It’s interesting to get old and begin to look at the people that shaped your life. If you are as lucky as I am, you will know that a beautiful friendship can become a bond that lasts a lifetime and beyond.
Five years ago this summer, my mentor died at 75, two months after a diagnosis of stomach cancer. His name was Andy Little. He was an editor in the CBC Montreal newsroom when I walked in the door, green as they come, for a summer job.
It was 1974 and I was given a desk with a black industrial phone, an indestructible manual typewriter, and an oversized brown ashtray. I think there were just two non-smokers in the newsroom then.
Any conversation about smoking in the Montreal newsroom inevitably leads to stories of the times Andy set fire to paper-filled garbage pails with embers from his pipe, and about the frequent smell of marijuana in the stairwell. It was quite the place in 1974.
So, what happens to a kid from very Jewish Cote St. Luc in his hometown newsroom – a place that had always been very white and very Christian? Two days in, I started hearing pointed whispers that my Jewish accent was not in the CBC tradition. Easy it wasn’t.
Somehow, though, before it was too late, Andy stuck out his hand and made it clear he would work with me as long as I didn’t get my back up. In other words, I had to learn to accept criticism.
Within a week, Andy arranged for me to have a voice coach. The coach was one of those great CBC announcer voices who, ironically, all sounded like Lorne Greene, the Jewish CBC wartime announcer from Ottawa who went on to great fame as a TV actor. I guess Greene’s saving grace was that he didn’t have a Montreal Jewish accent.
The truth is, I did have a singsong voice that needed straightening and because of Andy’s mentorship, I improved my voice and, with time, became pretty good at it.
Andy taught me how to write for television and how to be myself on air. He also gave me the counselling I needed whenever I had to make an important professional or personal decision. There was always a rocking chair waiting for me at his house. We talked so many times for so many years.
In the early 1990s, Andy’s son and his girlfriend were killed in a car crash returning from a day of skiing. I remember the Monday after the Saturday funeral wondering if Andy and Dolce would want company. When there is no shiva, you really wonder if people would prefer to grieve the most tragic of losses privately.
I visited that Monday in the late afternoon and found Andy and Dolce with no visitors. I remember bringing danish, I remember how happy they were to see me, and I remember how, as raw as everything was, they were not going to grieve while I was there. There was lots of hurt, but no tears.
In those early months after their tragic loss, Andy and Dolce were always eager to accept invitations and spend time with their many friends. I know in my case our friendship grew and grew from the time we spent together during that dark period.
That was when Dolce also became a good friend. Our friendship never dipped. We never had an argument. The three of us felt the good and bad of each other’s lives.
After Andy died, once again, Dolce would not grieve in my presence. She would say, “Let’s not talk about Andy today because we don’t want to deal with anymore tears.” I sensed she preferred crying herself to sleep. I admire Dolce’s strength and conviction.
A lifelong friendship is a mutually satisfying one. It is a light of hope and good feeling, which will always shine. When you’re old enough to think back on your life with perspective, you know the unique relationships that made the difference.
After Dolce sold the last house she and Andy lived in, she asked me if I remembered the rocking chair from their first house. That same antique wooden rocking chair I sat in so many times as Andy and I discussed life and the CBC.
I’m 45 years older and that rocking chair is now in my house.