Updated: Jan 29, 2021
One of my favourite writers is Gregory Clark. Greg Clark was a Canadian original, a journalist and soldier, as brave in one as in the other. He also became a writer of short prose: pieces about everyday living, refined into memories as fresh and real for the reader as if they were their own.
He was anything but stuffy. His writing was economical, seething with the greatness of living one day at a time. He wrote about himself, mostly, but always set against deft sketches of his neighbours, or a Chief Justice, or a fishing guide, a cop, or a Prime Minister. He knew everyone because everyone wanted to know him.
His books are all sadly out of print. For anyone who wants to understand the character of Canada and Canadians, that is a crime.
In his story, 'Never Look Behind,' Greg tells about having dinner at the King Edward Hotel in Toronto when a beautiful elderly woman at the next table beckoned to him. She apologized when he stepped over, explaining she had meant to summon the tall, handsome man now standing behind Greg. To spare Greg the amused stares of other diners, the lady called for a chair and invited both men to sit. For ten minutes, Greg was enthralled by the company of the great Lily Langtry. Never look behind indeed.
A couple of years ago, I was in a lounge, eating lunch. Everybody, once in a while, spots a celebrity. Well, at the next table sat Cicely Tyson and her assistant. When her assistant got up and left the room, Ms Tyson looked up and beckoned me. Anyhow, she beckoned in my direction.
I went over, introduced myself and, screwing up the courage to start a conversation, thanked her. Not for the usual movie or TV show, but for a play I'd seen her in a year or so before. The Gin Game. That was just when the waiter she had signalled appeared behind me.
Ms Tyson asked me to sit and we had a few minutes together, talking about the play and how rare simplicity had become on the Broadway stage. When her assistant returned, she introduced me and I went back to my table, thanking Greg Clark in my head. And not for the first time.