“Hello, it’s Tim,” I said, speaking into the black telephone receiver. I was at work, in my shared office.
“It’s nine-forty-five AM. Mr. Fowler, scones are in the oven, I’ll expect you at ten,” said Bill, and he hung up the phone.
Bill and Margaret’s apartment was small, and stacked to the rafters with first edition leather bound books, most of them signed by the author. It was connected to the hospital. For some unspoken reason he took an interest in me. I was 24 years old and newly appointed to my first serious manager’s job: twenty two staff, a cool million budget in annual revenue to oversee, and seventy five patients to feed 21 times each week.
Bill used to call me midweek with the same message, “scones are in the oven, I’ll expect you at ten.”
All I had to do was walk down the sandstone hallway in Northern Newfoundland and tip the knocker on his heavy door.
Bill greeted me to his apartment with thick Irish brogue, a hearty handshake, and a warm welcome. The dry warmth of the steam pipe heating, and the smell of scones just out of the oven embraced me as I crossed the threshold into his space. He swung his left arm like a tennis backhand, inviting me to step in, and find a comfortable seat on his sumptuous couch. His manicured hands were smooth and soft, hands of a retired dentist, who loved books and walking in the woods. His hands never saw much manual labour. Bill possessed marvelous caterpillar-like bushy eyebrows that inched up and down in perfect time with his animated conversation. They began twitching as soon as I stepped inside.
Bill’s scones were perfect. When you touched the side of an upturned scone with a butter knife, holding it gingerly because it is just-out-of-the-oven hot, the two halves split completely in two. They were flaky and tasty, I suspect, from ample butter. The steam from the scone centres made little swirls above the china plate. He served them with soft mounds of freshly whipped cream and jam or jelly, and scalding hot black tea. He served them on fine china gold edged plates, tea in china cups with matching dainty saucers.
Scones with Bill required you to spoon a dollop of soft whipped cream onto the centre of the scone, and smooth it out, then to extract a generous spoonful of jam or jelly and slide it into the cream. The challenge of getting the works into your mouth while trying to keep cream out of your ears, proved a weekly contest.
Tea with Dr. Mahood was a cultural experience, a lesson in manners, a culinary excursion, and an easy connection with a genuine friend. He was seriously interested in my daily challenges of managing a group of employees some of whom were more than twice my age. He shared of his forty years of hard-earned management experiences so I could earn mine more easily.
I needed a friend, and Bill stepped into role that handsomely.
Several months after my oldest son was born we snow-shoed to Bill’s apartment for tea and scones on a bright Saturday afternoon. Bill sat relaxed, overlooking my son’s six-month-old hands often sticky with cream and jam, surfing along his coffee table and leafing through Bill’s original author-signed editions of hand-bound leather-covered classics.
“Relax,’ Bill would say, ‘he’s fine.”
And he was.