When Linda and I stopped at the Manning Park Lodge to pick up coffee last week, Laura told us she’d be leaving soon. Young, pretty and convivial, she has always had time for a brief visit with us in the park store. Earlier this year I wrote about her on my blog, calling her “the prettiest girl in Manning Park.” Apparently she has a huge fan base. That post drew an incredible number of visits. We had become friends. When she told us she was leaving Manning Park, we were disappointed, realizing we might never see her again.
Friendships in our society are frequently short lived. They may surprise us like a brief ray of sunshine on a sombre day, then quickly fade away. We tend to be rather blasé about relationships, possibly because geographically many of us do not put down deep roots. In the past people often stayed in the village or town where they were born. This gave relationships time to mature.
When Laura told us she was leaving Manning Park, I was reminded of Roy. One of my most useful lessons concerning friendships came from him, an entirely unlikely source. My work at that time frequently took me into provincial and federal prisons. During those years I developed relationships of considerable trust with men doing time for fraud, trafficking in heroin and cocaine, murder, etc. In some cases all their relationships with people outside prison had been severed and they received no visits. When they became eligible for a Temporary Absence, Linda and I at times invited such men to our home for a meal. In some cases we became friends. Almost invariably though, upon release they reverted back to their former criminal associations and haunts. Most apparently didn’t understand the value of friends.
Inexplicably, Roy did understand, although he at times severely tested my patience. He was doing time at Matsqui Institution for b & e’s and possession of heroin. His stocky physique, massive arms and shiny dome gave the appearance of a Mafia enforcer. In his childhood and youth, family life had been a shambles. His father did jail time and his step mother didn’t want Roy in the home.
Roy never became a success story. In time he traded the heroin for alcohol, which did nothing to improve his outlook or circumstances. Unlike other men who disappeared when their parole time ran out, Roy continued to stay in contact with Walter, his community sponsor, and with Linda and myself. When our phone jangled raucously at 2 am, I knew it would be Roy. Invariably, he’d dipped deeply into some intoxicating beverage that had elevated him to a state of joyous euphoria. He was a happy drunk. Although not a religious man, as he grew older he often asked if he could pray for me and my family before we signed off.
The next day he’d phone to apologize for waking me and behaving like a fool. It was a crazy friendship but in his sober hours, Roy frequently expressed deep appreciation for Walter and his family and for Linda and myself. He had no one else in his life. I was never able to develop an appreciation for the nocturnal phone calls, but I realize now Roy desperately wanted to stay connected with his few friends.
When Linda and I returned to Hedley 3 years ago after an absence of 25 years, like Roy, we realized we’d need to be proactive about staying in touch. In our earlier stint here, many of our relationships in the Fraser Valley had fallen away due to lack of attention.
Not wanting another loss of friendships, we decided to employ the understanding Roy had, although we didn’t have the chutzbah to make middle of the night calls. I think of it as the Roy Friendship Plan. Our version consists of writing an e-mail letter every 2 months to family and friends. The response has been gratifying. After each letter, a number of recipients respond with a note about their activities. Some invite us to come for coffee or lunch when we’re in their neighbourhood.
Although Roy has moved on to another sphere where he doesn’t need alcohol or drugs to experience euphoria, we continue to be grateful for his example. It’s never too late to gather a circle of friends.