The Suit

After spending a wonderful weekend celebrating the high school graduation of my daughter, much of the past two days have revolved around cleaning up the aftermath- packing away formal wear, cleaning up the 45 pairs of shoes littering my bedroom floor, vacuuming. Living in the moments are more important to me than dusting and tidying, so at times like this everything just sits until it’s over. When was the last time anyone ever remembered how clean everything was at a barbeque, or party?

It was while I was wiping down the kitchen  today that the phone rang, the caller ID showing my dads work number. I knew something was up. My dad didn’t call to let us know he arrived home safely Sunday night, not like he usually does.And then I  had missed his call last night and today is Tuesday.

My dad had joined us from Prince George, having driven down last Thursday to see his first grand-child make the transition from student to … well, another kind of student and even more school!  A rite of passage for most of us, it escaped neither of us that she was making the journey  every teenager looks forward to exactly twenty years  after I did.

Time flies, does it not? In the blink of an eye,( or so it seems to me ), I’ve gone from a nervous giddy teen, to being the mother of a nervous giddy teen.  This June will be my 20th high-school reunion, and when my father arrived, the first thing my dad did was fret about was whether or not his suit would even fit, given the long PG winter this year.

My dad first bought the timeless, tailored suit twenty years ago so he would do me proud in photos taken to mark the moment of my graduation. And since then, it only leaves the safe confines of it’s garment bag for the happiest and saddest of  life’s best and worst. This last weekend, it once again was removed and freshened in anticipation of another generations unleashing upon the world, a wondrous affair full of laughter and happy tears.

The tears on my cheeks after asking my dad how his drive home was , were not so happy though. His voice caught as he told me about hearing the news  when he arrived home, that my brother had been among the 5 friends who had gone out for a day of quadding in the area around PG, and came home one short. While riding down an old logging road, something went wrong. One of the riders struck the back of the rider in front of him and there was a horrific crash, leaving one dead at the scene and one injured. My brother was one of the remaining riders who performed CPR trying to bring life back to a friend, to no avail. It is said he must have died instantly on impact after being thrown into some logs on the road. Words cannot express the emotions I felt as I thought of the  both the poor fellow who died doing what he loved, and my brother and his friends who must have had the most difficult of goodbyes, waiting there in the bush for emergency responders to arrive.

It wasn’t until after I hung up, and gathered my dad’s suit to pack and send home for him, that I thought how ironic it all was. Here we had spent Sunday after grad in celebration down here, while my brother and his friends( who are my dads as well) were all at home  in PG living a tragedy.

I folded the suit tenderly, and inhaling the scent of my dads aftershave on the collar of the jacket, thought about what stories this suit could tell, if it could.


Would it speak of the first time it was worn, twenty years ago,  to the day I stood in my dad’s arm, smiling for the camera in among the flower beds at Connaught Hill Park. Royal blue satin pressed against pinstripe fabric as he congratulated me with a hug. Would it mention the feelings of pride and celebration that made the day?

Or would it speak to the magnitude of sorrow it’s experienced, saying goodbye to loved ones, family and friends alike? Would it talk about the tears that flowed, or the laughter the followed the musings and memories of those who stood before the room and honoured the  dead? Would it recall the heavy smell of flowers that graced the room, or the coffee  that spilled on the pocket when dad was elbowed at the buffet?

One can only guess at the what stories lay impressed upon the fabric of the suit.

Folding the garment bag carefully on top of  the folded items in the box, I took one last look before I closed the lid. Just three days ago my dad wore this suit to my daughters graduation – a new beginning, an open door to a new and wondrous adventure in life… and now?

Now it was going home so my father could say goodbye to a friend, a man who loved well and was loved by many, whose adventures through life were abruptly brought to an end, doing what he loved to do. Another life moment. Another story for the suit. I wrapped the box, wrote the address, and sat there at the table with nothing else to do.

And that’s it , I guess. I don’t know what else to write. Sometimes there isn’t a happy ending. But the sudden randomness with which it can all be taken away does not escape me. When my brother and his friends left that afternoon, none of them knew one of them was going to be killed. It could have been any of them. So please, in the words of that wonderful songstress, Joan Baez, remember this:

” You don’t get to choose how you’re going to die. Or when. You can only decide how you’re going to live. Now.”

Life is what you make it.

dsc_0004 It was his intense focus and concentration that stopped me in my tracks,palpable even from several paces away. Moving the blade of his pocketknife with the  ease and delicacy of a surgeon, he deftly removed targeted bits of wood and blew the dust away to survey the results.

I watched as if hypnotized, noticing the way he narrowed his eyes  as he examined his work-  in displeasure or mere thought I did not know.

Pushing my stroller closer, I walked over and asked him what he was carving. He held up the piece he was working on, and the artistic quality of his work was stunningly clear.

In a very humble manner, as if caught off guard by my questions, he explained what each character on the pole he was carving represented, the beauty  and pride in his words shining more bright than the sun beating down upon his face.


We talked.

Well, it started out more like me asking questions, with a bit of silence  from him before he  finally answered each one thoughtfully.

He didn’t come right out and say it, but I’m pretty sure he was wondering why a woman with a baby and a camera was suddenly wondering what he thought about so many things, and how he came to be on that bench carving.

A little late, introductions ensued and gradually  the conversation began to flow.

His name is Eric Williams, and he is an artist – although he does not seem to think so. And although he is a bit reticent at first, he has many stories to tell, so stop and say hello if you should see him carving one afternoon.

His road has not been an easy one at times. Abandoned by his mother when he was 4, a doorstep was where she left him for others to care for.

His youth was spent in and out of various foster homes and family. He  had  limited experiences with drugs, but alcohol was what eventually drew him in for a spell. He doesn’t tell me this for sympathy,though – I get that. It’s just fact of where he came from.

He hasn’t had a drink in a long time though. That was then, and it’s in the past. We can’t live in bad memories.

This is now. Now Eric pursues his carving. Sometimes he carves along Robson Street in Vancouver, but he’s giving Newton a try. Not selling much though – this area doesn’t have a ton of money. I asked him how much he  would sell the piece he was working on for, and he told me : ” about $55- 60.”

” Robbery!!!” I shouted. He just shrugged. He likes to work with people on the price.

His mind is sharp and thoughtful, and he always took a moment in consideration before replying to my( many) questions.

We talked about Surrey, and about the recent violence among gangs. He  doesn’t agree with the violence, but he understands wanting to belong somewhere. ” It’s a powerful feeling, to belong , to have people that care about you.”

I bet.

We talked about the treaty process in BC, and how it is affecting his band, which is near Port Alberni. We talked about his child, briefly, and his sister. The love he feels for her can be felt in his words. “She helped raise me”, he said.   We talked about the man who passed on the skills of carving to him.

A true gift, this skill of carving. Long after Eric, and you, and I, are gone – his work will remain  perhaps, on someones wall in their home or office.  When people ask who did it, they will tell them it was Eric Williams, the carver.

It will be his legacy – perhaps one of many to remind of the man who carves now on the bench in Newton…

The wind blew  up sharply, and one of those natural silences fell upon us. I seized the moment and asked him if I could take a few photos for my site, when a friend of his showed up. Not wanting to interrupt their conversation, I knew it was time to move along.  As I knelt to get the shots I wanted, I couldn’t help but overhear a bit of their conversation.

” Hey Man, what’s up?”

” Not much, just carving. Trying to be an artist one day.”

I looked over at Eric again, sitting in concentration, a small container on the ground in front of him for donations, and some beautiful carvings on the bench beside him – and shook my head.

What do you mean ‘trying’? I asked.

” You already are one…”

csc_0015   dsc_00022

– Eric Williams, native artist/carver. You can find him either on a bench on 137 street, just north of 72nd,  in Surrey, or carving on Robson street in Vancouver. I will post further contact information for him, shortly.