I believe that everyone has one highly unusual character in their life that you can never forget. Mine is a fellow whose name shall remain anonymous. We’ll call him Gerry. He is indelibly linked in my mind to my arrival in Calgary immediately after I had graduated from art school.
My two teenagers and I had traveled all night by train from Winnipeg at the end of August, 1986. When we arrived in sunny Calgary, dazed from lack of sleep and bloated bellies from trying to finish the food given to us for the trip, my brother was there to meet us.
We were Gordie’s guests for a few weeks while my son and I searched for jobs (easily found in booming Calgary). Within a month, we were able to rent the townhouse next door and moving day approached. I should say, furniture scrounging day, because I had sold everything before leaving Winnipeg.
Gerry, who had a truck, was enlisted to help with the process. He was cheerful and enthusiastic about everything he did. I was a bit of an orphan in his mind and I was instantly adopted by this clearly eccentric man.
That first day of our relationship, he taught me two memorable things. First, if you wanted to be sure of a good merge into traffic in Calgary, you approached the point of no return at full speed and then at the last second, fully opened the driver’s door as if to exit your vehicle. (It worked like magic.) Second, if you wanted something cheap, leave the bargaining to good old Gerry and don’t ask questions.
He had a budgie that had a vocabulary to put some people I know to shame. I was told the bird, which used to ride around on Gerry’s shoulder whether indoors or out, was banned from A.A. meetings for talking too much.
The bird, somewhat like me, was also a beneficiary of this man’s generous spirit.
The story goes that Gerry had been browsing in a pet store one day. As usual, he was broke but in a creative frame of mind. He spotted a very young bird with a damaged beak and offered to take it off the storekeeper’s hands, for nothing of course.
As the beak grew back in, the garrulous Gerry spent months teaching and training his little bird. He would open the window of his basement suite, go outside armed with a dishtowel and wait for the bird fly out. Every time it made a run at the window, Gerry would flick the towel at it and it would fly back from the opening. Soon, it was possible to have fresh air and keep the bird inside!
There were a few near disasters though. Once, during morning coffee, a treat for both of them, the bird was perched on the edge of Gerry’s cup, chattering away and occasionally dipping his head for a drink. The little fellow slipped and fell in, badly burning his feet. No matter. Soon, Gerry had rigged up a tiny sling, pulling the burned feet through two tiny holes in the bottom. He hung the sling in the cage and hand fed and watered the patient till he was healed well enough to perch.
Eventually, we moved to Drumheller and lost direct contact with Gerry. Yet, word would trickle back from time to time that there had been a sighting. His was not an easy life and we knew that he had suffered from addictions in his past. He had remained clean and sober and one of the last reports we received about Gerry was that he had been seen in the dead of a frigid Calgary winter entering the downtown detox with an unconscious street person slung over his shoulder. He was a man of great compassion, having suffered much himself. He had such a heart for the vulnerable and although a couple of hours were about as much excitement as I could take for one day, to me he was a real Calgary cowboy hero.
God bless you Gerry!