Monday, December 26, 2005

A Sad Holiday...

Before Christmas, I learned that the father of my oldest,
dearest friend had died. He was fairly young and had over-
come several serious health problems, so this came as a
shock to everyone. It is a terrible, sudden thing and there’s
nothing I can say or write to make sense of such a loss. I
would, however, like to express my deepest condolences to
his family while explaining a little of why we were all so lucky
to have known this man.

He was, to me, more like an uncle than just the father of my
friend. When I was growing up, it was like I had two families.
I had the one who that was actually DNA-linked to me and
then my friend’s family, who always made me feel welcome
and gave me many of the life experiences that made me who
I am today. They let me tag along to their picnics, parties,
and church functions and they were always ready with en-
couragement and good advice. Without their generosity and
their wisdom, I would be much less than I am today.

My friend’s father was content to be a quiet kind of guy most
of the time, but if you got him talking, the funny stories and
the dirty jokes would come spilling out of him until it was two
hours after you were supposed to be home and your stomach
hurt from laughing so much. He was, quite simply, a great
storyteller. He could make the simplest anecdote a fascinating
thing. He could reminisce about digging a latrine back when
he was a boy scout and in his words would be the kind of detail,
humor, and observational skill you won’t find in most novels.
Usually, though, you’d be laughing so hard you wouldn’t notice
that you’d been given a gift, that he had just showed you once
again how all life can be full of wonder and weirdness and comedy
if you just knew how to find it. He was a living example of how
the truest art is often found in people who wouldn’t call them-
selves an “artist” even if you threatened them with hot knives.
As someone with pretensions of being an author, I am humbled
to have known someone like that. It is one of the blessings of
my life that I was able to sit on a St. Paul porch and just listen
to him.

I know that, when the first shock and sadness has abated some,
I will always smile when I remember him. The storyteller is
gone, but the stories never will be. The ones he told and the
ones he inspired with his warmth, wit, and spirit will carry on
forever. And, because of what he taught us, they will only get
better with each telling.