An old friend


An old friend

By Rick Ryckeley

At first I thought the tap on the shoulder had come from The Wife. She had gone back to the counter to get additional napkins for our morning breakfast out. Although sometimes messy, the napkins were not for me, rather for Little One and Sweet Caroline, our granddaughters and excited companions for the day of lights, ornaments and Christmas tree shopping. Between the two of them, they have learned quite well how to “make mess, make mess” but somehow the concept of “make clean, make clean” has, as of now, eluded them.

It had been a meandering route to the restaurant. Our first choice was to stay home. We’re trying to be frugal, after all, but the girls wanted to go out shopping so we did. The first restaurant was closed, the second was under construction, so we settled on our fourth choice, a restaurant we both had never visited before.

When I think of all the random choices that had to be made in order to get us to that restaurant, to sit at that particular table, at that exact time so I could receive that tap on the shoulder … well, let’s just say I believe it just couldn’t have been random. And when The Wife sat down and I received another tap on the shoulder, I was convinced of it.

Turning around, I was greeted by a hearty handshake and the big familiar smile from my oldest friend of some 30 years. He and I had been firefighters together for more than 25 of those years. We had drifted apart since my abrupt departure from the fire department and hadn’t spoken in years. After exchanging pleasantries, he asked how I was doing.

“Not so good,” I replied. “I miss working at the job I did almost every day for 27 years. I miss the emergency calls and helping people.”

A pause in the conversation came. Sweet Caroline had decided spitting juice from her straw across the table at her big sister was funny. Some of the many napkins had to be used to rescue big sister’s white dress before it was permanently stained grape. Big Papa here is good at “make clean.”

He nodded towards the girls. Little One was now attempting to retaliate by tossing some of the wet napkins and fruit from her yogurt across the table. “From the looks of things, you have emergencies all the time. Those girls need your help more than anyone else does.” He was familiar with our new family dynamics. He was familiar with me.

During our long friendship he has offered his advice many times, and most of it has been sage.

“I have to thank you for something,” he went on to say. “About six years ago, when I had a family crisis and didn’t know what to do, you gave me some guidance. Everything turned out all right. Just wanted you to know, I’ll never forget what you did.”

I’ll never forget what he did for me. Four years ago this weekend, a freak accident ended my career as a firefighter, the only job I truly loved. The loss, ensuing operation, and years of painful rehabilitation were indeed life-changing events. At the time I didn’t know why or how I would get through it, but advice from my friend helped me.

“You’ve never quit as long as I known you. You can bounce back from this,” he said. Whenever the situation got the better of me, whenever I got down and didn’t think I’d make it, his thoughts came to mind. I pushed on.

Two weeks after that operation four years ago, The Wife and I were introduced to a delightful flight nurse. She was to be mother of our granddaughters. May of the following year Little One was born and I started to babysit in July. Another life changing event came along a year later with the birth of her sister Sweet Caroline.

The Wife has given the best advice of all about the date looming this weekend. Last night when I was bemoaning the upcoming anniversary and the tremendous loss surrounding it, she left the room. Moments later she returned with a framed picture. The girls were lying next to me on the couch sound asleep. In the background, the Christmas tree we had spent all day decorating twinkled with lights and their homemade ornaments.

She said, “Instead of focusing on what you have lost, focus on what you have gained.”

It took a random meeting with an old friend, a picture, and listening to The Wife to remind me. For everything bad that happens, there is always something good that comes out of it. In my case it has been two somethings. Two of the sweetest grandchildren a Big Papa could hope to be blessed with.

My wish for you this Christmas season is that you may be able to find something good out of anything bad that happened this past year and the one ahead. I know I have. I thought I’d lost everything four years ago, but ended up gaining more than I could possible ever imagine.

[Rick Ryckeley has been writing stories since 2001. To read more of Rick’s stories, visit his blog:]