09 Jan All Of Us Need Heroes
My Dad sounded scared. Scared and a bit lost.
He had just got back from the meeting with the doctor after he slipped and fell on the ice and broke his shoulder. “The doctor said it was a nasty break,” Dad said, “And it could be six months or a year before I get back to where I am.”
Dad is 85, and other than family or church, there are only two reasons he leaves the house. The first, is he still likes to do the odd construction job. It’s been a few decades since he worked as a plasterer on big commercial projects, but if you ask him, he’ll come fix your bathroom or bedroom ceiling. He proudly tells me he made enough money working construction last year “that I had to pay taxes. Not bad for 85.”
The other thing that brings Dad more satisfaction, joy and reason to get up, is his guitar. When Dad slowed down from working toward the end of his 60s, he took up the guitar, something he loved when he was a kid. And when I say, “took up” I mean he started playing at hospitals, and then seniors’ homes around Edmonton. He started learning more than the five or 10 songs he knew, eventually building up a repertoire of 80 to 100 songs. He started writing songs. He started recording songs.
Eventually he ended up with about 12 gigs a month – different places he’d drive to with his stool, his guitar and his songs.
One of the first places he started going to was Smithfield Lodge in Westlock, about an hour north of Edmonton. He plays there on the last Wednesday of the month. He started when he was 70. This fall they gave him a 15-year pin.
So he was getting ready for his month-end gig when he fell, and broke his shoulder. And suddenly his life was upside down. He couldn’t dress himself, he couldn’t work, but what really laid him flat is he couldn’t play the guitar.
What was he going to say to the seniors at Smithfield Lodge? He’d been going there every month for 15 years, and with one wrong step on a bit of ice outside of their garage, he wasn’t going back for a year.
My brother Ken said, “Well, let’s at least go out there for the last concert of the year. I’ll play for you. My kids Mark and Marissa will play and sing. We’ll cover for you.” And that’s exactly what happened.
And so, on Wednesday Dec. 26, the last Wednesday of the month and the last Wednesday of 2018, four carloads of 20 Kelly’s in all, drove up to Westlock to put on a show for Dad, because Dad couldn’t do it.
“Dave, I need a favour,” he said. “I can’t get up in front of those people who have come and listened to me for 15 years and tell them I can’t come back for a year. I’m 85, and I’m too emotional. Can you get up and thank them for all they’ve done for me?”
How would I do that, I thought? What would I say exactly? How would I get through it with Dad sitting there, his arm in a sling, and Mom sitting beside him?
This year I’ve had the fortune to sit down with Ellen twice, I’ve hosted five Dave Kelly Lives, and I hosted the Stampede, but when your Dad calls and asks you to stand in for him – that’s pressure.
So I called my other brother Gord and we talked a bit about it. We were both aware that it would be easy to turn this into his Eulogy: “Dad is going away… but thank you…”
Gord and I talked a bit about Dad, and suddenly I knew what I wanted to say.
Ken led the concert. His kids sang. My brother Gord played the ukulele. Mom and Dad, meanwhile, sat in the audience, with Dad trying to hold it together.
And then Ken said, “And now my brother Dave is going to come up with a few words for our Dad.”
And I got up, took a deep breath, didn’t look at Dad, and spoke.
I told the people in the cafeteria that Dad wasn’t going to be coming back for a little while and that he wanted to say thank you to all of them for giving him a reason to practice; a reason to play; a reason to learn songs, write songs, and record songs. I told them how grateful Dad was to all of them for what they did for him by simply showing up, month after month, for 15 years.
And then I said, “And I want to say one more thing, and it’s not from my Dad. It’s from me and my brothers and sisters. Our Dad decided to learn how to be a performer because of you people, and that has made him so happy. It has given him such purpose. So thank you.
“But maybe more importantly, on behalf of all of us kids and grandkids, I want to say thank you to Dad.
“When many people look at retiring, they look at relaxing or finding something easy to do. Not Dad.
“He decided to learn to be a performer – at 70. He decided to get good at the guitar – at 70. If you look at the neck on Dad’s guitar, the finish is worn off where he holds it. He has worn the finish off his guitar practicing and playing – starting at 70.”
I told the people sitting there that my Dad is scared. He’s scared because for the first time in his life, he didn’t know what the future looked like and he didn’t know if he would make it back. He’s scared that this fall will slow him down, will give him a reason to sit for too long and not want to get back up. A year is a long time for anyone, but it’s a really long time when you’re 85 and trying to heal.
I glanced at Dad and he was crying. And I could feel my throat catch – but I forced myself to say, “Dad, if there’s anyone who believes in you, it’s your kids. Because we’ve seen you at 70, at 75, and 80, and now at 85. We believe in you and we are so grateful.”
And then I sat down.
I’ll let you know how the year goes.