|RODNEY IN ORILLIA TODAY: That's the name of the newspaper site I borrowed this photo from.|
Today is my good friend Rodney Frost's birthday. He's 85 or 86. (That detail doesn't matter between friends.)
What's important is all the stuff I want to tell you about him, and I don't want to wait until after he's dead. Because who knows? Post bucket-kick, he might not have access to my blog.
Come to think of it, this whole obituary thing is, as my late mom Huena would put it, bass ackward. We live our whole lives with a person yet only after they die do we spend money on a newspaper notice telling the world how special that person was. Why don't we do it when people are still around so they can read the nice stories? I am on to a million-dollar idea here. Pre-death obits. E-mail me at email@example.com.
Back to Rodney: Artist slash toy builder slash garment creator slash writer slash impresario slash freelance mood enhancer slash dad slash grandpa and loyal friend. A renaissance man who actually knows whence the phrase renaissance man comes. (I just ran that fancy English up the flagpole to see if it works. It did not.) So many many things Rodney is, you can't really put him in a box. Until, well, you know. Like I said, that's why I'm writing about him now.
|BILL, SHAKESPEARE (GET T?): Rodney|
built this mechanical William Shakespeare
composing an invoice.
I met Rodney on Manitoulin Island in 1981. I was editor of the finest community newpaper I know of, the Manitoulin Expositor, and Rodney was a buggy maker and sign painter in a village called Mindemoya and he also wrote a two-inch-long column that appeared on the back page of the paper. The column was called "Stock's Hill Scenic Route" and was some weeks the most entertaining item in the whole Expositor. I saw Rodney most recently exactly 26 hours ago (Yup! Yesterday, via zoom) when he entertained the participants in a weekly writing workshop that I've been part of for the past four-and-a-half years.
Rodney is an idea machine.
Exhibit A: I wouldn't have thought about the pre-death-obituary thing unless I'd started this birthday blog.
Exhibit B: A long time ago, I worked at Chatelaine magazine my job included writing a one-page column every month. Six hundred and sixty six words 12 times a year. Sounds easy right?
Believe you me, there were days when I looked at my screen and thought "okay brain, do your stuff," and my brain lay there with the blankets pulled up over its head like my brother Ed when mom tried getting him up for grade nine. And 10.
I'd stare at the blank screen and think, "Jig's up.The people who pay me are going to finally figure out I have no idea what I'm doing."
And then, just to waste time, I'd call Rodney. Fifteen minutes later, Rodney and I would be laughing so hard we'd have to hang up and 99 per cent of the time I'd have a column idea, I'd start typing and I'd get my day's work done in the next half hour.
|COLUMN AS I SEE'EM: Another collection of 666 words courtesy|
of Rodney's considerable imagination, a place where everything
I never phoned Rodney thinking, "I'm going to get a story idea;" it just happened, magically.
One time he started telling my about a conversation he had a with a guy named Tom Hopkins and how, if you think about it for a moment, people have their exact right names. "Have you ever met a Tom," he asked, "who didn't drink?" (That turned into a column, too.)
Something more important happened in that call, besides. Rodney clued me in--and we'd known each other for more than 20 years -- that he has always preferred to be called Rodney. Which sort of sums him up perfectly.
I called him Rod for decades yet he never took time out from his busy schedule to tell me I was doing something he didn't like. Instead, he just put up with it. Cue Larry the Cable Guy: "That's kindness, right there!"
Rodney is intimidatingly literate. He can recite from memory poetry he learned in grade school in England. He's curious, patient and even invited me to play my accordion in two performances in Orillia. Read that again. Rodney encouraged me to perform, in public, twice!
Had it not been for Rodney, me being asked to play the accordion in front of an audience would have been left to wither as another item on the increasingly lengthy list of things Peter gets invited to do, once.
Rodney has two sons, Teilhard (pronounced Tay-Ard) and Andrew. Kind men both; Teilhard builds the instruments he plays. A few years ago, I was reading a book called Cold Mountain about a couple of ex-civil war soldiers trying to survive in the Smoky Mountains during a Carolina wnter and at one point, the main character tries to fashion a simple stringed instrument out of some stretched animal hide and deer sinew and I remember thinking, "he should just call Teilhard, he'd show him."
A few weeks ago, Andrew, a jazz (and any other genre that needs him) guitarist who actually composes music for his students to practise dropped into our house when I was away and had a splendid impromptu afternoon visit with Helena. When she recounted the story afterwards, she said, "He's so smart and charming but have you ever noticed how drop dead handsome he is??" (That is NOT something that had to be pointed out, again, Helena.)
If my kids are ambassadors to my future like Rodney's are to his, I'll die a happy man.
I could write all day about how much Rodney has meant to my life. But A: I want to stop typing and get outside. It's a beautiful October morning.
B: I finally got the point of the story which is, I've been trying all week to come up with a blog idea. Fifteen minutes ago, I remembered it was his birthday, so in fact, again, I mentally summoned Rodney and voila! Inspiration!
Then there's this. I want to tell Rodney I love him and didn't wanna wait til he's dead to do so.