My friend Willard died on Friday. He was hit and killed by a truck, just around the corner from his home.
His home. I loved to walk by his house, I did it on purpose. Would there be a ragtag band of old fellas cracking cold ones on the stoop? Would he be listening to records with the window open so I could shout in for him to come out and chat? Would one of his buddies run over my foot with his electric wheelchair? Who knew! Not me. He was a great neighbour.
Willard was my neighbour and friend of four years, one of those constant presences that flesh out a day, then the week, and before you know it, the years. He was so special. We were drinking buddies, an unlikely pair. I loved to smuggle him sausages and pork chops from my job at the butcher shop.
Being regulars at the same bar, we spent a lot of time together. We had our secret smoke breaks and inside jokes and the occasional major holiday spent alone, together. I relished the absurdity of our friendship. When my young friends from the neighbourhood asked about the old guy they'd seen me with, I couldn't wait to tell them about my friend Willard. When we ran into one of his old buddies, he loved to gesture to me and asked if they'd met his wife.
I'd buy him a beer when he was hard up. He did the same for me. One night there were no tall chairs left at the bar when he came in for a drink, so he pulled up a short one next to me so we could still sit together. We laughed for hours while I towered in the stool. From where I sat he looked boyish, his gaunt arms cradling his drink between his knees.
We talked often about our romantic misadventures, our futures, our pasts. Willard had no children and no regrets about it. He spoke about how it gave him extra love to spread around to his friends' kids and the people in his life. I was so happy to be on the receiving end of that love.
One of the last times I saw Willard before I left Halifax was in the middle of the heatwave this summer. I was heading down Gottingen to pack a beach bag, Willard was across the street, right near where he was killed. He crossed the street to join me. It was hot as hell and he was in a bright orange t-shirt. Most days, we'd have said our hellos and I'd have
We cruised by the peeling-paint porches and colourful row houses. We whined about a new development, he gave me hell for walking too fast, I roasted him about his flashy shirt. We beamed at one another and just soaked in the perfect summer day. We joked and laughed and talked about nothing and everything and conceded that yes, let's be honest with ourselves, we'd probably see one another for a beer later.
My friendship with Willard cemented my belief that we have a responsibility to our neighbours, to take care of one another no matter how little we're working with. When we're presented with an opportunity to treat one another with softness and open-mindedness, we should take it every time. To just give and give and give and when the only thing you have left is your humanity, you give that too.
I took this photo last summer. Willard and his buddy Gordy havin' a beer on his front porch. The neighbourhood lost a real one. Take care of one another.