Sunday, February 03, 2019

the bittersweet mail

When I am wrong, I am famously wrong. Probably because I get a lot of practice.

But the times I am correct, rare though they may be, I am a veritable Jean Dixon.

This bit of hubris has been occasioned by my prediction last Monday in mexican mail -- it delivers what counts that even though Christmas is long gone and my birthday slipped by three weeks ago, the Mexican mail would continue bringing me appropriate greetings as the year wore on. And so it has.

Yesterday, I checked my box and found --

  • A Christmas card from Dale and Katie Zimmerman. He was the last in a long line of Air Force officers who commanded me.
  • A Christmas card from my cousin Marsha, who still refers to Oregon as my home, as if I somehow made a wrong turn and ended up lost in Mexico.
  • A birthday card from my mother -- the type of greeting mothers send to sons: far more aspirational than biographical. It will be added to the pile of cards I am squirreling away for the inevitable day in the rest home when my sole memory will be that of Hallmark.
  • A birthday card from Dave Eikrem, one of my oldest friends from grade school.
  • A birthday card from my friend Leo Bauman. You probably remember him from his visit here almost four years ago (leo ascending). One of those visits I will look back on as being a watershed in my life.
Last Monday, I wrote: "Even if the cards arrive late, it truly is the thought that counts. It also gives me another opportunity to celebrate our relationships." And that was certainly true for each of those cards. As my friend Colette once said: "My birthday is like Hanukkah."

But there was a fifth card in the mix, and I did not immediately recognize the name. That was not surprising in itself. One of the nicest things about writing these essays is that readers will occasionally send me a letter or card.

That was not the case with this card.

It was a Christmas card from Theresa in Albany, Oregon. It then hit me. Theresa is the sister of my friend Dr. Robert Wilson. He spends part of the year at her house and the rest at his house in Volcano, Hawaii.

Her news was not good. Bob had recently had a series of health problems. I knew that from our letters. Bob was not a man of the 21st century. He is one of my three friends who have never made the leap to communicating electronically. If I wanted to talk with him, I had to sit down and write a letter.

And that was fine with me. The act of holding a pen in one's hand seems to bring greater clarity to one's thoughts.

Theresa informed me Bob had suffered a fourth stroke, the last one coming in August when he was in his Hawaii home alone.  He was admitted to a skilled nursing home in Hawaii until he had recovered enough to be transferred to one in Oregon.

Because of the time gap created by the mail, I actually knew the end of the story before Theresa's letter arrived.

Last week, Dave Eikrem (the same friend who had sent me a card in Saturday's mail) sent me an email informing me that Bob had died on my birthday. For some reason, that had an eerie feel of closure in my cycle of celebration.

I met Bob while we were both in university -- even though we did not attend the same schools, we worked together at a bank reconciling checking account statements. It was also where I met Leo Bauman.

The three of us plus another work friend, Michael Brennan, struck up friendships. We dined together. Partied together. We even rented a condominium together on Mt. Hood where we established ourselves as the Polish Ski Team. (There must have been some reason for the name. If there was, I forget it.)

We eventually went our own ways. I was the first to leave -- for the Air Force. But we kept in contact through letters. Reuniting, as friends do, at the great passages of life. We were all in Leo's wedding party.

When I left the Air Force, we had settled into our professional lives. Me as an attorney. Leo as a banker. Bob as a dentist.

After practicing in Canada for several years, Bob returned to Oregon, where he set up practice across the river from my other dentist friend, Dave Eikrem. That is why Dave knew of Bob's death before I did.

The seine of my friendships was pulling the disparate parts of my life together. When I would visit the Eikrems, I often went across the river to spend part of the day with Bob.

People say they have unique relationships with some of their friends. I would certainly say that of Bob. We shared parts of our lives with each other that we had never (and would never) share with anyone else. And that I am obviously not going to share here.

There are many reasons why we will miss friends who have died. One of them should never be regret.

There are no regrets in my friendship with Bob. We saw one another when we needed to, and we shared what we thought was appropriate. It was the type of adult friendship we all strive to achieve.

Even though I have no regrets, I will miss the opportunity to talk with him about the thrill of living on the slopes of a volcano and the joy of simply walking down a dirt path on his farm to see if the raccoons have eaten the last of the fish we transplanted.

 You were a great companion, Bob. I hope the rest of your journey is a success.

No comments: