Volume 9, Number 51, 2006

The Darnest Thing
by Jane Hebden

My first encounter with Cragmont Tissle was on a crisp clear September morning in 1973. Actually, the starting morning of my first teaching position.

His stooped form pushing the wide gray janitor’s broom startled me so that I almost lost control of the pyramid of spelling texts I was so artfully trying to balance. Slowly he raised his long sagging face to reveal dark fluid fish-like eyes, made even more eerie by the milky film of beginning cataracts. Giving me a deliberate nod he resumed his position and continued down the hall.

I was pulled out of my trance by the shrill ring of the bell and the clamor grade three students make on the first day of school.

It did not take me long to hear the gossip about Mr. Tissle.

“If it’s broken, he can fix it,” announced the Vice-Principal.

“And no matter how dirty, he can clean it!” chimed in the music teacher. “Twenty-five years he’s mopped these floors and twenty-five years he’s put up with screaming, dirty and often cruel children.”

Dubbed Mr. Crabby Thistle by the student body, he had been victim to every sort of prank. But, one in particular had become a tradition. Ritually a bouquet of field thistles would be tied to his broom handle. An attached note read: “Thistles for Mr. Thistle.” Each time he’d stand, boney hands on hips and cock his head as if he had seen it for the first time. Then a grin would crack across his normally stoic face.

One frigid February Monday Mr. Tissle was not in the halls. News of his passing flooded the staff room. No one was left untouched. Tears and tissues flowed freely.

His memorial service was filled with teachers, students and parents.

“Cragmont was a simple man,” stated his brother Will. “He ventured to the city from the family farm in Rosser, Manitoba. There, in his favourite pasture, we’ll lay his ashes. Cragmont loved his job and all the mischievous children. Alone in the city you all became his family.”

A few years later, while scouring the countryside for new hiking trails, I ended up near Rosser. On a whim I decided to look up the Tissle farm.

Soft spoken and kind, Will was more then happy to show me Cragmont’s resting place. At the edge of a deep green meadow, not five feet away from me, grew the tallest thistle bush I’d ever seen. Shaking his head with resignation Will looked over at it.

“I have pulled that thing out so many times that I finally just gave up on it. Everytime I yank it out it just grows back thicker and taller.” He sighed. “The darnest thing.” He shrugged. “The darnest thing.”