I thought I saw Freddie on the Sea Walk the other day. I was quite far away but it looked like him as he was standing at a slight tilt with arms clasped behind his back. He was gazing out at the marina, perhaps at the great blue heron that owns that spot of shore line. My steps quickened momentarily and then I remembered. Freddie was dead.
He hadn’t been obviously ill and there had been no obituary in the paper so his death didn’t feel real. I had just talked to him a few days before. Then someone in the coffee shop casually mentioned that the “old man who lived in the cottage next to the video store,” had died. Not many people knew his name; he was just one of the many older nondescript men who walk the Sea Walk daily, some holding onto the rails, other shuffling along in their walkers, stopping to rest every now and then.
But we had gotten to know him. From years of writing for community newspapers I have learned what riches I discover when chatting to people that I see on my daily walks. They often turn out to be a good subject for a news article. Freddie had been a journalist in San Francisco and Seattle and many years ago he worked for the Peterborough Examiner in Ontario under editor/writer Robertson Davies. We enjoyed talking newspaper talk Freddie and I, and he always asked me what my next article was about. He liked to keep me posted on how our town’s pulp mill was doing on the world market. I think he was trying to steer me along that subject. I like writing about people; I find them hugely interesting and have no interest in writing about the pulp mill.
But I did want to write about Freddie. I kept putting it off and finally this year I wrote a story about his project of devoting his garden solely to food crops. I included a photo of Freddie looking up at his kiwi vine. The article came out in July. Freddie didn’t say much about it. I concluded it was a pale effort compared to his writing abilities.
Freddie died suddenly in mid-September. His daughter came up from the States to look after his estate. She told me her dad was thrilled about the article and she wanted a copy for herself. Luckily I was also able to give her a selection of photographs I had taken that day — she had no recent photos of her father and it meant a lot to her.
I am glad I didn’t put off writing about Freddie’s garden, it was a huge source of pride for him and his daughter has a small memento of her dad’s life in our small town. She said she wished she’d had more time with him. I wished I had talked more with him about Robertson Davies and working as a journalist in San Francisco back in the hippie days. Time is fleeting. Grab it while you can.