Looking back of my memories growing up on Rondeau Bay, I can honestly say that it’s the place where I learned some of my best lessons in life. It happened so long ago, yet through the fog of time, I can still see examples of what life was like – shining out, like a lighthouse seen from the sea.
They are now in the form of isolated instances, so I’ll have to recall them the best I can from my memories and from those who still remain.
One day I was attending a family reunion in nearby Blenheim, when I met what some would call an ‘old codger’. Apparently a distant relative, he was in his early 90s, with a twinkle in his eyes that belied his rumpled red flannel working shirt, undone knitted brown tie and a hand-me-down tweed suit jacket; all of which he was wearing in the intense August heat! Simply said, he looked like one those cast away relatives that no one talks to except for grand get-togethers like this one. He had dressed up the best he could.
As he approached me, I also noticed that he hadn’t shaved for a couple of days and he had the look of a recluse – but also the look of one who’d had a hard lifetime of working. He had an aura of wisdom blended with kindness about him, and that made him shine out among the throng. Although it seemed as if we had nothing in common, there was something … ‘family’… about him.
“Old man look at my life, / I’m a lot like you were.”
— Old Man by Neil Young
“You`re Marg’s boy aren’t you?”
“Yes sir, I am.” (I’ve always been taught to respect my elders and from experience, it has always proved to be sound advice.) He then began a general description of years gone by, but was called away by some family well-wishers. He shook my hand, wished me well, and went off to mingle with other relatives. A seemingly nice old man, I wondered why I’d never met him.
When I inquired, someone said, “Oh, that’s old Barney. He’s worth a fortune, you know?” It appears that his rural background was a bit hazy … something about farming, an antique business, and … along the way … rich.
Just how rich? That’s where the family’s famous ‘Cadillac’ story comes in.
It seems one day Barney decided to pursue buying a new car at the local GM Cadillac dealership. This in itself was curious because he wasn’t an ostentatious man. However, there he was, in the showroom poking his head in through the car windows, checking out the generous interior, when a rather arrogant sounding salesman –after taking one look at his rumpled appearance – came up from behind him and suggested Barney was in the wrong place.
“No,” says Barney, “it’s definitely a new Cadillac I want.” Back-in-the-day, what a beauty she was too! The ’59 Caddy was all chrome and fins, and seemed to Barney like something a person could really stretch out and enjoy.
With one eye on Barney, to make sure he actually didn’t climb into the cavernous interior with his uncouth clothes, the salesman fetched the Sales Manager – who had just one question – how was Barney planning to pay for it?
Stupefied, he looked at the men and simply said, “Cash.” When he realized that they weren’t taking him seriously, he suggested, that maybe they should call “old Charlie” down at the local bank – which they did – to see if he was “good for it.”
After explaining the whole Caddy situation, the bank manager sounded perplexed and then concerned. He asked, “How many does he want?”
It was the best example I’ve heard of on how not to judge a book by its cover. It also explains the rumpled condition of his clothes; later that day I watched the rear fin ruby tail lights of his ‘home on wheels’ classic Caddy fade away into the purple glow of a summer’s sunset. Seemed to me, that ‘old Barney’ had stopped worrying about what people thought of him long ago, and he was happy.
“I’ve been first and last,
Look at how the time goes past.
But I’m all alone at last,
Rolling home to you.”
Still learning from my elders? Yup!
Fred Parry (2012) www.fredparry.ca