Harry puts his heart in overdrive

Phil Stanford/On Vacation

Phil Stanford's column will resume Jan. 7. In the interim, the Tribune will publish some memorable past columns, such as this one from Dec. 21, 2001.

Harry Abernethy, the quiet, unfailingly polite white-haired gent who parks cars in the basement parking lot of the Director Building downtown, has found love. Maybe not the kind you see on TV shows or in the movies, but love nonetheless.

'I met her on one of those telephone chat lines you see advertised in the newspapers Ñ and we just started talking,' he says. 'It went on for a couple of years like that.

'We didn't meet in person,' Harry explains. 'We'd just talk on the phone every day or so. You know, about our families, what was going on.'

As time went on, Harry learned that Pat Ñ that's her name, Pat McFall Ñ had some heart and kidney problems, as well as diabetes, which made it difficult for her to walk more than a few feet at a time.

'But what I liked about her was that she was such an upbeat person,' he says. 'She's one of those people who says, 'If life gives you lemons, make lemonade.' '

Eventually, Pat also told him about her 12-year-old son, who has Down syndrome. Harry admired the way she cared for him. He wondered how she managed to do it when she couldn't get to the grocery store herself without arranging for a TriMet pickup a day in advance.

'But that's how remarkable she is. She doesn't let it get her down.'

They were talking on the phone several months ago Ñ at which point, it should probably be noted, they still hadn't met each other face-to-face Ñ when it hit him.

'What you need,' he said, 'is one of those three-wheelers. You know, one of those battery-operated carts so you can get around. Buy groceries and such.'

As Pat would later say, this took her breath away. For some time now, she'd been longing for a three-wheeler. But on Social Security, she knew she wouldn't be able to afford one in a million years.

• • •

And while we're at it, Harry, who lives in a trailer park in Northeast Portland, is not a particularly rich man, either. But a cousin had died, leaving him a few extra bucks, so he decided what the heck.

One morning Ñ on Sept. 11, 2001, of all days Ñ he went to the store, paid $1,200 for a used cart and took it out to Pat's house. This was, keep in mind, the first time they'd ever seen each other in person.

'It's the most wonderful feeling I ever had,' Harry says. 'Maybe 9-11 had something to do with it. It made me realize we're all vulnerable, and it's better do something good right now because you might not get another chance.'

After Harry showed Pat how to operate the cart, they went down to the Coffee People on the corner and had a couple of mochas.

'We were sitting there, and she said 'Thank you,' ' Harry recalls. 'And I said, 'No, thank you for the opportunity to help.' I didn't plan to say anything, but it just came out that way.'

Anyway, for all you folks over at the Director Building who've been wondering what's gotten into Harry, there's your answer.

Editor's note: Harry and Pat are still friends. Harry says Pat has had a rough year, but is doing better now.