Andrew Britz, OSB, was a regular guest in our home from the time I was no more than 12. I remember Andrew as the robust man with the black beard whose presence filled our kitchen. Kids naturally took to him and he loved to tease my brothers, who were much younger than I was, by twisting their words and making them laugh. It makes sense. As anyone who followed Andrew’s 21 years as editor of the PM knew, he was a wordsmith.
Andrew often arrived at our home unannounced. He’d ring the doorbell repeatedly — his trademark — knowing it was kind of annoying, but also knowing he was always welcome. Sometimes he’d pop in for a few minutes en route to somewhere else. Often he came for meals, and even more often he came for evening visits with my mom and dad, scotch in glasses as they talked late into the evening about church, theology, baseball, life’s absurdity, and life’s grace.
Kids are especially good at eavesdropping, and overhearing bits of their conversations was my first dip into the pool of deep discussions that ripple beyond midnight. I don’t know if it was the memory of Andrew’s visits with my parents, but the enjoyment of talking late into the evening has stayed with me, and something I have apparently passed along to my children. Whenever they come home we vow we won’t stay up as late as the last time. First night of the Thanksgiving weekend, visiting until 2:40 a.m. Next night 2:15. OK, a bit earlier.
One evening years ago Andrew rang my doorbell, not my mom and dad’s, and sat in my kitchen, and offered me a job. Would I join the Prairie Messenger staff as associate editor? No. Don’t want it. Can’t do it. It was my mind’s default position. Reluctantly I said yes. I didn’t think it would be a good fit.
This will be my 24th Christmas with the PM. The lights of the season are already twinkling (some say too early, but not I) and, with this last Christmas here, I’ve been thinking about gifts. Here’s the thing with some gifts — you don’t always see them that way at first.
The early years at the paper were hard — coming to terms with a more hectic home life, having less time with the kids and for myself and with my husband, feeling clumsy and inept in a new workplace and making mistakes (getting the paper temporarily banned in Winnipeg comes to mind). Andrew’s legendary standard of excellence and attention to detail was now experienced first-hand, and I learned workplace personalities don’t necessarily match that of a friend’s.
Andrew was blunt but fair. Were my headlines really stupid? Mentors are tough because they push your limits — because they believe in you, even when you don’t believe in yourself. It took awhile to learn that making an error, even a big one, didn’t cause me to break, though I often felt I might.
Christmas is a season of gifts. Have you ever answered your door to find someone unexpected standing there with a present, and then feeling ashamed you don’t have anything to give back? Gratitude just feels puny. You want to run out to find something bigger, and drop it off later.
But gifts aren’t meant to be balanced out, compared, repaid, or one-upped.
One of my favourite Christmas memories from my time at the PM was the staff party Andrew hosted at his parish. It’s flat country and Russ and I drove to St. Anthony’s in Lake Lenore under a dome of starlit midnight blue. The dinner in the church basement was served, with lights dimmed, by Father Demetrius, who was commissioned to help Andrew with the meal — lasagne and Caesar salad. Afterward we walked a few steps out the church over to the rectory where we enjoyed drinks from Andrew’s well-stocked bar. It was the only time I visited him in his own home. There was the friend who loved to celebrate, talk, welcome and be welcomed. Christmas is when I miss him most of all.
Andrew showed up at my door once upon a time, bearing gifts that have taken 24 years to unwrap. They turned out to be a good fit.
I have nothing to give but gratitude. It’s not puny.