Halifax, Nova Scotia – Finally arriving in Halifax 12 hours late; I was already behind my self-imposed schedule.
Air Canada managed to help me hail a shuttle to the Maritime Museum in downtown Halifax about 60 miles away.
My driver was Bill Sullivan. A happy-go-lucky guy with three days growth of gray stubble, a Bluetooth in his ear and a plastic-looking wood cross around his neck.
“I left school when I was 11 to get a job,” Bill said with a blended Nova
Bill delivered telegrams on a bicycle. “We had a uniform and everything,” he
said, describing his cap, boots and high collar.
“I delivered a birthday message to an old woman. She stood in the doorway and
said, ‘Aren’t you supposed to sing?'”
“Then I had to deliver a telegram with black running down the edge. I got to the ladies home and she knew right away.” The woman said, “Ain’t you supposed to ask me if I’m alone?” Bill said he did. “Ain’t you supposed to come in and set with me?” Bill said he did. For a while. The woman left the telegram lying on the table unopened. “Craziest thing I’d ever seen, her eyes welled up but she never cried one tear,” he said confirming the woman’s son had been killed in the war.
Bill, 73, was great at conversation. He kept it going. No sense in silence when it could be filled with a story.
“You familiar with the Butterbox Babies?,” he asked.
“There was a dairy that sold butter in boxes and those boxes were the perfect size for a coffin of a child born at the Ideal Maternity Home,” Bill said about the outfit that ran in an eastern province of Nova Scotia in the 1930s and ’40s.
“That couple, the Young’s, would take in unwed mothers, charge them $500 a week and either tell them their baby had died and then sell it, or they eventually did die because all they fed the babies was molasses and water.
“I was one of those babies, but I was adopted,” Bill said, explaining he bounced around to a number of foster homes, including a family in New Jersey.
“When that story about the Butterbox Babies came out, the kids that survived
started finding each other,” said Bill. “We had a reunion recently and 120 of us showed up.”
Bill confidently drove through traffic. He wore rectangular glasses and had a
collection of sunglasses hanging from the visors in the van.
“You into cowboy movies?” asked Bill, not waiting for an answer. “What was Tom Mix horse’s name?”
Old Westerns. That was another one of Bill’s passions. “Tony. Tony the Wonder
Horse,” he said with confidence.
“You know any cowboys?” I fumbled out a weak guess of Ronald Reagan. Apparently he wasn’t big enough to have his own horse with a name.
“Gene Autry – now there’s a cowboy. What song was his most famous?” grilled Bill. “You sing it once a year….”
I was about to blurt out “Happy Birthday,” but Bill couldn’t wait for my incorrect answer so he started singing, “Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer….”
He was so proud of himself, but he wasn’t smug. “Autry’s horse was Champion. How about Roy Rogers – what was his horses name?”
The cowpoke trivia continued. “Trigger,” he said quickly. I knew that one, but
just blanked – and Bill wasn’t big on a 3-second pause in conversation.
Arriving at the Maritime Museum, I knew I definitely needed to work on my equine movie history.
Bill was a gracious driver. He helped unload my bike and was eager to pose for a photo before hitting the dusty wagon trail again.