When my son was three years old, he attended a little “pre-school” learning programme offered by our town’s recreation department. It was, and still is, aptly titled “Ready, Set, School!” and is held at our local community centre. Our neighbourhood’s community centre shares space with our neighbourhood school. Children from every area of our town sign up for this particular programme; it’s very popular and we were lucky to get space. The great thing for those of us who live “in area” is that not only are our kids getting ready for school but they are getting accustomed to the very surroundings they will be spending the next 10 years of their lives in. It’s fantastic.
One day, when HardWorker and I were both attending a special Mothers’ Day Tea that is held in May, the pre-schoolers were “interrupted” by a visit from the school custodian. He was a familiar enough face to the kids, as he would come in once in awhile to check on the a/c or clean up a spill in the shared space. I guess some of the moms that were attending this special tea had a questioning look on their faces (something in the way of “who is this strange man who just walks in?”) because one of the teachers had just begun to introduce him to the parents when BoyGenius jumped up from the table, ran over and enveloped this man’s legs in a huge bear hug, very loudly proclaiming, “I love you, Mr. Gord!” The man smiled, looked at us to see if we were okay and seeing that we were, hugged back and said, “I love you, too, BG.”
That was the moment this man became my friend Gord. He saw 350+ children every day, and had for more than 20 years. He saw these pre-schoolers maybe once a week. He knew my son’s name.
As it turned out, Gord and HardWorker had met that previous winter, both taking the same night course offered by a local college. He spoke with us at length that day, wanting to be sure we were okay with him hugging our son, concerned that in this day and age one had to be so careful with showing affection. Aware that many parents wouldn’t like to hear him say he loved their child. He did, though. He loved them all. Every.Single.One.
Over the next 6 years, Gord would often recall that day and he would always tell me, “I’m sorry, but if those kids tell me they love me, I’m going to tell them right back,” or “I know you have to be so careful, but I’m not going to deny any child a hug.”
When BoyGenius started Junior Kindergarten he was very happy that he would get to see Mr. Gord every day. By Senior Kindergarten he started calling Mr. M by his ‘real’ name. In Kindergarten my son decided he wanted to have long hair. By SK his hair was halfway down his back and Gord often asked that BG keep him in mind when he decided to cut it, as Gord’s own hair was thinning. BoyGenius just smiled, never committing. He did cut it, the summer before Grade One. Gord asked him once what had happened to the hair they cut off? Wasn’t BG supposed to save it for him? BoyGenius just smiled. Gord smiled back. By Grade Two, BoyGenius had decided he would grow his hair long again. Gord was happy, mentioning only once or twice a year that he hoped BG would remember him if he ever cut it again. Once, in Grade Three, when a totally follically-challenged colleague of HardWorker’s asked BoyGenius the same thing, if he would give him his hair when he cut it, BoyGenius very quickly answered, “No, I already have a deal with someone else.” When I told Gord about this, he was over the moon and smiled for about a week; told me again how much he loved my son.
Gord told me more than once that even though he would be retired by then, he would be coming back to the school to see BoyGenius graduate. And if you knew Gord at all, you know that he would have been there. No doubt about it.
When Gord first got sick he underwent all the necessary treatments and couldn’t wait to get back to work. He did it. He came back. He needed to. Gord was worried that if he wasn’t able to come back to school/work as soon as he wanted, depression would begin to take hold. It wasn’t so much the fact that he had cancer that might set it off, but the fact that he wasn’t able to do the things that gave him joy. That he couldn’t be fully “there” for his family, his friends, his job, his school, his co-workers, his students. I’m sure there were dark moments still, but Gord felt better being able to come back to work. When the cancer launched another attack on his body, Gord remained upbeat, telling anyone who cared to ask that although he was having a set-back, or there was some new, strange, niggling symptom that cropped up just to irritate him, he was going to beat this disease. He certainly tried. When I last saw him in July, he told me, “Yes, another two or three chemo treatments and then I’ll have time to strengthen up.” He was weak, and tired. He smiled, I smiled. BoyGenius and I both took his hand. Gord and I both cried a bit.
Gord was a man who loved his family, his friends, his co-workers, his job, his school, his students. He often spoke of his wife and sons, told us how proud he was to have such a great family. To the end of his life he praised his wife, told me (and others, I’m sure) of how wonderful she was. He was so happy to have gained a granddaughter when one of his sons started seeing a woman with a little girl. He was nervous, he told me, so hopeful that their relationship would work out because he already loved this child. Gord was a hard-worker, proud of our school, proud of the staff and students, proud of his profession; he was a great advocate for his fellow union members; he was so appreciative and spoke highly of those who worked with him. If something needed tending to at the school, Gord would take care of it. If you had any questions about where something was located, Gord knew the answer. If you needed an extra person to volunteer to receive a whipped-cream pie in the face at our annual Fun Fair fundraiser, Gord was your man. If any of the kids needed a little steering in the right direction after taking a wrong turn, Gord would be happy to find jobs for them to do, a little something to divert them, as it were. This man had a smile, a hug, a laugh, AND TIME for everyone; he had a sparkle in his eyes and love and joy in his heart. This man also suffered from depression and anxiety. He didn’t hide it. He wasn’t too proud to let people know. Our world would be a much better place if all men took heed and strived to be the kind of man that Gord was.
The last two days, BoyGenius has been having trouble with his shoes being missing when he goes into school in the morning. He’s been finding them in the lost and found. Apparently the janitor is just sweeping them up from under his hook. I suggested he put them on the shelf above his hook. He says “but everybody’s shoes are under their hook. It’s just mine that end up in the lost and found.” I smiled a little to myself when he said this but I thought, no, I’m not going to say what I’m thinking. Then BoyGenius says, “Maybe it’s Mr. M’s ghost!” followed a couple of minutes later by, “I don’t know why he would be haunting me.”
I smiled and chuckled. “Because he loves you.”
I miss you. And I love you, Mr. Gord.