To have met someone I knew wasn’t what made the encounter rare and memorable. No, it was more than that. I rarely go to town. But I did the other day. I rarely engage in anything but the most surface, innocuous chats with the people I meet. But I did the other day.
It’s the stuff small-town rural life is all about. It’s validating, rewarding, and just nice.
If you’ve eaten DJ’s pizza, you’ll know it as perhaps Winkler’s best contribution to the world. And, nine times out of nine, when my wife is gone for the night, I order a large pie to nibble on. I do this because: A. tradition (and I don’t break from tradition easily), and B: to force myself out of the house and into civilization. My fields are all ready for winter, and, if left to my own devices and DJ’s delivered to my house, I’d stay on my yard until spring.
The pickup area was full when I got there. I was wearing — it mostly doesn’t matter what I was wearing, save for the fact that the Blue Jays were about to play Kansas City and I had my Blue Jays cap on.
“So, are they going to win tonight?”
“I hope so, but who knows,” I said. I didn’t recognize the man chatting with me. I didn’t even try to place him. I was happy to chat Blue Jays. I was looking forward to the game.
It’s a tiny area, a roughly six by six square with a bench and a large soda fridge. There were five adults and a carriage packed into it. We were all waiting for pizza, or some other menu item (of which I couldn’t name a single thing — maybe Coke and chicken). Before it was my turn at the counter, the lot of us were all talking Blue Jays. I think the topic got unanimous support because it was a great way to break the palpable tensions that exists when six strangers share a tight space.
“Toban. Toban Dyck.”
The gentleman — scruffy, smiley, middle-aged — sitting on a bench behind me waiting for his pizza stood up, walked over, looked into my eyes and said, “Toban? Do you remember me?”
I did. But I couldn’t place him. It was the same guy who asked if the Jays were going to win tonight. It was him and I who got the whole pick-up area chatting about their experiences either watching or playing baseball. One woman didn’t like that the Jays were in the playoffs, as it had rendered her husband basically useless.
There were moments in our chat when I’d think, “Man, I know this guy.” But I didn’t take it further. Lots of people in Winkler are familiar to me, but only because I’ve seen them around.
“We worked on that potato storage together for Pete’s Concrete.”
I remembered. Absolutely, I remembered. I loved that job. It was good, honest work with great people.
“Aw, man, I remember when you started. You were young, scrawny, and I thought, ‘oh great, another kid who doesn’t know a thing about construction.’ Then, you offered to relieve me on a welding project. I didn’t think you’d be able to do it, but you did. Then, you told the whole crew that one day you were going to be a writer and live in Toronto. I read that you did it. You did what you said you’d do.”
He was smiling and happy to see me. He seemed proud of me, and I was starting to get emotional at the restaurant. I didn’t cry. I didn’t even come close. He was smiling the whole time. His tone was cheerful and conversational, and I don’t think he realized how meaningful the whole thing was to me.
“When I heard that you had returned to the area to farm, write, and brew beer, I thought, ‘if Toban wants to do it, he’ll make it happen.’”
His name is Ed. He’s worked construction in Winkler his whole life. I’ll never forget our chat today. It meant a lot to me. It was the kind of conversation that makes you slow down and appreciate good relationships, good people, and the real stuff of life.
If you need a bobcat, look up Bill’s Custom Bobcat Work.
Thank you, Ed.