Laughter, tears, Friendships and Fred

When the bride welcomes you into her circle of friends, it’s the equivalent of a lifetime contract. There may be stretches of time off for bad behaviour, but there is no built-in escape clause. Even if you move away, birthdays will be acknowledged, and thoughtful cards and gifts that mark how much she cares will show up in your mail.

Fred was one of those special people who made the friendship grade.

Even though they hadn’t worked together for more than 20 years, Joan always scheduled lunch with Fred whenever she went to Vancouver. The last time I shared the pleasure of their company was a couple of years ago when we went to the mainland for a Joe Bonamassa concert.

We met at Mr. Ho’s, a favourite haunt of Fred’s that served up specials at lunch that are so cheap it makes you wonder how they stay in business. Just watching the way Fred and the waitress laughed and teased each other about his obligatory request for no green onions offered a window into how he could leave a smile on someone’s face during the most casual encounter.

Fred and I discovered we had something in common that day when we learned that we had both survived Catholic schooling. That raised a question about whether either of us had been suspended, which segued into a tale from Fred’s past that had the bride and I and another friend blinking back tears between bouts of laughter.

Whenever Fred told a story, his face would light up like a pinball machine, his green eyes ratcheting up a brighter shade of electric emerald with each passing line. It seems Fred had gotten into it with a classmate and wound up the principal’s office, both boys pinned to the lap of the nun charged with keeping them separated.

When the nun holding Fred loosened her grip, Fred seized the opportunity to get in another shot.

Unfortunately for poor Sister what’s her name, the other boy ducked and Fred landed a good one, breaking the nun’s glasses in half. That misplaced punch resulted to a two-week suspension which Fred thought was fair punishment, considering how boring daytime television was back in the day.

The bride is unexpectedly off to the mainland this weekend to share another round of stories because Fred left us without warning.

Steve, another ex-workmate and frequent lunch companion with Joan and Fred, left a message last week while Joan was at work. I could tell from Steve’s tone that something wasn’t right. Joan had the same sinking feeling when she listened to the machine, and the worst was confirmed when she spoke to Steve the next day.

Fred had spent Saturday celebrating his daughter Darcy’s 30th birthday, the love of his life. Sadly, for everyone who knew him well, he didn’t survive a heart attack later that night.

It’s been a tough week for Joan, filled with frequent tears too taxing to control. There will be more tears spilled during the celebration of Fred’s life on Saturday, but I’m sure there will be favourite stories shared, and laughter as well. If you knew Fred, you know he would want it that way.

•••

Rick Stiebel is a semi-retired journalist and Sooke resident.

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