Grin and Barrett

Posted on April 1, 2014 under Storytelling with no comments yet

Leislature building Victoria

Parliament Building – Victoria, B.C.


When you are young, you have no fear.  You will try anything, especially if it is a dare.  You will take uncalculated risks.  This usually happens when you are trying to impress someone.  Can you say “teenage boy?”   But over time, we’re supposed to get this out of our system, and by the time our hormones have stopped their march, we settle into the path of predictable activities.

Unless you have a genetic predisposition to test your limits throughout your lifetime.   Without risk takers, where would we be?

An offshoot of bravado is the ability to do things and try things, even when the outcome is in doubt.  You may want to become a world class athlete, a famous musician or a renowned writer of novels.  There is nothing wrong with setting the bar high and seeing what you can do, if you really want something badly.  Robert Browning sums it up nicely:

Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp,

Or what’s a heaven for?

Which brings me to a beautiful spring morning in Victoria, BC in 1973.  Victoria Day, to be precise.  Our Dad wasn’t much of a traveller but he decided to come out west for a well-deserved break.  Three of his offspring were living there at the time.  We decided to check out the Victoria Day parade.  The premier at the time was Dave Barrett and, as was the custom, he was positioned near the front of the parade in an open limousine.  Mr. Barrett, the 26th premier of the province, was one of a long line of very colourful British Columbia politicians.

When the parade ended, we retired to a pub.  Dad had enjoyed the parade and opined that the premier looked like he was having a good time too.  Well, one thing led to another and someone suggested that we go visit the premier at his home, which was not far from our watering hole.  Dad was mortified, suggesting that you simply can’t do something this audacious.  We were about to find out as, a case of beer in hand, we piled into the car.

We arrived at the premier’s residence and were surprised that there didn’t appear to be any security.  There wasn’t even a gate barring entry to the house.  You must remember that this was the 70’s and we were still wearing our hair quite long and our attire suited our lot in life.  In other words, we looked pretty scruffy.

Still no security.  No armed guards or fierce dogs.  We knocked on the door and were met, not by a maid, but by Shirley Barrett, the premier’s wife.  She didn’t look alarmed.  More like confused.  We confessed to our ethnicity (East Coast) and respectfully requested entry to “sing a few songs” for the premier.  She closed the door momentarily and returned in a few minutes with her husband by her side.  I am certain to this day, that we would never have crossed the threshold were in not for Dad’s presence among us.

The ground rules were established quickly.  We could sing and we could drink the beer we brought but any discussion of politics was off limits.

The music didn’t stop for a full two hours.  We shared music, laughter and drinks with the premier of the province.  When our case of beer was full of empties, the Mr. Barrett went and got another.

The premier confessed to Dad that he had been barefoot in the open limousine at the parade.  At one point I remember my father and Mr. Barrett with arms over each other’s shoulders, belting out a tune.  I believe that this adventure was one of the high points in my father’s life.  Mr. Barrett remarked that this was the only time he could ever remember in politics that a group of people hadn’t asked him to do anything for them.  We had simply asked for fellowship …. and a place to have a few beers!

My brother-in-law is from Newfoundland and he was a member of the entourage.  As we stood at the front door saying our goodbyes, he turned to the premier and said, “Dave.  What do you call a Newfoundlander with a lump of sugar on his head?  Sweet f**k all!”  And that was the final word as we took our leave.

Years later I would run into Mr. Barrett at an NDP rally in Northern Alberta.  A friend was running in a provincial election and he asked a group of musicians to play at the rally.  I was one of them.  He was no longer premier.  They recycle politicians rapidly in B.C.

When he finished his speech, I cornered him for a few minutes.  I asked him if he remembered a particular Victoria Day when he was premier.  Before I could finish the statement, he looked at me and said, “Are you one of those crazy MacDonalds from Nova Scotia?”

Sometimes you just have to grin and Barrett.




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