Phillip is a kindly, somewhat nutty old fella.
He ambles out of his little home in Moyie Lake, B.C., his hands jammed into the pockets of his denim overalls.
His fluffy white beard conjures thoughts of Santa Claus, while the ink art travelling up his arms gives hints to a rougher life spent on the union trail or on a motorcyle.
“Can I meet your dog?”
His voice is gruff and gravelly, evidence of a life spent smoking.
Sure can, I say.
We hopped out of the truck at Moyie Lake, curious about the little town we’d passed by a few other times, not even blinking in a quest to just get home.
As we stood in the shadow of the little Victorian style church, Phillip approached us.
He keeps his pockets full of Milkbones so he can treat the neighbourhood dogs on his daily walks through the little community.
He ruffles Shep’s ears and Shep gives Phillip his stamp of approval, letting me know it’s OK to trust the somewhat odd but friendly fellow.
Phillip tells us of the deer who visit his backyard, because he leaves apples and nuts for them on his picnic tables.
He tells us of his plan to shave his beard off in the spring, a chance to raise money for cancer research.
He tells us of his fight against cancer, surviving six months of chemotherapy, as he takes another long haul of his cigarette.
And he tells us that’s as much as he remembers of his life since a motorcycle accident and a severe bump on the head took away his memory.
But for some reason, he feels it’s important to tell us of his life before moving to Moyie Lake in 1976.
He was a travelling steamfitter/pipefitter.
He pulls out his wallet and hands me his identification card from the Syncrude project in Fort McMurray, Alta.
My hands shake a little as I hold his ID.
I look up at him and say, ‘My father was on that project.’
And the memories flood back.
The memories of his quiet, solitary life, spent on the road with brief vacations home to see his family.
The memories of his tortured soul.
Of his own battle with cancer.
And his death.
Phillip asks for his name and I tell him but his memory is blank.
We chat for a little while longer, learning a little more about Moyie Lake on a personal account from Phillip.
Shep, his belly full of Milkbones, and I hop back in the truck and continue our journey back to Calgary.
I can’t help but feel something greater was at work that day, something greater than just a quick stop at Moyie Lake to pound out an Exploring post for my site.
Even if it was just a distant, shot-in-the-dark connection to a father who was never really connected.