I read recently that five words can change your life: the quality of your relationships.
When I gave the eulogy for my father-in-law at the Crescent Beach Legion recently, that’s how I began.
Nothing meant more to Jack Friesen than the people in his life: his friends, the guys at work, his neighbors, golf buddies, family, and his wife of 62 years. Jack did everything he could to make their lives better – fix something on a car, stop a faucet from leaking, build a fireplace (mine included). He was a skilled mason by the time he was a teenager.
I learned a lot from my father-in-law: how to tune a carburetor, wire a room, level a fridge. He was a patient teacher, but Jack insisted that all jobs be done right. He demanded that from the men he supervised on construction sites, and they respected him for it.
Five words can change your life: the quality of your relationships.
Because Jack wanted us to remember that he lived by these words, he left two clear signs after he died.
Here’s Part 1 of this story.
On their first anniversary, Jack gave his wife a mauve orchid corsage. He would give Phyllis another one after that for 61 years. Mauve orchids were a private ritual that nobody outside the family knew about. Not being able to give Phil No. 62 personally just because of cancer would have bothered Jack. Did I say how important it was for him to finish any job he started?
My friend Judy brought flowers to the house, drawn unexplainably, she said, to orchids, wavering between mauve and yellow, eventually settling on yellow, but wondered afterwards if she should have picked mauve instead. Jack wasn’t far away when Judy bought those orchids, and he would have been pleased, even if they weren’t the color he was trying to point out to her.
Before I tell you Part 2 of this story, I’ll share some memories.
When my wife Janis took me to meet her dad 40 years ago, a powerful looking man with a Navy crew cut squeezed my hand so firmly I thought he’d broken bones. That’s how Jack welcomed people into his life. Then he offered me a glass of Andre’s Baby Duck, his wine of choice. Three thoughts came to mind: he’s open, friendly, and I like him despite the engine room hair style, but I have to introduce him to a good merlot as soon as possible.
I got to be great friends with Jack. But, on occasion, I led him astray with misadventures. In Hawaii once, I suggested we take along crackers when we went snorkling. I’ll never forget the wide-eyed face behind his mask when frenzied fish with sharp teeth set upon the crumbs lodged in Jack’s chest hairs. Jack didn’t get mad at me for that. He just chuckled with, “I’m not listening to you again.” He did, of course, more than once.
Jack and I canoed the Bowron Lake chain near Quesnel. It was natural for him to organize and plan our 10-day wilderness adventure. He was a skilled outdoorsman, and because he’d served in the radar room of the destroyer HMSC Haida, I knew we wouldn’t get lost.
But, my father-in-law hadn’t paddled much. There’s a river that you have to run. Boulders and rapids sprung up on our left. I was in the stern calling pry or draw. What confused me was what to shout for right or left. “To port, to port,” I yelled, incorrectly. “Port?” Jack echoed. He was ready to obey orders, but sensible enough to get confirmation. “Are you sure?”
“No,” I thundered back, in the nick of time. “Hard to starboard,” Jack recalled that moment with a chuckle as the day his son-in-law learned the difference between left and right on any boat.
My father-in-law had three names in his life. He began as Jacob, whose Mennonite family fled Russia to escape religious persecution. After he ran off to join the Navy in 1944, at 17, his shipmates on the Haida and the mine sweeper the Crescent got to know him as Jack.
With the birth of his grandson, the name changed again. Grand-dad kept a small package of raisins in his shirt pocket for Robin to find. They were there when they played on the beach in White Rock, or when Jack strapped Robin on the back of a bike and rode him along the dikes of the Alouette River.
In time, Jack became known simply as “the raisin guy.” Finally, just “Guy,” the only name my son ever called him.
Here’s Part 2 of the orchid story.
Jack’s neighbors, Phil and Sherry, brought flowers over to the house, as well. Sherry hadn’t noticed the one wedged neatly in the middle. Jack’s daughter, Karen, discovered it: a mauve orchid just like the one Jack gave Phil every year for 61 years, and now through the help of friends, for 62 years.
There’s no doubt that Jack was determined to remind his wife how much she meant to him anyway he could. Every job had to be done right, and five words should guide your life: the quality of your relationships.
Well done, Guy.
Jack Emberly is a retired teacher, local author