The Eternal Bond of Roast Beef
The sender’s name immediately caught my eye and my heart fluttered for a moment. In spite of the decades behind us, the shortest message from her never fails to bring back a flood of memories.
She was my first true love. We were university students, growing and learning about life together, sharing plenty of good times and, as is often the case, the occasional bad time. It was magical. And then, our paths diverged and with distance and time, it faded.
The topic - “Steak” - piqued my interest. That, and the fact that it was 1:46am in her time zone which made me uneasy as I devoured the next 4 lines.
Remember about 30 years ago when steak made me feel better? And you laughed at me and told me that if steak wasn’t enough you’d be there?
Well, wish you were here now!
Hope you’re well.”
I could feel her angst and was grateful she reached out to me, the true sign of an old and trusted friend.
The “steak” incident, which was actually a roast beef incident, had long ago become something akin to urban myth in my sister’s family. Almost every time we sat down to a roast beef dinner Gurtie would say: “you know, it’s good for your back.” Peels of laughter followed and there was always a heartfelt reflection from the way-back memory machine about her and the fun we had in our youth.
I replied straight away:
“If I recall, it was roast beef - at Gurt and Matt's old home on Harvard Ave.
If I could, I would deliver a prime cut to you and stay to enjoy it.
What's up? Are you ok?
Sending love ... and roast beef.”
It had been some time since our last exchange. I send the annual “Happy Birthday” message the second week of May which has occasionally led to some back and forth.
When her parents moved to “the County” of my youth and built a home, there was a flurry of communication. And when her Mom succumbed to a long and painful fight with cancer, we exchanged messages and memories. But other than that, our interaction over the past 30 years has been sporadic.
She moved to Toronto, married, became a University of Toronto professor, a mother, and later, Dean of her College.
She came back, almost immediately:
“Yeah, true… it was roast beef. But the first one was at the Old Mill and I think I said it made my back feel better. Pretty sure you mocked me. Pretty sure we had fun…
I think we had another night at M and G’s that continued it! 😉
I’m fine… just sort of weary. I’m pretty much a tank in terms of being strong but these days I have some days where I’m a bit less sure. Thinking about you. Really hope all is well. Where are you?
And, of course, where’s the beef????”
She knows I spent the same three decades traveling the world and that I have a daughter who arrived later in my life and lives in Nice, France, with her Mom. I had told her about the van I bought a couple of years ago to allow me to visit often and, equally important, to depart.
From my rural upbringing, love of the outdoors, and straightforward, no-nonsense perspective, Nice is not nice. There is too much egocentrism on the overrated Cote d’Azur and the culture is the antithesis to my values.
A simple drive about the city pretty much portrays the mentality. There is a lot of screaming, horn honking, finger flicking, and aggression. People will shriek at someone for double parking – very common here – and then turn around and do exactly the same … because it suits them. A set of rules for me, another set for everyone else. Get out of the way, I am more important than anybody else.
“All is well.
I decided to stay close to my daughter this "summer that never happened", so did not make it back to Canada. As much as I dislike Nice, I love my little girl more, and am trying to be a better Dad every day.
We had great fun this summer and bonded. She's back in school now. As you know, the virus is raging in France and restrictions are getting tighter in hotspots - of which Nice is one.
Fluid is my new most-used word.
And so, we are both tanks, trying to do our best in unsettled times.
Wish I was there to give you a big hug and light up your life with my all-too-familiar silliness.”
Photo by Tim Morch
It’s true. She is a tank – always forging a forward direction, fighting for what she believes in and maintaining trajectory. She was an activist in university and remains so to this day. I loved reading a 2011 newspaper article describing her “launching a fistful of unusual courses with no marks, no exams, no prerequisites, no credit and no charge, just the chance to kick around big ideas.”
Topics in science, culture, religion, theatre, the humanities, and politics were all part of a post-secondary experiment she called “Ideas for the World.” She wanted students to be engaged, adding one of the best martini-innuendos ever: “I really believe university should leave you stirred – and shaken.”
And so, here she was, reaching out to me in the middle of the night.
Her final message:
“You know… I’m generally pretty much strong. But for the last couple of days I’ve felt like I hit a wall. And I’m somehow not surprised that when I send a message out into the world to say hi to Tim you responded in two minutes. Pretty amazing.
I’m sure you’re a great dad. It’s not easy to do it over borders… and it’s not easy to do it any way!
Wish you were here too.
And BTW, sometimes people confuse silly with kind. You’ve always blended those. 😊”
And that was it. I followed up with an email the next day, but it remains unanswered. And that is probably a good thing, as she assuredly “tanked” through a momentary crisis and is getting on with important daily affairs.
In the end though, it felt great to know that even after all the years, she knew I was always and will always be there for her. True love, in the broadest sense of the term.
One last thing: There are many of you who have known me a long time and will know the identity of the person in this story. I have utmost confidence you will respect her privacy and no names will be mentioned.