When Audrey and I were living in Toronto and both working for Games Workshop, a fellow came up from the US operation to head up our trade sales department. Jim was a nice fellow, originally from Kentucky who was positive, easygoing and had a way with a turn of phrase which endeared him to me almost immediately. Audrey and I had him over for dinner and movies periodically, partially to provide him with an alternative to the pub antics of the younger crowd (which, to be clear, is a lot of fun when you allow for an appropriate refractory period), and partly because a drink at home with good company has always been, and remains, one of our favourite pastimes as people committed to a homebody lifestyle.
Jim is a kindred spirit in a lot of ways: liking but not needing a good party, having a theology that overlapped ours in a lot of places, and sharing our overwhelming joy when Fenya was born in Ontario in 1998. Then we moved back to Alberta the following year, Jim moved out west to rep GW on the road but left the company not long after that, and our contact became intermittent. He called me once from a moving car while visiting a mutual friend because that’s just how he rolls: hey, I just thought of someone we could talk to, so I’m going to make that happen right now, because I can, and because that way it stands the best chance of actually happening and not just going into the drawer labelled “That Would Have Been a Good Idea…”. While out West, he also met someone special, they got married, had a child, and ended up moving to the Midwest.
Then out of the blue one day about two years back, I got a call at my desk where I currently work, and lo and behold, it was Jim; he had come across the blog post where Fenya demonstrated one of her favourite camp songs and was moved to call me about it. We caught up a little bit, then I called him from home later on and we jawed for over an hour, catching up, sharing stories and the like.
Since then, we catch news from each other in the Google+ stream (as I am a Facebook abstainer), chat occasionally on the phone, and trade emails and links and the like, until this past December, when he called from his home in Minnesota to say there was a chance that his wife might be taking an executive job in Calgary. They had some questions about what living in Alberta might really be like, and as someone who lives in Edmonton but thinks Calgary is actually pretty nice in its own way, I was happy to oblige. Don’t get me wrong, I think our province’s greatest rivalry has its place, but it is a much smaller place than a lot of people seem to think it is.
One thing led to another, and last week, United Farmers of Alberta (UFA) announced that Jim’s wife Carol was going to be their new CEO. The two of them and their son made arrangements to fly up this past weekend so Carol could meet the board and be introduced to some of the employees and so they could start searching for a place to live. We used Air Miles to book a room at the Delta Bow Valley so we could meet them for dinner this past Saturday.
A lot of dihydrogen monoxide has passed beneath the spanning structure in the decade and a half since we last saw Jim, but to see him in person again and give him a hug, you would have thought we’d just parted ways the week before. It was a treat to meet Carol at last, who was charming and gracious despite having just accepted a very challenging new position, plus needing to select and finance a house and relocate herself and her family into a new country, in a new time zone, on a night the clocks were scheduled to move ahead one hour! Under the same conditions I would have considered myself ahead of the game just being coherent.
In many ways, though, the highlight visitor for me was their son Jack, aged ten.
It’s often hard for us grownups to remember what a pain that tweenage stage can be when hanging around adults; you aren’t quite old enough to weigh in on most adult topics (and good grief, why would you? I’m a little embarrassed at how interested I actually was at the way mortgages differ between the US and Canada), but you aren’t small enough to be ‘cute’ and do ‘look at me’ stuff any longer.
Glory prefers to lean back and let the conversation wash over her, especially around those she is unfamiliar with. Jack, like Fenya I think, has a knack for knowing when it’s good to talk and when it’s better to listen; he never worked to exert control over the conversation but interjected where it made sense, occasionally prompting his dad with an, “oh, let me tell it!” but not proceeding without approval. We had a lovely time at dinner, but navigating the +15 pedway system on our walk back to their hotel gave me an opportunity to chat with him one-on-one that I was determined to make the most of.
“Jack,” I told him, “I have the distinct feeling that you and I are going to get along just fine –swimmingly, in fact- it’s just that, to be sure, there are a few standard questions I need to ask you if that’s all right.”
“Sure,” he replied easily; there may have been a hint of trepidation there, but not much- he was ready to play.
“All right then, favourite superhero?”
Without hesitation, he answered, “Black Panther.”
“Bold choice,” I said with a tone of respect.
“He’s pretty cool, and he taught Captain America how to fight.”
“I had no idea,” I said truthfully. “Favourite DC superhero?”
“Batman,” again, without missing a beat.
“Me too,” I agreed. “Marvel movie you are most looking forward to?”
“That makes sense. It’s cool that he is going to be in Civil War, too, right?”
“Oh,yeah! There’s so much he can do…”
“Totally,” I said, “Scientist, martial artist, adventurer, king…I don’t see Bruce Wayne running an entire nation right?” Jack nodded in agreement and appreciation.
I pressed on: “Favourite fighter plane?”
A moment’s consideration, then, “F-15 Raptor.” (Now, I might have mis-heard him here, as the next-generation jet featured in movies like Transformers is technically the F-22, but it is possible that there is a variant of the venerable Eagle with that name as well, so rather than display my ignorance, I moved on.)
“How about your favourite movie vehicle?”
“They are these giant fighting robots…”
“Yeah, from Pacific Rim; I love those too, I just never thought of them as vehicles, but they clearly are…excellent choice. How about a wheeled vehicle?”
This prompted a little more cogitation. “Hmm…ah! The Batmobile.”
“Which one? There’s been a few now…” I pressed.
“The newest one,” he asserted.
“Yeah, that one.”
I nodded. “Good choice, but my first love will always be the 1986 Tim Burton one with the giant turbine out front.” This got me a nod of assent. “Favourite X-Man?”
“Wolverine. I mean, I know he’s too popular, but…wait, can I change my answer?”
“Then it’s Iceman.”
Another choice from the lower echelons. “Bobby Drake? Okay, fair enough, that’s a great character finally getting good representation in the movies. Mine is Kitty Pryde, but I am right there with you on Wolverine.”
By this point, I had to check in briefly with the adults plotting our course on the touch screen navigation stations situated throughout the pedway, and when I returned to Jack, I knew it was time to wrap things up.
"All right Jack," I said, "You are doing well; so well, in fact, that I have only one more question to throw at you. I don't normally use this one on minors, but your answers thus far have been excellent in terms of displaying your taste and insight, so, frankly, I think you are up to it." This elicited a grin and a nod, so I proceeded.
"Are you familiar with the an old TV show called The Twilight Zone?" Careful consideration, a shake of the head. "It was a cool old anthology show, with a different story and set of characters every week, and it was always introduced by this fellow named Rod Serling..."
"Wait, I think I have seen this..."
"They show a version in the lineup at the Tower of Terror in Disneyland..." More nodding now. "Anyhow, let's say you died, all right? Meteor from space, splat,you're done, but instead of going to your just reward you end up in a foggy waiting room with Rod Serling. He says that you died just too darned young, and before you can move on, you need to go back in history-"
"Oh, man..." he intoned.
"Wait for it," I urged, "-back in history and you can pick any battle in history to fight and die in. You don't need to suffer, and you won't feel any pain or anything, but The Powers That Be have decreed that you need this experience, so: what battle do you pick?"
You could hear the gears turning as he mulled his options over, but with surprising quickness, he asserted confidently, "The Revolutionary War, at the Battle of Bunker Hill."
The War of Independence is not one of my stronger areas of knowledge, but I quickly scoured my memories of Schoolhouse Rock for a clue to the significance, and it paid off.
"Bunker Hill?" I said. "where they said not to fire untiiiiilll...?"
"'You see the whites of their eyes,'" he responded, his own eyes sparkling.
"OutSTANDing," I said, and we bumped fists.
Jim, his father-sense tingling, sensed our completion. "So, how did he do?" he inquired without real concern. "Did he pass?"
"Are you kidding me?" I responded. "Full marks, high honours; first percentile."
But then, I know he has some good teachers.