On Human Connections

5 responses to “Nate Woolaver

  1. Leslie Woolaver

    I feel the same way.

  2. Max woolaver

    Hi… I’m Nate’s dad… I’m very very touched by your eloquent remembrance of Nathaniel. ( that’s what we always called him.) His sister, Leslie Woolaver, found your site by accident and she sent it along to us. Your ‘reconstruction’ of the Island job was right on…Later Nathaniel worked at a hotel in Mobtreal (I meant to write ‘Montreal’ but Montreal seems perfect!)… He called himself ‘a slave of slaves’.
    We miss him terribly of course. His death changed our lives… We are not the people we were. The legacy of his being informs us every hour of every day and do we live into new lives. But it’s hard learning everything all over again. There is a joy that grief teaches but it is larger than a serial comprehension… It has no moving parts. You have to sit with it and let some other light show you the contours of it as the day passes. ( All that sounds a little odd) There is more than a passing resemblance between deep pervasive grief and the contemplative moment.
    I have to eat my soup! If you feel so inclined, please write to us at the email address above. We’d love to get to know you.
    Peace and Blessing,
    Max Woolaver

  3. Hello Leslie, Max, and Ellen,

    It’s an absolute pleasure to hear from you all. I had meant to put a link to this post on Nate’s Facebook group, but it escaped me. I think we did meet once, at your place in Toronto, for his birthday a number of years back. It must have been close to a decade ago.

    I can’t imagine the pain eases, but your strength is evident and admirable to say the least. We should definitely get in touch. I’ll write you all a longer email soon.

    Keep well, and know that Nate’s often in my thoughts. 🙂


  4. Simon

    Thank you for this. I am an old friend of Nathaniel’s and was thinking of him today and came across this. I miss him.

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