Sunday, November 14, 2004

Neil's party

Neil MacMullin is my landlord. When I was overseas, my friend Janice’s friend Patti needed someone to fill a room in her flat for the upcoming school year, and I happened to let her know in time to get the room. This meant I didn’t have to do any looking when I was travelling; it really took the worries out of my mind. In June, when I returned, Mum, Einar and I took a quick trip to Fredericton to check it out, but of course it looked wonderful and we said “yes!” There was a little backyard, a garden, and lots of trees in the city.

Today, Patti and I (who have, after three short months of living together, become very close friends) bundled up in our scarves, hats, coats, and walked down the sunny, icy streets to the Christ Church hall, on Westmorland Street. We were carrying a signed card and a big box of Belgian chocolates, and we entered the hall along with a long line of others, mostly older folks, but enough kids running in and amongst them that the basement hall felt alive.

When we got to the head of the line, there stood Neil, dressed in a blue suit, and we smiled and shook his hand, then hugged him. “Happy birthday, Neil,” we said in turn, and handed him the card and the box. “That invitation said ‘best wishes only’, you must not have read it!” He said, good-naturedly, as he says most things. “Oh, well, we did, but we decided to ignore it,” I said. We all chuckled. We moved on, as there were many in line behind us.

We put some snacks on our Styrofoam plates (carrots, cucumber, broccoli, dip, crackers, cheese, hummus, salsa) and got some coffee, and sat down on plastic chairs. All around us folks were talking, eating, laughing. Someone was playing a slide show, photographs from Neil’s lifetime. It was hot in the little hall, and folks just kept coming in. When there were many standing around the back, Neil’s son and daughter got up and speeches were made, a summation of his long life. Then the mic was given to Neil, and he pulled out his sheaf of papers, written on both sides. “I’m savin’ paper,” he said. We all responded with a rippling laughter.

“When I was a kid, you didn’t know the age of those older than you,” he said. “All you knew was, they were old folks. Today, well, I can’t say it aloud, I have to spell it—n-I-n-e-t-y.” As he talked, slides behind him silently switched, and we saw the house where we live now, only with a young family out front, and in the 1970’s, a sporty Camaro in the drive, and 10 years ago, the backyard with grandkids on sleds and Neil, 80, pushing them down the hill.

Thinking of his life—beginning on the farm, going through the war, marrying Helen, working for the telephone company—I am amazed. I am amazed that I am here, living in the home of this man, seeing his self-reliance, kindness and wisdom. Amazed that it worked out so well, that Patti and Michelle are such sweet flatmates, that we have all had the fun we’ve had. You never know what’s going to happen to you, what you’re going to walk into. But somehow, it’s working out, it works itself out.

Neil MacMullin is my landlord, and my friend, and an inspiration. Happy 90th Neil!

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