Mr F.

“But time makes you bolder. Children get older. I’m getting older too.” Fleetwood Mac

One of my favourite customers was in the other day. You might remember Mr. F from a post I wrote last fall about coin collecting. A quick update: I haven’t collected any more of those coins, and I bet that coin card is still stuck somewhere in my bedside table. I guess I should try to go down to the Mint one of these days and see if I can get the whole set. Surely they are all out by now?

Anyway, Mr. F ambled up to the information desk, and thankfully didn’t ask about my coins. He had a glint in his eye, though, and I thought I was ready for him. As usual, he started our reference interactions with a trivia question, but this time it didn’t have anything to do with geography.

“Name two Victoria Cross winners from this province!” was his opening gambit. No “Good morning”, or “I have a question for you!”

“Um, Billy Bishop?” was my first stab.

“Billy Bishop isn’t even from this province,” Mr. F flatly stated.

My coworker, overhearing our exchange, chimed in, “Tommy Prince?”

“Tommy Price won a lot of medals, but not the VC!” Mr. F gleefully schooled us.

I thought about surreptitiously opening my browser and googling the result, but that would have been cheating.

“You got me, Mr. F. I’m stumped.” I had to admit.

“Well, it was, um, well. Um, the names are on the tip of my tongue. Gosh, I seem to have forgotten them myself!”

We all had a wee chuckle over it and looked up the results. If you’re interested, there have been 13 recipients of the Victoria Cross from our province, 11 of them were from WWI, two were from WWII, and none since.

None since!” was all Mr. F could get out and he wandered off to look at the magazines.

I really like Mr. F. I think you can tell, right? He had a hip operation last year and now he’s getting around without even a cane. He’s the type of person I would like to be if I am blessed enough to make it to my 80’s. He’s still curious about the world, about current events, about science (don’t even get him started on Chris Hadfield, both he and I are big fans. He doesn’t know what Twitter is though, so whenever I can I will call up one of Hadfield’s photos and we’ll both gaze at it with amazement.), and about life in general. He has a great sense of humour and a childlike sense of wonder. Did I mention he is in his late 80’s?

When I was a kid, I remember watching this “after-school-special” that I think was supposed to focus on the plight of the elderly, or something. It seemed to go on for ever, but the one thing I remember about it was that they were interviewing an older man who said that he would often run out of money between his pension cheques and that sometimes he had to make “ketchup soup”, and then the show would go ahead and film him dumping a bottle of ketchup into a sauce pan and adding a little water and stirring it all around.

“It’s not that bad, you get used to it,” the man said as he stirred the pan.

Reader, I’m telling you that clip put me into a blue funk for the rest of the day. At that time I had two grandparents still living and neither of them had ever made homemade ketchup soup. One of them did try to make homemade play-dough one time and it was a total disaster, but that’s another story. What I’m getting at is that I never really knew “down and out” olds as a kid. All of the older people in my life were pretty active and fun, but this after-school-special opened my eyes to the possibility that life continues to get good until maybe your early 20’s and then it is one long shit-slide down a broken glass-laced shute into a carnvial of pain and loss.

Seeing Mr. F come in and talk about things he’s seen on PBS or places he’s read about or current events, (“That Mike Duffy has a lot of explaining to do!”) really inspires me. I love that guy, and always look forward to our little visits. And a part of me thinks that if he can do it, so can I.

I made a little pack with myself the day that I watched that after-school-special. I told myself that I would never ever make myself ketchup soup, even if I was old and destitute.

So far so good.

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