Tom Stagg was something a little different to everyone. He was Dad, Poppy, husband, brother, brother-law, father-in-law. He was friend, co-worker, neighbour… all those good things.
To some, he was the guy who brought you water. Uncle Tom had a local water delivery business.
To others, he was a coffee buddy. He went to Tim Horton’s every morning to meet his friends. (Did you notice the funeral home was overflowing with donuts?)
To a whole bunch of people in hockey skates and jerseys, he was the friendly face who served you french fries. After raising a family in Ontario , he retired in Grand Falls-Windsor where he worked the canteen at the local arena for more than 17 years.
For a scattered few (looking at his kids, Cara and Andrew), he was the guy who shovelled your driveway even though you had already shovelled it. Because you didn’t do it well enough. He was very helpful. Painfully helpful.
To me, he was my uncle on the mainland. But he was a little more than that too. To me, he was a bit of a legend. Because he was the one who gave me my first Cabbage Patch Kid. (Cue angelic choir music!)
Now that might not seem like such a big deal to you. But in 1983, being five years old, with commercials on TV during Saturday morning cartoons showing these adorable new dolls with their one of a kind names and their adoption papers and their butts that smelled like baby powder… this was a very big deal indeed.
Parents across North America were flocking to stores to try to get their paws on a Cabbage Patch Kid for their children, with fights occasionally erupting over the hard-to-find toy. They cost about 30 dollars a pop but were going for more than triple that price on the black market.
I wanted a Cabbage Patch Kid so bad, Mom looked all over the island for one. We heard she got into a fist fight with a mother from Gander but the rumours were never confirmed.
Not a Cabbage Patch Kid to be found. Only cheap knock-offs at Dalfens. This kid would not be settling for some “Lettuce Patch Kid”, no sir.
We were headed to Brampton to visit Uncle Tom and family for summer vacation. Uncle Tom knew I was back home in this wasteland of unrequited dreams, yearning for this doll. So he told Mom: I will have it for her. And when we arrived at the airport in “Tronno”, there he was. And there SHE was. I don’t mean Aunt Colleen or my cousin Cara, though they are lovely. I mean her. The doll. A real, genuine Cabbage Patch Kid in Uncle Tom’s arms. All the way from a magical land called the Canadian Tire Junk Shop.
Tom Stagg worked at the Canadian Tire warehouse, lovingly called the junk shop, where goods were shipped back if they were damaged or missing parts. He sent us piles of stuff. It was a thrill each time a box arrived. We’d crack it open to fight over the latest dented (but otherwise perfectly good!) treasures. My brother Glenn always had the best skates in town because Uncle Tom hooked him up.
My Cabbage Patch Kid was perfect, with her brown loopy hair and dimpled cheeks and powder-fresh badonkadonk, but she was missing one thing: her adoption papers. Who was this cotton-haired tot? What was her name? Was this CPK actually KGB? (It was the 80s.) Luckily, I was a five-year-old creative prodigy. I’d give her a name myself. Something very unique and mysterious and radical. Her name would be… Amanda.
And Amanda is with us today. She is 37 years old and if you sniff really hard, you can still catch a hint of baby powder. (My husband sometimes catches me smelling her butt and thinks “what the heck is wrong with this woman?”)
And Amanda wouldn’t be the last one either. From the majestic aisles of the Canadian Tire junk shop would come three more diapered kiddos, compliments of the great and powerful Tom Stagg who controlled all the forces of the toy universe.
There was Lindley, the boy. Kirsten, the premie with the bald head. And Casey, the limited edition talking Cabbage Patch Kid with the batteries in the back. The movie “Child’s Play” was out around then, so it freaked me out a little when Casey would say “I’m bored” in the middle of the night. Not to mention the fact that “Casey” sounded a lot like “Chucky.” But she never choked me out while I slept, so Uncle Tom scored major brownie points with that high-tech delivery.
Four CPKs. I was the envy of Bishop Meaden Elementary School in Badger’s Quay among girls age 5 to 9. Ask Patty and Tina. They will confirm.
Uncle Tom probably didn’t remember all the dolls he sent. But I never ever forgot who gave them to me. My mom gave me life. But Uncle Tom gave me LIFE.
Now this is not about material things. Lord knows kids get way too much stuff. It’s about the fact that he did what he said he would do. He delivered. He went out of his way to make his little freckle-faced niece in Badger’s Quay happy.
And the joy continues with my little girl, who fiercely loves her dolls and still plays with mine.
It’s amazing what a small gesture can mean to a child.
I didn’t see Uncle Tom a whole lot these last 10 or 15 years. Mostly at weddings and funerals; that’s how she goes. I saw him most often when I was a child, during summer vacations. So that’s how I remember him best. In my most vivid memories of him, I am a little girl, it’s summer, and he is smiling at me… always smiling… with that big, magnificent moustache.
Every moment with him was a positive one. He was always laughing, always doing something to help someone else, and, always sniffing and snarking as all we Staggs do. We have sinus issues, okay?! That’s how I knew he was ONE OF US. (Honesty, with me and Glenn and Uncle Lloyd here in the room at the same time, I’m surprised anyone can hear a word.)
Though I only saw him once every summer if I was lucky, I came to know Uncle Tom as a generous, warm, helpful, energetic person. Who liked to vacuum his minivan a lot.
I went through old family photos of Uncle Tom. In a number of them, he was shirtless, or BBQing, sometimes BBQing while shirtless. Glimpses of happy summer vacations. In my favourite snaps, Cara and I are holding our Cabbage Patch Kids. Uncle Tom is in the background watching us play. Or washing his car while we play. We’re holding our dolls, he’s holding a bucket and a sponge. Also, shirtless. Classic Tom. (If someone doesn’t keep that minivan clean, prepare to be haunted forever.)
I formed my impression of Uncle Tom when I was five. And it never changed. Never underestimate a child’s mind or memory.
It’s not about grand gestures or gifts. It’s the little in-between stuff kids remember. The way you talked to them. The way you listened to their crazy stories. The way you smiled. The way you laughed at their jokes when everyone else was busy adulting. The way you brought them joy in the smallest way. It can be a big thing to a little kid. And those kids, see, grow up to be adults. Eventually, they’re the adults speaking at your funeral, telling everyone what a legend you were.
Uncle Tom, I hereby release you back to the cabbage patch. Thank you.