Short stories, Travel and Health Information
After the new boys were ushered into our classroom, our teacher Mrs Jacob called us by our surnames and assigned us our seats. Why she randomly seated us next to each other I have no idea – and I found myself seated next to this little boy who I’d never met before.
We smiled shyly at each other – whereupon I stuck my hand out and said “Hello, I’m Wijesinha but my real name is Sanjiva” to which he replied “I am Johann Reid but my real name is Tiny”.
This struck me as odd, since he was no tinier than any of the other boys. In fact he was taller than most of them! Curious, I asked “Why do they call you Tiny when you are not at all tiny?” to which he replied as if it was the most logical thing in the world “Because I have four older brothers and I am the youngest.”
And that was how our friendship started – a friendship that extended for nearly sixty years and was only cut short by his untimely death last morning.
Although profoundly saddened by his passing away, I realize this is a good time to reflect on his life and what he meant to me his closest friend. I mourn his passing – but I am grateful and take comfort from the fact that our paths in Life converged and stayed together for so many years.
There is an old saying that Life is not about getting good cards, but playing a poor hand well. Tiny was dealt a few bad cards in his life, cards that I felt he did not deserve. His own belief however was that that nothing happened without a purpose, and that everything that happens to us, good or bad, is meant to teach us something. Over the last few months when I had the painful task of looking after him and watching him dealing heroically with an illness that we both knew was beyond cure, as he suffered and prepared for death with dignity, I kept asking myself “What is it that Tiny has been given the task of teaching us?”
Looking back at his life, the qualities that I feel were typical of Tiny were fourfold.
First and foremost, he was Laid-back. Being obsessional and overactive myself, often trying to complete yesterday what needs to be done tomorrow, I found Tiny to be the perfect opposite. If someone turned up to him agitated and told him, “Tiny, hurry up, hurry up – the sky is going to fall down today” he would look at him calmly and say, “Umh! What time?” Nothing seemed to fluster him – if he was confronted with a problem, he was confident that God would provide a solution in due time, and it was not his brief to worry. Long ago he had realized what many of us have not – that we cannot control people and events and the only thing we can truly control in this life are our actions. This easygoing quality also meant that I never ever saw him losing his temper.
Second was his Loyalty. To his family, his friends, his school, his church group – Tiny Reid was the epitome of Loyalty. Whether it was because of the values his parents John and Pearl Reid instilled into their five boys Claud, Ronnie, Buddy, Barney and Tiny, whether it was because of the culture imbibed from his earliest days playing a team game like cricket, Tiny was a person who could be unfailingly depended upon to think of his team-mates (here, read family, friends, church group, work-colleagues) before himself.
The third quality I associate with Tiny was that he was Loving – a loving husband and father. When his wife Katie was struck with a devastating illness – just like Tiny later would be, by a particularly rare and aggressive form of cancer – he devoted himself virtually single-handedly to caring for her, the person he treated as the most important human being in his life.
And his twin daughters – to Tiny, these were the very apples of his eyes. I remember them as babies, each of whom could be relied upon to wake up hungry just as the other one was dropping off to sleep! Of course that was a very long time ago, and the fact that those two hungry insomniac babies have turned out to be such fine young ladies owes much to the loving nurture of Tiny and Katie.
Tiny Reid was inordinately proud of his two girls – and later on, the boys they married – and his beloved grandchildren. For him, Nivanka, Peisha, Jon, Michael and of course the four ‘babies’ – Thomas, Annaliese, Imogen and Asher – were the centre of his universe. A truly Loving family man – this was Tiny.
The final quality I associate with Tiny is his use of Language. I am not referring to his spelling, which sometimes left a bit to be desired – for example, for the past sixty years, he unfailingly spelled the word ‘Saturday’ as ‘Saterday’ despite the best efforts of his teachers, me and even his daughters to correct him!
When I mention Tiny’s Language, all his school-friends and cricketing team-mates will recall with a chuckle exactly what I mean. Tiny Reid was someone who we never heard swearing. or using foul language Despite associating with rough crowds of schoolboys and sportsmen who punctuated their conversations with four letter words, he was an island of propriety. The strongest phrase I have ever known him use in describing someone bad or evil was “dirty beggar”.
Tiny was a cricketer – and a pretty good one at that. But he never indulged in abusing his opponents (what is euphemistically called ‘sledging’ these days’) or even mouthing off when someone dropped a catch off his bowling or he was hit for a boundary.
After his beloved wife Katie died, he was devastated – but he picked himself up and decided to devote the rest of his years to help those less fortunate than himself. He studied and qualified as a counsellor – and whether it was at the Salvation Army or the Parkdale Secondary College where he worked as Chaplain, he dedicated himself to helping others.
Tiny Reid was a cricketer and an athlete, a man who had a reputation for playing a straight bat and running a good race.
He leaves those of us who had the privilege of knowing him with memories of a good man and a Gentle Man – and in my own view, one of the finest who walked God’s earth.