Soon after the last snow and ice had melted on the little piece of tundra we called home, the last puck had been shot, our skates hung up and our equipment packed away, it was time for ball season. We never really put away our sticks as they were needed year round for ball hockey, street hockey, hockey in the yard, sidewalk hockey, floor hockey in the gym and anywhere else we could find to play. The fuzzy faces of the crocuses began to spring up from the rich soil, their hues of lavender and gold bringing much needed beauty to the prairies. The cry of the meadowlark echoed in the distance.
Jumping on our bikes, we rode a couple of short blocks to the baseball diamond. Not wanting to miss one second of the action, we would take our seats right in the centre of the bleachers. The jocks would hit the ball over the fence, the crafty would bunt and steal bases and the pitchers dazzled us with their curve balls and speed. The catchers and basemen would wow us with their gymnastics . . . but the real star of the show was Mr. Giger.
Edd Giger was the umpire. With his black baseball hat turned backwards and a wire mask covering his face, he stood directly behind the catcher, barely able to see over his head. He held a large, purple chest protector in one hand and a bright, shiny, stainless steel counter in the other. A small straw broom for cleaning off home base found a home in his back pocket, only making an appearance for a vigorous brushing of the plate whenever he deemed it necessary. Edd made his calls with great resolve and purpose. No negotiating, no waffling, no second chances, no mercy! Argue with him and you were gone. It was his way or the highway.
His yelp of steeeeeeeeeeek, came off sounding somewhere between steak, steek and strike, but everyone within a mile radius knew what the call had been. If the batter struck out, Edd would point his stubby thumb heavenward and with a loud roar proclaim, "Batter, you're outta here!". The entertainment value was very high and better yet, it was free. The games were always highly competitive and spirited. Faculty, staff and students all played to win and we witnessed some pretty crazy behavior from "esteemed" faculty and staff. One would never have guessed they could have acted this way from observation in their jobs or classrooms. I have always maintained that true character comes out on the sports field. The standard taunts of, "We want a pitcher, not a belly itcher", and, "You swing like a rusty gate", filled the evening air, adding to the tension. If there was a particularly high strung individual up to bat, we would gather as many of our friends as we could and yell in unison, "Swing, batter, swing", just slightly before the ball crossed the plate. It often worked to really get the guy riled up and throw his timing off.
For a while Edd was also commissioner of the league which meant he not only enforced the rules - he made up a few of his own! He was in charge of where the back fence would be placed marking the boundary for home runs. The home run fence was, in reality, a red snow fence and was quite easily moved. One spring Edd made a deal with the players. Hit 3 home runs over the fence and he would invite you over to his house on Saturday morning for a big breakfast of bacon, eggs, fresh rolls and all the trimmings. To a summer worker living in the dorm, this sounded like heaven on earth. My uncle, Jerry McMahan, was one of those players who took up the challenge. After the 5th breakfast at the Giger house, Edd took him aside and in his gruff, direct way, said, "McMahan, quit hitting the ball over the fence or I'll have to move it back!"
Edd Giger was a short, barrel chested, powerhouse of a man. At 5 feet 6 inches, he lived like he was 6 foot 6. Born on October 2, 1910 in Bakersfield, California, Edd never knew his father who, interestingly, was called Add. While growing up, Edd helped cook in his Mother's diner. She married and divorced multiple times, adding little to the stability of their home. Quitting school in the eighth grade, Edd regretted his limited education the rest of his days. Seizing an opportunity to make something of his life and remove himself from the tough situation he was in, he joined the United States Army Air Corp at a very young age. He actually fudged a few dates in order to be accepted.
In 1940 he eloped with the love of his life, Francis Chester and on April 7th, they were married in Reno, Nevada. To this union was born a daughter, Helen and for this little family the world was about to change. Entering World War II in 1941, the United States was fully engaged by the time Edd was called up and assigned to service in New Guinea with the United States Air Force.
While Edd was away at war, Francis responded to an evangelist at the church and was converted. She tried to encourage Edd to do the same and attend with her, but he would have none of it. Church was for woman, children and sissies. Edd had an explosive temper and a mouth to go with it. Francis decided that actions would speak louder than words and so she walked the talk instead of preaching. One Sunday night, Francis asked Edd to go to church with her. He went and was converted that evening. This decision was to have a profound impact on his life and the life of his family. Edd's first prayer was for a son. Jerry was born a year later.
Edd rejoined the US Air Force and was assigned to Okinawa where he served for 4 years, returning only after Frances became very ill. Settling in Sacramento, CA, he was stationed at Mather Air Force Base. There his heart for the hurting and the spiritual well being of others began to take shape. He was involved in the rescue mission in downtown Sacramento. This experience had a profound effect on the lives of his children.
One evening in 1959 at Arcade Baptist Church, a traveling team from Prairie Bible Institute sang and spoke. At this meeting the Giger's learned of the staffing needs at the school in the far away Canadian north. They were moved to respond to the call and that summer the family moved to Prairie. By now there were 5 children on the scene; Helen, Jerry, Jim, John and Ruth. The transition to Canada was not always an easy one and there were many adjustments that had to be made.
Edd's first post at PBI was as a physical education teacher. When he took over, the fun and games stopped. He conducted classes like they were military training exercises. Circuit training routines, obstacle courses and long jogs are the stuff of legends. While in the gym, each student was assigned their own exercise mat and two heavy wooden bowling pins. All of the calisthenics were performed with these pins for added exercise. What set Edd apart from most gym teachers is that he actually participated in every activity with every class all day long. He would not ask a student to do something he was not fully prepared to do himself. The result of this is that he was in incredible physical shape and more than one student tried to convince him to try out for Mr. Universe.
Edd's next position was in the Dining Hall as a chef. There again he brought his military bearing to the operation, learning to stretch meager food budgets to their maximum potential, often feeding close to a thousand mouths per meal.
The Gigers had an outstanding garden! Produce of every kind filled their garden plot. Carrots, corn, peas, beans, turnips, parsnips, potatoes, squash and lettuce were some of the bounty they would harvest. For a time, Francis was supervisor of the peeling room and for years they brought home huge bags of peelings and egg shells from the kitchen, composting them and tilling it into the soil. This made for incredibly rich earth and the output from this small plot of land was truly outstanding.
Another thing that set Edd apart was his car. This was no ordinary car. Oh no! It was a 1959 silver Cadillac. You car lovers will know that this vehicle was a giant boat of a machine with lots of chrome and enormous fins in the back. It wasn't a car you saw everyday in our little neighborhood of Prairie Crescent. Actually, this was a car you hardly ever saw, let alone in our town. Edd loved that car and in good weather could be seen outside giving it a thorough wax and polish. The Gigers were very generous with the use of their Cadillac, often taking our whole family to church, if the weather was too bad for the red Ford Falcon. Edd took some hassle from those who thought his car was too ostentatious and was a waste of the Lord's money. Whispers around the campus turned the man and the car into a larger than life legend. Later, when Edd sold the Cadillac and bought a Toyota, folks breathed a sigh of relief that he had finally come to his senses . . . even though the Toyota cost considerably more than the Cadillac!
In the '70's, the Gigers began to attend the little church in the country where my Dad pastored. They were very supportive of both my parents and were active in the life of the church. Francis was a loyal friend to my Mom and a huge support to her during her illness with MS. Edd would often pray in the service and on occasion would get some of his words twisted around. We had a family in our church with the last name of Bethune and at one point George Bethune was very sick. Edd prayed that God would heal George Buffoon. On another occasion, he thanked the Lord for the bountiful crop of bikinis they had harvested that fall. Of course, he meant zucchinis, but there were a few giggles in the congregation that night.
Every couple of months, the church would hold a Sunday Evening Talent Night. This was an opportunity for people who were talented, or thought they were, to share their gifts with the Bethel congregation. Soloists, duets, family groups and instrumentalists would perform. Someone might recite a poem. This is exactly what Edd Giger would do. The piece he would recite was called, The Touch Of The Masters Hand.
As tears streamed down Edd's face, he would stand on the platform at the front of the church and relate the story of the auctioneer who was trying to sell an old violin that was battered and scarred. No one paid any attention to the old instrument. The auctioneer felt he was wasting his time trying to even sell it. The picture changed significantly when an older man stepped out of the crowd and picked up the violin. Wiping off the dust he began to play beautiful, sweet music. Edd knew first hand the redemptive power of the gospel in his own life and the difference it had made in the life of his family.
Children often have a sixth sense about adults and we knew that under that gruff exterior beat a tender heart. We realized that this tough military man who drove the silver Cadillac, had been truly touched by the Master.
The Touch of the Master's Hand
The Touch of the Master's Hand
'Twas battered and scarred,
And the auctioneer thought it
hardly worth his while
To waste his time on the old violin,
but he held it up with a smile.
"What am I bid, good people", he cried,
"Who starts the bidding for me?"
"One dollar, one dollar, Do I hear two?"
"Two dollars, who makes it three?"
"Three dollars once, three dollars twice, going for three,"
From the room far back a gray bearded man
Came forward and picked up the bow,
Then wiping the dust from the old violin
And tightening up the strings,
He played a melody, pure and sweet
As sweet as the angel sings.
The music ceased and the auctioneer
With a voice that was quiet and low,
Said "What now am I bid for this old violin?"
As he held it aloft with its' bow.
"One thousand, one thousand, Do I hear two?"
"Two thousand, Who makes it three?"
"Three thousand once, three thousand twice,
Going and gone", said he.
The audience cheered,
But some of them cried,
"We just don't understand."
"What changed its' worth?"
Swift came the reply.
"The Touch of the Masters Hand."
And many a man with life out of tune
All battered with bourbon and gin
Is auctioned cheap to a thoughtless crowd
Much like that old violin
A mess of pottage, a glass of wine,
A game and he travels on.
He is going once, he is going twice,
He is going and almost gone.
But the Master comes,
And the foolish crowd never can quite understand,
The worth of a soul and the change that is wrought
By the Touch of the Masters' Hand.
Myra Brooks Welch
© 2013 Stephen J. Rendall - All rights reserved.