Tuesday, May 03, 2016
This morning I made peanut butter cookies for Bridge Club. “You don’t even like peanut butter cookies much,” said a little voice inside me. But I made them anyway, partly because they are so easy to make. “They are so easy to make!” That’s what Doris said when she brought them to Bridge Club a while ago, maybe a year or ago, back before the cancer and the downhill slide that followed too closely on its heels. “You use a cup of peanut butter, half a cup of sugar and an egg,” she said. “Then you mix them together and make a couple of dozen little balls. 20 minutes at 325 and they’re done. Doesn’t seem like it should work, but it does.” So I made them myself this morning, maybe because I wanted something simple to serve to Bridge Club, maybe because Doris’s 75th birthday would have been next Sunday, maybe just so I could hear the sound of her voice in my mind’s ear—and grieve a little. By the time you get to my age, death is not as unfamiliar as it once was. You’d have to have been a hermit not to have mourned the loss of beloved relatives, work colleagues and people you had intended to get to know better when you had time. But somehow I made it to the age of 62 without ever having lost a close friend. I would rather have made it to 82, or 102, or maybe never. Fifty-two years is a long time to bump through the ups and downs of life with a close friend. Doris Goetz was my braille teacher when I was 10 and she was 23, or maybe I was 9 and she was 22. I wish I’d thought to ask her if she knows exactly which year it was. At any rate, our first meeting was a time of great hope for both of us. She, a smiling, joyful, pretty young woman, was just beginning a long and inspiring career teaching braille, cooking, personal grooming and crafts to thousand of blind people, young and old. I, in contrast, was a fish out of water, a literate child who could not see well enough to read print, the only blind kid in Lougheed School. A CNIB driver drove her 100 miles to bring a book from which I was expected to teach myself, there being no braille readers within 100 miles. And the miracle is that I did teach myself, the alphabet, the punctuations, the complex system of contractions that most people claim as the reason why so many people never really learn braille. I taught myself to write with a slate and stylus, a system for writing which requires you to write each letter as in a mirror, poking out holes on one side that will be dots when you turn over the page. Miracle, I say, because I’m not the smartest kid on the block, and I can’t recall ever winning an award for perseverance. Maybe it was because I so badly wanted to read. More likely it was because Doris found for me that sweet spot, the time when other kids get into street gangs and experiment with smoking, the time when a kid will do just about anything to impress a mentor and a role model. To impress Doris I put everything I had into the task of learning braille. I gave up watching the Flintstones after school. I gave up visiting the hens in the yard so I could spend more time on braille. I worked as fast as Doris would allow, clogging the post box with envelopes documenting my progress, urging her to come quickly each time I finished a volume of the three-volume training book. Doris always dropped off a new book in person. A hundred miles was not, evidently, so far after all. After the first book, she gave up telling me to slow down. I was already an adult, albeit only in the legal sense, when next I met Doris. I had changed so much, no wonder I was surprised to find her exactly as I remembered, joyful, smiling, encouraging, fun to be with. We were work colleagues, we were former colleagues, we were lunchers, we were mutual admirers. I admired the way she made such a good life for herself as a single person who devoted all her efforts to one career. She admired how I made such a good life for myself as a married person adapting to several career changes along the way. I was amazed at how quickly she could leave me eating her dust after she got her guide dog. She admired how I took the LRT without a guide. We were fellow retirees, we were Bridge partners, and always we were friends. If she were here she’d be asking about my life—my kids, my grandkids, my hope projects, our new apartment, David’s health. Did I like the last symphony concert? Had I made it to Calgary to visit Pirate in his new home? If she were here she’d be remembering things I told her years ago and had forgotten until she reminded me. If she were here she’d be asking for computer help, and tips on downloading e-books. She’d be playing Bridge with us, and bringing the peanut butter cookies. Come to think of it, I miss Doris. I haven’t talked to her since February, or was it early March? Anyway, it’s already been too long, and if things were different I’d be making arrangements for us to get together instead of grieving on the Internet. But things are the way they are. So I am learning to like peanut butter cookies. I think she’d want it that way.