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Make new friends but keep the old...

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It was getting late, but I pulled into the Safeway parking lot on my way home.

My son had a hankering for some fake cheese, and Safeway was having a sale on Cheez Whiz. It was almost closing time, so I was going to rush in and out of the store. But as I walked toward the entrance, I saw someone familiar sitting on the bench just inside the door.

It was a guy, bent forward with his head in his hands and his elbows resting on his knees. Maybe he wasn't feeling well, was emotional, or had a little too much to drink.

He looked like my old friend Kevin.

Back when I was a teenager and living with my auntie and her family, Kevin lived next door. We lived on the left side of a side-by-side duplex. Kevin and his family lived on the right side.

My cousin Crystal and I became friends with Kevin and his big sister, Deanna. Kevin was always laid back -- even then, nothing seemed to get him down.

Sometimes we'd hang halfway out of Crystal's second-floor window. It was adjacent to Deanna's bedroom window. We'd lean across the porch roofline and share cigarettes with them, even though Deanna had asthma.

Kevin's parents were from a nearby reserve but I think they hardly ever went back.

As I made my way into the store, I made a beeline to the guy on the bench. I wondered if he would even recognize me if it was him?

"Kevin?" I asked.

He lifted his head and smiled widely.

"CC!" Kevin said loudly, calling me by my nickname.

Then he jumped off the bench and gave me a hug right in the middle of the store.

Well, Kevin was half in the bag. He smelled faintly like the after-effects of a recent party. But I didn't mind -- old friends like Kevin are like family.

Maybe you don't see childhood friends for years, but when you do, it's just like old times again. Seeing Kevin made me happy. It kind of made me feel young, I guess.

Back when we were goofy kids in the North End, living just a few blocks away from where we were standing, life was a lot simpler. He was gangly back then, and mostly still looks the same. But there have been a lot of changes too. Kevin is a dad now -- and a grandpa to two babies.

He was waiting for a cab that he called earlier but it was taking a long time. He offered me money to take him home, but I shrugged it off.

I had to get home quick, but I'd give him a ride no problem.

I ran off to get my Cheez Whiz while Kevin waited. I sure was happy that the store let my old friend sit inside to wait for his cab. A lot of places might not have even let him in the door. They might be rude -- or worse, call the police.

Some people who walked by Kevin that night might have seen a slightly drunk aboriginal guy. I saw a few people looking at us while we hugged and talked too loud in the store. Let them look.

Maybe some people were even scared of Kevin, but I wasn't. I was scared for him. He was a friend who needed help.

Sometimes people in his condition get hurt wandering around late at night.

I finished my shopping and took Kevin to my house, where a cranky baby was up waiting for me. Despite his rumpled appearance, I introduced him to my kids. Then he was chauffeured home.

Maybe we'll cross paths again soon; it sure was nice to see an old friend.

Colleen Simard is a Winnipeg writer.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 12, 2012 J6

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