Thursday, October 01, 2009
Hayseed Politics: Eddie Snopes was even weirder as a politician
When I ran for Mayor of Newmarket, my home town, I thought that I was the fringe candidate. But there was a second, who seemed even more baroque than yours truly.
I was the crazy writer, seemingly on speed. But Eddie Snopes was the real deal on being odd.
I got to know Eddie well, was taken by his life story, and once we both lost the election, I was moved to craft a roman à clef about him, a novel with a key.
The story is bucolic, rural. But I had to experiment with my new writing form.
So here is a chapter out of my Eddie Snopes book, a novel with a key, and I must say that that year neither Eddie or I got any new key.
To hear tell of Eddie Snopes is to conjure in your mind the image of a clam fisher, muskrat trapper and toad stabber from somewhere in the primeaval wilds of Holland Landing, from back in the days when it was still an unspoiled natural swamp in the Depression Thirties. Yet Eddie was only 47 at the time of the 1985 election in nearby Newmarket, and it was more properly to his father, Sam that the toadstabber, muskrat trapper, home brew distiller and other backwoods images belonged.
Sam Snopes used to pull into Newmarket from the Second Concession in Holland Landing to stop off at a Main Street watering hole, have a good afternoon of it and forget where he was. Barkeeps and patrons would then pour Sam into his buggy and the fine Morgan horse that Sam owned would take the harness buggy all the way home to Holland Landing by memory.
Sam Snopes would used to be a tough old nut out there up North Main from Newmarket, making a living as best he could at a time when there was no money, and bootlegging and catfish choking the only way to feed a family of four...Then a second family when he had abandoned the first.
Eddie Snopes was the product of Sam's second marriage, Sam soon dying when Eddie was just a tot and Sam's second wife remarrying shortly afterwards. Eddie grew up in the care of a foster father and his older siblings, while having to live down the reputation of being not quite legitimate in a crowd of half-brothers and sisters divided along family lines.
Eventually, Eddie's mother was spirited away to somewhere in the north country and Eddie got to feel like a motherless child quite a bit. It gave him a thoughtful foot-shuffling character that would persist to the present day.
What was left of the new family did settle in Newmarket and it was here in this mill town that Eddie grew up, atttending schools in town, doing surprisingly well at Newmarket High, displaying a strange combination of athletics and art.
He was farily popular. Eddie with the flaxen haired, county boy appearance. A type. But a little odd. Nobody ever said it out loud, but Eddie was something of a pig pen Cinderfella, His hands were always dirty from scraching in the ground after something, but nobody seemed to mind in a school not too far off rural.
After hight school, Eddie surprised everybody by going to art school, or more properly, the Ontario College of Art, in those days a fairly elitist school. Strange move for Eddie, the contrary one the champ runner for his shool, the dewworm picker at night to keep himself in pin money.
Through the strange combination of of picking worms at night (and illegally) at golf courses and through geniune ability at draftsmanship, Eddie did gradueate from OCA, met a kindred spirit, Lolly who didn't mind working the golf course with him at night. Out on the golf course one night, Eddie proposed under the pine trees and she accepted.
But Eddie was Eddie. The contrary one. Hard to live with.
Shortly after the divorce, Eddy resumed his old tendency towards physlcal things. Work on stone to slake the depression, put up fences, building cairns, taking up judo and karate to get a new attitude. At night, he still picked worms.
He was developing the attitude of a man perplexed by a metahysical problem, working it out through a pitting of his very being against rocks and stone, against the material world.
Is it love that lends light to intellect. And in the absence of love, do we not get meaner?
If you cannot love a woman, you can work against real things, make a dent. If you can't love a woman--or more properly, if woman doesnl't love you--then you can love the town, love the town as if it were a woman. But seemingly, he had to show his manhood, his sudden conviction of a new knighthood.
Right down there on Main Street in the council chambers of of Newmarket was a gathering of princes and and princesses, the councillors. He was going to pit himself against them, perhaps just to show Lolly if she was still paying atention, to show he was a man of consequence to his estranged and unrepentant wife. He was going to become a man of foirce, of quality. And he was going to test that quality against the princes and plrincesses of this town of Newmarket.
How best to let his light shine, how best to show his love aand care for the beautiful old--style river town of Newmarket?
Eddie was a man of practical bent, but he had ideas. He had to get his ideas out into the open. He had to find an issue. The town of Newmarket had for years instructed all its mostorists, usually Model A jockeys, to park on only one side of the street, a custom preserved by the old contemps from the days when Main Street was still dust and dirt.
Eddie would become a prosyletiser, a brandisher of petitions. Eddie went out and got signatures to show that drivers really wanted to be able to park on both sides of the street, right in front of where they wanted to go. Eddie soon had shoppers parking more along where they wanted to buy. He got the bylaw changed with his picketing and pampleteering. He became a force in the world.
From there on, Eddie would be the arch enemy of not only those snooty concillors, but also Ray Twinney, Mayor of Newmarket. Oddly, of all the wags and young turks of Newmarket, it was only Eddie who who had the gumption to go against Twinney, a self-confessd "Don", for Twinney was half Sicilian. Eddie would run for Mayor and lose. And run again. And lose again. Fast-slow Eddie. Always running.
By the early eighties, though the press was having fun with Eddie with jokes of the worm turning and Mayor Twinney relectant to shake Eddie's hand after he came out of the warhroom--"The guy had been masturbating in there!"--Eddie was ready to rise again. He would be the eteranal, if slightly soiled knight, ready to do battle with Mob boss Dylan.
In talks with Eddie, he would tell me,"Noody else had the courage to stand up to a godfather like Twinney. "I was the first." And he was.
But there was another courageous person in town, a woman. Manager of a local hotel for down -and -outs, she took on Twinney in l983 and demonstrated that at least half the peoplle in town didn't like Da Godfather. She lost by just a few votes, but didn't contest.
So when l985 came around, who shoud join the lineup of candidates againt Ray Twinney but Eddie Snopes. Eddie had set a precendent. In the past peope were in fear of opposing Twinney publicly. He had run the poor hotel manager out of town, almost on a rail There was actually fear and loathing of Twinney in some circles. Fear, they said, of actually being offed.
Eddie Snopes had served to defuse that fear. There would now be, in the words of Hunter S. Thompson, no Fear and Loathing on the campaign trail...but more often than not, the mayor would win an acclamation.
But by l985, Eddie was ready not only to run against Twinney one more time, but he had a plan to restructure the was voting was set up in Newmarket.
What Eddie was proposing for a town of 35,000 was a ward system, a splitting up of the town into about five wards, each with a wark alderman and a ward councillor. This, Eddie reasoned, would break the Seven-Councillor--Seven Sister lockstep of Councils in the past, break up Twinney's Company Store mentality of the town and offer some real democracy. Eddie had said, "I don't necessarily want to run for mayor--I'd just like to set up a more fair system." Presumably his defeat would be easier to take when he was running on an idea and not against a man.
And so, the final results came in on the radio, Eddie trailing a bad 147 out of 13,000 votes. Eddie lost, of course.
But he won his ward system. He never stopped crusading.
He was last seen defending an old radial line streetcar terminus in Newmarket dating back to the thirties. He saved the original town hall from the wreckers hammer.
Eddie snopes was a fighter through and through.
Some day, I feared somebody was going to get him offed.
Right to the day they burned my house down.
Eddie used to tell me, "Be careful what you do. What and where you eat. Politics is a blood sport."
*(STORM AND STRESS ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL
The 1985 Election in Small Ontario Town is published by the Newmarket Public Library).