The difficult news of the death of a childhood friend was also a reminder of what I had lost long before he ever got sick.
Even though my pal Paul Skinner died of cancer in 2010, I didn’t learn of his death until 2011 when making plans to visit Winnipeg. My search for Paul’s number revealed a death notice in the online version of the Free Press — I turned numb as I saw his friendly face and learned about his illness and death.
I have read that notice dozens of times because it says such nice things about my friend and because I learned what he’d been up to in his last years. It will forever stand as a meaningful tribute, even though the pain that gripped his family is so evident in those few paragraphs.
I was thinking about Paul again last month because of the second annual Paul Skinner Memorial Soccer Tournament at the Canlan sports facility on Ellice Avenue. There was also a silent auction and social event that raised money for CancerCare Manitoba in Paul’s name.
I pleased about this tournament, but not surprised. Paul, who was 42 when he died, attracted the kinds of friends who would want to celebrate his life. I’ve never been so eager to donate to anything, at least not since I began making donations to the Salvation Army in the name of my father who died in 2009, also of cancer.
As classmates at Van Belleghem Elementary School and at J.H. Bruns Collegiate in Southdale, me, Paul and a few others in our group learned about life while sharing our first experiences with things like music, girls and sports.
Paul was a natural athlete and was always the best among us at every sport other than hockey. Throughout high school, I’d visit him at his house to watch TV and we shared our frustration with Friday Night Videos because the show so rarely aired the heavy metal bands we preferred. Whenever I asked to borrow his copy of the new Iron Maiden or AC/DC record, he’d refuse but instead make copies for me on cassette because he wouldn’t dare permit any part of his prized record collection outside of his bedroom.
My family moved to Ontario when I was 17 and I lost touch with Paul and many of my Southdale chums. Thankfully, Paul and I caught up many years later — once in 1996 when I travelled from Ottawa to see a Jets game and again in 2000 when I visited for work.
It was fun to spend time together as men in our 30s rather than teenagers. I was shocked that we hadn’t changed much.
Paul’s death prompted me to think about our friendship and how we discovered life together as we shared our struggles and successes.
Like a family, there are usually a few friends who contribute to a child’s life at a time when they learn about heady issues such as honour, loyalty and respect. Paul was one of those important friends to me.
I’m sad that we lived in different cities and weren’t close after high school. His death and last month’s fundraiser helped me understand how grateful I am for his friendship and how it has helped me understand how important friends are.
They also reminded me why Paul and a few other friends figure so prominently in the memories I have from my life as a kid from Winnipeg.
Andrew Matte lives in Regina. He grew up in Southdale.