Being a fool myself, I suffer them gladly. You might say, I’m a bit foolhardy.
I’ve told this story many times to many people who have needed to hear it. I have been trying to write it down for years. The following is the story of Billy Parker:
Seven years ago, I was drowning in grief for the loss of my 27 year marriage and had just started living very much alone in my little cottage with an art studio steps away. I loved the place immediately: it was the perfect place to weep and I wept it clean. I remember eating toast alone every morning, afraid I would choke on inhaled crumbs as I gasped between sobs. I had just one week earlier finally taken off my thin, miss-shapen wedding band and placed it on the nail that held up a calendar, stuck on an earlier month. I hadn’t laughed in months. I was quickly getting to know my new neighbours who share my driveway, a thoughtful and caring couple of retired teachers, who I will call Al and Wendy Nees. It was a very snowy early March, about 5:00 in the afternoon. The stage is set.
A knock on the door. I was surprised to see a strange little man, head angled forward, smiling with unbridled enthusiasm. He looked wiry even through his dark winter clothes: a friendly jockey; a hungry garden gnome. His voice was loud and enthusiastic. Hi! I’m Billy Parker! I‘m cycling cross Canada (in the snow, remember). I depend on strangers for a place to sleep. Just one night each place. I’ll be gone before you’re up. You can look me up on the computer! SOMEBODY’s writing a blog about ME! He sees I am looking slightly uneasy, confused… Now…I know you’re a singlelady (he says this as if it’s one word) —I can tell by your car……. so I’m not going to ask to sleep in your house but….what’s that building? That’s my studio, I said, wondering what else my Pontiac Vibe said about me. I was just about to go do some painting. Well, it’s perfect for me. Just need a roof over my head. Got my own bedding and food. I’ll be gone in the morning. I just need you to help put my bike inside. I looked to see that Al and Wendy’s cars were both in our shared driveway and I thought, well….he is either a crazy man or an angel sent from God. His smile disarmed me and I chose angel. “OK” I said. I helped him put his heavily laden bike in my studio thinking if he was a lunatic and committed a crime, his getaway vehicle would be a bicycle in the snow…and I felt safe. Now I can’t pay you, but you can take my picture, he said, smiling as if he had given me a gift. So I did–and I turned up the propane stove and as I left, I said “is there anything else you need?” Well, I could do with some grub, he answered quickly, ignoring what he had said earlier about having food. I gave him the choice of spaghetti or steak and he chose steak with a pure and childlike joy, astonished at his own good luck. I told him to come into the house at 7:00 when I planned on asking Al and Wendy if they would like to join me for a drink. I wasn’t sure I wanted to be alone with this holy fool but I sure wanted to hear his story!
Now unbeknown to me, Billy had stopped at every other house on my country road including Al and Wendy’s. Wendy doesn’t miss a thing and I can imagine her mortified look as she and Al followed the crazyman with their eyes from their house to mine. Al! Al! She’s letting him stay! She just helped him put the bike in her studio! What are we going to do? He could be dangerous! What is Lynne thinking?! When I shyly phoned to see if they would come over while Billy ate his steak, I was surprised at how quickly they said yes and how relieved they sounded.
So I made Billy’s supper with the last steak I had nicked from my ex’s farm. He, Al and Wendy met at my house at 7:00. We all sat around my hand-painted table. I put the steak before him with a salad on the side. He drank the wine I offered and for the next three hours proceeded to tell tales of his travels so tall I laughed the entire time at the absurdity. I couldn’t stop laughing. Let’s see… there was the time he stayed the night at a butterfly collector’s house but none of the wings matched. He met a counterfeiter of Canadian tire money and also a prostitute who accepted Canadian tire money. This went on and on. He didn’t stop talking even to eat until finally Wendy stopped him and said, “ Billy, Lynne has made you that nice steak and you haven’t touched it for the last two hours. Are you going to eat it? His reply was mysterious and in my new frame of mind, hilarious. He said Nope not yet. I’m just going to drink wine and talk and when I go back to Lynne’s studio to sleep I’m going to bring the steak with me and cut it into strips with a pair of scissors. Then he looked at the salad and said, and I’m allergic to that green stuff. Then he told stories for another hour and wish I could remember them all. They were crazy tales and I laughed and laughed. I felt under a most hilarious spell. I do remember taking my attention away from him for 5 seconds to ask Al something and when I turned back to look at Billy, he seemed to have fallen asleep sitting at the table until it was his turn to talk again. Just before he was ready to head out into the studio with his scissors and steak, he leaned back in his chair, looked around and said, In my travels I stay at a lot of different places. I stay at some normal places and some weird places. This is definitely one of the weird places. I’m not sure why he said that: it could have been my slightly unconventional decorating or it could be the large series of tornado art-constructions in my studio. Regardless, I found this too hilarious. He thinks I’m weird?! Looking back I felt honoured. He was true to his word and left in the morning before I was up after having coffee with Al and Wendy who still now rise hours before I do.
I can’t say I recommend my course of action to everyone. But in this instance I am grateful I let this fool stay. I thank God even now for this gift. I never before (or since) laughed so much in one night and this laughter broke down so many roadblocks and walls, disarmed ogres, made demons flee….and started a very nice friendship with my neighbours.
Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.