HEART'S DELIGHT-ISLINGTON — When Garfield Harnum arrives at the fire hall on Feb. 22, he's more excited than a child on Christmas morning.
This energetic and chipper man has lived all his life with significant mobility challenges. He walks with his legs turned out from below his knees and thrusts his body forward — side to side — as he walks. Some might say he has a big bounce in his step to highlight his positive personality. His arms are slightly bent, his hands are tensed up, with his fingers wrapped around his cane. A contagious smile never leaves his face.
“Thank you,” the man known far and wide along the Trinity South shore tells a group of firefighters and friends preparing a parade in honour of his 65th birthday. Garfield’s speech is indiscernible to strangers, but his words are crystal clear for those in attendance.
Firefighters, friends and family thought the parade would be a great way to kick off his big celebration.
A motorcade of emergency vehicles, with Garf — as his friends call him — leading the way in the passenger seat of a fire truck, began at the fire hall, travelled south to the end of the Heart’s Delight side of town, looped back to Islington, then to its final destination — the old Society of United Fishermen’s lodge. There is an open house with food, drinks and live music for all, with some 400 people passing through the doors throughout the day.
This was a big celebration because Garf wasn’t expected to live past birth, due to his small size. Every year he has defied the odds.
In fact, Cavell Bishop, with whom Garf lives, says most people with similar disabilities to Garf’s don’t live past 55.
Hundreds of residents from the town and beyond stopped into Garf’s party, which was no surprise to those closest to him, especially Cavell.
Cavell opened her home to Garf 15 years ago. That was when Garf’s life changed. He had a new home, a family that considered him as one of their own and gave him the ability to continue helping those in his own community.
From that moment, Cavell says, Garf continued to learn to do things around the house.
“He loves to help,” she smiles. “Since he’s come to live with me, he’s learned to wash dishes. When he would want to help, I’d say, 'come on, I’ll show you what to do.' He also makes his own bed every day.”
She also believes Garf’s speech has improved in recent years because she and her family “talk to him, not at him.”
Cavell explained Garf has made an impact on her life.
“My dream was to work with handicap (people),” she says. “Garfield fulfilled that dream.”
There’s a reason those up and down the Trinity South shore know Garfield — he is dedicated to his community.
“If you’re outside doing anything, and he sees you, there’s no such thing as Garf just sitting down and watching you,” Cavell says. “Garfield gets up, too. He’s got no time for lazy people.”
Up until a few years ago, Garf would walk from one end of town to the other, selling tickets for any organization, including the fire department, the church and the lodge.
Fire Chief Melvin Harnum, Garf's cousin, tells The Compass he would always bring in the biggest haul from tickets.
Due to his physical limitations, Garf was unable to join the fire department, but still got involved.
Since the 1970s, Garf has attended just about every meeting with the department, and is an honorary member. He was also elected chief procurement officer by the members. He was once challenged by another member for the position, but won.
The firefighters erupt in laughter when firefighter Howard Sooley tells that story to the partygoers.
This was one of many stories the crowd hears of Garf’s kind spirit, and quirky sense of humour.
Jokes and laughter
Garf appreciates a good practical joke.
One time, Garf mischievously put rocks in the boots of a firefighter, and watched the reaction with delight as the subject of his mischief donned his boots during a training session.
While he enjoys a good laugh, don't expect any long conversations with Garf. He's a man of few words, and when approached by a reporter, he quips: "Thank you for coming."
Everyone in town respects Garfield, and his contributions to the community. That is one reason why hundreds of visitors came to celebrate with him.
Garfield was so happy to experience the party, and was proud to be the guest of honour.
“He’s got the biggest heart you’d ever want a person to have,” Cavell says. “To him, he’s king for a day.”
About Garf Harnum
• Full name — Garfield Wendell Harnum;
• Birthdate — Feb. 22, 1949;
• Hometown — Heart’s Delight-Islington, Trinity Bay;
• Biological family — both parents, Vida Gertrude (Harnum) Chislett and Willis George Chislett, are deceased; siblings include Isabelle, Sylvia, Hilda, Brendan and Elwood;
• Garf’s “other” family — Cavell and Alfred Bishop; the Bishop’s children, Alfred Jr., Wilfred and Hilda; and the Bishop’s grandchildren, Hannah (who Garf is extremely close with), Olivia, Vanessa, Hope and Jacob;
• Enjoyable vacations — a visit he he took to L’anse au Clair in Labrador was one of his favourites; he loves adventures in the woods for “mug ups,” where he’d drink “good tea”;
• Three words Cavell uses to describe Garf — magnificent, spectacular and loveable;
• Some interesting facts about Garf — was born in a house on the northeast side of town; was once the “mailman” of the community on a volunteer basis; never let anyone drive if they have had a drink; at birth, Garf was so small, no one believed he would survive. But he was wrapped in blankets and placed on the door of the stove, and, against all odds, pulled through; he didn’t walk until he was eight or nine years old; if anything happened in the community, Garf would be the first on scene.