Since I’m teaching in English too, it’s only fair I share some of my English writing with you. Here’s a eulogy I wrote for a Canadian cowboy I once knew.

Recently, I’ve Skyped with an Irishman I was friendly with for a while, over two decades ago. Although he has lived in Holland ever since I’ve met him, I hadn’t been in contact with him for years and our visual conversation was full of surprises. A striking visual one (BEARD!) and many more invisible ones. And a sad one.

‘I just got back from a funeral in Ireland – one of my father’s brothers died.’
‘Sorry to hear that. Was Uncle Leo there as well?’
‘Yes, he was the one who died. Right! I forgot you knew him!’

Uncle Leo was the only cowboy I ever knew, he was my “The Misfits”-Clark Gable. I found him after a long search in a rough- and redneck part of Alberta, Canada. I was arriving on a bicycle (that was the way I travelled back in the nineties), exhausted after a 10-day trip through the Rocky Mountains, and he wasn’t home. I climbed into his log cabin via a small window, fell on a huge bed and encountered a wolf growling silently at me from the wall. There were rifles, a deer head, and there was a dead beaver on the floor.
Uncle Leo was shooing horses at a rodeo in Calgary and would return that evening, I was told by someone I’d met earlier during my search. Maybe. ‘Leo! Well, he’s a character!’, the grinning faraway neighbour also told me. ‘Are you sure you want to meet him?’
When the headlights of his car finally lit up the room, well after midnight, I was sure I was going to be shot. Uncle Leo would enter his cabin with a colt ready for firing. My head would end up on his wall. Better make it quick, I thought, and stuck my head out of the window I used for entering.
‘Uncle Leo, I presume?’ I managed to speak.
‘Yes. But I don’t know who you are..?’ Enter the deep and slow voice I’ve always imagined cowboys would use. It was real. He grinned and patted my hand through the window after I’d explained my connection to his cousin in Holland.
When I left, three days later, he eyed my bike suspiciously. ‘I never trusted these things. I prefer riding a horse. Horses always know which step to take next.’

He died on St. Patrick’s Day, 70 years old, after five years of Alzheimer and being taken care of in a home in Ireland, the country he loathed and never wanted to return to.

Manou van de Zande