Shaken Then Stirred by Don Herald

Don Herald's character visits the cinema and memories of his father-in-law come flooding back to him.

I arrived at the movie early to make sure I'd get a good seat. The theatre was in semi-darkness. I stood briefly at the bottom of the rise of stairs and rows of seats, letting my eyes adjust before I started my climb.

I was shocked to see my father-in-law sitting several rows up. He was smiling broadly at me. This is quite unexpected because he rarely goes to a movie. And certainly he would have absolutely no interest in the latest James Bond adventure.

Yet there he was in an aisle seat, quite relaxed in his favourite grey-checked flannel shirt. As usual, his hair was slicked back with that strong, precise part down the middle. Bright blue but somewhat rheumy eyes twinkled at me behind the memorable wire framed glasses he always wore. And that smile. I would recognize it anywhere!

Suddenly I knew what was wrong with this picture. He died a few years ago.

Of course, in real time all of this happened in an instant but in mind time it seemed to take minutes.

I started up the steps toward him, struggling to make sense of it all. With eyebrows slightly raised, he carefully watched me move toward him.

'It's just not possible,' I told myself.

But another voice within whispered, 'Yes, it's Granpa P for sure. No one but him would dare to wear a checked flannel shirt like that out in public these days!'

I struggled with my thoughts, feelings and growing confusion until I was just three steps below him. His eyes shifted slightly to my right. His smile broadened. That's when I realized his attention was not on me but an attractive, older woman just behind and two steps below me.

As I came to his side, I paused ever so slightly, fighting a strong urge to reach out and touch the hand resting on the seat arm. Instead, I nodded slightly, hoping for a response. Of course, he didn't notice any of this as the woman was now just about level with him. All his attention was on her.

I moved past him, up another few rows. I took an aisle seat where I had a clear view of him. His head moved back and forth in animated conversation with the woman who was now sitting next to him.

'My God, even from behind, that man moves like him. And exactly the same mannerisms with his hands.' The entire experience was all very unsettling.

In an instant, I was no longer in the theatre, but living in other times when Granpa P was an important part of my life.

Fishing on the French River in fading light.

Tirelessly hauling rocks in a wheelbarrow for his massive stone wall projects.

Sipping a cooling rye and ginger at day's end.

On his knees, digging up potatoes in the garden.

Faking his famous cut-off-finger trick that always frightened the grandchildren.

Catching raccoons in live traps set among the rows of ripened corn.

Silently mourning the sudden death of his wife.

Offering wise counsel on many life issues, but only when asked.

And of course, those inspiring letters in his distinctive penmanship, sharing his pride and love of family. Telling us of his great delight in the accomplishments of his large clan.

I didn't know that man in the theatre. But at that moment in time, he was who I needed and so desperately wanted him to be.

I miss my father-in-law. A lot, some days.

He was a truly good man. Every June, our family gathers around his graveside to say hello. To remind each other how he lived his life. And to share with him how his values have shaped us all to this very day.

His unexpected visit with me in the darkened theatre was a gift I will always treasure.

Many thanks to that man in row F, seat 1.


  1. Lovely, gentle waft into the world of timeless attachments and the living tapestry of human connections,
    Many thanks,

  2. a very welcome and thought provoking story, very enjoyable.
    i went to the cinema on wednesday, i didn´t see anyone i knew, but i requested seat F1 !
    anyway, well done

    Mike McC

  3. Don, a touching story you told beautifully. I enjoyed it.

  4. Beautiful! Short! Powerful! A tribute that has me picturing Granpa P., loving him and treasuring my own. Thanks Don!!!

  5. fun story of the illusions that greet us from time to time. I would like more of your visceral feelings and emotions. Were you afraid, excited, doubting your grip on reality. What kept you from talking to him?