Ron Scheer died this past weekend. He was my teacher. We never met.
A son of Nebraska, for more than four years Ron served as a patient guide through the frontier literature of a century past. His blog, Buddies in the Saddle, opened the eyes of this cynical easterner so that I might recognize that these weren't simple novels of cowboys and Indians, but of commerce, railroads, mining, farming, timber, politics, suffrage, temperance, religion and racism.
Early last year Ron was diagnosed with brain cancer. Buddlies in the Saddle took a turn toward the personal. Ron's posts on books were now punctuated by musing on life, health, beauty, family. Family was the subject of his final post.
Ron posted his last book review seven weeks ago. His subject was Blue Pete: "Half-Breed", a popular 1921 novel by Ontarian Luke Allan (né William Lacey Amy). The Canadian Encyclopedia has no entry on Allan, nor does The Oxford Companion to Canadian Literature, nor does W.H. New's Encyclopedia of Literature in Canada; everything I know about the writer and his work comes from Ron.
In the four years and nine months of Buddies in the Saddle, Ron tagged thirty book reviews with the word "Canada". Most were written by Canadians, while others had a Canadian setting. Some covered contemporary writing, but most came from the days of great and great-great-grandparents:
Blue Pete: "Half-Breed" – Luke Allan
The Blue Wolf – William Lacey Amy
Alton of Somasco – Harold Bindloss
The Boss of Wind River – A.M. Chisolm
Desert Conquest – A.M. Chisolm
The Doctor – Ralph Connor
The Story of the Foss River Ranch – Ridgwell Cullum
Woodsmen of the West – Martin Allerdale Grainger
The Promise – James B. Hendryx
Out of Drowning Valley – Susan Carleton Jones
The Stone Angel – Margaret Laurence
A Daughter of the Snows – Jack London
Scarlett of the Mounted – Marguerite Merington
Northern Lights – Gilbert Parker
The Backwoodsmen – Charles G.D. Roberts
Breaking Smith's Quarter Horse – Paul St. Pierre
Smith and Other Events – Paul St. Pierre
The Spell of the Yukon and Other Verses – Robert W. Service
The Trail of '98 – Robert W. Service
Raw Gold – Bertrand W. Sinclair
Big Timber – Bertrand W. Sinclair
Wild West – Bertrand W. Sinclair
The Prairie Wife – Arthur Stringer
The Last Crossing - Guy Vanderhaeghe
A Good Man – Guy Vanderhaeghe
Frontier Stories – Cy Warman
The Settler – Herman Whitaker
So many neglected titles. Small wonder that Ron was a regular at Friday's Forgotten Books, that weekly round-up hosted by mystery writer Patti Abbott. His was a unique voice. Friday's Forgotten Books will not be the same without him.
"I read old books so you don’t have to," Ron wrote more than once. The thing was that he made you want to read them. His enthusiasm was infectious. He was a dogged researcher; I suspect he often had a hard time moving on. Ron's thoughts on Raw Gold by British Columbian Bertrand W. Sinclair spanned two posts. His longest review, it begins:
I have this funny habit when I hold an old library book. I wonder how long it’s been sitting on the shelf in the stacks untouched, then of the different hands that have turned its pages over the years.
I share the very same habit. Now, picking up Ralph Connor's The Doctor, I can't help but think of Ron.
Ron read this novel.
Ron read this novel.