When the Bartender Dims the Lights, storytelling after 80 by Ron Evans

When the Bartender Dims the Lights, storytelling after 80 by Ron Evans contains “bits and pieces of memory that managed to snag on the fence line and make a story because they sounded right.” A combination of memoir, parable, and wisdom gleaned throughout his life, Evans’ book reflects on the human condition and the complexities of aging.

The stories are brief, ranging from one to seven pages, easy to read in a short time, but each contains a nugget to ponder. The topics and the sources are varied: Evans cites Hasidic (Jewish) tales which teach us how life is to be lived and how to be human, discusses the changes in attitudes through the course of his life regarding such topics as homosexuality and ponders the social norms surrounding “illegitimate” children in Canadian/British culture versus those in Tanzania. 

While his work as a Lutheran clergyman sets the framework, many of his stories are based on travels with his wife. He describes being on safari in Africa, the huge scope of the Great Migration on the Serengeti, then writes a detailed study of the work of a single dung beetle he spent several hours watching. That tale ends with an imagined resume written by that hard-working, persistent dung beetle. The combination of humour and pathos is both amusing and thought-provoking.

“…surely there is something sad, if not dangerous, about the person trying to live as if they are forty when all the signs say otherwise.”

Raised on a farm in Saskatchewan, Evans finds the theme of “work” a powerful force in his life. As one ages, one’s abilities diminish. At some point, we realize that “old age is not about to be cured. Neither is it a disease from which you can be made immune…And surely there is something sad, if not dangerous, about the person trying to live as if they are forty when all the signs say otherwise.”

In his search to age with dignity, Evans has rediscovered writing and, following a bout of depression, he began to focus on art, learning to draw after age 80. All the artwork—including the old barn behind the barbwire fence on the cover—is his own.

Another of his forays into dealing with sadness involves taking lessons to become a clown and using his clown persona to brighten the lives of patients in palliative care. His message is that it is normal to be sad sometimes, that grief and loss are part of life.

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 Evans cites a Holocaust survivor, who compared the pursuit of happiness to a triangle. North Americans, Frankl observed, “pursue happiness directly, by the shortest distance between two points, when in fact it is realized via the longer side of the triangle, a by-product we enjoy by accident more than design.” Evans reminds us that life is difficult and sometimes what people need most is permission to be sad. Similarly, in a world preoccupied with prolonging life, sometimes what is most needed is permission to die. Within sight of the bartender’s “last call” dimming of the lights, Evans grants himself permission “to live in memories of a lonesome kind.”

 With warmth, wit and wisdom, Evans reminds us that what remains at closing time are the stories we tell. Some of the stories in this book are years old, some told but months ago. “We tell our stories, tell them until we get from them the truth we seek: a home where we belong. And a place from which we depart.”

When the Bartender Dims the Lights can be purchased directly from Your Nickel’s Worth Publishing.

  • ISBN : 9781927756829
  • Pub. Date : 09/23/2019
  • Pages : 224
  • Genres : Memoir, Non-Fiction

Ruth Anne Chorney (nee Althouse) is an educator and farmer from northeast Saskatchewan. A regular columnist for the Gardener magazine since 2006, her writing reflects her humour and her awareness of nature. She has published four children’s books, three in English, and one in French. In 2018 Chorney won two gold medals in the Sask Senior Games, for both Poetry and Prose. Her first novel, Buried, a murder mystery set in northeast Saskatchewan, was short-listed for a 2019 High Plains Book Award. Chorney’s second novel Conspiracy will be published in 2020.

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