(My final story with a connection to Maplewood Lodge--for now, a story from 2010.)
I was a few minutes late but I arrived to smiles and a whispered, "He's ready," which turned out to be an understatement.
"He" sat on a couch and I noticed right away that he was wearing a suit. The staff told me 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.
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."
As we drove into the town of Orillia, he said, "They closed the institution."
"I know," I said.
"You can't go in, it's all locked up."
"Would you want to?" I asked.
"Yes, just to look around."
In the restaurant we were both hungry for our late lunch and we enjoy our meals to the full. When it was time to order dessert, I asked if he could guess what I would order. He thought hard and we both said at once, "Carrot cake!" and we laughed, and I told him that I only eat it when I go out with him, which was almost true.
I am surprised when he tells me that he is 70. To be certain he is right, 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."
"But 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, because to him, a friend is a precious thing. If you define friendship as a relationship that has common history and which both parties choose to maintain beyond the common ties, we are friends.
"Remember how you used to sleep out on the sun porch?" I ask. He did. It was the nearest thing to camping out, and a cool place to sleep in summer.
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. George had a dozen kittens and two cats in his room at one time.
We talked about what had 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.
Now it is almost 30 years since the chapter called "Maplewood Lodge," with all its fond memories; closed in our lives. Since then the small agency I joined when we left, has grown to the largest provider of services to people with disabilities in Ontario. I might think that I have just shared my life in a nutshell, but the adventure continues. Only God knows what is next--and experience tells me that with him it will only be good.