Nowadays, when I get news of a erstwhile friend whom I haven't seen for for a long while it tends to fall into the obit classification. If I don't read it in the obituary column, the main focus of my thumbing through the Canadian Medical Association Journal or the Canadian Family Physician (mainly to make sure that I'm not there) it's from a mutual acquaintance I chance to run into. While we are swapping yarns in the grocery store, or more likely, the liquor store about who had the most coronary artery grafts or the most successful stents, some name comes up of one of our colleagues who has recently gone to the Great Clinic in the Sky. The other day, I heard about an old friend, we'll just call him Mickey.
I first got to know Mickey when we were in school in Ireland. He was a few years ahead of me, a short, stocky kid , from a not very affluent family, in fact by present standards, from a poor family. He was a bright kid with a great Irish sense of humour and was friendly with a cousin of mine who was three years older than I. Somehow, almost miraculously, he managed to get to medical school, not an easy task for a poor boy in those days. How that came about is a story in itself, not the one I am recounting today. Occasionally, I bumped into him in medical school, he was several years ahead of me. The last thing I heard about him while I was still in Med School was that he had emigrated to Canada.
Years later, I ended up in Saskatchewan myself. As the years went by and I was on a number of national medical committees that met in various cities, I would get messages from colleagues like, "Hey, you just missed Mickey, he's from Dublin too and he mentioned he knew you." Mickey, it turned out, lived in London, Ontario and was on the faculty at the University of Western Ontario. We always seemed to just miss each other at National meetings of one sort and another.
Long story short, after years in Regina and Saskatoon, our family moved to London, On. Not long after settling in, I attended a refresher course in the city. As I ambled around during the lunch hour break, I noticed a woman following me around. She seemed to be looking at me in a strange way. In those days it seemed quite appropriate to say,
"Hey, you seem to be following me around. Do we know each other?"
She said, "Actually, I was trying to read your name badge."
She glanced down at it. "Stan Smith?"
"My husband asked me to look out for you! He's from Dublin, too."
So we exchanged phone numbers and a few days later we had a call from Mickey to invite us over for dinner. It transpired that Mickey had that great Irish story telling talent as well as a cultivated palate when it came to Irish and Scotch whiskeys. The two blended delightfully and made listening to his stories entertaining.
After dinner, we were discussing the sad decline of television entertainment and I happened to mention one of my all time favorites, 'All in the Family', starring Carroll O'Connor as Archie Bunker.
"You know, Carroll O'Connor's brother studied medicine in Dublin and was in the same class as I was," he said, "we had many a pint in Davy Byrnes (A famous Irish Pub) at 21 Duke St." There such literary icons as James Joyce had been frequent visitors and the fictional Leopold Bloom of Ulysses fame often dropped in for a 'jar'. I knew it well and as a student used to go there once in a while when I could afford to and look out for some of the Irish literary crowd who used to hang around there, so I could take a few gulps of culture while I sipped my beer.
Mickey continued, "Carroll came to Ireland with his wife to join his brother and study English and drama. He worked in the famous Gate Theatre after having been 'discovered' in a National University Drama production. Then he went back to New York and bit parts until he was really discovered. Before he left he gave me his family's home phone number and he made me promise that if I was ever in New York I would look him up and I did. That's how several years later when I was in New York I phoned the number and got his mother. Carroll, she explained to me, was in Los Angeles for a part in a series. Where was I staying, she wanted to know and when I told her, she said, 'you get out of that cheap hotel and get into a taxi and come right over here and stay for as long as you like.' So I did and that's how I got to know Carroll's mother better than I knew him!"
Looks like all the folks I knew who'd kissed the Blarney Stone are shuffling off!