Monday, November 30, 2009

The carpenter's tale: A story cut far too short

Martin Auld, a carpenter, was punctual on the job, because he had a more important duty after work. Below: Martin as a six-year-old boy in Scotland.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
November 30, 2009


Martin Auld arrived on the job early, worked hard without a break, left promptly as though he had other business.

It had taken some years to find a footing. He worked in a bakery, as had his father, but it was not until his brother-in-law took him on as an apprentice carpenter that he found his calling.

He found satisfaction in the precision demanded of a craftsman. He developed a lean, wiry build, so strong he would think nothing of carrying on a conversation even as he held heavy wooden beams in one arm.

His longish hair grew wild like Lyle Lovett’s, sometimes falling over his eyes as he talked, as though providing a place to hide for someone shy by nature.

Mr. Auld had eclectic tastes in music and literature, the latter a remarkable achievement as he struggled with dyslexia. It was said the first book he ever read from cover to cover was “The Happy Hooker,” a memoir he managed to complete at age 14. As an adult, he compiled a substantial library about which he could speak with an autodidact’s insights.

He renovated heritage homes and built additions to post-war bungalows. After work, he crafted furniture, building beautiful coffee tables and kitchen cabinets, as well as a bed for his daughter. She was named Zola, an homage to a literary passion.

Father doted on daughter. They frequented Munro’s Books downtown, becoming to the clerks familiar customers. His expeditious workday was explained by his desire to be with her after school.

On a sunny summer Sunday morning, Mr. Auld rode his motorcycle home after having visited a friend. The night before he had spent with family celebrating his father’s 75th birthday. It had been a happy night and a calm morning.

He was northbound on Cook Street when, at the intersection of Caledonia, incidentally the name the Romans gave to his Scottish homeland, he was struck by a Jeep SUV running a red light. The driver fled, ignoring Mr. Auld, who lay motionless on the pavement.

His older sister, Susan, learned the terrible news as she prepared for another day’s work as an operating room nurse at Victoria General.

At his funeral service, at which those paying respects filled every seat in the chapel and crowded the aisles while standing, the family invited mourners to speak. Among them was a building inspector with a reputation for being a stickler who said he had never found fault with any of Mr. Auld’s work, a rare achievement in his experience.

In their grief, the family found solace in knowing he had touched so many people in his work and his private life.

Police caught the man who killed Mr. Auld two days after the collision.

The Auld family attended throughout the trial, dressing as though attending church.

Susan Auld remembers her father getting his first look at the defendant.

“He’s shackled and he looks downtrodden. He’s the picture of depression and chronic pain. My father leans over and says, ‘Oh, God. This poor man.’ Yet, at the same time he’s ripped a huge hole in our hearts.”

In court, the Aulds learned about a life tragic from the beginning. Gordon Richard Smith’s 38 years were filled with one offence after another, some committed on him, others by him. He had been in foster care since age six, had suffered abuse, spent most of his adult life in jail for drugs, robberies, weapons offences, and, horribly, one other dangerous driving incident.

He had been drug sick, seeking a heroin fix, when he heedlessly plowed into Mr. Auld’s motorcycle. He was also on parole.

He got four years for dangerous driving causing death, plus another year for leaving the scene. He got double credit for the time he served in custody awaiting the completion of the trial.

He will soon enough be eligible once again for parole.

The trial’s outcome was most unsatisfactory for the family, who felt despair at the futility of the exercise. But what purpose vengeance when it does not bring back to life your loved one?

“It’s not the court’s job to make him suffer as much as we’re suffering,” Susan Auld said.

“The court’s job is not to fill the void in our life. We all know that. Nothing is going to bring Martin back.”

She expresses sympathy for a man whose own life has been a nightmare, yet despairs because no jail, or rehabilitation program, or support service for those on parole, ever managed to halt the spiral that led to her brother’s death.

She also feels that if it had not been Martin, some other family would be grieving because of an out-of-control criminal life.

“I don’t think the general public gives a person like Gordon Smith a thought unless he crosses your path,” she said. “When he does so the outcome is pretty dramatic.”

At the funeral, little Zola, who has Down syndrome, sang “Close to You” by the Carpenters.

One of Zola’s teachers described a morning routine during which Martin dropped his daughter off at school. He encouraged the girl be responsible by entering unaccompanied. He then watched, unseen, a vigilant guardian at a distance.