ReWinding

Guru. Enterpriser. Sponsor — to me, he was just Grandpa. Since he died two years ago, I’ve been scripting the final conversation I wish we could have had.

Listen to this story:

EXT. JAN LAKE – DAY 

Two men recline in a fishing boat. One of them tries to stand, but the boat wobbles. They both laugh. This is NATE and GRANDPA. 

GRANDPA 
Everything is perfect. 

Grandpa waves to another boat cruising by. 

NATE 
Beautiful. In fact, it might be… 

IN UNISON 
Mimosa time! 

GRANDPA 
Just orange juice for me though. 

NATE  
Oh ri– 

A ninja star penetrates the boat directly next to Nate’s head. 

GRANDPA  
I was afraid this day would come. 

Grandpa points to the other boat. It’s filled with men in balaclavas. 

NATE 
Oh shit! Assassins. 

A squad of highly trained killers accelerates toward them. 

Nate and Grandpa look at each other and nod. Nate nails one of the assassins in the neck with a blow dart. One down. Three to go. 

GRANDPA 
How are your little movie scripts coming along? 

The assassins slam into their boat. Grandpa kicks one of them so hard his foot goes through the assassin’s torso and knocks out the man behind him — one left. 

NATE 
I start scripts, but I can never finish them. 

The last assassin tries to flee, but his boat won’t start. 

ASSASSIN 
Please … 

Nate takes off his sunglasses. 

NATE  
See you later, alligator. 

Nate flying jump kicks the assassin overboard. Alligators instantly devour him. 

Nate and Grandpa high-five 

END 

Grandpa leans against a wall with his arms outstretched. His shirt is covered in tiny clouds. The photo is framed with pears.
It’s been almost two years since Grandpa died, and I’ve been re-writing our last conversation in my head ever since. 

Grandpa spent the last season of his life in Ontario on a rural homestead with his wife. We kept in touch, but I wish I could have seen his face one more time.  

When he started experiencing the heart failure that would eventually kill him, he called my mom from the back of the ambulance, and she flew out to be with him at the end. Grandpa couldn’t speak, so there was no final phone call. I had to relay my last words to him through my mom; nothing came out right.


(Rewind)

INT. GRANDPA’S PAWN SHOP – DAY 

Nine-year-old Nate sits in a solarium filled with VHS tapes. Grandpa hired him for the summer to sell off overflow from his pawn shop.  

Mostly, Nate reads the synopses on movie cases. 

Lost in thought, Nate picks his nose vigorously. A woman enters the solarium and catches him. The two lock eyes. The woman pretends she forgot something in the other room. 

END 


The summer I was nine, Grandpa needed a hand at his pawn shop, so my parents dropped me off there a few days per week.  

Long days at Grandpa’s pawn shop gave me time to learn Grandpa’s idiosyncrasies. Although he had served as a cook in the Royal Canadian Air Force many years ago, that summer I remember subsisting on microwave dinners and Diet Coke.  

After the military, he moved back to Regina where he sold real estate, worked as a nursing assistant, and started businesses.  

I never saw him take a break at the pawn shop. He would pace with a phone to his ear, often cursing. This was Grandpa in his element.  

I spent the summer in the pawn shop’s solarium, falling in love with movies. I had unknowingly started down a path that would lead me to Winnipeg to write short films with my friends. 


Superficially, I have little in common with Grandpa. I laugh easily and wear my heart on my sleeve. I delight in silliness. Grandpa was not silly. He had a powerful presence. He stood a head shorter than me, but he filled a room. His will was so forceful he seemed to attract the things he wanted by sheer magnetism.  

We butted heads about spirituality too. He scandalized my teenage Christian faith with heated claims that his teachings were more important than Jesus’s. Grandpa was immodest and opinionated, but I understood that his passion came from a place of searching for a capital “T” Truth. We both valued the search. 

My search eventually led me to experience something common in our culture: my Christian faith lapsed in my twenties. Although the contents of our spiritualities remained vastly different, I began seeing that Grandpa reflected a deep part of myself that I wanted to understand. 


INT. PAWN SHOP – DAY 

Nate, a curious 12-year-old, inspects a wire cage in Grandpa’s shop. A big white rat looks up from inside the cage. 

NATE 
Do you sell pets now? 

GRANDPA 
I usually don’t. Rats are intelligent  
though, and I like having him around. 

The rat quivers in its cage as Nate extends his fingers through the bars, offering a sunflower seed. The rat bites off the tip of his finger. 

Grandpa bandages Nate’s finger. 

GRANDPA 
You never know what an animal has been through.
Don’t take it personally. 
 

END


Grandpa stands shirtless in his yard. He clutches a pheasant to his chest. The photo is framed with pears.
I think Grandpa identified with strays. He loved to earn their trust and, eventually, their love. He adopted cats on his farm. He once even befriended a wild pheasant. 

(Rewind)

INT. PAWN SHOP – DAY 

Nine-year-old Nate plays with a cat in the back of the store.  

The door chimes, and a GUY in a leather jacket walks in. He has a wooden box under his arm. Without saying anything, he drops the box on the counter and swings the lid open. 

Grandpa looks inside. 

GRANDPA 
No. I will absolutely never accept those.

GUY 
Bu– 

GRANDPA 
Not a discussion. 

The guy snaps the lid shut and leaves. 

Nate considers asking what just happened, but he might not want to know.  

END 


Grandpa is still a mystery, but I’m amazed at how much you can learn about someone after they’re gone. I asked my sister if she knew any of Grandpa’s favourite movies. 

8 Mile,” she answered. 

I wouldn’t have guessed that Grandpa, who grew up on a farm in Saskatchewan and then ran off to join the military, would relate to the semi-autobiographical trials of Eminem. But it kind of makes sense. 

He would have loved seeing a misunderstood underachiever figure out his priorities and fight for his place in the world.  

I think he relished conflict.  


(Fast-forward)

INT. THE YELLOW DELI – NIGHT 

A circle of spiritual seekers has gathered for the Friday night open forum at The Yellow Deli in Vista, California. Members of the Twelve Tribes open the deli’s doors to the outside world and welcome in people seeking God. 

Nate, 18, pushes through the crowded restaurant. Plants drape down the wooden walls, and patrons climb a creaking spiral staircase. It’s like a medieval pub for hippies. 

Nate shares a couch with Grandpa in a circle of deli patrons and Twelve Tribes members. Men of The Community grow their beards and hair long. Grandpa, a regular of the deli, introduces Nate to the circle. Elias, the man with the longest beard in the room, stands up. 

ELIAS 
Welcome here. Tonight, we are
discussing the three eternal destinies:
Heaven, Hell, and New Earth. 

Someone coughs. 

ELIAS (cont.) 
God will welcome a limited number 
of souls into heaven. But those that  
lived their lives in wickedness will be… 

GRANDPA 
Evil doesn’t exist. 

A WOMAN with bleach blond hair leans in. 

WOMAN 
Yeah, who are we to say who’s evil? 

ELIAS 
We don’t say — God has the final word. 

GRANDPA 
There is no evil without free
will — Mankind’s greatest myth. 

ELIAS 
Let’s get back on track. 

GRANDPA 
We are creation discovering  
itself in the physical dimension! 

ELIAS 
There is a difference between sharing your 
beliefs and monopolizing the conversation! 

EXT. THE YELLOW DELI – MOMENTS LATER 

GRANDPA 
This isn’t the first time they’ve
kicked me out, and it won’t be
the last — they like me here. 

END


In 2015, a few years after I finished high school, I moved to rural Saskatchewan to attend Bethany College, a Christian Bible school established by the Evangelical Mennonite Mission Conference. The year had been confusing for me. The more I read the Bible, the less I recognized Jesus in the Church. Instead of grace, I saw politics. Even today, the Mennonite Brethren denomination is fracturing over disagreements about what kinds of love are valid. 

I walked away feeling alienated from God. I wanted to belong to a community, but I was a fraud — a black sheep.  

The summer after I returned from college, Grandpa invited me to visit Vista, California for the third time. He kept a two-bedroom mobile home there. These trips with Grandpa were unpredictable. He would sweep me up in a whirlwind of energy and throw me out of my comfort zone. It was exactly what I needed. 

I arrived in Vista exhausted, but Grandpa had a coupon. He filled me with fast-food chilli dogs before he took me home. 

He loved his friends and wanted me to meet everyone. Our days were filled with people, conversation, and ritual. He introduced me to a spiritual student of his — a young man called Surfer Steve. 

He took me to a coffee shop where everyone seemed to know him. He ordered a quadruple espresso latte with many sweeteners. A barista gasped. 

He introduced me to a pastor who would meet with Grandpa to talk about religion. They debated with each other until they were too frustrated to continue, and we left. 

I saw a new kind of spirituality, one that embraced reality. You didn’t need to pretend to be straight, or devout, or happy when you were with Grandpa. I saw a way to let my walls down. 

He had come so far from the angry man of his youth. He talked about recovering from addictions and becoming a sponsor in a 12-step program. He maintained a close relationship with me and our family despite the painful wounds of his upbringing. He even found his soulmate after four divorces and died a married man. 

I admired his hard-won un-self-consciousness. He was a proud black sheep. 


(Rewind)

INT. NATE’S FAMILY HOME – DAY 

Nate comes home from his grade 10 classes and finds his parents waiting. They don’t look upset. Just bemused. 

Nate:
What’s wrong? 

MOM:
Grandpa changed his name. 

Nate:
What? Like his legal name? 

MOM:
Yes. 

NATE:
What is it? 

CUT to

EXT. ORCHARD – TWO WEEKS EARLIER 

It’s 2007. Grandpa steadies a ladder against a tree. With a basket in hand, he climbs up to the ripe pears and plucks one.  

He looks at it. 

The pear looks back at him. The pear holds him and for a moment, he can’t tell where his skin ends and the pear begins. 

Likewise, the ladder beneath him becomes an appendage. The grasshoppers below are entire vestigial bodies within his own. Each branch above, is a phantom limb. 

Grandpa’s sense of a personal self is obliterated, and he feels perfect communion with all matter in the universe. 

GRANDPA 
Woah. 

CUT to  

INT. NATE’S FAMILY HOME – Day 

MOM:
His name is Master. 

END


After a spiritual awakening on his friend’s farm, Grandpa legally changed his name from Harold Norman McNally to Master Norman McNally. He said it is part of his self-designated role as “Enlightened Master of our Era.”  

I just called him “Grandpa.” No one in my family embraced him as a guru — he was still very human. But I think he needed to create a before-and-after for himself every once in a while, and this was his new “after.” 


(Fast-forward)

A few years after Grandpa got his mobile home in Vista, he invited me on my first trip to visit. I was 18. Grandpa had bickered with our airline about an issue with his booking (one of his favourite pastimes), and we were upgraded to first class.  

Grandpa was decades sober, but he pointed out that first class gets free drinks and he didn’t want me to miss out on this opportunity. Since I wasn’t 21 yet, he worked out a scheme where he would order rum and cokes, and I would trade it with my regular coke.  

After my fourth drink, the flight attendant asked if we needed anything else. I ordered water as a covert message to Grandpa that I was already feeling the altitude.  

He missed the signal and ordered me a fifth.  

As I stumbled off the plane a few hours later, I thought about my mom. She told me stories about how she would drive Grandpa crazy by going with him to buffets and then only eating macaroni.  

He loved finding loopholes. Once, he asked us to load him into the trunk of our car when he died so that we could avoid paying for an ambulance. 


(Rewind)

INT. PASQUA HOSPITAL PSYCHIATRIC UNIT – DAY 

It’s 1973. An orderly — GRANDPA — rushes from room to room checking in with patients. 

As he’s about to enter the next room, he is redirected to the palliative care ward to check in on a patient who has been struggling with a lot of pain. 

He enters the room and sits next to a terminally ill man. 

GRANDPA 
How are you feeling? 

PATIENT 
Not good. 

They sit together in silence for a while. 

GRANDPA 
Can I show you something? 

EXT. NEIGHBORHOOD – 49 years later 

NATE and MOM walk on a city sidewalk. They reminisce about Grandpa. 

NATE:
Do you know what Grandpa said to
the patient in palliative
care at Pasqua Hospital? 

MOM:
I don’t know what he said,
but I know he taught the man a meditation
practice for pain management. 
Grandpa was in a spiritual commune
at the time called the Divine Light
Mission.

MOM: (CONT’D)
Later, the same patient asked to talk
to Grandpa again. He said that the
meditation practice was helping him manage his pain. 

END 


Grandpa developed a reputation for being good with people who were dying. I think he was drawn to the hard, messy things because they reflected his own inner chaos and let him be a guide for others in life’s storms.  

He was talented at stripping away fluff and getting to the heart of things. 

After the experience in the pear tree, Grandpa became very interested in his mortality. He would talk about how energy changes form, but it is never destroyed. This statement was comforting to him, but I wanted to pretend he would live forever. 

He said that he wasn’t afraid to die. I believe him.  


(Fast-forward)

INT. MOLDOVAN HOLDING CELL – NIGHT 

GRANDPA sits on a cot in the dark, replaying the last few hours through his head. No phone call. No lawyer. He waits. 

Finally, he hears footsteps. Two guards approach his cell. 

GUARD 1 
…You’re Canadian? 

GRANDPA 
Yes, I told you already! 

GUARD 2 
What brings you to Moldova? 

GRANDPA 
I told you that too. I’m here
to meet my girlfriend. 

Silence 

GRANDPA 
I can give you her number. But first, tell  
me why I’m here. I didn’t do anything illegal. 

The guards leave. 

Hours go by. Grandpa stares at the ceiling. His girlfriend warned him that Moldova is like another world. Maybe his luck had finally run out. 

INT. MOLDOVAN HOLDING CELL – LATER 

The guards arrive back at Grandpa’s cell. He stands up quickly to greet them. 

GUARD 1 
We spoke to the judge.

A long pause. 

GRANDPA 
…and? 

GUARD 2 
… The judge wants 50 American dollars,
and you can go. 

GRANDPA 
… 

GUARD 2 
… 

GRANDPA 
I’ll give you 20 bucks. 

GUARD 2 
Fine.  

END


Grandpa used to scare the living soul out of me with his stories. He said he was taken to the holding cell in Moldova after his taxi driver was pulled over.  

He said it’s a common scam for police to con tourists out of some cash. Other than his stay in jail, his trip was terrific. 

Grandpa holds baby Nate in his lap. Grandpa has placed a hat on baby Nate that displays an advertisement for pawn and gun shop.
It was hard to make Grandpa laugh, but he had a mischievous sense of humour.

 


Much of what I know about Grandpa comes from my mom. She could see straight into his core. Grandpa moved around a lot his whole life. This was tough when my mom was young because Grandpa had shared custody, but she says being with her dad always felt like coming home.  

My mom saw him in a way that no one else could. My script could never be complete without her help. 


EXT. PARK – EVENING 

MOM walks a familiar route through the park. The first snowflakes of winter are falling, and she shudders to imagine Christmas without her dad. 

She passes under unlit park lamps, and one by one, they flick on. She wonders why the lamps have never done this before, but as she continues, the lamps flick on right over her head. 

She remembers when she was little; her dad promised that when he died, he would stay as near as possible.  

He always said that energy can’t be destroyed, it only changes form. This felt like his energy. 

She likes to imagine Grandpa is in the lights, walking with her for a little while. 

END 


My mom recalls something Grandpa would say: “I have a body, but I’m not my body.” 

She knows he wanted her to be prepared for him to die someday. He saw himself as a force in the world that could live past his physical body. 

I wonder if that’s another way of understanding love.  

My mom thinks it might be. “That love is a part of me, it doesn’t die, it’s here.” 

My mom says that when she gets to heaven, her dad will be the first one there to meet her. Jesus would understand what that means to her. 

I’m not sure an afterlife exists, but I secretly hope my mom is right. The promise of our family being together forever has been the hardest thing to let go of. 


Grandpa sent his last message to me a couple of summers ago: 

8/30/22, 8:40 AM 
I enjoyed watching your work on CBC. Keep up the great work. Miss you, Grandpa 

He was encouraging me to keep writing. I wish I knew this would be his last message — I still have so much to say to him.  

Maybe it’s time for me to write a better ending. 


EXT. VISTA, CALIFORNIA – DAY 

Nate and Grandpa walk down a pier. Kids throw pebbles into the water. Seagulls squawk overhead. 

NATE 
Hey, one time I was working at the
shop and some guy came in
with a box and you turned him away.
What was in the box? 

GRANDPA 
Oh, it was baseball cards. I don’t care for them. 

NATE 
Ohhh. You had so many friends.
Did you have a best friend? 

GRANDPA 
Your mom. 

NATE 
And why did you keep getting married? 

GRANDPA 
I like being married. Maybe I’m old-fashioned, 
but giving your whole heart to someone will always  
be the best feeling in the world. 

NATE 
What else should I know? 

GRANDPA 
Love is limitless. It’s too big to understand, but we 
can trust that it’s imminent and powerful. 

You should never be sorry for who you are.  
You might fail to see your potential sometimes,  
but you are exactly who you are supposed to be. 

And I love you so much.
Our family is a miracle to me. 

GRANDPA (CONT’D)
Is there anything you want to say to me? 

NATE 
You inspired me to walk my own spiritual path.  
And thank you for encouraging my scriptwriting.  
Your belief in me was such a gift
— I can’t even express it.  

Nate and Grandpa stand at the end of the pier. It’s crowded. Nate’s socks are wet. And everything is perfect. 

END 

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Nate Flaman

Nate (he/him) is a people person and professional daydreamer. He likes laughing with others and making work fun. You can find him swimming through a sea of crumpled-up drafts or riding his bike in the snow.