Old Friends Revisited
4 April 2020

Green Bay, Wisconsin to Duluth, Minnesota

Tom Weafer was an old colleague of my dad’s. They worked for the Ontario government. Both were new to the country. Tom was from Ireland. He was a little older and had been in Canada a bit longer and my father looked up to him. He had white hair. A pleasant voice and a big, toothy smile. He was good with his hands. He once built a cedar closet in our basement.

A few years back I was doing a lot of bible reading. Not for religious reasons, but because the stories are good and the language in the King James translation is so beautiful (the King James Bible is as much of an influence on me as any of my favourite writers are). I was struck by a piece in the New Testament when Christ, just risen, meets one of his disciples, Cleopas, in the street. I remember thinking that shorn of any of its spiritual and mystical aspects, this is the story of two friends. I wrote a poem about it then.

The Third Day

When He arose,
He shrugged off that place
and all its tomb-ish gloom
to walk in the days first light.

On the street He met Cleopas,
and from the look on his face
you’d have sworn
he’d seen a ghost,

but they embraced there
on the road to Emmaus,
where Cleopas held his friend a long time.
He was so pleased to see Him.

I don’t think it’s a particularly good poem. It is too esoteric, and I tend to dislike things I wrote in my twenties. But at the time I felt compelled to write something about friendship. Friends like my dad had in Tom Weafer, who built the cedar closet in our basement. Whenever you walked into that room you would smell its piney scent, long after Tom himself had died from leukemia.

And what of the cedar tree. The oak, the ash. The black spruce, that stalwart of the boreal forest. Did you know that they have evolved to grow their pinecones in clusters on the highest branches? And in fires the waxen lacquer which coats them softens and their seeds are released on the breeze. Or that when squirrel populations get too big, the trees communicate and don’t grow pinecones that year, to starve the squirrels or force them on. Sometimes when a neighboring tree is unwell, the others will over-photosynthesize to feed their ill friend.

Remember those irritating memes that were going around a while back? Usually a stick figure drawing of someone named something workaday like Bob. And it would say “This is Bob’ and go on to list things Bob does or says that complied with the ideologies of whoever posted it in a heavy handed and pedantic way. It would finish with,

‘Bob is good. Be like Bob’.

Anyway. Fuck Bob. That smug prick. Be like the black spruce. Grow roots deep and wide, that nourish and support your friends and neighbours. Don’t take more than you need. Spread your arms in the wind. Stand tall and turn your face to the morning sun.

But back to Tom Weafer and how this all began…

I am reading a book by Ali Smith. Autumn. It talks of time and our notion of it, and at its heart is the story of a friendship. And I got to thinking about my dad’s old colleague who I remember so little, but of whom he always speaks so fondly. And it made me recall a dream I had sometime back around when I was reading the bible. And it was the bible and this dream that inspired that poem. And all of this means very little other than to say we are lucky to have friends. To be able to develop close ties in all the disparate places the meandering paths of our lives take us.

In the dream, I was at a flat my parents used to rent near Putney Bridge in London. I was home alone, and the phone rang and broke the weighted silence some dreams are so laden with. I answered it and a man asked for my father. I told them he wasn’t home, and he said,

‘This is Tom Weafer. Just tell him I called.’

It was a very bad line and I felt an urgency then. I wanted to tell him, knowing he was dead as he was, and had been for many years, how my father would love to talk, and how much his friendship had meant to him and could he please call back. But the line cut.

For days after I felt a sense of loss, over how disappointed my old man would be, how disappointed we would all be, to have missed such an opportunity, to chat with an old dear friend.