Seventeen years ago, we moved to a little townhouse in North Vancouver, trading Dubai’s harsh 50C summers for North Vancouver’s soggy rain forest climes. The Managers of the complex lived right next to us. Ralph the big Canadian with a belly jiggling laugh and a twinkle in his eye with Aaslaugh, his pretty Norwegian wife were literally, the first Canadians we met and knew for the next five years.
For newcomers to Canada they became the daily go to for information about anything and everything. Ralph used to tell me not to eat too much processed food ‘it’s not healthy’ and how to hang pictures without blowing a hole in the wall. We were used to concrete walls that required more force than finesse. As winter turned to spring, Saturday mornings Ralph would call me on out to his car and spread out a map. “Don’t stay at home all weekend. Go out and enjoy your new country” And he proceeded to tell me how I could take my family on road trips. He would describe the road and the sights to see exhorting me to stop at various points of interest. The map became a very important part of our conversations. In between he would talk about his life at BC Tel and his children. Ralph could also be counted on to tell you the indiscretions of the occupants starting with a smile and then erupting in his raspy laugh. Our map sessions were becoming fewer as our lives evolved and all four of us were working and road trips were not easy to organize.
We were invited to Ralphs 70’th birthday party at the Scandinavian centre and watched him being the centre of attraction. A perfect host he attended to the scores of guests that had come to wish him. Five years later, we moved out and did miss the cheery old man we considered our first Canadian friend and Santa Claus – Ralph fit the role perfectly and loved being Santa for the children in the complex.
We saw him occasionally at shopping centres and always wanted to invite him and Aaslaug home or visit them for Christmas but life gets in the way of good intentions. We saw him and his wife last Canada Day. He looked frail but had his wicked laugh ready when we talked about the antics of the complex residents.
A week ago I heard Ralph passed away and it hurt really bad. I wish I had spent more time with him. He enjoyed hearing stories from our lives and took a familial pride in how my children settled in Canada.
And as I look at the map Ralph and I shared – now replaced with the GPS I remember those stories and realise that our map sessions were more than him showing me directions to locations. They had embedded within them nuggets of life in Canada and in a crazy way, life directions a father hands down to his children.
And I look at Ralph’s photo and whisper “Thanks for the directions, Ralph!”
RIP Ralph Boulier