Over the May long weekend, I was in Ottawa at a family wedding. Our family, 3 boys, 2 girls, Mom and Dad, lived in Ottawa from 1965-1967. We left when I was 6. On my return trip to London I decided to visit the old homestead.
I found the yellow brick house with the stone chimney we lived in 44 years ago. It looked much the same as it did in 1967 – smaller of course. I parked the car, taking in whatever memories came to me. A woman, working in her garden at the house next door, notice me. Not wanting to seem like I was casing the joint, I rolled down the window and told her that I lived there 44 years ago. She seemed charmed by the idea and asked me if I remembered anyone from back then. “Only Graham and Elizabeth,” I said. “They were two children who lived across the street from us. They were – as we called them back then – ‘mentally retarded.”
“O, they still live there,” the woman said delightfully. “They play outside when the weather is nice.”
I couldn’t believe it. In all honesty, I thought they would be dead by now, or moved away. I looked over at the house and said, “I think I’ll go visit them.” Fighting the thought that I would be imposing on them, I got out of the car, walked up to the house, and knocked on the door. A nice looking woman in her early 70’s, with lovely blue eyes, came to the door. She looked at me as if saying, “What are you selling?. “Hi, my name is Pat O’Connor and me and my family used to live across the street in 1967. You may remember my parents Dennis and Marg. We were 5 children.”
She said, “O yes, I remember your family. How are they?”
“They’re fine, I said, “spread across the country.” I got serious for a moment, and said, “I remember Graham and Elizabeth and have thought of them often. My mom invited them to our birthday parties.”
“It’s Linda. Her name is Linda. They’re inside. Would you like to see them?”
“I’d love to,” I said. She opened the door to me and led me through the living room and into the kitchen. Graham came up to me first. He was much shorter than I remembered – and older, of course. Behind him was Linda. They were adults now, middle aged and heavier. When they said hello and looked in my eyes, I recognized everything about them: their voices, their mannerisms, their eyes, and, especially, their spirits. They were, in fact, exactly as I remembered them when I was 6 years old. My heart swelled with the beauty of recognizing them. I smiled and said, “Hello Graham and Linda. I’m Pat and I used to live across the street. Do you remember me?”
“Yes, I remember you,” Graham said with a drawl, just like he used to.
“Yes, I do too,” Linda said with her high pitched child’s voice and her shy tilt of the head.
“You used to come to my birthday parties and me and my brothers and sisters used to play together.”
“Yep, we did,” said Graham.
Seeing my two friends all these long years later brought me into a state of amazement and awe. Before me were two people who had not changed all that much since I was a boy. There was something tremendously freeing in not going through the ritualistic exchange of life data (educational history, marital status, children, etc.) Instead, Linda told me, “I’m going to the baseball game,” something she found to be utterly exciting. I did not experience Graham and Linda as memories, as in ‘a time past,’ but as friends in the present moment. Graham’s natural spirit of affection and his smile, and Linda’s coy way of speaking, filled me with a sense of joy and of peace. Their childlike innocence all these years later was like a meeting with angels.
I suggested we go outside to take pictures. In front of their house, across from the one I used to live in, we chatted about NHL hockey (Graham wore a Hockey Night in Canada t-shirt). Graham had matured in some way. He was calm, protective, and admiring of his younger sister. Linda was joyful and repeated her excitement about going to the game that evening. Graham repeated that he remembered us from across the street. Linda told me she worked at a craft agency. Their mother, Barbara and I did catch up on life data. I vaguely remembered a younger sister. She was now married with children and was living out of Ottawa. I went through the details of my family.
Feeling the need to be on my way home, we stood arm in arm and Barbara took our pictures. I prepared myself to say good-bye and asked Graham and Linda if they would like a hug. They surely did, so I wrapped my arms around Graham, then Linda, and finally their mom. When it was time to go, I couldn’t stop saying thank you and “God bless you.”
As I drove down the 417 on my way home, I carried a lump in my throat and a deep sense of wonder for what I had just experienced. I sensed that it was an ‘Easter’ gift to me, 44 years in the making, given through the spirits of two developmentally delayed friends. I had been given a glimpse of eternal life. Somewhere in the eyes of Graham and Linda was an enthusiasm for the simplest things in life. They shared with me a timeless grace, a grace that pointed to the enduring nature of life, to the beauty of childhood love, and the power of the heart to know and to remember. I thanked God for this encounter with two of his angels.