A man dusts off the old “which way to the beach?” line in a bar. Except there’s no pretty girl. Or muscles.
Those are the circumstances I first met Bernie Dekker. I was new to New Zealand fresh off the boat from America. He welcomed me into the bar with open arms, got me a beer, and made me a pizza.
I never did make it to the beach that day.
But I did stay up pretty late talking to Bernie and his wife Stephanie that night. They told me all about their lives, how they came to open The Wines (Bernie’s lifelong dream) and their travels to America. He showed me some videos of his motorcycle trips to the south island. He had his bar, his wife, and his harley.
He was the picture of a happy man.
Over the next couple of months I returned to The Wines more than once. Often Bernie and I would stay up late into the night talking about different things. I really came to value his advice, his friendship, and his stories about the open road. It was a great introduction to New Zealand for me. As a new guy here I didn’t know many people, and he always introduced me around whenever he got the chance. Not a lot of people would have cared. But he did. He even let me stay in his home after being “overserved” a time or two.
I based my first impressions of the people of New Zealand at least in part on my time with Bernie and Stephanie. I figured if the people were all as nice as this, then maybe I’d come to the right place.
Eventually I left my first New Zealand home in Palmerston North, but I’ll never, ever forget these wonderful people who took in a stranger, showed him around, and welcomed him.
Malcolm Forbes said, “You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him.” That was the kind of guy Bernie was. The kind that would give a total stranger the shirt off his back. When I walked in The Wines the first time I was a lost, scared, lonely dude completely out of his element.
An hour later I was one of the guys.
That was the guy of guy Bernie was. The kind that made everyone feel like one of the guys.
If I can draw these conclusions from only a few meetings with Bernie, I can’t imagine the stories those that have known him his whole life must have to tell about him. My guess is they’ll ripple on for a long time though.
So sorry to hear you’re gone Bernie. I’ll always remember you as someone who made a weary and wary traveler completely at home.
It really mattered to me.