Friday, October 19, 2007

In memoriam

A year ago today, while I lay in the hospital, I missed the funeral for the father of one of my oldest friends. But this part of the story is not about me. It's about a man - a man we'll call A.

I met A many years ago, as a teenager, brought home as a friend by his son. A was a good man, a kind man, a funny man, a true gentleman (oh, how he could charm the ladies. Old ladies, young ladies, women with children - they would all stop to chat with him),
and most importantly, a family man. These are words that merely state the obvious about the man he was, are generic terms that could describe any man, for how do you truly summarize a life? How do you describe the person he really was?

Why don't I start with a romance? Every life needs a romance, and As was exceptional. It was England during the 60s. A had left high school to become a police officer, a "bobby".
I can only imagine how he looked, a young, fresh-faced officer, ears sticking out around his neatly shorn hair, crisply pressed uniform. On his regular beat, a street corner in London, he began to notice a pretty young woman who walked past the intersection. The pretty young woman was far away from home, Pakistan, training to be nurse. Eventually he asked the pretty young woman out on a date. Against the protest of their families (this was the 60s after all) they married. An unusual couple, the upper-class Pakistani girl and the working class British bobby, but a marriage that lasted more than 30 years, three children, grandchildren, immigration to Canada, job loss and rebuilding. A romance in the truest sense of the word.

What about his sense of humour? A had one of the best senses of humour, even when it was unintentional or at the expense of himself (he was infamous for putting his foot deeply in his mouth. He never meant any harm, and often these faux pas made for the best stories later. One in particular involved a hotel reservation and a funeral - but I'll save that story for his son to tell.) Perhaps another story: The summer I met A he had taken out several Agatha Christie mysteries from the local library. As he came to the end of each one he realized that the final pages, the revealing of the whodunnit, had been torn out of the book.
But it made for great comedy (and A loved Agatha Christie), so he continued to take Agatha Christies out of the library, and he continued to be frustrated at the end of each and every novel upon discovering that they, too, were missing their ending. It made for too good a story, and A couldn't pass up the opportunity for a good story! He could even laugh at the relationship with the mother-in-law who lived with him, a relationship not that unlike that of Endora and Derwin, Derwood, Dum Dum... I mean Darren. As I said, often the best source of humour was at his own expense.

Finally, a story about kindness. One summer the house behind the motel went up in flames - a destructive, encompassing fire. The house was owned by an old man who lived there alone. Quietly, with no fanfare, A offered the man a room in the motel. The next morning A sent me up to the room with breakfast on a tray - after the upset of the night before he wouldn't make the man come down to the breakfast room, he just needed peace. I don't know how long the man stayed there in A's motel, but I do know that A would have never tossed him out or charged him as long as the man needed a place to stay. A was a man who couldn't even move the family cat off the comfy chair in the office, and could often be found sitting on the uncomfortable hardback chair, there was no way he would evict the man, even when times were tough for his own family.

Most important though, he was a many who deeply loved his family. He brought his two children from England to Canada to offer them a better life, without class restrictions, that he himself had not had. When stress started to overtake their life in a busy city in Ontario, he moved them east, where they purchased a small motel and built a quieter life in small town. He was so proud of the daughter he had, the family surprise later in life. When the town was bypassed by a new highway extension, devastating the town, he picked up his family and rebuilt their lives again back in the city from which they fled, even moving back to the same apartment building they had first moved to upon arriving in Canada. He began over, working at thankless jobs, climbing back up the ladder, eventually buying his family a house and moving them out of the apartment. Before he got sick he had a good job as a manager with a good company and was near retirement. He was a man who had earned his retirement. Where another man may have become bitter and angry with the trials life dealt him, he maintained a sense equanimity, of optimism and, most importantly, his sense of humour. He did it all for his family. He was a far better man than many of us would have been in similar circumstances.

Five years ago A watched proudly as both his sons married good women, in the same summer. Nearly for years ago A watched his eldest son have his first child, a granddaughter. Two and a half years ago A saw his first grandson born. And two years ago A became sick with brain cancer. Last year A passed away, a month before his third grandchild, a granddaughter was brought into this world.

A lived a rich life, a full life, a life full of love and a life filled with more than his share of hardship and humility. He raised three wonderful children and lived to see two grandchildren born. He left behind a woman who loved him deeply. He deserved so much more - he deserved to grow old with his wife, to enjoy his retirement, to see all his grandchildren born, to see his daughter graduate from college, to walk her down the aisle, to see her have children of her own. He deserved, had earned, many more years. It's a testament just how unfair life can be.

My friend, if you are reading this, I apologize. After promising you, repeatedly, that I would be there for you when the time came, I wasn't able to follow through with my promise. Events intervened. So I humbly offer this gift to you, a year later, my words and memories on your wonderful father. These words can never adequately paint an image of the life he led, but I offer them to you nonetheless. You are so very like him, sharing many of his best characteristics. He would be so very proud of you, but I hope you already know that.

*Any inaccuracies are solely mine - the result of drawing these stories from the depths of memory.


A.R.B. said...

I had forgotten about the fire. Dad didn't even know the man's name before that day, but knowing a man's name was not a requirement for helping him when he needed it. My father had a motel with 54 furnished rooms, the man had none anymore. He only stayed a two days before he left to live with relatives and rebuild his home.

I miss my father. When I look at my daughters I often feel their loss; for as great a father as my dad was, he would have made a twice-better grandfather. The grin on his face when we announced we were expecting his first grandchild could have spanned an ocean, I have seen no happier man.

Thank you for your kind words, you made me smile and you made me sniff.

Redneck Mommy said...

What a lovely tribute. I am so sorry for you and your friend's loss.

Aliki2006 said...

This was beautiful to read--I too am also sorry for his loss. But what a beautiful way to remember him.

Kellan said...

What a beautifully written and well thought out tribute. I am also sorry for his loss and agree that this was a wonderful way to remember him. Now we all know him - that is a nice thing. See ya.

NotSoSage said...

What a lovely tribute to your friend and to a man who seems to have had a huge, open heart.


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