Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Remembering John Sillick

You've probably never even heard of John Sillick, but I want to share this anyway. Maybe it will help lift the cloud which has been circling my head since Sunday.

John Sillick used to write a column, The Alps Road Journal, for various of our local newspapers. John was a farmer, naturalist and high school English teacher. He was an amazing writer, also. He wrote about simple things and made them sound like the most important things in life (and well, yes, I believe they are). He wrote about country life and the big farmhouse he and his wife, Kathleen, were fixing-up. And cows and horses and chickens and his students as well as his childhood and fatherhood and what it was like to stand in your own field on a spring evening after you've tilled the land all afternoon.

I used to read John's column most Sundays way back in the years around 1993-1996, even clipped some of his columns and mailed them to friends in Nevada. Then I mostly stopped reading the newspaper at all (long, involved story). Years later, I occasionally read the paper again and occasionally read The Alps Road Journal on Sundays, but John's columns seemed to get more 'technical.' He'd give details about the best tools to use in running a farm and how to grow a healthy pig or how to make a cow come home--things I tried to get into,but couldn't, though I really, really wanted to. I missed the old John and the columns he used to write. Ones with lovely prose like this:

"Some people tell me that I exaggerate the value of work. This may be true. In my view, things are enjoyable if they are earned. Everything is more satisfying if some kind of effort produced it. I don't want to return to the Middle Ages where people were worked to death, but I couldn't survive a life where I couldn't provide for most of my family's needs myself.

"Kathleen religiously returns sweepstakes entries hoping for a jackpot. I have bad dreams about her winning. I fear it would destroy what I love about our life. Unless we gave the money away, what incentive would we have to get up in the morning or pick up the house or fix what's broken? Would I be doomed to a life of playing golf?

"I would rather be in the woods with a homemade trailer and my old tractor cutting firewood with an offspring or two along to help load the wagon and listen to my rambling on about what a wonderful thing we are doing." (From the book, Alps Road Journal by John Sillick)

Anyway, this past Sunday, while Tom and I read the newspaper together in our cozy little room where we are hibernating this winter, suddenly the cloud came... the cloud which resulted from the article I read in which John's students were dedicating his favorite spot in their school library in his memory.

John passed away in 2003 at the age of 57.

He was thrown from his tractor, one which he often wrote about, and run over by it twice. Days later, he died from complications of the injuries he'd received.

I never even met him, yet through his writing, I felt as though I had. And now he is gone. He died doing one of the things he loved best,driving a tractor over his own land, but still he is gone, and well, it just doesn't seem fair. And it's not. Part of me wants to now hate tractors, but I think John would tell me that's silly. That tractors are ultimately a wonderful and necessary tool for farmers.

Our town's library has a copy of John's one and only book and I braved the snow and cold today and went and got it. It's a compilation of 50 of his newspaper columns and I am loving getting reaquainted with his writing. John even signed this copy--I gasped when I saw his words and signature and I am treating this book carefully, reverently.

I wasn't a writer when I used to read John's columns, but his columns made me want to write and now I fancy that I have a column of my own in this blog. Almost I feel like John and I are part of a brotherhood of writers, though I am in the Wanna Be section and I can almost see him way over in the Experienced, Inspirational Writer corner.

Another reason the cloud persists?

I wish I would have thanked John for the inspiration he gave me while I still had a chance.


Anonymous said...

John Sillick was my father. Occasionally, I google his name and see what pops up- today I found your blog. The posting you made has touched my heart and I want to say thank you. He was a wonderful man and I am glad that others feel the same way.
~Ellyn Sillick

Anonymous said...

Today was a soft soulful day that made you remember life how only John Sillick could describe it..treasuring the fruits of hard work, nestled in natures palm, thankful for all the small drops of life's sweetness that spatter here n there if we take the time to notice. Gone 5 years.... but not really.
Dave M

Will said...

Good Morning

As a once-devoted reader of John Sillick's fine Alps Road Journal entries in The Buffalo News, I would like to find a copy of his book of collected columns and perhaps talk with his surviving family members for a possible column or two.

Would you have contact info on the Sillick family and possibly a book-search source?

Thanks in advance........

Will Elliott

Debra said...

Thanks, Everyone...
Ellyn--I feel honored that you stopped by my blog. Thank-you! I do think about your dad often and I still miss his column all these years later.
Dave--thanks for your comment and for your email too. I'm glad you also remember...
Will--I am in contact with one of John's relatives. If you will email me at
GladOne4@yahoo.com I'll give you her email address. She said she'd be happy to talk with you.
Oh, and if anyone else is checking back here and your former comment is gone, please know that I switched from HaloScan to Blogger comments and lost all my previous comments. I'm so sorry.... Feel free to leave another comment for future readers if you'd like. This post does still get hits each year from those who still remember John.
Thanks! Blessings, Debra

Sheila Sullivan said...

I keep checking to see if the "Alps Road Journal" has hit the bookstores yet. It would be a marvelous gift. Awhile back, when I would go to the downtown Buffalo library and need scrap paper there would always be scraps with pages from "Alps Road Journal" columns so someone must be interested enough to research. If anyone knows where I can purchase a few copies, please let me know. Thank you. Funny how one can come to love someone just from his writing
and miss him SO much when he is gone. Sheila scs61@juno.com

Anonymous said...

Hello Debra,

I am reading your post almost 3 1/2 years later.

John Sillick was my teacher and mentor. He taught me that life is for living.

Mr. Sillick, as I knew him, was my English teacher my freshman and senior year at Royalton-Hartland. The last time I saw him was at my graduation party; June 2003, three months before he died. He sang a few songs, with my friend's guitar, and then quietly left.

In the months after his death, I, along with some of his "Echo" students, pushed the Board of Education to have the library named after him. But we were young, and emotional, and they permitted us only a section. It is five years later, and there's nothing stopping us from trying again, but in retrospect, I believe he would be much more content with his own corner. Drawing students in, one at a time, so that they can discover his writings that cover the shelves.

I still remember Mr. Sillick. With every step I take. So do the people in the Lyndonville community. I had a conversation with the town supervisor about him a couple weeks back -- and we didn't even need to say his name. Everybody knows him by the good, tangible things he left behind.

Today I am a journalist. I started at the paper where he had his start -- The Journal-Register.

Thanks for your blog entry. It stopped my breath. My heart still goes out to his family. And I'm thankful to have known him for a short time.

It's funny how the people that support you when yo

Anonymous said...

Hello all, last night,while looking for a flashlight in the garage I found something vastly more important...My copy of Alps Road Journal!! I bought it years ago after discovering John Sillicks column in the Buffalo Evening News. After lending it to many friends It got lost for a while. Well I'm back on page 84 for the 3rd time. I'll let my brother read it next. I liken John Sillick to Jim Croce Both leaving such beautiful gifts and leaving us to soon. I am very sorry for your loss. Believe it, I miss him too. Page #83 "Coming back, I see the warm yellow of the house lights fill the windows on the hill across the way. Such a place, this earth. If you love it enough, do they let you stay?" means much more to me this time i've read those lines. sorry for bad punctuation & grammer. Thank you very much, Bruce M.

Chris Wendel said...

I was in the first class that John Sillick ever taught at Roy Hart. He first came to us as a substitute teacher taking over for the well-respected Mr. Molyneaux, who passed away earlier in the school year. Before Mr. Sillick, we had a number of subs who were vying for the open position.

My class was slogging through Ninth Grade English that year, and we were an apathetic lot, still struggling with the loss of Mr. Molyneaux, and a curriculum that seemed to change by the day. That’s when Mr. Sillick showed up. After a challenging few days, Mr. Sillick passed the audition and was permanently hired.

Over time he won our hearts and I enjoyed the ongoing adventure by taking several of his classes all the way through my senior year. One day Mr. Sillick asked me if I could help recruit some of my friends for the poorly attended senior elective class: “Satire and Humor”. I sold the class to some classmates, promising the viewings of Three Stooges and Marx Brothers movies. It was an easy sell, and I promptly brought in my marker of students.

Mr. Sillick decided that term to take the class to unknown heights and informed us that for the first time, the class was to write humorous skits and perform them in front of the entire school. This wasn’t part of the originally promised deal, and my recruited friends now were ready to hang me. Mr. Sillick sensed my apprehension, and promised that in the end that we would both be heroes.

The show was clunky but the entertainment starved student audience went wild. In hindsight it reminded me of a prison performance in front of a bunch of deprived inmates. The now comedians became pseudo-celebrities and as promised both Mr. Sillick and I were redeemed. Years later, I learned that the class became so popular that it was difficult to get into to.

I left Middleport after graduation to explore the world, something Mr. Sillick always encouraged. My travels took me to Colorado where I graduated to college, and on countless trips all over the country. Eventually I settled here in rural northern Michigan.

Now I fast-forward 30 plus years. With sadness several years ago I learned of John’s death through the Buffalo News online addition, and read with pride the students effort to rename the school library in his memory.

Looking back, I fully realize the skills that he helped me hone. Skills that I use every day including: reading, enjoying poetry, creative writing, teaching, thinking with an open mind, humor, and above all gentle kindness.

Whoever is reading this should know the vast impact he must have had on so many people. His legacy lives on with me, and will provide me a philosophy of hard work and dedication that I will always appreciate.

FBJS said...

As a devoted reader of the Buffalo News until 2002, I loved John's writing... both the style of the prose and also the subject matter.

One of the other commenters here appears to be Will Elliott who wrote (writes?) a fine outdoor column in the same paper.

I'm glad that there are others besides myself who were similarly touched by the life and writings of Mr. Sillick.

WarrenRCG said...

A co-worker came into my office this morning, to ask if I remembered a teacher from school. A Mr. Selleck? Immediately I thought John Sillick! Then came the flash-backs. He taught me Latin at Roy-Hart in the late-80s, because it was available as an alternative to French and Spanish. He had a real calming effect when you were around him. Very easy to talk to. Told great stories. Just an all around good guy. A few years later, I was working at AGWAY, a farm supply store in the early '90s. One Saturday morning, in walked Mr. Sillick. I remember being some what surprised and happy to see him. I took his order and proceeded to help him select the best wooden fence posts from the stack, outside. We talked for a while and off he went in his old Ford. That was the last time I saw Mr. Sillick. I did read quite a few of his articles in the Sunday edition of the Buffalo News, though. It was a said day when I read about the accident... I googled "Alps Road Journal" and this blog was one of the first page results. After reading the comments I just had to chime in, too.