In “family matters” I wrote about the importance of spending quality time with family. Well, one very important person could not make it to pancake day, so I decided to give him his very own blogpost.
I’m talking about Firmin… aka: Philly the Brave.
Although this is a personal piece, there are times when you just want the world to know what a person means to you. You want to acknowledge them, reminisce and be grateful for what they gave you. Should this piece remind you of someone who sacrificed a lot at some point, I can only hope it encourages you to express your gratitude. Make sure you tell him or her that you remember and that it still means something.
Far too often we postpone these things… and far too often we come to regret it.
Who is Firmin? Well, it’s complicated but bear with me. When I was about six years old my parents got divorced. My grandmother (Marieke) and Firmin, her second husband, offered to take me in and raise me. Apart from being the best father figure he could possibly be, Firmin made sure I got a decent education. They both wanted me to get more possibilities in life than they ever got. Him being my step-grandfather only makes his effort / sacrifice to raise me even more admirable. He has always been there for me, up until I finally left our modest home at the age of 24.
I know, he knows and all my old friends know what my grandparents sacrificed just to give me a foothold into this world. It wasn’t easy and there’s no beginning to explaining that in a blog. At least not yet… I wouldn’t do them justice.
The Magical Gateway
It was Firmin and Marieke who sparked my love for movies, so many years ago. We watched all the classics together: American Graffiti, D-Day, Shogun, Brubaker, Lawrence of Arabia, Ben Hur, the Bible, Conquest of Paradise, Dances with Wolves. It was their way of showing me the world and all of its history. They also offered it to me as an escape – albeit imaginary – from our tiny living room. A living room which doubled as their bedroom by the way.
That old 60 cm television set was not merely a window to past, present and future, it was a gateway to fantastic places and imaginary worlds: Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Terminator, the Exorcist, ET, the Goonies…
That gateway sparked my imagination to create stories and invent imaginary worlds of my own …
Next to introducing me to Star Wars… Firmin was also a fan of board games… and videogames!
Without exaggerating, we must have played hundreds of sessions of the classic board game Hero Quest. Forget about Monopoly or Clue, Hero Quest was THE game to rule them all! We even painted the miniatures together, although the result was not really what we had hoped for. Nevertheless: the best of times!
After I moved on from Hero Quest to create my own fantasy world in fantasy role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons, I was one player short. Guess who dusted off his old two-handed bastard sword and rose to the challenge? Exactly! Phil the Brave.
Phil wasn’t really into the silly talking and roleplaying part of D&D… He preferred chopping off heads and cutting of limbs so he could cash in his reward and return to the inn.
In other words, he played the part of Barbarian perfectly 🙂
Me and the rest of the guys still play D&D to this very day… and Phil the Brave remains a legend to us all.
He was the ultimate barbarian.
X-Wing and WarCraft
In the early nineties Firmin played (and finished!) both the X-Wing and Tie-Fighter videogames! I remember those days as if they were yesterday. My grandmother shouting:
“Stop playing videogames! What are you, a kid?! Let Kenny play for a change, will you!!”
I didn’t mind. In fact, it was to the contrary: I was cheering him on as he skillfully redirected the energy flows from his lasers to his forward deflector shields in order to reach the end of the trench run in that nerve-racking final Death Star mission…
Yes, Firmin finished both Star Wars simulators without cheatcodes…
The same cannot be said for WarCraft 2 though. I constantly walked in on him slaying legions of heavily armed orcs with just one farmer. “Yes m’lord, okay!” indeed! His nickname in WarCraft was, of course: Philly the Brave.
Orcs all over Azeroth feared him (and his cheat codes).
The original Star Wars fan(s)
The coolest part of this long story is that I consider my grandfather to be an original Star Wars fan.
Now who of you can say you took your girlfriend to the very first screening of the original Star Wars in Belgium back in 1977? Well, he can! And they both loved the film.
So needless to say, when I was about twelve, Firmin rented all classic episodes on VHS and we watched them together with my grandmother on that 60 cm tv. A decade later we re-watched them on DVD (in widescreen and surround sound).
As 1999 drew to a close, my friend Tom and I went to a special screening of Episode I. Although he denies it now, I remember him to be over the moon about Episode I right after we watched it. I particularly enjoyed the live orchestra and light show under the Atomium in Brussels.
Three years later Firmin wouldn’t have any of that. He managed to get hold of special premiere tickets to Star Wars: Episode 2 in Kinepolis Brussels and we went together.
Come to think of it, I still have the tickets to both events in my DVD boxes:
End of an era
Marieke, my grandmother passed away before Episode 3 came out. As she liked Episodes 1 and 2, I think she would have loved to see young Anakin finally become Darth Vader, the villain she first saw on the big screen in 1977. I was sad that she didn’t get the chance to see the saga completed.
But in my heart I know it was never really about the movies.
It was about spending time together… on that old couch… staring at that tiny, glowing screen… some popcorn or crisps and some lemonade nearby.
Those were the times we were all at ease… we were all happy… sharing a movie.
Simply because we were home…
The saga continues
Now you know the history… You can put away that hankie!
Firmin is the one to blame for introducing me to Star Wars, so for his birthday, I returned the favor and we went to see Star Wars: Rogue One. This makes the circle complete.
It now appears there are many untold stories in the universe that Firmin first visited a long time ago. Now that Disney has taken over the Star Wars franchise, I expect us to make a yearly tradition out of it.
I’m glad and honored to share those future space adventures with him.
After enjoying Rogue One in Kinepolis Antwerp, we went for a cozy dinner at Grandma’s restaurant. I’m not kidding, check it out. They serve all classic Flemish dishes: sausages, mashed potatoes, classic beans… You can mix and match any way you like. Firmin approved of it which means it’s really good food (= not some fancy exotic dishes.)
Last week I helped Firmin move his furniture to the brand new apartment he got through social housing. I hope he will be able to part from some of his old stuff though… It’s clear I got my hoarding habits from him… he never throws away anything!
“You never know when it might come in handy! It will cost you money if you have to buy it again!”
I did however manage to convince him to accompany me to the recycle shop where we can pick out some new furniture. There’s great stuff there which is very easy on the wallet. I kind of hope we can turn this new apartment into the start of a new chapter for him.
Afterwards he took us to a small biker café to buy us a drink. We chatted about work, life, traveling and adopting two dogs. During the conversation I couldn’t help but noticing another blast from the past: a vintage 1992 Mortal Kombat Arcade!
Mortal Kombat was never Firmin’s cup of tea though… He disliked the violence. Although he did not mind chopping up Orcs with that super-powered farmer! 😉
May the force be with you
May the Force be with you, Firmin! Or should I say, Philly the Brave…
And thank you – once again – for everything 🙂
Now that it is written… it shall never be forgotten!
See you soon for some furniture shopping!
Who played a special role in your life? Do they know you remember? When was the last time you expressed your gratitude? Feel free to share in the comments below.