– I guess they’re all dead.
Dad says as we walk through the rabbit and chicken barn at the Saanich Fair, hoping to see faces he knows.
Surrendering, we decide to find a high-back chair for him to rest in while I go stand in lines for our lunch. With an eagle eye, Dad spots a woman near his age alone on a bench.
As he sits down beside her, speaking to her more than me, he says,
– I’ll sit beside this beautiful, young woman.
Startled, then complemented, she smiles. He’s opened the gate and they’re off to the races.
A few weeks ago, on the subject of obituaries, I asked Dad what he wanted to have written in his. At the time, he ignored the question but a few hours later, he came into my room with his answer.
– He was a true eccentric. He liked everyone.
My father likes everyone. He has sat at the deathbed of three Hitler Youth immigrants and plays weekly phone tag with a New York Jewish Holocaust survivor. In the span of his 81 years, he has housed and fed conservatives, women’s libbers, communists, criminals, addicts, Quakers, runaway teens, anarchists and more. He has an ability like no other to turn a blind eye and see only good in the other.
With a tray of kosher hot dogs and lemonade, I return to the elderly parked in the shade.
– We’ve decided to pool our pensions and blow this town!
Clearly having too much fun for their age, I get the message that he doesn’t need me cramping his style. While other old age pensioners are left by their younger family members to wait alone in the fringes, this time it is me, in a long-sleeved shirt, jeans and boots baking in the Labour Day sun, listening to clowns tease children and watching adults compete to eat ice cream. I get back in line for a Beaver Tail with lots of cinnamon and sugar, not even bothering to take one to Dad. He’s already riding a natural high.
When I first moved to Vancouver, I tried to be a true eccentric like my Dad. In the spirit of his open door Sunday dinners that have gone on religiously since the 1950’s, I started a Sunday night potluck in my apartment building. I invited my new neighbours and even made his renowned Yorkshire Pudding.
Soon, the potlucks rotated weekly through the 6 suite apartment building creating an adopted family in a big city. As time went on though, word got out and more and more strangers came and they weren’t bringing food to share. They were bringing booze for themselves.
Truth is, though I like most people, my eyes are too sharp to go blind. Having grown up in a home where anyone is welcome, I feel very protective of my inner circle. I need to feel safe with the people I am with and not everyone feels safe.
Driving home from the fair, Dad says,
– I’ll never understand why people say it’s hard to make friends. All you have to do is talk to them.
Not having any biological children of my own, I sometimes get scared that I’ll be lonely when I’m old. But watching how Dad makes friends with everyone around him, I feel reassured.
I may not be a true eccentric but I do agree that friends surround us, whether we know them already or not.