I was a few minutes late but I arrived to smiles and a whispered, "He's ready."
"He" sat on a couch and I noticed right away that he was wearing a suit. I heard that he had been there since first thing that morning and that he had talked of nothing else but this day for the past two weeks.
On the couch beside him, wrapped in pretty pastel paper were flowers, which he said were for ME! I felt appreciated; a special guest--but I was here for him--to celebrate his birthday.
He got up to get his coat, watched benignly by the silver gray cat sitting in the middle of the room.
The flowers were still on the couch. I said, "The flowers."
"Oh, yes," he said, "I forgot," and he went back to get them.
In the car I gave him a birthday gift, a CD, which he studied and thanked me for quickly before opening the card. A bill fluttered from it, and he caught it quickly, "Ten dollars!" he said, "Thank you," while pulling out his wallet and putting away the money.
"That's going towards my boat trip in the summer."
Then a travel mug caught his eye, "Where did you get that from?"
"From Paul," I said, resisting the urge to give it away.
As we drove into town he said, "They closed the institution."
"You can't go in, it's all locked up," he said.
"Would you want to?"
"Yes, just to look around."
In the restaurant we are both hungry for our late lunch and savour our meals to the full. When it is time to order dessert, I ask if he can guess what I will order. He thinks hard and we both say at once, "Carrot cake!" and we laugh, and I tell him that I only eat it when I go out with him. I point out the lemon pie and say, "Evelyn would have ordered that."
"She's dead," he says, and, "Why? When did she die?"
"In 2003. I don't know, people grow old and die. But where is she?"
"Heaven," he says.
I am surprised when he tells me that he is 70. To be sure, I ask what year he was born. "I don't know, but it was before the war," he says.
"Yes, that's it; 1940."
I've known him for almost 30 of his 70 years. I ask him if he remembers Maplewood Lodge and he says, "Yes, I remember Maplewood Lodge. I broke a window and had to pay for it."
"How did you feel about that place?" I ask, knowing that he will give me an unfiltered answer.
"Maplewood Lodge was a good place," he says, without hesitation. It was the place he came having struggled elsewhere. He found a measure of peace in the two acres of land and in the house that also had places in which to find solitude. Since then he has lived in four other places, but he has kept the thread of connection through every move, mostly because to him, a friend is a precious thing.
I said, "Remember how you used to sleep out on the sun porch?" and we talked of the cats who both had kittens at once and chose his house mate George's room in which to have them.
We talked about what happened to us both over the past year and laughed about moments and people we can both remember in the more distant past.
We see one another only once a year and I came expecting to be the one to give. But by making the effort to dress up in a suit; buying me flowers; and knowing what dessert I would choose, he filled my friendship cup, and reminded me that a friendship in which the giving flows both ways is richest.