When he was sixty-five, he decided to move home. He moved back
to the place where he’d been born and come of age. His return
might well have been ignominious for it was carried out in the
dead of night when he disembarked a Greyhound at a deserted, closed-up
greasy spoon that had also been there when he was a mere boy.
And all it took was a Greyhound to carry his entire life back
to where it had begun. He’d no family; had never married — afraid
of girls — that’s what they used to say about him when he was
kid. Had worked nearly his whole adult life tending bar at a joint
out on the west coast, where he’d finally come to rest after a
few years following high school spent browsing more respectable
professions, which he’d decided were not for him. He’d lived in
a room over the bar for all those years and had accumulated little,
so there was little to bring with him on this homecoming.
The bar had closed last month, its friendly, lazy atmosphere finally
overwhelmed by the slick polish of the new age. It hadn’t really
closed, but rather was replaced by a more modern, up-to-date beverage
dispensary that was better suited to the new crowd of Porsches
and Jaguars who had decided that old beat-up industrial properties
were to become the latest rage in studio living. He’d actually
been offered a job in the new bar, which he thought was a nice
gesture, but he’d turned it down quick as a wink, knowing he’d
not fit into such an establishment.
All of the old regulars had been dispersed and turned out into
the street to find a new drinking establishment, but he’d not
gone with them. He’d sat up late into the night after his last
shift in the bar, and he’d wondered what he might do. The new
company that had bought the tired, old drinking establishment
where he’d worked had made him a most generous settlement when
he’d told them he wouldn’t take them up on their offer of a job.
It was more money than he’d seen in his life, and, added to what
he’d saved over his years of frugal living, he had quite a nest
egg. He’d just turned sixty-five the Christmas before. Why not?
he’d thought. He should retire back to his old home town — to
a place he’d not seen for all of forty-five years.
His father had been a minister and the good reverend and his young
bride had moved to the community right from their wedding, and
had spent the next twenty years there, raising he and his sister,
before moving back to where their own home had been, as people
often do as they grow older. His sister had moved to another faraway
city, so he no longer had any family connections to his birthplace,
but it was the only place he’d thought of as home as he’d travelled
through life’s journey. And those thoughts had become stronger
and stronger as he’d gotten older, almost as if he was drawn back
and could go no other place. He could remember incredible feelings
of comfortableness during his growing-up years, and he wanted
them back. So, even though he had not come this way for some considerable
length of time, it seemed the only recourse for his so-called
When he disembarked the bus, he stood alone on the street. To
his knowledge, he knew no one in the community, other than perhaps
a few grey souls left over from when he’d been a boy, and he’d
not kept in touch with anyone from that era, so it could not really
be said that he knew even them, if they should exist. He found
himself a hotel fairly easily, on the recommendation of the bus
driver. It was some two blocks distant from where he was dropped
by the bus, so he gathered up his life’s possessions, two pieces
of somewhat battered luggage, and tottered off up the main street
of the place he’d seen only in his dreams for all these many years.
And even as he walked, he could feel eerie sentiment rising to
fill him, and he began to wonder what might have happened to the
many people he had known as a boy. And to put it truthfully, he
had seldom wondered during his years away — had always been the
steppenwolf, the loner, even when he’d been young. He’d not made
close friendsback in that other life, but had existed sort of
on the perimetre of his youthful society. But there had been many
acquaintances from that time, and he retained many mostly fond
memories of those coming of age years. And it was those memories
that came back to him now as he walked in the same place he’d
walked as a boy. He wondered if there was anyone here to remember
Finally, he came upon the hotel, which was a landmark from his
boyhood days, although it was much changed on the outside and
he wasn’t sure he would have found it without the driver’s directions.
So, he took a room for a week, which he paid in advance, and he
settled in for the night. It was an odd feeling to be back. As
he lay under the covers in the hotel room, and even though he
had spent much of his life alone, it was the first time he could
remember feeling truly alone. He felt small and vulnerable as
he laid in the bed. Perhaps this had been a mistake, he thought,
as he drifted off to sleep.
He’d always missed the mornings. Because of his job at the bar,
where he had usually worked into the depths of night, he’d not
seen many mornings. He remembered them from when he was a kid.
He’d had an early morning paper route one summer vacation, and
he still remembered gathering with the other paper boys at an
extremely early hour, the mist rising off the wet, green lawns,
the sun lighting up the world, but not yet rising above the rooftops
to where it would spread its warmth over the day. It was a strange,
shivering time of day, but it was also fresh and new and it seemed
anything was possible.
So, he had resolved that if he ever left the bartending business,
and could restore his life to some semblance of a normal schedule,
that he would again become an early riser. That was why an alarm
clock awakened him at an extremely early hour that first morning
in the hotel. He grumbled to himself as he stumbled around in
the queer half-light of the room, but once he’d made it as far
as the shower, there was no turning back.
He felt good as he broke out through the front door of his accommodation
onto the sidewalk of the town’s main street, the uneasy loneliness
of the previous night all but forgotten. He’d forsake breakfast
at this early hour and focus instead on a brisk walk throughout
as much of the community as he could comfortably cover before
he could forsake no longer, and would then locate an appropriate
eatery for sustenance.
It was odd to have been away for so long. He found the physical
character of the town essentially unchanged as he walked along
the main thoroughfare, but there were few storefront names he
remembered from the days of his youth. Most of the people who
had owned those storefronts when he’d been a lad would be long
since departed from this earth, replaced by succeeding generations
of merchants intent on parting customers from their dollars. Still,
a few familiar names remained. A bake shop reminded him of the
honey dip donuts he’d eaten as a young boy. And there was a shoe
store where his Dad had bought him his back to school footwear
for years on end. The names the same; no doubt the faces somewhat
But, as the days passed, he developed a feel for the lay of the
land, and although his suspicions were confirmed, and he met no
one who hailed him as a long, lost friend, he found people generally
friendly and cordial as he went about his business. And that involved
finding somewhere a little more permanent to live because he couldn’t
stay at the hotel forever.
And it could be said that he made no active effort to discover
if there could be holdovers about from that other era, as he went
about the task of finding a new home where he might relax and
spend his remaining years doing crosswords and perhaps playing
euchre with other aged cronies at a seniors’ centre. He knew there
must be some who had known him, because not all would have moved
away, and not all would have perished by this relatively young
age. But he reasoned that none would remember such an unspectacular
youth as he had been. He had been nothing but the ordinary.
He found a small house that was close to where he’d lived as a
kid. He’d actually been looking for an apartment, but saw the
house, and couldn’t resist after taking a look at it. He bought
the place, looking at it as an investment in property, something
he’d not done in his whole life, and was soon about painting and
fixing and putting his own personal stamp on the place. He wasn’t
sure he was doing anything right, but it was like he became possessed
with the spirit of home ownership, and he truthfully enjoyed getting
up in the morning, at his usual very early hour, to have his tea
and toast in the breakfast nook he’d painted and decorated himself.
One day, as he was puttering about in the back yard, trying to
figure out if he should attempt vegetable gardening for the first
time in several decades, somebody came in through the gate from
"Hi there," said a woman’s voice.
He looked up to see the greeter.
"Hi," she repeated. "I’ve been watching you get
moved in. I should have been over sooner, but I’ve just been so
busy. I live across the street." The words poured from her
without a response from him.
She was a young woman, but didn’t they all seem to be when you
were his age, and he would have said she wasn’t too hard on the
eyes; that is if he’d been with the guys down at the bar and she’d
inadvertently invaded their world looking for something to wet
her whistle. Instead, he found he couldn’t help but return her
"That’s better," she said, acknowledging his gesture.
"For a minute there I thought I’d made a mistake by bothering
"No," he said, speaking his first word. "I’m glad
for a little company," he added, trying to offer reassurance
that she was indeed welcome.
"You planning on doing a little building?" the young
woman asked, and it was true that he was standing holding a tape
"No," he answered, "I’m wondering whether I should
put a garden in back here."
"You like gardening?" she asked.
"I have to admit that I’ve never really tried it," he
"Really," she said, seeming somewhat surprised by this
They stood in silence for a moment. He fondled the tape measure
and looked awkwardly at the ground, shifting from foot to foot;
the way he always did when he ran out of small talk — and particularly
when he was with a member of the opposite sex and he ran out of
small talk. It wasn’t like you could just talk hockey.
"Anyway," the young woman finally started, interrupting
the stiff quiet that had come over the place, "it was really
my mother who sent me over to see you. We’re having a barbeque
tomorrow and most of the other neighbours are coming. We’d like
you to come. It would be a good chance for you to get to meet
some of your other neighbours — they’re a pretty good bunch around
"Gosh," he answered, not really sure what else to say,
knowing that he sounded silly, but overwhelmed to have been invited
to such an event after having lived here for such a short time.
He considered it an act of great kindness.
"Please come," she said. "The others will be coming
about two — it’s the house with the bright, yellow mailbox, just
across the road — you can’t miss it."
"I’d be honoured," he finally managed. "Should
I bring something?"
"Just yourself," she answered, punctuating the reply
with another of her infectious smiles.
He answered with another of his own.
And, as quickly as that, she was gone and he was left alone in
the back yard of his new house to contemplate this latest development
in his life. He hadn’t attended many social functions in his lifetime,
except those where he’d been the bartender. And there had been
many of those, because his cronies from the bar had families,
and over the years there’d been weddings and funerals and birthdays
and all manner of occasions to be celebrated — even one Bar Mitzpah
— and he had usually been the bartender of choice. So, while
he had attended many social functions, he’d had plenty to occupy
his time and hadn’t really done much actual mixing or socializing.
In fact, he’d avoided occasions where he might be forced to mix
or socialize. They made him feel uncomfortable. So, he’d always
But now there was this party and he supposed he should go. It
would be the sociable thing to do. If he didn’t go, the word would
be out that he was a reclusive hermit who ate little children.
He knew how these things worked in small towns. He’d made the
choice to move back here, and he’d known that would involve meeting
new people and possibly having to endure some potentially unpleasant
situations. This might well be one of them — but he still supposed
that he should go.
And it wouldn’t be right to say that he actually lost sleep worrying
about having to attend the party. At least, he refused to accept
that as the reason for an unusually restless night, when he struggled
out of bed in the early morning hours for his walk. It was work
on this morning and he had difficulty appreciating the beauty
of the moment. But he finished it just the same. Returned to the
house, showered, had a bite to eat, and settled in to wait for
It was a reasonably sedate little gathering that he came upon
at the neighbourhood party. The young woman who’d invited him
answered the door after he rang the bell, and he soon found himself
standing on a backyard patio, just off by himself, drink in hand,
while others around him talked and visited with each other. He
felt much like he always did when he attended such events — like
the proverbial fish out of water. He’d only come because he thought
he might offend the young woman who’d extended the invitation,
but he’d not seen her since she’d admitted him to the place. He
guessed she’d not have noticed if he’d stayed home.
He was lost in his thoughts, off by himself in more than body,
when a voice interrupted his thinking.
"You must be our new neighbour," said a woman’s voice.
He turned and regarded the attractive, older woman who’d offered
the comment. He smiled as an acknowledgement, but said nothing.
Still, when he met her eyes for the first time, he felt his heart
flutter ever so slightly. He looked away, regarded the well-manicured
"Susan said you were quiet when she was over yesterday,"
the woman said.
"I find it’s best unless you have something worthwhile to
say," he answered, immediately surprised that he would put
into words what would normally be kept as a thought, while a polite
pleasantry was exhaled instead. He continued to look away.
"I think that’s a wise thought," she said. A momentary
pause. "You moved from the West Coast?" she asked.
"Yes," he answered, but with no offer of further information,
shifting slightly from one foot to the other.
"Retired?" she asked.
"Yes," he answered, again rather abruptly.
There was another pause.
"I’m making you feel uncomfortable," she said with an
apologetic tone to her voice.
"No," he answered, possibly lying, but knowing he didn’t
want her to break off the exchange. "It’s just that I’m not
very good at these types of things," he stammered somewhat
nervously, again surprised by his words, not usually willing to
offer such personal details to other people, even friends, let
alone a complete stranger.
"But you came," the woman said.
"Yes," he answered, looking somewhat sheepishly back
at her for the first time since the beginning of their rendezvous.
"I thought it would be rude to turn down the invitation when
I was new here. I thought everybody would think I was a snob or
"Well, we’re a friendly bunch," she said, smiling warmly.
"We don’t bite and we all get along great. We have one of
these get togethers about once a month."
"Oh, I think it is great," he said. "But I’m not
used to doing this kind of socializing where you just stand around
with a drink in your hand talking to people."
"What are you used to doing?" she asked.
"I’m a bartender," he answered. "I’m used to setting
"Really," she answered. "It’s hard to believe you’re
a bartender. I thought you had to be a real talker."
"Mostly, you have to be a good listener," he answered.
"People like to talk to a bartender."
And it was just at that moment that the young woman who’d invited
him to the party approached them, walking rather quickly.
"Mother, you’ve met our new neighbour," she said. "I
hate to drag you away, but I need a little help in the kitchen
if you don’t mind — and it’s sort of an emergency." She
took the older woman’s arm.
"Okay, okay," the mother said, as she was gently pulled
in the direction of the house and away from him. But she pulled
herself away from her insistent daughter for just a minute and
turned back toward him. "Don’t go away," she said to
him. "Susan told me you were thinking of putting in a garden.
It’s a passion of mine — gardening, that is. I’d love to show
you my garden, if you can wait ’til I deal with this latest emergency
in my daughter’s life."
"I’d be honoured," he answered. And he watched as she
disappeared into the house, now leading the way.
He got himself another drink as he waited for her to return. And
he wasn’t sure if it was a result of the first drink, or if the
woman’s visit had made the difference, but he found that he was
loosened up somewhat from earlier and was actually able to engage
in some minor dialogue concerning the weather on the West Coast
with a man who seemed a little too tipsy for this early in the
Generally, though, he stood quietly and waited. And he found that
he was filled with some sense of anticipation as he did so. She
was an attractive woman, and although he had long ago chosen not
to marry or involve himself in affairs of the heart, he remained
thoroughly male so that he was not unmoved by her and others of
her kind. And there had been an occasional other rendezvous over
the years, and he had settled his affairs of the heart with an
occasional woman of the night. He was not completely ignorant
of the ways of the world.
Finally, he saw her re-appear at the patio door, turning, perhaps
to offer some last minute instruction, discarding an apron she’d
tied on for the stint in the kitchen. She walked back across the
"Welcome back," he greeted her.
"Come on," she replied. "Come and let me show you
my garden." She took him by the arm and they walked off across
the lawn toward the rear of the property and away from where the
other guests were congregated.
He was in his glory as she walked him through the rows of vegetables.
He asked polite questions from time to time, but it seemed she
could hold court forever on her beloved garden, and she became
even more animated when they left the vegetable garden and she
started showing off her flowers. She seemed in full radiant bloom
herself as she explained this or that about her horticultural
Finally, though, the tour was at an apparent end. They finished
at the gazebo and ended up sitting in quiet.
"Why did you move here?" the woman asked, as they sat.
"Why this particular town?"
"I’m from here," he answered. "I grew up here."
She regarded him, but said nothing.
"It was a long time ago," he said.
"What era?" she asked.
"Oh, back about 45 years ago, I was just finishing high school,"
he answered. He told her about his father, the minister, and how
he’d ministered to the flock over at Trinity United for about
twenty years while his family grew.
"Did you keep in touch with anybody?" she asked.
"No, I’m not really a keeping in touch kind of guy,"
he answered. "I just sort of drifted after high school, tried
out a couple of jobs and ended up out on the West Coast tending
There was a silence.
"You know," she started, "I don’t even know your
name. That was rude of me. I’m Barbara Humel." She extended
a hand to him.
He took her hand and offered his own monicker up for inspection.
"I don’t remember you," the woman said. "I’m a
little younger than you, I think. But I’m sure I remember your
family name from years ago."
"I’m sure there are still a few people around who’d remember
my father," he answered. "But I was kind of a low profile
guy — I didn’t really have any close friends."
Just then the daughter’s voice sounded out. "Well, it looks
like you two have found a nice secluded spot," she said,
as she approached. "Mother, we were missing you. After all,
it’s your party."
"Oh, I suppose you’re right, Susan," the mother answered,
"but I was having a rather good time sitting here in the
gazebo. It was very peaceful."
The two of them got to their feet and stepped back out into the
"I should be going," he suddenly said.
"Oh, are you sure?" asked the older woman, and she honestly
seemed to care.
"Yes," he answered. "I want to get a few things
done yet today."
"Well, it’s been a pleasure," she said, turning to face
him. "I hope we have a chance to talk again some time."
"That would be nice," he answered.
And while the mother and daughter headed back toward the party,
he excused himself out through a gate at the side of the house.
But he was smiling as he went.
He found himself in good humour for several days after the meeting
with Barbara Humel. He putzed around a considerable amount in
his front yard, hoping to catch as much as a glimpse of her. But
to no avail. He saw nothing of her.
It was about this time, after he’d been in town for about two
months, and settled into his house for a month, that he actually
ventured uptown into the so called seniors’ centre. He’d been
past it, known its location since his first couple of days in
town. But he’d not gone to the place before, keeping mostly to
himself while he got used to the town.
He’d been spending a lot of time alone, which was not unusual
for him, but one morning he got up and decided he needed a little
human company. So, after his early morning walk, he showered and
shaved and put on some respectable clothes and headed uptown.
He was a little nervous. Not sure what might transpire. But he
had decided he should make the best of it.
He went into the place and ordered a tea at the lunch counter,
then found himself a table and settled in to watch the happenings.
A group of older men were gathered around a pool table, cues in
hand, sizing up the game as it unfolded before them. There were
a couple of tables of cards going on just over from him; a mix
of men and women, all seemingly intent on the job at hand. So,
he sat in solitude, and although he had come to perhaps meet some
of the townsfolk, he was uncertain how to accomplish this, short
of just walking up to someone and trying to strike up a conversation
— and that was something he wasn’t sure he could do. He suddenly
felt stupid. Why had he come? He felt others were watching him,
wondering about the stranger in their midst.
It was just then that a familiar face appeared. Barbara Humel
came into the room. He felt his spirits lift as soon as she entered.
She’d see him. He almost wanted to get to his feet to go to her,
but he sat fondling his tea and watched as she talked to another
couple of women and then went through a door and out of sight.
His spirits sagged. He awaited her return and hoped she hadn’t
Finally, she re-appeared. She went into the lunch counter area
and poured herself a coffee. It was only then that she took the
time to look about to see who might be in the place. He watched
as she looked first to the pool table, and then to the card players.
Finally, she found him. He saw her look of recognition and offered
her a slight wave, almost as if he was afraid others might see.
She came immediately toward him, causing him to smile by way of
"Hi there," she said, returning the smile.
"Hello," he answered.
"I haven’t seen you here before," she said.
"This is my first time," he answered.
"Well, welcome," she replied. "Have you met anybody
"No," he answered. "I just got here."
"Well, then, come on," she said, and she took him by
the arm and pulled him up out of the chair.
And so he met everybody at the centre that morning, from the cook,
to the pool players, to the card players. He felt uncomfortable
as they made the rounds, but he toughed it out, remaining sure
that he wanted to meet people. He even thought he recognized one
old guy’s name and features when he was introduced — possibly
someone from his past — but there was no flic ker of recognition
on the other’s face.
Barbara ended up depositing him at the pool table, telling a couple
of the cue-bearing codgers to take care of him, and see that he
felt welcome. He stood awkwardly off to the side of where the
game was taking place after she left him , a little embarrassed
at being foisted onto the pool players like a child in need of
Finally, the game broke up. One of the other oldtimers came over
"Do you shoot?" the approaching geezer asked, gesturing
at the table with his cue.
"Yes," he answered. "I used to play a bit."
And it was a bit of an understatement, considering the old bar
where he’d worked had contained a regulation size snooker table
where he’d whiled away many hours over the years.
He helped rack up the balls and watched as the other senior sent
the cue ball skittering down the table, breaking the balls with
a loud crack. The game was on.
He took it easy on Sid, the other oldtimer, letting him sink a
few balls along the way, but he beat him in the end, still not
able to control his little competitive streak even after all these
years. After the game, and after they’d decided not to play again,
instead letting others use the table, Sid invited him for a coffee.
"Just moved back into town, that what Barbara said?"
his pool playing partner asked, as they sat with their coffee.
"Yes," he answered. "From the West Coast."
"You been gone a long time?" Sid asked, his eyebrows
"About forty-five years," he answered.
"That’s a long time," Sid commented, reflectively stirring
his coffee. "I can remember your parents. Your Dad was highly
thought of," Sid answered. "But I can’t say I recall
you kids — I’m older than you, I think."
"I just turned sixty-five," he confessed.
"You’d be about Bert Howard’s age," Sid answered.
His own eyebrows perked up. "I knew Bert," he said.
"We were in the same class a couple of years in high school."
It was the first he’d actually heard of someone he knew from the
"It’s a wonder he’s not in here this morning," the other
oldtimer remarked. "You haven’t tried to find anybody you
knew since you’ve been back?"
"No," he answered. "I didn’t have any really close
friends when I was a boy, and I was pretty sure nobody’d remember
me. I guess I wasn’t sure what to expect, so I thought I’d keep
a low profile for the first while.
"Why did you come back?" Sid asked. "Not meaning
to be too personal."
"I’m not really sure," he answered. "It seemed
as good a place as any to retire. I guess I remember being happy
here as a boy."
"You’re an odd duck," the oldtimer remarked.
"I’ve been called worse," he answered.
And he spent the rest of the morning with his newfound friend,
and they discussed this and that and the other thing, and he told
Sid about the bar where he’d worked and its subsequent demise
in the name of progress, to which the other oldtimer remarked,
"Ain’t that always the way".
He also obtained his first information on what had become of some
of his former acquaintances from back when he’d been a boy. There
were a few still stalking the town, including Bert Howard, and
he resolved that he’d seek them out, if they didn’t find him in
this place first, because several apparently frequented the centre.
And he also heard the story of Barbara Humel, of how her husband
had died ten years past, and how she had been alone since. She
was very involved in the community, helping a multitude of organizations
along the way, filling her time with various charitable acts.
But everybody knew she needed a man. That’s what Sid said. She
was far too young to be on her own. That’s what Sid said.
And it was about that time that Sid’s wife came along to collect
him for lunch. And he parted company with the other oldtimer,
but only after promising to come again the next morning to play
partners in the weekly eight-ball tournament.
And so he finally left the seniors’ centre, feeling somewhat contented
with himself for seeming to have made a new friend. He would return
— hopefully often.
He was walking home, glad for the small town where he was able
to walk to most destinations., and had started up his block, when
he observed a curious sight. It was Barbara Humel, changed from
the proper clothes he’d seen her in earlier at the centre, now
clad in her gardening attire, shovel in hand, wrestling with a
shrub she had half dug out of its place in the garden in front
of her house. He watched as she plunged the spade back into the
ground, apparently attacking the root system of the hapless bush.
She punished it vigourously, wrenching the shovel back and forth
with gusto, then pulling it back and retreating a couple of steps
to wipe her brow.
He veered off from his intended destination of home and turned
up her front walk. He approached just as she was set to do battle
"Hi!" he called out.
She stopped abruptly, and turned back toward him. She offered
him a smile of recognition. "Well, hello," she said.
"I must look a sight." She ran the back of her hand
across her forehead, and made to straighten a bandana that hid
"That’s quite a job," he commented, indicating the partly
"Oh, I’ve wanted to move this thing for years," she
said, "and today seemed like a good day."
"I could offer some help," he suggested.
"I couldn’t ask you to do that," she said. "I got
myself into this and I should get myself out."
"I think I’ve got an idea that could save you a lot of work,"
"Really," she said.
"Yes," he answered, "if you’ve got some rope, and
a couple of other things."
"I think there’s some rope in the garage, and I’ve got lots
of "things"," she said.
"You show me where and I’ll see what I can do," he replied.
And it wasn’t long and he had fashioned a primitive winch, something
he hadn’t been exactly sure he could do, but had decided to attempt
nevertheless, and the shrub was at his mercy. It was an easy task
to finish the job of pulling it from the ground, although he was
careful to keep loosening it with the shovel so he could save
as much of the root system as possible, knowing she wanted to
re-plant it somewhere else.
She watched from the front steps as he went about his work. Finally,
the bush popped from its place in the ground. He looked over at
"Very impressive," she said, offering him a round of
applause and a smile for his efforts.
He bowed low in mock salute. "Glad to be of service, ma’am,"
he said, returning her smile.
"That really was very impressive," she said. "You
have a very mechanical nature."
"That’s what Mr. Hodgins, my old shop teacher, used to tell
me," he said.
"But you were a bartender," she said.
"But I could sure fix a good drink," he said with a
She erupted in laughter at what he thought was a rather bad joke.
He laughed as well, but was more subdued, instead regarding Barbara
Humel. He felt a warmth flush over him just at the sight of her.
She seemed fresh and alive and invigorating. He breathed her in
and it was like she made him whole for the first time in his life.
He wanted to giggle and then laugh out loud at the sheer joy and
immense contentment he felt just to be with her on the front step
of her house.
It was a feeling he could not remember from his life. Girls, and
then women, had always terrified him. He really was afraid of
girls, just like they’d joked back all those years ago when he’d
been a kid. And it was something he’d never outgrown. Whenever
he got into close conversation with a member of the opposite sex,
his wits deserted him, leaving him to fend for himself, while
his palms got totally sweaty, and his knees rattled against each
other. He’d long ago learned to avoid such close conversations,
and, perhaps, as a result, had spent nearly a lifetime alone.
But those feelings didn’t seem to be with him on this particular
day with this particular woman.
"Were you just coming from the centre?" she asked, after
the laughter had subsided.
"Yes," he answered.
"Well, you probably haven’t had any lunch," she said.
He didn’t answer, not sure what his response should be.
"Come on," she said. "I’ll fix us some lunch. It’s
the least I can do after all your trouble."
"I shouldn’t put you to the trouble," he said, knowing
full well that he wanted to put her to the trouble; that he wanted
nothing more than to stay for lunch.
"It’s no trouble," she answered. "I’ve got to eat,
"Well, alright then," he said. "But I’ll put a
few things away out here first."
"Okay," she replied, getting to her feet. "Just
come around the back when you’re finished."
He smiled at her as she turned to go. She smiled back, and he
felt himself melt away from the warmth it again made him feel.
So, he went in for lunch.
"That was very resourceful of you out there," Barbara
said, as she passed him a beautiful looking garden salad.
He helped himself.
"I’d have been at that thing until next Sunday at the rate
I was going," she said, passing over a plate of sandwiches.
"Tuna salad," she added.
He took a sandwich.
They both sat in quiet.
"Do you say grace?" she asked, folding her hands in
front of her.
"Yes," he answered, lying in that he had not said grace
once since he had left his father’s house, unless he had been
a guest of some other.
"Would you do the honour?" she asked.
He folded his hands and bowed his head. "Please, Jesus, for
what we are about to receive, Lord make us truly thankful. Amen."
It came so easily and felt so good. He surprised himself that
he had even remembered. He looked up, perhaps somewhat cautiously.
She offered her now familiar smile. He felt himself flush as he
had earlier at the front of the house.
"Do you go to church?" she asked, as they started to
"Well, I haven’t since I’ve been back," he answered
"Your father was a United Church minister?" she asked.
"Yes," he answered, between mouthfuls.
"Is that still your church?" she asked.
"Yes, I guess it is," he answered, pausing for a drink.
"You’re probably still on the rolls," she said. "They
only strike you off when you die. Moving away for forty years
He knew she was joking and offered a small laugh. "Do you
go to the United Church?" he asked, turning things about
and asking a question of his own.
"Yes," she answered. "Your father baptized and
"Is that so," he replied. "You didn’t say."
"Typical woman," she answered. "Didn’t want to
give away my age."
"You could still be quite a bit younger than me," he
"But I’m not," she said. "My father was a church
elder when your Dad was minister, so I remember him coming to
our house for church business. I’m even sure I remember you —
sort of — but you’re probably about ten years older than me,
so we wouldn’t have paid much attention to each other. Didn’t
you sing in church sometimes?"
This time he flushed with embarrassment.
"Got you with that one," she laughed.
"Just keep it to yourself," he said. "I don’t want
that getting around."
"Don’t worry," she said, still smiling broadly, "but
don’t be surprised if someone else remembers now that we’ve got
you out of the closet."
He smiled back. "I guess I shouldn’t be surprised,"
"We have long memories in small towns," she said.
They ate for a moment in silence.
"Perhaps we could go together sometime," she said, so
quietly he barely heard.
"Pardon?" he asked.
"Maybe we could go to church together sometime — I mean,
if you think you might want to," she said.
"That would be a great honour," he answered, not needing
so much as a second to reach a decision about a possible return
to organized christianity under such circumstances.
And so they finished their lunch, and he could have stayed for
the afternoon, and into the evening, but knew it wouldn’t be appropriate
with her a single woman with a reputation to uphold, so he politely
excused himself, and went home. He was hardly through the front
door to his house and he was planning a shopping trip for some
new Sunday clothes, knowing he must make a good impression.
And so he made his return. He went home — back to the place where
he’d been born and come of age. As he lay that night in his bed,
in his own house, across the street from Barbara Humel and across
town fron the seniors’ centre, he was glad he’d come back. He
no longer felt small and vulnerable and alone. He felt like he
belonged. And it was safe to say that he had not harboured such
feelings since he had long ago left the bosom of his family home.
It still remained to be seen whether he’d be able to fit into
the community, whether he’d be able to sit and reminisce with
Bert Howard and any other former acquaintances he might meet,
or whether he’d be able to break into the eight-ball crowd with
Sid and the other oldtimers. And there was this Barbara Humel
thing. He would work hard to resolve that in his favour. He had
special feelings for her already. He knew he wanted to attend
church, or any other function, with her. He would work on that
He felt himself drifting off to sleep… tomorrow would come
soon enough… and he was anxious for it to come. There was
life to be lived. And for the first time in what seemed like a
very long time, he was looking forward to it. He would rise early
and walk in the bright, new day. Then, who knew what might happen?
Except that it would surely be life. And that was good. So very
Copyright © John Gardiner 1997
This article may not be archived or distributed further without
the author’s express permission. Please read the license.
This electronic version of The Minister’s Son is published
by The Richmond Review by arrangement with the author.
John Gardiner is a 44-year-old former community newspaper editor from Wallaceburg, Ontario,
Canada. He can be emailed at <[email protected]>
His story Froglegs and Other Peculiar Things is also published
in The Richmond Review.