Hardly the clean cut Richie Cunningham from Happy Days is Don Cunningham. Thank God for that!
“Honest Don” passed away on June 28th, he goes on to join Arnie Bauer, Gilbert Lowenberg and a few of the other “boys” from the day of the Georgia Hotel.
I remember first meeting Cunningham and thinking wow, don’t mess with this guy BUT just like anyone you meet, it takes time to figure out their personality.
Upon hearing of Don’s passing and viewing the obituary you get that all important back story. How sad to think you have to wait for this time in a person’s life to understand how fascinating they are.
I remember going out to the wreckers North of Regina to get something for my Chevette or Mustang. Don was working with Piggy Puff (Gilbert) and Ivan (that’s me), needed something for the car … probably from some misfortune after the bar or the Apollo Club House, as can be expected, the conversation was lively and I no doubt left with what I came for! (If you’ve read my blogs, I’ve mentioned these guys before.)
Rough around the edges, yes, but once you were a “pass” on the friend level it was all cool.
My “in” to being a friend or maybe just an acquaintance of Don’s was all down to a bat. Not one you use in a street fight but one that eats mosquitos.
A long time ago, while visiting the farm, we discovered a bat in the basement. This was at a time when you didn’t consider getting the bat out any other way than by force. Our little group of siblings decided we would smoke it out! My brother in law got it into a jar and then we asphyxiated the bat by cigarette smoke. I know its cruel .. it was a BAT in the HOUSE! (And it was a long time ago).
We stretched its wings out (biology lab style) and placed the bat in a cotton lined box. I kept it for a time, using it for Halloween. (Don’t judge, okay! I am a changed person!)
The George Hotel, downtown Regina used to house some crazy parties including Halloween. People you wouldn’t expect, would dress in some crazy costumes or “get-ups”. Yes, even Donnie Cunningham. And it was then that Don took a shine to this bat.
Well, really what am I going to do with a well preserved bat. Don, she’s all yours. I think Cunningham loved that pickled pet! He would always say, with a flourish: “Ivan, I still have that bat!” and then laugh that diabolical laugh!
One of the last times I saw Don, he told me – the bat was rotting – it had to go!! That was a well travelled, creepy prop!
Back in 2007, I had the pleasure of meeting Don’s son Sheldon during Grey Cup in Toronto. He was at Riderville with Arnie Bauer and I believe, Kirk Gelinas. We all knew about Sheldon (the kid with the wacky nickname), it was good to meet him as an adult.
Don was a wiry, tough; with a background in the nomadic life of a carnival ride operator, I can see why Don was the character he was! There’s a lot more to the man, I look forward to the celebration of his life today.
Life should be lived and celebrated in fine style. I hope Don finds peace and is reunited with those that have gone before him. The stories will be vibrant, the language nothing less than colorful and there will be laughter! Lots of it.