In 2015, roughly 10 years after I first met Andy on Flickr and about 6 years after I emerged from lawyer-imposed anonymity, I flew to England to visit my oldest cousin and meet Andy and his wife Rachel in person. I gave him barely 5 weeks’ notice! That didn’t phase Andy.
Hospitality, like the cells in bones, formed Andy’s matrix. No sweat to suddenly prepare for a visit from a Canadian. Cooking, cleaning, driving, knowledge of his village and nearby Cambridge, of Canadians during WWII, history, and of course engineering — for he was an engineer — all had soaked into Andy so that they were readily available when friend, family, or neighbour called on him.
Andy regularly shared pictures of his cooking experiments on Flickr and recited his famous recipes to me and Marg, the other friend I made through the same Flickr group I’d met Andy in. I learned through a tribute at his Thanksgiving of Life service that his in-person friends had called Andy’s lengthy expositions, “Andrew’s Explanations.” (Although me and Marg called him “Andy,” turns out his friends and family called him “Andrew.” It makes me think how some like to use different versions of their name with different people…or different spellings even!)
After ogling his food photos for so many years, I looked forward to seeing, inhaling, and eating his creations in person. He wasted no time in serving me his parmesan biscuits almost as soon as he drove me from the train station to his door. He shared the recipe with me even though at the time I didn’t bake any more — but his generous spirit lead always to spontaneous sharing. I hoped, at some point I’d return to baking when my brain had healed enough and I could try out his recipe to share with others.
Andy the tour guide couldn’t have been more accommodating. After showing me the colleges he and Rachel went to in Cambridge, he took me to Great St Mary’s to climb their tower for their panoramic view. After paying for me and him, we began to climb the narrow stone steps.
I used to be quite afraid of heights, but I’d climbed Casa Loma’s scary metal steps and my brain injury had reduced my fear a lot. And so I was unprepared for my feet to slow and then halt barely halfway up. No way they were stepping upward anymore on tiny steps my feet barely fit on. My entire being vibrated with rebellion at the very idea of continuing to ascend. I felt bad, but Andy was unphased. If I couldn’t go any higher, at least I’d seen Cambridge streets through the slits on the way up to the landing where we’d stalled. Not a problem for Andy that my foolish feet prevented us from reaching the top; he promptly 180’d and went back down.
That kind of generous acceptance of one’s foibles makes one feel less embarrassed and more like an acceptable human being.
When I returned home, I uploaded my photos to my computer and began working on them. I looked forward to spending the next few months going through all my vacation photos chronologically.
Andy’s home and our visit to Cambridge had been the last stop on my trip. I posted a few photos from each part of my trip fairly quickly, but then life shot me out of my plans into one life-altering event after another after another after another until several years had passed. I regret not being able to post more of them to Flickr, but at least I uploaded something on Remembrance Day 2016 that Andy was most proud of: The Canadian RCAF flag in Great Gransden’s church. They sing O Canada every year in honour of the 405 Sqn RCAF, part of the Pathfinders.
We shared many interests: cooking, baking, cars, house tech, Christianity, photography. The latter lead me to meet him. The others lead to extensive conversations. Sometimes, my injured brain would go, OK, we need to go for a nap. But my mind and spirit thrived on his informative explanations and wouldn’t obey the brain, for it wasn’t all one-sided, but mutual learning. That fed me as mutuality is so rare in real life. There’s a difference between those who say, wow, you know so much, and those who want to learn from you to apply to their own life.
My last conversation with Andy was on heat pumps. One of our typical engineering conversations. Our June 9th chat began with one of his family updates and a question about the wildfire smoke Canada was enduring at the time. That lead to me talking about my HEPA filters and mini-splits, which lead to him asking me what the latter were. And we were off, talking heat pumps, BTUs, kW, where to situate the heat pump outside so it doesn’t uglify your home, metric versus imperial, and how air-to-water heat pumps don’t heat radiators up as much as furnaces yet keep you comfortably warm. Our chats did meander! Photos often peppered them.
Whenever I had a question, I knew I could ask Andy. No longer. I miss his “Andrew’s Explanations,” him regaling us with his cooking adventures, exchanging photos, feeling connected to my birthplace. He died too young, but his mark flows across the ocean.